A Southern Shower

 

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The Front of the invitation I crafted for a friend’s shower

Some traditions are sacred to womankind and I like to think showering the bride is one of them. The bridal shower is a rite of passage. The gifts from any decade are intended to help set up a new household with style. Here in the south, that means oodles of monogrammed items from linens to glassware. The hostesses carefully select decor to integrate with the bride’s color scheme. The feminine touches of white, lace and flowers evoke membership in a truly special group, the company of women.

While we enjoy the mini-cupcakes, signature drinks, and the charming party favors, One friend made lovely jars of sugar scrub for all the guests, I think it is the continuity of the tradition that we find the most pleasing. The rhythm of life is confirmed every time we baptize a baby or hold a funeral for a loved one. Our celebrations of special occasions are milestones for the celebrant and welcome respites from the daily routine for those who are blessed to participate.

Isn’t it nice that life offers up occasions for us to pause, take stock, and count our blessings.? I found this shower to be sweet and relaxing. The aesthetic touches. from the candle in a large cream lantern on the table to the mason jars wrapped with burlap and raffia set the atmosphere. The women, most of whom have known each other for years, felt those bonds of friendship strengthened by our shared happiness for the bride. We oohed and aahed over the lovely linens, many of them monogrammed . We wrote messages of advice for the couple and made the traditional bouquet out of the ribbons off the packages. But mostly we enjoyed each other’s company.

What a gift we woman have in the company of other women, celebrating the beautiful moments in life together. What a blessing that the time-honored tradition of showering the bride is still alive and well.

 

 

Southern Girl Rule #5: A glass of Tea and Lunch with a Friend is good for your health

WP_20160329_001I was on spring break this past week and while I can not boast to any exotic time off in the tropics, or even packing a bag to go anywhere, I did indulge in one of  my favorite activities. Lunch out with a friend is not only something I truly enjoy, I think it is essential for my mental health.

I am fascinated when I do get to go out mid-day on a weekday and see what the rest of the world is up to. As a teacher, I have spent a whirlwind twenty minutes of dining on a packed lunch in the somewhat lacking environment of a primary school cafeteria. So on a teacher workday, or vacation days, I try to be a “lady who lunches” as often as possible. Teachers often feel isolated from other adults, even with colleagues down the hall and in rooms next door. My writing life is also a bit isolating. Let’s face it, you can’t be distracted by others when you are composing dialogue or plotting out the route your characters are going to take to get to the end you have envisioned. I was an only child, so I guess I have had plenty of training on how to be alone and be happy with my own company. I want to make clear, I am very happy on my own, but as we all know that adage, “No man is an island,” I think it is healthy to emerge and socialize now and again.

I do love people, and I have rarely regretted saying yes to a social invitation. I have written before on how important cultivating friendship is. Your true friends, are your touchstones.  They give you a reality check, they cheer you on and they give you strength when your reserves get depleted.

I do enjoy lunch with a group of friends, but there is nothing quite like sitting down with one treasured friend and sipping iced tea. (I wish mine could be sweet tea, but that is a health no-no for me). I have one dear friend who is a bit older than me and has been retired from teaching for several years. We meet for lunch regularly and I always leave with a smiling soul.  I love to listen to her talk, she grew up in Cheraw, South Carolina and her accent is distinctive. I love how we can tell each other anything without judgment. I treasure that friendship and I treasure the time to lunch, al fresco on a sweet spring day.

Southern Girl Rule #9: Girls night is a cure for what ails you

WP_20160305_001I am making up rules again, but I think this is a valuable one.  Friendship with other women should be cultivated. After all, if statistics bear out, women will be our companions more than men in our golden years.  Visit any retirement community and you will see the majority of the residents are women.  Women, simply put, outlive most men.

Women also tend to be more empathetic and get our need to just talk and share our thoughts. They do not try to fix our problems, they just let us unburden our brains.  Women in general are excellent listeners.  We also are generally givers so when we unburden we understand we will in turn be empathetic to the burdens of others.

