Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Seventh Day

Here are the pansies, those cold-defying, hope-inspiring cheerer-uppers. This photo was taken after two overnight freezes, in which they shriveled up and looked quite pitiful--and then came to life again with a warmer day. Our weather has been extremely variable lately. One morning when I checked, it was 31 degrees, with an expected high of 59, which it did reach by afternoon.

Maybe the weather has affected us.

We leave tomorrow for a rather impromptu trip to the Dallas area, to visit friends, and possibly on to Abilene.

In a way it feels like a bigger trip than flying to Europe does! We've been to Europe several times since the last time we went to Texas, so Texas seems farther away.

If we can finally be making this long-promised trip to Texas, then anything is possible.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas from Our House to Yours

As you can see, my blog supports the traditional twelve days of Christmas. As does my house decor, which will be up until January 6. Here's a little tour....Six photos for the sixth day....

The cotton boll on the left is from a field on the way to Grandmother's house. The roses in the photo behind it are some she gave me many years ago when we had been to visit. The photo on the right is us at Zadar a couple of years ago.

The tiny tree has been with us since our first Christmas in America, fourteen years ago. One of my favorite ornaments is the clay cutout with the white ribbon, made by our friend Andreja in Croatia.

"Glory to God in the highest!" He's really singing with gusto. This is from the do we say it...creche?....given to us by our friends Karen and Rich, made by a sculptor friend of theirs. Maybe I can do some more photos of it for another post. This guy is about two inches high.

A Santa container that belonged to Grandmother, which I remember being there when I was a child. To me this was the real face of Santa Claus. I don't recall ever "believing in Santa Claus," but I remember thinking this is what he ought to look like if he did exist in the way the tales told.

Front wooden door.

Front outer door.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Gift

Look what my sweet husband gave me for Christmas!

Here is the Andy Warhol version:

And here is a more palatable version:

It is a bracelet (I think that much is obvious) that I found months and months ago and showed to him. And he remembered. Or maybe he got it way back then, I don't know because I haven't asked. But he remembered and gave it to me. And I just love it.

And I just love him, too.

(You can't quite tell, but it has the entire first part of the "prayer of St. Francis," a slightly abridged version, inscribed on it. And it is in the form of a Mobius/Moebius strip, which means there are not two "sides" to the circle, it continues continually, a symbol of infinity. I first learned about this form from Parker Palmer when he spoke at Rhodes College a few years ago, about community....anyway, it's a special gift, for many reasons.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Clouds

On Christmas Day, I spent a few hours in the kitchen making my most-authentic-I-have-ever-found, i.e., most-closely-resembling-what-I've-eaten-in-Florence, recipe for lasagne pasticciate. It takes between three and four hours, and, no, that doesn't include making your own pasta. I don't do it often, but it had been a very long time since I made it, so that's what we took to my parent's house for Christmas dinner with family. Along with a crostata di mele, something like apple pie, but not so sweet, and the crust is unlike any pie crust I've had here.

We left around 3, which meant we were driving into the sun.

And the road to Searcy does not have many trees along much of it. It's those huge fields, which I wrote about last Christmas, when I witnessed the angels in the form of geese ascending and descending....

So, that meant I was wearing two pair of sunglasses for much of the trip. (I have very sensitive eyes, perhaps fodder for a post unto itself.) Here I was trying to get a picture of that, though I'm not sure you can tell, unless perhaps you enlarge and look very closely, but I don't know that it's worth the effort if you're willing to just take my word for it.

But once the sun eased a little closer to the horizon, I was able to remove the outer pair of glasses, and eventually the other pair as well.

And it was really quite lovely. These photos are taken through the window, of course, but I think they turned out pretty well. Perhaps someday I'll learn to use Photoshop or something, but for now I enjoy taking my best shot and letting it be. I think that's actually a combination of wanting things to stay simple, and also being lazy....

You can see some of the wide fields here, and mostly the clouds, which made me feel I was witnessing an impressionistic artist at work. It made me wish we could listen to Respighi's "Clouds" while we were driving, but, alas, it was not to be found. (I don't think we even have a copy in the house.)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas all' Arancia

Oh, the joys of non-traditional grocery stores, which make it possible in a big city to find the sort of thing one might find on the side of the road in less urban areas. These oranges not only looked lovely, but tasted sweet and wonderful. (But I confess, I bought them just because they looked lovely with their stems and leaves still attached.)

One of the biggest surprises for me this Christmas was finding in another store, without even looking for it, this box of Pandoro, the traditional Italian cake I like so much. "Pandoro" means "bread of gold." It's a simple, buttery, Christmas-tree-shaped cake that you coat with powdered sugar by shaking it in the plastic bag it comes in. At least that's the way the boxed version is done. I've now found a recipe for it that I think I'll try, so probably won't include the plastic bag part.

