Office Hours

 

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My work area

One of the advantages of living in the South Carolina lowcountry is the proximity of the beach and each season I seek the sand and surf for different purposes. For example, in the winter I love to walk, think, process, and reflect. In the summer I set up my office hours.

A writer never really takes time off, your brain is always contemplating stories and characters, consiously or subconciously. Teachers on the other hand have what some consider the gift of summer, but what teachers know to be comp time for the many hours we work beyond our contracted hours. As both an educator and a writer, I spend a lot of hours working. That could be teaching, private tutoring or my author life and I enjoy it. Too much down time and I get a little antsy. Too little and I crash and burn and that what has me savoring this summer.

I have learned from past summers, if I schedule too many tutoring students, I don’t feel rested for the next school year. Plus, as my writing career continues to grow it needs more of my work time. I also know my time at the beach is non-negotiable, it is a must.

See beach time is more than relaxing, it is time set aside to read without distraction. If you read anything touting advice for writers, a given on the list is to be an avid reader. I have been a devourer of books before I began school and always have a stack calling my name.

During a typical school year I manage to read a book or two a month but in the summers I can read several books in a week. To keep that pace, my office hours on the sand are a committment to reading. The average person might think I’m loafing, but I can clearly make the case that I’m working dillegently. At least that is my story and I am sticking to it!

So with my toes in the sand, skin buffeted by the breeze and ears filled with the waves lullaby, I can spend several hours soaking up the beach and the literature on my knee. These are office hours I can enthusiastically fill. From one of my favorite Cole Porter songs, “Nice, gig if you can get it.”

 

My Cheating Heart

 

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View from the Magnolia Cafe and Bakery in Beaufort, SC across to Lady’s Island.

I have made no secret about my love for the South Carolina lowcountry and the Charleston area in particular. I came of age here, I have loved, lost, lived with this place the backdrop. It is permanently etched on my heart, the saltwater, and the pluff mud course through my veins, I think my very soul would shrivel if I had to leave here forever.

But, I have a confession to make. I’ve begun an affair with a little town down the coast. Beaufort is also part of the magical lowcountry. The Port Royal Sound is captivating and the town itself is how our area was long ago, before mass growth.

It’s a walkable town. Residential is close to the commercial areas and the small annex campus of USC. Beaufort is big on charm and the arts. It has an intellectual and literary side that is palpable, and I’m drawn to know more. It is not crowded or pretentious. It is not in a hurry, Beaufort is a comfortable chair on a breezy porch. It is the gardenia in the garden, inviting you to stop and soak it in.

Yes, I have fallen hard. I have fantasies about buying a little cottage where I could live part-time, I don’t think I could bear to leave Charleston altogether. Fortunately for me, part of the book I’m finishing and most of the book next on my writing to-do list take place in that siren on the Port Royal Sound. I plan to make many repeat trips, you know. . . for research.

I hope I won’t make Charleston jealous and I hope she understands. She truly is my first love and will always be. I’ve just discovered this heart is big enough for two.

 

Lowcountry Magic

 

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Just another stunning lowcountry vista

To say that I have a love affair with the South Carolina lowcountry hardly describes how I feel about this place I call home. I was just working on a chapter in book three of my lowcountry home series and writing a description of this love brought tears to my eyes.

I’m not sure if many people would call this a blessing, but we are under a severe weather threat today and all after-school activities were canceled, including our faculty meeting, which left me free to get home this afternoon. Not wanting to fritter away this rare gift of extra time, I threw a load of laundry in then settled in to write. I have taken a few breaks to vacuum a few rooms, but I am very satisfied with the amount and quality of writing I have wrung from myself.

I wrote a scene with Lizzie walking along the waterfront in Beaufort. She is soaking in the vista and her senses are overcome by the views and the pluff mud at low tide. I could close my eyes and see, smell and hear what makes the lowcountry the lowcountry in my mind and my heart sang with joy.

The lowcountry is a tapestry of colors and textures to please the eye. The aroma of pluff mud is as pleasing to me as fresh baked bread or a magnolia blossom. I would swear the brackish water in this place where the rivers meet the sea courses through my veins along with my blood. I like to think it is the same for my character Lizzie.

