Shared Blood, Shared Love

 

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My cousin Susan and I somewhere off the coast of Maine Early 1970’s.

I have five cousins, three on my mother’s side and two on my father’s side. But only one close to my age. My cousin Susan is a little over two years older than I am, the rest are many years older or many years younger. As an only child, I was fascinated by the fact she had siblings. She is the closest to a sibling I will ever have.

Growing up in a military family,  we only saw each other every few summers and several Christmases but the time together is vivid in my memory. I worshiped her as older, I was jealous of her for living way closer to our grandparents and, I loved those magical times when it was the two of us connected and conspiratorial.

One Christmas, we convinced out Papa to let us cut down a small tree from his property and put it in the bedroom we were sharing. We decorated it and tried to convince everyone we should get up at five a.m for Christmas morning.

There were summers searching for sea glass in the coves of small islands off the coast of Maine. Trips to the beach and lots of boating. There was the two of us in our Laura Ashley dresses for our grandparent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary.

We did not always see eye to eye, I am sure sometimes I came off as the pesky younger cousin to entertain when she would rather be with her friends, like in middle school and high school. Then there was that time I got frustrated following her lead in our play and I dropped the piano key covers down on her hands. I instantly regretted it and I think it was the only time I did something mean-spirited towards someone, I imagine much like a sibling. That one moment still flashes in my mind whenever I want to lash out at someone in anger and it keeps me from acting.

As we have led our adult lives living in different states, our lives have been more apart than together, but this summer we made the effort to reconnect. For me, it was a renewal of that bond we have through blood and our shared love of water. We had this reunion at her beach house in Nags Head.

I was reminded of how little family I have and how I need to take more care to nurture those bonds. I have always lived far from family, so it seems natural, but as we age and especially as we see our parent’s age, we need each other more than we used to. After all, family shares a narrative unique to them.  Simply put she is truly the only one in our generation who knows our story.

I hope we will continue to make the effort to see each other more often. We both have property near beaches and there are plenty of them between us. Salt water and blood flow through us and our shared history. That with love will be the tie that binds.

 

 

A Glass Ceiling Not To Break

 

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The glass ceiling in my parent’s conservatory

This is not a politcal piece or a feminist piece, so if that is what you are expecting from the title you might be disappointed. This is about the magic of a glass ceiling. A canopy with a view.

I’m currently at my parent’s house, a mostly annual summer visit. I enjoy spending time with them and in the beautiful part of Virginia in which they reside. It is a respite from the daily grind and the dogs and. I love the hilly two-mile route we take for our morning walks.

I especially enjoy the glass room on the back of the house that my parent’s refer to as the conservatory. The ceiling and the walls on three sides are glass. Within those three glass walls are many windows that can open and the space also has a heating and cooling unit, so it truly can be used year-round.

The light in the conservatory is bright but filtered by a great canopy of trees that hang overhead. I love to lay on the sofa out there and strare up between the branches to catch sight of the blue and the clouds floating by. If this were my house I would be tempted to make this my writing studio.

The room feels airy and tree-house like. The light changes as the day passes and you feel connected to the nature that surrounds the space. Squirrels sometimes drop nuts on the roof and that an be a little unsettling, but I love watching the birds, especially the cardinals that flit among the branches and the bird feeder.

This is a room that calms and soothes. It is also a great place to take a nap. I’d like to say I have done some incredible writing in this space, but I have to admit I like to just be in there and daydream or read. Perhaps if I got to enjoy it more than a week each year, I might be able to get down to business in there.

We all need a space in our homes that is a respite from the world. A place to recharge and spark our creativity. At home I would say my room I call the library (because it has tall bookcases full of books and two leather chairs) is that space. Although I find the beach and the waterways through the lowcountry to be powerful places to rejuvenate and inspire.

Here under this canopy of glass I can’t help but feel all is right with the world.

This is one glass ceiling I hope will never be shattered.

