Passing Perfection

 

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Blossom on my Magnolia tree

There are many examples of beauty and dare I say perfection amidst the natural world. For me, one of the most iconic and elegant is the Magnolia.  I have a long-standing love affair and fascination with this flower. It is iconic to the south I live in, it is both old-fashioned yet strikingly modern in its clean lines. It is remarkable to think about how it has grown, survived and thrived on our planet since the time of the dinosaurs. It has been the subject of artists on canvass and referred to in a variety of literature and films.

I still marvel that my personal tree began life as a stick with two leaves, dug up from a friend’s yard on the Isle of Palms. Now it towers in the back of the yard and it is in its second year of producing the creamy blossoms among the glossy rich green leaves.

Each morning this time of year, I spy new blooms and see the rapid browning of blooms from just a day or two before.  This brief period from bud to decaying petals may produce a fleeting perfection, but oh what a perfection it is!

This got me thinking about perfection. There seems to be a human drive to achieve a perfection or an ideal. While we often fall short of achieving that perfection, we have moments and flickers of perfection that spur us on. People have dreamt of perfection and written about what it should look like since the Renaissance at least and many have written haunting dystopias of what could happen if we abandon our ideals. I think ideals give us the goal to shoot for, but the true growth comes in the striving for that perfection.

In the striving, we have fleeting moments where the perfection is tangible and it spurs us on. Perhaps those moments should be celebrated. Sometimes we focus so much on the goal or the ideal, we miss that the smaller, fleeting moments of perfection.

It’s in those smaller moments, those brief blossoms where the ideal and real life meet. I think my Magnolia tree has reminded me that we need to stop and watch the sunset or sunrise, we need to appreciate the homemade meal put before us, celebrate that moment when a student makes that connection, or the time when the words on the page flow and sing with clarity and inspiration.

Tuning into these moments make our imperfect and messy world a little more Eden-like. The lack of perfection shouldn’t depress us or thwart our efforts to strive towards a better world, a better life, a higher quality relationship. If the world or our relationships were perfect I think we would lack motivation and then creativity and innovation would cease.

Flirting with brief moments of perfection and appreciating them for what they have to offer gives assurance and breeds contentment with all the rest.

 

The Season of Simple Joys

 

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A glorious plate of fried green tomatoes

Truthfully every day of every season offers up simple joys, but there is something about Summer which brings to mind an abundance of simple joys like the fried green tomatoes pictured above.

While calendar Summer doesn’t begin until the Summer Solstice and cultural summer goes Memorial Day to Labor Day, for me, Summer begins when my teaching duties are over. This year Summer began today June 5th.

Instead of getting up at 4:50, I slept until 6 a.m. and then got to exercise in the morning followed by a leisurely breakfast with the Today Show. I did housework and ran errands, had lunch with a friend and indulgently took an afternoon nap. Even the housework I would count as a simple joy among this list of joys, because it was done on a weekday morning and not after a long day at work, or crammed into the weekend.

I am transitioning into my summer routine, and as this is the shortest time segment in my personal year, besides the to-do list of various house and garden tasks and finishing my fourth novel, I intend to celebrate the simple joys I find in every day.

I predict a few more fried green tomato dinners are in my future as well as some days with my toes in the sand and a great book in my hand. I want to spend time with friends and enjoy some reflective alone time. I want to find more ways to give back to my community.  I want to reset and renew so that come August I have more of me to give to the next school year.

The more life experience I gain (now doesn’t that sound better than the older I get?) I realize it’s not the big grand moments where I find the most joy. The big moments have their place, they create memories and help me grow as a person. But, it’s the way we live the ordinary days that bring us contentment for our lives.

Being cognizant of the simple and everyday joys helps us to appreciate all we have. It puts into perspective the needs versus the wants. There was a popular book back in the 90’s called Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach, Oprah talked about it and put into practice the idea of a gratitude journal. The idea was to put your focus on all you have and be grateful for it.

