Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thoughts on Lincoln: the Movie

The two films I have been most excited to see this holiday season have been Lincoln and Les Misérables.

I did not know what to expect of Lincoln, but I knew that with Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role that the portrayal would be of exceptional quality.  He did not disappoint.  With all that we do know about our 16th president, there is also a lot that we don't know.  Yet Daniel Day-Lewis created the Abraham Lincoln that I imagine really existed, from his wit, to his posture and gait, to his stoop, which increased as the duties of his office became more burdensome and as the Civil War raged on year after year.

The film does run long, and there were certain parts that I felt could've been edited further.  It centers mostly on the passing of the 13th Amendment, and some of those scenes left me weary, although they were notably important, no doubt.  I preferred the scenes that did not involve acquiring votes and arguing, but showed the intimate relationships that Lincoln had with those closest to him.

I loved the close, easy bond that he had with this youngest son, Tad (wonderfully acted by Gulliver McGrath.)  I also loved how Steven Spielberg showed Lincoln's accessibility.  He visited the wounded in hospitals and soldiers on the battlefield.  He was able to drive undisturbed through the streets of Washington DC in an open carriage.  People could go to the White House and speak to him about local issues.  It was a time in history when presidential responsibilities were mostly focused on the country and not internationally. A time very different from now. 

If the film is accurate, it was also interesting to see people's reactions to their leader.  His opponents reviled him, his allies respected him, even putting up with his stories and quirkiness.  And his inner circle, mainly his youngest sons and house staff, adored him.

The supporting cast was very competent, although when I see Sally Field (Mary Todd Lincoln) and Tommy Lee Jones (Thaddeus Stevens) I can only see the actors, not the characters.  I like them both, but their appearances are too recognizable.  James Spader was excellent as W.N. Bilbo, and Lee Pace--a personal favorite--fully morphed into the loathsome Fernando Wood.

Lastly, there is the voice.  There are no known recordings of Abraham Lincoln's voice, but history has recorded that is was slightly high, yet relaxed.   In an interview I saw, Steven Spielberg said that Daniel Day-Lewis created the voice on his own and then sent him a private recording in which he was reading one of Lincoln's speeches.  Whatever Lewis's process, the voice he created was an incredible addition to the character.  And the occasional "ain'ts" and "I seen" reminds us that this was a self-taught man from extremely humble beginnings.

I love well-made movies.  Lincoln is one of them.  Seeing this great, yet enigmatic, man brought to life in such an amazing way was thrilling.  I recommend it.

This is a 43 second clip from one of my favorite scenes. A link to the film's trailer will appear on the bottom left.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A little holiday music...

There's no escaping it now, the holiday season is here!  I spent part of today working on Christmas cards and also bought some white, sparkly material to go underneath one of our nativities.  Hopefully, the house will be decorated by the end of the week.  That is my goal.

Here's a holiday song to leave with you this evening.  Celtic Woman--their Christmas arrangements are so beautiful!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Easing into the Season...

After a rainy Thanksgiving week, the sun was shining today!  My big dog wagged his tail happily during a very long walk and I made plans for my day.  The presents are nearly all purchased, but I was still curious to see what the local mall had to offer--I found a lot of inventory and so-so prices.  I never was one of those people who could get into the after-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy.  I left empty-handed.

So I decided to switch my focus.  Christmas cards. 

Sending Christmas cards takes work, but I believe it is the perfect way to start the season.  It's easy and it is your basic assembly-line activity.  Today I found the cards I wanted to send, along with some matching stationary for the annual Christmas update letter.  I had a little glitch in that I cannot open my computer files with last year's Christmas card list, so part of this evening was spent creating a new one.  I found the list changed as Life has put new friends in my path these last few years. 

Christmas cards encompass what the season is about--thinking of others and reaching out to those we care about.  My list is comprised of family, school friends, church families, college roommates, former co-workers, and local friends.  Each of them has played a role in Life's chapters and each of them is important. They all mean so much to me. 

Little gifts from the heart, they are.  The best kinds of gifts.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

How I Avoid the Winter Blues

Ah, the holiday season.  It is that time of year when some people are immersed in baking, decorating, pageants, and shopping.  And others feel overwhelmed by all that the holidays bring.  I have never been a "holiday depression" type of person, but when I was juggling a demanding full-time job and the obligations of the season, sometimes I would forget to focus on why we celebrate in the first place.

Since my life has changed so much in the last 3 years, there are other factors that have the potential to bring the blues, if I let them.  I'm away from my extended family, it rains a lot during this time of year, and it gets dark quite early.
So these are things that I do to make sure that the winter blues don't creep in.  I think they work great. (Of course, we don't have children, who bring in a whole other level of "busy.")  =)

There is a difference between "counting your blessings," and enjoying your blessings.  To me, counting your blessings feels like a fleeting activity--one that is over before it begins and has very little effect on my mood.  The real trick is to enjoy your blessings.  Keep them in your mind to the point where you can easily tap into that fount of gratitude anytime.  First things that come to my mind?  My husband, family and friends, home, my Heavenly Father, pets, books, art and music.  See? I feel better already!

