Saturday, January 31, 2009


This morning a friend said, "Sheila, you're such a rebel," because I was leading a mini-retreat at our church, and we always keep a candle burning in our midst. Our church is not a candle-burning church as some are, and it occurred to me that it's likely against some fire code to burn candles in the building. After mentioning this, I said, "Oh, well, we're going to keep our candle burning," which provoked the comment from my friend.

It's probably the first time the word "rebel" has been applied to me, and we all laughed. But as I said to her, "In my quiet way, I am a rebel."

And something in me is rebelling right now. I recently read an article by Stanley Fish, written in response to a book, The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities, by Frank Donoghue. It's about the way colleges and universities are becoming more and more driven by the bottom line, and the way our whole society has developed in such a way that "higher education" has become nothing more than a step on the road to getting a job.

This has led to all kinds of results on college campuses, and I won't go into it all, because you can look the article up and read it.

I grew up as the daughter of a college professor. My dad has degrees in church history, biblical languages, and education. While I was in college, I went through majors in music, elementary education, and finally settled on an English degree. I have about two years' worth more credits than are required for a degree. My master degree in counseling includes about 30% more hours than are required at most school for a similar degree, because of the theology classes. My husband has a wonderful job not even directly related to his degree.

I believe strongly in what has been called a liberal arts education. I believe that in order to be a society worth living in, people need to study history and literature and poetry and all kinds of things that may never directly relate to their getting a job.

I believe professors can do better work if they are sure they will have a job the following year, and students learn better if they can form relationships with professors, knowing that they will be around the following year. (The bottom-line approach has resulted in less job security for teachers.)

I think it's quite sad what is happening, and I believe that years from now, if anyone cares enough about history to study it, they will look at American culture and trace much of its decline to this shift in priorities in our educational system.

Drazen has a book in his office with a clever title: If Your Life Were a Business, Would You Invest in It? It's about learning to manage your life the way CEO's manage their companies. (I must say, I do think it's clever. And for CEO's and managers, I'm sure it has some good ideas.)

That said, I don't WANT to manage my life the way a CEO manages his company, because my life is not a company, and it's not about how much money I can make, or how much stuff I can produce.

My response to that title is, "It all depends on what kinds of dividends you're looking for." I would invest in my life, not because it makes money, or because it is successful in any measurable way. I would invest (and do invest) in my life because it results in friendships and beauty and gratitude and joy and understanding and love.

And I think education ought to teach people, to some degree at least, how to love life, not just how to get the most out of it in measurable terms.

My beloved English teacher once wrote a quotation on his chalkboard, something like, "The real purpose of getting an education is not simply to earn your bread, but to make every mouthful sweeter."

Of course that's a matter of opinion, and it looks as if the majority of the American education system has another opinion. But ideas have consequences, as they say. (Now there's another book I ought to read, Weaver's book by that title.) And my rebellious spirit will refuse forever to accept the idea that education is only about how to make a living, because the consequences of that idea are very likely showing up in what is happening right now with our economy. And that's only the beginning.

Any other rebels out there?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sheila in Wonderland

Today, somehow, I was quite sure it was Tuesday for much of the day. I know I wrote the correct date on more than one check, but the date meant little to me, and it was Tuesday in my mind.

Only in the grocery store, as I was thinking about supper plans for the evenings remaining in the week, did I begin to get suspicious and realize that things weren't adding up when I thought back over the earlier part of the day, yesterday, and the day before that! I called Drazen just to be sure, and learned that my doubts were valid. Today was, and still is, Wednesday.

Of course being out of the routine of the past 4.5 years is certainly part of the reason such confusion might occur. But I suspect it also has to do with the fact that I took a walk in the park. And it's the same park I wrote about earlier having forsythia blooming a couple of weeks ago:

And today, that same park was covered in snow, and even had icy spots here and there:

I'm quite sure that the park cast a spell on me. The quiet stillness of the snow, the beauty of it, and that oddness of having ice and snow after forsythia had bloomed, combined with the way it took me back to childhood walks in snowy woods, all combined to remove me somewhat from the realm of calendar watching and careful time keeping. For a little while there, it just didn't matter what order things were happening in.

I'm good at finding creative ways to keep from admitting I'm absent-minded. :-)

And these are, tah-dah, the first photos I've put on my blog taken on my cellphone. I have so many stored on the phone that I've never known how to access, I'm thinking-- now that I know how to get to them--I may just do a cellphone series in the near future.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Do you see what I see?

