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.”

 

First Bloom

 

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First ever bloom on Baby Magnolia, discovered June 4th.

 

Back on May 15, 2015, I posted a blog titled, Magnolias, Progress and Patience. It was about how eight years prior a friend had dug up a seedling, basically a stick with two leaves and gave it to me to plant in my backyard. By 2015 it was full of leaves, yet till no blooms and I connected that to the birth of my writing career, progress slow and steady, but not published.

Here we are in 2017 and Baby Magnolia is ten years old and we have our first bloom, I see another one has developed since the weekend and I can’t help but smile. Patience does pay off. Again, I see a correlation with my writing career. I too have first bloom.

Although I have been a closet writer for a good part of my life, I didn’t get serious about it until 2014. Granted I have had a full, passionate and fullfilling career as an educator and I would never trade those years or wish them to finish prematurely, no matter what happens in the writing, teacher will be one of my labels for four to six more years. Of course if you ask me about it when the alarm goes off at five a.m., I will tell you I really look forward to the label retired teacher.

I say I got serious abut writing in 2014 because that is the year I consulted a professional and committed to a blog. It was also the year I wrote my first novel for publishing, I had written a few others, just for fun and not for public consumption. In 2015, like Baby Magnolia I had grown. I had proven myself disiplined enough to publish a weekly blog, but I was unsure of the next steps of getting my book, The Eyes Have It out into the world.

I had not bloomed. Then came 2016. I published two books last year and they did better than I had anticipated as an unknown author in a world full of books. I was encouraged. Perhaps when I retire from teaching, a writing career for an encore is a viable option. To keep the metaphor going I would say I finally produced a bud.

Here we are in June of 2017, book three is a short time from launch, books one and two are performing well and I, like Baby magnolia, appear to have a full bloom on the branch. I like to think years from now, both of us will be full of blooms.

Time, patience, persistence and most off all doing the work, those are the key ingredients to grow a career, no matter what field it is in. My wish for my students is that they grow up to live and work with purpose and fullfillment. If we follow our passions and focus on  culitvating a career and a life that contributes to our community and brings  joy to ourselves (Note I said joy and not money), then we ultimately bloom.

So, here we are with the first bloom. It is a reassuring sign to keep the faith and keep going. Plant those seedlings in your life, with a little care and patience you will be rewarded.

The Co-existing of Endings & Beginnings

 

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The Hwy 41 Old and New Bridge

A while ago I posted a picture of the small bridge right before the beginning of construction of the new bridge and wrote a blog about the loss of the charm in the name of progress.

The days of driving across the old bridge and feeling connected to the water are numbered. I am still a little sad about that, but I’m ultimately a practical person, much like my Grandmother Sawyer, I see little point of crying over what is done, if you don’t move along with the times, you get left behind in the dust. I believe getting caught in too much nostalgic thinking leads to early old age. Grandma lived to be 100 and she moved with the times exceptionally well for someone born before World War I.

Last weekend I was lucky enough to have my friends the Martins, invite me out on their boat for a cruise under the bridges, down the Wando and out into the Charleston Harbor and back. I can appreciate how the new bridge means no longer worrying about tide level and if your boat will be able to get under it or not.

This got me thinking about how old or new, things have their positives and their negatives. I also reflected how even as something comes to an end, there is rarely a void, the new, or the beginning overlaps or abuts the end.

I find this very apt in my teaching life, as I along with a chunk of our current staff are leaving our current school home to open a new school built nearby to alleviate overcrowding and serve new neighborhoods. There are positives and negatives, the negatives are primarily people I have to leave behind, fellow staff and families I won’t be able to teach their younger ones. However, some families are moving with me, as they live in the new attendance zone and I am moving with a principal and fellow staff, people I truly respect and love.

I’m still a little surprised to be making this transition. When we opened up Laurel Hill 12 years ago, I had believed that was the school I would retire from. At that time we had split from Pinckney due to overcrowding creating a k-2 school across the parking lot from what became the 3-5 school. It was exciting to migrate with my tribe and establish a new community. I am excited to be part of forming a new school community again.

It’s interesting times to be in the place where one phase is ending and one is beginning. Things are happening simultaneously and I find myself more reflective than usual. My emotions are in full swing and I am mentally and physically exhausted all at the same time. But I know from experience, this transition will bring growth and movement forward. This new school will be the final one in my career, I can say that because the transition from teaching into a full-time writing career is in sight, four to six years to be more exact. It will be three years from now before I will be able to commit to what it will be.

This new school will be the final one in my career, I can say that because the transition from teaching into a full-time writing career is in sight, four to six years to be more exact. It will be three years from now before I will be able to commit to what it will be. That is a transition I look forward to and also feel sad about at the same time, but I will have time to prepare and adjust to the idea.

