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Successful Woman: Mary Somerville

Despite the quaint and stilted style of this narrative, which was written in England in the late 1880’s, the character of this notable woman can still delight and inspire us. I particularly enjoy the anecdote about the marmalade.

MARY SOMERVILLE, the most remarkable scientific woman our country has produced, was born at Jedburgh in 1780. Her father was a naval officer, and in December 1 780 had just parted from his wife to go on foreign service for some years. Her father was Admiral Sir William Fairfax, who gave many proofs that he was in every way a gallant sailor and a brave man. Mary Somerville’s mother, Lady Fairfax, does not seem much to have sympathised with her remarkable child. Mary, however, inherited some excellent qualities from both parents. Lady Fairfax was, in some ways, as courageous as her husband; notwithstanding a full allowance of Scotch superstitions and a special terror of storms and darkness, she had what her daughter called “presence of mind and the courage of necessity.”

On one occasion the house she was living in was in the greatest danger of being burned down. The flames of a neighbouring fire had spread till they reached the next house but one to that which she occupied. Casks of turpentine and oil in a neighbouring carriage manufactory were exploding with the heat. Lady Fairfax made all the needful preparations for saving her furniture, and had her family plate and papers securely packed. She assembled in the house a sufficient number of men to move the furniture out, if needs were. Then she quietly remarked, “Now let us breakfast; it is time enough for us to move our things when the next house takes fire.” The next house, after all, did not take fire, and, while her neighbours lost half their property by throwing it recklessly into the street, before the actual necessity for doing so had arisen, Lady Fairfax suffered no loss at all.

During the long absences of Sir William Fairfax on foreign service, Lady Fairfax and her children led a very simple life at the little seaside village of Burntisland, just opposite to Edinburgh, on the Firth of Forth. As a young child, Mary led a wild, outdoor life, with hardly any education, in the ordinary sense of the word, though there is no doubt that in collecting shells, fossils, and seaweeds, in watching and studying the habits and appearance of wild birds, and in gazing at the stars through her little bedroom window, the whole life of this wonderful child was really an education of the great powers of her mind.

However, when her father returned from sea about 1789 he was shocked to find Mary “such a little savage”; and it was resolved that she must be sent to a boarding school. She remained there a year and learned nothing at all. Her lithesome, active, well-formed body was enclosed in stiff stays, with a steel busk in front; a metal rod, with a semicircle which went under the chin, was clasped to this busk, and in this instrument of torture she was set to learn columns of Johnson’s dictionary by heart. This was the process which at that time went by the name of education in girls’ schools. Fortunately she was not kept long at school. Mary had learned nothing, and her mother was angry that she had spent so much money in vain. She would have been content, she said, if Mary had only learnt to write well and keep accounts, which was all that a woman was expected to know.

After this Mary soon commenced the process of self-education which only ended with her long life of ninety-two years. She not only learnt all she could about birds, beasts, fishes, plants, eggs and seaweeds, but she also found a Shakespeare which she read at every moment when she could do so undisturbed. A little later her mother moved into Edinburgh for the winter, and Mary had music lessons, and by degrees taught herself Latin. The studious bent of her mind had now thoroughly declared itself; but till she was about fourteen she had never received a word of encouragement about her studies. At that age she had the good fortune to pay a visit to her uncle and aunt at Jedburgh, in whose house she had been

born. Her uncle, Dr. Somerville, was the first person who ever encouraged and helped her in her studies. She ventured to confide in him that she had been trying to learn Latin by herself, but feared it was no use. He reassured her by telling her of the women in ancient times who had been classical scholars. He moreover read Virgil with her for two hours every morning in his study. A few years later than this she taught herself Greek enough to read Xenophon and Herodotus, and in time she became sufficiently proficient in the language to thoroughly appreciate its greatest literature.