I would hazard a guess that a regular dose of a marsh view or a walk along our beaches is as effective on blood pressure as any pharmaceutical on the market. Every day on my commute to work I get to see the marsh and the river. In the morning, these vistas fill my heart with joy. In the evening, I find it calms my mind and transitions me out of teacher mode before I get home.

Yes, I love the lowcountry with my heart and soul. The magic of this place has been woven so intricately into the tapestry of my life, it feels as if I would unravel if I tried to remove it. Not that I have any desire to do so. What a muse for a writer. What a place to call home.

 

Author takes a Field Trip

 

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Historic Cemetery at St. Helena’s in Beaufort South Carolina

Usually, when I take a field trip I am accompanied by twenty plus, rather excited, six-year-olds. This time I had a good friend as a companion to take a day trip to the charming and historic town of Beaufort South Carolina.

For those of you who are Pat Conroy fans, this was his stomping ground and they have opened the Pat Conroy Literary Center in his honor. I enjoyed seeing his writing desk and being able to peer at some of his handwritten work. I’m blown away that he wrote all his novels by hand. The digital age did not turn him into a keyboard writer and as you look at some of the artifacts from his life, maybe we are the richer for it. Modern Day authors may not have as many artifacts to leave behind as legacy. While there, I picked up a list of upcoming classes being offered for writers and I am excited to say I got registered for one that will only have 12 participants. I hope this will be the first of many I will get to participate in.

I took a little bird walk from the purpose of my post to share about the Pat Conroy Literary Center, but I felt compelled to share it and encourage you to visit. The real purpose of the trip was the need to authenticate some scenes for book three, I wrote them from memory, but I had not been to Beaufort in a decade and one thing I don’t like as a reader is when an author messes too much with the reality of a place.

Most people might find it a bit odd that I would want to drive a little over an hour to stand in a cemetery walk along the waterfront and drive past an inn. Luckily my friends accept my eccentric side and one was even willing to go along for the ride. Beaufort is a beautiful southern belle of a town on the Port Royal Sound and celebrated its 300th birthday back in 2011. Its grid plan of streets makes it easy to navigate and we quickly located the church.

Once I stepped through the gate and into the cemetery that surrounds the church, I was relieved to find my memory was accurate and I would not need to re-write that scene. We slowly meandered along the path through the cemetery and around the church. We met the deacon of the church who was welcoming and willing to share information. We were intrigued by the ages and dates on the stones and the various styles and designs of markers. A little further along we met a helpful groundskeeper. He encouraged us to go into the church and see the docent on duty, which we did. The docent gave us a tour and shared historical information about the building and the congregation.

One thing I had been looking for in the graveyard was if any of the stones had the names from my book. If so, I planned to change the names I used in the book out of deference to any descendants. The docent had a directory so very quickly, we were able to verify the surname I was looking for was not on any of the stones. The names in the book could stay intact.

We went on to drive by the inn, walk along the waterfront and meander the shops on Bay Street, before breaking for lunch. Then our last stop before heading home was the Pat Conroy Literary Center. Beaufort is a gem and I regret I have not been there more often. Hopefully, with the classes for writers, it will become a more frequent place for me to hang out.

Now that I am back at home base, I look forward to returning next month and I am inspired to plan some more field trips around our lovely state. Have map, will travel, who knows maybe a place will inspire the writing for a whole new book.

 

 

 

Cover takes Award

 

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A portion of a post I shared on FaceBook

Fortunate is an understatement when I was introduced to Chris Berge of Berge Designs. He is truly a talented designer. He does book covers, Logos and all other kinds of design work for authors and businesses. I am thrilled to share that his design of my first book’s cover won in its category at the Spark Awards 2017.

I am completely biased when I say, I understand why. I think it is eye catching and conveys the book’s relationship with the South Carolina Lowcountry. For a debut novel, it is doing quite well and I totally credit this cover for getting people to read it.

I have said before that it vexes me that as a society we judge a book and just about everything else by its cover, this is one time I am glad for the judging.

Recently I had the pleasure to sit down with Chris over breakfast to begin the process for book three. I enjoy hearing about his family and sharing what’s gone on in my teaching and writing world since we last spoke. Once we are caught up we start talking cover and I so appreciate how it becomes a collaborative process. I share the story, Chris takes notes and asks questions and we bounce around some ideas. I love that he is open to my suggestions and always comes up with a product beyond my expectations.

