Lesson In The Kitchen

WP_20160615_001

Veggie Sauté, all local produce

I have struggled this week to write a blog post. The heavy feelings of all that has transpired in Orlando compounded with the one year anniversary of what happened here in Charleston gave me pause. Do I address what is happening in the world and how do I do that in a way that adds anything to what has already been said? Do I write a random blog post this week about southern life or writing and ignore current events?

I have mulled it over for several days as I have gone about the business of living. Last night I was standing at the stove sautéing up a skillet of fresh local veggies, white beans, rainbow chard, onion, and orange cherry tomatoes. I should add I don’t normally take photos of my cooking, but the colors were so lovely and I wanted to show it to a friend who had brought me most of the local produce I was cooking.  Facebook and the news have been plastered with rainbow images to message love over hate in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting. Last night, which was a Wednesday night, the Charleston A.M.E. Mother Emmanuel had a memorial bible study and a double rainbow formed in the sky arcing over the church. The image went viral, at least locally. So this morning my thoughts finally came together.

These are my thoughts and the lessons I gathered this week. First, love begins at home. We have to practice our tolerance and love with the people we live with and in our communities each and every day. Unity and respect are part of our daily stand, not just expressed for a few weeks after a tragedy. Second, the diversity and differences among us is what makes us a vibrant community and nation. When I was gazing into that skillet, each vegetable added to the pleasing composition of color and texture. If it had just been a skillet of chard, it would have been less appealing and less nutritious. Each one of us brings strengths and contributions to the whole. Finally, I was moved by Charleston native Stephen Colbert, when he said in his monologue that love is a verb. Words are only words unless they lead to action. It can be a physical action, volunteering and helping or it can be a change in your attitude and treatment of others.

Just like my skillet of diverse veggies made my body healthier and stronger, A community and a nation filled with a rainbow of people is also stronger and healthier. So my take is that no matter the colors of our skin, or orientation, or religious beliefs, if we use love as the glue to bind us together, we create the beauty of the rainbow and a bond that hate can never break.

Recapture Your Sandcastle Days

Scan_20160522 (2)

Me on the beach in Italy circa 1971?

 

 

Another summer is upon us and I for one can hardly wait!  I am blessed to live by the beach, so I can go anytime, but there is something about a weekday in the Summer that seems so indulgent. Those of you who read this blog regularly know that besides being a writer I am a first grade teacher and frankly at this point in the year, I am beyond exhausted. Fortunately Summer gives me time to recoup, so I can burn the candle at both ends for the next school year.  I do work in the summer, but part-time. My writing, well that seems to be a three-hundred-sixty-five, twenty-four hour a-day kind of job (and I love every minute of it!).

The beach is the best place for me to refill my tank. I love going out on a Tuesday morning, with my chair, a great book and plenty of refreshments. The crowds are less, along with the traffic and I get the sensation I got away with something.

In my book The Eyes Have It, my main character Lizzie also turns to the beach to find solace and strength. She also has the advantage of a dock looking out to the water and marsh, another spot for thinking and healing (An advantage of living a fictitious life!).

In Chapter Four, she spends some time on the beach at the Isle of Palms, just trying to make sense of what has been happening in her life and find her bearings. I took this opportunity to express my philosophy on the beach as her observation as she walked along and I offer it here as a quote from my pages. “All looked content with life, that was the balm the beach gave, it didn’t matter what life was like off the sand, on the sand you were free, transported back to sandcastle and Popsicle days, the endorphins from the sun and the soothing lullaby of the waves.”

I have so many childhood memories of the beach. The picture up above is me as a preschooler, soaking up the beach in Italy. I was lucky enough to spend first through third grade living in Hawaii, (My daddy was military) and I still dream of a place called Bellow’s Beach on Oahu as my ideal beach vacation. Think wood floor cabins with the trade winds blowing through, slamming screen doors taking you steps away to the beach.

I plan to indulge in the beach at least once a week this summer and I encourage you to seek it out or at least a water view of some sort. See if you can sooth your soul. I might even enjoy a popsicle!

