Lowcountry Zen

 

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Over the marsh and the Wando River.

I have the enviable task of helping my parent’s in their house hunt and I went with their realtor to view a few properties this week, and even though this particular house was not the right fit the view was definitely something I would love to come home to.

Last year and this year so far seem so chaotic and fast on every level. I have said before the turmoil in the world and our nation have left me feeling anxious and a news-cycle for just a day or two seems like it surely covered at least a weeks worth of events. Even daily life between my teaching life, my writing life, my home life and social life are overwhelming me and I don’t feel I have a firm grasp or that I’m caught up in any area.

When I see a view like the one above it automatically catches my breath, slows my heart rate and commands me to pause, slow down and regroup.  Makes me wonder is it too late for me to move back in with my parents? A view like this is what they will end up with and I plan on spending a lot of time with their view. . .  I mean them.

I don’t think you need a water view to achieve the zen, a walk in a park, a garden, the beach or even a mountain can get us away from twenty-four-hour connectedness and screens. We have to disconnect to reconnect and refresh.

If you come home to a view each day, I imagine it’s a little easier to practice that on a daily basis. The rest of us might need to take a short drive to a beach or a park or take a stroll each day around our back gardens, assuming part of your stress is not the various yardwork chores you’re behind on.

I think I am beginning to understand the appeal of meditation, although I’m lousy at sitting still and clearing my mind sitting in a room. Give me a Lowcountry view like above and my soul makes it easy to sit still and meditate on the spectacular views all around in this magical place I get to call home.

I know we are over half way through February, but I think I can add one more thing to my New Year’s goal list: Stop each day, find a place in nature to disconnect and reach a few moments of zen.

 

 

In Defense Of The Middle

 

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 3.58.51 PMI met a friend for coffee this morning and we got on the subject of how extreme our world seems to have become. I say seem because I like to think it’s just that those with extreme positions and opinions are the ones who are making the most noise.

I don’t care for heavy duty political debate, although I have my opinions, I try to keep them out of my relationships and I try to be respectful of the opinions of others even if I don’t agree. It can be challenging, but I think it is worth the effort to try and understand a differing point of view. That is what builds bridges of compassion and understanding.

Call me crazy but I’d like to see people get along and be productive. Always move forward and continue to make this world a better place, I believe that is our responsibility for the privilege of living this life.

The extremes have hijacked the media coverage and the social media platforms painting those with opposing views as evil or nefarious. Compromise has become a dirty word. Respect and manners have been lost, leaving civilization without its civility.

I shake my head sometimes and wonder if the young people of today will think this is how we should treat others. Will society continue to decay or will the next generation turn things back around to a society where respect, manners, and compassion dictate our interactions with others.

I like to think we won’t have to wait for the next generation. Those of us in the reasonable, moderate middle, who see both sides of an issue and can envision what a compromise might be, need a clarion call to reclaim the message. I believe there are more of us than those on the extreme ends, it’s the bell curve. We need to be loud enough in our demands to quiet the noise and move this world forward.

I’m not a revolutionary, I don’t wish to weigh in on political issues, but I’d like to turn on the news or read the newspaper or a newsfeed and see the reasonable people better represented. We are the bridge between the extremes and it’s time we stop shaking our heads mystified while the two sides batter the issues back and forth as if we are watching a tennis match.

I will not write my own opinions on specific issues, the world is flooded with enough of that, but I hope that more #reasonablepeople will start demanding compromise, compassion, and civility from those who make our laws, preach from their bully pulpits and hash out issues across the airways.

Maybe this Valentine’s Day we can bring a little love back to the world.

The Doorway to Spring

 

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My thrifty and crafty new entry

 

The groundhog saw his shadow, but I don’t think the Kiawah Island alligator Charles Ray did. Apparently, he has been predicting local spring since 1932. I just learned this little fact on the local news. How did I not know this colorful bit of local lore? Here in the South Carolina Lowcountry, I am certainly hopeful for early spring, after all, some of my daffodils are on the verge of unfurling their sunshine blooms.

Winter is not my favorite season, although I try to appreciate the gifts it gives just like every other season. As soon as Christmas is over I begin to dream of warmer days, more hours of daylight and mother nature putting on her fashion show.

Recently I fell in love with a wreath in a catalog with beautiful greenery and yellow silk tulips, it was selling for $139 and I almost gave into the temptation. In the end, I couldn’t justify the splurge when I had some rotting fence boards to replace and other needs to be tended to.

This morning I looked at my beautiful blue door and the now fading Christmas wreath that was still in place. To clarify, my holiday wreath was adorned with seashells and a cream ribbon so it didn’t scream Christmas, but the live greenery was beginning to brown. It was time for it to come down.

Still craving a cheerful yellow wreath to grace the door, I ventured to the craft store and $18 later I returned with a grapevine wreath and several stems of yellow flowers with greenery and a spool of roping.