So as the current endings bridge to the new beginnings, I have to cry a little and smile a lot, Moving forward is the road I must travel. New is not necessarily better, but it is a chance to refresh.

Forward, onward, upward, whichever you choose, I wish you movement in your life.

 

Endings are the First Step to a Beginning

 

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Sunset over the Charleston Harbor

The one constant in this life is ironically the fact that nothing stays the same. This is sometimes a relief and often disconcerting. My human experience so far has taught me I’m much more comfortable with the status quo and it sometimes takes a major event to nudge me off the cliff of the unknown. As the song goes, “Breaking up is hard to do.”

As I add to my years and I’d like to think my wisdom, I have realized a few things. First, if you approach a change with a little flexibility it makes for an easier transition. Second, if you are willing to take a risk, more often than not the reward will be greater than you could ever imagine. Finally, I have learned that change is going to happen whether you want it or not and if you reflect back it is easy to see how you have always come through the change stronger, wiser or fill in the blank for the attribute that made you better.

I still don’t rush out looking for opportunities to deal with change, but I am much more willing to accept it and even embrace it.  Case in point, I am changing to a new school next year. Not because there is anything wrong with my current school, in fact leaving it is hard on my heart. We are overcrowded and some of us are going to transition to a new building to start a brand new school. I am excited to be part of that and the change is made easier by the fact I am not making this change alone, but with colleagues I have worked with for years. Regardless, I have chosen this change.

Not all changes can be chosen. Some are thrust upon us in cruel and unexpected ways. The death of a loved one, the diagnosis of a disease, the break-up of a relationship, the betrayal of a friend. I have found if I am grounded in faith and thoughtful in my responses to these unwelcome events, I can navigate through them somehow intact.

Yes, change is a constant, but so is the passage of time. The sun will set and then rise again. Each day is an opportunity to live this life better, to embrace the changes and see where they will take us. So yes all things, good and bad and indifferent will come to an end, but these endings are really just the mile marker to the beginning.

 

What Time Is It?

 

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My favorite watch.

I have been hyper-focused on time since the beginning of 2017. The passage of time, time management, how much time I have to do certain things or how little, depending on the subject.

I feel like the older I get, the faster time seems to pass. Sometimes when I look back I am overwhelmed by what I accomplished in 2016. I feel equally overwhelmed by what I need to accomplish in the coming year. So I take a deep breath and think about how no matter how I proceed, it will be day by day, hour by hour and minute by minute.

I am one busy girl. I teach full time, I tutor, and I write novels and try to learn about and manage all that goes into the life of an author. Plus I take care of a household and maintain relationships and carve out a little me-time here and there. It takes careful time management to make it work and occasionally I get off plan. Deep breathing. a step back, a re-prioritizing and then we’re back on track.

Like every adult, there are things we must do and things we want to do. Balancing that can be exhausting, sometimes I really wish there were twenty-six hours in a day. I also wish that there were times we could slow the passage of time down, think more days with our elderly loved ones. At other times I wish we could speed it up, think standing in line at the DMV.

The passage of time is unmerciful. We can let it have great influence in how we live our lives, or we can go with the flow as the optimists like to say. I hope when I get to the end of my life, ideally, age 108, I will be able to look back and think I used my time on this earth wisely. I also hope I managed to work in a fair number of days where I frittered the hours away doing things that brought me joy.

We don’t know how much time we have ultimately, but we do know it is finite. If you think about it too much you can stress yourself right out. As I’m typing this I’m stressing that I have only a few hours to get some chores done before I have to get into bed. Maybe I need to give myself permission to put some things off for another day and instead get some good snuggles in with my golden retrievers. I think it is safe to say at the end of my life I won’t be remembering how great it was that I got that other load of laundry done on a Wednesday night. Yes, the laundry will need to get done at some point, but if I only have so much time to spend, I want to spend it on more important things.

So I am choosing to think about time as a gift with an expiration date. I am going to make the most of the time I’ve got.

 

 

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Third Annual Review

 

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November 12, 1971, my third birthday

Birthdays are more than a special day to celebrate, they are a reminder that it is time to take stock and reflect on the past year. Birthdays are a measuring stick of where we have been and a chance to plan where we want to be by the time the next birthday rolls around.

Sounds a lot like New Year’s Day. As a teacher, it also sounds like the beginning of a new school year every August. For the past twenty-four years, I have had three annual reviews. New Year’s I share with the whole world. The start of the school year I share with all the other educators. While I am sure many people were born on November 12th like me, in fact,two of my dear friends and two co-workers share it with me, it still feels like my own personal day. Three times a year, that I can take stock and make new goals.