Oh, deer. . .

Scan_20160327 (2)

Me, in the 1970’s in deep conversation with a deer

 

For as long as I can remember I have always loved deer. I am sure Bambi cemented the idea that they are noble and intelligent creatures in my mind. I have also had an affinity for all of God’s creatures, the exception, reptiles. (Sorry, but I am fearful and just can’t find them cuddly, though I do like the little lizards and frogs and toads from a distance) from an early age.

So it is understandable that I still get excited when creatures like deer, birds and butterflies come to visit my garden. In fact my plant selection in the back, in part, has been to support the bees and the butterflies.  My backyard is fenced in, but I back onto woods, so I purposefully had the fence along the back low, to integrated the woods into my view. The deer love this. For them it is easy in and easy out.

I have had a regular doe for the past few years as a visitor.  I am not sure she is the same doe each time, but I like to think so.  I named her Genevieve and I fancy she represents the spirit of my Grandma Sawyer, who also liked to spy the deer from her windows. My two golden retrievers love her too. They never bark, but sit enraptured at the back door, noses pressed against the glass and tails wagging.  They would love to frolic with her, but she is not as keen on the idea.

In fact some mornings, as I am up before the crack of dawn, she is grazing and I have to put up the window and talk to her.  I say things like, “Good morning Genevieve, I need to let the dogs out. Can you come back later?”  She always pauses, calmly looking at me while I speak. Then she nods her head and with ease, walks over to the back fence and hops over.  The dogs of course race off to the fence hoping to glimpse her. This scenario has played out many times, so I don’t think it is a fanciful coincidence.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the human part of the world, we forget we share this planet with many other creatures. It is a humbling reminder to pause and appreciate the great web of life and ponder the fact we are just one part of it.  One of my favorite hymn’s has that line “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small. All things wise and wonderful, the  Lord God made them all.” ( Cecil Frances Alexander).

So I urge you to appreciate all of the creatures that cross you path, honor and respect them as a fellow creature. There may be a bit of a Dr. Doolittle in you too.

Brand-new Heirloom

WP_20160122_006

Keeping Box handcrafted by my Daddy and given for Christmas 2015

The title of this blog post at first glance might be considered an oxymoron, but I urge you to ponder the idea that something might earn the status heirloom if it meets certain criteria.

My daddy has been a woodworker from as long as I can remember.  No matter where we lived he managed to find a place for a workshop and always seemed to have a project in the works.  When I was a young girl he built a Swiss chalet dollhouse for me and I remember sitting and watching, the smell of fresh sawdust swirling around. To this day that warm woodsy smell brings back happy memories of my childhood and my daddy.

In recent years when I visit my parents, I often hear the power saws and occasional banging travelling up through the floor of the family room from his meticulously kept basement workshop.  One Christmas I asked for and received a jigsaw and he supervised my building of a dog bowl holder, complete with bone shaped handles I cut out on the side pieces.  He also taught me how to use a compound miter saw and when I got one of my own, I tackled window trim and crown molding for my home. I have been blessed with a skilled teacher.

However when my mother and I were presented with similarly wrapped packages this past Christmas, I had no idea I was unwrapping a handcrafted keeping box complete with a removable tray and a divided storage section underneath.  Both the tray and the drawer at the bottom of the box are felt lined.  Mama’s was slightly bigger, but she has way more jewelry than I do.  I admired the wood, the dovetailed joints and the paneled lid.  I was in awe of the time and thought that went into the building.  Neither my mother or I had requested a keeping box, he thought about us and what we might appreciate.

So what would the criteria be to make something an instant heirloom?  I would suggest the top of that list would be handcrafted.  Other factors are if the piece in question is made with care and consideration for the recipient.  Is it something that can be handed down with the story of who made it?  Is it something to treasure?

This keeping box meets all that criteria in my opinion. It is now on the short list of what must be taken in a hurricane evacuation.  I chose to put the jewelry pieces I use most in it so that I would use it on a daily basis.  That way I appreciate my daddy each day and am reminded of the love he has for me.

