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(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert (Puppy Pick-up Road Trip)

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert (Puppy Pick-up Road Trip)

Could barely watch as our old car crept onto the ramp of the vehicle that would tow it away. No, it wasn’t my father’s Oldsmobile—but it was my father’s Mercury, as well as my mother’s Mercury, before it became ours.

My father planned to go on many adventures when he bought a new Mercury Sable in spring of 2001. But soon after its maiden voyage—a joyful college reunion where he and my mother and their returning classmates of fifty years earlier were honored—he received a diagnosis of cancer’s return. Instead of driving off into sunsets to see his grandchildren, children, and friends, as well as sites previously unknown, he became a passenger in that car, chauffeured often to treatments and procedures back and forth through the canyons forged by the Big Thompson River. Nature’s beauty remained a constant companion on those final journeys he never chose to take.

This would not have been the car my mother chose for herself. But when he died before a year had passed since its purchase, the car was too much depreciated for her to sell it without a loss. So instead she drove off in it on her own solo adventures, as well as those with family members and friends, to locations near and far.

When my mother stopped driving almost six years later, that car came to us for our own adventures, both with and without her. We called the car the Grandma-mobile—which wasn’t really fair since she never would have chosen such a large car with such a long front end. This car most definitely did not fit the picture of what our two 16-year-old drivers preferred, but its ability to seat six worked well when we drove our kids and their friends during the period when their graduated licenses did not yet allow them to drive alone with their age-peers.

You know how the story went. Yes, I ended up with my father’s Mercury, which didn’t fit the picture of what a certain 46-year-old mother wanted to drive either. But we were grateful to receive a good car with low mileage, which was a much-needed answer to our burgeoning transportation needs.

That car played a big role in our own family stories and travels and transitions. It drove off to college loaded down with too much stuff, but returned home with two parents ready for a time of greater rest. The Mercury later transported our family to the sacred grounds where we laid my mother to rest. I picked up my daughter from her first year at college in it so she and I could take a classic western road trip to pick up my new puppy—not that my father would have ever allowed a dog in his car, let alone a puppy leaving his mother for the first time!

When this mom finally got a car more in tune to her dreams (a MINI S), my son Jackson was grateful to inherit the Grandma-mobile. True, he was no fan of parallel parking it but he most definitely appreciated the get-up-and-go as well as the ability to work and play without having to juggle cars with us. Unfortunately, the car (and its driver) got-up-and-went a bit too fast on an icy day last November, leaving the driver unscathed but every panel on the driver’s side damaged—enough so that the insurance company totaled the car due to its age—an age that reminds me just how long my father (and then my mother) have been gone.

Seems fitting that my father’s car left us on the last day of Mercury in retrograde. You may not believe in the power of the stars over our lives but this concept is just the right metaphor for saying goodbye to his Mercury. Astronomically, Mercury in retrograde is the time when the planet Mercury appears to reverse its orbit due to its position in the sky—which looks a whole lot like going backward. According to the StarChild site (linked to NASA), it is not doing so, but “. . . just appears to do so because of the relative positions of the planet and Earth and how they are moving around the Sun.” Astrologers, on the other hand, see Mercury in retrograde not only as a time of complications in areas such as transportation and communication (as Mercury is the god of both areas), but also as a time for returning to past connections.

So, Dad, thanks again for the Mercury—though we never, ever managed to keep up with your standards and plans for its cleanliness, we did our best to live up to your dreams of taking adventures in your chariot of choice.

Farewell, oh fleet-footed one—turns out you were just what we needed after all.

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Some of the women standing by the limo. (Picture taken for us, 2015)

Some of the women standing by the limo. (Picture taken for us, 2015)

Just when you thought that limousine was full of hot young women, you might have been surprised to see the women from my bible study climb out—or lumber out if we want to be truthful. Keep in mind that I am the youngest in the group—thank goodness my hip is healing because it took quite a bit of effort to shimmy back and forth from the depths of that stretch limo. The more limber folks among us did our best to scoot to the back whenever loading up.

So why would a group of “mature” bible study ladies hire a limo?

I guess because we have no access to a church van and because we wanted to take our road trip together—while avoiding the increasingly hostile traffic in the region.

And what a road trip. These “ladies who did lunch with me” not only offered to go 70 miles (one way) to see my daughter’s senior capstone art show as a group, but also to treat me to the gift of transportation with them for the ride. What a great showing of support for both my daughter and me—have appreciated all their prayers for my family over the years, but this expedition was something else.

