Sunday, October 22, 2006

Austin City Limits

Well, would you believe that I bought a book in the airport about a reporter who travels by herself and writes about her learning experiences. (Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman by Alice Steinbach.)

And, would you believe that I didn't even get to read half of it, because I was too busy enjoying Austin?

The exam prep part was mostly rather boring.

But I also:

* sat in the airplane next to Jay, drummer for the Fabulous Thunderbirds

* ran into a college friend I hadn't seen for over fifteen years

* found a wonderful French brasserie where I ate three different evenings with three different sets of companions

* had lunch at Las Manitas, recommended by Jay, an authentic Mexican restaurant threatened with being shutting down--I assume it has to do with the fact that you have to walk through the middle of the kitch to get to the patio, which is covered with a platic "roof"--a petition was in progress to protest the shutting down--quite an eating adventure, and I hope it doesn't get shut down

* met the lone psychiatric intern who had also come alone and thought she would spend five days shunned by family therapists (who have a history of major disagreements with the medical model used by psychiatrists)--and she was even considering Memphis as a residency option--who'd've thought it?

* watched thousands of bats fly from the Congress Avenue Bridge at sunset

* watched the sunrise during my morning prayer time

* found a wonderful bakery that made everything from scratch and had the cutest Halloween cookies I've ever seen

* accidentally walked into a Catholic church at mass (I thought the church was empty!)

* watched hawks flying over the river

* ate fettucine and funghi sitting at a bar because the tables were all reserved

* got to have breakfast with Jackie Halstead, a woman I'd admired from afar based on her writings

* generally had a wonderful time walking around Austin when I wasn't with old and new friends

* talked most of the flight back with a 79 year old woman from Vienna who had actually been to Zagreb and other Croatian cities and gave me advice about being married to a European man

You just never know what's in store, do you?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Just in case anyone comes to my blog in the next couple of weeks, thought I'd leave this note. I leave today for Austin, TX, for a professional conference. For me, that will mean attending three+ days of sessions all geared toward studying for the licensure exam I plan to take in February.

While I have to say that I'm in this field (counseling) because it is interesting and meaningful to me, I don't really imagine this is going to be a thrilling four days.

The worst part (in my mind, at least, right now) is being in a huge hotel, surrounded by tons of people each day, but not being with anyone I know most of the time. Bleahhhh. Not my preference. I'll have to pretend I'm a foreign journalist or something, just observing a lot, and perhaps "interviewing" the occasional friendly-looking face.

Wish me well.

Then I come back for a few days of work and take off again for my college Homecoming (where I'll know lots of people). And then . . . I'm going hang gliding in north Georgia! Now that I can hardly wait for. Going alone, but not to be around tons of strangers. Just me and the instructor and whatever birds might be up in the air. My dream is that a hawk might decide to fly with us.

So, I don't imagine I'll be writing again until early November.

And I have a feeling I'll have more to say about what happens in Georgia than in Texas. :-)

Keep enjoying fall.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


I was shopping the other day and saw a new-to-me vegetable. It looked a lot like zucchini, with alternating dark and light green stripes, but it was much lighter than any zucchini I've ever seen. And the shape was different, plumper overall and with more of a bulge on one end.

I looked at the sign accompanying it, hoping for enlightenment.

Written in slightly crooked letters with a thick black marker was the word "squach."

Something told me that someone didn't really intend to put a "c" there, and that I wasn't actually learning anything about the precise variety of this item.

Being the former English major/editor that I am, I would normally experience something negative upon seeing such a misspelling in a public place. But in this case, I did not.

It has to do with context.

You see, less than five minutes from our house is a store called Mediterranean Grocery, and that's where I was shopping. Shopping at the Mediterranean Grocery is like stepping into another world, just for a moment.

On this particular day, I went in hoping to exit with gyros to take home for lunch. But when I approached the woman behind the counter, she said, "We not have gyros. No hot food. This is Ramadan. We not selling hot food in Ramadan."

As I said, it's like being in another world.

The majority of the people seen in the MG are Muslim. Many products come from their part of the world, with labels written in languages I cannot make out. As I walk the aisles, I feel like a foreigner, the only person with blondish hair, and often the only woman with hair uncovered. I hear mideastern languages being spoken all around, and occasionally English spoken with a heavy accent.

MG also carries products from other Mediterranean countries, and this is what drew me into the store. My husband's Bosnian co-worker told us about it first, that they were carrying products from Croatia. I buy Napolitanke (I know we have an English word for them but haven't used it in ages and have forgotten....those wafer cookies that look like Lego blocks and are mostly air with sugar and some crunch...) I buy ajvar, a Croatian specialty made with eggplant and mild peppers and other things, used as a spread or as a condiment with meat. I buy Bajadera, a chocolate-hazelnut confection made only in Zagreb. I've found a seasoning mix for cevape,a meat specialty beloved of my husband.

I can sometimes find products from Italy, which bring back happy memories. Or from Germany, that we ate in Italy. I don't know how German products qualify for a Mediterranean grocery store, except that they've exported to those mediterranean countries.

In the back of the store is another reminder of my life overseas. From the ceiling hang huge...well, is carcass the proper word for the body of a slain animal that is going to be cut up and eaten? I'm not sure what word to use, but anyone who has been in a mediterranean butcher shop knows what I'm talking about. I don't go too close to that part of the store.

There are also coffee makers, for good old "Turkish coffee," just like they drink in Croatia, thick as mud. And rugs, and artistic prints of faraway places that remind me of black velvet art, for some reason.

