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Austin mom creates book, game on gratitude called 'Popcorn Thanks'

Beckham, 10, Asher, 8, and Edison, 6, Chodniewicz toss Popcorn Pearl to one another when they want to say what they are thankful for.

Ever since her kids were tots, Austin mom Natalie Chodniewicz, 46, has played a game she calls Popcorn Thanks. 

At any moment, they would stop to say what they were thankful for, and the ideas of gratitude would pop like popcorn from one kid to the other. 

"What's good in our life, what happened today that were thankful for," she says. 

Her sons Beckham, Asher and Edison, who are 10, 8 and 6, are growing up in a flash, Chodniewicz says. She thought, "What can I do to memorialize this childhood?"

She thought about their game of Popcorn Thanks and decided to turn it into a book.

Natalie Chodniewicz has turned her family's "Popcorn Thanks" into a book with a toy and instructions on how to play the game.

"Popcorn Thanks" tells the story of Popcorn Pearl, a kernel of corn on a stalk who doesn't feel so special. She compares herself to the funny tomatoes, the smart carrots and the cool cucumbers. 

The farmer lets her know that she should give thanks even when she's feeling so small. She does, the sun begins to shine brighter and Pearl turns into a beautiful piece of popcorn. She gives thanks and all the veggies play Popcorn Thanks with her. 

It a sweet, simple story, but Chodniewicz takes it beyond the book. Each book comes with instructions on how to play and a hand-knit organic cotton Popcorn Pearl to pass around while playing Popcorn Thanks. 

While many people share what are they thankful for on Thanksgiving, Chodniewicz says she believes gratitude exercises should be done every day, especially right now. 

"It really builds a conversation and helps the kid in particular identify good things in their life," she says. "There's always good things going on in your life. 2020 was quite a doozy, I'll admit, but this helps the kids stop complaining." 

She points to research done on the happiness levels of people who have a gratitude practice as a big reason for daily thanks.

It doesn't have to be time consuming. Chodniewicz's family has paused for thanks in the car, at dinner or anytime kids aren't expressing gratitude.

The kids start to get creative with their gratitude beyond "I'm thankful for my family," "I'm thankful for my house" or "I'm thankful for my dog."

One of the things they love is to pass around (OK, sometimes throw) Popcorn Pearl. 

Chodniewicz also alters the game for birthdays. Each person tells why they are thankful for their family. "It makes them feel special and really loved," Chodniewicz says. And, yes, "Somebody's always trying to be funny." 

Natalie Chodniewicz turned the game she plays with her kids to bring gratitude into their everyday lives into a book.

Chodniewicz is selling "Popcorn Thanks" for $29.99 through her website, popcornthanks.com. The books are printed in California. Popcorn Pearl is knit in Peru through a fair trade artisan group she found. Everything gets put together by her in her house in Austin and shipped out. 

"I have big dreams for this little baby," Chodniewicz says. "I would really love it to become a household game, a household brand."

She likens it to Elf on the Shelf. Everyone knows him and his purpose of bringing excitement around Christmas and encouraging good behavior. She hopes that when they see Popcorn Pearl, people will think gratitude.

Nicole Villalpando writes about parenting for the American-Statesman. She can be reached at nvillalpando@statesman.com.

Natalie and Josh Chodniewicz have been playing "Popcorn Thanks" with their boys Beckham, 10, Asher, 8, and Edison, 6, since they were toddlers.