I am a planner.  I like calendars and lists almost to a fault.  I like knowing that, even if today doesn't have anything going on, it doesn't matter, because other things are right around the corner.  Whether the plans are large, medium, or small, knowing that something is going to happen always helps me.  For instance, I know that I am going out tomorrow, that Sunday is church, that next week we are decorating for Christmas and have plans to see the new Lincoln movie, that there is a Festival of the Nativities coming up next weekend, and in a few weeks I'm traveling to CA to see my family for Christmas.  Even something small is helpful, like going for a mani-pedi or planning the dinners I'm going to cook for that week. 

Because I like to know what is coming up, it helps me decide how to use my time on the days when there aren't plans.  Should I use that day to relax and rejuvenate for something big?  Should I work on my lesson for church that day?  Should I go grocery shopping or give a certain room a deep cleaning?  (I much prefer this kind of weather than Spring for that kind of cleaning.  When the weather warms up I just want to be outside!)  Is this the day I'm going to vacuum or wash the linens?  I am someone who craves order and I do function a lot better in a clean house.  Frankly, I find a dirty house more depressing that yucky winter weather.  But that is just me.  I'm not obsessive, but I can always find something to do around the house that makes me feel productive. 

I have always been someone who has a great desire to create a cozy atmosphere at home.  It is, after all, the place where we spend most of our time.  From my first apartment, to my house in California, to the house I share with my husband in Washington, there are things I do in every place I live. 
  • Keep it clean and orderly.  This does not mean making it a museum.  It just means avoiding clutter.  A place for everything and everything in its place, or into the trash it goes. It also means staying on top of things like laundry, keeping beds made, floors vacuumed, and the kitchen and bathrooms clean. Yes, it requires work, but it is about maintenance, which makes it so much easier.  I actually enjoy cleaning, and the rewards are far greater than the work involved.
  • Fill your house will savory scents.  Living in the Pacific Northwest brought some changes that I wasn't used to.  For instance, in California I always left windows and doors open to let in fresh air.  When the temperature is 40 degrees and rainy, like it is right now, I can't do that.  So I do other things.  I fill my house with the scents of a cozy home.  There are cinnamon pine cones in the living room, a pumpkin spice candle burning in the kitchen, the smells of a home-cooked meal, and a gingerbread spice Scentsy bar burning in the family room downstairs.  I have also been introduced recently to essential oils, which are wonderful. Right now I only use them for sleep, since I'm still a beginner.
  • Another thing I do is play music throughout the house.  Like the power of certain aromas, the things we listen to have great effects on our moods.  We have a set of speakers in our kitchen that get used every day.  Sometimes they are hooked up to the Pandora app on the iPad, sometimes to an MP3 player, but there is usually music going on in the background at our house, especially at dinnertime. 

Thanks to the digital age, those we love are only a phone call or a text away.  Facebook is great for that too.  But there is also the lost art of letter writing, which I do with my grandma.  She began writing to me on a regular basis in 1989 when I went away to college, and we have continued that tradition since then.  Letters from my grandma are what I most look forward to in the mail, and answering them brings me great joy..  And, even though my mom and I can have some marathon phone calls, we also like to email.  I like being able to write when it is convenient, to be able to craft my words carefully, and to send and receive photos.  Sometimes we don't write for a while, and other times we will start an email conversation that goes back and forth for days at a time.  When she is babysitting my nephew and niece, we will also do FaceTime, which is loads of fun when talking with the little ones.  It makes the miles between us melt away. Who do you know that would love to receive a letter?

I look for those rare pockets of sunshine and dry weather right now to take my dog outside and get in a good, long walk.  But since those are few and far between, this is also the perfect time of year to dive into a challenging book. I spent evenings last December curled up with Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand.  Wow, what a story--and all true.  And there was the added bonus of sitting in the living room amongst all of the holiday decorations while I was reading.  There is also the fun of puzzles and games, either alone or in a group of friends.

When all else fails, there is one, surefire way to feel better, and that is to serve our fellow man.  This can involve anything from taking cookies or bread to someone in need of some company, to volunteering at a soup kitchen or visiting people in the hospital.  It is true that Charity Never Faileth.  Time spent serving someone else is never time wasted.  There is always someone out there who feels worse than you do, and who can benefit from a visit or an uplifting word.  You may have gifts and a light inside of you that you are completely unaware of until you share it with another person.

