Friday, September 24, 2010

Harvest Moon and Courage

Two completely different topics this evening:

Taking a walk this evening, and chatting with my (currently in Boston) mother, I became distracted by the moon. Technically last night was a full moon, but I swear it's bigger tonight. Anyway, it doesn't have the harsh, bright white reflection like in the summer, nor the red Armageddon, but a pale yellow. It's a softer reflection tonight, reflecting the softening season of autumn.

Leaves leave the trees and carpet the ground. Lighter clothing and sandals give way to sweaters, khakis, socks and flannel pajamas.

What are you looking forward to this time of year?

I was having a busy day at the end of a busy week today. Often, there's not enough week to finish the work. I get so caught up in how hard it all seems to be, and then...perspective smacks me in the face.

A coworker in another department called me with a question around 4:20 this afternoon. When her name came up on my phone (internal calls show the first initial and last name) I was intrigued. T works on a different floor, and we don't often interact. She is friendly, though, and conscientious. I knew it wouldn't be a social call, or worse, an incredibly dumb question that I would be forced to answer, all the while internally bemoaning the lack of common sense in some members of the staff.
But T does not gossip or shirk. She works hard, and genuinely wants to do her best. I hadn't talked to her in a long time (other than an occasional hello). She asked her question, gave me some background of the problem, and we worked through it. I remember thinking, if every phone call were like this one, I would probably enjoy going to work most of the time.
In the end, we figured it was most likely an error in my department, and not a misunderstanding on her part. I felt genuinely sorry when I apologized for confusing her. T took it well. She was mainly relieved that she understood the situation, and that she could solve it fairly easily.
A mundane phone call about work? Hardly.

You see, T's first language is not English. I would estimate that she is in her late 40s, early 50s. She immigrated to America a number of years ago from Russia. When she was sworn in as an American citizen a couple of years ago, we had a party at work for her. Her English, while accented, is excellent. The only word in the entire conversation that she had trouble pronouncing was someone's name.

I had to concentrate harder during the call than I usually do because 1) her voice is very soothing and I wanted to actually hear what she was saying and 2) I had to think about what I was going to say before I said anything. I didn't completely change the way I talked; I just cut out some of the consonants and enunciated more than I would with a native English speaker. I didn't doubt her ability to understand. I just wanted to be as clear as possible. One thing I did not do was raise my voice or speak (much) slower. If you are speaking with a non-native English speaker and they seem to misunderstand you, do NOT speak louder or slower. Americans on the whole are loud and fast talkers. I'm not saying this is wrong; it's just the way we talk. But it is insulting to speak loudly and/or slowly as if the other person is either deaf or stupid. Okay, I'm done sermonizing...

The point is that T is a completely ordinary person. By her own choices or circumstances (I don't know the story of how she came from Russia to here) she showed exceptional courage.

How do you think you would fare if, in middle life, with family, friends, career, traditions, home and habits firmly established, everything changed?

It did for her. And she faced it.

And now T lives on the far side of the planet from her birthplace, speaking a second language every day (a different alphabet too), and all the while just trying to do her best at her job.

I think my life is pretty easy.


P.S. I haven't forgotten about posting the rest of the trip!

Monday, September 20, 2010

First Part

I meant to start with the first part of our trip, which was Indianapolis (Indiana-POLIS), but forgot about the adventure before we left home. There was a Vatican Exhibit over in the city that Mom really wanted to see - I did too. There were priceless artifacts, paintings and sculptures there. Some of them had never been displayed outside of Vatican City. My favorite section was on the Renaissance. I prefer the art during that period over the Baroque period.
Most of the really famous artists come from the earlier period, and...

Oh really, it's just because anytime I see the word "baroque" I think of that line from Beauty And The Beast: "And as I always say, if it's not ba-roque, don't fix it!"
Yes, I highly doubt I will ever grow up. :)

My only disappointment of the Vatican Exhibit was that the curators couldn't figure out a way to remove the ceiling from the Sistine Chapel and bring it to America. It would be nice to look at that marvelous painting without getting a stiff neck, don't you think?
I was not disappointed with the scant coverage/explanation of the Reformation. They're Roman Catholics, for crying out loud - I didn't expect them to use half their exhibit to display artifacts on Luther, et. al.