 

 

If you cross the line, tap the roof!

 

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Tapping the roof at the South Carolina/North Carolina Border

A number of years ago I traveled with some of my Charleston friends to Sewanee, where two of our newly wedded friends were attending the Episcopal seminary. It was a memorable trip for a variety of reasons.

For one, road tripping with friends is always an adventure and it was enjoyable sharing the journey. It was a glorious fall weekend and the scenery was spectacular. We also attended a soul stirring service on campus. But the most memorable part of the trip was learning about a custom practiced by those who travel to and from Sewanee. When you leave campus, you tap the roof to summon your guardian angel to travel with you. The idea is that Sewanee is a little piece of heaven so when there you are protected, but out in the big wide world, a little extra protection is needed.

This struck me as a charming tradition and I adopted it as a personal custom when I travel. Now I suppose to some this may mark me as eccentric, but I’m okay with that. Aren’t we all eccentric to some degree? Plus writers should be even more so. Of course I don’t live on the hallowed ground of Sewanee, but I do live in the hallowed state of South Carolina. The lowcountry has a beauty I would equate with Eden, and the people of South Carolina have loving, beautiful souls, just look at how we handled the Mother Emanuel shooting. We are not a perfect people and there are ugly things in our past, but we continue to grow and improve by loving our fellow citizens.

Okay, you know I love South Carolina, it is my little piece of heaven on earth. So, back to my personal custom. When I leave South Carolina, at the border in the car, or as the plane takes off, I make the sign of the cross and tap the roof. I suppose on the plane I really tap the underside of the storage compartment, but that will have to suffice, I don’t mind being eccentric, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m crazy by standing up on an airplane and jumping up to tap the roof.

My guardian angel safely on-board, I roam away from home with some peace of mind. I also have a return tradition. When I re-enter South Carolina, I kiss my finger tips and tap the roof, telling my guardian angel thank you and take a break, we are home.

 

First Bloom

 

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First ever bloom on Baby Magnolia, discovered June 4th.

 

Back on May 15, 2015, I posted a blog titled, Magnolias, Progress and Patience. It was about how eight years prior a friend had dug up a seedling, basically a stick with two leaves and gave it to me to plant in my backyard. By 2015 it was full of leaves, yet till no blooms and I connected that to the birth of my writing career, progress slow and steady, but not published.

Here we are in 2017 and Baby Magnolia is ten years old and we have our first bloom, I see another one has developed since the weekend and I can’t help but smile. Patience does pay off. Again, I see a correlation with my writing career. I too have first bloom.

Although I have been a closet writer for a good part of my life, I didn’t get serious about it until 2014. Granted I have had a full, passionate and fullfilling career as an educator and I would never trade those years or wish them to finish prematurely, no matter what happens in the writing, teacher will be one of my labels for four to six more years. Of course if you ask me about it when the alarm goes off at five a.m., I will tell you I really look forward to the label retired teacher.

I say I got serious abut writing in 2014 because that is the year I consulted a professional and committed to a blog. It was also the year I wrote my first novel for publishing, I had written a few others, just for fun and not for public consumption. In 2015, like Baby Magnolia I had grown. I had proven myself disiplined enough to publish a weekly blog, but I was unsure of the next steps of getting my book, The Eyes Have It out into the world.

I had not bloomed. Then came 2016. I published two books last year and they did better than I had anticipated as an unknown author in a world full of books. I was encouraged. Perhaps when I retire from teaching, a writing career for an encore is a viable option. To keep the metaphor going I would say I finally produced a bud.

Here we are in June of 2017, book three is a short time from launch, books one and two are performing well and I, like Baby magnolia, appear to have a full bloom on the branch. I like to think years from now, both of us will be full of blooms.

Time, patience, persistence and most off all doing the work, those are the key ingredients to grow a career, no matter what field it is in. My wish for my students is that they grow up to live and work with purpose and fullfillment. If we follow our passions and focus on  culitvating a career and a life that contributes to our community and brings  joy to ourselves (Note I said joy and not money), then we ultimately bloom.