The first time I came home from Italy while living there, I tied a big box--bigger than this one, probably about 12x8x8--to my backpack and carried that cake all the way home for Christmas. It wasn't easy! That was before planes were so space-conscious, though, so aside from the awkwardness, it wasn't really a problem.

Most years I try to remember to look for these at a small store called Mantia's. If I don't think of it early on, they are sold out by the time I get there, and all they have is Panettone, which I've never cared for because of the candied fruit it has.

This year I was so distracted by the job situation and various weekend activities, that I completely forgot to go by Mantia's until I knew it was too late, and there was no point.

And then, standing in line at Fresh Market, I looked and beheld these beautiful boxes! And of course brought one home. And it was delicious. But as with the oranges, as you see, the visual treat was just as fulfilling as the treat for the tongue:

Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Once in royal David's city
stood a lowly cattle shed,
where a mother laid her baby
in a manger for his bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child.

He came down to earth from heaven,
who is God and Lord of all,
and his shelter was a stable,
and his cradle was a stall;
with the poor, the scorned, the lowly,
lived on earth our Savior holy.

For he is our childhood's pattern,
day by day like us he grew;
he was little, weak and helpless,
tears and smiles like us he knew.
and he feeleth for our sadness,
and he shareth in our gladness.

And our eyes at last shall see him,
through his own redeeming love;
for that Child who seemed so helpless
is our Lord in heaven above;
and he leads his children on
to the place where he is gone.

Not in that poor lowly stable,
with the oxen standing round,
we shall see him; but in heaven,
set at God's right hand on high;
Christ revealed to faithful eye,
set at God's right hand on high.

Just as in King's College, Cambridge, this is the way we begin our Lessons and Carols here with the boychoir. It doesn't seem to matter whether I'm singing it while processing into St. John's church, or listening to it on the radio in my kitchen--I always end up with tears in my eyes. It's a combination of text, music, tradition, little boys' voices joined by adults' and then those of the whole congregation, the simplest words describing the most amazing story ever told--and the fact that I believe what the song is saying--and I think glorious descants have something to do with it, also!

This little stained glass piece, attached to a votive candle holder, was Grandmother's. For a long time she kept it on her kitchen windowsill; that's where I always remember seeing it. I wonder where it came from. Maybe a friend gave it to her? Maybe she found it herself and bought it? Maybe she got it in Bethelehem when they were there in the early 70's? (I still wear the cross she brought me from that trip.)

I suppose I'll never know. And I don't know if she ever heard or sang "Once in Royal David's City." But this year I decided that sitting looking at this candle was the best way to listen to the song while it played on the radio.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Winter Window

This was on our window yesterday morning, bringing in a day even colder than the one before, I think. I love the contrast between the cold frost and the sunshine on the trees across the way.

Winter seems to me lately to be a time of contrasts. I've had unexpected contrast-type moments lately when shopping, especially.

Saturday I was out and had four separate stops. I tend not to shop on Saturdays in general for the reason that many other people do shop on that day! I don't enjoy the crowds and the lines. So of course the Saturday before Christmas is about the worst time to go, and I was not disapointed. Traffic was crazy and stressful. Parking lots were full. People were not at their friendliest.

Even so, I had three unexpected contrasts on Saturday. I was third in line at the post office, of all places! Hardly had to wait a bit.

Then I went to buy Christmas cards in a little Catholic bookshop, and it was not crowded at all, and they still had plenty of cards remaining. (I was afraid I would find only the dregs, so to speak, or that they would all be gone.)

And then, when I was walking from my car across the grocery store parking lot, it was all getting to me. I was tired, and hungry, and thinking all kinds of thoughts about what a mess our culture is, with the commercialization and the inequity among people, the rudeness, etc.

I looked up at just the right time and saw a hawk riding the thermals. I just stopped and watched for as long as I could, until he disappeared into the thick clouds. Three minutes at the most, I suppose it was. But three minutes that changed my interior landscape, as three minutes can often do.

That hawk soaring up above the commercialized chaos down below was a powerful reminder of how short-sighted we can be. It's largely my not looking far enough that leads me to feeling stressed, or seeing only the bleaker parts of the scene. There's always more, whether I see it or not. Like the sunlight beyond the frost. Which I didn't see when I took the photo, only later as I was putting it here on my blog.

It's always worth looking up, and remembering, remembering, remembering, that our immediate experience is only that. There is always more that we don't, and often can't, see in the moment.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

After Barbizon

This afternoon we went to the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, where they are showing paintings from the Barbizon painters, predecessors to the full-blown impressionists. I loved it. Lots of landscapes, amazing light effects. Not being a painter, I am just amazed by what people can do with paint.

And then we went outside for our own view of the landscape and light. Today was a welcome sunny day, freezing cold, but with a very blue sky. The Dixon Gardens are one of my favorite places in Memphis. Maybe with my new work schedule, I'll be able to spend more time there, but until now it has mostly been on weekends.