The Practice of Joy

WP_20151129_001

Part of my Christmas Light Display

Joy can seem elusive for some folks.  Is it the epitome of happiness?  Is it fleeting and rare?  I used to think so.  I once thought joy was something that happened to you at the special moments in life and while I  definitely have felt joy in those moments I have come to realize joy is attainable on a daily basis.  The secret? You have to practice.

 My boss a few years back when things were particularly stressful would remind the staff to practice joy and would even sign off his weekly missives and emails with negative news, practicing joy!  I would chuckle, which did bring a smile to my face, not so sure I felt joy. He used it so often it became a bit of a joke around the staff. It was bantered back and forth as frequently as good morning. After all how could we find joy in furloughs, deep scrutiny of job performance or extra work expectations (not from him but from the district or state level)?  Really what he was saying was if you adjust your reaction and attitude it will get better.

As I have written before, the loss of signifigant people in my life close together caused me to have what Oprah would call an “aha” moment. In that moment I made joy a choice and began to practice it in earnest.  Daily joy takes work at first, especially because the rest of the world is not necessarily on board. Daily trials and tribulations big and small, still lurk around every corner. By adjusting my attitude and choosing to react to negative people and situations with love and compassion, everyday life became more joyful.  The ordinary became extraordinary. The mundane tasks in life became more enjoyable.  Joy became part of daily life, not just fleeting moments in life.

I’d like to think I am a better person for it and perhaps my joyful approach will help someone else experience daily joy. I am not saying I no longer experience sadness, anger, or disappointment, I am human after all, but these emotions are the ones that have become fleeting.  Now I feel as if my joy is my suit of armor, protecting me as I move through life, allowing me to deflect the negative emotions with greater skill.

The Christmas season is a natural time for Joy it is in the sentiments on our cards and we feel it in our hearts when we give to others.  Here is the challenge, let this season be the launch pad for your own practice of joy and then carry it forward with you into the new year.  What do you have to lose?  Just the negatives.  Daily joy can make a significant difference in how you feel and how you view the world.  So, I wish you joy each and every day. I am off to spend gobs of money on car repair, (ugh!) but I am looking forward to sitting in the waiting area, sipping a latte and reading a good book practicing joy!

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.

Kicking Into High Gear

The outward sign of my internal awakening

The outward sign of my internal awakening

I have been in the midst of a transformation of sorts.  For friends who have known me a long time, they will recognize it as my once a decade tendency to shake things up.  I did it in my 20’s and my 30’s so it should not come as a surprise it is happening again in my 40’s.  The catalyst this time, too many deaths in a short period of time.  It made me stop and think about what I have done with my life so far, but more importantly what I want to do with my life going forward.  After all I can’t change what has past, but the future is full of possibility. I have often said I plan to live to be 100, I recently changed that to 108, I have decided I want to see America’s 300th birthday, after all I remember the 200th, the summer before my 8th birthday.

So what do I want the next 61 years to look like?  I am not completely sure, but I do know I want to fill each day with people who matter not things.  I want to travel again, I used to do a lot more of it.  I want to spend more time doing social things with fun and interesting people and treasure the tried and true friends of which I am blessed to have many. I want to be a light in the world,  give more than I take, to see the best in others and celebrate the blessings that are in the everyday. I want to forgive and be forgiven, I want to meet all challenges with love, compassion and can-do spirit. The really beautiful thing about transforming this time Is being over forty which brings with it the advantage of being comfortable in my own skin.  I have re-lit my inner light, I don’t think it really went out, it was just down to a flicker because I did not tend it.  Lately it seems it has gone from a lone candle to a roaring bonfire.

The outward signs are new clothes, refreshed make-up and the joy I am told I emanate on a daily basis, despite anything negative that swirls around, professional or personal. Even my boss has complimented me on my attitude. My new red boots are a symbol of the inner confidence and positive attitude I feel. How I came to get them is a bit of serendipity.  I came upon them quite by chance, fell immediately in love and then it got even better, a sale and an extra discount just available that day! I swear I could hear Darius Rucker singing in my head. If ever a girl was meant to have a pair of boots . . . pure serendipity.

