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Sacred Space

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Sacred Space

My first view of Stonehenge. 2012

I was told not to expect much. “It’s a tourist trap, and I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.” Said Darling Companion. But I wanted to see it for myself. As we paid our entry fee, and entered the tunnel that goes beneath the highway that runs right next to it I took a deep breath. I wanted to meet Stonehenge on it’s own terms. I didn’t want to bring any preconceived notions, or my own needs into this space. I wanted to simply let this ancient space speak to me in it’s own way. As I ascended the stairs into the cloudy daylight I got my first look at this iconic monument. My heart sped, and I stilled. In the same moment I was giddy, joyous and solemn. I have lain on my back on the open prairie and played with millions of stars on my open palms. I have seen the northern lights crackle into being above an arctic landscape. I’ve stood in simple wooden churches in the Carpathian mountains, and grand cathedrals in the capitals of Europe. And while I could get a sense of the sacred in each of these places, it was here, for one brief moment I felt a connection with all that had come before me, and all that would follow me. It hollowed me, and in that empty space was the silence and the sound of millenia. It certainly trapped *this* tourist.

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Work Ethic and You

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This is a Ukrainian woman working in the doorway of a cottage, in the open air museum called Peragova, in Kyiv. She’s probably a pensioner, and supplements her meager income by working at the museum and selling her crafts. The photo makes me think of work ethics and habits.

I grew up in the midwest in a small rural community in central Minnesota. My father often worked two jobs and built the house we lived in with his own two hands. He later supplemented his income by spending long hours out in the “shop” building beautiful cabinets for other people. It was work he loved, and he could make wood do almost anything. It just seemed to blossom into his vision of what it should be. But I know it took skill and experience to create the beautiful work he produced.

As a Midwestern American (and I know this is true of many Americans) I was brought up to work hard. To do your best, and give your employer an honest days work for an honest day’s pay. I was also taught there was no excuse for not working. And by his example, I learned that you didn’t take off sick days, unless you had NO other choice, and sometimes even let accrued vacation days disappear.

Years later, I moved to Europe; central Europe. (Trust me, I’ve been shown the map countless times, it’s central Europe, NOT Eastern Europe.) The work ethic here is different. (This is a blanket statement and like all blanket statements there are exceptions, these are simply my observations.)

1. You are NOT your job.

I have met people who do some of the most mundane and tedious of jobs: The lady that takes your money at the toilet, the waiter in a small cafe, a butcher, bus ticket collector, conductress on a train. And each of them didn’t see themselves as *that*. If they were striving for *more* it was more ways to make their off hours more interesting. For them, that’s where the real person was. In the off hours.

2. Vacations are to be taken seriously

The Europeans I know take their off time very seriously. They plan for it. They save for it. They have defined what it is they want from their off time. Some are very athletic and go off hiking, or skiing, or biking long trails. Others are very into history or architecture and plan their holidays based on these themes. And others simply find a place to tune out the world. They often vacation with groups, family and friend. And they don’t talk work! They talk thoughts, fashion, books, art, politics all those things that we have “politically corrected” from our conversations.

3.Do your job well, but remember, it isn’t your life, it’s the means with which you support yourself.

My European friends don’t take work home with them. (again, in general) They know the work will be there tomorrow and they will take another crack at it. They feel life is way too short, and you spend *enough* of it working. A mentor once told me the same thing, sort of. Told me I had to take time for me or there wouldn’t be any “me” to give to the students with whom I work.

4. Everyone needs regular holidays.

I just have to laugh as we North Americans complain about “there’s another holiday?!?!” And the happy answer is “yes!” And they gather in the parks and the squares and celebrate what ever day it is. Usually with chocolate, flowers and vodka. A tour guide I hired in Poland told me “You Americans work too hard. You never see what’s around you.”

He may have had a point.

What do you think? What’s your work ethic? Your work habit?

Darling Companion(s)

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Two darling companions on the steps to the beach in Odessa, Ukraine.  2013

My little scotty girl, Maggie Mae, is sick.  She has a tick borne disease called Babesia canine.  The doctor diagnosed it today.  She had to endure five injections and was violently ill on the way back, and afterward.  I was so hysterical the *vet* gave ME a sedative. 

This is a photo I took recently of the man I call my “darling companion”.  I call him that because “partner” sounds like we’re in business; boyfriend sounds like we’re in high school; friend doesn’t convey the depth of feelings I have for the man; significant other is simply too trite.  It’s a dilemma for those of use over 22 to come up with a meaningful title for that person in our life that means so much.  What do you call your, um, “darling companion”. 

It comes from a song by that same name, originally done by a group called “The Lovin’ Spoonful”.   You can hear the tune, here:

But there are *two* darling companions in this photo: the man, and the dog.  The song says “let me be your champion, you can depend on me” and that’s how I have to be for the little dog in order to get her through this.  And that’s how the man is for me.  He’s someone I can depend on. I guess this is just my way to say, “Thank you”.

I hope you all have someone in your life that can take your hand and walk you through the difficult times, a darling companion.

A Clean Start

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Bath time for Maggie Mae.

Bath time for Maggie Mae.

It was a lovely spring day, here in Kyiv. It was Easter. I had a loaf of Easter Bread, courtesy of my friend, Oleg, and Maggie and I each had a bath.