These camelias were about the only thing surviving the cold. They always surprise me with their gentle beauty in the harshness of winter weather.

A view of the south side of the museum, which was originally a residence. I'm dying to come in warmer weather and sit on that porch and read a book.

I understand that some of the oldest trees in Memphis are in this area. Some of them are very, very tall!

Here is Drazen with Ceres in the background. He is pretty tall himself!

In warmer weather, these archways are covered in several varieties of clematis and remind me of gardens in Europe. As you see by the coats both of us are wearing, it really is cold here right now. By this time my ears were really feeling the cold.

But it was warm in the greenhouses, and fun to see little green things thriving there with their bamboo support system.

Now the day is over,
Night is drawing nigh,
Shadows of the evening
Steal across the sky....

If you're interested, you can see lovely things on the museum/garden website, I'm still not doing links, and I'll explain why in a later post, so you'll have to copy and paste that. Or be old-fashioned and just remember it and type it; it isn't long!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Prednisone, Paolo, and the Piano

Accidenti, I've nearly lost my voice. I've made it this far into fall with no noticeable allergic reactions. I've refrained from raking leaves, I've taken Claritin, I even stopped taking morning walks once the leaves covered the ground.

Except we did go for a walk last Sunday. Maybe that's what did it. I don't know. I just know that two evenings ago I noticed a scratchiness in my throat, yesterday my head felt congested, and this afternoon I began to sound like an alto who can't speak much above a whisper.

And tomorrow is Lessons and Carols. The "Hallelujah Chorus." "Lux Arumque." "O Holy Night." And many more. And I don't know if I'll be able to sing or not. I'm so very scocciata.

I called a kind doctor friend and asked if it would be safe to try taking our dog's Prednisone, as I had taken Prednisone in the past to get my voice back quickly. Kind doctor friend did not recommend taking Paolo's pills, but did call in a prescription for me. It all happened just in time for me to get to the pharmacy before they closed. We shall see if it has enough time to work its magic by 4pm tomorrow, 3pm for warming up....

Oh, how I hope so. The stuff tastes absolutely horrible. I took the first pills with warm tea, and then had a spoonful of sorghum, and still could taste that awful bitterness in my mouth. Bleah. I hope my sacrifice is worth it.

It will be rather a let-down if I don't get to sing, though I'm trying to just imagine how lovely it will be to sit in the pews and soak up the music. It will be lovely, if I'm not coughing!

It is something of a consolation that we had our piano tuned today. Our piano tuner is such a kind and friendly man that just having him here probably boosts the immune system.

And it's so nice to have the piano tuned! I've been having it tuned every six months, so it doesn't get terribly out of tune. But it is in a room with a sliding glass door, so I know the humidity and temperature changes affect it a good deal, and it does need that six-month tuning. I don't have perfect pitch, but I do have a quite sensitive sense of pitch. So my ears are happy each time the piano gets a tune-up.

Moreover (don't use that word very often!), something has been wrong with the damper pedal for quite some time. I thought I mentioned it last time the tuner came, but maybe not. At any rate, it was still the same after he left. Which caused me to fear that perhaps it was something so slight that he hadn't noticed it, or that I was imagining it, or that perhaps it was something that nothing could be done for.

But it was driving me crazy.

When I used the damper pedal, I could feel something with my foot that just felt funny, like it was catching or something. And it seemed that it was causing the keys to stick, and the sound to blur, but not terribly. Just enough to make me wonder if I were imagining it.

But I didn't think so.

So today I made a point of telling him about this, describing it as best I could, and making sure he checked on it.

And, yea! He did check it, and found that somehow the damper pedal dowel was getting mixed up with the mechanism of the sostenuto pedal....blah, blah, blah....I know this means nothing to anyone who doesn't play piano.

But it means a lot to me, and it is corrected, and I sat and played through Brahms' Rhapsodie in G minor, with all its fire and passion and sonority, and all that pedaling, and all my mistakes....and everything responded the way it was supposed to, and it's in wonderful tune, and that was enough to make me forget my stuffy, achy head and voice-gone-missing for a while.

In fact, as soon as I finished the piece and stood up, I noticed how cold it was. That's pretty cool, that playing piano can keep you from noticing that your body is cold. The brain is a fascinating thing.

Hmmm. I wonder if could manage to take the prednisone while playing piano, and see if that distracted me from the bitter taste....

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I Miss Real Mail

For some reason it has hit me the past two days how much I miss getting real mail. Maybe because it's so cold outside, so just walking the extra steps to the mailbox is a stretch for the will. And I do it, because you don't want the mailbox just getting filled up. So I go.

And I do still have that little bit of a sense of anticipation.

"What might be in there?"