One of the most striking things about her was the many-sided character of her mind. Some people men as well as women who are scientific or mathematical seem to care for nothing but science or mathematics; but it may be truly said of her that “Everything was grist that came to her mill.” There was hardly any branch of art or knowledge which she did not delight in. She studied painting under Mr. Nasmyth in Edinburgh, and he declared her to be the best pupil he had ever had. Almost to the day of her death she delighted in painting and drawing. She was also an excellent musician and botanist. The special study with which her name will always be associated was mathematics as applied to the study of the heavens, but she also wrote on physical geography and on microscopic science. It is sometimes thought that if women are learned they are nearly sure to neglect their domestic duties, or

that, in the witty words of Sydney Smith, “if women are permitted to eat of the tree of knowledge, the rest of the family will soon be reduced to the same aerial and unsatisfactory diet.” Mrs. Somerville was a living proof of the folly of this opinion. She was an excellent housewife and a particularly skilful needlewoman. She astonished those who thought a scientific woman could not understand anything of cookery, by her notable preparation of black currant jelly for her husband’s throat on their wedding journey. On one occasion she supplied with marmalade, made by her own hands, one of the ships that were being fitted out for a Polar expedition.

She was a most loving wife and tender mother as well as a devoted and faithful friend. She gave up far more time than moat mothers do to the education of her children. Her first husband, Mr. Samuel Greig, only lived three years after their marriage in 1804. He appears to have been one of those men of inferior capacity, who dislike and dread intellectual power in women. He had a very low opinion of the intelligence of women, and had himself no interest in, nor knowledge of, any kind of science.

When his wife was left a widow with two sons at the early age of twenty-seven, she returned to her father’s house in Scotland, and worked steadily at mathematics. She profited by the instructions of Professor Wallace, of the University of Edinburgh, and gained a silver medal from one of the mathematical societies of that day. Nearly all the members of her family were still loud in their condemnation of what they chose to regard as her eccentric and foolish behaviour in devoting herself to science instead of society. There were, however, exceptions. Her Uncle and Aunt Somerville and their son William did not join in the chorus of disapprobation which her studies provoked. With them she found a real home of loving sympathy and encouragement. In 1812 she and her cousin William were married. His delight and pride in her during their long married life of nearly fifty years were unbounded. For the first time in her life she now had the daily companionship of a thoroughly sympathetic spirit. Much of what the world owes to her it owes indirectly to him, because he stimulated her powers, and delighted in anything that brought them out. He was in the medical department of the army, and scientific pursuits were thoroughly congenial to him. He had a fine and well cultivated mind which he delighted in using to further his wife’s pursuits. He searched libraries for the books she required, “copying and recopying her manuscripts to save her time.” In the words of one of their daughters, ” No trouble seemed too great which he bestowed upon her; it was a labour of love.”

When Mrs. Somerville became famous through her scientific writings, the other members of her family, who had formerly ridiculed and blamed her, became loud in her praise. She knew how to value such commendation in comparison with that which she had constantly received from her husband. She wrote about this, “The warmth with which my husband entered into my success deeply affected me; for not one in ten thousand would have rejoiced at it as he did; but he was of a generous nature, far above jealousy, and he continued through life to take the kindest interest in all I did.”

Mrs. Somerville’s first work, The Mechanism of the Heavens, would probably never have been written but at the instance of Lord Brougham, whose efforts were warmly supported by those of Mr. Somerville. In March 1827 Lord Brougham, on behalf of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, wrote a letter begging Mrs. Somerville to write an account of Newton’s Principia and of La Place’s Mechanique Celeste. In reference to the latter book he wrote, ” In England there are now not twenty people who know this great work, except by name, and not a hundred who know it even by name. My firm belief is that Mrs. Somerville could add two cyphers to each of these figures.”

Mrs. Somerville was overwhelmed with astonishment at this request. She was most modest and diffident of her own powers, and honestly believed that her self-acquired knowledge was so greatly inferior to that of the men who had been educated at the universities, that it would be the height of presumption for her to attempt to write on the subject. The persuasions of Lord Brougham and of her husband at last prevailed so far that she promised to make the attempt; on the express condition, however, that her manuscript should be put into the fire unless it fulfilled the expectations of those who urged its production. “Thus suddenly,” she writes, “the whole character and course of my future life was changed.” One is tempted to believe that this first plunge into authorship was, to some extent, stimulated by a loss of nearly all their fortune which had a short time before befallen Mr. and Mrs. Somerville.

