Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Moving

I decided to move my blog to a new one. I'll be posting now at lovingthelifethatis.blogspot.com

...And before you turn around, a year is past

Let's just say that 2012 didn't exist. I did not publish one blog post during the entire year. So while I KNOW it happened, I can't exactly make up for an unrecorded year. So I'll start fresh at the beginning of 2013, and endeavor to do better. The highlights of 2012 would have to be graduating from Clemson, Ben's complete recovery, and finding a job at Furman. The lows? Um, my divorce finalized, and months of not having a job and the associated stresses. But on to 2013.
I have spent the last week at Isle of Palms, where Ben rented a house for our kids to meet and mingle and spend a little down time. Three of my children made it down here for a few days, and both of Ben's daughters were here, but sick during the week. Given the revolving door and the germs, we've had a relaxing break. It's been good for me to get to know his daughters better. He and I had visited the older daughter at college a few times, but I hadn't spent any time with his younger daughter. The whole post-divorce world is strange and uncharted, for the parents and for the kids. This was a good chance to try to allow things to happen in a laid back setting. Because both girls were sick on New Year's Eve, we watched Clemson win the Chik-Fil-A Bowl (why can't they just call it the Peach Bowl still?) and went to bed. So on New Year's Day we set out to make something happen. We started with doughnuts at Krispy Kreme, and moved on to the fireworks stand. Unfortunately, after we bought them, we returned home and learned that fireworks are illegal on the barrier islands. We drove over to Mt. Pleasant where they are legal. But not having a house there, and being too chicken to just be "explosives squatters" in a random parking lot, we abandoned the idea. But we have the photo. And when the girls come to the Upstate to visit their dad, we will put on an extravaganza.

Friday, December 23, 2011

...and Quite a Month It's Been

I last wrote from the hospital about a month ago. Yesterday, I returned to the hospital, driving Ben to his follow-up appointment. In the intervening month, he has found recovery to be a painful, slow, and draining experience. I have watched as he has suffered through pain, weathered discomfort, and been flattened by fatigue. The hardest part of the recovery though, has been the emotional toll. He has described it as brittleness, which seems like a stellar description. If I had been asked ahead what I thought recovery from heart surgery would entail, I would have responded with things such as limited activity, changes in diet, exercise plans, and monitoring cholesterol and blood pressure. I would not have anticipated the emotional component.

I try to figure out my place in the recovery. I feel helpless in one sense, as I watch his frustration and suffering. And yet, I know that I am helpful in the practical sense: driving him places, carrying heavy things, being a friend. But trying to figure out how to be the friend (of only three months, at that!) -- while not being the caregiver, not the doctor, not the therapist, not the wife -- has been tricky to pull off. Add to that our adjustment to all the emotional factors, and we've got one heck of a challenge on our hands. But he is a fighter, who somehow has managed --while recovering-- to put full days in at the office, entertain his daughters for a holiday weekend, and do all his online Christmas shopping (well ahead of me, who is still shopping the old-fashioned way on Christmas Eve). And I am a patient and optimistic friend, who has managed in the past month --while supporting his recovery-- to finish my semester's classes, maintain a 4.0, attend five Christmas parties, visit with dozens of friends, and buy a new car. There's a lot of strength there between the two of us.

Last night we visited with his old college friend, Ed, and his wife Jackie. Such lovely, interesting people! They live in a modern home filled with art and artifacts from a lifetime of travel and living abroad. They converse easily and intelligently on an array of subjects, and between the two of them, converse in French, Jackie's native tongue. A variety of magazines and newspapers are stacked in the recently arrived mail, demonstrating the scope of their interests, and the bookshelves throughout the house are chocked full. When I grow up, I want to be as interesting as they are. :-)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Heart Issues

“You’re a very lucky man.” Those words, coming from a cardiologist at Duke University Hospital, carry weight. “Most people who experience what you did last night are not alive this morning.”

