Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

J.C. Leyendecker

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am thankful to live in a beautiful place. I am thankful for safety, security, and freedom to worship. I am thankful for a roof over my head and food to eat. I am thankful to be done with cancer treatments. I am thankful for laughter, autumn skies, snow in the mountains, pizza, Lindor chocolate, and books. I am thankful for parents who love me.  I am thankful for sisters who are my best friends. I am thankful for a wonderful husband and three terrific kids. I am thankful for technology that lets me communicate with my son halfway around the world. I am thankful for my heritage. I am thankful for good friends and neighbors. I am thankful for the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

May you have many reasons to give thanks on this day.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Living in Thanksgiving - Expressing Gratitude

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.                                                          --Albert Schweitzer

I love this quote! I have been thinking a lot lately about people who have rekindled a spark within me when I needed it most, or who have made some small gesture that meant the world to me. I don't know that I ever tell them thank you. 

"... a thank you note is a mini-dose of a full-blown gratitude letter or gratitude journal.  It is also an opportunity to flex your gratitude strength— a chance to practice one of the strengths of transcendence."  

We exercise other muscles to grow stronger, so why not exercise your gratitude strength as well? This week in my month of Living in Thanksgiving, I am focusing on expressing gratitude. Make it a habit to sincerely thank people who do something for you. Often, a verbal thank you in the moment will suffice. But written notes are effective, too. One thing I have learned about writing thank you notes is that when I stop and think through what the person has done for me, and how much I appreciate it, it lifts me. So in some ways, writing thank you notes is self-serving...a way to elevate yourself. Now, I can procrastinate thank you notes with the best of them, but this week I am going to be better about written thank yous. 

Remember to tell the gift-giver that you are thankful not only for the gift, but also for their thinking of you.  Make it personal and sincere.  Tell them how you are looking forward to experiencing their gift.  Even if you don’t love the gift, there are other ways to let them know you appreciate the thought.  In these tough economic times, acknowledge their generosity.  Let them know that you look forward to seeing them again soon.  Mind them, make them feel important and loved.  In giving you the gift, they made you feel special.
You can, and should, return the favor.
Think of those who have been examples to you, who have supported you in times of trouble, or who have rekindled your "spark" when you needed it. I have been reflecting on some of these people all week, and now I have some thank you notes to write!  Enjoy basking in gratitude this week!

Living in Thanksgiving - How Grateful Are You?

Living in Thanksgiving - Perception and Gratitude
Living in Thanksgiving - Gratitude Journals, Yes or No?
The Art of Living in Thanksgiving 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Gettysburg Address at 150!

Lincoln Memorial

The little speech now known as "The Gettysburg Address" turns 150 years old today. Lincoln said his words would not be long remembered, but when Senator Charles Sumner eulogized the president in 1865, he said "The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it. The battle itself was less important than the speech."  (from Abraham Lincoln online).

Like many people, I had to memorize this speech in elementary school. Although I did not fully appreciate it as a fourth grader, many of the words did resonate with me, and I can still remember parts of the speech. Over the weekend, I was at a college football game, and during halftime, the crowd was asked to stand and repeat the Gettysburgh address in unison. What an experience! Lincoln's words are still masterful. This speech was carefully crafted, not scribbled on a train ride as is sometimes reported.

As I repeated the words on Saturday, some things stood out to me:  the fact that Lincoln had no idea that his speech would be famous, and that he coined our famous phraseology that our government is "of the people, by the people, and for the people." I couldn't help but think that our government representatives could stand to be reminded that they govern "for the people!"

Pulitzer Prize winning author of "Lincoln at Gettysburg: Words that Remade America," Gary Wills points out that Lincoln's speech has become the accepted interpretation of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, putting forth the idea that America must stand united. He indicates that the idea that Americans needed to be a united people and have a basis of equality has helped shape the country that we are today.

In honor of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's remarkable words, take a minute today and read the Gettysburg Address.  The text that follows is known as the Bliss Copy of the speech.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Happy Anniversary, Gettysburg Address!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Living in Thanksgiving - Gratitude Journals, Yes or No?

A few years ago gratitude journals were all the rage. At first I resisted keeping one...too trendy. Then I decided I needed a mood upgrade, so why not? I hated it. Every day I would sit down, think about my day, and try to think of five things to write down. Usually I was pretty grumpy about the whole exercise, and some days I struggled to think of five things. I know this says more about me and my state of mind, than about gratitude journals, but the simple act of writing five things down did nothing for my mental state. In fact, for every thing I did write down, I could usually think of five things I was not grateful for. We were living in an old house, and it didn't have any heat runs from the furnace to the only bathroom. When we were having some upgrades done on the furnace closet, the contractor said it would be very simple to run heat to the bathroom. For weeks that winter, the only thing I was thankful for every day was heat in the bathroom.  So why didn't keeping a gratitude journal work for me? Why could I be profoundly grateful for heat in the bathroom, but be unable to think of a few things each day to write down?