Maggie is my sweet Scotty girl. I call her the “Scottish Terror”. She hates baths. You can tell by the woeful expression in her eye. She then went and “hid” behind the coffee table and looked at me reproachfully for the rest of the afternoon.

I took this photo with the weekly photo challenge of “down” in mind, although it’s difficult to be directly over a very wiggly Scottish Terror.

Maggie has been a part of my life for 9 years. She has lived with me on Kodiak Island, Alaska; in Kosice, Slovakia, and currently, Kyiv, Ukraine. She has her own passport. She has seen me through good times and bad times. She has refused to give up on me even at my darkest hour. Every evening after work she greets me as if I am the center of her world. And no mater how bad the day, she makes me smile.

I hope this Easter time finds you in a good place.

Ukrainian Easter

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Tomorrow is Ukrainian Orthodox Easter. Khrystos voskres! is the greeting you give your friends and relatives. (Christ is risen!) It’s like a little ritual. Then the gentlemen kiss you three times on the cheek. A lovely spring greeting.

The photo is of a madonna created by artist Oksana Mas. It is created entirely of “pysanki” the Ukrainian traditional Easter Egg. It is installed at St. Sophia’s in Kyiv, Ukraine. She has done many installations, and I find them fascinating.

When I was a girl we’d color eggs with vinegar and food coloring, or those little kits you got from the grocery store. My grandmother would tell me of the beautiful eggs from the old days, but I didn’t see them until I was older and met someone who made them. He made one for me and I carried it with me for a long time. I had heard there was a tradition that the pysanki carried the luck of the house. A piece of fragile luck, indeed. My “luck” broke during a move to South Dakota.

Since moving to this part of the world I see elaborate eggs, everywhere. I even have a collection of them. Some are dyed, some painted, some are fragile eggs, some are wooden, they are wrapped in ribbon and wire. Each a little piece of beauty. I have found them in Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Romania. I’m told you can tell the region it’s from by the design, but I am not that much of an expert, but they do speak to me of the need to create, to express yourself, and bring beauty into your home. Even if that art, that beauty is created on a humble egg.

Here’s wishing you beauty and peace on this lovely Easter Saturday.

A Measure of Wealth

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As predicted half my class was gone today.  But we had a lovely day in spite of it.   As I was handed this bouquet that had been put together by three little girls, one from Germany, one from Ukraine, and one from Korea, I thought about the simple gifts we are given daily.  How people touch our lives in a myriad of ways every day.  And again I thought about the “lessons” that are right there before us, if only we could open our eyes to see.

These three children started the year not knowing each others language.  But the human need to communicate, to belong, to make a statement, naturally pushed them forward into learning the common language at our school, which is English, and today they worked together to create a bouquet.  They didn’t care about the politics, or what church the other went to, or about how they were *different* from one another.  They worked together to create something for someone who they feel is important in their lives.  I am fortunate to be that person. 

I read a story that said the Inuit measured a person’s wealth by the circle of people that cared for them.  By how they were viewed by the people of their clan.  Using that measure, today, I am a very wealthy woman.

Who says you’ll never be rich by being a teacher!

 

May Day!!

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And I went and worked!!

In Ukraine, and much of central and eastern Europe, May Day is a holiday. A holdover from Soviet times. Remember those news reels of parades with all the military splendor? They were May Day. In current times it’s still a holiday, and Sunday is Orthodox Easter as well. So I doubt I’ll have many students in my classroom tomorrow.

Of course in Britain it is Beltane. A holiday that very much pre-dates Soviet May Day. Tonight, those that celebrate Beltane still will build bonfires, and dance, and sing, and generally carry on. Babies born to mothers nine months after Beltane were considered very special, even if you may not know *exactly* who your father was. I think a rather non-judgmental idea!

One thing I’ve learned, on my sojourn to Europe, is we Americans work entirely too hard. I’ve read where some American companies have to “force” their employees to take their vacation days. Or some American employees simply lose their vacation days by not using them. Here in Europe, while they still work hard, they balance that out with vacations, holidays, time off. And they take that time off very seriously. They take their down time just as seriously as their work time.

I like that. I have learned to let go a bit more. I try to enjoy my holidays. But, then again, I’m a teacher, and that means there’s *always* more to do. So, I spent my May Day in an empty school building, and got everyone’s reading folders caught up!

What did you do for May Day?

Pressed Flowers

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pansies I love pansies. I love them so much that I have one tattooed on my ankle! I love the shape of them, the colors, their sweet pansy faces. I love to press them in books, with full intention of using them on a card, or making a picture with them, only to find them years later, fragile and faded.

Sometimes I think we do that to ourselves. Put ourselves between the pages of the book of our imagined lives. And we stay there, too long, not acting on what we dream, or want, until we become fragile and faded. A desiccated remnant of a dream nearly forgotten.

Does anyone out there in Blog-land remember “May Baskets”? My mother and I used to make them from the pages of old wallpaper sample books. Then we’d go hang them on neighbor’s doors. Mom always enjoyed it, and would talk about her mother doing the same thing. It’s kind of like the old fashioned version of “Random Acts of Kindness”. I wonder what would happen today if we made paper baskets and filled them with daisies and pansies and hung them on people’s doorknobs?

Here’s hoping you reach for your dreams before they become lost in the pages of a forgotten book.

Don’t forget to visit my photography page at http://www.facebook.com/RuthAnnKarnowski

But I’m running out of spring ideas…you got any?