Let’s just say that not driving while also not being able to see how our driver was handling that crazy roadway was extremely relaxing. (Perhaps a little bit of a metaphor about control there? Hm.)

No doubt the arrival of our bustling group shattered the illusion of a quiet morning for Max, one of the owners of ARTISAN FRAMING, the custom framing shop where the works are being exhibited. But, ever the professional, he took our presence in stride and continued constructing frames despite the considerable change in noise level. I did the best I could to play gallery host to my daughter’s works, but was relieved when she and her brother arrived together—without a limo driver their journey took a bit longer.

She took over answering questions and I got to bask in the pride I feel knowing that the little girl who always made art out of materials grabbed from our recycling bin grew into an accomplished artist who creates pieces by repurposing common materials.

We left the artist and her brother behind to their own plans so that we really could go do lunch before riding back to our own town. At the Mainline Ale House we not only received excellent service and ate tasty food, but we all also received the anniversary special of two-for-one entrees. What a pleasant surprise to add to our already pleasant experience.

Neither rain nor parking woes nor traffic slowdowns stayed our swift courier from completing his appointed round—we had a ticket to ride and I’m so grateful that everyone cared enough to let my daughter to know that she, also, has a ticket to ride.

The only way that will bring us down is if she doesn’t take that ticket and ride with the gift of art she has worked so hard to nurture—she has a ticket to ride and may she ride it for all it is worth. Limousines, planes, trains, or automobiles—any form of transportation it takes, but she’s got a ticket to ride—and we all do care.

(c) 2015 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2015 Sherman Lambert

This May has seemed too busy to be thinking much about the future. Not only was our daughter graduating from college, but she was also putting together a solo art show. My husband spending time with her setting up the exhibit. Check. Our going up for the opening. Check. Getting the house ready (enough) for our graduation visitors and picking them up and spending the day before graduation away from the festivities. Check. Meeting up with our daughter and then watching her graduate before going out for a celebration dinner. Check. Spending the night at a motel and then celebrating some more with her before coming back to our home with our guests. Check. Day of local sight-seeing with guests before taking them to airport. Check. Getting a cold. Check?

Busy times for sure, all in the midst of Mother Nature’s deciding we need a cool, rainy (and snowy if you count Mother’s Day) May as we haven’t seen for a few years. In fact, the road trips to and from the art show opening were so ridiculous that I was starting to expect encounters with the Cyclops, Sirens, and a few other Odyssean-type characters. Luckily graduation weekend weather was less dramatic, although we were told we had just missed the biggest hailstorm of the past 30 years in Estes Park, the location where we spent the night before graduation. Nonetheless, all this “weather” does mean I don’t have to rush to get my plants in the ground—which is good because I haven’t had time to do so anyway.

So many people have asked us, “She’s graduating already?” Sort of funny since she has been in college for five years—and since she had 122 credits last May, but still had 11 remaining required credits that would take her two consecutive semesters and without having a summer option available. Sigh—but this isn’t the post about the systemic problems that led to an extra year of college. This, however, is the post about what’s next.

Not sure in the long term, but in the short term she’s taking two “practical” courses at the local community college this summer to shore up her graphic design skills and to add website design to what she can do. She’s applying for jobs in the usual ways, plus through connections of mine, she has some future visits at a nearby large logo-based sportswear company and a local art gallery. She’s selling embellished baby shoes and getting contracts for custom designs on adult shoes. Also—and this is a really big deal—the quality and quantity of the work at her solo show recently brought her toughest college professor to tears. Her arts entrepreneurship professor critiqued her website and stated that, of all the visual artists the woman has taught, so far she is the one most poised for commercial success, thanks to her versatility. While the “world” is telling our daughter a BFA in studio art is crazy, she’s receiving very positive feedback that shows she does have the ability to at least supplement her income, and possibly create her income herself, by making art.

For now this likely means she’ll be back home with us for awhile while she figures out just how she is going to support herself—which is not so different from other recent college graduates, especially in the metro-Denver area where the most recently reported rent rates are averaging around $1200 monthly.

We haven’t even helped her move home yet but she’s here now. After a couple nights of decent sleep, she goes back to her college home to begin packing up her goods that somehow we are going to have to squeeze back into this house. Of course, we will all have to deal with more than “stuff” when she returns—as we learn how to be a four-person household again and as she learns how to live under our roof again after being on her own—and we all learn what it means to live together when everyone here is an adult.

