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.

 

 

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.

 

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!

 

 

 

My Two Biggest Fans

 

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My Christmas Card 2016

Every Year since Lucky and Ella were born they have been the stars of my annual card.  This year I loved the idea of having them show off my two other babies. Recently a friend reminded me that over 16 years ago I shared that on my life’s bucket list was to publish a novel. Here we are and I have now published two with my third due out in the spring.

2016 has been a very special year for me and I have high hopes for 2017 as well. I love being a teacher. I love being an author. But I have to say, these two beautiful fur babies give me unconditional love every day and I love them the most out of all my blessings.

Those of you with animals other than human in your home understand what I mean. For those of you who have never had the opportunity to love a creature other than human, I highly recommend it. Sometimes I think the other species we share this planet with are the better members of God’s creation.

I have to say Lucky and Ella are particularly smart (biased of course!). They understand when I pull them together for a picture and will patiently pose for me. This year Lucky came over and got on the sofa and settled in without any cajoling, just a quick call, that it was time for the Christmas picture.

While Lucky and Ella can’t read my novels, they have listened to them when I read aloud for editing. I also put them in the first book as the dogs of my heroine Lizzie. I like to think they are flattered by this and proud of my accomplishment of becoming an author.

They are ten years old now and I hope we have many more cards to come. Regardless I love our tradition of taking our card picture each year.

 

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.

 

Summer Simplicity

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Tomato Sandwich anyone?

There are so many things I love about Summer. The long hours of daylight. The warm breezes that call you to the beach. Even the yardwork that this exuberant growing season brings. But, if I were pressed to identify the one Summer feature I love the most it would be the bountiful fresh and local produce.

A tomato sandwich or tomato slices stacked with fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar are flavorful and fresh on a hot summer day. Ditto a cucumber sandwich or salad. Fresh corn sautéed with a little olive oil and sea salt. Craving something sweet? Pick your berry and add a little whipping cream. I could go on and on. It is so easy to eat healthy and quickly this time of year.

I don’t know about you, but as the mercury rises outside, I try to avoid the oven and keep the stove top going at a minimum. This keeps my kitchen routine simplified. Less time, less mess with big payoff. The natural and simple flavors of the summer bounty tantalize and satisfy.

It is a good time of year to take stock. We are at the annual half-way mark on the calendar year. How are those New Year’s Resolutions coming? Maybe it is time to revise the goals or the plans. No matter, it is definitely time to pause and reflect. Savor the season and slow down. Go to the beach and read with your toes in the sand. Set up that game of croquet or float around the pool. In our modern, plugged in twenty-four hour a day world, this is no longer a nice sentiment, it is essential for our mental health.

Each year I enjoy this break from the busy Spring and respite before the event filled Fall. One of these Summers I am going to figure out how to take this simplicity with me through the rest of the year. Then again maybe what makes Summer simplicity so special is that it is part of the cyclical pattern of my life. There are things I love about the other seasons as well and perhaps I would not appreciate Summer as much if it was never ending.

So grab a glass of iced tea or fresh squeezed lemonade and find a breezy spot in the shade. Close your eyes and commit the moment to memory. That way this Fall or Winter when you feel overwhelmed and harried you can recall this scene, take a deep breath and remember to simplify.

Forever Free

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The fourth of July is once again upon us. Signs of patriotism adorn our communities. We make plans to gather with family and friends for picnics and barb-e-ques. We top it off with fireworks, magical enough to turn a ninety year old into a nine year old for an enthralling hour.

We take our freedom often as a rather than a gift. We go about our daily lives oblivious that it could be any other way. Maybe that is an effect from our success as a democracy. We have few citizens who truly understand what it means to fight for that freedom. I am sensitive to this, having grown up in a military family. My undergraduate degree is in Political Science, primarily because of my love of country. I would argue my twenty-three years (so far) as a public school teacher would be my version of dedicated service to my country.

I am still like most of my fellow Americans. I enjoy the fruits of freedom without too much contemplation on the toil and care that makes that toil possible. So I was surprised when reading the book Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, that I found myself reflecting on freedom and what it truly means.

The book was a glimpse into cultures I have little understanding of. While there were some things to appreciate, like the value placed on family, there was much to make me very thankful to be born in the west, under the stars and stripes of freedom.

This book did more than make me thankful. It made me realize freedom needs to be cared for and cultivated lest it rots. It also got me thinking about how freedom does not mean anything goes or “easy street” for citizens. Freedom can be hard. It means options and choices, which require us to be thoughtful and discerning about those choices. It means we have to be respectful of those who don’t see things the same way we do and work for common ground, or at least a way to tolerate the difference. For Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who grew up indoctrinated against free thought or choices, freedom was a bit bewildering and she says tiresome. I got that. Sometimes don’t we wish someone would just make the decisions for us and just tell us what to do?

That unfortunately would be the unravelling of a democracy. We have freedoms and we enjoy the fruit. The price is to tend the garden by participating and voting. We have to think and make the hard choices. We need to recognize there is a battle for freedom going on in the world and our enemy is the easily named terrorists, but it also the taking for granted the very freedoms we should be vigilant to protect.

So while I will indulge in a hot dog and hopefully some fireworks, I plan to pledge anew my commitment to be forever free.

 

Beauty In The Everyday

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Monogrammed Handkerchief

Our modern world is filled with fast and disposable conveniences. From tissues, paper towels, and even one use dental floss picks.  While on the go or dealing with children these disposable items definitely have their value, yet I sometimes think the utilitarian qualities of these conveniences has taken some of the beauty of the everyday.

Take for example the lovely linen handkerchief I have shared here with its monogram and delicate design. Almost too pretty to consider using, right? Well, it may not be what I would want to soil while fighting a cold, but I would definitely use it for other everyday tasks and then launder it like a pro. It may seem like a simple thing, but by choosing to use this hanky I am saving the lives of trees. I’m also soothed by it’s beauty. This was not made by a machine, but by the loving hands of a family member. Pulling this out of my handbag reminds me of that connection. It brings a smile to my face. I can say with certainty that a paper towel or tissue has never done that.

I have long made a habit of packing a cloth napkin and real silverware in my lunch box each day. Yes, that is a sustainable, good for the world practice and I am glad of that, but that was not my motivation to begin that practice. I do it to add a bit of home and care into my workday. I enjoy the patterns and colors on the cloth napkins and I find they remind me to savor my lunch and pause in my day to appreciate the moment. the extra items in the laundry are a small price to pay.

If you have beautiful things, things that speak to you and have the power to brighten your day, I say use them. Not just for special occasions, but for the daily occasion of living. Adding beauty into the everyday takes very little effort with the big payoff of refreshing your soul as you move through our fast paced, high tech and disposable world.

I would like to think here in the South we are a bit better at practicing this, but even here modern life takes its toll. If we are mindful and take care to use beautiful items in our everyday we can insulate ourselves from the effects.

I dare you to serve Tuesday night dinner on the good china or treat yourself to a pleasing insulated mug to pour your work coffee into and ditch the throwaway cups. Be mindful of the beauty in everyday life.