Since we came in Friday night, Ben has been catheterized, MRI’d, and echocardiogrammed in an effort to find out why his heart rate was almost 300 beats per minute. They still aren’t quite sure they know the answer to that one exactly. But in the process of looking for an explanation, they discovered a lot. So much, in fact, that as I type this, Ben is in surgery for a double bypass AND mitral valve repair or replacement, a 6 hour open-heart procedure.
There’s nothing like a real life trauma to throw things into perspective. I rearranged my schedule -- thanks to the kindness of my classmates, supervisor, professors, parents, kids, and friends -- so that I could remain up here in Durham. I’ve assumed responsibilities and questioned doctors and met Ben’s friends and daughter and talked with his ex-wife (we’ve even been texting today!). I’ve laughed my head off, and cried, and worried. I’ve felt strong, and weak. I’ve been glad to be here, and I’ve wished I were anywhere else. But mainly I’ve just been grateful. Grateful at the opportunity to know someone in a completely different way….there’s nothing like this to reveal facets of a person! Grateful at the providence that put us at Duke when this happened and for the world-class cardiovascular surgeon who is working on him now (his "clinical interests" are listed as cardiac transplantation, left ventricular assist devices, adult cardiac surgery, and mitral valve surgery). Grateful that undetected problems could come to light and be addressed. Grateful for life.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Issues of Life and Death

I'm trying to process my life right now. So, as I tend to do, I do this by writing about it. I haven't written since August, and here it is November. I've been living life. It's been busy and full and happy. Although the divorce process has been lingering now for going on three years, I've felt the internal shift that has allowed me to make peace with the process while moving forward. As part of my Beth 2.0 strategy for approaching life -- embracing and fully living the life I'm in (which right now means "Student") -- I bought tickets to all the Clemson home football games. I've started dating. I've started enjoying the fruits of regular exercise (running, no less! I hate running!, and biking) and losing weight and eating healthy. I've traveled; I've said yes to opportunities; I've danced. I cannot remember feeling quite so alive.

This weekend was supposed to be very busy and full and happy... I was supposed to go to Durham with Ben, whom I've been dating for two months. He moved to Spartanburg on Labor Day to take a new job, and met me about a week later. We've done lots of stuff together, and have had a great time getting to know each other. As a Duke grad, he was over-the-moon to take me to a Duke basketball game (vs. Davidson) and -- less enthusiastically, after having experienced Clemson Tiger football! -- a Duke football game (vs. Ga Tech, who beat Clemson!) We were going to meet his older daughter, who is a freshman at Duke, and we were going to swing by High Point to take Mackenzie and Courtney to lunch. Then we were going to have a few days back at work/real life, before diving into Thanksgiving with both feet. Next weekend I had won the grad student lottery to get tickets to the USC/Clemson game, and we were going to wind up the holiday weekend with a trip to Columbia for that.

That's how it was supposed to go.




And that IS how it started out. We jumped in his Jeep on Friday afternoon, to meet with his friends in Durham, Ed and Jackie, for the game. We arrived a little late, but within the first quarter found our seats in Cameron. It was a historic game, because after the game Coach K was feted for his 903 win... the win that made him the winningest basketball coach ever. Following that ceremony, we met up with his daughter Liz and some of her friends. We took them to the Panda Express. The evening was unusually cold, and we had a long way to walk following dinner. Ben started gasping a little, blaming it on the cold and a bit of asthma. We got in the car, turned on the heat, and pulled out of the lot. Suddenly he stopped the car, and began gasping. I asked if he wanted me to drive...no, it would be fine; he was just a little winded, and the car was feeling kinda hot. He began sweating, along his temples and cheeks. He became cranky. He thought maybe he was hyperventilating...after all it was cold, and then the car was hot, and after all, we had walked a long way. When we got where we were staying, he got out of the car and doubled over. If only he could lie on the sofa and catch his breath, he surmised, he would feel better. If only he could take a few aspirin, because he was developing a headache. If only his heart would stop racing...