As a family, we’ve reached a crossroads. The road signs don’t really provide a clear direction for which way she should turn in order to discover the best way to be able to leave for good. But no doubt about it, she is finally on her own way—even if she doesn’t know—yet—where she’s going.

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

My dogs have watched the old morning glory vine with fascination, ever since they figured out the sounds and smells they detected come from birds—clever birds that hid the nest behind a tangle of old vines. Even I can’t see any birds if I look from the side closest to the door.

Each year, at least one pair of finches graces our lawn with songs from the clothesline or trellis or wires strung above our yard, although some years we never discover where they build their nests. Most of the years they choose well, although there have been a few disasters, such as the time they built a nest on loose wood that moved with the winds or low in a trellis that our former English Springer Spaniel could head butt.

The current two spaniels normally let birds flit and flutter around the yard unimpeded, but the constant sounds coming from that hidden nest seem just too tempting for them to ignore. Sam stands on two paws, sniffing with delight in the general direction, while Furgus settles in the grass watching.

I am not comfortable with supporting this habit—circle of life or not. My dogs have a healthy diet of quality (read: expensive) prepared food and also con us out of table scraps from time to time. Their health does not depend upon eating little birds. Any time they get too obsessed and I can’t distract them from their subjects of interest, I bring them in.

Today, as I looked out the window (currently screen-less in order to aid in our own bird-watching views) I saw both Mr. and Mrs. Finch hovering, almost hummingbird-like around the nest. Usually they take turns visiting and feeding their squeaky little offspring. One would dance toward the nest and fly back and then the other would swoop in. But today, little flutters of wings answered in response from the nest.

Suddenly I realized those formerly fuzzy-headed and barely covered little birds, now seem feathered-out, so to speak. It’s almost time. Wow, that was quick. Wasn’t it just one of the most recent cold snaps (with snow!) when they broke out of their shells? These little finches seem destined to take the most important steps (flights) of their journeys during Colorado’s flakiest spring weather days.

On this cool and rainy morning, those birds are getting ready to fly away from the nest.

What a metaphor the finch babies give me this day when we will soon attend our daughter’s solo art exhibit opening. Next week she graduates from college, but this week she shares a tangible view into the work from her hands, mind, and heart. Our baby is getting ready to fly and we are so proud of not only how well she has developed and strengthened the talent with which she seems to have been born, but also how she persevered through many dark and stormy days—and yet still is seeking flight—just like the finch babies outside on our porch.

No wonder the songs of Mr. and Mrs. Finch resonate outside my window and fill the yard with such joyful noise.

Though our yard hosts hazards such as spaniels and the occasional visiting cat or hawk, the Finches still sing with the joy of what comes next. The babies in the nest are safer from outside threats, but if they stayed, they would soon wither from lack of movement—and they’d never know what it’s like to soar—a glorious feeling despite all the risks.

Fly, little birdies, fly—the world is waiting for you, too, to fill your surroundings with your own joyful noises.

(c) 2012 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2012 Christiana Lambert

Last night my son and I stumbled on a video my daughter and her friend created when they were in high school—we had a great time laughing at how early this silly video shows up on a Google search for her name. Just imagine her future employers finding it—and seeing a little bit of who she was on one day in the year she was sixteen. Heck, I even make a cameo appearance in the video—and I am sprinting—not bad for a younger/old gal, right?

But the nostalgia for those days pulled at me and reminded me just how much water has passed under the so many bridges she has crossed since then. While watching, I longed for those simpler days—the before when so many things seemed easier.

Until I looked at the date stamp. The time frozen in that video was not an easier era—it was just one golden moment in the midst of a very dark period. The moving pictures showed a seemingly ordinary good day made all the more extraordinary by my discovering the date when it happened.

Just goes to show you that images are not always what they seem and that even when life is difficult, there are often moments when we shed the weight burdening us and live with joy one moment to the next.

My daughter graduates from college in two weeks—two weeks!

May she always remember that life is full of golden moments, even in the darkest of times. We may have just this one goofy visual reminder of a day when she smiled and I sprinted, but we also have smiled and sprinted on many other days, too—and still do. The trick for anyone is reminding yourself that grabbing small, beautiful moments, such as those shown in that video, is always possible. Always.