I am still grounded by my values and my faith, I would even say my faith has given me the freedom to transform to be more and the assurance the path to do so will be travelled with me by my better angels.  The future holds great things, hopefully a writing career to transition into as my teaching years eventually draw to a close (sometime in the next decade). But more than a career path or the gains the future holds, I want to make sure I don’t lose what this moment in time has given.  I do not want to slip back into complacency by going through the motions or settling for less than what is possible.  Each day is a gift whether I have a few more or thousands more to live.  I want to put on my red boots, walk with some sass in my step and kick myself forward.  So grateful for this wondrous life and the opportunity I have each day to live it fully with love.

Happy Fall Y’all!

My Front Door. Welcome!

My Front Door. Welcome!

I have had mixed feelings about autumn my whole life.  Summer is my favorite season, so naturally I am not thrilled when it comes to an end.  The days get shorter, and I love the sunshine.  Halloween  is a big part of fall and even as a kid I did not like it much, I was afraid of the dark and anything scary, can’t say I am much better about those things now. I do enjoy the cute things like the smiling Jack-O-Lanterns and the friendly ghosts and of course making things fun for the kids. I don’t care for the time change, why can’t we just leave things like that alone?  Surely I am not the only one who thinks this. On the other hand, my birthday comes in November and it has always been the kick off to the holiday season to me. Thanksgiving is another autumn tradition I look forward to. Not that I care much about the meal,  unless I am cooking it, then I am all about expressing my love through culinary magic for those gathered around my table.  I love any holiday that brings people together and causes us to  pause and celebrate the blessings we have and the loved ones in our lives.  I am a warm weather girl, but I can appreciate a crisp fall day and I like when our highs are the low seventies and nights are in the fifties.  I like lighting a fire in the fireplace or a bonfire with friends, and of course here in South Carolina it is time for oyster roasts to start back up. The lovely colors of the leaves in November are something I have come to look forward to.  When I really examine my thoughts on fall, I have come to recognize it is about attitude.  I can look at fall as a time of darkness or I can see it as part of the cycle of the year with its own beauty and filled with the light of fires and candles and warm ovens,  After all my personal cycle of life began on a cold November night and I have always felt warmth and light in my life no matter what the season.  So bring on the early sunsets and even the creatures of All Hallowed’s Eve, I will be brave (maybe with a nightlight) and look forward to All Saint’s day, marking the beginning of another year of this beautiful life and prepare to trot with the turkeys before sitting down to a thankful table.  Happy Fall Y’all!

Roll With The Tide

The waves on Isle of Palms, South Carolina

The waves on Isle of Palms, South Carolina

This past Saturday I went out to the beach for a walk.  I often do this but I particularly enjoy this time of year, when the temperature is moderate and the bulk of the tourists are gone.  I love to walk and reflect sometimes alone, sometimes with a friend and even though a walk on the beach can’t solve the world’s problems or mine for that matter, I always leave the beach happier than when I arrived. This Saturday I had many things on my mind, from my fellow South Carolinian’s  who have suffered in the floods, specific friends who have shared their burdens with me and the night before I learned my mother’s best friend’s son had passed away after a battle with cancer. I did not know him well, both he and his brother were quite a bit older than me, but I have fond memories of when he was in chef school bringing over his professional knife set to teach my mama and I about them.  I also have memories of our two families getting together over the years for various holidays and meals.  I ache for his mama, she has been his primary care giver these last months and a few years ago she lost her husband to cancer as well. I prayed for her as I walked along.

