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!

 

Bounty of Blessings

 

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My sideboard arrangement

Looking out into the world, we might find it challenging to find much to be thankful for. Politics and social upheaval in our country are overwhelmingly chaotic at best and downright frightening at worst.

We seem to have forgotten we are supposed to be the shining example to the world of how a society can treat its members with respect, dignity, and equality and thrive in all we do.  I’m not naive enough to think that we have achieved the goals to form that more perfect union, but I am hopeful enough that we as a nation are still striving for those ideals.

Forty-nine years on this earth has shown me that upheaval is necessary to create the growth and improvement towards those goals, it’s just painful to witness and live through.

So instead of looking out into the world and the nation, perhaps this year to reflect on what we have to be thankful for we should look closer to home. I find numerous blessings in my lowcountry community, my family and my circle of friends.

I am always amazed by the giving nature of my fellow lowcountry citizens. Whether it is a crisis here at home or half a world away, people in this community respond in droves. I like to believe that is true of the majority of Americans, it is the American way to have compassion for others.

My family is rather small and I had the opportunity this summer to re-connect with a cousin and I am so thankful we had that time together. I am blessed that my parent’s and so far the majority of the family members are still well and living full lives.

At this point in life, so many of my friends I would call family. If I need a sounding board or encouragement, I have been blessed with many to turn to and I only hope that I have been the same source for them. Friends truly are family we choose.

So as we celebrate Thanksgiving this week I will focus on all that is right and good in my world, personal and beyond. I challenge you to do the same. Leave the politics and the social issues for another time. Over this year’s table let’s bow our heads and give thanks for the blessings each and every one of us have a bounty of to call our own.

 

Letters Impactful as Words

 

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Just a few of my monogrammed items

A very funny post has been circulating among my friends and I am sure a much wider audience poking a little fun at the Southern girl’s penchant for monogramming. It has a video of a very romantic proposal and the woman begins to imagine what her new monogram will look like, only to realize it will, unfortunately, spell out the word DIE.  So naturally, the bride to be, declines and runs for the hills.

I would never walk away from true love over a monogram, but I might decide to become a singular letter girl. This entertaining post got me thinking about monograms and letters in general and how they can be powerful even when they don’t actually spell a word.

For example, with a last name that begins with A, I quickly realized in school I was bound to be first on the class list most years. I always felt sorry for the Q-Z crowd. As the shortie kid who was always last in the class picture line-up, it was nice to know I would be first in some things.

License plates are another place those three ubiquitous letters that some computer randomly selects can be a happy accident or an unfortunate one. One set of plates I had here in South Carolina began with the letters BTK. During that time the news about the BTK killer our in the Midwest was all over the news and it really bothered me to have those letters on the back of my car. My next set was not much better, DRK. Really!? I am not a negative or sinister person. It’s almost enough to make a girl open up her monogrammed wallet for vanity plates.

Acronyms for organizations or programs can also be unfortunate. In my primary field of education, this happens all the time.  Right now we have a data reporting requirement called our SLO’s (we say SLOW) It is a time-consuming data entry process done three times a year. We also had a student assessment program a while back called, SCRAPI (we called it scrappy and the trainer was not amused).  There are some good ones out there, GRITS, Girls raised in the South for example.

I have written several posts over the years about monograms and I am unashamed of my enjoyment in them. Somehow a monogram elevates an object, plus it makes it easy to keep track of your stuff. So poke all the fun you want, I will be happy to respond on my engraved note cards.

 

The Sweet Side of Summer

WP_20170727_006Are you aware that it’s National Ice Cream month? As if we needed an excuse to enjoy a creamy cold treat in July. I am happy to recognize the designation and consume my fair share, you know, to be supportive . . .

I have my favorites, coffee, dulce de leche and vanilla, but I enjoy more exotic flavors like black raspberry truffle or ginger. I recently discovered Red Velvet Cake ice cream, win-win for me, I love ice cream and I love red velvet cake. I even enjoy soft serve.

I have so many happy memories associated with ice cream. My Papa, my mother’s daddy used to take us down to get a soft serve in a small town down the road. If we ate coffee ice cream at the house, he liked to top it with cool whip. Often I would be sent out into the part of the house called the summer kitchen where there was a big trunk-like freezer to fetch the ice cream and or the cool whip. I was short, okay I still am, but imagine me kid short. So, I had to have a strategy to get them out.  I would lift the lid and peer over the top to see where they were. Then I would back up, take off at a run, launch myself onto the freezer’s edge, balancing on my belly. I would rock in, grab the ice cream and rock back out. Hard work, but always worth it. My parents and I have also made a Christmas tradition of getting our own pint of ice cream to enjoy for Christmas dessert, not eaten in one sitting, to clarify.

I can pass up a lot of desserts. But I don’t think I have ever turned down a bowl of ice cream.  It makes me smile and instantly puts me in relaxation mode. Let’s face it, a bowl of ice cream almost requires a meditative kind of concentration. You can’t text, or computer surf or much else. It takes a little effort to stir and smooth your ice cream so it is not too stiff or too soft and time is of the essence. The delight of the cool on your tongue and then the sliding down the throat. It is a simple but exquisite pleasure.

