A Touch of Whimsy

 

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A little garden space tucked in among the buildings of the Medical University of South Carolina’s Campus.

I took a friend over to the hospital today for an MRI. It is Sunday and it was a much quieter place than when I went with her this past Tuesday to spend the day going to a series of appointments. She is undergoing cancer treatments and she has been spending the better part of many days at the hospital the last few months.

The cancer center has its own building, but for some tests, you do go to one of the other buildings. The radiologist on Tuesday did not want to wait for an MRI, so here we were on a Sunday and it was pleasantly in and out. We even got parking on the first floor of the garage. We had to go in the main entrance and that took us by this little garden space off of the part of the campus known as the horseshoe.

When you’re at a hospital unless it’s to welcome a new baby into the world, it’s usually a situation of serious thought, concern, fear, and worry. So the sight of that frog sitting on the bench was a happy surprise. I can’t imagine someone not having a happy reaction to this whimsical frog.  I imagine children coming to and from the hospital find him magical.

Life is full of serious things. There are plenty of things to stress over, many not in our control. It’s during these times when life seems lean heavily to the serious side that we need to insert a little whimsy to balance it all out. How wonderful when we happen upon it unexpectedly like the frog on the bench.

It reminded me to keep my eyes open, to appreciate a little whimsy when I find it. Stop, smile and de-stress, Our problems won’t disappear, but maybe we’ll be in a better frame of mind to tackle them.

 

Lowcountry Field of Dreams

 

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A field at Shipyard Park on the Wando River

A sunny Spring Saturday morning, little league baseball at a state of the art facility overlooking the Wando River is one example of what makes our community a great place to live. We have a beautiful new facility called Shipyard Park, with multiple fields complete with dugouts and fold down stadium seats under shade. There is a walking path that skirts the fields and goes along the river and a well-stocked concession stand. The fields are covered in astroturf, although I noticed that didn’t keep the players from soiling their white pants. There are working electronic scoreboards and even a pro-shop for all your baseball needs.

Parents coach and cheer, kids learn valuable teamwork and sportsmanship skills and we all get time in the sunshine unplugged from the digital world. I’m sure there were some present clicking away on their smartphones, but the majority of on-lookers were gadget free.

I was there to support a child I think of as a nephew, his dad has been like a brother to me for years and he is one of the coaches. He is an ideal example of what a coach should be, encouraging, teaching and being a great role-model. I am impressed and proud every time I witness him coach.  The younger son who plays on his own team serves as the bat boy for his brother’s team and Mom, she is the ultimate fan, I doubt she ever misses a game.  She is a fellow teacher and also one of the best examples of a mother/parent I have ever witnessed. I love them all and I love that they think to invite me to come to games.

I love watching baseball live, there is something about the atmosphere, the pace of the game is slow enough that I don’t get whiplash, like basketball and fast enough that I don’t get bored, plus it is simple to follow and understand. I enjoy professional baseball, my dad just got tickets for the two of us to take in a National’s game this summer and I have been a Red Sox fan for decades. I enjoy our local minor league team, the Charleston Riverdogs. But there is something special about the kid’s version of the game.

Maybe it’s the joy the kids exhibit when a teammate makes a hit, or scores a run. It could be the encouraging words that float around, “Great catch” or “Nice throw”, you don’t hear that at professional games. Baseball requires teamwork and so does life. I suppose the same could be said for football, soccer, basketball etc. Team sports bring a community together and foster the development of skills that will carry on long after the players leave the field. It gets kids out of the virtual world and into the real world.

It gives me hope that the generation that’s coming up is not going to be self-centered or self-serving, but work as a team to make our country and the world a better place. That may seem naive or optimistic as if I’m ignoring the complex and numerous issues that face our society today. I would remind you that on the baseball field is where real integration efforts were made, well before Civil rights laws. Perhaps that’s why the baseball field is a field of dreams.

 

 

The Gift of Time

 

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Hampton Park, Charleston, SC

It is Spring break here this week and that has freed me up for writing and I am finally moving forward again on my fourth novel, I may even finish it this week. The gift of time from my teaching responsibilities I have consciously made the effort not to squander.

The old adage of all work and no play makes Julie a dull girl, nagged at me. As the week began I was talking with a friend whose’s first question to me was what are you going to do this week? I rattled off m plan to write, go to doctor appointments, take the dogs for their annual shots, etc.  Her next question was what are you going to do for fun?

Sometimes we get caught up in the idea that if we aren’t working on something we are somehow wasting time. In our culture, it is un-American to be unproductive.  When I get exhausted from the pace, I sometimes wish I was European, where they seem to have a better way to balance.