An article at The Greater Good (run by the University of California-Berkeley) gives some insight. It reports that research studies show gratitude journals don't always work, so my experience was not unique.  In fact, certain things can help you have a better experience with journaling. First, a motivation to become happier is helpful (clearly I was lacking any serious motivation to change my attitude at that point in time). Secondly, go for depth over breadth.  Instead of thinking of five things each time, thinking in detail about one or two things you are really grateful for can be more effective.  Third, don't feel pressure to write daily. Maybe once a week would work better for you. Lastly, try focusing on people you are grateful for rather than things.

At my current stage in life, I find it much easier to think of things for which I am truly grateful, and often, these "things" are the actions of other people. I am grateful for those who have a positive impact on the lives of my children. I am grateful for the many kindnesses people have shown to me. When I list these things on a very specific, personal level, I feel blessed indeed. And I think I will always be grateful for heat in the bathroom.

Will I ever keep a gratitude journal again? Right now I don't have specific plans to, but I do try to write about things I am grateful for in my regular journal.  The exercise of thinking through my week and finding the thing that was a blessing in my life helps me be aware of all the good things happening around me. In a world that sometimes seems dark and chaotic, taking time for gratitude is truly a healing gift.

Do you keep a gratitude journal? If so, what works best for you?

Have a wonderful week living in Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Julius Caesar, Hunger Games, and More

My son was assigned to read Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare this summer for his upcoming English class.  I had to read it when I was in high school, as did my other two children.  I have read it again with each of them, and now, on my fourth time through, I have decided that I am really starting to understand this play. Despite the tragic elements, Shakespeare manages to throw in some funny moments. However, I realize as I look at the play through the prism of adulthood, it isn't my favorite.  Brutus seems weak and easily swayed. In fact, I am not sure why I liked his character when I read this play as a teenager. Cassius, on the other hand, is completely devious and manipulative, and Caesar is blind to the things going on around him.

Many phrases we are familiar with in the English language come directly from Shakespeare. The obvious one in Julius Caesar is "Beware the Ides of March."  However, I noticed on this reading, that there are other things in Julius Caesar that have been used recently in books. Two phrases from the play have been used as titles:  The Mortal Instruments and Interred With Their Bones.  The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is the first in a YA series of novels by Cassandra Clare, and was recently made into a movie. Interred with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carroll is a wonderful thriller of a murder mystery involving a lost Shakespeare play.

I also noticed that the name Cinna is used in Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. In Julius Caeser, Cinna the poet meets a tragic fate solely because of his name. He is suspected of being Cinna the conspirator, and does not survive the mob, despite his protestations of innocence. Cinna in The Hunger Games is Katniss' stylist. Like the poet in Shakespeare's play, Cinna meets an untimely, off-screen demise.

Lenny Kravitz portrays Cinna in The Hunger Games movie.

With Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games scheduled to make its debut on the big screen November 22, 2013, it is interesting to look at the many connections in Suzanne Collins' work and Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. For example, Colllins has said that Panem is like ancient Rome. Collins uses other names, like Portia and Cato, from the play as well. Looking at these similarities between The Hunger Games and the Shakespeare play might make the play more interesting to teenagers.

For more about the connections between Julius Caesar and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, click here.

So the next time you are brushing up your Shakespeare, look for the pop culture connections between these Elizabethan works and our modern entertainment. You might be surprised by what you find!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Auguste Rodin - 173rd Birthday!

Rodin's The Kiss detail

I was first introduced to the work of famed sculptor Auguste Rodin while I was in high school. A short time later I was able to see an exhibit of his work at a local university, and then, years later, I was able to travel to the Rodin museum in Paris. Auguste Rodin was born in France on November 12, 1840. He became known for injecting a realism in his work that moved away from the accepted conventions of the time. Rodin himself respected the work of Michelangelo.  

The Man with the Broken Nose

One of Rodin's early works, The Man with the Broken Nose, was submitted to the Salon for exhibition in 1864, but it was rejected. A few years later, though, he received a commission to produce a decorative gate representative of Dante's Divine Comedy. Rodin began the massive project by reading Dante's work again and again. He created many figures writhing and struggling against their fate at the gates of hell. Rodin was able to create a sense of tension and motion in his figures which greatly adds to their appeal.

Tourists view The Gates of Hell at the Rodin Museum in Paris

Detail from The Gates of Hell

From this work (which would consume the bulk of Rodin's life), comes one of Rodin's well-known images, The Thinker. Rodin conceived The Thinker as a representation of Dante contemplating his creation of the Divine Comedy. However, Rodin was intrigued by the image, and made a stand-alone version. The Thinker symbolizes to some the effort of creativity. It is, perhaps, the most famous image of sculpture in the world.

