The Big Five-Oh

 

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In six days I’ll be the newest member of the fifty club

I’m a little stunned to say I’m about to be fifty years old. It seems like just yesterday I was celebrating forty . . .thirty. . . twenty. How is it possible I have made fifty trips around the sun.?

It’s natural to be reflective on the cusp of a milestone and I’ve done some personal examination in the past few weeks in preparations, but I also find myself taking stock of the past fifty years in a global sense. When I was little my dad worked with a computer that was so large it needed its own building, now people walk around with computers on their wrists. The year I was born the first man walked on the moon and now dozens of satellites orbit Earth to bring us television and other services and people actually live on a space station for months at a time. I can’t imagine the level of change this world will have seen when I mark my one-hundredth birthday.

Yes, I intend to see my one-hundredth birthday, I plan to live to one-hundred and eight. My family history indicates that this is entirely possible. But even if life ended today I am comfortable in the knowledge that in the balance of it all, my blessings far outweigh my tribulations. I may not be bank account rich by American standards, but I probably am in third-world standards. What I am rich in is the most important part of life, I’m rich in loving people in my life. I have a wonderful family and I am blessed to have parents who have always loved me for who I am. I have friends old and friends new, I love that we can add friends to our hearts without limit. I have the most wonderful people, many in the friend count, that I work with and that makes work a very pleasant place to be. I have been blessed with an amazing teaching career and the opportunity to build a writing career. I would be remiss if I didn’t count the wonderful animals that have shared my life over the years including my current twelve-years-old golden retrievers who give me such joy on a daily basis. YES, the blessings are far greater than the tribulations.

I thought my forties were pretty fabulous. I was finally comfortable in my own skin. I think I learned what is truly important in this life. I say think because each decade I learn more that shifts my understanding. I anticipate the fifties will have its own set of lessons to absorb. I know many people view fifty as the top of the hill, the beginning of the slide down, but I choose to look at it as a continuation of the climb. I’m excited about being able to claim I’m half-a-century old. I like the idea I might be viewed as wise by the younger, although I have at least fifty-eight more years of learning ahead.

Whatever this next decade brings, I’m thankful for all of the past fifty years. Each triumph and each tragedy, even the mundane days of daily living have brought me to this point. For a moment I’m trying to slow down time and savor this milestone. I will savor the moments of my party with many of those friends I’m blessed to have. Then I’ll jump into this next decade with enthusiasm for all the gifts of life that are yet to come.

 

A Call to Love America

 

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A wall in my patriotic foyer

I have been largely silent with my blog for several weeks for two large reasons. It’s report card and report card conference time and my primary work by necessity takes priority over working on my fourth novel, my writing life in general, and basically all other areas of my life. This is nothing new, there are known stretches in a teacher’s year where the work of an educator overshadows everything.

The second reason, however, has been eating away at me. As a writer, I naturally turn to express myself with my pen, or in modern terms my keyboard. I have been bothered by so much that has happened in our country over the recent past and in particular the lack of civility in our political discourse. Yet I don’t wish to write a political piece and if you read on, I hope you will agree with me that this is indeed a bi-partisan expression, rather than a taking of sides.

I grew u in a military family and being patriotic, loving our country and being emotionally stirred by our anthem, flag and taps played on Post in the evening was not something reserved for a few holidays each year, but part of our daily living. I remember as a teenager being upset when my daddy retired, albeit partly because my parents wanted me to be able to complete high school in one place. If he wasn’t an army officer anymore, then who were we as a family?

I think it took until after college for me to identify as an American civilian and yet I still chose to serve my country as a public school teacher. All my years teaching I have led students each morning in the saying of the pledge, indoctrinating them into this basic exercise of patriotism and hopefully conveying a respect and reverence for our great nation.

The lens I view America in is influenced by our family’s years in military service, my college educated parents and the financial security we lived in and I realize that my experience is not the same of many of my fellow Americans who have experienced much more difficult paths simply because of the color of their skin, their religion, or even their economic status. Yet so many of these fellow Americans love America just as I do and some possibly more, as they have had to have much more faith in that American dream that my experience had somewhat taken for granted.