I also love that he is local. This makes it possible to sit down at a table together. It also means he truly understands what a Lowcountry feel means. He lives it every day.

So I am tooting our horns, I am so pleased for him to get this recognition. I also like that I will garner some exposure from this as well. I am also so glad we will have a long collaboration ahead as I grow my titles. What a great way to wrap up this week!

 

 

Southern Winter Whiplash

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What will it be today?

I realize as I pen my thoughts, my friends and family that live in northern climes will have no sympathy for the plight of those who suffer from winter whiplash. What they would give for seventy plus degree days sprinkled among their winter days, or so I imagine. I certainly can’t imagine anyone enjoying frigid weather or snow day on end.

We truly have been blessed this winter, more warmth than cold. Still the swings have my sinuses working overtime and my daffodils are already blooming. What in the world will the yard be like in March?  Today was a lovely 74 and we will be dropping to the low 50’s by Saturday and then shooting right back up. One day it is sandals and short sleeves, the next is scarves and sweaters.

One thing Charlestonians are fond of saying is, “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes and it will change.” It is not quite that volatile but sometimes it does seem we can cover all four seasons in a week. The exception is summer, when the only change is what degree of hot it is and how bad the humidity is.

Rotating seasons in your closet is not advisable. You will need access to it all.There have been days, I have started off with a sweater and a scarf and ended the day in sandals. I am not a fan of cold weather, but I can find enjoyment in a cool day, particularly if it is accompanied by a bright blue sky.

There in lies the lesson I have learned. No matter what the season, weather, day…I should look for the gift each is bringing. There is always at least one thing and sometimes many things to enjoy. If we have a frigid day, enjoy the chance to snuggle up inside. If it’s hot, play in the ocean. Soak up all the sun you can and be thankful for the drops of rain that make our lowcounty so lush and green. It’s all in the mindset.

Our weather may be a roller coaster of conditions, so I’m going to enjoy the ride.

New Year Essentials

 

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Collards, rice and black-eyed peas from Boone Hall Farms in Mount Pleasant, SC.

Here we are on the eve of the eve of a new year and the end to another. On the whole 2016 seems like a year of turmoil and confusion across the globe, but personally, it was one of my best year’s yet and I can not help being optimistic about 2017.

I want to make sure to start off on the best possible foot forward. Here in the South Carolina lowcountry, that means a New Year’s day meal of Hoppin’ John and collards. Sometimes I think to myself I might skip it, last year’s serving has never turned me into an independently wealthy woman, at least not in dollars. I am a bit fanatic about removing the veins from the collard leaves and that is a tedious process. Not to mention the washing of the collards, it is akin to trying to get the sand out of leeks.

But who am I to tempt fate or mess with tradition. As my friend Emily pointed out when I shared my reluctance to tackle the hassle, it can’t hurt to eat them, but what might happen if you don’t. I certainly appreciate all the luck I can get.

While I may not be rich by bank account measures. I sometimes feel like the richest woman in the world by other measures. I have the two most wonderful canines in the world living under my roof. I have a loving family. My work as a teacher and a writer feed my soul. I work with the most fantastic group of people and my friends are truly walking around with hearts of gold. I live in truly one of the most beautiful places in God’s creation. My needs are met and many of my wants. I have health and faith and joy.

Now before I am accused of wearing rose colored glasses, I should point out I face challenges, disappointments, setbacks and frustrations like everyone else. But when I scale these against the blessings I wax poetic on above, I am in awe of how rich I really am.

So maybe decades of eating Hoppin’ John and collards has added to my coffers after all. Happy New Year y’all! May you find 2017 blesses you in the things that truly matter.

 

Cone of Uncertainty

 

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The hurricane’s cone of uncertainty

I am a veteran of hurricanes at this point in my life here in South Carolina, my first experience with Hurricane Hugo back in 1989. Each time we are threatened what causes me the most anxiety is the cone of uncertainty. I am by nature a long range planner. I like to know what is going to happen well in advance and I like to believe I have a modicum of control over events.

You can stop  laughing. I have learned that control of this life is an illusion or delusion depending on how cynical you are. Surprisingly, I truly began to understand that after teaching first graders for years, how we are flying around space on a rock as we travel around a burning ball of gasses.