Rodin's The Thinker

Rodin also created many sculptures of hands. I loved seeing his work in Paris, and particularly enjoyed his creations of hands.

The Cathedral

"I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don't need," said Rodin. It seems a bit of an oversimplification, but it also gives you an appreciation for his ability to determine what he did and didn't need in each work of art.

The Hand of God

Another view of The Hand of God - also known as Creation

In The Hand of God, God's creations emerge from his massive hand as if from a womb. Rodin left some of the block rough cut. I think the rough block contrasting with the smooth perfection of the hand adds to the impact of the work.

Rodin often repeated images. He took images of Adam and combined them to form The Three Shades.

The Three Shades - Rodin Museum in Paris

The Burghers of Calais is another famous work.  It took Rodin 10 years to complete this sculpture, and then it was attacked for its appearance. The story goes that the English king, Edward III, agreed to spare the population of Calais if the six most notable burghers (town leaders) came to him bareheaded, barefoot, with a rope around their necks (August Rodin: Sculptures and Drawings by Gilles Neret, Barnes & Noble Books, NY, 1995,  pg. 50). Rodin's vision of these men and their willingness to be humbled in order to save their people was considered to be lacking in grandeur. However, over time, his vision of the work won out, and his insistence that the work not be elevated on a plinth adds to its emotion. 

The Burghers of Calais

Rodin is quoted as saying "Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely."  Good advice from a talented artist. Rodin died in 1917.  Happy Birthday, Auguste Rodin! Thanks for your amazing contributions to the art world.

Rodin in his studio.

 For more information: The Rodin Museum in Paris 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Living in Thanksgiving - Perception & Gratitude

"Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world."  --John Milton

Perception is a key component of gratitude. I look at perception in two ways...first, I am more grateful if I pay more attention to the things I see and the things I have, and second, I am more grateful if I am more aware of my own situation.  

When I take the time to notice a flower in bloom or a bird singing, I have a more grateful heart. So for this month, as I work on being more grateful, I am committed to noticing beauty around me.

Although I am uncomfortable comparing myself to others as a way of navigating life, I do find that being aware of worse situations can make me appreciate my own. For example, when I talked to people during chemotherapy treatments, I often went away being grateful for the realization that if I had to have cancer, at least I had a kind for which there were pretty effective treatments.  When my son was diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome, I learned to be grateful that he did not have a life-threatening disease. I don't think it is necessary to compare myself to others to see these things, but becoming more aware of what other people are dealing with makes me more comfortable with, and more appreciative of my own situation. 

So, for this week, I am going to be more aware of what I do have, and not focus on what I don't have. Appreciating my blessings in life greatly increases my feelings of gratitude!

For more on gratitude see Living in Thanksgiving - How Grateful Are You?

and Living in Thanksgiving - Gratitude Journals, Yes or No?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Living in Thanksgiving - How Grateful Are You?

Every November, about half way through the month, I realize that I wish I were reflecting more on being thankful and expressing gratitude. It usually hits me when I realize friends have been expressing thanks daily for things in their lives via social media. I often think "Oh, I wish I had done that."  I want Thanksgiving to be more than the speed bump between Halloween and Christmas. So, this year, I am working on cultivating an attitude of gratitude throughout the month of November. I am hopeful that working on this intentionally for a month will give me good habits for the upcoming year.

Why gratitude? According to an article "In Praise of Gratitude" found in a health newsletter from Harvard, gratitude and happiness are linked. It says "In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships." In other words, gratitude helps with all of your basic life skills. Who wouldn't want to feel more positive, enjoy life more, have better coping skills, and have better relationships and health?

Of course, in order to make improvements in life, it is valuable to assess where you are right now. I found a gratitude quiz to measure my current "attitude of gratitude."  I scored a respectable 85% on this quiz, and feel that I am on my way to appreciating life more fully this month.

When I was in high school, a good friend introduced me to a book by legendary basketball coach John Wooden. It was called "They Call Me Coach," and contained many of Wooden's experiences, and also his philosophy of living. I remember being very impressed by Wooden's attention to living life well. He wanted to develop people, not just winning basketball players.  To start off my month of gratitude, here is a quote from John Wooden. It is a great blueprint for my month, and for life.
Be true to yourself, help others, make each day your masterpiece, make friendship a fine art, drink deeply from good books - especially the Bible, build a shelter against a rainy day, give thanks for your blessings and pray for guidance every day. -- John Wooden
Join me on my gratitude quest this month, and spend some time reflecting on the things for which you might give thanks.

See also Living in Thanksgiving - Perception and Gratitude and Living in Thanksgiving - Gratitude Journals, Yes or No?