After I got off the phone with this friend, I decided that if opportunities came up for fun this week I was going to take it. That night a post came through from a teaching colleague who had moved away and was in town for the week, inviting me to join her and others at a Tuesday afternoon happy hour. I immediately replied yes. Then I accepted a same day invite to join two friends for dinner. At the happy hour, I set up a coffee date at my favorite french cafe with another friend. Each day I have gotten an invite to join in or meet up for fun and I have accepted every one. I call all these invites a God wink, a nudging to do what I need to do to refuel and refresh. Isn’t that what Spring break is supposed to be about?

Unlike teaching, I can’t write for ten or eleven hours a day, I have tried to write for several hours a day breaking the sessions up with moving with housework or yard work and that works for me. The balance between sitting and moving is a conscious effort for health reasons for a writer. While your brain gets a workout and dare I say a drain, your body suffers from the sitting in front of a computer screen. My restless body cries out for movement.

Which brings me to the idea of being still. Another thing that Americans are generally uncomfortable with. After all, if you are sitting still how are you being productive.  I have been using a yoga DVD to improve my flexibility and at the end of each session, there is a segment of lying still and focusing in on your breath. At first, it was awkward, I wanted to just jump up and move on to the next task, the work of yoga was done. Now, I enjoy the time, after all, it’s sanctioned by the yoga instructor as part of the workout, so it’s not wasting time.

This same friend that questioned me at the beginning of the week is battling an aggressive cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation plus a barrage of doctor’s appointments. The gift of time means something entirely different for her. She is forced to spend lots of time sitting around and waiting for tests, waiting for treatment, waiting to feel better.  The finite nature of time in a human life has been brought to the forefront of thought.

Shouldn’t that be true for all of us, diagnosis or not? Our lifetime is finite, some of us with have more years than others, but none of us should squander the time we have been given. Does that mean we have to fill our days and nights with productivity? I say yes and no. Yes, make your life count, stand up for a cause, do work that makes this world a better place. No, because this life we have is not a full life if we don’t share with others, enjoy it and take moments to be still and reflect on it.

As this was one of my friend’s chemo weeks, she requested I bring her a strawberry milkshake, one thing that she can have that doesn’t seem to make her nauseous. Spending time with her has become a priority for me. She is ten years older and our friendship is like a big sister and little sister. She makes me laugh and is a sounding board when I grapple with life’s issues. I can only hope that I give her as much as she has given me. It was nice to take her one in the middle of a weekday afternoon. It was a beautiful out so we took our milkshakes a block over to Hampton Park, which sits outside the gates of The Citadel. We found a sunny bench to sit and watch our fellow park visitors. We chatted some and also sat in companionable silence. At one point she asked me what I was thinking about. I told her I was just soaking in the park and the sunny day, which was true, but I was also thanking God for the gift of time with my wonderful friend.

 

Bunnies on Break

WP_20180331_001I often think of myself and fellow educators as “Energizer Bunnies”. For blocks of time, we keep going and going until we think we have nothing left in the tank (If you are not a teacher or around teachers, you may not understand how draining the job is). When we think we can’t possibly do one more day, a break arrives.

Sometimes it’s just a day like Labor Day or President’s Day, and they do offer a mini-recharge, but sometimes it seems that those four-day weeks are harder than the more routine five-day week, effectively negating the extra day of rest.

Then there are the bigger breaks like Christmas and Spring break, which give you a longer recharge. As long as you don’t try to cram too much into the time (and that is hard not to do) you actually return to school with the tank filled and ready to go. I love Christmas break, it gives you time with family and to celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of the next. But Spring Break for some reason is not just time to enjoy it truly is essential to keep teachers in the profession.

The few weeks before Spring break seem to be the longest weeks of the year. The mental exhaustion brings on fantasies of retirement or thoughts of a career change. The students check out mentally and backslide to beginning-of-the-year behaviors as if the one-hundred and thirty plus days of procedures and expectations must have been communicated in a foreign language. Just when we think we can’t possibly handle anymore, Spring break arrives.

So as I sip my coffee and look over my way too long to-do over the break list, I plan to edit it down to just the must do’s and work in a little fun as well, lunch with friends, happy hour with a colleague, a former member of our staff, who is spending her Spring break here and those of us in town with gather to see. I even left my plan book at school, unlike Christmas break, I refuse to do any work for school this week. (Many people don’t realize that most prep and writing report cards for Elementary teachers are done on our own time, as the school day only provides us with forty minutes in which to take a bathroom break, answer emails etc, we don’t get a lunch break either.)  With the exception of one early morning doctor’s appointment, I will not set an alarm, I will stay up past nine and get up after the sun. So nine days from now I will be re-energized to tackle the stretch until Summer.

Summer, a whole post topic on its own. It is the comp time for all the extra hours worked the rest of the year (mathematically it falls short of the actual amount of comp time earned if you compare hours worked to hours contracted for). But I digress, Spring break is here and I plan to savor it.

Happy Spring and Happy Easter y’all!