Tuning into our simple joys makes us grateful, it reminds us to savor the ordinary. I think it also helps us appreciate those moments that are seasonal as precious, they may be fairly ordinary like fried green tomatoes, oyster roasts, pulling out the Christmas decorations, etc.  but they appear in our lives for brief periods of time, making them extra-special simple joys.

So no matter whether it’s watching the lightning bugs dance around the yard, or spending an hour or two lost in a good book, I plan to recognize and be thankful for all the simple joys that fill my days.

 

The Growing Season

 

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The double impatiens by my front door.

I have been reflecting on growth and change lately. I tend to do that at the end of a school year. Some years there are more things to reflect on, a personal growing season.

It could be because I took a leap of faith last spring and left the comfort and known of a school I had been in since it’s door opened, albeit, following my principal and making the leap with quite a few familiar faces. It was a leap just the same. I’m happy to report that it all worked out well. I love my new school and my team and the faculty at large. I love the changes I made this year that reinvigorated my teaching.

Not all was new, it was tweaked, it was grafted on to the best of the old to create the new. Much like the flowers you see in the photograph above. I bought a double impatiens last spring and kept it going all winter in my garage. I enjoy gardening and always wish I had more time to tend the garden. I have usually buy seedlings and divide existing plants and occasionally start from seed, but for the first time I used rooting powder and took cuttings to create a brand new basket of the cascading pink blooms. Creating new from the old, and my first venture of this kind of propagation I would call a success.

I think we do this all the time in our lives, we make changes and additions based on our previous circumstances and experiences. Not too much is created from nothing. Even innovations in this world are born from a need to fix or improve something that existed before.

I went with some friends to see the new movie “Book Club” today and I went in with the preconceived idea that it would be funny, light-hearted and particularly relatable to women in their forties and over. I was not disappointed. However, I was surprised by the message it clearly delivered.

I have discussed with my Mama the concept that some older folks stop living, long before they actually die and both of us reject that notion. In the movie, the four friends are faced with their aging and what that might mean for their next season of life and they end up embracing their lives fully.  Propagating new from the old.

So perhaps in our lives, the growing is perpetual, as long as we are mindful to cultivate it. At some points the growth is slow and steady, other times it is rapid and disruptive. the important thing is we keep growing, from the moment of our first breath to our last.

 

A Southern Essential

 

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My temporary source of cooling

Isn’t it funny how we take everyday things for granted? Like when your car is in the shop and all of a sudden you feel trapped in the place you are. Of course, my HVAC waited until we had ninety-degree heat to resign from service.

I realize this is a first-world problem, however, that does not make me any cooler to think there are people all over the world who live all their hot days without air conditioning. I am grateful that the humidity level is still at bearable levels. If this was August, the dogs and I would be checking into a hotel.

The bad news is that the tech looked at it today, yes, Saturday, after-hours service call rates, and said it couldn’t be dealt with this weekend. The good news is by next weekend, I hope, I will have a brand-new and more efficient unit to keep us in the cool air this southern girl is accustomed to and might I add, a woman my age needs to maintain her sanity.

There are times I wax nostalgic for the past, the manners, the simpler life etc. But when it comes to medicine and the modern conveniences I am wholeheartedly a denizen of these modern times. I fully-understand why Scarlett and the girls lounged around in their underclothes and why those who could, fled Charleston in the summer months for cooler climes.

Yes, I do believe here in the south, the air conditioning is essential to a happy and healthy life. Not just for the cooling, but to avoid opening windows to the clouds of pollen that float around like swarms of no-see-ums.

So for now, all fans on deck, no cooking just eating cold dishes and considering cold showers.   I also vow I’ll be more thankful for all the things in my life that make me comfortable.