I generally like to crash on a Friday night and snuggle in with something on Netflix, but this past Friday night I was asked to join in on a girls’ night out. My first reaction was to decline, it will be Friday  . . . I will be too tired, but I had been thinking lately about the importance of friendships in my life and here was an opportunity to make them a priority. So, I went with a group of women, six to dinner, with another two joining for a movie and then minus 1 for a drink afterward. I am so glad I did! My exhaustion was replaced with refreshed energy. I enjoyed the laughter. I loved spending time with familiar friends and getting to know a few new ones. When I finally crawled into bed, well past my average Friday night time, I fell easily to sleep, not a worry or a care on my mind.

Friendships feed our souls.  The give and the take help us grow and fortify us for the uncertainties of this life. Outside of family, friendships are the first relationships we form. Too many times as adults we neglect friendships as the responsibilities of work, marriage and children demand our time.  I think it is worth the effort to maintain old friendships and cultivate new ones, for someday you will retire, your children might live several states away and twenty-four-seven with your spouse might not be the healthiest thing for that relationship.

I have found my circle of friends to be the best sounding boards, cheerleaders and encouragers. I hope I have given that back to them. I love that I have friends that are still in my life after thirty years.  I also love that there always is room for new faces in my circle.

Only a few times in the course of life so far has a friend broken the bonds of friendship and I have felt those losses much more keenly than any of the romantic heartbreaks a man has wrought  It has been well over a decade since a man has broken my heart but unfortunately a  friend has broken it much more recently. Luckily many wonderful women rallied around and I recovered quickly. What a blessing!

So I urge you to cultivate those friendships and if need be, organize the girls’ night out. We women become better women with the love and support of each other.

Southern Girl Rule #15: See Your Personalized Wine Glass As Half Full

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My Personalized Wine Glass

Okay, I am making up the rules again, one of these days I might need to write down the rules as I see them and make them official, but for now just go with it. Rule #15 came to me as I opened what was described to me by the giver as just a little surcie.  I beg to disagree, this was a fabulous, thoughtful gift.

I have a friend at work who is always smiling. We don’t see each other much during the day as she works as a kindergarten assistant and our paths don’t cross much, but over the years we have developed a friendship and this past year we became Facebook friends. Through those crazy quizzes, which admit it, we all secretly enjoy, We have bonded, particularly when one quiz deemed her “Cutie” and me “Princess” so we have been to each other ever since.  I have discovered her great sense of humor and her big heart. Even when life has given her things to have sour grapes about, she radiates joy and optimism.

Which brings me back to my rule #22.  Life should be viewed as half full, not empty. Celebrate all that we have and look forward to the blessings yet to come.  This certainly makes life more enjoyable.  This should be practiced with your fabulous self shining for all to see.  So I fully intend to enjoy an adult beverage in princess glass and I might even slip on one of my tiaras while I do it.  For sure, each time I use this glass I will think of the fabulous “Cutie” LaSonya who’s warm soul brings sunshine and light into my kingdom. This “Princess” is truly blessed.