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

Excuse me while I skip ahead to educational lessons I learned not while studying humanities, but while pursuing something totally different: an MBA. Sometimes my inner MBA rises up and pushes all that humanities knowledge to the side—though I’d like to think the analytical skills I honed in classes such as English literature led to my not only being able to analyze plots, characters, and themes, but also to do so with balance sheets, customer service philosophies, and branding decisions. Maybe that’s just why some people in the business community would rather not hear what I have to say.

So one of the big buzz words these days is branding. Branding this, branding that, branding yourself, branding your corporation, branding your non-profit, whatever. Really, it’s simply what Shakespeare brought up in Hamletto thine own self be true. And when you apply that to a business, branding is about making sure that the goodwill about your organization remains consistent with your mission and how you want those values communicated in the commercial world.

With large organizations, we, the customers, supposedly know what to expect if the company has created its brand well and protects it well. Whether I go to a Wendy’s by my home or thousands of miles away, there is this consistent feel to what it means to eat at a Wendy’s. Though menu variety and pricing fluctuates in minor ways from state-to-state, Wendy’s is still Wendy’s. If I want something else, then I go to the local Mom & Pop restaurant that does what it does—in a consistent or inconsistent manner—but knowing that that restaurant has its own way of doing things. If there’s no formula, as the consumer I take the risk that my experience will turn out better or worse than my expectations. Branded organizations such as Wendy’s are essentially making a promise that Wendy’s is what it is—nothing more or nothing less—but that I can mostly rely on a standard expectation of what going to a Wendy’s means. If that is not true, then Wendy’s brand begins to slip in the consumers’ minds.

Which is why I am flabbergasted to discover that the stand-alone Verizon store by my house is not what’s called a direct store, but an indirect store, similar to those found inside Target or Wal-Mart, according the Verizon representative.

Back story: what began as a simple online chat to discover how to access the discounts on Verizon accessories we were supposed to receive on our most recent purchase, led to my discovery that our Verizon store was in fact not a Verizon store. Now mind you, this did not come out until the representative finally figured out why she could not access my receipt, despite my giving her the invoice number and the time stamp. This is an hour of my life that I will never get back, but what I discovered about the business practice employed also makes no sense.

OK—so we can get the discounts applied through this local store. Small problem will get resolved—although I have to think it shouldn’t take me an hour to discover just why the branded representative could not resolve my problem herself. Plus, I think she should have been given some systemic way—through the receipt number or something—that indicated to her that I had in fact made the purchase at one of these so-called indirect stores.

However, the big issue comes down to trust. If I am not walking into an obvious indirect store, such as those in discount stores, why would I not think that a store that has the Verizon name on its walls is anything but a real—I mean direct—Verizon store? Frankly I don’t even know if our purchase price and the associated services are any different from what we could get in a direct store, but I do know I feel duped. We wanted to upgrade this Verizon phone through a direct store as we had done for every phone we have gotten since 2007—including the three phones we upgraded this year.

It’s not up to the customer to realize that the store he or she is visiting is a different sort of store—this information should be obvious. My experience with the brand told me a store meant one thing but apparently Verizon is using its brand for more than one kind of a store. That makes no sense to me—either as a customer or as a person who studied business. By making this issue confusing to the average customer, Verizon is muddying what its brand means and is at risk for introducing doubts about what else it might be muddying. I, for one, feel as if every time I go in such a store that I receive a different story about what costs are and what services come with what. By obfuscating what a store is or isn’t, Verizon is also leaving me to question the trustworthiness of these other practices.

I can’t say if Verizon is being true to me, but I have to say that it may not be being true to its own self—by introducing doubt into what is really included in its brand. But here’s what this one particular customer wants—that direct stores have a standardized look that is distinctly different from indirect stores. Maybe Verizon thinks the look is different enough, but if it is, it’s not so different that I knew that this local store is not the same kind of store as the ones I’ve patronized in the past.

The humanities taught me to question and analyze concepts presented to me as truths, while what I learned in business school taught me the hows and whys behind business concepts. In either case, what I gained was a deeper ability to dig beneath the surface to understand when something made sense—and when it didn’t.

To thine own brand be true—that’s just good sense—business or otherwise.