It is not as large and lush as the wreath from the catalog and I could not find yellow tulips like the catalog wreath, but I found decent looking and feeling blooms that created the effect I was hoping to. So it is an inspired creation, a low-budget version of a high-budget item. Plus, I enjoyed a small project to exercise my creativity in a form other than words.

Now my door makes me smile again and I hope it says to the world, “Welcome Spring!” Even if real Spring is still a few weeks away I’m pretty sure here in South Carolina we will have it before our friends to the North. Hang in there Northern friends and family, the snowdrops and crocuses will be there before you know it!

Winter Blooms

 

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Two of the buds from last week’s Little Miracles have bloomed

 

Last week I marveled at the miracle of one of my orchids as it had budded out in our mid-winter. This week it has begun to bloom and is a welcome shot of color in front of the drab background of a winter and cold battered backyard.

Things that looked at least alive before the snow and ice, are now brown and bent, I wonder if the Camelia’s will bloom.  I did notice today that some of the daffodils are shooting up, so I’m hopeful for the rest.

2018 is not quite a month old and there seem to be so many deaths, people and beloved pets I know and those I don’t through school shootings and the flu.  The world struggles with so many issues, nuclear war, terrorism, flooding and the list of impending doom and disasters could go on. While there is some good economic news, I have to wonder if it will really benefit me, one of the regular people, or just those who were already well-off. There is plenty to dwell on that could drive you down into depression to match the despair of winter.

However, I see this orchid, I see the green shoots of the daffodils, I think I have detected that the hours of daylight seem to be getting longer and I can’t help but have a renewed sense of faith. Life will get better, warmer, brighter.  This world will become more peaceful and cooperative after all the Winter Olympics will bring us together in a few short weeks to strive for unity and understanding through a love of sport.

Winter blooms around us, not in the riot of Spring Color, the lushness of Summer, or the Showstopper colors of fall, but it blooms just the same, with a subtlety that requires you to work a little harder to appreciate it.

Little Miracles

 

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One of my orchids in bud

I’ve been home sick for the past few days and thanks to Tamiflu and lots of rest I woke up feeling like myself this morning. When not sleeping I have been indulging in Britbox and snuggling with my fur babies. I’ve also had time to observe, think and reflect.

I have two orchid plants, both given as gifts several years ago and somehow I’ve managed to get them to rebloom multiple times. I confess I know very little about orchids and their care. I find they do better with a little neglect, each rebloom comes as a surprise, or one might say a minor miracle.

As a stem on one is now loaded with buds, I’ve found myself wishing to witness the moment one or more opens into blossom. I wish I had a way to set up a camera to capture that moment in case it happens when I’m not attentive.

What’s likely to happen as I step back into the world, is that one day this week I will notice that the orchid is in full bloom, totally missing the magical moment of the unfolding of the petals. As a rule, I’m a fairly attentive person. many friends have commented on my ability to recall details from past events. But like most humans, I get caught up in the busyness of life and miss the little miracles of life that occur around us every day.

Thinking about those little miracles made me reflect on life. Times are difficult right now. I imagine historians will view this period as one of upheaval and darkness around the globe.  But even in times of chaos if we take a moment we can find these every day little miracles all around us.

I can’t help but see hope in these small miracles and have some faith for bigger ones. Out of chaos will come order, out of sadness, joy will be found. Out of illness, health with be restored.

I’m challenging myself to focus on the everyday miracles, the joyous moments, and the goodness of humanity. Like each step adds up to a journey, each everyday miracle could lead to some big ones with a little faith.

 

The Trick of the Title

WP_20160213_002I have a meeting this Monday with my cover designer and I have a vision for the art in my mind. Sounds like it should be an easy meeting, right? If I could say with certainty what the title is going to be. . . I have forty-eight hours to figure it out.

This book is a prequel to the trilogy I completed last year. The story itself came to me with clarity. The title has been somewhat elusive, although, I do have a working list. This novel like all the others so far is set here in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. So much of the evocative landscape plays an inspirational role for my heroine and I want that reflected in the title. However, the Lowcountry and the coast, in general, are so inspirational many of the key words I initially came up with to incorporate were in so many other titles I had to go back to the drawing board.

I came up with one title, I really liked, then my editor pointed out that it implied a tongue and cheek, humorous book. This didn’t mesh with the interior. This is a story of love, loss, redemption, forgiveness and confronting truths. I don’t want a title that might mislead a reader. Although I have tucked that title away for a truly lighthearted story for down the road.

So from a list of about twenty ideas, I have narrowed it down to about eight contenders. At best, I will narrow it down to one by Monday, or at least the top three to share with Chris, the designer, and get his take.