So, here we are with the first bloom. It is a reassuring sign to keep the faith and keep going. Plant those seedlings in your life, with a little care and patience you will be rewarded.

The Co-existing of Endings & Beginnings

 

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The Hwy 41 Old and New Bridge

A while ago I posted a picture of the small bridge right before the beginning of construction of the new bridge and wrote a blog about the loss of the charm in the name of progress.

The days of driving across the old bridge and feeling connected to the water are numbered. I am still a little sad about that, but I’m ultimately a practical person, much like my Grandmother Sawyer, I see little point of crying over what is done, if you don’t move along with the times, you get left behind in the dust. I believe getting caught in too much nostalgic thinking leads to early old age. Grandma lived to be 100 and she moved with the times exceptionally well for someone born before World War I.

Last weekend I was lucky enough to have my friends the Martins, invite me out on their boat for a cruise under the bridges, down the Wando and out into the Charleston Harbor and back. I can appreciate how the new bridge means no longer worrying about tide level and if your boat will be able to get under it or not.

This got me thinking about how old or new, things have their positives and their negatives. I also reflected how even as something comes to an end, there is rarely a void, the new, or the beginning overlaps or abuts the end.

I find this very apt in my teaching life, as I along with a chunk of our current staff are leaving our current school home to open a new school built nearby to alleviate overcrowding and serve new neighborhoods. There are positives and negatives, the negatives are primarily people I have to leave behind, fellow staff and families I won’t be able to teach their younger ones. However, some families are moving with me, as they live in the new attendance zone and I am moving with a principal and fellow staff, people I truly respect and love.

I’m still a little surprised to be making this transition. When we opened up Laurel Hill 12 years ago, I had believed that was the school I would retire from. At that time we had split from Pinckney due to overcrowding creating a k-2 school across the parking lot from what became the 3-5 school. It was exciting to migrate with my tribe and establish a new community. I am excited to be part of forming a new school community again.

It’s interesting times to be in the place where one phase is ending and one is beginning. Things are happening simultaneously and I find myself more reflective than usual. My emotions are in full swing and I am mentally and physically exhausted all at the same time. But I know from experience, this transition will bring growth and movement forward. This new school will be the final one in my career, I can say that because the transition from teaching into a full-time writing career is in sight, four to six years to be more exact. It will be three years from now before I will be able to commit to what it will be.

This new school will be the final one in my career, I can say that because the transition from teaching into a full-time writing career is in sight, four to six years to be more exact. It will be three years from now before I will be able to commit to what it will be. That is a transition I look forward to and also feel sad about at the same time, but I will have time to prepare and adjust to the idea.

So as the current endings bridge to the new beginnings, I have to cry a little and smile a lot, Moving forward is the road I must travel. New is not necessarily better, but it is a chance to refresh.

Forward, onward, upward, whichever you choose, I wish you movement in your life.

 

Southern Girl Rule #2: Ladies have lovely lips.

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My growing collection of Lipsense products

Rule two has two parts. part one, what goes on your lips and part two, what crosses your lips.

Part one I’ll admit has always been a hard one for me, that is until my co-worker Amber introduced to me to a lip product I can’t destroy in minutes. I had a love-hate relationship with lipstick. I loved the colors and how polished wearing lipstick made me feel, but I hated how it ended up on my teeth, my glass etc. and was basically off my lips within twenty minutes of me applying it.

This lip product stays put all day and never leaves marks on anything, so I can kiss and not tell. I have become a major fan. Southern women know it’s important to leave the house put together even for a short run to the market. Lipstick can give the illusion of put together without having to do up your whole face. So part one of rule two I can follow with fidelity.

While lipstick is fun and girly it is not the important part of rule two. My friend Rachael who taught kindergarten and now pre-school has a saying that I have adopted and use with my students on a regular basis. “If it isn’t lovely, it doesn’t leave your lips.”