When EMS arrived, they calmly warned him how much the defibrillator would hurt, and then they applied it. He screamed. I started the self-talk: You need to remember to bring a change of clothes; You need to find his insurance card; You need to stay calm. The EMS asked me to fill out the forms: What WAS his Social Security number? I certainly didn't know. What WAS his birthdate? I didn't know. I'm just the girlfriend of a few months. I'm not the wife, or even the ex-wife. I'm just someone who thought we were going to have a fun weekend of sports and family.

They shocked him again. This time, he knew what it would feel like. This time the EMT stepped in front of me, suggesting I really didn't need to see this happening. Ben screamed again, and I began to cry. Ben began looking very glassy eyed. He looked vaguely at me and said something about not being ready to give up the fight. What response could I give? What do I know? What context do I have for understanding what is happening? Surely, this was happening to someone else. Not to Ben. Not to me.

But they loaded him on the stretcher, and began giving me directions to follow them to the hospital. I did, as if it was my own life dependent on getting it right. I sat in the waiting room, until they called for "Mrs. Howell". I'm not Mrs. Howell, I explained.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cruise: Day 7



As the cruise wound down to a close, I was ready for a day of sun and relaxation in Palma de Mallorca. I did travel into the city centre to get a carry-on bag, and being there reminded me of being in Milan, or La Jolla, or Boca Raton, but on a smaller scale. These were the beautiful people. There were tourists, of course; but beyond your average tourist, there was a sense of style, and wealth, and love of the finer things, which permeated the city center. Gucci, Prada, et al. all had storefronts, and if you entered the store (looking, as I’m sure I did, the tourist) you were not spoken to. After finding my bag, and snatching a surreptitious squirt of fragrance sample, I got a gelato for lunch and made my way back to the ship. There, I spend my remaining onboard time at the pool, listening to the band, talking with fellow passengers, posting my photos, and adding a bit more blush to my sunburn. It was delightful. We said goodbye to Scott, who had been great company around the pool, at meals, at the shows, and on the dance floor. We disembarked just before 4:00, where we boarded the transfer bus to the airport.


The flight home was (as most Thomson flights are, we learned) filled with young children. It was THE loudest flight ever. However, I sat beside a delightful widow named Mary from Chester, and, through all the commotion of the children, we talked about life. How unexpected it can be. How, no matter what it throws you, you choose what you make of it. How you never know what adventure it will offer you next. How utterly wonderful it is.

Cruise: Day 6

Because I had spent a week in Spain before on vacation, on the coast and in Barcelona, I chose to use our port day in Spain to explore Girona. My excursion advisor told me I would love it, and that I could easily do it on my own, without paying for an excursion. So without a map, without a guidebook, without any advance research or planning (so unlike me!) I set out. The first bus was at 10:20, so I wandered the early morning streets of Palamos as the shopkeepers were cleaning and preparing for the day. I came across a beautiful old Gothic cathedral (built 1439-1521, according to the sign). The door was unlocked and the interior was completely still. Because some small candles flickered around the room, I knew I wasn’t the first in here this morning. But for a brief few moments, I was alone with my thoughts, with God, in the quiet. It was a lovely start to the day.
Leaving the church, I found the bus station, and briefly struck up a conversation with one couple from the cruise ship. There were no other cruise passengers, so we began chatting as we boarded the bus. Quickly, Richard (from Middlesex), his partner Marzena (Mar-ZZHAY-na,) from Poland, and I became traveling buddies. We discussed American politics, higher education in England, health care, unemployment, travel destinations, growing up Polish, … with the exception of religion, we pretty much solved the world’s problems on the bus to Girona.
By the time we arrived an hour later, we felt like old friends.