"Who might I hear from?"

"I wonder if there might be something from...."

But the truth is that mail with handwriting on the envelope is so rare, that little anticipatory rise is becoming less and less noticeable. Envelopes with what looks like handwriting are often fake, some stupid company's attempt to get your attention.

I'm not sure why this has hit me so hard lately. It's been a few months now that I find myself thinking about it, grieving the loss of real mail.

The mail used to be such an important part of my life. When I was growing up, there were cards from Grandmother, letters from cousins, letters from penpals. In high school it was letters from people I'd met at camp or Governor's School.

In college, campus mail was a lifeline. We sent mail like crazy. Checking mail each day was just fun.

And then of course I moved overseas. And back when there was no email, and phonecalls were beyond my budget and that of most people I knew, mail was the way to stay in touch. Letters from home, from friends or family, were part of the glue that held me together during homesick times and just hard times.

When I lived in Croatia, and the war was going on, one dear friend made a commitment to write me weekly, and she did it for much of the worst part of my time there.

And there used to be letters, or pictures, from children. And thank-you notes from time to time. Sending something in the mail used to be an exciting thing for children, I think. But it has been eclipsed by faster, more fascinating ways of communicating, I guess.

And of course most of my life, there were cards and letters from Grandmother. I'm sure I inherited a letter-writing gene from her. It was so much a part of her, not only birthday and anniversary cards, but just little notes to say "thinking of you," sharing news from her life, sending a newspaper article she'd read and thought I would enjoy.

I have tended to be a letter-writer myself, and I do try hard not to miss important dates for sending cards to people I love. But the computer, and the American way of life, have changed me. I have way more stationery than I can use at any given time. I'm often writing notes to people in my head, but much less often do I actually sit and put the pen to paper, and stamp to envelope, and the whole thing in the mailbox.

But I miss it. I miss writing more letters, and I miss receiving them. I'm glad for email, because it does make some things more doable.

But twenty years from now, it's the cards from Grandmother and the letters that were sent to me in Croatia, and the sweet notes from my young nieces in their oh-so-carefully-attempted handwriting, that will be in a scrapbook or a special box that I will, I imagine, open up and look at now and then. I don't know where the emails will be....even the special ones that say important things, they just aren't the sort of thing you put in a box to treasure.

Well, the season of Christmas cards is soon to be upon us. We'll get more "real mail" in one month than we do in all the rest of the year. Even though more and more people are sending computer-generated letters (and we may this year), at least the envelopes will have that little part of the person, the handwriting. And it will be fun to see the writing on the envelope, to open it up and hear from friends and family, and have something pretty hanging all around the kitchen where we display them all.

And then January will come and go, and the mailbox will become again a conduit for the omniumgatherum of catalogues and bills and computer-generated blather, some requested by us, much destined for the recycling bin. Sigh.....

Oh, but then there is my birthday not far off, so the anticipation will be heightened again, I suppose.

I just wonder if there will come a day when I'll go the mailbox with no hope at all.

I don't know. I don't know how much it matters. I don't know if it bothers anyone else the way it bothers me. What about you, gentle readers? Am I an old fogey already, or do other people miss the mail the way I do?

Let me hear from you....and if you want to respond by real mail, we're in the White Pages. :-)

Sunday, December 07, 2008


This shamrock was a gift from dear friends over eight years ago. It currently resides in our bedroom, on a plant stand that belonged to Grandmother.

I love the way it leans into the light, grows toward the light, orients itself to the light. The window faces south, and the plant reminds me of those who always pray facing a certain direction--just that it's usually east, not south.

Hmmmm, is there a verb for that? Perhaps sudient, rather than orient....

Today I took a much-needed nap and while lying down was captivated by the light coming through the sheers and the new little white flowers heading toward that light.

Contented sighhhh....job security or not, winter light is lovely, green plants are beautiful, Sunday afternoon naps are wonderful, and it is good to be alive.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Officialness of It All

I wondered all week, when I let myself think about it, how this news of our program ending was supposed to be made known to everyone else at work. Or was it going to be made known? Would I walk around for the next month or so seeing people in the hallways, wondering if they knew, wondering how to tell them?

I even went earlier in the day to our HR man, a lovely soul, and said, "I don't know whose job this is, but when you're laying a number of people off, shouldn't something be done in terms of communicating that to everyone? And shouldn't some form of support be offered to them? Or does the organization expect everyone to just walk all around the elephant in the room and all the emotions that come along with the elephant?"

(My reasoning was that this is a Christian organization that frequently invokes the terms "family" and "team" to describe the way it sees itself, and it ought therefore to treat people somewhat differently from the way any old organization does. And while I didn't know anything specific, I knew some others were losing their jobs.)