The impediments to authorship in Mrs. Somerville’s case were more than usually formidable. In the memoirs she has left of this part of her life, she speaks of the difficulty which she experienced as the mother of a family and the head of a household in keeping any time free for her work. It was only after she had attended to social and family duties that she had time for writing, and even then she was

subjected to many interruptions. The Somervilles were then living at Chelsea, and she felt at that distance from town, it would be ungracious to decline to receive those who had come out to call upon her. But she groans at the remembrance of the annoyance she sometimes felt when she was engaged in solving a difficult problem, by the entry of a well-meaning friend, who would calmly announce, “I have come to spend an hour or two with you.”

Her work, to which she gave the name of The Mechanism of the Heavens, progressed, however, in spite of interruptions, to such good purpose that in less than a year it was complete, and it immediately placed its author in the first rank among the scientific thinkers and writers of the day. She was elected an honorary member of the Astronomical Society, at the same time with Caroline Herschel, and honours and rewards of all kinds flowed in upon her. Her bust, by Chantrey, was placed in the great hall of the Royal Society, and she was elected an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Dublin, and of many other scientific societies. It was a little later than this, in 1835, that Sir Robert Peel, on behalf of the Government, conferred a civil list pension of 200 a year upon Mrs. Somerville ; the announcement of this came almost simultaneously with the news of the loss of the remainder of her own and her husband’s private fortune, through the treachery of those who had been entrusted with it. The public recognition of her services to science came therefore at a very appropriate time; the pension was a few years later increased to 300 a year.

Throughout her life Mrs. Somerville was a staunch advocate of all that tended to raise up and improve the lot of women. When quite a young girl she was stimulated to work hard by the feeling that it was in her power thus to serve the cause of her fellow-women. Writing of the period when she was only sixteen years old, she says: “I must say the idea of making money had never entered my head in any of my pursuits, but I was intensely ambitious to excel in something, for I felt in my own breast that women were capable of taking a higher place in creation than that assigned to them in my early days, which was very low.” It is interesting toobserve that her enthusiasm for what are sometimes called “women’s rights” was as warm at the end of her life as it had been at its dawn. When she was eighty-nine, she was as keen as she had been at sixteen for all that lifts up the lot of women. She was a firm supporter of Mr. John Stuart Mill in the effort he made to extend to women the benefit and protection of Parliamentary representation. She recognised that many of the English laws are unjust to women, and clearly saw that there can be no security for their being made just and equal until the law-makers are chosen partly by women and partly by men. The first name to the petition in favour of women’s suffrage which was presented to Parliament by Mr. J. S. Mill in 1868 was that of Mary Somerville. She also joined in the first petition to the Senate of the London University, praying that degrees might be granted to women. At the time this petition was unsuccessful, but its prayer was granted within a very few years.

Mrs. Somerville’s other works, written after The Mechanism of the Heavens, were The Connection of the Physical Sciences, Physical Geography, and Molecular and Microscopic Science. The last book was commenced after she had completed her eightieth year. Her mental powers remained unimpaired to a remarkably late period, and she also had extraordinary physical vigour to the end of her life. She affords a striking instance of the fallacy of supposing that intellectual labour undermines the physical strength of women. Her last occupations, continued till the actual day of her death, were the revision and completion of a treatise on The Theory of Differences, and the study of a book on Quaternions.

She was a woman of deep and strong religious feeling. Her beautiful character shines through every word and action of her life. Her deep humility was very striking, as was also her tenderness for, and her sympathy with, the sufferings of all who were wretched and oppressed. One of the last entries in her journal refers again to her love of animals, and she says, “Among the numerous plans for the education of the young, let us hope that mercy may be taught as a part of religion.” The reflections in these last pages of her diary give such a lovely picture of serene, noble, and dignified old age that they may well be quoted here. They show the warm heart of the generous woman, as well as the trained intellect of a reverent student of the laws of nature. “Though far advanced in years, I take as lively an interest as ever in passing events. I regret that I shall not live to know the result of the expedition to determine the currents of the ocean, the distance of the earth from the sun determined by the transits of Venus, and the source of the most renowned of rivers, the discovery of which will immortalise the name of Dr. Livingstone. But I regret most of all that I shall not see the suppression of the most atrocious system of slavery that ever disgraced humanity.”