We didn’t have any guidebooks, and only a tourist map, but the three of us stayed together to see what there was to see. I still don’t know exactly what I saw. But it was fabulous. We wandered cobblestone alleys and took photos of each other everywhere. We found our way to the Arab baths, built in the 11th century, and almost completely intact today. We ambled through the Jewish quarter. We climbed up the “Passaig Archaeologique” – is it a fortress? Is it a castle? Is it a monastery? – and discovered hidden gems: gardens, vistas, gracefully rendered architecture. We even discovered a stone toilet built into the city wall, which by that time Richard could almost be convinced to take advantage of. We walked along the ‘Great Wall of Girona’ (Never heard of it? Well, it’s there.) Sensing the desperation for facilities, and not finding them where they were marked on a map, we deferred to Marzena’s direction into an art museum, where we found clean modern bathrooms.

By this time, we were ready for tapas and wine. We stopped at a cafĂ© along the Rambla and shared lives and stories and laughs. It began to rain and we followed our internal navigation system back to the bus station, where the line for tickets was too long for me to get a return ticket (they had bought round trip, but I had not.) So I made the decision to travel sans billet, and my partners in crime aided and abetted me, even offering me fresh fruit from the ship’s morning buffet that they had absconded with.

After our arrival at the ship, they invited me to dinner and the show with them later that evening. All in all, it was a lovely day, with lovely people.

Cruise: Day 5

Corsica. I've never even given Corsica a thought. I think I knew it was the birthplace of Napoleon, but I think that's been the extent of my knowledge. I'm not sure I even knew whether it was French or Italian. But now, I can say I have been to Corsica, and it is charming. It's French, for starters (although there is a Corsican language, and culturally it remains very Italian). And it is clean. There are no industries in Corsica, so no pollution. The air there smells fresh. I'm not sure, aside from tourism what they DO there, though. Because the climate/air is so good, they produce essential oils from herbs that grow in the macquis (the canopy of forest containing cork trees, oaks, eucalyptis, pines, and shrubs.) Corsica was pretty wiped out in the World Wars, losing so many men that the women left the island as well. I learned about one of the greatest of European leaders -- a man I'd never heard of -- Pasqualle di Paoli. He was a freedom fighter who drafted a constitution for the island that inspired the US Sons of Liberty. He gave the right to vote to women in the 1700s. 5 US towns are named after him. He inspires resistance today to the rule of France. Learn something new every day.
Corsica is the kind of place I'd want to live if I were a writer and wanted to get away from it all to devote myself to writing. Or if I were wanting to improve my French, without the fast pace of life on the mainland. Or if I wanted to live somewhere that I could be sunning on the Mediterranean one minute, and biking up steep switchbacks in the forest the next minute. But it is a poor country, and one where nationalist resistance is high ... so I probably wouldn't choose it as a retirement destination. But as a cruise stop? Lovely.

Cruise: Day 4

Another Clemson student is working an internship in Rome this summer, and we laid plans early on that we wanted to visit Maja there. So the cruise stop in Civitivecchia allowed us the opportunity to spend a day with her. We disembarked Wednesday and found our way to the train station to catch an early train to Rome, along with, apparently, the rest of the population. There were no seats available so we stood in the passageway between cars. At each stop, more people would pile into the train. Three dozen people in the space of, oh, a typical bathroom-sized space, all trying to avoid making eye contact with each other, while holding onto their wallets. At the last stop before Rome, I found myself belly to belly with a rotund gentleman, about 9 inches shorter than me, with an inch of cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Thankfully, he put the cigarette stub in his pocket (for later, I guess). But yeah. I was glad to arrive in Rome.
We found Maja and a friend at the McDonald's as we planned. Anders, a Norweigan guy visiting in Rome himself, was great fun and good company/conversation and made it a pleasant foursome. Then started our Amazing Day in Rome. In the space of under six hours, we somehow managed to tour the Coliseum, sip wine, throw coins in Trevi Fountain, eat gelato, mug at the Spanish Steps, wander around the Capitoline Hill, visit the Vatican, enjoy a fabulous meal together, and almost miss a train. Basically, it was a perfect, sunny, happy, friendly, whirlwind day in Rome.

