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.

 

 

The Busy Season

 

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My current to-do list of which I can only claim to have completed four items on…

 

2017 has flown by at a frenetic pace, punctuated by upheaval in the world, in our country and in my own personal sphere. Happily, the upheaval in my own little world has been all about positive changes. Even the positive changes have added to the workload and required adjustments that have contributed to the break-neck pace living this life has become this year.

I don’t know why I thought the holidays would be any different. Normally I have most of my shopping complete, my cards printed and sent and if the house isn’t completely sparkling all the decorating is complete.

I have completed about ninety-five percent of the decorating, but the house, in general, is a disaster and I haven’t even taken the picture for the Christmas Card let alone ordered it.  This year might have to be a New Year’s  card and as the days fly by and I am getting more comfortable with that idea.

Company is coming in before my teaching is done so I will be cleaning and finishing report cards simultaneously. I think New Year’s Eve will be spent sleeping if I’m still alive by then.

I hate that this year is like this, I try to embrace the intent of the season, peace, joy, love, and while I will find moments to feel all that, I accept this year is just not the year I can revel in it. First New Year’s Resolution, take back life in 2018, at least once the school year is over and next Christmas will be prepared for months ahead so that when it arrives I can soak it all in.

For now, maybe the house won’t be as clean as my usual standards and some of my shopping might not get finished until Christmas Eve, cards will not be mailed on time and for this crazy year, maybe that’s alright.

 

 

Bounty of Blessings

 

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My sideboard arrangement

Looking out into the world, we might find it challenging to find much to be thankful for. Politics and social upheaval in our country are overwhelmingly chaotic at best and downright frightening at worst.

We seem to have forgotten we are supposed to be the shining example to the world of how a society can treat its members with respect, dignity, and equality and thrive in all we do.  I’m not naive enough to think that we have achieved the goals to form that more perfect union, but I am hopeful enough that we as a nation are still striving for those ideals.

Forty-nine years on this earth has shown me that upheaval is necessary to create the growth and improvement towards those goals, it’s just painful to witness and live through.

So instead of looking out into the world and the nation, perhaps this year to reflect on what we have to be thankful for we should look closer to home. I find numerous blessings in my lowcountry community, my family and my circle of friends.

I am always amazed by the giving nature of my fellow lowcountry citizens. Whether it is a crisis here at home or half a world away, people in this community respond in droves. I like to believe that is true of the majority of Americans, it is the American way to have compassion for others.

My family is rather small and I had the opportunity this summer to re-connect with a cousin and I am so thankful we had that time together. I am blessed that my parent’s and so far the majority of the family members are still well and living full lives.

At this point in life, so many of my friends I would call family. If I need a sounding board or encouragement, I have been blessed with many to turn to and I only hope that I have been the same source for them. Friends truly are family we choose.

So as we celebrate Thanksgiving this week I will focus on all that is right and good in my world, personal and beyond. I challenge you to do the same. Leave the politics and the social issues for another time. Over this year’s table let’s bow our heads and give thanks for the blessings each and every one of us have a bounty of to call our own.

 

On The Edge of A Decade

 

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The best decade yet!

 

With the exception of 13, 18, 21 and your social security eligibility age, we tend to mark our age milestones on the decade. As I write this I am on the eve of my age turning to the last year of my current decade and I think this is actually the time to stop, take inventory, reflect back and look ahead. After all next year when I reach the half-century mark it will be a celebration of reaching that next decade and on to the new adventures the fifties will bring.

As I look back I can honestly say the forties have by far been the best decade. My friends who are already in their fifties assure me this trend of each decade getting better continues so I’m optimistic about what might be ahead. The forties have been liberating. I became comfortable in my own skin. I can say I have been happy, or perhaps content is the better word for the majority of the past 9 years.  I have suffered loss and disappointments like most people, but I feel that my resilience has expanded and my reactions are more measured and balanced. This is life after all, far from perfect. Life is messy and unpredictable, but if you are comfortable with who you are and lay your foundation on faith, integrity, and love, then you can be the eye of any storm that life swirls up around you.