I have a bachelors and a Master’s degree and my bachelor’s degree is in political science, I love history and government, but one thing I learned in studying our political history is that there has always been an ugly side to it. Even our founding fathers were subject to slander and mocking words and cartoons. There have been periods in time when lines have been crossed and extremists have taken devastating and illegal steps, think John Wilkes Booth. But it seems that in these modern times it has reached beyond the public political figures to private citizens, opposing sides claiming the opposition is somehow evil and that we should not tolerate people who are different from ourselves. To say it’s disturbing is an understatement in my opinion.

So what is a patriot, a lover of America to do?  I would say turn away from the two dark paths of vitriolic rhetoric from the left and the right and chose the illuminated path in the middle, have civil discourse on issues, keep the focus on issues, have a basic respect and empathy for all human beings. Work to solve problems rather than just assign blame regardless of whether it is well-founded or not. It would be nice if this could be exemplified from the leadership of our country top down, but if the last couple of years are any indicator, I think that is unlikely to happen.

But here is one of the great things about America, we as a people, from the ground up are quite powerful in bringing about change. We were formed by a revolution, we have changed the conditions in this country, not just by passing laws, but by movements that brought women the right to vote, improved conditions for workers, and civil rights. Who says we can’t do it again. If we as a society reject incivility and ugly rhetoric, if we as a society focus on our shared love of country and a mutual respect for fellow human beings we can bring about the change.

While I have no intention of leading a national movement, I know that choices I make in my daily life on how I treat others can have a ripple effect with all I come in contact with. If enough of us do it the kindness will grow and swell until those at the top will be influenced to change their ways.

So I’m using my small little blog that is usually about southern life and how that influences the writing of my novels to advocate for an issue that is dear to my heart and too important to ignore.

LOVE America! Love it enough to choose love over hate.

 

 

Reflections at a Wedding

 

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The Gadsen House in Charleston, South Carolina

I went to a wedding Friday night, after a long day of a long week and dare I say one of the craziest in the political realm of our country and frankly I was exhausted. I rushed home from work to go from teacher causal Friday (jeans and spirit wear) to hot rolling my hair (although with the high humidity, not sure why I bothered) and semi-formal wear.

In the novel I’m currently working on I have a wedding scene to write and was anticipating that this event would inspire.  I was not disappointed, but I was surprised at what provided the most inspiration.

As expected a Charleston wedding set in a historical house and courtyard provided a beautiful setting, At times it felt fairy tale like, with the string lights, candles and uplighting in the courtyard. The food was outstanding, particularly the jumbo fried shrimp wrapped in bacon and the fried green tomato bites at the cocktail hour. There were three food stations for the dinner, the shrimp and grits being my favorite. The music from a strings group prior and during the ceremony to a DJ who played a wide range of music, from Patsy Cline and Frank Sinatra during dinner to crowd favorites like the Cuban Shuffle during the dance party.  The timetable for the first dance and dances with parents to the tossing of the bouquet and the sparkler send-off of the newly minted couple was impeccable, truly a beautiful and well-run wedding.

Yes all the above was more than enough to mine for inspiration, but what I found most impactful was the true love and respect that brought these two youngsters (I can call them that because I have known the groom since he was a pre-schooler and I taught the bride and her sister when they were in the first grade) to the altar and to vow a life-long contract with each other. They have been a “couple” since middle school, friends first, growing into a teenage romance and blossoming into a love that will carry them to old age. I truly got the feeling that even though they were surrounded by the beauty of a traditional Charleston wedding, if they were exchanging their vows in concrete windowless room, it would have been just as beautiful.

The ugliness of the past week in our nation’s narrative dissipated from my mind and reminded me that love and respect can trump hate and intolerance. This couple will build a life together, and I’m sure that there will be days that will be ugly, either between them or from outside forces, but I have no doubt they can persevere, grow stronger and move into a more harmonious time in their journey.