Cruise: Day 3

Having been to Naples before, and having no desire to EVER repeat that experience, I opted for the tour of "Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast". I had asked the tour director which excursions I really shouldn't miss, and which ones he thought I would be least able to arrange on my own, and this is the one he pointed me to. Tabitha went on the "Pompeii & Sorrento" tour. I'm not usually a fan of organized cruise tours, but I'm glad I took the tour director's advice on this one.
First stop was on the roadside to take pictures of the view above Sorrento. Then we pulled into the city, and were given 1.5 hours to wander and explore. I realized that I had left my photo card in the card reader, so needed to find a shop to get a photo card (unless I wanted to endure a day of scenery with no camera...not happening.) So, I wandered the ancient streets until I found a convenience store, and there stood Tabitha. We laughed at running into each other, but parted... she wanted to shop (and came home later with a sweet little messenger bag), but I wanted to just get lost in the maze of streets. I wound up overlooking the port/ocean, and was totally charmed by the views that Sorrento offered up. Having been advised that lemoncello was a major product of Sorrento, and having seen lemon trees everywhere, I decided that my next stop should include a taste. I made my way into the town square to a cafe, where I enjoyed a tall chilled flute of liquid sunshine.
Back on the bus, we crossed a ridge to the other side of the peninsula, the Amalfi side. As we rolled through every village, the tour guide would tell us in his lilting poetic accent about each one. The amazing thing about the coastline is that it presents a different stunning view, around every curve. We stopped to take photos near a man selling lemons and oranges from the back of his truck. The lemons were larger than grapefruits, with thick rinds like those from California. I opted for an orange to eat then and there, and savored the aroma and flavor with every bite.
We arrived in Amalfi, and I opted to get on a boat and see the coast from the sea for about 30 minutes. I was rewarded with even more awe-inspiring views of the beautiful villages and coast. I think my perfect fantasy vacation would include a motorcycle ride down the Amalfi coast, staying in one of the cliff-hanging hotels, drinking lemoncello, and boating/sailing around. Yes, you'd have to be a millionaire to pull it off, but as a fantasy vacation, I'm not sure it could be topped. Back in the village of Amalfi (population 4,000), I visited the cathedral and discovered that it was built in honor of St. Andrew, whose remains are there. After catching a bite to eat, I hopped on the bus to return. Before we could get far though, we found ourselves trapped in a game of chicken with another tour bus among the narrow one-lane streets of one of the villages. It took about 20 minutes for the two busses to maneuver around each other, with about 3/4 inch between the them. They retracted their rearview mirrors to make it possible. We all cheered at the impossibility of the accomplishment.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Cruise: Day 1 & 2