Yes, the forties have truly been fabulous. I still have lots of things on my bucket list, but if it all ended tomorrow, I am content with what I have already accomplished. I have a goal to live to be one-hundred and eight, so assuming I reach that, I should have plenty of time to continue to check things off my list. The fifties will be eventful, I will retire from teaching and move my writing career up to the number one spot, my mortgage will be paid off and there are events coming I’m not even aware of. I look forward to it all. Each day of this life is a gift. I am thankful for the 17,885 days I have lived so far. I look forward to all the days yet to come.

Each day of this life is a gift. I am thankful for the 17,885 days I have lived so far. I know the next 365 will finish out my current decade, I look forward to all that is yet to come.

 

Attending to the Signs

 

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Sycamore leaf in my front yard

I’m not sure when it happened but fall has definitely arrived here in the lowcountry. I had been searching for signs in the world around me and in the long-range forecasts by the local weatherman. But then October got fully underway and I got distracted.

It happens to me several times a year and I suspect it is the same with others whose primary careers are in education. August, October, and May are the busiest months and I get lost in the vortex of school. October might surprise some, but remember it is the first report card and hence parent conferences for each student. This year it seems to arrive too soon, I suppose due to the eclipse and the hurricane disturbing our normal school year patterns.

When the calendar turns to autumn and parts of the country are already revelling in cooler temperatures and changing leaves, here in the lowcountry we are still sweltering in the heat and high humidity. Yet we press on with fall activities such as football games and pumpkin patches.

October flirts with fall. A few cooler or at least lower humidity days, followed by a resurgence of heat mark most of the month. The air-conditioning hums along, it is still needed most afternoons and we all try to resist turning on the heat for those few cooler mornings. I personally make a rule no heat on until November, so I have gotten dressed at lightning speed a few mornings. I may give in a day or so early this year. It has been in the seventies, but today is in the sixties with a low in the morning threatening the upper thirties. No worries the heat will be on for only a night or two before we return to a few eighty degree days.

I have been so wrapped up with report cards, conferences and trying to be not all work by participating in the busy fall social season, I tuned out for the last week or so and this morning I was taken by surprise by the marsh grasses waving golden heavily amongst the green. The beauty of the waving grass with the water in the background took my breath away.  Leaves along the road are tinged with brown and yellow and my Sycamore in the front has begun dropping its leaves. The breeze is blowing cool, a front is moving through and taking the warm air with it, albeit temporarily. I am giddy with anticipation for crisp air.

When I noticed today that the hints of fall from a few weeks ago had turned into the signs of the season I lamented the fact I had not been paying attention to the moment of transition. I had missed it because I was too wrapped up in other things. I finished the last of my conferences this week and I did manage to participate in two social events, book club and a faculty night at an art place, however, by Friday I was so exhausted I came home and crashed. It wasn’t until Saturday morning I realized I missed a friend’s annual Halloween party. I have enjoyed that party many times and I am sad I missed this year, especially since some in attendance I don’t get to see that often.

The message I think I received from the party miss and the marsh grass change is to slow down and take the time to notice even in the midst of all the busyness. We only have so many falls to enjoy in this life, I want to soak them in. I realize I can’t shirk my responsibilities and nor do I wish to, but I also know things aren’t in balance when I get so exhausted I don’t remember an annual party. I hope you realize it’s not the party but the people that I regret missing.

So today I’m going to seek out some leaves to crunch under my feet and breathe in the fresh air.  I will renew my intention to pay attention to the world around me and appreciate each day for the many gifts it gives.

 

A Little Trim Here and There

 

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The trimmings from the side yard, I sure hope it’s the third Monday the trash folks pick up the yard waste.

October is moving at a breakneck pace and I have been patiently waiting for the usually accompanying cool weather. By South Carolina standards that means the upper seventies with a nice breeze and a decrease in the humidity.  Much cooler than that and we might think we slipped into winter.  Yet here we are October 21st and we are in the eighties. Granted, the humidity is not at August levels and there is a breeze so I jumped into the annual fall garden clean-up. The above is just from the side yard and the adjoining front corner by the garage.  I have much more to do, especially in the back, but I’m holding out with the hope next weekend will be a little cooler.

As I trimmed, shaped and weeded I got thinking about how writers do the same thing with their work.  The first spilling out on the page is usually untidy and overgrown in parts. Sometimes whole sections need to be moved or cut altogether. Occasionally a seedling is found and can be cultivated to enhance the story.