We saw the exhibit on Friday, September 3rd, and left the next morning for Indy. It was late in the morning - we took our time. It's not a bad drive over there. Gorgeous weather, too. The entire week was actually gorgeous. We only ran through rain once - on our way back west. Of course it was in Ohio. There are some times that I don't really miss living there...:)

There is a suburb in Indy called West Clay that Mom and Dad wanted me to see. It's fascinating. It's a planned village, totally built by developers. The houses are all different models, and they're all very close together. The point of the closeness is that the people living there live as a community. Sort of like a throwback to the 1950s, when everyone knew their neighbors or something. (I kind of doubt that every place in the past was a perfect community.)
It is contrived, but I appreciate the idea behind places like West Clay. I just doubt if building a perfect-looking community can actually, you know, bring people together. I'm sure that the lure of such a place brings in people who would be more willing to participate in a close community. But over the long run, I'm not so sure. And the perfection of the place was slightly unnerving to me after a while. There were trash cans, but I don't remember seeing a single piece of loose trash anywhere. Even a stray plastic bag blowing across the street would have looked more normal.
That being said, it was very beautiful to see! I think living there would be above my income level too, come to think of it...

On Sunday before we drove to Ohio we went to church only a few miles from our hotel. My older nephew's godmother goes to that church, and it was lovely to see her again!
It's a blessing to see friends after a long gap, or short ones, for that matter.

And then it was on to the place (as my college choir director described it) that's round on the ends and high in the middle...The Buckeye State.

Sunday afternoon was spent shopping, which I don't do a lot of. A couple of cute new shirts, on clearance, began it. Then it was on to the Apple Store. As my brother put it, "You've joined the 21st century!"

I got an Ipod Touch. Technology is an amazing thing. Thousands of songs and multiple hours of video that fit into an object smaller than my hand. I love it.

We met up with Brother and SIL for dinner. We ate outside - another advantage of the fabulous weather was the amount of time spent eating outside. Then it was on to Starbucks before ending up at their home in Lancaster. That Sunday was the 2S day (two Starbucks).

Monday, Labor Day, was perfect - I didn't work. Slept in, had a fantastic butterbraid that SIL very nicely made that morning, then spent several hours on a website Brother showed me and Dad that has all kinds of quizzes on it. Some are standard (Name the 50 states!) and others are obscure (name all the All-Star goalies from all the NHL teams!). It is possible to lose several centuries on websites like that.
Later, we picked up sandwiches and took them to the local park. Beautiful place; hilly, lots of woods, lots of people. After the picnic, we went back home, gathered the rest of our accumulated belongings, and headed for Pennsylvania.

Next stop: Pittsburgh.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Well, I'm Back".

So says the character Samwise in The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. (Both the film and the book.)

I'm back home, after a vacation to PA. A shortened version of where we went goes like this:


Stay tuned for the longer version.

And yes, I miss the AT&T/Cingular commercials where people cram everywhere they've been into one word.


Smells and Sounds

Driving back from choir, I was smacked in the face by a scent. Right as I entered my village (after driving under a starry and moon-lit sky) the smell of onion grass came out of nowhere. I don't know if its real name is "onion grass". But that's what it smells like. It's one of my favorite outdoor smells.

Other smells and sounds today:
The smell of turkey on my sandwich at lunch. (It was a turkey sandwich, so that's a good thing!)
The tick of the wall clock in the living room.
Fish and mac n' cheese for dinner.
The hand soap in my bathroom.
A dog in the back of a truck barking.
The smell of paper - I work in an office, so it's constant. Sometimes the printer smells like it's burning, and the paper feels hot. It's a nice hand-warmer in the winter.
Choir singing the last verse of "Abide With Me" in four-part harmony a capella.
The laughter of friends.

Looking back on it, it was a blessed day. God bless all your days!


Monday, September 6, 2010

A very tall man and a small boy

Somewhere in Illinois in the mid-1930s, a small boy, my grandfather, felt very tired. So naturally, he took a nap. He inadvertently fell asleep against someone. Grandpa was five or six years old when this happened.

The patient person he used as a bed was at this time in his late teens. This older boy, nearly a man in terms of his age, far exceeded all men in his height, even at his young age. His name was Robert Pershing Wadlow. When he died in 1940, he was twenty-two years old and was 8 feet, eleven inches tall.

The sight of a small boy sleeping against Robert would have made a nice picture, don't you think?

And I thought I had heard EVERY interesting story about my grandfather. Apparently not.