A later entry still, and the last, gives another view of her happy, faithful spirit. The Admiral’s daughter speaks in it: “The Blue Peter has been long flying at my foremast, and now that I am in my ninety-second year I must soon expect the signal for sailing. It is a solemn voyage, but it does not disturb my tranquillity. Deeply sensible of my utter unworthiness, and profoundly grateful for the innumerable blessings I have received, I trust in the infinite mercy of my Almighty Creator.” She then expresses her gratitude for the loving care of her daughters, and her journal concludes with the words, “I am perfectly happy.” She died and was buried at Naples. Her death took place in her sleep, on 29th November 1872. Her

daughter writes, ” Her pure spirit passed away so gently that those around her scarcely perceived when she left them. It was the beautiful and painless close of a noble and happy life.”

Adapted from Some Emininent Women of Our Times by Millicent Garret Fawcett.

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Identifying the Underlying Problem

Awhile ago, I found myself very frustrated. I had a problem. Papers kept piling up on the kitchen table. If it had been junk mail, I wouldn’t have minded—junk mail is easy. You just throw it away. But it wasn’t just junk mail. It was other things too. Bills that hadn’t been paid yet, letters, things that had to get read… they were all on the kitchen table and it was driving me insane.

I started looking on Pinterest for pretty solutions to paperwork problems. Nice folders, wall filing systems, pretty boxes, new and improved home command centers…. I was trying to decide which option was the best for us, and where I should put whatever I decided to use, when it suddenly dawned on me that the kitchen wasn’t where the papers went at all. We had an office for paperwork.

I had been really excited about having an office to handle such things with, and I had put my desk in there when I moved into the house. It was nice… but I realized that we hadn’t been using the office. We sat with our laptops on the sofa, we wrote on the kitchen table, we did just about whatever it took to not go in the office. Why?

I went into the office to check it out and suddenly I understood.

The real reason there were papers on the kitchen table was not that I or my husband was being lazy, or that I didn’t have a filing system in the kitchen, it was simply that neither I nor my husband wanted to spend time in the office. And now I understood why:the office was ugly and depressing.

Understanding the root of the problem allowed me to channel my energies to fixing the real problem. We took the ugly door off and hung curtains in the doorway. (I’ve always loved curtained doorways, and these curtains were pretty and cheap.) Then we got rid of my husband’s ugly thrift store desk and bought a piece of plywood, and used it and some white paint to turn two mismatched pieces of furniture into a pleasant looking and functional work space for him. All told, our office remodel only cost about $30, and since then, we haven’t had an issue with papers on the kitchen table. As a side benefit, we have an easier time not using electronics in the evening, because the electronics stay in the office.

Identifying the Underlying Problem

This experience taught me something which I have tried to apply to other parts of my life as well. Sometimes our problems are actually only symptoms of the real problem, and we can’t get rid of the symptoms until we get rid of the cause. Understanding this fact and taking the time to think can save time, money, effort, and sometimes even your relationships.

Suppose you have a small child who screams and throws a tantrum every evening. You can try punishing the child for having a tantrum, you can give up and allow his undisciplined behavior, or you can see if there is an underlying cause. Maybe you will find that having a mid-afternoon snack will solve your child’s evening tantrum problem. Or maybe moving his nap, or getting his back adjusted by a chiropractor… People are complex and the reasons for their behaviors are too.

I read a story recently of a woman who argued with her husband every single evening. It was tiresome and it was poisoning their relationship. Finally, however, she analyzed the situation, and discovered that she was trying to get him to talk about various issues right when he got home tired from work. Simply rearranging their schedule so that he could relax for a few minutes after he got home allowed them to regain their peace as a couple.

Sometimes it’s hard to find the root of a problem, and sometimes the root is something that you can’t change. It’s also sometimes something you would never have guessed. (One time I realized that the reason I’d been edgy and upset for weeks was because I had writer’s block, and my inability to work on my writing project was causing a low-level stress in the background of my thoughts.) Sometimes, the problem is simply our point of view or our attitude.

attitude, the difference between an ordeal and an adventure

Whatever our problems are, it is always worth finding the roots so we can understand what we are dealing with, and not waste time and effort fixing symptoms.

What problems have you solved?

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Thanksgiving Day and the Power of Gratitude

Thanksgiving day is coming up soon so I decided to look up where the idea of Thanksgiving came from. Despite the fact that it is called “turkey day” by some—a custom that makes me rather sad, but we’ll get to that later—Thanksgiving did not originate as a way of ridding the world of its excess turkey population, or keeping turkey growers in business.

As a matter of fact, thanksgiving, or gratitude, has been celebrated by peoples all over the world, for as long as people have been around. The Jewish feast of Passover is a kind of thanksgiving festival, giving thanks for their rescue from captivity in Egypt. Harvest festivals in many cultures also often have an element of giving thanks for the good harvest. The American history of thanksgiving, however, is deeply rooted in the country’s Christian heritage.

History of Thanksgiving

The first recorded celebration of thanksgiving in America was in 1565. Yes, 1565, and it was celebrated in Florida. The Spanish explorers under Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés were grateful for having survived their long journey across the Atlantic Ocean and celebrated by having a Catholic Mass offered, and eating a meal, which they invited the curious natives to join them in. See more about all of this at this History channel.

While the Spanish (and some French explorers as well) beat the Pilgrims to the mark, the most famous early American celebration of Thanksgiving was in Plymouth in 1621. And it is this celebration which can be considered the foundation of the modern American holiday. Their Thanksgiving festival was a three day feast of eating, hunting and entertainment, and the main course of their meal was… you guessed it… Venison! (Okay, they might have eaten turkey too—the pilgrims did eat turkeys)But the main entree was five deer the local Native Americans shot for the pilgrims when they celebrated their first successful harvest with them. The Pilgrims never repeated this festival. (But shooting was still a popular part of the Thanksgiving festival when it was reintroduced.)

The next instance of a Thanksgiving Holiday in America, and the first time it was a national holiday, was in 1789. In response to a request from congress “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.” George Washington wrote,

“Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be –That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks –for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation –for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war –for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed –for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.” Read the full text here.

In other words, “we Americans want to thank God for all the wonderful things that have happened to us as a country, and for the fact that we are a country.” He went on to ask that all Americans take this day to pray that God would forgive the country for any wrong it had done, and ask for his continued protection.

This celebration was also not repeated on a regular basis. Some presidents called for days of thanksgiving in November, others at other times, and some presidents called for days of fasting and prayer instead… So when did Thanksgiving as we know it today start?

Thanksgiving finally became a recurring national holiday in the 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln in response to a request to unify the Union celebration of the Thanksgiving (and possibly an attempt to rally support for the cause of union) wrote,

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”

This proclamation, like everything Lincoln wrote, is a wonderful example of nineteenth century prose and propaganda, and also the expression of a profound and beautiful sentiment.

Later, in 1941, just a few days after the United States entered World War II, the fourth Thursday of November was declared the official day of Thanksgiving, as a political compromise between Democrats, who wanted Thanksgiving to be the second to last Thursday of November, and Republicans, who wanted it to be the last Thursday. Here too, the setting of the official day for Thanksgiving was an attempt by the government to unite Americans about to face a challenging war.

aren't you glad we have an eagle and not a turkey for a national
Now, imagine a turkey instead.

But why Do We Eat Turkeys on Thanksgiving?

But even here, Thanksgiving was still not necessarily “turkey day,” though it was a popular dish for the day, possibly because they were so often given as prizes at the shooting matches which were a traditional part of the New England Thanksgiving celebration. According to Mental Floss, Alexander Hamilton, who died in 1804, commented that, “No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day.”

It is also theorized that turkey became the meat of choice for Thanksgiving, the specially American holiday, because turkeys are an especially American bird. They are so American that Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers, wanted to make the turkey the national bird, saying that it was a nobler bird than the Bald Eagle, which is also American, but has the shameful habit of being a scavenger. I guess he didn’t think that looks were important—he was known to be remarkably slovenly in his own appearance.

Giving Thanks

Regardless of how turkeys became the Thanksgiving favorite, they are not the most important part of Thanksgiving. No, they really aren’t. The most important thing about thanksgiving is….Mashed Potatoes! No really, mashed potatoes are awesome! If you don’t agree, try this recipe, from Pioneer Woman. It’s the best! (Spoiler alert: the secret ingredient is cream cheese.)

In all seriousness, though, the important thing about Thanksgiving is, well, giving thanks. (And that’s why I don’t think we should call it “turkey day.”)

Gratitude is one of the most overlooked virtues, which is tragic, considering its benefits for our own psychological health, as well as the health of our relationships.

Just thinking of three things to be grateful for each day is proven to be linked to lower levels of stress hormones, less depression, higher productivity, and other positive outcomes.