Cruise days 1 & 2:
Day One was a day at sea. I literally did nothing. I laid on the sundeck, whether it was warm or not (most of the day it was not), and didn’t read, didn’t accomplish one thing. I lived the entire day in my swimsuit, and I am burned to prove it. It was marvelous. It felt like ‘vacation.’
Tabitha and I have not stopped laughing. I can’t imagine a better traveling companion, even if she is neurotic about germs and things that don’t bother me so much. Her conscientiousness means we are never late, never have to wonder what gate we should be at, etc. Tabs is on top of it. We have cracked each other and ourselves up more than I can count, and have waaayy too many inside jokes going. We have laughed on the ship because we realize we do not present an easy category for anyone to put us in, and this does seem to cause a bit of consternation. She’s the age of one of my children, but we hardly look like mother/daughter, or the right age to be simply friends traveling together. She’s black/I’m white. We aren’t lesbians. We are Americans on a ship of solely British citizens. When the ship’s photographer goes to make our photo, he asks “Are you together?” The captain last night hardly knew what to do with us on each side of us; we just don’t make sense. Add to that, Tabs is the only Black woman on the entire ship. The. entire. ship.
Last night was formal night. I made a little shopping trip last week when I learned I was going to go on a cruise, since I certainly didn’t pack cruisewear when I left Greenville. Following dinner, a disco was to follow beginning at midnight. I didn’t really want to stay up so I went in the room and watched a movie to go to sleep. Tabs left at midnight to go to the disco, and returned back in under 10 minutes. She said it was sparsely attended and she felt awkward alone. So (of course) I pulled back on my clothes and we ran down there, and proceeded to dance for two hours. We even made people get out there that weren’t dancing. Tabs and I laughed and laughed because we truly didn’t care one whit what anyone else thought, so we could just lighten up and have fun. "Those Americans! They really do things differently, don’t they?" I could almost hear them thinking. I still haven’t forgiven Tabs for ignoring the guy in the kilt; he really did want to dance with her.
Morning came early and we arrived in Trapani, Sicily. Tabs would probably have slept later, but I was ready to go. Having done absolutely nothing the previous day meant that I wanted to see what there was to see. So we hailed a cab to take us to the funicular up to the walled city of Erice, high above Trapani.
Our day was golden. Although it was rainy early, skies cleared up and we walked all over the town, through churches, lost on meandering roads, avoiding as much as possible the tourist groups. After about four churches, we decided to go visit the archaeological site “the castle of Venus”. It presented the best views of the day. Although a strict monotheist myself, I confess I did toss a small offering of change over the cliff. It’s Venus, after all, the goddess of love, and I figured I didn’t want her on my bad side.
Before we headed back down the mountain, I was getting hungry. Neither of us felt like a tourist restaurant, and I told her, “I want a REAL Sicilian meal, down to a REAL gorgeous Italian waiter to be solicitous of my every wish.” We found an upstairs-level restaurant that didn’t seem to be frequented with too many tourists. We turned to be seated and there stood… exactly whom I had wished for. Some days, I guess I’m just lucky that way. Maybe it was the coins to Venus. Who knows? But we had the best Italian meal, with ‘scenery’, that I’ve ever had: fresh pasta, fresh pesto, Sicilian beef with couscous, wine, cannoli, real coffee from a little cup with perfectly whipped froth (after weeks of Nescafe as the norm). We left a good tip, because, well, incredibly attentive, attractive men don’t fall from the sky every day now, do they?

Tabitha and me at the Castle of Venus:

Friday, June 03, 2011

Leaving tomorrow


Well, I've been a terrible blogger. I'm more of a photo person, and uploading photos has been spotty. So I just haven't done anything! But I'm on the eve of leaving and I'm having all sorts of thoughts swirling around.

Temperatures finally warmed up today, and I went bike riding. It wasn't such a long ride, a few miles from one end of town, to the center of town, and back. But it allowed me to see new sights and process my visit a bit. I've been down a bit this week: stuff going on at home in my absence; being in a house with whining kids and an unhappy couple; missing my own kids; a bit of loneliness; cold weather; no break-a-sweat exercise; gray skies. I couldn't really put my finger on what was causing me to feel so blue. But today, riding along a shady creek, listening to the rhythm of the pedals, it all started falling together.

I'm going to miss this place. I like the people I work with. If I were to live here I would enjoy working with them. I like the city. Other than the dreadful weather they've had this month, it's a pretty nice city to live in. I haven't had to drive, but have relied on public transportation (and the kindness of strangers) to schlep me around. I like hearing words like "frock" and "lovely" (pronounced loof-lay) and "fancy" (as in, I rather fancy curry), and I've liked learning new words (such as chav and fascinator and invigilation) and new customs. I met Jayne in the salon, David in the coffee shop, Jo in the office, Peter & John at the pub, Ana and Julian and Liz at work, Fr. Kevin at church, Lisa at the house ... all people I'd probably like to hang out with, if this were my 'real' life. I've loved going and doing and seeing and exploring: York, London, Liverpool, Derbyshire, Castleton. So I'm going to miss the life I've briefly created over here. It's been just a hiccup of time in my life, but it's been one I've enjoyed. It's not been without challenges, but nothing I couldn't deal with.