 

 

 

How A coconut bra made me feel like a full-fledged​ member​ of my family tree

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I have been uncomfortable my whole life, being silly in front of anyone outside my inner circle of trust. The serious side of things has always been my comfort zone. I like to think I’m well-educated, cultured and worldly in my views. I enjoy books, crossword puzzles, and PBS. I just couldn’t get on the reality TV bandwagon. So when I agreed to participate in my school’s musical for a cameo, imagine my chagrin when I realized I would be wearing a coconut bra. Thankfully that was to be worn over a shirt, with a grass skirt and an over the top wig.  I went with it, for the team of course.

A funny thing happened once I was strapped in and incognito with my platinum blonde locks. Something within me said this is part of your DNA.  I relaxed and I relished the chance to be part of the experience.

See, in my family dressing up in wigs, silly hats and other paraphernalia is a regular experience. It happens mostly on my mother’s side of the family, but my dad in the past has worn some crazy costumes for parties.  Below is a picture of my mother, my Great-Aunt Helen, and my Grandmother.

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My grandmother and her sister were two ladies that knew how to have some fun and being silly and enjoy life, one of the reasons they both lived so long.

When I turned forty, I became comfortable in my skin, but that never extended into taking to the stage in a comical role. As I look at ending my forties this fall, I find not only that I’m comfortable dancing around a stage in a coconut bra and wig, I actually enjoy it.

I can’t help but think Grandma would be proud.

Sweet Sleep

 

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My Sweet Ella snoozing away

The Spring season is in full swing, there are five weeks left in the school year, the weeds and uninvited plants have shown up like unruly party crashers and I am trying to maintain my writing life, and tend my friendships. Needless to say, the to-do list is long, the hours required to keep up are many and sleep is elusive even when I’m tucked in under the covers.

I have been plugging away this Saturday bouncing my attention between tasks for school, housework and yard work and oh yes that thing I do called writing.  I sat for a moment to check messages and saw this cuteness across the room from me. Clearly, my four-legged family members live the life of Riley.

I would love to take a nap, but this weekend anyway I simply can’t afford that luxury. However in five weeks, life will put on the brakes and for a short while, I will be primarily a writer, beachgoer and yes, nap taker. It makes me smile to think of the hazy days of Summer.

This current frenetic pace will pass and it will return again in August. That is one of the beautiful things about this life, it will change, it will speed up or slow down, somehow just when we need it to. June 5th I will sleep, maybe all day, until then I will power on and sleep vicariously through my sweet fur babies.

 

 

A Touch of Whimsy

 

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A little garden space tucked in among the buildings of the Medical University of South Carolina’s Campus.

I took a friend over to the hospital today for an MRI. It is Sunday and it was a much quieter place than when I went with her this past Tuesday to spend the day going to a series of appointments. She is undergoing cancer treatments and she has been spending the better part of many days at the hospital the last few months.

The cancer center has its own building, but for some tests, you do go to one of the other buildings. The radiologist on Tuesday did not want to wait for an MRI, so here we were on a Sunday and it was pleasantly in and out. We even got parking on the first floor of the garage. We had to go in the main entrance and that took us by this little garden space off of the part of the campus known as the horseshoe.

When you’re at a hospital unless it’s to welcome a new baby into the world, it’s usually a situation of serious thought, concern, fear, and worry. So the sight of that frog sitting on the bench was a happy surprise. I can’t imagine someone not having a happy reaction to this whimsical frog.  I imagine children coming to and from the hospital find him magical.

Life is full of serious things. There are plenty of things to stress over, many not in our control. It’s during these times when life seems lean heavily to the serious side that we need to insert a little whimsy to balance it all out. How wonderful when we happen upon it unexpectedly like the frog on the bench.

It reminded me to keep my eyes open, to appreciate a little whimsy when I find it. Stop, smile and de-stress, Our problems won’t disappear, but maybe we’ll be in a better frame of mind to tackle them.

 

Lowcountry Field of Dreams

 

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A field at Shipyard Park on the Wando River

A sunny Spring Saturday morning, little league baseball at a state of the art facility overlooking the Wando River is one example of what makes our community a great place to live. We have a beautiful new facility called Shipyard Park, with multiple fields complete with dugouts and fold down stadium seats under shade. There is a walking path that skirts the fields and goes along the river and a well-stocked concession stand. The fields are covered in astroturf, although I noticed that didn’t keep the players from soiling their white pants. There are working electronic scoreboards and even a pro-shop for all your baseball needs.