(c) 2015 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2015 Christiana Lambert


Winter term, freshman year, on a bleak, white-washed January Ohio day, I showed up for the first day of that necessary evil of college: composition or expository writing or whatever you want to call the class each college makes you take to ensure you write well enough to get through any future college writing assignments. That day I met my future academic adviser, though I didn’t know it yet. The major hadn’t chosen me yet so I still had the adviser assigned to me before I showed up on campus. Dr. B. seemed the picture of one of those common caricatures of what a literature professor is like—he was a former beatnik with a salt and pepper early Beatles’ style haircut who rode an old black bike across campus, keeping his small manual typewriter set in the mesh basket attached to the front. He wanted us to call him by his initials or his nickname, but I stuck with the formal “Dr.” whenever I addressed him. I was way more uptight than this man, but we got along just fine, nonetheless.

When I left for college, I wrote well enough—you know, for a person who could apply basic grammar rules. My papers made sense and I could say what I meant. Still, like most of my peers, I did not write well enough to test out of the basic composition class. At the time I put that down to a writing prompt that had something to do with the Iran Hostage Crisis. As I mentioned in the previous post, I was really not into thinking that deeply at that point in time, but I’m pretty certain the reason I didn’t test out of the class was because I needed to take it not because of the difficulty of the prompt.

What I learned most in his class was less about writing with correct grammar—because I already did that well—and more about how to create writing that sounded fresh in a variety of settings. Yes, we could insert fragments (incomplete sentences) as long as we applied them sparingly and used our pens to indicate we knew what and where they were. (Excuse me while I apologize to him right now since it appears I often ignore his “sparingly” rule regarding usage of fragments—sorry, Dr. B.)

However, the fragments are just something that really resonates with who I am as a writer. I imagine I might write better if I stopped making quite so many asides. Not that I’m stopping. (Mark that frag. for Dr. B.) What mattered most was that he taught me and all my classmates the difference between writing in passive and active voice. He challenged us to circle every instance of passive voice we used in our papers and to leave as few as necessary in the final drafts. Even if I hadn’t majored in English or chosen to write/edit, I would have needed to learn this—hey, I think everyone needs to know how to write in active voice. Not only does writing become more immediate with active voice, but using it also forces writers to search deeper for just the right verb, something that tends to develop a more creative process.

To this day, I struggle to get through a book that distances itself through passive language. Maybe reading all those (mostly ancient) philosophy texts my first weeks in college influenced the amount of relief I felt from learning how to bring about some clarity in writing! Yet, I have read books on topics such as probability, process management, business, psychology, and DNA but only if written well—which for me tends to mean the writing uses active language. Even the chemistry and astronomy textbooks I proofread last fall avoided most usages of passive voice—the writing spelled out concepts in a straightforward and accessible manner that should aid future students in applying those concepts to the associated exercises and experiments.

Some of life happens to us—passive voice sometimes works in the tales we tell of those stories, but not always—unless, of course, we are deliberately trying to downplay the action. Imagine the emotional and visual difference between saying “I was hit by a car” versus saying “A car hit me”—one creates distance and a sort of matter-of-fact impression of the news while the other projects a strong picture that could lead to a more visceral response. Nonetheless, the first statement is exactly how my mother finally admitted she did remember after all that a car hit her first before she came home and fell again. Though my mom had a story to tell, she did not want to do so—she deliberately fell back on passive voice to obfuscate the facts.

Don’t make the mistake of using passive voice when you really want others to hear your story, though. Doesn’t matter if it’s an annual report for a business or a technical how-to piece or the story of how your mother broke her foot—if you want the reader to stay with the story, write in active voice as often as you can.

(Even after a car hit my mother, she healed well. Thank goodness we soon found a doctor practiced enough at listening to seniors that he could interpret passive voice narratives meant to conceal health and/or safety concerns.)

Note: this is the first in the series of topics/concepts encountered in college that mattered most to me. See the introduction post here.

(c) 2014 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2014 Sherman Lambert

When I went to select a college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to study for a major or what profession I wanted to pursue, so I looked for schools that had good programs in the variety of subjects that interested me. I figured that with exposure to different areas, the major would choose me. However, I already knew I wanted to continue studying Spanish—my high school teacher said at that time the U.S. was the fourth largest Spanish-speaking nation—surely knowing Spanish would continue to be useful no matter what else I studied.

So when the course options and registration materials arrived at my home a few months before I left for school, I selected a Spanish class and then mulled other options. Since this was back in the pencil and paper days, I had no idea which of my other suggestions would end up on my schedule until the paper with course numbers and times arrived. My first trimester classes represented a classic humanities schedule: the Spanish course, history (Western Civilization Part I), and Philosophy (Greek and Roman).