I love my real life. I love working/studying at Clemson, and my family and friends back home. I love my house, and my dog, and my neighbors. I adore my children. I love Greenville, and the US. But there's a sense in which it is a privilege to have a 'hiccup' in life -- an interval where taken out of your element, you make it your own. That's what I've done. I'm proud of the work I've done here. I'm happy with the life I've forged here, even if it's been just for a month.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Weekend in London

We got up in plenty of time to get to the train station. I packed my backpack for the weekend, ate two pieces of toast and set out with Tabitha. As we approached the bottom of the hill we saw the #120 driving past. No worries…another one will be by soon. So when we boarded the next bus we still had adequate time. As we disembarked I saw a clock (we have no timepieces except Tab’s iPhone) and realized it was 10:15 and it left at 10:27. No worries…we had prebooked the ticket and just had to pick it up at the kiosk, and it’s a small station. But of course, the kiosk wouldn’t work with our credit cards (we are both having a lot of trouble with that) and we had to wait for an attendant. Thankfully, there was another train that left at 10:35, and we made that one instead.


I sat across from a young guy with a red/blue rep tie and very polished black oxforda who was talking quietly to himself. I pegged him for a lawyer going to London for a case. It turns out he was a lawyer who was going to London for a job interview, and he was going through his answers. We talked for awhile and he got his jitters out. Before long he was on his way to his interview, and Tab and I were hitting London.
We picked up an Oyster card for the public transit, and went to a hotel-finding service. After haggling with Ivalyo of Bulgaria for awhile over the price, and after he threw in breakfast, we settled on the Rockmont as inexpensive enough by London standards, but not sketchy. It was near Victoria station, and Tabitha liked its proximity to the Queen. With me navigating we made one wrong turn, but realized it fairly quickly, and before too long we arrived.
Tabs and I split up for the rest of the day. She went to the Tower of London for the afternoon, and I went to the Tate museums. Although I enjoyed the pre-Raphaelites and the Turners, I was underwhelmed. It seemed like the collection was small in the kinds of works I really wanted to see. I had seen more pre-Raphaelites in Washington, and more large Turners in Paris. So after awhile I headed for the Westminster tube stop in order to get the subway to the Tate Modern. However, while at Westminster, I decided to wander around a little and get a few shots of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. As I approached Westminster Abbey (closed to visitors) I noticed a that it was almost time for Evensong. So I decided to stay for the service. I got to listen to those lovely choir voices, heard at the Royal Wedding, fill Westminster. The acoustics were phenomenal. It was such a treat.
I made my way over to the Tate Modern. I really just wanted to see it, housed in a a converted electrical building. I’m not a huge modern art person, but I did see several big names in the modern art movement…. May Ray, Gerhardt Richter, Mark Rothko, Picasso, etc. But only rarely does modern art move me (especially countered against the choir voices at Westminster), and so I didn’t stay long.
Tabitha and I met up at the hotel room for dinner. We just walked down the street to a Cyprian restaurant and it was fabulous. We shared a plate of delicious Yogurtlu Tavuklu Beyti and called it an early night.
Saturday we enjoyed a fabulous breakfast, where we sat next to a nice Australian couple from the Gold Coast. Of course, since Grayson lived in Surfer’s Paradise on the Gold Coast, we had an immediate connection and visited for a long while. After breakfast we tried to make some travel arrangements but without much success. So then we left for the day and went to Buckingham Palace and saw the changing of the guard. From there we walked up the red road to the Wellington Arch, and to the Houses of Parliament. After lunch, we walked through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, to Notting Hill. Tab’s knee had been getting increasingly more painful for her over the day, and I feared she wasn’t going to make it to Portobello Road. Obviously the bargains and shopping there got the best of her, and she forgot her knee momentarily. After an unremarkable dinner, we thought we’d go out on the town. However, with little entertainment budget, we wandered around Carnaby Street and people watched. In the subway station, we were going down the escalator while a woman (who otherwise looked sane) was trying desperately to go up the down stairs. Not sure how that ended up working for her but we heard her clomping up the risers until we boarded the train. We got a good chuckle out of it.

