Embracing The Coyote

 

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The patch covering up my loggerhead turtles on my student seat sacks for our new school. The Design is by Melissa Gaddy, very talented owner of Marsh Grass Monogramming.

 

Almost 13 years ago, my school was over crowded and we split by grades, K-2 moving into our own school with the cute mascot of Loggerhead turtle. Living in the South Carolina Lowcountry with many of our communities championing the sea turtles, it was a natural fit and I loved it.

Presently these two split schools have become overcrowded again, a consequence of living in paradise and having the likes of Conde Nast declare you the top destination. So the new split brings prek-5 back under one roof in the new Carolina Park Elementary and our new mascot is the Coyote.

It was bittersweet to leave the school I thought I was going to retire from. I miss those left behind, but so grateful for the ones taking the journey with me. I miss the idea of a school focused on the primary grades, but love that I will see former students grow and will have older kids to do collaborative projects with for my students.

One thing I have been resisting is the idea of a Coyote over a turtle. But when the color scheme of blue, green and gray was introduced and the very talented Melissa Gaddy of Marsh Grass Monogramming made the coyote more cute than fierce, I began to warm to the idea.

Yesterday I got to take a tour of the new building with fellow faculty and staff. I was blown away by the natural light and the finishes. I am in love with the storage that is built into the rooms. Here I am a 25 year veteran of teaching and I feel giddy like a new teacher.

I have approximately 4 to 6 years to cap off my educational career before I turn to writing full-time. I am truly thrilled to have such a beautiful place to pass those years. While I will always be more of a fan of the beach and native creatures that make the Lowcountry their habitat. I might just find I enjoy howling at that palmetto moon too.

A Jewel In a City of Treasures

 

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A view of Randolph Hall under the Oaks by the Cistern

Almost thirty-one years ago my parents dropped me off to begin my college adventure on this beautiful and historic campus. The College of Charleston just received the distinction of the prettiest college campus, but the truth is the grounds and buildings have been picturesque for decades.

It was the seductive beauty of brick pathways, gaslight lamps, long reaching oaks with swaying Spanish moss and a collection of flowering and evergreen specimens that was too intoxicating for me to resist. I felt instantly as if I knew it, somehow it was a place I could call home.

The College campus feels more like a park in the heart of the city. I can’t even imagine the hours the horticultural team logs to keep it shining in all seasons. There are many places to stop and sit and soak in the scenery. The ironwork gates around the campus are works of art and the stately Randolph Hall reminds the visitor that the College history is woven into the history of the city and this nation.

More important than all this visual beauty is the beautiful soul this institution has. As a student, I felt connected to my fellow students, professors, and even the administration. Thirty years ago, the College was about half the population it is today, but I hope the current students feel they are part of a family like I did. Some of my best friends have come from those years.

I love learning and the College was the ideal environment to soak it in. With only one exception in my four-year degree and then a year and a half spent getting my masters, my professors were passionate about their subjects and really cared about my success in learning the material.

So yes the College of Charleston is easily the prettiest college campus but what makes it truly beautiful is the people and the commitment to education that focuses in on the value of learning and produces graduates that have the critical thinking skills to be successful in whatever field they choose.

 

If you cross the line, tap the roof!

 

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Tapping the roof at the South Carolina/North Carolina Border

A number of years ago I traveled with some of my Charleston friends to Sewanee, where two of our newly wedded friends were attending the Episcopal seminary. It was a memorable trip for a variety of reasons.

For one, road tripping with friends is always an adventure and it was enjoyable sharing the journey. It was a glorious fall weekend and the scenery was spectacular. We also attended a soul stirring service on campus. But the most memorable part of the trip was learning about a custom practiced by those who travel to and from Sewanee. When you leave campus, you tap the roof to summon your guardian angel to travel with you. The idea is that Sewanee is a little piece of heaven so when there you are protected, but out in the big wide world, a little extra protection is needed.

This struck me as a charming tradition and I adopted it as a personal custom when I travel. Now I suppose to some this may mark me as eccentric, but I’m okay with that. Aren’t we all eccentric to some degree? Plus writers should be even more so. Of course I don’t live on the hallowed ground of Sewanee, but I do live in the hallowed state of South Carolina. The lowcountry has a beauty I would equate with Eden, and the people of South Carolina have loving, beautiful souls, just look at how we handled the Mother Emanuel shooting. We are not a perfect people and there are ugly things in our past, but we continue to grow and improve by loving our fellow citizens.

Okay, you know I love South Carolina, it is my little piece of heaven on earth. So, back to my personal custom. When I leave South Carolina, at the border in the car, or as the plane takes off, I make the sign of the cross and tap the roof. I suppose on the plane I really tap the underside of the storage compartment, but that will have to suffice, I don’t mind being eccentric, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m crazy by standing up on an airplane and jumping up to tap the roof.

My guardian angel safely on-board, I roam away from home with some peace of mind. I also have a return tradition. When I re-enter South Carolina, I kiss my finger tips and tap the roof, telling my guardian angel thank you and take a break, we are home.

 

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.