I'd never been through this before. But I knew the news had to get made known pretty quickly, because we had three new referrals this morning, and we needed to stop those referrals as soon as possible. It was an exercise in humility to realize that the decision that would change my life and that of my co-worker and those of our clients, wasn't even on the radar screen of the social workers and medical providers making the referrals.

A quick conversation with my manager informed me that there would be an official announcement made at some point during the day.

I was very curious to see how this would look.

And so, at 3:45, everyone gathered in the large meeting room. Ben and I sat together, knowing what was ahead. I have no idea who else in the room knew. Everyone sat there chatting until the CEO walked in. My back was to the door, so I only knew he'd come in because of the silence that descended upon the group of 30 or so employees around the table.

It was surreal. He didn't say a thing, just started passing out white papers. Two sheets of paper stapled together. The ominous silence continued as people began reading the document. I'm a quick reader, so I was through with it before they were all even passed out, I think. People just sat there reading, and no one said a thing.

Finally the CEO broke the eerie silence and began going over what the papers said. We and eight others are being cut. It was all presented in terms of the bigger financial picture, though that wasn't given as the determining factor regarding cutting the counseling program. That has more to do with "strategic factors."

(I'm still waiting for a clear rationale behind this "strategic decision." Not saying there isn't a good one, but I would like to hear it communicated articulately, if for no other reason than so that we can pass it on to our clients.)

Anyway, our truly good-natured CEO said nice things about everyone, assured that the layoffs have nothing to do with quality of work, made sure people didn't blame the CFO for the financial state of things, said there were no plans to let anyone else go at this time, and led a prayer.

(It was so quiet and serious. Heavy. When he mentioned our names, I was tempted to smile and raise my hand in a Queen Elizabeth sort of wave, just to break through the weirdness of it all. But I figured that might make people think that I was weird, and since I have to stay on another few weeks, decided against it.)

The meeting adjourned.

I have no idea how this sort of thing happens in other places. I don't know what I even expected. But that is what happened.

And it felt like a funeral or something, with that ominous quiet beforehand, the words spoken, and then no one said a thing to me as we walked out of the room. No one. I guess maybe people either think counselors don't need help dealing with emotional issues, or they think we're not bothered by it. More likely they just didn't know what to say, as people often don't at funerals.

The rest of the day was nice. Good talk with my manager. Session with a client I love meeting with. Short visit with the CFO. And oddly enough, on my way out, both of the MDs behind the decision (or at least present for the meeting in which the decision was made) came out, so I wound up holding the door open for them.

Which just now hit me as a really paradoxical moment. I almost never see these guys at work, almost never. But on this very day there I was, holding the door open for them when they have just shut the door on me. And yet even in the shutting of that door, other doors are opening.

I still don't have a pink slip, though. The one pictured above is so cute, I'm thinking I might just ask for one. To make it really official, you know.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Moment in Time

I took Wednesday off to cook and get ready for the fourteen extra people coming over on Thursday. Despite my determination to be thankful, it was a hard day. I woke up very early, and struggled with a headache most of the day. It was afternoon before I even got to the grocery store.

Thursday morning I woke again at 4am (this is two and a half hours earlier than my norm), with thoughts running through my head about the work situation. Sadness, some anger, some regret.

But guests were coming, and I got to cooking and cleaning, and that helped.

I really wanted to get everything done in such a way that I could attend the ten o'clock Thanksgiving service held at a nearby church. I had looked forward to it all week, and had set the official dinner time so that I would be able to go, and still get back in time to be okay.

But because of the late start on Wednesday, it just wasn't going to work. The closer ten o'clock came, the surer I was of that. So I let it go. A bit more sadness, though I knew it was the best decision.

I was playing the CD "Signatures" by John Michael Talbot, to keep me company while I worked in the kitchen, and to keep my mind on better things than it tended toward when left on its own.

At a certain point, "Come Holy Spirit" began to play. It caught my attention: the centering prayer group I've met with weekly for almost two years always begins with this song.

For whatever reason, I looked at the clock over the dining room table. It was 11:34, right about the time our little group would normally be starting.

It was a real gift. Hearing that song right at that time changed my inner landscape. It made up for missing the service. It opened my heart and made me more able to deal with the sad, angry thoughts, and to move more fully into thankful ones.

I missed the Thanksgiving service. But I was able to serve more thankfully because of this "divine coincidence."

Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and I doubt anyone is going to read this for a while, but I feel the need to write something about thanksgiving.

Yesterday I learned for certain that our counseling program is coming to an end. Which means I get to add being "laid off" to my list of situations for which I can offer experiential empathy, perhaps not a bad thing for a counselor in the times ahead.

This is hard for me personally for various reasons related to how the situation unfolded and led to a somewhat dramatic denouement. (I'm not even going to bother to see if I spelled that correctly, it's my day off.)

(Addendum, added two days later with a less heavy heart: Things are already looking up! I did spell that word correctly! Maybe I'll pursue a job as proofreader somewhere....)