My introduction to philosophy didn’t exactly set me on fire. Though my son Jackson can go on for hours about all sorts of in-depth topics in philosophy, usually what he says goes way over my head. But if I had not taken that class with the lectures and texts that so often put me to sleep, I might have missed out on learning about Plato’s Cave. True, maybe I only stayed awake in class the day the professor introduced the topic because he showed it through a cartoon video—I’m not ashamed to admit that without those simplistic pictures I might have missed the point. Learning comes through many avenues, right?

Though so many years have passed since I watched that film, I can still see those men who were chained together in the cave, facing a wall and unable to turn to look behind them where a large fire burned. Shadows flicker on the wall—the men have no idea the images are mere suggestions of themselves or any activity happening behind them. Those shadows are their reality. Then one man is released and able to turn to see that so much more is occurring—he realizes the truth he knew was only partial. That same man then discovers a way out of the cave and encounters even more realities—even those who move freely within the cave do not know the whole truth, it seems. Amazed, he returns to tell the others how much more exists in the world—and, yet, they do not believe. They know what they know.

What a perfect concept to encounter so early in my education. The Cave taught me to question all assumed realities and to try to figure out for myself whether or not what I think I know about something is simply the shadows of that truth or if my understanding is based on something more tangible. On the other hand the Cave also showed me why others might not agree with my version of reality—and that sometimes the person who has seen the sun cannot enlighten others who have only known darkness and shadows, no matter how hard he or she tries.

I’m lucky I learned anything academically during my first months at college. Oh sure, I was going to all my classes and doing all my work—even if I had a lot to learn about time management—but I wasn’t really thinking very critically yet. The Cave opened my own eyes to the importance of thinking about what I was being taught—which was a good thing to learn early because in my four years at that college I was going to encounter a whole lot of blue books I had to fill with my own answers to essay questions. I could hardly believe that I could get A’s on philosophy tests simply by stating what I thought of what we were studying—I mean, what did I know about philosophy? My success on those tests showed me that maybe professors weren’t just looking for me to parrot what I’d been told.

Could it be the reality of pursuing an education was about way more than just doing the work? That it wasn’t enough to be a vessel filled with ideas taught by others?

In so many ways, previously my own idea of learning was like being chained in that cave. Take what you see and memorize it. How much better to be called to discern for myself whether what appeared to be reality was true light or simply shadows on a wall—or somewhere in between.

Not only might a major choose the person, but also sometimes so does knowledge.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Water brings out thoughts for me—if I’d written about everything that came to me while I was in the shower or the bath tub, I’d be a lot more prolific. If nothing else, water helps me to keep thinking—and sometimes even turns those thoughts into a new study direction.

What was yesterday’s thought that came out from nowhere while under the influence of a nice flow of water? About which ideas and topics I studied in college that really became part of my mindset and who I turned out to be. Keep in mind I first attended a liberal arts school before getting an MBA. If only I’d been baptized by this writing topic a week earlier, I might have been willing to commit to doing the Blogging A to Z challenge again this April. Instead I skipped it after spending the last three Aprils writing like a crazed fool.

So this crazed fool began by thinking she could write one simple post on what mattered most to her in her formal education—and then she realized just how much she gained from so many of those courses and how much there was to say. Instead I am going to write a short series of blog posts explaining why my education mattered and how it hasn’t been wasted, even if I have not spent a lifetime pursuing vocations that would meet some exacting formula for showing how the educational dollars spent on me have paid out. When I come to do the balance sheet of my life, my assets will always include the goodwill (intangible asset that it is) received from my education having taught me to open my mind to lifelong learning.

I am so, so sorry that pursuing a higher education has become so prohibitively expensive and so tied to what kind of money a person can make from what he/she has learned—if nothing else just to pay off the student loans so many have gained from the pursuit. Trust me, the piper is going to need to be paid in this household and that is going to hurt way worse than it hurt when I attended college since both my parents and I received so much more help for mitigating costs.

I can only hope that someday soon my daughter will not only be employed in a way that allows her to afford the education she received while utilizing much of what she has learned, but that she will also come to recognize the intangible benefits that came with that education. That even as she looks back on a particular course or topic that might have felt incredibly painful, she can still appreciate how that learning gave her access to whole new ways of thinking or doing—that will never leave her and that will allow her to continue to grow throughout her life.