I want to believe that about our country too. We are in an ugly time, but can we move forward with compassion and love for our fellow citizens, even when we don’t agree on something? Can we see the bigger picture, that this is a piece of our history we can learn from, grow stronger and become better?  I still believe the answer is yes!

I may be in the minority in that I am more moderate and centrist than the so-called left and right, but like the bride and the groom who met in the middle and then walked down the center aisle together, I want to see our politicians do the same for the betterment of our country. I want to see the one-hundred senators, get back to a place where they set the example of respect, principles, and morality. Then perhaps other branches of government can follow suit and who knows maybe society in general.

As part of the ceremony, the officiant reminded us that we are more than just witnesses to the covenant made between this bride and groom, but we have a responsibility to lift them up, encourage and support them in this life-long covenant.

I would say the same thing is required of each and every American. Not to just offer partisan support at the polls, but to know our constitution, now how our system of government is designed to work and hold our elected officials accountable to follow the rules, do so with compassion and use their power to fix the injustices so we can form a more perfect union. I would dare to say, listen to the other side of the argument respectfully, encourage sides to compromise into legislation that will not be in peril when the other side gains majority, but that can withstand the test of time because it improves our country and was reached together, so both sides have a hand in it.

I know, this sounds almost fairytale-like, but it doesn’t have to be. Besides, I just went to a beautiful wedding, I can’t help but be optimistic.

 

Reflections From the Sunset

 

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Sunset over the creek from a friend’s backyard

It has been a few weeks since I’ve penned a blog post and it has been a few weeks since I took the above photograph.  I took it at a fellow educator’s house at an end-of-summer-back-to-school gathering. The end of summer break is always bittersweet. It has gone to fast, but I’m excited to get back to the classroom and a new set of students.

When I snapped this picture I had envisioned writing a witty post about the sun setting on my summer, but as the days went by I found myself unmotivated to write it and the coming school year sucking up my energy, creativity, and attention. So I gave myself permission to take a mini-hiatus from my blog post despite the fact the need to write and the desire to share the picture nagged at me.

Then a couple of weeks ago a co-worker’s husband died suddenly just as we were launching the new school year. That was followed this week with the sudden passing of a dear friend’s mama and I traveled with some of our friends to the funeral in Camden, South Carolina today.

It was a joyful funeral in the sense that the hymn choices were upbeat expressions of love and the homily given described a beautiful life lived in the caring of and giving to others that brought to mind that phrase, “All is well with my soul” and I could imagine my friend’s mama saying that at the golden gates. It was hard to see the grief etched on my friend’s face, knowing the only easing will be time and the grief will be carried forward through every holiday and life event even years from this moment.

I fear my peers and I are entering that season where more and more of us will say goodbye to our parents and this thought made me look at the photo of the sunset in an entirely different way.

We aren’t guaranteed a certain number of sunrises or sunsets, so we need to appreciate each one we witness and make the most of the days and nights between them. Fill that time living our best lives, being kind, telling people we love them and that they matter. Take time to sit and watch the sun slip down over the water and give thanks for the day we’ve been given, no matter the season, no matter what challenges the day may have brought.

Each day is a gift and I believe if I get to the end of one and I can think back on something kind or an expression of love I’ve given to another living being, then that gift has been honored.

May we all have many sunsets in our count when we get to our final one.

 

On A Quest for Glee

 

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Me in my pre-school years

When I reflect on my childhood, particularly in my early childhood, I realize how blessed I was. I lived most days filled with wonder and glee. Oh, I know there were moments of tears, fears and sadness like any other child, but what echoes down the decades is the glee evident in this photograph.

As we mature and take on more and more responsibilities, the harder truths of the human experience diminish our glee. Once the veil of innocence is lifted, we can’t replace it. But what we can do is seek moments of glee.

It seems like lately if I turn on the news and hear about the turmoil at home and around the world, or when I look around at loved ones who are battling cancer or other daunting life challenges, I could easily slip into a pit of despair.

However, I have what my grandmother would call a bit of “Pollyanna” in me. I strive for the optimistic outlook the majority of the time. I seek a way to flip the negative to the positive. I seek the rainbow after the storm.