I was struck by the design of it; in fact, it struck me as beautiful, so I ran and got the camera.

It's clearer here,

though I was also fascinated by the steam covering my lens and the way it affected my visibility so quickly.

We are surrounded by so much we take for granted, are we not?

They tasted good, too.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Endings and Beginnings

Yesterday was our hoped-for official last day at work. My co-worker Ben managed to make it so, but I've still got some things to do that require the input of our manager, who has been out of town for the inauguration. So I'll be going back to the office at least one more time, but for the most part, it's over.

This is a card I had up on my door for most of the time we were at our old building. There, I had a collage of such cards with sayings on my door. When we moved into the new, more sophisticated building, it just didn't seem appropriate to tape things all over the slick wooden door, so I didn't. Except for this one. I didn't know then that we were going to be laid off, but there were forebodings, so even though I put it up for the sake of my clients (who are generally dealing with losses of some sort), perhaps I knew I also needed the reminder.

At any rate, I'm sore from moving lots of books yesterday. I knew there were a lot of books, but they seem like more in boxes than they did on bookshelves.

I'm also a little sore, admittedly, about the whole thing. It's hard to leave a place with no official "thank you" or "good-bye" or anything. It was made harder by the fact that the very evening we were packing up and moving out, the medical providers were having a meeting/dinner in the room right across the hall. So it meant we were walking through their buffet waiting line, back and forth to our cars. And then they left the door open all evening, so each time we took a box or bag of things out, we could see some of them and knew they could see us. Awkward, to say the least. And I'll leave it at saying the least, rather than saying the most I could.

The main effect of this for me was that I felt a bit cheated. The thoughts and feelings provoked by being so obviously excluded crowded out all the thoughts and feelings I had imagined I would have in the moment of packing up my office. You know, the memories, the images of clients I saw for longer periods of time, the thankfulness for the time and experiences, the comaraderie experienced with certain staff members, the little lump I expected to rise in my throat at some point.

There was none of that. Just trying to deal with the awkwardness of carrying those boxes out, hungry, with the aroma of chicken and potatoes and green beans and warm bread in the air, and that open door a continual reminder of the lack of comaraderie between us and the powers that be.

On the other hand, in a way it made it much easier to be leaving. I will say that. It's not that I think the doctors and nurses didn't care that we were leaving. My guess is that they didn't know what to say, felt uncomfortable. The way some people are at funerals. (And some, I'm sure, didn't even know who we were, though most did.) For whatever reasons, it wasn't deemed important to say goodbye to us, and that made it easier for me to say goodbye to the place. Even though I'm not quite finished, it felt very much like The End.

And another story is just beginning. And I'm eager to see how it is going to go.

(I have a feeling I'll get to see more sunrises now, like this one out my home office window last week.)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Who cross the ocean

They change their skies, but not their soul, who cross the ocean.

I've read that in various translations, but that's the first way I ever heard it, and it stuck.

Today I was talking with my neighbor across the street and had a strange moment. She had given us a wonderful cake she made as a holiday gift. So today I (finally) returned her plate and took her a Pandoro as a gift. (I checked; they're good through mid-February.) I mentioned that I used to love them when I lived in Italy, and had found these here unexpectedly at the store....

"You lived in Italy?" she asked. I could tell this came as a surprise to her. Which came as a surprise to me, because with this neighbor I have this sense of a deeper level of friendship. Not because we talk very often, and we've never done more than stand or sit on her porch and talk. But the talk has gone pretty deep, and she strikes me as a deep woman.

And it was strange to realize that she didn't even know that I've lived in Italy. I've lived under different skies, but my soul is just my soul. I guess there's nothing about me that says "lived overseas." She may think, as many do, that I met Drazen here, that he came to America like so many foreigners, not realizing that had I not gone there, he might not have come here.

Anyway, she said she'd always thought she'd like to go to Italy, and she imagined herself sitting in a gondola, with a gondoliere singing over her.

And I wish so much I could make that happen for this dear woman. If I ever see a way to do it, I think I will. I just don't see it now!

So, some photos from my last visit to Venice....