I still like to plan, I begrudgingly admit those plans need to be flexible. As I have matured, I even handle the changes with a much better attitude than in my youth. Still, I  find a rise in my anxiety level as I adjust and adapt.

Even my writing career began because I was anxious about what I would do when my teaching career wrapped up in a decade. Now Four and a half years from winding down the teaching, I am growing more comfortable with the  transition.

The truth of the matter is we live in a cone of uncertainty all the time. We can plan a path, but at any time, it truly could veer to the left or the right, perhaps it could even u-turn. Whatever the course, if we have what truly matters as our resources: our integrity, our loved ones, our faith and our intelligence, then no matter what happens we will be just fine.

 

The Cheering Season

 

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Death Valley, Clemson South Carolina

It is football season once again and here in the south we are giddy with the return of tailgating and team pride. In this season of political discord and worldwide woes, the balm of team colors and bragging rights after the weekend games is a welcome distraction. Across our nation, we are enjoying the game from pee-wee to professional. Personally enjoy college ball the best and also rooting for the local high school team, the Wando Warriors.

In the south loyalty to team ranks with religion and family. Woe to the bride who does not consult the game schedule when selecting the date for her wedding. If your team plays on a Thursday  night, bleary eyes are expected and forgiven at work on Friday. The beginning of the season is  a fresh start, full of hope and dreams of  a conference or  national championship or a least a bowl game.

We elevate tailgating to fine entertaining. We decorate our cars, we post team flags from our porches and we wear our team colors every jeans-Friday and game day. We the fans are all in, no matter who our team is. Why do we seem to go overboard for a game?

The truth is, it is more than a game. It is part of the tradition and the flow of the seasons. It is a celebration of the fact life ticks on and we are here to continue to enjoy it. It means we enjoy the camaraderie of fellow fans as well as friendly rivalry with our loved ones who insist on  being fans of one of those other teams. Football season is social and  if you are lucky enough to cheer for the team that has Dabo Sweeny as the head coach, it is filled with words to live by.

Currently, I find the state of the world leaves me  disheartened and in great need of a distraction that is healthy and hopeful. Thank goodness it is time to focus on first downs and scoreboards. In this cheering season, I will wear the orange and the purple. I will also absorb the hope and energy each game will bring. Happy Fall Y’all!

 

Revelations From A Grocery Run

 

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My Hurricane Hermine Supplies

There are a lot of anecdotal stories of how in moments of crisis the true character of a person is revealed. I suspect we could learn a lot about our fellow man by peering into grocery carts with an impending  storm in the forecast.

In the south, that tends to be for storms that are tropical in nature. I imagine for my northern friends its snow and ice. I actually went to the grocery store two days before, but I realized I had forgotten a few things I really wanted.

I suppose I could have made do with what I already had, but there is something irrational that takes over when there’s a storm coming that might leave you isolated for a few days. For reasons I can’t explain, popcorn was the top of that list for me. I suppose I imagine I will be curling up with a nice hot bowl of popcorn and watch a movie while the storm rages outside. Nice thought, if we keep electricity.

I should have realized the irrational need of my fellow man to raid the grocery store before a big event would be at a fevered pitch when I actually had to wait for a parking spot. Or, perhaps when I got one of only three carts left in the cart rack. The checkout lines were ridiculous as I began running the gauntlet of chaotic carts and overtired children I mentally prepared for a long wait to get out with my purchases. Fortunately, the situation was much better by the time I took my place in line.

I chuckled to myself as I observed multiple shoppers with carts with mostly beer and wine. The toilet paper aisle was almost wiped out. I had bought my water two days before, but I could imagine that was pretty decimated as well. Some carts were so stuffed with frozen foods I wondered if they understood the concept of storm prep. Veterans know, you don’t spend on perishables, you might lose them if power is lost.

For the most part, people were polite and calm. For some, this is their first experience with a hurricane and while it might cause some damage, for those of us who lived through storms like Hurricane Hugo, we are more annoyed at the disruption to our routines than nervous about the storm. As I’m writing this I am realizing I still need to secure the patio furniture and the plant pots….ugh…and here I was, all ready to just snuggle down. Maybe when I finish, I’ll pop some corn.

Wishing all in the path of the storm, safety and a good supply of whatever it is that will get you through it.