Sunday, we had another great breakfast and decided to hit a museum. I had never been to the Victoria & Albert, and Tabitha didn’t care. (She had seen Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye. She was satisfied.) Some of the V&A was tedious (really? An entire wing of ‘Ironwork’?) but there were some really great aspects. One was the amazing jewelry collection. The other were the two exhibitions going on. Tabitha went to Yohji Yamamoto’s fashion exhibition, and came away inspired to pull out the sewing machine and sign up for Project Runway. I went to The Cult of Beauty, a magnificent exhibition of the pre-Raphaelites. Lots of my faves were there: Burne-Jones, Alma-Tadema, Rosetti, Whistler, Leighton, William Morris, Julia Cameron, etc. It more than made up for the dearth at the Tate (and maybe that's where the Tate ones were hiding!)

We visited over lunch with an elderly London couple; she remarked that she had an American Army boyfriend during the war and I asked, “His name wasn’t Herb, was it?” Her husband laughed and said, “No, and it’s a good thing. Then I wouldn’t like you so much!” We enjoyed Victoria’s own recipe for sponge cake with strawberry/cream filling, and it was to die for. We left the museum thinking that since it was such a lovely day we should head to a garden and walk. We went to the Chelsea Physic Garden, and on the way passed the Chelsea Flower Show. I would have loved to have had tickets to that! (I bet they let Obama go on Tuesday when he gets there, but for me, they were sold out!) So I can honestly say I went TO the Chelsea Flower Show, but not that I actually went in. ☺ From the Garden we caught the bus back to Victoria Station for our subway to St. Pancras and ‘home’ to Sheffield.

I decided that yes, I could live in London, for 2-3 years but not forever, if I lived in Chelsea or Notting Hill or somewhere like that (high on the quaint factor). So if anyone out there on the internet has a great job opening in London, for an American, I’m all ears!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A peek inside higher ed: Sheffield edition

If higher ed doesn't interest you neither will this blog post. You've been warned.



I'm learning so much about other ways of doing things. The U of Sheffield is one of the Russell Group schools, the top tier of universities in England, against which they all benchmark each other. It is also one of the 'red brick' universities, Victorian-era schools that leaned away from the liberal arts (as Oxford and Cambridge) and toward research and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programs. Being a red brick, Russell Group school means that it does things well. Although their campuses and histories are very different, I see several similarities with Clemson: size of student population, research emphasis, "Top 25", and engaged student bodies, to name a few. The Student Union here is top rated across the UK, and I've been so impressed with it. It is a completely separate entity from the University, completely run and funded by students via their elected representatives. Much of what Clemson (and US universities in general) provides in the way of activities, restaurant venues, student support, facilities, programming... is handled 100% by students here. They hire a manager of the Union, who in this case is very effective in collaborating with the University. Relations between the Student Union and the University are currently professional and cordial and cooperative, but the two are completely distinct. It's an interesting model to observe.

I see a very strong model within the University itself of collaboration and student support. It seems everyone I meet with has a job that requires them at many points to work in conjunction with other departments or people. The silo approach to departments seems not to exist. Maybe I have dug far enough to find it, but it's a very different approach from what I've studied/seen before. Sometimes I fear that on some American campuses, the point of higher ed -- the EDUCATION -- piece, sometimes gets lost, or at least obscured by layers of jargon and programming. I remember at the ACPA conference being stunned by the dearth of actual helpful information about supporting students in their academic studies. Here, a bachelor's degree is achieved in three years, not four, and the academic piece is paramount. To see student affairs at work is to see things revolve around making student's academic life succeed. Some of the functions that student affairs in the States takes on, are handled through the Student Union, and thus for and by students (or those hired by students) themselves.

The project I'm working on here integrates many people and I've tried to take advantage of interviewing as many folks as I can, under the auspices of my project. Really, however, I'm just trying to be a sponge and learn how it is done, what the similarities/differences are, what they see their challenges as. I am catching a glimpse of administration on a large campus in action (as a fly on the wall). It would be nice to think that I could come back to the states and get a job putting these perspectives to use. Here's hoping.