Parents coach and cheer, kids learn valuable teamwork and sportsmanship skills and we all get time in the sunshine unplugged from the digital world. I’m sure there were some present clicking away on their smartphones, but the majority of on-lookers were gadget free.

I was there to support a child I think of as a nephew, his dad has been like a brother to me for years and he is one of the coaches. He is an ideal example of what a coach should be, encouraging, teaching and being a great role-model. I am impressed and proud every time I witness him coach.  The younger son who plays on his own team serves as the bat boy for his brother’s team and Mom, she is the ultimate fan, I doubt she ever misses a game.  She is a fellow teacher and also one of the best examples of a mother/parent I have ever witnessed. I love them all and I love that they think to invite me to come to games.

I love watching baseball live, there is something about the atmosphere, the pace of the game is slow enough that I don’t get whiplash, like basketball and fast enough that I don’t get bored, plus it is simple to follow and understand. I enjoy professional baseball, my dad just got tickets for the two of us to take in a National’s game this summer and I have been a Red Sox fan for decades. I enjoy our local minor league team, the Charleston Riverdogs. But there is something special about the kid’s version of the game.

Maybe it’s the joy the kids exhibit when a teammate makes a hit, or scores a run. It could be the encouraging words that float around, “Great catch” or “Nice throw”, you don’t hear that at professional games. Baseball requires teamwork and so does life. I suppose the same could be said for football, soccer, basketball etc. Team sports bring a community together and foster the development of skills that will carry on long after the players leave the field. It gets kids out of the virtual world and into the real world.

It gives me hope that the generation that’s coming up is not going to be self-centered or self-serving, but work as a team to make our country and the world a better place. That may seem naive or optimistic as if I’m ignoring the complex and numerous issues that face our society today. I would remind you that on the baseball field is where real integration efforts were made, well before Civil rights laws. Perhaps that’s why the baseball field is a field of dreams.

 

 

The Gift of Time

 

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Hampton Park, Charleston, SC

It is Spring break here this week and that has freed me up for writing and I am finally moving forward again on my fourth novel, I may even finish it this week. The gift of time from my teaching responsibilities I have consciously made the effort not to squander.

The old adage of all work and no play makes Julie a dull girl, nagged at me. As the week began I was talking with a friend whose’s first question to me was what are you going to do this week? I rattled off m plan to write, go to doctor appointments, take the dogs for their annual shots, etc.  Her next question was what are you going to do for fun?

Sometimes we get caught up in the idea that if we aren’t working on something we are somehow wasting time. In our culture, it is un-American to be unproductive.  When I get exhausted from the pace, I sometimes wish I was European, where they seem to have a better way to balance.

After I got off the phone with this friend, I decided that if opportunities came up for fun this week I was going to take it. That night a post came through from a teaching colleague who had moved away and was in town for the week, inviting me to join her and others at a Tuesday afternoon happy hour. I immediately replied yes. Then I accepted a same day invite to join two friends for dinner. At the happy hour, I set up a coffee date at my favorite french cafe with another friend. Each day I have gotten an invite to join in or meet up for fun and I have accepted every one. I call all these invites a God wink, a nudging to do what I need to do to refuel and refresh. Isn’t that what Spring break is supposed to be about?

Unlike teaching, I can’t write for ten or eleven hours a day, I have tried to write for several hours a day breaking the sessions up with moving with housework or yard work and that works for me. The balance between sitting and moving is a conscious effort for health reasons for a writer. While your brain gets a workout and dare I say a drain, your body suffers from the sitting in front of a computer screen. My restless body cries out for movement.