I have so enjoyed my forties and I am glad I have a couple more years left in them. This past year I would have to say was one of the most special. I published my first book and have the second one coming out next week. I am in a good place, professionally and personally. I am content and am thoroughly enjoying living day to day. I am optimistic about where I am heading and how life will unfold in the coming years. This review gets an A+ rating.

I know this, no matter what this next year may have in store for me, I am truly blessed with the family, friends, and opportunities I have been given on this journey. Happy Birthday to me, and I wish for many more!

 

Unplugged

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If you detected a theme connecting last week’s post with this one, you would be correct. I hit the proverbial wall this past weekend. It happens every August and I have learned after twenty-four years, the only remedy is to unplug.

Not only did I ban computers and tablets. I even neglected my phone. I did venture to the grocery store, but no farther and the only fellow living creatures I spoke two were my always supportive golden retrievers. I did indulge in some Netflix binge watching, but I also spent time getting my house back in order. I believe there is an old adage about  clean space, uncluttered mind.

I am not a “neat freak” or a minimalist. When I am particularly busy, my dining room table becomes buried in the debris of a week of dropped items to be dealt with later. My desk at school? It is only neat on the first day of school and the last. Every day in between it’s a battle to keep it semi-organized. I am proud to say that 99.9% of the time I know where everything is.

One of the most satisfying  tasks  I accomplished during my self-imposed time-out weekend might seem trivial, but it had the biggest impact on rejuvenating my mind and spirit. I tackled the cooking utensil drawer in my kitchen. I took everything out, cleaned the drawer and the organizers then reorganized all the tools. Now the spatulas are in their own space and so are the measuring spoons. Even the mushroom brush and ginger grater are neatly laid in a new home. Order brought to the chaos of several years of tossing items  back in the drawer.

Chaos brought to order by just a little effort and attention. So I am going to try to make it my goal to spend at least two evenings a week and maybe most of a day on the weekend to unplug not just from technology, but from the real world. I will try to rest but also to take on something  to return to order. Hopefully, that will help me stay more balanced between teacher, writer, and daily life.

Wishing you a day or two to unplug so when you power-up you can be at optimal performance.

Remember To Rest

 

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A Sunset over the Stono River

Mid-August for a teacher is much like the last few weeks of tax season for an accountant. I’m back to rising well before  the sun. I arrive at school at six a.m. and lucky to get out of there before four with a bag of work. After a quick dinner, I do another three or four hours of school work before I crawl into bed. Housework? I am ignoring the deplorable condition my house is slipping into. Writing career? On a few weeks hold. Although I have not missed a blog post yet. I have also taken care of some of the business side of things. But no time for creating. This too shall pass. I will have assessed my students’ starting points and planned accordingly. I will have fabulous parent volunteers to help with things like copies and folders. The school workload will lighten.

In the interim, I find myself so exhausted and I have to remind myself to rest. In the immortal words of someone, Rome wasn’t built in a day. I don’t have to have it all figured out in the first few days, that is a pressure that is self-inflicted. A tired teacher is not much use to anyone.

Our world spins sensibly giving us a natural day and night. In our modern world of light available twenty-four-seven and instant connections via the internet and continuous news cycle, we tend to ignore the natural rhythm of work and rest. Just look at the rise of sleep disorders. We are only human, we must rest.

So this weekend I’m breaking myself of my August habit and I’m not going to do any school work. I’m going to get this house back together and get reacquainted with my fictional friends and yes I’m going to sleep in. Will I be less of a teacher? Most likely not. I probably will be better because I will be refreshed.

Moving forward, I vow to make this year the most balanced yet. I can be a fabulous teacher, an engaging writer, grow my writing career, spend time with family and friends, keep a clean house etc. as long as I remember to rest.

So this is a short blog compared to my average. You’ll have to excuse me, I need to go and rest.

 

Traditions and Rituals

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Christmas Card Pic for 2015

Tis the season of rituals and traditions and I confess I find a lot of comfort in this.  When there is so much strife in the world and worry in life, there is something reassuring to know the annual card photo, the decorating the baking and many of the events to attend will by and large be untainted by the world.

There are a few exceptions, we notice those missing more acutely and some events change or don’t take place.  Some folks become such slaves to tradition that they go through the motions but don’t enjoy. Instead they stress and grumble at fitting it all in.  They try to out-Pinterest the neighbor and out-bake Martha Stewart.

