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

 

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Our card for Christmas 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Busy Season

 

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My current to-do list of which I can only claim to have completed four items on…

 

2017 has flown by at a frenetic pace, punctuated by upheaval in the world, in our country and in my own personal sphere. Happily, the upheaval in my own little world has been all about positive changes. Even the positive changes have added to the workload and required adjustments that have contributed to the break-neck pace living this life has become this year.

I don’t know why I thought the holidays would be any different. Normally I have most of my shopping complete, my cards printed and sent and if the house isn’t completely sparkling all the decorating is complete.

I have completed about ninety-five percent of the decorating, but the house, in general, is a disaster and I haven’t even taken the picture for the Christmas Card let alone ordered it.  This year might have to be a New Year’s  card and as the days fly by and I am getting more comfortable with that idea.

Company is coming in before my teaching is done so I will be cleaning and finishing report cards simultaneously. I think New Year’s Eve will be spent sleeping if I’m still alive by then.

I hate that this year is like this, I try to embrace the intent of the season, peace, joy, love, and while I will find moments to feel all that, I accept this year is just not the year I can revel in it. First New Year’s Resolution, take back life in 2018, at least once the school year is over and next Christmas will be prepared for months ahead so that when it arrives I can soak it all in.

For now, maybe the house won’t be as clean as my usual standards and some of my shopping might not get finished until Christmas Eve, cards will not be mailed on time and for this crazy year, maybe that’s alright.

 

 

Merry Christmas Old Friends!

 

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One of my favorites

Nothing against new friends, I love adding to my collection, but my heart leaps. with joy when I encounter old friends not seen in a while. If you haven’t guessed by now I’m not talking about people, rather the ornaments that adorn my tree.

There are few new among them, each year I get some as gifts, so it takes a few years for those to become treasures. Ornaments I have had for years and many of the ornaments that live at my mama’s house tug at my heartstrings. Sometimes it’s a memory or what the ornament symbolizes, like my culinary snowmen. Sometimes it’s just the beauty and craft of a particular ornament to appreciate.

The trick is to place them on the tree so they can be equally enjoyed throughout the season. When I built my house (and it is not a grand house by any definition) I insisted on an outlet embedded into the floor in the middle so that most of the tree could be enjoyed from as close to a 360-degree view as possible.  One of the best decisions within my small budget. If I ever get the chance to build again, I would design again for tree placement.

I have heard folks say they wish we could enjoy our holiday things year round, but I am a firm believer in the seasons and the holidays having their place. After all, what makes them special is that they are not part of the daily grind.

So, it was with great joy last night when I said hello to old friends and placed them on the tree for a month of glory. Then I will carefully pack them away, knowing we shall meet again.

Merry Christmas, savor the season and share the joy!

 

On The Edge of A Decade

 

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The best decade yet!

 

With the exception of 13, 18, 21 and your social security eligibility age, we tend to mark our age milestones on the decade. As I write this I am on the eve of my age turning to the last year of my current decade and I think this is actually the time to stop, take inventory, reflect back and look ahead. After all next year when I reach the half-century mark it will be a celebration of reaching that next decade and on to the new adventures the fifties will bring.

As I look back I can honestly say the forties have by far been the best decade. My friends who are already in their fifties assure me this trend of each decade getting better continues so I’m optimistic about what might be ahead. The forties have been liberating. I became comfortable in my own skin. I can say I have been happy, or perhaps content is the better word for the majority of the past 9 years.  I have suffered loss and disappointments like most people, but I feel that my resilience has expanded and my reactions are more measured and balanced. This is life after all, far from perfect. Life is messy and unpredictable, but if you are comfortable with who you are and lay your foundation on faith, integrity, and love, then you can be the eye of any storm that life swirls up around you.

Yes, the forties have truly been fabulous. I still have lots of things on my bucket list, but if it all ended tomorrow, I am content with what I have already accomplished. I have a goal to live to be one-hundred and eight, so assuming I reach that, I should have plenty of time to continue to check things off my list. The fifties will be eventful, I will retire from teaching and move my writing career up to the number one spot, my mortgage will be paid off and there are events coming I’m not even aware of. I look forward to it all. Each day of this life is a gift. I am thankful for the 17,885 days I have lived so far. I look forward to all the days yet to come.

Each day of this life is a gift. I am thankful for the 17,885 days I have lived so far. I know the next 365 will finish out my current decade, I look forward to all that is yet to come.