Which brings me to the idea of being still. Another thing that Americans are generally uncomfortable with. After all, if you are sitting still how are you being productive.  I have been using a yoga DVD to improve my flexibility and at the end of each session, there is a segment of lying still and focusing in on your breath. At first, it was awkward, I wanted to just jump up and move on to the next task, the work of yoga was done. Now, I enjoy the time, after all, it’s sanctioned by the yoga instructor as part of the workout, so it’s not wasting time.

This same friend that questioned me at the beginning of the week is battling an aggressive cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation plus a barrage of doctor’s appointments. The gift of time means something entirely different for her. She is forced to spend lots of time sitting around and waiting for tests, waiting for treatment, waiting to feel better.  The finite nature of time in a human life has been brought to the forefront of thought.

Shouldn’t that be true for all of us, diagnosis or not? Our lifetime is finite, some of us with have more years than others, but none of us should squander the time we have been given. Does that mean we have to fill our days and nights with productivity? I say yes and no. Yes, make your life count, stand up for a cause, do work that makes this world a better place. No, because this life we have is not a full life if we don’t share with others, enjoy it and take moments to be still and reflect on it.

As this was one of my friend’s chemo weeks, she requested I bring her a strawberry milkshake, one thing that she can have that doesn’t seem to make her nauseous. Spending time with her has become a priority for me. She is ten years older and our friendship is like a big sister and little sister. She makes me laugh and is a sounding board when I grapple with life’s issues. I can only hope that I give her as much as she has given me. It was nice to take her one in the middle of a weekday afternoon. It was a beautiful out so we took our milkshakes a block over to Hampton Park, which sits outside the gates of The Citadel. We found a sunny bench to sit and watch our fellow park visitors. We chatted some and also sat in companionable silence. At one point she asked me what I was thinking about. I told her I was just soaking in the park and the sunny day, which was true, but I was also thanking God for the gift of time with my wonderful friend.

 

Bunnies on Break

WP_20180331_001I often think of myself and fellow educators as “Energizer Bunnies”. For blocks of time, we keep going and going until we think we have nothing left in the tank (If you are not a teacher or around teachers, you may not understand how draining the job is). When we think we can’t possibly do one more day, a break arrives.

Sometimes it’s just a day like Labor Day or President’s Day, and they do offer a mini-recharge, but sometimes it seems that those four-day weeks are harder than the more routine five-day week, effectively negating the extra day of rest.

Then there are the bigger breaks like Christmas and Spring break, which give you a longer recharge. As long as you don’t try to cram too much into the time (and that is hard not to do) you actually return to school with the tank filled and ready to go. I love Christmas break, it gives you time with family and to celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of the next. But Spring Break for some reason is not just time to enjoy it truly is essential to keep teachers in the profession.

The few weeks before Spring break seem to be the longest weeks of the year. The mental exhaustion brings on fantasies of retirement or thoughts of a career change. The students check out mentally and backslide to beginning-of-the-year behaviors as if the one-hundred and thirty plus days of procedures and expectations must have been communicated in a foreign language. Just when we think we can’t possibly handle anymore, Spring break arrives.

So as I sip my coffee and look over my way too long to-do over the break list, I plan to edit it down to just the must do’s and work in a little fun as well, lunch with friends, happy hour with a colleague, a former member of our staff, who is spending her Spring break here and those of us in town with gather to see. I even left my plan book at school, unlike Christmas break, I refuse to do any work for school this week. (Many people don’t realize that most prep and writing report cards for Elementary teachers are done on our own time, as the school day only provides us with forty minutes in which to take a bathroom break, answer emails etc, we don’t get a lunch break either.)  With the exception of one early morning doctor’s appointment, I will not set an alarm, I will stay up past nine and get up after the sun. So nine days from now I will be re-energized to tackle the stretch until Summer.

Summer, a whole post topic on its own. It is the comp time for all the extra hours worked the rest of the year (mathematically it falls short of the actual amount of comp time earned if you compare hours worked to hours contracted for). But I digress, Spring break is here and I plan to savor it.

Happy Spring and Happy Easter y’all!