When we name a book, a business or even a child, we have to think about how that book, business or child will be perceived by the world based on that name. Let’s face the facts, even if Trixie (No offense intended to anyone named Trixie) has a degree from M.I.T.,  on introduction we might assume she is a flighty sort. That’s just human nature. A business’s name must convey a sense of what they sell or an aesthetic that will resonate with buyers. A book title should relate to the content and intrigue a reader enough they will read the back cover synopsis.

Perhaps once one becomes a name recognized author to a reader then the title is of less importance. I will read anything by Peter Mayle, regardless of title. But I bet he or his editor work hard to get just the right title, all the same.

Shakespeare has his famous line about what’s in a name, he understood the weight a name can carry, he understood human perception based on a name could have a bearing on reality. He also understood that what really mattered wasn’t the name but the essence of the object or person.  A book’s content is its essence and in theory, should not be judged by its cover. The reality is the cover and the title will be judged, so care should be taken with it.

Wish me well while I wrestle with this decision, hopefully, this spring, when I do a cover reveal, you will smile and say, “Oh, what a great title!”

 

 

A Southern Winter Wonderland

 

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Magnolia in the backyard showered by snow

January 3rd brought magic to the South. It began as a freezing rain and icicles formed on branches and patio furniture, then big fluffy flakes floated and blew down not just a dusting but slightly over five inches and our world became white and sparkly. My joy in this event took me by surprise, I don’t care for weather below the 50’s in the winter and long for the warm 80’s and 90’s of summer as a rule. But the collective wonder of it all on the local news and social media swept me up in the excitement.

The local channels covered it like a hurricane with constant on-air coverage, and the businesses and roads shut down. Children and adults alike rushed to don winter garb, some make-shift as we don’t generally have such items beyond a coat in our wardrobe. I myself wore my rain boots. The dogs bounced around like puppies regardless of age and so did the humans.

Neighbors emerged to take pictures and marvel. This is about a once a decade or more event. We greeted it with glee, it meant snow days from school and work. Unlike the northern tier of our country, we can celebrate snow like children because it is so rare. I freely admit that if I had to deal with it every season on a regular basis it would make me grumble and complain, but once in a decade I can truly savor and enjoy.  I have been here for 31 years and have only experienced snow like this twice before, with a few minor dustings not even lasting a day a few times as well. Also, three ice storms that closed thing down, each winter scenario averaging once a decade for my Lowcountry life,  making each one a marvel and a magical experience, secure in the knowledge it won’t last. We will be back in flip flops in just a few days.

 

I’m not especially superstitious but I can’t help but feel this is a good omen for 2018. I felt that way about the beginning of the school year coinciding with the total solar eclipse. A rare event can’t help but seem magical and mysterious. It fills you with joy and hope and wanting to soak it in for all the good luck it might have to offer.

The snow is still solidly here and will not melt much today. I’m going to venture out to shovel the driveway to hopefully prevent the re-freeze sheet of ice and I just might have to make a snow angel for nostalgia’s sake. I have my wooden flexible flyer with metal runners in my garage (It hangs on the wall as decor), if we only had a hill nearby I would take it for a spin.

In a few days time, this will melt away and we will enjoy being outside sans jackets again. But today I’m going to play in this winter wonderland and soak in the magic of the moment.

Baring The Halls & Organizing Angels

 

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One page of Angels

The time between Christmas and New Year’s is one of my favorite weeks of the year. Company has departed and I finally feel settled into winter break. It is a time to reflect back on the year about to pass and forward into the year that is to be. I feel compelled to pack away the holiday glitz and restore order to drawers, closets, and cabinets.

It is a shock to the system when the layers of Christmas decorations have been repacked and stored. The mantle, tablescapes, and the house, in general, seems bare. Not that this is a negative. On the contrary, I find it fitting as we approach a new year. It is a new beginning and should be faced clean and stripped of the past, at least as stripped back as can be. Not all baggage should be left behind, some is essential for moving forward, but I try to be selective and reflective and a bared house fits the task at hand.

The other aspect of a bared house, just a simple white bowl of pine cones on the dining table, is that it reflects the season of winter, we can no longer deny is upon us. Like the bare branches of the trees, it is sculptural and architectural. Beautiful in its own right until the adornments of spring arrive.

The other part of this week between the end and the beginning compels me to do is organize all the things I have put awry through daily living.  The cabinet in the bathroom has been crying out for it for months and now I have the time to do it. This year I also decided to organize and catalog my Metropolitan Museum of Art Angel ornament collection. Mama started me on it in 2002 and I have gotten a new one every year with the exception of 2011. Each year I have carefully packed each angel back in its original pouch and box.

In recent years I have resorted to using a magnifying glass to figure out the year on the back of each ornament, driving myself crazy. So, this year I did that, but took a picture and labeled each picture with the year, then created a document with thumbnail pictures with the year, printed and cut and then taped the picture for each angel on the inside cover of each box. Now in 2018, I will not need the magnifying glass and I will only have to photograph and catalog one angel.