Beyond my personal situation, though, is the multiplied effect this decision will have (and has already begun to have) on our clients. Of course God will work through this, and that is what I am trying to help them see, but another "of course" is that it's hard for anyone seriously involved in therapy to hear that their therapist is leaving. It's a bit harder in this case because some of the clients feel a sense of betrayal by the organization we work for, whose mission statement says it is about meeting physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. They know our organization is moving ahead with plans to build a new medical clinic, so they conclude that it isn't dire necessity driving this decision. (And from what I've been told, it isn't.)

To cut the counseling program (which consists of only two people, neither working a full workweek) just doesn't make sense to them, and of course no one from among the decision-makers is going around saying to our clients, "I'm sorry this has to happen."

Which means we have to say it, even though it's not our decision.

And then there is the reality that many of our clients may not be able to get good care when we close because they either cannot pay even the low rates some private services offer, or they have an insurance that is hardly accepted by anyone but the local mental health centers who I like to believe do the best they can, but are terribly overworked and understaffed.'s hard. No getting around it.

And therefore the photo of pansies, from our trip to Mountain View last month.

Pansies make it through the winter here in the South. They are amazing, with those bright cheery colors.

You can go out on the morning after a freeze and see how they've withered, as if hunching down to keep themselves warm. If you didn't know better, you'd think they had died.

But as soon as a warmer day hits, they spring back to life and are just as vibrant as before.

And I've lived long enough, and been through enough, and gotten to know God enough, to know that even though there will be frozen days of withering ahead for my clients and likely for me as well, the sun will return, and life can be colorful and vibrant again.

More than that, I hope to stay vibrant throughout the experience. And thanksgiving is part of that. I've been reading from a little book a dear friend gave me, Jesus Calling, and she has some good stuff on giving thanks. Here is one day's entry:

Thankfulness takes the sting out of adversity. That is why I have instructed you to give thanks for everything. There is an element of mystery in this transaction. You give Me thanks (regardless of your feelings), and I give you Joy (regardless of your circumstances). This is a spiritual act of obedience--at times, blind obedience. To people who don't know Me intimately, it can seem irrational and even impossible to thank Me for heartrending hardships. Nonetheless, those who obey Me in this way are invariably blessed, even though difficulties may remain.

Thankfulness opens your heart to My Presence and your mind to My thoughts. You may still be in the same place, with the same set of circumstances, but it is as if a light has been switched on, enabling you to see from My perspective. It is this Light of My Presence that removes the sting from adversity.

(Note from Sheila: I think it important to understand that the word "obey" comes from the word for "hear" or "listen." It tends to have some negative connotations in our present day, but has a much deeper meaning than subservience.)

Not too long ago in my life, I would read similar things and scoff or at least accuse people of being superficial. (Which they sometimes are when they say similar things. I think it can be a religious veiling of denial, refusal to acknowledge how hard life can be and how much it hurts.)

But this writer, Sarah Young, is not superficial. And what she is writing about is similar to what the apostle Paul, Christian mystics, and all those serious about pursuing God write about, and it has been born out in my short experience of truly discipling myself to thank and trust God. It sometimes makes big differences in the circumstances, but more than anything it changes the heart and soul and opens us to His Light. And that changes everything.

When you think about it, the circumstances will be finished one day for all of us. The heart and soul will remain. That's where the most important changes happen.

It may sound irrational. I would say it's beyond rational.

Happy Thanksgiving Day.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cake Making, Merry Making

And so, the morning of the big day, the frosting was made and the cake assembled.

I was nervous about this frosting/filling; when you've never done it before, it's hard to know for sure what "thickened and bubbly" ought to look like. How thick? How bubbly? And what's going to happen if I don't get it thick enough? And what if it overcooks?

But rather than letting fear overcome, I used my best judgment; it stuck to the cake pretty well and I hoped that was a good sign.

And did I mention that I also am now the proud owner of a round cake carrier? Here we are, ready to drive to Arkansas.

Cute candles, are they not?

Closer up.

Cute family, are we not? (Someone smart knew we had to make the photo before starting in on food, or else we never could have gotten all those young ones back in one place. And their shirts would likely not have been as clean as they are.)

They let me light the candles.

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Friday, November 14, 2008

How Sweet It Is

Ha! I just realized that in nearly eighteen years of marriage, I must have never made a traditional round cake. At least not since moving to America 14+ years ago. I know this because I did not own a set of round cake pans until this morning, unless I have some in our Croatia kitchen that I've forgotten about. I do have a couple of ten-inch cake pans inherited from Grandmother, but I haven't ever used them to bake a cake.

After a quick morning trip to Williams Sonoma, I am now the proud owner of two eight-inch round cake pans, and I am in the process of making a real round, two-layer cake that will have candles on it tomorrow for my dad's birthday.