You know your education really suited you well when you can be thankful not only for what you experienced in classes you loved attending but also for some parts of what came out of classes you either disliked or didn’t really care about one way or another.

It seems to me that in the midst of real learning, you more often feel baptized by fire than by water—the tricky part is not to be burned up by your experiences, but to become more like the flame on a wick—and able to pass on that fire to others.

I will never regret the fire kindled in me by those early learning experiences that helped make me who I am today—which is someone who cannot take a simple shower or bath without ideas and questions flowing from this brain trained so long ago to not only think for itself but also to always continue pursuing ideas and knowledge and all the intangibles that come with that pursuit.

P.S. The motto for my undergraduate college, Wittenberg University, is “Having light, we pass it on to others”, which is represented by the symbol of a torch. Coincidence? I think not.

(c) 2013

(c) 2013

Despite all the frustrations over scheduling and advising, our daughter is getting ready to graduate this semester. Yahoo! She is busy making certain all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed so that she can leave with that degree—for which she will have an extra 14 credit hours. No, I told her not to accept the department adviser’s minor error on her graduation contract—it could matter. (My niece is marrying a man whose academic department started quibbling with him regarding his degree completion over two months after they said he had graduated.)

Besides completing her capstone art semester, which will culminate with a solo art show, she is also taking a professional practices course. She’s been working on tasks such as creating business cards and setting up her professional Facebook page. Somehow it’s hard to believe—despite the extra two semesters—that she is finally graduating.

Yes, we are those “crazy” parents who “let” our daughter declare a major in art—with a concentration in drawing in a small and highly competitive program. Will she be able to support herself solely with her art? That remains to be seen, but the desire to support herself is one of the reasons she is getting her art education within a four-year (make that five-year!) university program.

In these times so many people believe studying the humanities at all, let alone art, is a license to starve. And I have to thank everyone (sarcasm intended) who has pointed that out over the years, including some of her professors who think it is some sign of poor artistry to do anything with her art that doesn’t involve selling in a studio. Also, I would like to thank the many lackluster students in more practical majors who are shocked—just shocked—that she not only has a lot of work to do for her classes but also that she gets graded. How many of them could survive having all their highly unique work critiqued not only by the professor but also by their peers, every single time?

I happen to believe that being a passionate student in any subject teaches students more than they will learn if they only do the bare minimum in some subject they take because it is supposed to earn them money. Hey, I have an MBA (to go with that lowly humanities degree) but I’ve met a lot of former and current business majors who cared more about partying than balance sheets or P/E ratios.

When my daughter tells many students what she is studying, they say, “Oh, wow, I can’t draw.” As if somehow this has anything to do with them in the first place but I think they’re trying to point out how irrelevant her knowledge is. I’ll get to what’s relevant about her studies in a moment, but let’s just say that it’s too bad they can’t draw, because she can draw by hand and computer (plus edit by computer) as well as create spreadsheets, perform accounting, write, do research, and excel in math and science classes.

You see, she’s graduating with a bachelor’s degree just like all the other people at her university—they don’t give those degrees away no matter your major. Like everyone else there, she’s taken a variety of other courses besides those in her major and area of concentration.

Plus—and here’s where my liberal arts rant begins again—each discipline teaches valuable skills that apply to many situations.

In order to obtain a degree in art, for each project she does she has to follow a prompt—in other words, she has to design her finished product to some specifications. She must sketch possibilities from her ideas, research artists and works similar to her idea, investigate materials and see how well she can apply those materials to her specific project plan, and change the plan as needed. She has to manage her time in order to finish a long project by the deadline. When she is finished she must go through a group critique where the professor and her peers get to weigh in on how they perceive her finished project achieved its intent. At times she must create art in partnership or as part of a team. Keep in mind that few of her courses involve taking multiple choice tests by Scantron—most of the work she does is distinct and individualized.

So to summarize: For any given project she must work from directions, use creativity, perform research, practice good time management, remain flexible as her project develops, meet established deadlines, communicate ideas in writing and orally to individuals and groups, and receive criticism and feedback from multiple individuals.

Don’t discount her education—it’s been rigorous and has helped her develop the tools she needs to meet the demands of a variety of professions. Hey, I’d be happy if you’d buy her art and she could live as an artist. But just so you know, her discipline has taught her many skills and developed others that are valuable to many kinds of jobs and careers.

Just because she can draw a box doesn’t mean she isn’t able to draw outside the box.

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert