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.

 

 

Saying Goodbye to the Season

 

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The door out to the garage

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

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!

For Love of Country

Fourth of July Early 1970's  Fort Belvoir Virginia

Fourth of July Early 1970’s Fort Belvoir Virginia

I am on vacation, visiting my parents in Virginia, just named the most patriotic state in the union.  So glad my beloved South Carolina ranked in the top ten.  The fourth of July is just two days away and I anticipate it much like a child anticipates Christmas.  I grew up in a military family, patriotism was a daily influence and Independence Day was the yearly celebration of all being a patriot stood for.  My daddy was an officer in the United States Army.  He was an engineer who served in Vietnam and held many command posts in his career including command of the First Engineer Battalion of the famed and storied Big Red One division.  I grew up on bases all around this country and even in Europe.  I thrilled at the tradition of Taps, the care of the flag and the soldiers in uniform.  Even today I am in awe of firework displays as if I were seeing them for the first time.  A patriotic song can stir my soul and even bring a tear to my eye.  One of the things I love about teaching school is the daily ritual of saying the pledge of allegiance and singing one of our many patriotic songs, You’re a Grand Old Flag being one of my favorites.  I use a lot of red white and blue in my decorating and I even have a box of July decorations I greet at the end of June like old friends.  I am grateful daily for the sacrifices of the many men and women who have served this country in and out of uniform.  I love our collective efforts to move our country forward, improving and striving for the ideals our forefathers set out in the constitution.  We can be a shining example for the world if we work together (If only congress understood that) and if we learn from the sins of our past. I must say Charleston was the shining example of this with the Mother Emmanuel Church Shooting, I am so proud of my community for that.  Some may call me an idealist for imagining the country and dare I extend my imaginings to the world as a place where all lives are respected and supported to reach their potential, all have their basic needs of food, shelter, safety and medical care met.  I also imagine a place where all are literate, educated and engaged in the communities in which they live. A place where the separation of church and state does not mean the absence of church but rather the tolerance for all religions and churches being free to worship without government interference and government be able to function without religion’s interference. This is one of the greatest themes from our forefathers.  In America we have a society where all this is possible, our example can be the light for the world.  Our forefathers loved this country so much they were willing to die for it.  I have ancestors on both sides that did their duty in the revolutionary war. Many of them were the children of men and women who came to the colonies in the 1600’s to seek religious freedom.  Also among my ancestors are a few immigrants who understood the promise America held and they left their homeland of Scotland and took a chance on a new life.  So after the parades, hot dogs and apple pie and amidst the fireworks and sparklers I plan to take a few moments and reflect on my love of this great nation and how I can do my part to continue to build her up towards our ideals. Celebrate the Fourth with enthusiasm and capture that spirit of hope to carry you through another year in the greatest country on the planet.

Inherited Gifts

We have many gifts that did not come wrapped in ribbons or stuffed in a stocking.  They came through our DNA.  Have you ever pondered where your innate talents and preferences come from? I’m not talking about the things you have cultivated through lessons and practice, but those things that came effortlessly the first time you tried them.  Somehow you felt like you had done that before or felt an unexplained connection.  Those gifts are from your DNA.  We tend to focus on the physical characteristics we inherited from family, “She has her father’s eyes . . . mother’s face.”  Sometimes we even recognize that we share the same temperament with a family member or make similar gestures.  However when it comes to interests and talents we tend to claim those as our own.  Sometimes we give credit to a family member for exposing us to something but I would argue our truly innate talents and heart stirring interests arise from the strands of DNA that were passed down through the ages and came together in the unique pattern to create you.  What is my evidence?  Well to start with, long before I came to understand that the majority of my dad’s family came Scotland, the sound of a bagpipe created a stirring in my soul.  I was drawn to teaching, both my Grandma Sawyer and Great Aunt Helen were teachers, way before I was born or my mother for that matter, married women and mothers did not work outside the home in their day.  Great Aunt Helen also ended up with a grand-daughter who made a career in teaching, both of us called to it (Could that be DNA sending the message?).  Have you ever been to a place for the first time and felt an instant connection?  Check your family history, you may have to dig a few generations back, but I would wager that place was significant in some family member’s life story.  I don’t have to dig back very far to find family with the gift of story telling.  I have no famous authors in my lineage, but I have multiple family members who were gifted in oral storytelling.  As a child I was entertained by their tales of tiny people who lived among us, the family of field mice and their adventures and the love story of Horace and Henrietta the seagulls who lived on the beach in Jonesport Maine.  They would spin these tales as if they had written them down, and I so wish they had.  As I got older they would tell me the stories of members of the family, loved ones called Doodie and Busty (No, I am not making them up) comical events (holding a fake funeral on the beach to celebrate a birthday) and inspiring stories of persevering through tragedy.  These were never just factual recounting, but entertaining and enthralling telling of family lore.  Being the branch of the family that traveled the world and this great country with the military, these tales helped me understand who I came from.  I would argue this need to story tell I have turned into writing novels was passed down in my DNA. Whether it is a talent, that will be up to my readers to decide, but I can tell you the drive for writing tales seems to be innately driven from within my soul (DNA?).  I have tried to keep this idea of inherited traits and gifts in mind as I have developed my character Addie.  She is my heroine in Pearls of Wisdom and three more books it will take to tell her story.  In these books you will get to know Addie and many members of her family, Especially her mother, grandmothers and a beloved great aunt.  I have developed these characters so the reader can see the DNA that makes Addie who she is.  Southern women are strong and independent, but they understand the importance of honoring the family that came before them and the gifts bestowed from their DNA. In this season of giving and receiving, ponder on the gifts that your ancestors have given you and if you are so blessed what you may have passed on to your children.

Gifts to treasure

Gifts to treasure

p.s. Wishing you all a joyous time with your loved ones, I am taking a short vacation and will post again January 9th.

The Sentimental Season

Each Christmas season I get giddy as I unpack my decorations and ornaments.  I greet them like they are old and treasured friends.  Some of my holiday treasures are Southern Living worthy and I have a fabulous collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art angels for my tree that my mother has gifted me with over the years, but there are two items in my collection that lack high style and would never be featured in a museum collection yet they are my most treasured.  One is a photo of my mother cradling me in her arms on my first Christmas.  Now I admit I do not remember the event, I was barely over a month old, but when I look at that picture I know I was and am loved and treasured. The second item is a plastic snow globe circa 1970? (I am guessing this, but I can not remember a Christmas without this snow globe) when I was very little I was in awe of the magical snow that swirled around inside.  These two items are also the only Christmas items I have in my home from my childhood, the rest of the treasured items are thankfully still in my parent’s decorations and I get to see them on the years we gather at their house.  So why am I waxing sentimental about holiday things?  As I was decorating and reflecting on years past I came to the conclusion that women in general and southern women in particular are raised to treasure things passed down in families, things that have a story or stories attached to them.  We treasure our grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s silver and linens.  We display pieces of willowware, crystal and works of art and we can tell you the provenance that goes with each piece.  I smile when I set the table with my grandmother’s silver and I think about her hands doing the same thing as mine, if I close my eyes I can imagine our hands are touching in that brief moment.  Now I can not claim to be born in the south or raised from childhood.  We were a military family that lived all over and my mother was raised in New England by a mother who was raised in Down East Maine, a special place on the upper coast of Maine, which when you take away winter, is very similar to the South Carolina Lowcountry  where I call home.  I have spent all of my teen years in the south, first in Virginia and then here in my beloved South Carolina and I think one of the reasons this place, Charleston, has felt like home since that hot and humid August 1986 is that similarity.  I suspect this sentimentality  to objects holiday or otherwise is born out of the practicality of  using passed down items whether Down East on in the Lowcountry.  That practicality has morphed into lovely traditions.  My characters are primarily southern women and it is important for me that this sentimentality is evident in their personalities.  I also find the stories behind items are a treasure trove for writing ideas. If you are ever stuck for an idea, take a stroll through an antique market and imagine the stories and lives from where all those objects come from and you will get what I mean.

So while I believe southern women are sentimental throughout all seasons, the Christmas season gives us license to be sentimental over plastic snow globes and faded photographs from 1968.  No matter what holiday you might celebrate I hope you hold treasures that take you back in time and touch your heart.

Treasures of Christmas Past

Treasures of Christmas Past