And if you’ve ever done something for someone, and your kindness was ignored, you know from experience how important gratitude is for your relationship. If you’re trying to maintain the 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions in your relationships (this is the recommended level) gratitude is a great place to start. Thanking your husband or child or friend for what they do right will make it easier for them to accept it when you tell them what they are doing wrong, as you are sure to want to do at some point.

So, this Thanksgiving, consider one of the following options, along with your turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and if you live in Minnesota, jello salad.

Try making a gratitude journal.

Write down three things you are grateful for each day. The observe as your attitude toward life and everything in it becomes more positive, and you become productive. A pretty blank book like this,

or this,

(Both Amazon links) would make a great choice for a gratitude journal. I personally find it much more fun to write on something pretty than on something blah.

Or you could get an actual gratitude journal, like this, complete with inspiring quotes.

Start a gratitude board for your household.

This could be as simple as a bulletin board with scraps of paper and a pen, or as fancy as a “gratitude tree” where you have leaves where people can write what they are thankful for, and then stick them on the tree. There’s some nice kits for this, or you can make your own.

Send a Thank You Card

Everyone likes to be thanked, and not everyone who you are grateful to can make it to Thanksgiving celebrations each year. Sending a thank you note to parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends, or just random people who did something nice for you. Bringing back hte memory of the good thing they did for you will warm your heart as well as theirs. Click on the picture below to find some really classy thank you notes for any occasion.

Exchange thanks at Thanksgiving dinner

Everyone you have at your Thanksgiving dinner deserves to be thanked for something. Whether it’s the breadwinner for making the money with which dinner was bought, or the cook(s) for making the meal nice, or the guests for coming, your in-laws for raising such a nice son or daughter, or your child for sweeping the floor–everyone has done something that they could be thanked for. You can also have everyone say what they thank God for this year. This would make a wonderful family tradition.

Hopefully, if the focus is put back on gratitude, the stress many people associate with the holidays—will my relatives fight? Will I gain weight? Will the turkey come out right?–will dissipate, and you will be able to enjoy the holiday as it should be celebrated, as a time of peace, gratitude and fellowship.

Check out a whole bunch of other cool ideas, and share your ideas too at LindasLunacy right here.

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Successful Woman: Mary Carpenter

(She looks kind of scary, but by all accounts she was very nice in person)

This is the second post in our Successful Women series. For the introduction, click here.

The style and some of the sentiments in this sketch, which was written in the late 1800s, may seem a little quaint in the twenty-first century, but the story should still be able to inspire us, despite the difference in literary style and social conditions.

On the other hand, many of the problems that Mary Carpenter dealt with in 19th century England still exist in America today, and her example will hopefully serve to inspire similar selfless work on the part of Americans, both men and women, in the 21st century.

“That it may please Thee… to show Thy pity upon all prisoners and captives.”

Mary Carpenter was thirty-eight years old when Mrs. Fry died in 1845. We do not hear, in reading the lives of either, that the two women ever met, or that the elder directly stimulated the activity of the younger. Yet the one most surely prepared the way for the other; their work was upon the same lines, and Miss Carpenter, the Unitarian, of Bristol, was the spiritual heir and successor of Mrs. Fry, the Quaker, of Norwich.

There is, it is true, a contrast in the manner in which the two women approached their work in life. The aim of both was the rescue of what Mary Carpenter called ” the perishing and dangerous classes.” But while Mrs. Fry was led, through her efforts on behalf of convicts, to establish schools for them and their children, Mary Carpenter’s first object was the school for neglected children, and through the knowledge gained there she was led to form schemes for the reformation of criminals and for a new system of prison discipline. Mrs. Fry worked through convicts to schools ; Mary Carpenter through schools to convicts.

It will not therefore be imagined that there is any want of appreciation of Mrs. Fry when it is said that Mary Carpenter’s labours were more effective, inasmuch as they were directed to the cause of the evil, rather than to its results. By establishing reformatory and industrial schools, and by obtaining, after long years of patient effort, the sanction and support of Parliament for them, she virtually did more than had up to that time ever been done in England to stop the supply of criminals. Children who were on the brink of crime, and those who had actually fallen into criminal courses, were, through her efforts, snatched away from their evil surroundings, and helped to become respectable and industrious men and women.

Before her time, magistrates and judges had no choice, when a child criminal stood convicted before them, but to sentence him to prison, whence he would probably come out hopelessly corrupted and condemned for life to the existence of a beast of prey. She says, in one of her letters, dated 1850: “A Bristol magistrate told me that for twenty years he had felt quite unhappy at going on committing these young culprits. And yet he had done nothing!” The worse than uselessness of prisons for juvenile offenders was a fact that was burnt into Mary Carpenter’s mind and heart by the experience of her life. She was absolutely incapable of recognising the evil and at the same time calmly acquiescing in it. Her magisterial friend is the type of the common run of humanity, who satisfy their consciences by saying, “Very grievous! very wrong! ” and who do nothing to remove the grievance and the wrong; she is the type of the knights-errant of humanity, who never see a wrong without assailing it, and endeavouring to remove the causes which produce it.

Mary Carpenter was born at Exeter in 1807, the eldest of five children, several of whom have left their mark on the intellectual and moral history of this century. There was all through her life a great deal of the elder sister one may almost say, of the mother in Mary Carpenter. She never shrank from responsibility, and she had a special capacity for protecting love, a capacity that stood her in good stead in reclaiming the little waifs and strays to whom she afterwards devoted herself. Her motherliness comes out in a hundred ways in the story of her life.

Her endless patience with the truant and naughty children was such as many a real mother might envy. She was especially proud of the title of “the old mother” which the Indian women, whom she visited towards the close of her life, gave her. In writing to a friend, she once said: “There is a verse in the prophecies, ‘I have given thee children whom thou hast not borne,’ and the motherly love of my heart has been given to many who have never known before a mother’s love.” She adopted a child in 1858 to be a daughter to her, and writes gleefully : ” Just think of me with a little girl of my own I about five years old, readymade to my hand, without the trouble of marrying. A darling little thing, an orphan..” Her friends spoke of her eager delight in buying the baby’s outfit.

It was her motherliness that made her so successful with the children in the reformatories and industrial schools; moreover, the children believed in her love for them. One little ragged urchin told a clergyman that Miss Carpenter was a lady who gave away all her money for naughty boys, and only kept enough to make herself clean and decent On one occasion she heard that two of her ex-pupils had “got into trouble,” and were in prison at Winchester. She quickly found an opportunity of visiting them, and one of them exclaimed, directly he saw her, ” Oh! Miss Carpenter, I knew you would not desert us!”

Another secret of her power, and also of her elasticity of spirit, was her sense of humour. It was like a silver thread running through her laborious life, saving her from dullness and despondency. In one of her reports, which has to record the return of a runaway, she said: “He came back resembling the prodigal in everything except his repentance! ”

The motto which she especially made her own was Dum doceo disco: While I teach, I learn. She was indeed very proficient in many branches of knowledge. Her education, which took place at her father’s school for boys, included Latin, Greek, mathematics, and natural history; and the exactness which her father and the nature of her studies demanded of her formed a most invaluable training for her after career.

For many years the acquisition of knowledge, for its own sake, was the chief joy of her life; but a time came when it ceased to satisfy her. She was rudely awakened from the delightful dreams of a student’s life by a severe visitation of cholera at Bristol in 1832. From this period, and indeed from a special day that set apart as a fastday in consequence of the cholera dates a solemn dedication of herself to the service of her fellow-creatures. She wrote in her journal 31st March 1832, what her resolution was, and concluded: “These things I have written to be a witness against me, if ever I should forget what ought to be the object of all my active exertions in life.” These solemn self-dedications are seldom or never spoken of by those who make them. Records of them are found sometimes in journals long after the hand that has written them is cold. But, either written or unwritten, they are probably the rule rather than the exception on the part of those who devote themselves to the good of others. There is a time when the knight-errant consciously enrolls himself a member of the noble band of warriors against wrong and oppression, and takes upon himself his baptismal vow manfully to fight against sin, the world, and the devil, and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant to his life’s end.

When Mary Carpenter first began to exert herself for the benefit of neglected children, there were no reformatory or industrial schools, except those which had been established by the voluntary efforts of philanthropists like herself. Aided by a band of fellow-workers and wise advisers, Mary Carpenter set to work to establish a voluntary reformatory school at Kingswood, near Bristol. Her principle was that by surrounding children, who would otherwise be criminals, with all the influences of a wholesome home life, there was a better chance than by any other course, of reclaiming these children, and making them useful members of society.