All of these things are easy, inexpensive, and right at our fingertips.  They are possible in a home filled with people, a couple, or a single person--I know this from personal experience.  The thing to remember is that the holiday season is the season of joy, love, happiness, and remembering our Savior.  I encourage you to make the most of it, to remember why we celebrate, and to take advantage of those special moments with family and friends.  We live in a nation that affords us so much freedom and so many blessings.  Let's remember all that we have and keep our heart and minds bright and focused. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Slice of Gratitude

Tis the season of Gratitude, my friends.  I have so much to be thankful for that the list is very long.  Here are a few things that are on my mind today:

I'm always grateful for my husband.  Today we finally got to spend some quality time together as he's had a lot of work obligations lately.  I love living life with him.  It truly is the little things that create special moments.  We went grocery shopping together and had a lunch date.  We talked and laughed and later I cooked him dinner.  I love him dearly.

I'm grateful for my mom and the relationship I have with her.  Last night we talked on the phone for nearly 3 hours. We talked about Life's ups and downs, family, the holidays, plans she has for her house, the future and the past.  Before we knew it, it was 10:15 and our phone batteries were weary from use.

I'm grateful for the friends I have made since moving to Washington 2 years ago.  This morning I spent time with two of them and the time flew, as it usually does.  Their love and support means so much to me.  I can hardly remember my life before they were a part of it.  I have met some amazing people here.

I'm grateful for our house.  I love our house and I love making it into a home.  The rain poured and the wind blew all day long.  It was terrible weather to be outside today.  Our house is sturdy, cozy, and soundly built.  To be within its four walls is to feel the true meaning of a personal sanctuary.

I am grateful for music, and the feelings it brings.  Lately I've been listening to a lot of Celtic music and classical music.  Mozart is my favorite.  There is a sense of order to his melodies that gives me focus.  The Celtic music is wistful and creates a feeling of lovely longing.

As I said, this is a small list, people and things I've been in direct contact with these last couple of days.  I am determined to think about these and other things I am thankful for as the holiday season approaches. It is part of my effort not to become distracted by the temporal and unimportant.

What are you grateful for?  Ponder that as you listen to the beautiful song below.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Shout Out to My Husband

The other day there was a theme on Facebook.  It seemed to be "Complain About Your Husband" day.  My hubby had just come home from a long, tough day at work.  I looked over at him with love and knew that I needed to add a post to combat the attitude I had just seen.

So, my darling, this is for you.

This is just a small list of things that I love about him:

  • He tells me he loves me every single day.
  • He makes me feel beautiful, even when I don't feel beautiful.
  • He makes me laugh at things I normally wouldn't think are funny.
  • His incredibly quick wit.
  • He loves me unconditionally.
  • His work ethic.  I've never seen anyone with a work ethic like his.  It is inspiring.
  • The way I always feel protected when I'm with him.
  • His beautiful singing voice.  When he sings and plays the guitar for me, it's even better.
  • The way he randomly shows up with flowers. 
  • His attentiveness.  He has made an effort to get to know the real me, my likes and dislikes.
  • His spirituality and humility. 
  • His ability to remain calm in a crisis.  
  • His highly developed sense of fairness.
  • The way he always thanks me--for marrying him, for the things I do around the house, etc.  He makes me feel appreciated.
  • His generosity.  Towards me and towards others. 
  • He is a GREAT shopping partner.  While other husbands are sitting, bored, in a chair, mine is actually picking out clothes for me to try on.  
  • The way he has accepted my many pets. 
  • The way he can come home from a terrible day, leave it all behind, and laugh and have fun with me.  
  • The way he understands how important my family is to me.
  • His commitment and desire for us to have a successful marriage.
How could I snicker at some of those posts that were supposed to be funny, jabbing at mens' intelligence and ineptness, when sitting next to me was someone who I love and respect so much?  I couldn't. There are plenty of funny things that happen within a marriage, but I think they are the things you should be laughing at together.

I am incredibly grateful to all my husband has done for me and for us.  He is my partner in every way.  Thank you, my love.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Time Out for Women--Amazing!

Is there anything like the unique energy a group of people creates when they are unified?  Especially women.  There is something so special about women getting together and working towards a common goal, whether it is service-oriented or striving towards self-improvement.

Last weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Time Out for Women conference in Portland, OR, and got to experience that energy first hand.  This is an event that has been going on for 10 years, with annual national tours. I only heard about it in May, and it sounded like such a great thing that I knew I had to go.  After organizing a group of 3 other ladies from church, we decided to make a weekend of it, complete with hotel rooms, restaurants, and train rides.  We had such fun!

Although it is presented by the LDS church, it is really for anyone.  It was a two-day event, Friday evening and Saturday throughout the day, with motivational speakers and musicians.  It was never boring, and, although it was attended by 3500 women, there was a great feeling of sisterhood in the room.  Yes, 3500 women all together in the same room at the same time. 