A little over the top for most, I’m sure, but my heart smiles knowing how well organized the angels are for now and the future. If only the bathroom cabinet and the cooking utensil drawer could be so permanently coraled.

So baring the halls and organizing everything from angels to zesters is my way of preparing for saying goodbye to this year and greeting the new. I have already decided, no matter what goes on in the world at large, here at home 2018 is going to be a great year.

Happy New Year my friends!

 

Mixing up the Merry and Bright

 

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The batter bowl my class gave me for Christmas this year.

December is definitely the baking season. I know a few folks who bake year round, but once the mercury rises, I avoid oven use if possible, which means the oven is off most of the year with the exception of entertaining.

Not so during the holidays. I bake for gifts, I bake for the cookie exchange, I oven roast main dishes, I bake homemade rolls or biscuits, this morning I whipped up a batch of blueberry muffins for the tree-picking.

Yes, it is Christmas morning and I am blogging. Our Christmas morning doesn’t include children, so it is peaceful enough with some Harry Connick Jr. Christmas music in the background to get my weekly blog post written.  Daddy is up but quietly drinking his coffee, the matriarch is in bed, keeping the lady at court hours.

So muffins mixed and in the oven and inspired by my new batter bowl, which incidentally, I will use year round despite the holiday message, I sat down to wish y’all a Merry Christmas or if you celebrate something else or don’t care to celebrate any holidays some peace on earth and goodwill toward men (and women, children and all creatures big and small).

Baking does that to me, it fills me with goodwill. Sharing baked goods is an expression of love in my opinion. It is the season of magic and wonder and what could be more magical than mixing separate ingredients in a bowl and creating something wonderful and better than the sum of its parts.

Maybe this year I will just crank up the AC and bake up some merry and bright every month. The matriarch, otherwise known as Mama or Nonnie Malia and sometimes as CM has stirred and the timer is about to go off on the oven. Time to empty the stockings and pick the tree.  Merry Christmas Y’all! May your day be filled with joy, peace and some baked love from a family member’s oven.

 

 

How A Struggle With a To-do List Reminded Me How Blessed I Really Am.

 

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Our card for Christmas 2017

In my last post, I lamented about the length of my to-do list, how this holiday season seems more frenetic than average, but that I was going to try and tick things off while still somehow enjoying the peace, love, and joy this time of year is supposed to be about.

One of those items on my list was taking the photo and designing my annual card. So finally on December 16th, I managed to corral the dogs under the tree and using the word “squirrel” got them to look at the camera at the same time.  Feeling good about that, I went online to design and order, discovering same day pick up was possible. Wow! I might get cards out before Christmas after all. I even selected the stationery card style I like.

It was a little irksome that the big box store I was ordering from expected me to drive fourteen miles and past two of their other area stores to pick up, I was just elated that I could get this task done and feel like I was catching up.  I should have known that was too easy.

While running other errands I received a phone call from the store I was working my way to, their printer was out of ink and they would not be able to process my order at least until Wednesday. OKAY… so I stopped at the store that was close to home and discovered they could print from what I selected on the kiosk, we were back in business.

After some scrolling, I settled on a photo card, not my preferred paper, and it had a company’s logo, also not my first pick, but the price was awesome and again, I was going to strike it off my list today!

Oh, if it were that simple. Order placed, I wandered the store looking for a few things I needed, lightbulb for outside, tape for gift wrapping, stocking stuffers etc. Forty minutes later I strolled back to the photo center. Machine not working, employees working on it. I stood clutching my items, not wanting a cart I could fill with unneeded items.  After another forty minutes, I was regretting that decision. Happily, a woman who had decided on one item offered her cart to me and I gratefully accepted.

Items secure, I settled down on one of the stool by the counter, silently willing the printer to get back to its task. I practiced my patience and I watched my fellow shoppers. I saw a bald woman, obviously, a chemo patient and I was reminded how blessed I am for the health I have.  I saw some older citizens riding around in scooters, some looking lonely and I was reminded how blessed I am to be mobile and have so many friends,  I  am never lonely even when I’m alone. I overheard a frazzled mom, lamenting the cost of something to her friend, both of them with young children in tow. I was reminded how blessed I am to have my needs met and most of my wants. As I made each observation, the level of peace that settled over me grew and my heart filled with joy.

All told I spent close to another forty minutes sitting there, waiting and watching. In the end, I got my cards, they may not have the typical finish I would like, but they have what is more important, they show the two furry loves and they express my love to the friends and family that will receive them. No one who matters will judge the material they are made of, but they will care about the message they express.

Sure, I’m behind again for spending the time in photo center limbo, but maybe what I got out of that pause in my jam-packed day was worth more than being able to tick more boxes off on that to-do list. I am blessing rich and that my friend, is what the Christmas spirit is all about.