To herd children together in large, unhomelike institutions, was always, in Mary Carpenter’s view, undesirable; the effect on character is bad; the more perfectly such places are managed, the more nearly do the children in them become part of a huge machine, and the less are their faculties, as responsible human beings, developed. Over and over again, in books, in addresses, and by the example of the institutions which she managed herself, Mary Carpenter reiterated the lesson that if a child is to be rescued and reformed, he must be placed in a family; and that where it is necessary, for the good of society, to separate children on account of their own viciousness, or that of their parents, from their own homes, the institutions receiving them should be based on the family ideal so far as possible.

With this end in view, the children at Kingswood were surrounded by as many home influences as possible. Miss Carpenter at one time thought of living there herself, but this scheme was given up in deference to her mother’s wishes. She was, however, a constant visitor. She taught the children herself, and provided them with rabbits, fowls, and pigs, the care of which she felt would exercise a humanising influence upon them.

The whole discipline of the place was directed by her; one of her chief difficulties was to get a staff of assistants with sufficient faith in her methods to give them an honest trial. She did not believe in a physical force morality. ” We must not attempt,” she wrote, “to break the will, but to train it to govern itself wisely; and it must be our great aim to call out the good, which exists even in the most degraded, and make it conquer the bad.” After a year’s work at Kingswood in this spirit, she writes very hopefully of the improvement already visible in the sixteen boys and thirteen girls in her charge. The boys could be trusted to go into Bristol on messages, and even ” thievish girls ” could be sent out to shops with money, which they never thought of appropriating.

But although the success of the institution was so gratifying, it had no legal sanction; it had consequently no power to deal with runaways, and the great mass of juvenile delinquents were still sentenced to prisons, from which they emerged, like the man into whom seven devils entered, in a state far worse than their first. Mary Carpenter’s work was not only to prove the success of her methods of dealing with young criminals, but, secondly, to convince the Government that the established system was a bad one, and thirdly, and most difficult of all, to get them to legislate on the subject. At last, in 1854, her efforts were crowned with success, and the Royal Assent was given to the Youthful Offenders Bill, which authorised the establishment of reformatory schools, under the sanction of the Home Secretary.

It is a striking proof of the change that has taken place in the sphere and social status of women, that Mary Carpenter, in the first half of her active life, suffered what can be called nothing less than anguish from any effort which demanded from herself the least departure from absolute privacy. When she was called upon to give evidence before a Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1852, her profound personal timidity made the occasion a painful ordeal to her, which she was only enabled to support by the consciousness of the needs of the children. Surely this excessive timidity arises from morbid self-consciousness, rather than from true womanly modesty. Mary Carpenter was enabled, by increasing absorption in her work, to throw it off, and for her work’s sake she became able to speak in public with ease and self-possession.

As years passed by, her work and responsibilities rapidly increased. It is astonishing to read of the number of institutions, from ragged schools upwards, of which she was practically the head and chief. Her thoroughly practical and business-like methods of work, as well as her obvious self-devotion and earnestness, ensured to her a large share of public confidence and esteem. The extraordinary energy and vitality of Mary Carpenter never declined.

When she was over sixty years of age she made four successive visits to India, with the double object of arousing public opinion there about the education of women, and the condition of convicts, especially of female convicts. At the ago of sixty-six she visited America. She had long been deeply interested in the social and juridical condition of the United States, and had many warm personal friends there. Her first impulse to reformatory work had come from an American citizen, Dr. Tuckerman; her sympathy and help had been abundantly bestowed upon the Abolitionist party, and she was of course deeply thankful when the Civil War in America ended as it did in the victory of the North, and in the complete abolition of slavery in the United States.

Her mind remained vigorous and susceptible to new impressions and new enthusiasms to the last. In 1877, within a month of her death, she signed the memorial to the Senate of the London University in favour of the admission of women to medical degrees. She passed away peacefully in her sleep, without previous illness or decline of mental powers, in June 1877, leaving an honoured name and a network of institutions for the reform of young criminals and the prevention of crime, of which our country will for many years to come reap the benefit.

Adapted from Some Eminent Women of Our Time by Elizabeth Garret Fawcett