It was a rainy, rainy deluge of a day, so all my pictures are dark. I chose these because of how spots of color break up the darkness. Well, the first not so much. But you can actually see the rain falling there. Then the yellow flowers, then the yellow paint on the wall. Little bits of sunshine on a rainy day.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Random Thoughts

I saw the moon tonight over Superlo grocery store and am thinking how the moon really does look super when she is low in the sky....

And it just struck me that "super" comes from the word meaning "above," so Superlo is somewhat oxymoronic if you take it etymologically literally....

I saw forsythia blooming on Wednesday, and daffodils coming up today, which concerns me, because it's very, very early. We've had so many ups and downs with the temperatures!

We went for a walk in the Botanic Garden today and spoke to a little blonde boy who was playing near a small pond. His immediate response was, "Do you have a GPS?" When we said no, he said, "It's too bad. You shoulda buyed one," and went on to tell us that his dad's GPS was helping him find dew cats. I asked what a dew cat was, and he led us to a small black plastic box near the edge of the wooden bridge. He opened it excitedly and showed us what it contained--a few small plastic toys, a paper (which looked perhaps like a map?) in a plastic bag, a pencil....He showed us how his dad and he hid it under the bridge. He told us how the GPS would help you find dew cats anywhere! In Japan, Australia, anywhere!

As we walked on we encountered the dad, who said the Japan bit (all he'd heard) was a stretch. A bit later I realized that the boy must have been thinking of ducats and had been on a treasure hunt with his dad. It was wonderful to witness such imagination (on the part of both father and son) and to meet a child so trusting and eager to share his excitement and his hidden treasure with perfect strangers. I wish all young people could do that.

"Lessemployment" looms ever nearer. I can't call it unemployment, because I will continue with my piano students, no matter what. I've had interesting possibilities come up here and there and am still waiting to hear from my chief hoped-for possibility.

Perhaps the most interesting thing has been having a call from a new piano student's parent, who got my name from the music store where I shop. It turns out they live right next door to a former student of mine, and this father is a surgeon at Drazen's clinic. But he knew none of that, just got my name from the music store. It almost feels as if invisible forces were at work! This is a city of thousands of people, after all, and I am not the only piano teacher in this zip code, I know for a fact.

Finally, reflecting on Lucy's comment about my shoe photo from the previous post, I was looking at it and thinking, "What does this say about me?" And realized that the shoes are lined up on one of the wool rugs from Grandmother's house, a rug that was part of my life for sure by age 4 (I remember those rugs from that age and have also seen photos), and probably from the time before I wore shoes.

And I wonder if only English majors think about such things and the symbolism of it all. I have no standing in this world without the foundation that I came from, the people who gave me a place to stand....My shoes alone can't take me anywhere that someone else didn't make possible.

And now you know why people write poetry. Because such thoughts about the moon and grocery stores, or shoes and rugs, just sound a bit odd when you say it in non-poetic form!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Christmas Twelfth Night

Thankfully, when Christmas ends, there is Epiphany to look forward to....I have the hardest time taking down the decorations, which I must go and do now.

I got brave and bought another rosemary "treecic" and have manged to keep it alive thus far. It was wonderful today snipping little "branches" and using them in some potatoes. I think if I ever have an office with windows, I may try growing one to use during that afternoon, afterlunch time, when I get so sleepy. That pungent scent might just make a difference in the quality of service my clients get from me at the 2:00 and 3:00 appointments!

An unexpected Christmas gift was Drazen's decision to have me line up all my shoes so he could clean and polish them. (This is the lineup before the work began.)

A candle from Grandmother's table, and a beautiful box of biscotti with the Florentine stationery pattern, purchased during our adventures in Texas. I never knew I could love orange as much as I do in this square foot of life.

I think this looks so nice, I may just leave it up until winter is over....

Card that arrived today from Fric and Lidija in Slovenija. I love it.

And love the stamps, too! Not to mention the people who live in Slovenske Konjice and somehow manage to remember their faraway friends.

Happy New Year, Buon Anno, and Sretna Nova Godina, to all my friends who read this here (and for the most part never comment!) I hope your 2009 has had as lovely a start as ours and that we will all grow in loving all of God's creation this year, "the whole and every grain of sand in it."

Addendum: I just realized that likely no one reading this, except those bilingual in English/Croatian, which would mean a grand sum of two regular readers, will have any idea what a "treecic" is. It's not a word. It's "tree" with the Croatian diminutive suffix added...something like a "tree-ette," I guess.