Celebrating Sandal Season

WP_20180323_002One of my Favorite read aloud characters is a kindergarten girl who sometimes wishes she has grown-up lady feet. Her parents try to convince her that little girls should be footloose and fancy-free, but she will have none of it until the uncomfortable shoes and tights she wears for her aunt’s wedding are shed under the table and the joys of loose feet are discovered.

That joy is what I feel every sandal season. I enjoy loose feet so much I’ll wear sandals on warm winter days. These first few days of spring have been more lion than lamb days, although the afternoon temperatures have reached respectably mild levels for March. I have worn sandals every day, even if I’ve had to wear a winter coat in the morning. I fully intend to wear sandals until I’m forced in October or if I’m lucky, November, to wear closed shoes on a regular basis.

Sandals make me think of sunshine, fresh breezes and days on the beach. I could happily live in a place where I could wear sandals three-hundred-sixty-five days a year. Here in coastal South Carolina, I think it comes close to at least three-hundred. I’ m just happier and more relaxed about things when my feet are free.

Thinking about sandals and the joy they bring me is a good reminder that it truly is the simple things in life that can make you feel blessed. Savor the small joys, they add to big rewards.

Footloose and fancy-free, that’s how I want to dance through my days. So feeling tired or overwhelmed by what life is throwing your way? Try freeing those tootsies and step them out into the sunshine. It just might bring a smile to your face and a lift to your soul.

A Saturday Road Trip

 

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Hwy 17, the road to all places Coastal South Carolina

 

It’s a Lucky day and not just because it’s St. Patrick’s Day. I woke up a little giddy with anticipation for all this Saturday holds.  Having completed my report cards and put on the class play, this weekend is a rare school task-free weekend and I have big plans.

It’s a lovely day for a drive up the coast to Pawley’s Island where I’m dropping off signed books for the bookstore My Sister’s Books. I have done an author event at their store before and I can’t wait to browse their shelves. They have a combination of new and used books and I fully expect to find a treasure or two.

Yes, I could have shipped the signed books to them, but then I couldn’t enjoy the browse. Plus, I have set up a meeting with a bookstore owner in Georgetown and I hope that will result in a possible signing event and/or my books being present on their shelves. Wish me luck, although I feel the auspices of the day will carry it. At the very least I’ll get to browse in a new-to-me bookstore and that will be worth the stop in and of itself. I should also get to poke around some other shops between Pawley’s and Charleston as I work my way home.

How will this book lover cap off this lovely day? An oyster roast with friends of course! I already have my chili contribution marinating in its seasonings. I have my gloves and shucker ready on the counter. I can almost taste the salty sea as I think about it.

Anticipation for the day is a good thing. Everything on my agenda today I am genuinely looking forward to. I hope it plays out as idyllic as it does in my mind. Even if there are a few monkey wrenches thrown in I’ll be wear’n my green and channeling the ancient Irish blood that courses through my vein. I have to believe that the wind will be at my back and the road will rise up to meet me.

Have a happy St. Patrick’s Day and may your Saturday be filled with moments that make you smile.

 

Time To Sleep

 

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Me in my toddler days and yes that is a cookbook, I loved looking at them.

The spring forward time change has my dander up. Yes, I appreciate the later hour of daylight, it is not an extra hour, the time has just been artificially shifted not a new hour of light suddenly found. But being someone who leaves the house around 5:40 a.m. for work, I hate that it will be pitch black again when it was finally starting to have the soft light of dawn.

I never have understood why we do this to ourselves. People will be grumpy in the morning, more accidents will take place and kids will fight hard against bedtimes when it’s still light outside. At little kids, if they are tired should be able to drop anywhere like I apparently did in the photograph above.  I so wish I had that ability now.

Despite the loss of an hour, I’ve had a very productive day. I did six loads of laundry, prepared four costumes for the class play, grocery shopped, changed the sheets, made a three dish luncheon for the members of my teaching team and here I am albeit rather late, I’m writing my weekly blog. For a brief moment, I considered delaying or even skipping this week, but I have an unblemished record of getting a weekly entry in since I established this blog and I’m not going to let the loss of an hour break my streak.

I hope tomorrow night when the daylight lingers and I have time to do some chores around the garden after supper I will have a better outlook on the time change. For now, this girl is going to get off her soapbox and head on to dreamland, tomorrow will be here early.

 

 

From Scribbler To Writer

 

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Me at around age 2 or 3

My Daddy has been taking a large collection of slides and changing them into digital photo files. I’m sure those born after 1975 are probably scratching their heads as to what a slide is. I used to love when we would set up the screen and the projector with a loaded carousel and click our way down memory lane.

Daddy emailed this picture to me and I saw my teacher-self and my writer-self in their incubator stage.  How excited I was to be writing with chalk, another instrument of the past. As a leftie, I struggled with proper penmanship for years, but I would enthusiastically write and draw despite the legibility.