 

Say Goodbye To The Sunshine

 

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The late afternoon sunshine that will disappear tomorrow with the time change

It’s the first Saturday in November and I’m tuned into the Clemson game and hanging with Lucky and Ella, my two golden retrievers. I should feel like I’m in my happy place, yet an aura of melancholy hangs in the air. The time change takes place tonight and I find I am dreading it more so than in the past.

See as a teacher I leave for work before six a.m. so with the exception of late spring, I tend to drive to work in the dark. With the “fall back” change, I now face several months of arriving home in the dark in addition to my dark departure. It makes me not want to walk the dogs, it is almost impossible to do any kind of yard work before dinner and frankly, I just want to curl up in a ball and hibernate. I guess it’s a good thing I live in the south where at least we get more daylight than our northern neighbors. I think I would be susceptible to the seasonal affective disorder.

I wish we would stop changing the time. I realize it requires an act of Congress to put an end to it, so I understand that will never happen. I wish we could tie their pay to performance, perhaps some laws would actually get written and passed or reviewed and dissolved. I jokingly posted on Facebook this week that if I were to run for office my platform would include getting rid of the time change and also that the trick or treating part of Halloween would always be observed on the last Friday in October, no school night craziness. I got a great response from friends throwing their vote my way. Seriously why won’t Congress tackle changing the time change? It could go a long way to improve their approval rating.

I have not spoken with a single person who says “yea, it will be dark before five p.m. now!” I would love to rebel and keep my watch and clock the same, but then I’d be an hour early for everything. I know I can’t enjoy too much wallowing about what is to come. It will come and I will have to adjust like everyone else.  Fortunately, even when we manipulate time we can’t stop it. The shortest day of the year will arrive and we will begin the lengthening process. Just when it will feel like the days are getting to a perfect placement of daylight we will mess with it again, making us all grumpy when we lose an hour.

Just when it will feel like the days are getting to a perfect placement of daylight we will mess with it again, making us all grumpy when we lose an hour. But at least the sunshine will surpass the workday, allowing for lots of early evening enjoyment.

Until then I will turn on the lamps in the evening and soak up all the sun I can at recess.  Maybe I’ll even try some moon and starlit walks. Maybe post-work yardwork is out, but it might mean more time to write.  I can’t stop the time change from coming but I can change how I use the time I have.

Attitude can make its own light.

 

Lessons From the Tide

 

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Low tide

 

I was driving down Longpoint Road today which crosses the marsh in several spots. It was high tide and the water encroached on the road causing the cars to spray water up onto each other and it got me thinking how the ebb and flow of the tide is much like the ebb and flow of time, history, and our personal lives.

When the tide is high we float and flow, think the roaring 20’s, record stock markets and reaching pinnacles in our careers. Those moments are great but hold on to your hat, the tide will turn and ebb, taking you down to the mud and reveal what lies beneath, think The Depression, the recession and days where nothing seems to go right.

While we may crave the high tide moments, I think we grow more from the low tide moments. When we are down to the mud, we can see what’s buried there with us. We see what needs to be fixed or addressed, but we also find nuggets of wisdom and treasures to carry with us as we rise again, think oysters and artifacts.

The biggest takeaway for me from this musing on the tide was it will always turn around. Enjoy the high points while they last, but don’t expect life to stay there. Learn all you can during the low points and know that if you hang on things will head back up.

I love this South Carolina Lowcountry life, I find inspiration every day from this beautiful place. At the moment I think I’m somewhere between low and high tide, I have learned I can’t turn it until it’s good and ready, but I can roll along with it and make the best of whatever stage it has me in.

In The Final Quarter

 

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Unpacking the Fall decor

It dawned on me today that we have just entered the final quarter of 2017 and on one hand, I can barely comprehend how fast this year has gone and on the other, what a crazy year it has been and I am ready to set my sights on 2018.

In the crazy that swirls around us these days, it is nice that certain seasonal traditions like college football, the local pumpkin patch opening and the leaves of the sycamore in the front yard turning color give continuity and reassurance that not all is lost.

Like the last quarter in a game, this is the time to make the most of what we have left of 2017, time is a-ticking. There is still a chance that the post-game analysis will be different than if the year ended today.

This had been a hectic and overwhelming last few months for me. I moved to a new school with a big chunk of the old faculty and we have been adjusting to a new building, new rooms, still getting arrivals of furniture and supplies and a new curriculum. It has been interrupted by a hurricane, with luckily minimum effects and personally, I have struggled through several weeks with a virus followed by a bout with pneumonia, only missing 4 days of work total, because I am stubborn like that and I absolutely hate writing sub plans when I don’t feel well, okay, actually anytime. Oh, yeah, I am writing a novel as well.