The store is not fancy, and it doesn't have the glaring light you find in most American grocery stores. I can't always count on finding the same products each time I go. And there is the occasional misspelled word. (Unless "squach" actually is the name of this vegetable I bought...)

The cash register is not fancy. The little receipt that prints out is about an inch wide and only lists the necessary information. No give-aways, no website information, no anything except the prices and total. And above the cash register is a sign informing you that at this place you can have videos and DVDs "translated" from the international standard to the American standard for a certain price.

Mediterranean Grocery is, thankfully, unlike the many grocery stores that all look pretty much alike. It's not just a good place to get certain foods at low prices. It'a also a reminder to me that the world is much bigger than what I see each day, and that in the blink of an eye I can transform from "native" to "foreigner." It all has to do with context.

I like that. Somehow it helps me be humbler. Somehow it expands me, too.

By the way, we ate the squach today at lunch. It was good.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

More about music

I love music.

Not all music, mind you. And certainly not everything that gets called music.

But, matters of definition and taste aside, I love the very thing we call music. That it even exists amazes me. What it can do to us, and in us, amazes me.

Right now I'm listening to the soundtrack from The Mission, by Ennio Morricone. As I started writing, the music was so beautiful, I was floating somewhere in some beautiful area of my mind, and that's why I decided I had to write.

Within moments, the music became tense, dissonant, "scary." And I noticed my shoulders tensing, my brow furrowing, and suddenly I didn't know what I wanted to say.

In some ways, music is much more powerful than prescribable mood-altering drugs. But without the side effects, thank goodness.

One of my concerns about our culture is that music has become so much a background element. We get used to hearing it in stores, in cars, on TV, etc., and we tend to hear but not listen. So we are both affected by it without realizing it--and missing its fullest impact because we are not really hearing it.

So, I encourage everyone reading this to take some time out in the next day or two and really listen to some music that does you good. Stop everything else and just listen to it. Soak it in.

And if you're in town for November 10, I encourage you to come to our concert! You can enjoy beautiful sounds, profound words, in the acoustic wonderfulness of the Germantown Performing Arts Center. With no distractions. I promise it will be worth your time and whatever you pay for a ticket.

Whether you can come to that or not, though, do take some time to let music do what it was meant to do--to really connect with you and bless you.

I would love to hear what you listen to. Well, maybe not actually hear it, but read what you write about what you listen to. Kind of a show and tell in the comments.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Mendelssohn, Music, and Metaphor

Once upon a time I was a college music major. Even in high school, I used my lunch break and free period (when I was supposed to be editing the yearbook) to walk over to the college music building and practice piano. And I was always in the chorus, ten years straight. At one point during college, I would practice piano three hours a day whenever I could.

When I took those vocational aptitude tests they gave us repeatedly in high school, "conductor" was always near the top of the list.

Music was once very much the focus of my life, and even after I switched majors (first to elementary education and finally to English), I imagined always living a life immersed in music.

Then my life went in a rather different direction, taking me to faraway countries and times when I didn't even have access to a piano. Times when I had no one to sing with.

So, when I came back to the States, there were times when I would attend a symphony concert and find myself in tears because I felt that I had lost that part of my life and didn't know if I would ever get it back.

Years later, I am again singing with a chorus. I teach piano a little bit. And as of this past weekend, I am even taking piano lessons again.

Still, it's not as if I can really devote myself to the music the way I did before. (In fact, I still don't know how I'm going to get piano practice time in, and I haven't learned my parts for the upcoming choral concert.)

Over the past decade, while I've worked on a counseling degree, completed that degree, and worked toward a license, from time to time I've had serious moments of wondering if it wouldn't be better to toss all that and get back into music. It never was my dream to become a counselor. For a while I tried being a full time piano and Italian teacher, in fact.

But I came back to the counseling eventually, and that's where most of my time and most of my heart are given.

Well, last night, we went to hear Gil Shaham and his wife, Adele Anthony, internationally renowned violinists, perform with the Iris Chamber Orchestra in Germantown. The music was phenomenal. The performers were outstanding--and very sweet, as he kissed her after each piece! Conductor Michael Stern, son of violinist Isaac Stern, outdid himself. Perhaps I'll write more about the concert later.

One thing that "hit" me last night, though, was that I did not cry. I did not feel that I was missing out on something. I did not have that old familiar thought, "Could I have been up there if only I had . . .?"

Instead, the only really personal reflection that came to me was the memory of one of my clients three days earlier, as he noted that we were two days away from our two-year anniversary as counselor and client. He has had a particularly difficult life, and some really amazing and lovely changes have occurred in the two years we have worked together.

I tend to view my work as a counselor somewhat like being a midwife. The client is doing the really hard work; I'm just helping. More often I simply see myself as a vessel: God does the work, and He just uses me from time to time as needed.

But this man made a point of saying he saw me as having "orchestrated" things in such a way that he could make the changes he has made. He used the word repeatedly and even said he was pleased to have come up with that particular word, because he felt it was the best descriptor for how he saw my work with him.

Of course I don't orchestrate in the sense of writing a score, or even spelling out for clients what to do. But there is a sense in which counseling is like orchestrating. You have to be able to hear the music of a person's life, when often they cannot hear it. You help them practice and learn their part. You show them how their part fits with the parts others play. You help them hear the music of life as it can be played, and you teach them to listen more carefully. You help create harmony where there was only dissonance before. Or perhaps only silence.

So, last night as I closed my eyes the better to hear the Adagio movement of Mendelssohn's C minor symphony, and floated in that lovely, lilting music, I didn't feel left out. I didn't feel regret.

I realized that I am very much immersed in music, the music of people's lives. And that it is music worth listening to.