If only the world, particularly the political world would follow this simple rule, perhaps respect would grow and things might actually get accomplished. I am not advocating for women to be meek and un-opinionated, rather that we speak our thoughts with kindness and respect.

The most beautiful lips in the world will become the ugliest, if the words that cross them are cruel. With careful thought we can express strongly opinions, disagreements etc. in a way that doesn’t disparage the person we are conversing with. Empathy and compassion should be the screen through which our words are filtered.

So put on that Goddess, or Aussie Rose with a layer of Bombshell and gloss, just make sure your words are just as lovely.

Time To Get Down and Dirty

 

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This is what happens when you go to the garden center on a beautiful spring day.

I went in for a few ivy plants . . . as you can see I came away with much more. That is the risk you take when you visit the garden center on a beautiful spring day. Between the allure of the plants I also had time, it is Spring Break this week and day one was almost perfect.

I say almost because I started the day with a mammogram, but then I treated myself to a latte and then went to get my hair cut. On the way home I decided to pick up the ivy so I could replant the pots by my front door. Once there I had planned out my raised beds and my patio pots. So a car load later I made my way home.

I am on a deadline to finish book three and I diligently sat down and spilled about twelve-hundred words from my soul, before taking a gardening break. After an hour of mowing and playing in the dirt, I returned to write another thousand words before taking a pre-arranged conference call about an upcoming author’s panel I’m participating, in Greenville, South Carolina in May. Then I went back to the chapter and around a thousand words later, I was satisfied with Lizzie’s progress on her journey and I was drained of my creative juices. Another hour and a half in the garden and I feel charged again.

Charged and filthy dirty.  The only thing that could make this day better is if someone of the handsome and kind variety was whipping up dinner in the kitchen.  I love days like these when the ordinary things are enjoyed and savored. This is how I imagine the days will be when I move from teacher and writer to full-time writer.

There is something in the ancient part of my genes that responds to the garden. I don’t think my ancestors were city dwellers. I still yearn to be a genteel gardener whose gloves never get dirt on the inside and manages to still look presentable at the end of a session amongst the flowers. I blame Hollywood for this unattainable ideal. I’m happy to settle for dirt streaked limbs and face with my hair plastered against my head.

Gardening is life affirming. It stimulates the senses and inspires the artist within. I can hardly wait until I get to do it again tomorrow.

 

Endings are the First Step to a Beginning

 

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Sunset over the Charleston Harbor

The one constant in this life is ironically the fact that nothing stays the same. This is sometimes a relief and often disconcerting. My human experience so far has taught me I’m much more comfortable with the status quo and it sometimes takes a major event to nudge me off the cliff of the unknown. As the song goes, “Breaking up is hard to do.”

As I add to my years and I’d like to think my wisdom, I have realized a few things. First, if you approach a change with a little flexibility it makes for an easier transition. Second, if you are willing to take a risk, more often than not the reward will be greater than you could ever imagine. Finally, I have learned that change is going to happen whether you want it or not and if you reflect back it is easy to see how you have always come through the change stronger, wiser or fill in the blank for the attribute that made you better.

I still don’t rush out looking for opportunities to deal with change, but I am much more willing to accept it and even embrace it.  Case in point, I am changing to a new school next year. Not because there is anything wrong with my current school, in fact leaving it is hard on my heart. We are overcrowded and some of us are going to transition to a new building to start a brand new school. I am excited to be part of that and the change is made easier by the fact I am not making this change alone, but with colleagues I have worked with for years. Regardless, I have chosen this change.

Not all changes can be chosen. Some are thrust upon us in cruel and unexpected ways. The death of a loved one, the diagnosis of a disease, the break-up of a relationship, the betrayal of a friend. I have found if I am grounded in faith and thoughtful in my responses to these unwelcome events, I can navigate through them somehow intact.