It’s a shame that I can’t call it a healthy food, so it does not find a place in my freezer on a regular basis. I have decided that when I get to be eighty, I am going to allow myself a small bowl nightly. For now, it is on occasion out on the town, or summertime in my freezer and of course Christmas.

I savor every creamy spoonful and that is something I think we could apply to other things in life. Savor and enjoy.

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.

 

Marriage and Monograms

 

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Monogram displayed at my friend, Vicki’s wedding.

In The Soul Believes It, the third book in my lowcountry home series, I had the joyful task of planning a wedding for one of my characters. The book will be out this Summer and I hope you enjoy wedding storyline as much as I enjoyed writing it. Fortunately, I have been a guest at several beautiful weddings in the past few months and one of them was at Alhambra Hall, the setting for my fictional reception.

The picture above was from that wedding. I loved how they placed the new monogram for the bride and groom as a couple on the mantle. I was even inspired to have my character’s new last name, to begin with, an M. I love how M’s scroll and I liked the idea that my character’s maiden last name was W, so it was a flip, a visual representation of what women do when they take their husband’s name.

Now don’t get the wrong idea, I’m a traditionalist. I’m not fond of the hyphenated name or the wife keeping her maiden name, especially if children follow, it just gets confusing to me. I’m also of the school of thought that to each his, or in this case her own, I have no problem with other women choosing any option.

I used to wish I could marry someone with a last name that began with G, simply because I liked the idea my initials could be JAG, perfect reason to get the car, right?

When I monogram things with just one letter, I waffle between J, because that is forever, or A because that is for family. It is one of the only times I’m jealous of men, they never have to change their initials, their identity is set at birth.

On the bright side, new brides can embrace a new monogram. There is silver, glassware, towels, purses, linens, sandals, you name it, it probably can be monogrammed. What a delightful way to embrace your new identity.

 

 

Saying Goodbye to the Season

 

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The door out to the garage

Well, the feast of the Epiphany has come and gone so now there is no question, it is time to say goodbye to the holiday season until next year. I have put away the tree, the mantle decorations and the various other decorations in the rooms around the house. The Christmas dishes are tucked back in the cupboard and the holiday linens have all been laundered and folded.

There are two things left to do. I need to take the wreath down from the front door, although with it’s cream ribbon and shells in the evergreen, I feel I can get a few more weeks out of it. The other task is dismantling the display of greetings on the door out to the garage. This has become one of my favorite parts of holiday decorating. I go in and out this door almost exclusively. That means I get to see all the fun pictures each and every day. I enjoy thinking about the friends and family who sent them. So needless to say, I am not really wanting to take them down.

It is sad to me that so many seem to have given up the tradition of sending a greeting card. I am glad that so many of the people I know still do. I love the picture ones, especially from the folks I don’t see all the time. I like to see how the children have grown in the past year and I adore when the family dogs or other pets are included in the pictures.  I like how my Aunt Nancy always tries to find a dog card to send to me, knowing how much I will enjoy that. I love the way the gesture of these cards makes me feel connected.

For the past few years, I have always ended up receiving enough cards to fill the door and I hope that is the case for years to come. I know this year’s display needs to come down soon, but not today…maybe tomorrow!

 

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.

 

Christmas Ready

 

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Greetings at the Front Door

Wasn’t it just Christmas 2015? It sure feels that way until I think back on all that has happened in the last twelve months. Yet I am still surprised to be here, just days before Christmas 2017. Most of my preparations are done. I still need to finish preparing the guest room and make the big grocery store run. However, the house is decked out in its holiday finery.

The sparkle of the lights on the tree and the mantle are mesmerizing. In the dining room, the everyday artwork is stashed in my bedroom and in its place are my collection of blue Jul After Christmas plates from Denmark hang in place with ribbon and holly festooning them. the cupboard, the snowmen mugs, and the Christmas china is ready for duty. The holiday towels are in the guest bath as well as the kitchen. Even the coasters have been swapped out for their holiday counterparts.

Each year as I unpack all these items, I revel in the memories the objects evoke. Almost every item has a story or a connection to a loved one.  I love that the stockings hanging from my mantle were made by my friend Emily. I love that my reindeer that lights up, was brought to me one Christmas when I was in the hospital by my dear friend Gregg.  Many of my tree ornaments were gifted from my mother, a collection of angels, one for each year from the Metropolitan Museum of art and a collection of Lenox ornaments. I could go on and on.

For me, it is not the objects themselves that make them special, it is the connections to the people I love and cherish. I suppose they would not be so special if I had them up all year long. I do get a bit melancholy when it’s time to pack it all away for another year.

I try to be mindful and appreciative of all the blessings in this life and I find that this time of year that it becomes even more important. While I enjoy a beautifully decorated, almost magical environment for the holiday, you could take every one of the objects away as long as I wouldn’t lose the special people in my life.

I am content to savor this season, and I hope that like the old adage encourages I will keep Christmas in my heart the whole year long.

Merry Christmas y’all!