Three Fine Feathered Friends

Three feathered Friends Original painting by: Julie Allan

Three feathered Friends Original painting by: Julie Allan

A few weeks ago I had my thirteen year old “niece” (read my college best friend’s daughter) come and stay with me for a week. She has called me Aunt Julie for years and her mother and I are both only children, so I am the only Aunt she will ever have on the maternal side.  Our mornings were taken up with the summer program I work each June and she was my assistant.  So I tried to plan lots of fun things for us to do in the afternoons and evenings.  One of the local art studios in Mount Pleasant, Wine and Design, offers open studio times when you can go in an pick any painting of the wall and then attempt to recreate it, rather than the usual class where everyone paints the same thing. That really appealed to my creativity and I knew my niece would find something she liked as well.  I was immediately drawn to a painting of three birds, although the original color scheme was unappealing to me.  I have a slight obsession with birds, I love them in toile fabric, cast in metal and carved out of wood.  I get a thrill when I see the cardinals at the bird feeder in the garden or when I spy a hummingbird flitting among the flowers.  However well after I completed my painting and got it home I realized it was not just that the subject matter was birds, it was the fact they were a trio that had truly spoken to me.  I have an original work, not by me, of some very expressive cows standing at a fence hanging in my kitchen.  I fell in love with it immediately in an art gallery booth one summer.  My mother grew up on a farm with cows, they were a distant memory by the time I came on the scene, but their smell seemed to live on in my grandfather’s barn.  So we have had a few inside jokes in our family surrounding cows, some with squirrels too, but that is a whole other tale.  When I saw that cow painting, I saw my mama, daddy and me, my first and most important trio. Since it was just the three of us in my nuclear family, trio’s have always been an ideal configuration to me.  This is also one of the reasons why I fell in love with Nancy Drew books, she was the center of a trio, she was enhanced and complemented by her pals, Bess and George. In college I had two best friends, Mary Ann and Carla, we were a trio within our sorority.  When Mary Ann came and picked up her daughter at the end of the week, I showed her my painting and explained it was her, Carla and I.  It is amazing to me that for almost thirty years the three of us have maintained a friendship.  Every few years we get together for a girls weekend, usually at my house, after all who doesn’t love to come to Charleston?  We slip easily back together as if time has not passed since the last time, although I do notice the changes the essence of our trio seems eternal.  When I stop to think about it we three are completely different from each other.  We share very few if any interests, hobbies or even similar lifestyles.  We met when we pledged our sorority.  All three of us only children, all three of us blonde, but after that even then you would be hard pressed to find any other connections.  Yet we bonded, and I think enjoyed the fact we were so different from each other.  One of us brash and thriving on the wild side.  One of us preppy and living by Emily Post’s rules.  The third, shy and reserved, suited for the country.  I won’t tell you who is whom, but I bet you can look at the birds and determine by my feather color choices which bird represents which description.  Come to think about it, the three older ladies that are central characters in the trilogy I am writing are much like Mary Ann, Carla and I, though not consciously.  I  wonder if we will become like Lydia, Dale and Miss Virginia. Time will tell, I would like to think we will be friends in our golden years. For now I am content to still be part of a trio of fine feathered friends.

Feeding Souls

Casserole of Love

Casserole of Love

I have been making a lot of casseroles lately.  It seems many friends have need, they have suffered loss or are recovering from surgery and the happier event of having a baby.  While I am sure this is true in all communities, it is especially so in the south, any major life event calls for the offering of homemade nourishment, usually the more cheesy and bubbly the better. The true gift of these offerings is not what lies beneath the foil with baking instructions on top, but the tacit message that comes with.  You are loved, you are cared for, you are not alone, we grieve with you, we celebrate with you.  All this is conveyed  with each bite the recipients take in.  When you offer that casserole you are feeding the souls not just the bodies of the receivers.  I think authors, books and readers are like that too. An author pours a bit of their soul into their work, whether it is fiction or otherwise. While that work might not be written for a specific person, it can have a great impact if it comes in contact with the right person at the right time.  As readers we find books we connect to, that feed our soul, inspire us to grow.   I always know those books by the way they linger with me for days after I have read the last page.  I would like to think some of my work might touch a reader that way.  I definitely know a bit of my soul is poured into every story that bubbles up in my brain and spills out onto the page. I think if someone took away books or writing from me the affect would be similar to withholding food.  I need to write, even if I am the only one who sees the product.  I need to read, it allows me to travel in time, develop empathy for characters unlike me and wonder at the possibilities. Books have been feeding my soul for a lifetime.  Authors have given me gifts beyond the stories they have created.  I would love to hear what book or author has done this for you if you are so inclined to share.  The sharing of a book can be just as nourishing as that casserole of love.

Out of the tree of life . . .