I think that one of the reasons why the event was so successful was because of this year's theme:  SEEK THE GOOD.  We were all there seeking goodness--in the speakers, in the friends we were sharing the experience with, and in our lives as we listened to the words and music that was offered.

We heard inspirational words about forgiveness from Virginia Pierce, beautiful violin music from Jenny Oaks Baker, and were reminded of the value of womanhood by Sheri Dew (an absolute force of nature, this woman) on Friday evening.

Saturday, from 9am until nearly 4pm, we heard from the beloved Mary Ellen Edmunds, DeAnn Flynn, Wendy Ulrich, John Hilton III, Laurel Christensen, and musical guest Hilary Weeks.

If I had to pick my favorites, I would have to say that all of Friday evening was absolutely incredible.  (I was so jazzed and stimulated that I'd be surprised if I got 3 hours of sleep that night.) I have two favorite speakers from Saturday.  One was John Hilton, a young religion teacher at BYU who spoke very eloquently on prioritizing our time and on applying scriptural questions to our lives, mainly these:
  1. How is it that ye have forgotten?
  2. Knowest thou the condescension of God?
  3. Have ye inquired of the Lord?
  4. Why should my heart weep?
  5. What shall I do?
All of these are questions that appear repeatedly, and all of them tap into our normal human flaws.  We easily forget what we have learned.  Or, we don't want to remember.  We often look for answers in worldly ways, when we should have inquired of the Lord.   And, although the answers are usually right before us when we ask "what shall I do?" doesn't it seem like sometimes we explore all of the wrong options before arriving at the right one?

My other favorite speaker on Saturday was a young woman (I say young because she is one year younger than me) named Laurel Christensen.  I liked her immediately, not only because of her message, which was on "waiting," but because I could identify with her in many ways.  She is 40 and unmarried, yet is still striving (and succeeding!) to keep her sense of self in a church that emphasizes marriage and children.  And, even though I am married, that chapter of my life when I was a single adult is not very far behind.

After very little sleep on Friday night, and a very full and stimulating Saturday, my little group of ladies and I arrived home tired, but very happy and fulfilled.  I also arrived home feeling quite grateful--grateful that such a wonderful event exists and ready to apply the uplifting messages that I'd heard.

All in all, I had a fantastic weekend that was all about Seeking the Good.  I have so many thoughts on that phrase.  Maybe in another post.  Until then, I challenge anyone reading this to seek the good in your own life.

*If you are interested in learning more about Time Out for Women, you can visit their website HERE and sign up for their newsletter.  The 2012 tour has ended, but locations and dates have already been set for 2013.  Any woman of any faith would benefit from this experience.  

A picture of my TOFW journal, which I nearly filled with notes, thoughts, and memories.  And to the left, next year's tour schedule, not available yet on the website. Click the pic to see it full-sized.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Autumn's Majesty, Pt. II

We had another sunny day today, and I was drawn to the reflections on the lake's surface.  Once again I ventured out with my camera.  It was later in the day, close to sunset.  Shadows and silhouettes were everywhere.  Here are today's best photos.  Click on them to see the full-sized versions:


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Autumn's Majesty

Today was the day...that ideal day when fall colors, stormy clouds, and a sun-filled sky all blend together flawlessly.

After a busy morning, I took my dog and my camera out in the mid afternoon.  The sun was bright and peeked through the trees, illuminating their bright colors with heavenly radiance.

I took a total of 180 photos.  These are the 12 best of the day.  Click to see them full-sized and feel free to use them as your desktop wallpaper.

I love the shadows and placement of the sun.

Facing southwest, everything came together.

Lion's Island to the left.  Almost no editing was necessary with this photo.

One of my favorite things to do is find vertical lines within the composition. The trees and church steeple helped me accomplish that here.

I love layers: sky, colorful trees, reflective water, the semicircle of leaf-mottled grass.

More layers and a clear horizontal composition, with the exception of the fountain.

One of my favorites. I love the way the lampposts and flag pole cut through the photo.

One of the day's best.

This guy let me follow him around for quite a while. I think he enjoyed being the center of attention.

Standing on one of the bridges, I was able to capture the reflecting colors and a dramatic cloud in the sky.

We love living so close to the town's lake. Nature put on a terrific show today. Several people were there with their cameras.

After an hour, the sun started to fade. This was one of the final shots. Reminding me of an Impressionist painting, I opted for a blurry effect.
I use a simple Sony Cyber-shot camera--12.1MP--to take my photos.  Then I use iPhoto to straighten, sharpen, and sometimes enhance the colors (very slightly.)  Today's photos needed very little enhancing.  The sky was very blue and the fall colors were very rich in the sun's glow.  Mother Nature was very cooperative.