Despite all the setbacks now in the last quarter of my teaching career, I find myself re-energized and excited for this school year and the next few years.  I know things will settle into normal, although I’m beginning to realize normal is elusive and perhaps it should be.

Not that we need chaos and upheaval on a continuous basis, It is the times of change that lead to growth and give us renewal. Thank goodness for the seasons of the year, they give us a way to embrace those changes. So while it may seem rather shallow to some, (certainly not any southern girls), to change out the decor and dishes with the seasons, perhaps it’s just a way to symbolize and signal to us that it’s time to refresh, re-set and make the most of the season to come as we reflect and learn from the season that has come to a close. No worries, last season will come again, put it behind you and look forward.

It’s the last quarter of 2017 Y’all. Make your game plan and execute the best you can. There will be things that will bring you down, be ready with your best defense. Then get back up and get back to that line of scrimmage, who knows you might make a touchdown or a field goal. You may lose, but do it on your own terms. Until Midnight December thirty-first give it all you’ve got!

 

In the Stack

 

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My latest book stack. In the foreground are the three I just read, in the background are my anticipated reads.

 

I’d like to thank my book club for bringing diversity into my reading life. It might surprise you to learn that as a writer of southern women’s fiction I am a huge fan of reading mysteries, and I can trace that all the way back to my Nancy Drew days. Right now my favorite stories on the telly as they would say in my favorite genre are British mystery series like Father Brown, Miss Fisher, and Midsomer Murders.

While I have also read a ton of women’s fiction over the years, the book club I’m in has brought before my eyes, dystopias, biographies, dark fiction, historical fiction and the list goes on. I am richer for it, not just as a writer but as a human. After all one of the great joys of books is exploring new worlds, ideas, and possibilities we would never encounter in our everyday lives.

Books or at least pamphlets, inspired schisms in the church, revolutions in countries and other world-changing events. I’m not saying anything that earth shattering is in my current stack, but from every book I read, fiction or non-fiction I gain a different perspective on humanity and expand my own empathy towards others and ideas on living.

No matter high-tech this world becomes or how pervasive social media becomes, books will have an enduring place. Social Media has the power to spread messages, true or false in lightning time, but the messages are just the headlines, not the in-depth examination of the human condition or revolutionary ideas. Books are where we can explore and understand. A book must hold up to much more scrutiny as to the validation of its facts and examination of its ideas.

We, humans, have a primal need to express our thoughts and communicate our ideas and we use a wide variety of art and media to do so. To me, books are the most important form we have. The one invention of the printing press centuries ago has allowed words and ideas to be shared through time and we have not stopped sharing words around the world since.

No matter if your stack sits on a bedside table as mine, or in a queue on a digital device, keep stacking and keep reading, you will be richer for it.

Permission to Pause

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My last post was all about how as an educator, August is a month where my life is annually eclipsed by the setting up of a new school year. This year has been an eclipse of totality as I have moved along with many of my colleagues into a brand-new school to alleviate our community’s overcrowding. It has been exhausting and exhilarating and I am truly happy with the decision, but the extra work this year has caused me to examine the pace I’ve been keeping and make some adjustments.

Once I formulate a goal and make plans, I admit it is hard for me to adjust course. However the older I get, the better I become at flexibility and recognizing the need to pause once in awhile. We all need periodic check-ups to see if how we are spending our time and effort align with our values and our long-term goals. Life has also taught me that there are seasons where one area of our life must have the lion’s share of my attention.

I’m at that place now. I had planned when I started publishing books to publish two a year while working a full-time and a part-time job outside of writing.  I could be super woman, bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and maintain, family, friends, a Southern Living pictorial worthy home and garden . . . I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture.

I am loving this fourth book I am working on, it is challenging me as a writer as the story takes place partially in a time frame prior to mine and deals with some serious matters for my characters. I had planned to have it come out right before the holiday season this year, but I realized in my current August eclipse, I would have to finish it with a rush job and that did not sit well with me.

The volume of my published work will grow over the next few decades naturally, I don’t need to rush it. Some years I will publish two a year, some years just one and that’s okay. At some point, writing will become my full-time work and then setting quantity goals might be more realistic.

By pausing I have room to breathe and give my story the attention it deserves. It will be ready by next spring and I will not lose my sanity in the process. If only I could pause the housework!

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.”