I like to think the missing loved ones are with us in spirit and remember past Christmases with them.  When an annual event is no longer, then there is opportunity to find or start a new event.  Tradition and ritual should be savored not dreaded.  There isn’t to my knowledge a Christmas commandment list that declares, thou shalt send cards or thou shalt make handmade wrapping paper.  So if the cards stress you out, don’t do them. If the idea of baking gives you hives, don’t turn on that oven.  Follow the traditions and rituals that make your Christmas season joyful.

I enjoy so many things in this season.  My annual photo for the card is fun to create.  My co-workers so enjoy the Southern Living cheddar, cranberry pecan shortbreads I make. They start asking for them the first week in December and when I finally deliver them the Monday of the last week of school before vacation, I enjoy the faces lighting up as I present them. One of my friends does an annual cookie party and collection for the East Cooper Community Outreach, and I enjoy taking a big box of diapers, having a nice glass of wine and visiting with friends. Another friend has a cookie swap party, our Bunco group December gathering is always extra special and then there are the parades on land and water.  However, if any of these events become burdensome or unenjoyable I will skip them. This year I skipped the parades to give some quieter moments in my calendar.

Traditions and rituals have value, only if you appreciate them and consciously participate in them. Enjoy the Christmas season, soak up the goodwill and strive to be a part of the peace on earth.

Merry Christmas y’all

What a Difference a Year Can Make

November 2014 to November 2015

November 2014 to November 2015

Can 365 days bring about significant change?  I would say mere minutes can, just ask those whose lives have been forever altered by the too many to name mass tragedies that seem to be almost common place in our modern society.  In our own lives some years are a watershed of change, while others seem to keep the status quo. Certain holidays or anniversaries of important events, societal or personal, cause us to reflect back on the year since the last marking of that date. I think this is a good practice, it reminds us how far we’ve come and provides us with an evaluation of sorts for moving forward. A friend was sharing with me the other day how amazed she was at how I had handled an ugly personal situation with grace and compassion towards the person whose actions were full of betrayal, hurt and caused chaos not just in my life but in the lives of others.  She joked that I probably would have responded much differently a year earlier, after all I was “older” now.  We laughed at the idea that one year older could bring about that much maturity, but on reflection I really do think this past year has been seminal in my personal growth and has brought a profound shift in my outlook on life.

I was born in November so my personal new year is at hand. On the surface this past year has been full of some important developments in my professional life.  I am still completely committed to my teaching career and have at least four to six more years I plan to dedicate to it, but I have also made a commitment to my writing career.  I have been faithful to posting a weekly blog, I have completed two novels and submitted them to a publisher and I have been working on book three.  I am no longer dabbling in writing I identify myself as writer. My writing life has gone from an exploration to a full commitment.  It also feeds my soul.

Last November I had experienced three of the five deaths that were pivotal to my examination of my life and how I wanted to live it.  The fourth, last Spring and the fifth just a month ago solidified my commitment to living that renewed life.  It is not that from November 2013 to November 2014 I did not have moments of joy or appreciation for my days and the people in them, its just that I was not as aware and attune to them on a daily basis. That year was a status quo year, and we all need years like that. After the first three deaths, one of a terminally ill older woman, who was a second mother to me for decades, one of a smart witty woman who I had the privilege to work for,  she was cruelly taken early with the added insult of an aggressive dementia that took her long before she stopped breathing and the third to a young college freshman who as a high school senior had found a place in my heart, a truly remarkable young woman who had such great gifts, I was profoundly shaken.  Life to one-hundred or one-hundred and eight, my personal goal, was tentative at best.  Each day truly is a gift and life is what you make of it. I did not have the luxury of the status quo if I really wanted to build a better life.

So I chose to make each day a day of gratitude this past year, some days that has been more challenging than others but what I have found was the more I worked at it, the easier it got.  In tandem I worked on my spiritual life, in particular faith, that God has me and despite what goes on here on the temporal plane,  there is a greater plan.  That means regardless of what chaos is swirling around, I am insulated in a core of peace.  If I am going to talk the talk then I must walk the walk, which means I must view my fellow human beings with compassion and love and each day that has become easier and easier.  A year ago and prior I might have let chaos derail me, lash out in anger at others or judge them harshly. Now even though I feel hurt, I am also at peace knowing that I have done my best to love and care for others.  Who am I to judge? I am as flawed and complex as those around me, that is part of being human. I choose to build up rather than tear down.

I can say I am truly a happy and joy-filled soul.  I still have the daily challenges of life like everyone else, but it is how I face them that has changed. So yes a year can truly make a difference and I would say it took way less than a year to make the adjustment. When I reflect back in November 2016 I hope I can say that not only did I continue to walk the walk, but that by being compassionate and loving towards my fellow beings I helped to make them happy and joy-filled souls as well.

So a year older, a year wiser, a year kinder, that is the difference a year can make.