Yes, change is a constant, but so is the passage of time. The sun will set and then rise again. Each day is an opportunity to live this life better, to embrace the changes and see where they will take us. So yes all things, good and bad and indifferent will come to an end, but these endings are really just the mile marker to the beginning.

 

Cultural Lessons

 

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Photo my friend Sally sent me from a shop in Hilton Head, SC

I enjoy aspects of many cultures around the world. Some of that comes from growing up in a nomadic military family and some from being an avid reader of novels set all over the world. Both inspired me to be open to visiting those places and adopting from those cultures customs I could enjoy in my own life.

When my friend Sally sent me this picture from a shop in nearby Hilton Head, South Carolina, it made me smile. I have a slight addiction to bags anyway (a tale for another time), but the message spoke to my soul. I might add the line, Live American, I absolutely love our country. I also think living American means appreciating the best the world has to offer and melding that into our own culture, we have been doing that for well over two-hundred years. I personally think that is what makes America a vibrant nation.

I might also change a few of the lines, I might Speak Kindness, Eat Italian, Love French and Read British, but one thing I would not change is, Smile Southern. Kindness and hospitality are still a hallmark of southern living. We need to be vigilant to keep that so and I dare say we should work hard to export it to the rest of the country and the world. My inner flower child thinks that what the world needs more than anything these days is love, kindness, empathy and yes lots of smiles.

Here in the south, we have our own way of dressing, cooking, decorating, gardening and storytelling. This lifestyle needs to be celebrated and preserved with care. I get alarmed when yet another charming local business in downtown Charleston is replaced by another national chain business you can find in any city around the country. I’m not opposed to those businesses, but I think they need to be off in a mall somewhere, not on a historic street. I had the same reaction when in London and Paris and saw shops like The GAP on prominent city streets, I wanted uniquely French and uniquely British.

Along that same vein, I think if you want to move here and live here, y’all are welcome as long as you respect and adopt our ways. We don’t cut people off in traffic or exhibit impatience when we need to wait in line. Above all use words of kindness, slow down and take time for conversation and above all smile and return smiles offered.

A smile is a simple thing that doesn’t cost a thing, yet it reaps goodwill and respect. It opens doors and lifts spirits. No matter where you’re from or what language you speak, adopt the practice of a Southern smile and I promise good things will follow.

 

 

Southern Winter Whiplash

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What will it be today?

I realize as I pen my thoughts, my friends and family that live in northern climes will have no sympathy for the plight of those who suffer from winter whiplash. What they would give for seventy plus degree days sprinkled among their winter days, or so I imagine. I certainly can’t imagine anyone enjoying frigid weather or snow day on end.

We truly have been blessed this winter, more warmth than cold. Still the swings have my sinuses working overtime and my daffodils are already blooming. What in the world will the yard be like in March?  Today was a lovely 74 and we will be dropping to the low 50’s by Saturday and then shooting right back up. One day it is sandals and short sleeves, the next is scarves and sweaters.

One thing Charlestonians are fond of saying is, “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes and it will change.” It is not quite that volatile but sometimes it does seem we can cover all four seasons in a week. The exception is summer, when the only change is what degree of hot it is and how bad the humidity is.

Rotating seasons in your closet is not advisable. You will need access to it all.There have been days, I have started off with a sweater and a scarf and ended the day in sandals. I am not a fan of cold weather, but I can find enjoyment in a cool day, particularly if it is accompanied by a bright blue sky.

There in lies the lesson I have learned. No matter what the season, weather, day…I should look for the gift each is bringing. There is always at least one thing and sometimes many things to enjoy. If we have a frigid day, enjoy the chance to snuggle up inside. If it’s hot, play in the ocean. Soak up all the sun you can and be thankful for the drops of rain that make our lowcounty so lush and green. It’s all in the mindset.

Our weather may be a roller coaster of conditions, so I’m going to enjoy the ride.