It sometimes takes a little work and sometimes some planning to position ourselves for moments of glee. Sometimes glee sneaks up on us, a gift from the heavens to savor. Regardless if it was sought or a moment of serendipity, I think we should embrace as much glee as we can to counteract all the negative that swirls around our lives.

Glee is like a vitamin for our psyche, a bit of armor to protect us from the arrows of disappointment and the bad juju in the world.

I am grateful for all the moments of glee that lessen the power of the moments of despair. I like to think that at the end of my life, many, many years from now, that on the balance, the glee will outweigh the negative and give me a beautiful tableau of moments to look back on and cherish.

So I will appreciate the happy moments as they come, seek them out, and hopefully provide and share those moments with those I love.

 

 

The Power of Home

WP_20180705_001I have arrived home after a week away and despite my fatigue of fighting my way down Interstate 95, just sitting in my humble abode renews my spirit. There is truth to the word’s of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”

I’m not so much of a homebody that I can’t appreciate travel, in fact, I think travel is essential for life-long learning and inspiration. As an army brat, I have even lived in many different places. I could extoll all the life lessons I have learned by exploring places near and far but on the drive home from our Nation’s capital  I reflected on what travel can teach us about the place we call home.

I’m sure there are folks who venture to a new place and learn that they are better suited in that environment than the place they call home. I find the opposite. I enjoy some of the things a bustling metropolitan area has to offer for a short time and while in the thirty-three years I have lived in the South Carolina our area has grown to the point many of us lament it, larger cities make me realize we’re not as big as we think, we just have fewer roads.

As I stood on a crowded metro train hurtling underground to a National’s baseball game, I appreciated the lush plantings and water views from our roads and bridges, even if their stop and go during peak hours.

I enjoyed the towering trees and the rolling hills in my parent’s Virginia neighborhood, but my heart leaped with joy when I first espied the marsh and the Wando River on my return.

I have a ritual I do on every trip I make up the highway. When I reach the South Carolina border and cross over into North Carolina, I tap my roof and place a hand over my heart, bringing my guardian angel on board and on the return trip, I place my hand on my heart, kiss my fingers to say thank you and tap my roof to give my guardian angel a break, now that I’m returned to home soil.  I started doing this sometime in the early 90’s and I fill with joy each time I cross that line into the Palmetto State.

I live where I belong in the world and while I enjoy going away now and again on each return my soul rejoices. Travels to other places have broadened my view of the world and made me more tolerant of those who are different. I have soaked in history and culture on foreign soil. I have enjoyed time and connections with family and friends in their hometowns.

Still, the biggest life lesson that travel has taught me is that the South Carolina Lowcountry is where my heart and soul belongs.

Seersucker Weather

 

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My favorite Summer dress, and yes, that is a monogram.

The mercury was set to climb in the high ninety’s today with a heat index from 105-110. The news anchors kept repeating the need to stay in or take many breaks, drink lots of water and of course wear light and loose clothing.

Not that I needed an excuse to wear my seersucker dress, but it is the lightest weight fabric in my wardrobe. I totally get why many a southern professional man wears a seersucker suit like a uniform from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Seersucker is quintessentially southern and having spent many decades of summers in lowcountry heat, I see it was born out of practicality as much as dapper fashion.  I was curious about the history of this fabric and did a little research.

Here are some interesting facts I found:

  • the little puckers in the fabric are what makes this fabric cooling. The puckers keep the fabric away from the skin which helps with heat dissipation and air circulation.
  • It was used in India by the British Colonists to keep cool and in the Victorian era for wear and also for mattresses and pillow covers in hot places including the American South.
  • In 1909 a New Orleans tailor was the first to fashion men’s suits out of seersucker.

 

I may need to expand the seersucker in my wardrobe, I can stay as cool as a cucumber while looking iconically stylish. Or at least feel a few degrees cooler while  I sparkle with perspiration and hide out in the air conditioning. The heat has been a great motivator for me to work on the last few chapters of my current book project and I am now confident it will be complete before the end of July.

So stay cool my friends and if you must venture out, wear your seersucker!

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.