When I look out at the ocean I am always struck by its vastness and in correlation my smallness in world. Yet I find the ocean as a strong connecting force between me and this creation we live in.  The water in the ocean is soothing and calming to the soul, in such contrast with the record-breaking rain and flood waters that have turned so many lives in my beloved state upside down.  Yet despite that upheaval I keep hearing story after story of hope, faith and goodwill much like after the church shooting this summer and my heart fills. South Carolinian’s rise to the occasion and set the loving example at every challenge.  As I thought about all these things I realized I had reached Breech Inlet (For non-locals, that is the water that separates the barrier islands of Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s) and I had started at the pier, the only way back was the way I had come.

So I turned around and focused my thoughts on prayers for those unknown to me but suffering in this world and to those known to me and who I love.  I was passing by a trio of children playing with an object in a newly forming tidal pool, the current was swirling and two of the children were frustrated that they could not get the object to go where they wanted it to go. The third child said, “Hey, guys it is going to go where the current wants it to go.”  That innocent comment was an “Aha” moment in my thoughts.

If like me you believe we have a divinely directed life path, then you understand that despite detours we might take, or road blocks we encounter we end up where we are meant to in the end.  That path is directed by an unseen current, a tide if you will.  We get in trouble when we try to fight that tide with our fears, doubts or when we listen to naysayers instead of listening to our hearts (That is where I believe the divine speaks to us). Doesn’t it make much more sense to feel out the divine current that is guiding and us and float with it?  As I reached the pier again and made my exit from the beach, I felt renewed and calm. I took one last look over the water and some sunlight danced and dazzled over the waves, what a gift to live by the ocean!  I plan to just roll with the tide, I have faith it will take me where I am meant to be.

Enchanted Evening

A Thursday Night at Home

A Thursday Night at Home

This past Thursday night I was blessed to spend a few hours with two of the best kids ever (I fully admit I am biased here). It happened to be the eve of the anniversary of the 9-11 tragedy, that still brings tears to my eyes and ache to my heart fourteen years later and I honestly hope it always will.  Otherwise it will cease to be a reminder that we do have a choice to make the world a better place, to not allow the evil in the world to win. After the kids and their adorable puppy went home, I got on Facebook and read many touching posts about honoring those lost on 9-11 and it got me thinking about what is a meaningful way to honor them.  There are grand gestures, donations to charities and moments of silence among many options, but I would like to offer the thought that while remembering on the anniversary is honorable and respectful, perhaps how we live our lives the other days of the year are equally important.  There are a few things I believe wholeheartedly: One, We can not live in fear or the terrorists win. Go out, travel, participate in the world. Two, Love can and will triumph over the evil in this world. And third, making this world a better place is more about daily living, the way we treat others and the attitude we choose to take, than about the grander events that are newsworthy.  Having said that I would like to share with you the enchanted evening I spent with these precious young souls and what I learned.  While I prepared  a meal of a  from scratch Alfredo sauce and tortellini and peas and pancetta, the kids worked on homework and played with the three dogs who were having a blast on their own playdate. We sat down to the table and I shared a blessing from a book of blessings before we broke our bread.  After cleaning up dinner we did some more schoolwork, the older one asking for extra practice with multiplying and dividing integers and I quickly found some worksheets on line (Is that not a dream student who asks for extra homework? The teacher in me was thrilled!). After quizzing the younger one on continents and oceans we had ice cream and set up the board game Clue. While the twelve year-old and I battled our deductive reasoning skills, the seven year old paraded around the house in my high heels.  Throughout the evening we laughed, shared our thoughts and just enjoyed each others company.  If these two are a representative sample of the generation of the future, I believe we are in good hands. None of the things we did that night were extraordinary, but they should be treasured just the same.  9-11 on a grand scale reminded the world how precious life is, even the every day activities of homework, dinner and play.  Before 9-11 many people took the daily blessings like spending such an evening for granted.  For a short time after, they vowed to change that, I would venture to guess many after a time, allowed busyness and other priorities to creep back in, we are all guilty of taking the everyday for granted.  This particular evening reminded me to guard against that.  Despite working all day, spending my evening this way fed my soul and revitalized my spirit, what a blessing!  I look forward to many more enchanted evenings with my loved ones reveling in the ordinary and wish for you the same.