Whenever I glance out my back windows into my garden this time of year my eye goes straight to this eastern redbud in all its spring glory.  Through my mind will float the lyrics from a classic Frank Sinatra song, “Out of the tree of life I just picked me a plum . . .”  Spring and Sinatra make me happy in general, but I find this year they are in contradiction to what is happening around me.  You see one of my dear friends has passed away after a very long but courageous battle with cancer.  She has left behind an adoring husband and two fantastic kids, the youngest only just turned seven.  Shouldn’t the tree be bare and the cold wind blow in a mournful cry?  How can the world look so fresh and green with such sadness?  Then I really thought about my friend and what a kind, loving person she was.  Her grace, faith and dignity carried her through her cancer.  She was a model southern girl, tied to tradition, effortless style and impeccable manners.  She was always smiling and had a wonderful sense of humor.  She was a loving wife, mother, sister, and friend.  Someday I will write a character in her name and in her honor, once I can create a character worthy of her memory.  I know she would tell me to look at that tree and sing that song. She would tell me to celebrate life.  Death like winter is a part of the cycle of life and spring reminds us with faith we have life beyond our time on this revolving planet around the sun.  I am grateful she is free of pain and I am blessed for having known her. We have no idea if our life on this earth will be short or long, regardless we should live each day with passion and purpose. Like the tree in my garden, bloom and take your moments in the sun. Like my friend, live each day with grace.

Tree of Life (eastern redbud in my garden)

Tree of Life (eastern redbud in my garden)

The blessings of a fifteen year old bluebird

Tonight I had an unexpected blessing, a lesson that was fifteen years in the making.  I need to preface this with the how easily I could have missed it.  This has been a full plate week, my normal crazy as the life of a first grade teacher, who tries to run a household and work on my second career as a writer, a bit of NaNo(National Write a novel month) pressure, this month has only one week left in it and I am painfully aware I most likely will be two or three chapters short of my goal. But things went way past my normal crazy, we had family math night, which I love doing but after a day of teaching followed by several hours of tutoring, left me no time to go home beforehand making my day in my school building fourteen hours on Tuesday (I wrote all of two sentences on Tuesday night).  Then on Wednesday we went on an outdoor field trip in record breaking cold courtesy of the polar vortex (did that exist in our childhood, I don’t remember it) and that was followed by two hours of professional development and then dinner out with friends to celebrate a 50th birthday (enjoyed every minute!).  Thursday we had class pictures and a school wide special event of a parade of nations (all of us in costumes) to light the cauldron to kick off field day games that would commence today, Friday.  That was followed by my once a month Bunco group (again I enjoyed every minute).  Friday rolled in and I stopped at Starbucks to fortify myself, it was field day and Spirit day (did I mention this week was also our annual Clemson Carolina food drive, culminating in spirit day, we do allow students to wear other sports teams, this irks me a bit, after all if you become a resident of South Carolina, you should pick a side and honor local tradition, but I digress). At 3:30 p.m. I had my car packed with my Thanksgiving break homework, and in my orange tiger paw shirt headed out to the last thing on the schedule, a reunion of sorts.  I was tired and I was tempted to skip it.  After all the people I was going to see were people I worked with my first seven years of teaching and I had not worked with them for the past 15 years.  But this was not just a random gathering of some old acquaintances, one of our circle is going through a difficult time with a husband suffering from a debilitating and fatal disease, this has brought some financial struggles for them and their girls, we had been asked to bring gift cards for groceries, gas and other such things, how could I not go.  So I crossed multiple bridges and made my way there. Some of the women I saw I have seen randomly over the past fifteen years, some not at all.  Immediately my fatigue melted away and was replaced with warmth and love for these women, many who mentored me as a green teacher.  I was touched at the outpouring of support for our former coworker.  I enjoyed our fellowship over food and sharing memories from the years we were part of each other’s lives. Before we parted we took a group photo and also held hands in a circle and prayed.  On the drive home I reflected on this group of diverse and remarkable women and I realized this is why I like to write southern women characters.  When I arrived home well after sunset I turned on a light and my eyes fell on the glass bluebird that you see in the photo with this post.  This is the bluebird of happiness, presented to me when I left that first school, one was presented to each  of us when we left, with  the promise of a forever friendship with those we were parting from. Aah . . . grasshopper . . . now I understand!

A lesson 15 years in the making.

A lesson 15 years in the making.