In case you wonder how I managed to live this long without such a common kitchen element, I guess it's because when we married, we didn't have a traditional wedding shower. We had a money tree, and we wound up needing most of the money just to pay for getting around in the States until we got back to Croatia. So I've never had a lot of things for kitchen and dining that the books say I ought to have. And when you don't have those things, you learn to find recipes that use what you have.

Anyway, if this cake turns out well, birthdays may never be the same again!

I'll try to add photos later, 'cause I'm sure you're all dying to see the process. (...And as you can see, I added the photo.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Lux Arumque

warm and heavy as pure gold,
and the angels sing softly
to the new-born baby.

Monday nights are rehearsal nights most weeks. I began singing with the Memphis Chamber Choir almost two years ago. I had been to their Festival of Lessons and Carols and felt transported by the experience. Then a friend introduced me to the director, and Geoff's enthusiasm for not just music, but for worship, created a connection with me, and I auditioned and started singing.

(I had sung before with the symphony chorus, and the Rhodes Mastersingers chorus, and both were wonderful experiences. But I like being with a smaller group, offering music at no charge, and singing the music in the church setting it was written for, not as a performance for an audience of people, but as an offering to the ears of the One who is the subject of most of the pieces we sing.)

So, week after week we meet and sing. And sing, and sing. It's always enjoyable, sometimes tiring, and every now and then soul-stirring.

Tonight we began work on "Lux Arumque" by Eric Whitacre, a song with a somewhat odd history. It began as a poem (above) written in English by a poet named Edward Esch. Whitacre liked the poem and asked his poet friend Charles Silvestri to translate it to Latin.

I didn't know anyone other than students translated from English to Latin, but he does, and so then Whitacre set the Latin text to music. And the result is a feast for the ears, the imagination, and the soul.

It's easy to find and listen to via Youtube, by the way, if you want to.

Of course we just began it tonight, so it wasn't an incredible rendering. But the music itself, even mediocrely sung, is so lovely, and it just hangs in the air so that everything feels exceedingly alive, even when we're only holding out a chord.

And it just hit me at one moment tonight how absolutely amazing this thing we call singing is. I sat there with my eyes closed and could feel the air vibrating all around me, and I knew that it was all was being transformed into this beautiful sound....and somehow that was coming from the bodies of these human beings all around me. We just move our lungs and throats and mouths in certain ways, and the very air changes. And every human being is born with the ability to do this.

And when you add the metaphoric heart to the literal lungs and all, this music has the ability to join heaven and earth, as my friend from the previous post put it.

So, I just sat there thinking all this in the space of a measure of music, doing my little part to add to this amazing music and feeling blest that I can.

And for a moment, the light felt gold.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Eternity in their heart

On Reaching Middle Age, with Friends

I planned a meal of food—
My food was love, instead.
Sweet joy and peace and hope—
With these my soul was fed.

I hoped not to feel old—
My heart instead seems young:
The years to come a song
Now waiting to be sung.

Here you are, Lucy. One more poem! You have coaxed me out of hiding.

I wrote this the night of my birthday several years ago. For various reasons, that particular birthday weighed heavily on me. Drazen had the lovely idea of having a real birthday party, something I hadn't done since childhood. I cooked and cooked, everything Italian, and had as many girlfriends over as our house could seat to eat. They ranged from a kindergarten friend to a friend made in the previous couple of years, and even one friend made in Italy was there.

As you can tell from the poem, it worked. My focus shifted drastically.

I have since had times of struggling with my age. Not so much the gray hair--I feel I've earned any sign of wisdom I might be graced with. But it's the things I haven't done that I thought I would have done by now, and the things that most likely will not be a part of my life, no matter what.

But I find Drazen's cure still works. Friends. Relationships. Old ones, new ones, green ones, blue ones. Oh, wait, the poem part is over, isn't it?

I love the verse from Ecclesiastes, "He has also set eternity in their heart." I feel the effects of time in my body, and I see them in the mirror. But more and more in my heart, I sense eternity. And friends are a big part of that, as you see them aging along with you and see their hearts growing and deepening, and you become less and less alone.

And the friends who have died....they just make eternity seem closer, more real.

Why am I thinking about this tonight? It's not my birthday, and I haven't noticed new gray hair, or re-injured my knee. I guess it's because we sang a requiem service tonight, in honor of local servicemen lost to the war, and people murdered in Memphis, in the past year.

A friend who was there told me later, "The music was just beautiful. It brought earth and heaven together right here."

I don't know when my true "middle age" might have been reached, or when it will be reached. But it just doesn't seem so important in the context of tonight--a night which, by the way, had a good deal of friendship and food both mixed in. Maybe food is also part of the mix....

I'll end with the piece we sang immediately following the reading of names:

Give rest, O Christ, to your servants with your saints:
where sorrow and pain are no more;
neither sighing, but life everlasting.
You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind:
and we are mortal, formed of the earth,
and to earth shall we return:
for so did you ordain,
when you created me, saying:
"You are dust, and to dust you shall return."
All of us go down to the dust;
and even at the grave we make our song:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


My sister, the librarian, had this set of questions on her blog and suggested that we her dear readers answer them on our blogs. So, for the fun of it, here we go.

What was the last book you bought?

Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life, by Kathleen Norris.

Name a book you have read MORE than once.

Mere Christianity, the Chronicles of Narnia, To Kill a Mockingbird, Little Women, Les Miserables (no, just kidding on that last one….I would like to read it again, but I don't know when it might happen....)There are others. I tend to re-read things I want to stay around in my mind.

Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?

Hearing God, by Dallas Willard.

How do you choose a book? eg. by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews

I love to see books done beautifully, but I generally buy them because of what I’ve read in reviews or heard from friends.

Do you prefer Fiction or Non-Fiction?

I love reading good fiction, and because of life activities tend to read a lot more nonfiction.

What’s more important in a novel - beautiful writing or a gripping plot?

I see no point in making it an either/or issue. Good fiction is written well, which includes having a plot that matters. I’m not in need of “gripping” plots, as I don’t thrive on suspense. I think a lot of bad writing is out there that people “can’t put down,” but I’m concerned about the effect reading such stuff has on people’s minds….

Most loved/memorable character (character/book)

I don't know that I could pick one....I might have to think about that and maybe write about it separately someday.

Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?

I don’t keep books on my nightstand.

The ones by my reading chair are way too many….and yes, I’ve started them all….Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak (re-read) and A Hidden Wholeness, Marsha Sinetar’s Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow (re-read), Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart, Gary Thomas’ Sacred Marriage, Slavenka Drakulic’s Café Europa, Norcross and Guy’s Leaving It at the Office, Poe and Mattson’s What God Knows, Barbara Sher’s It’s Only Too Late if You Don’t Start Now, The Life of Teresa of Avila by Herself, The Music Lover’s Anthology of Poetry…..and a few more……And I’ll probably finish them all over the course of a few months, on an as-needed basis.

What was the last book you’ve read, and when was it?

The last book I remember finishing was Tolkien’s The Return of the King. That was in September.

Have you ever given up on a book half way in?

A wise piano teacher once told me, “Life is short. Play only music that you love.” I feel the same way about reading. If I get into a book and don’t find myself really loving it or really learning something from it, I’m not going to finish it unless it’s required for some reason or another.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Sign

When we went to Mountain View, Arkansas, a couple of weeks ago, on our way back we stopped at Johnson's Freeze Inn, in Wynne. My favorite ice cream stop for many years, it is a very small building, the kind of place where you used to just stand outside and receive your goods through a sliding window. Some years ago they added on, so a few people can sit down inside, and no one has to stand in the rain. They even added a drive-through window. It's still small and very obviously locally owned, not part of a chain, and I love to stop there.

So, I didn't get a picture of Johnson's, but I did get this picture of the school mascot that was on top of a sign in the parking area. Not sure if you can tell, but it was clearly handpainted, probably one of a kind. And I just love that expression on the face.

I do miss living in a small town!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


"The United States spends more on trash bags than ninety other countries spend on everything. In other words, the receptacles of our waste cost more than all of the goods consumed by nearly half of the world's nations."

--Business writer Polly LaBarre, quoted by Daniel H. Pink, in A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.

It's an interesting book, and that quote is not the focus of the book, or even the chapter I'm reading, but it sure got my attention.

How do we change this??

Friday, October 17, 2008

Another Poem

"You should put more poems here," Lucy commented a couple of posts back. I've thought it over and decided to be brave and do just that.

So, here is another poem I wrote in high school. I do not have this one memorized, by the way. I came across it recently while going through things in my office.

It must have been graded strictly on form rather than content, because it got a 100.

After a Day in the Library
When I Wanted to Talk

Miss Browning, our librarian,
Was heard to threaten, "Hush!"
If soon you do not quiet down,
Your body I shall smush."

But I continued talking on:
I couldn't hold it in.
And then I learned that in her view
That was a deadly sin.

She kept her vow, and although now
I'm far from being dead,
My eyes peep out from 'neath my knees,
And toes sprout from my head.

You see what I mean about content?

I really wonder what inspired this poem, because I didn't tend to be a talker, and I don't recall Miss Browning being particularly severe. It must have been an unusual day when I did talk a lot, and perhaps not being used to reprimand, I was just very impressed by hers? I don't know.

Actually, now on re-reading, I see themes of social stereotyping, violence, rebellion, hamartiology...It does have some pretty important content when you look more deeply. Ha!

Lucy, do you still think I should put more poems here? :-)