Fast forward to the world we are in today and I really worry about the current generation of young children who spend too much time on electronic devices and not enough with paper, or boards and writing tools. There is a lack of fine motor development and literacy development that is becoming a growing problem. Scribbling is such an important part of brain, motor and literacy development and children need to time to do it.

I have a passion for writing, but I also had a childhood rich in literature and ample opportunity to write at many developmental stages. I wonder if subsequent generations will be as literate as those of us who came before them. What will society and humanity lose if they are not?

If I could speak directly to parents of pre-schoolers I would preach to them to shut off the devices, visit the library, set up a dry erase board and get a pile of scrap paper and immerse their children in literacy. It will ensure a richer future for their child and also make their school experience more successful.

I believe that what elevates a culture, what keeps a culture going is its arts and literature and I fear America is falling short compared to our European counterparts. As a first-grade teacher, I view the two most important parts of my job are to turn students into readers and that they develop a love for reading and writing that will stay with them for a lifetime. As a writer, of course, I want people to buy my books, but I also love that my books are in libraries, because most of all I want people to read and enjoy my stories.

My passion for books, reading them and writing them is my soapbox and I could go on for days about the virtues of both. It was nice that this vintage photo slide reminded me that passion is deeply rooted in my beginnings.

 

 

Replacing What’s Rotten

 

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My handiwork…

I discovered that a few sections of the back fence were rotting. The boards disintegrating with a touch, despite the fact they looked perfectly fine from a distance.  It’s mostly my fault. I had been trowing yard debris over to the wooded area of my property thinking I was composting Mother Nature’s way. Unfortunately, most of my pitches had landed too close to the boards and over time a layer of dirt and debris had sat up against the boards causing the rot.

So I have begun the replacement process, thirty-seven down and twelve to go to address the most critical areas. There will be more in the future for those not so critical this moment and the fact I could not get a matching style unless I bought boards that would require me to cut off two feet from each board, which seemed a bit wasteful to me.

As I pried out nails and knocked out rotting boards I had plenty of time to reflect. True to the nature of my mind I saw a life lesson in my current task. Rot is not just a condition for wood. It is a condition of life. If we don’t maintain, refresh or even replace what’s rotten in our personal lives and in our society, then it will decay and fall apart.

Do you have a toxic, read rotten, relationship that is holding you back? Are you uninspired in your work life? Is your diet fresh? Do you maintain yourself with exercise? Do you give your mind new ideas to ponder? Does our society need changes to make it better, stronger and safer for all?  Dare I say could Congress stand a removal of some rotten wood with replacements who are fresh and new?

I know I can identify several areas in my life I could use a refresh and in some instances a complete replacement. Like the new boards that I hammered in change can build a solid base for me to be stronger and last longer.

As I hauled the rotten broken boards to the curb I wished it was that easy with the rot in our society. I can only change society by the choices I make and the power of my vote and while that can make a difference I know it will take a collaborative effort.

In my own life, I can be more conscious of what might need replacing and choose to do so. After all who wants to just crumble away in decay?

Who knew there would be such an inspiring lesson in the mundane task of fence maintenance?

 

Lowcountry Zen

 

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Over the marsh and the Wando River.

I have the enviable task of helping my parent’s in their house hunt and I went with their realtor to view a few properties this week, and even though this particular house was not the right fit the view was definitely something I would love to come home to.

Last year and this year so far seem so chaotic and fast on every level. I have said before the turmoil in the world and our nation have left me feeling anxious and a news-cycle for just a day or two seems like it surely covered at least a weeks worth of events. Even daily life between my teaching life, my writing life, my home life and social life are overwhelming me and I don’t feel I have a firm grasp or that I’m caught up in any area.

When I see a view like the one above it automatically catches my breath, slows my heart rate and commands me to pause, slow down and regroup.  Makes me wonder is it too late for me to move back in with my parents? A view like this is what they will end up with and I plan on spending a lot of time with their view. . .  I mean them.

I don’t think you need a water view to achieve the zen, a walk in a park, a garden, the beach or even a mountain can get us away from twenty-four-hour connectedness and screens. We have to disconnect to reconnect and refresh.

If you come home to a view each day, I imagine it’s a little easier to practice that on a daily basis. The rest of us might need to take a short drive to a beach or a park or take a stroll each day around our back gardens, assuming part of your stress is not the various yardwork chores you’re behind on.

I think I am beginning to understand the appeal of meditation, although I’m lousy at sitting still and clearing my mind sitting in a room. Give me a Lowcountry view like above and my soul makes it easy to sit still and meditate on the spectacular views all around in this magical place I get to call home.

I know we are over half way through February, but I think I can add one more thing to my New Year’s goal list: Stop each day, find a place in nature to disconnect and reach a few moments of zen.