As my brain reflected as it seems to always do when I’m working in the garden, I also saw the beauty of how this trimming works in our lives. We trim away old habits or toxic friends. We weed out our closets and other possessions to give space for the things we actually like and use. We examine how we are using our time and try to clear our calendars and to-do lists of the things that detract from a meaningful life. There is something soothing and energizing about restoring order and clearing away the excess. In the garden, In the closet or garage, in relationships and how we use our time.

For me, these clean-ups work best when I do them on a fairly regular basis. I find that the changing of the seasons, regardless of cooperation of the weather are great times to stop, reflect, pick an area or two literally or metaphorically to trim up and weed out. Then discard that excess, the baggage that holds you back, and move on, there is an even better life just ahead.

Happy trimming!

 

Lessons From the Tide

 

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Low tide

 

I was driving down Longpoint Road today which crosses the marsh in several spots. It was high tide and the water encroached on the road causing the cars to spray water up onto each other and it got me thinking how the ebb and flow of the tide is much like the ebb and flow of time, history, and our personal lives.

When the tide is high we float and flow, think the roaring 20’s, record stock markets and reaching pinnacles in our careers. Those moments are great but hold on to your hat, the tide will turn and ebb, taking you down to the mud and reveal what lies beneath, think The Depression, the recession and days where nothing seems to go right.

While we may crave the high tide moments, I think we grow more from the low tide moments. When we are down to the mud, we can see what’s buried there with us. We see what needs to be fixed or addressed, but we also find nuggets of wisdom and treasures to carry with us as we rise again, think oysters and artifacts.

The biggest takeaway for me from this musing on the tide was it will always turn around. Enjoy the high points while they last, but don’t expect life to stay there. Learn all you can during the low points and know that if you hang on things will head back up.

I love this South Carolina Lowcountry life, I find inspiration every day from this beautiful place. At the moment I think I’m somewhere between low and high tide, I have learned I can’t turn it until it’s good and ready, but I can roll along with it and make the best of whatever stage it has me in.

In The Final Quarter

 

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Unpacking the Fall decor

It dawned on me today that we have just entered the final quarter of 2017 and on one hand, I can barely comprehend how fast this year has gone and on the other, what a crazy year it has been and I am ready to set my sights on 2018.

In the crazy that swirls around us these days, it is nice that certain seasonal traditions like college football, the local pumpkin patch opening and the leaves of the sycamore in the front yard turning color give continuity and reassurance that not all is lost.

Like the last quarter in a game, this is the time to make the most of what we have left of 2017, time is a-ticking. There is still a chance that the post-game analysis will be different than if the year ended today.

This had been a hectic and overwhelming last few months for me. I moved to a new school with a big chunk of the old faculty and we have been adjusting to a new building, new rooms, still getting arrivals of furniture and supplies and a new curriculum. It has been interrupted by a hurricane, with luckily minimum effects and personally, I have struggled through several weeks with a virus followed by a bout with pneumonia, only missing 4 days of work total, because I am stubborn like that and I absolutely hate writing sub plans when I don’t feel well, okay, actually anytime. Oh, yeah, I am writing a novel as well.

Despite all the setbacks now in the last quarter of my teaching career, I find myself re-energized and excited for this school year and the next few years.  I know things will settle into normal, although I’m beginning to realize normal is elusive and perhaps it should be.

Not that we need chaos and upheaval on a continuous basis, It is the times of change that lead to growth and give us renewal. Thank goodness for the seasons of the year, they give us a way to embrace those changes. So while it may seem rather shallow to some, (certainly not any southern girls), to change out the decor and dishes with the seasons, perhaps it’s just a way to symbolize and signal to us that it’s time to refresh, re-set and make the most of the season to come as we reflect and learn from the season that has come to a close. No worries, last season will come again, put it behind you and look forward.

It’s the last quarter of 2017 Y’all. Make your game plan and execute the best you can. There will be things that will bring you down, be ready with your best defense. Then get back up and get back to that line of scrimmage, who knows you might make a touchdown or a field goal. You may lose, but do it on your own terms. Until Midnight December thirty-first give it all you’ve got!

 

In the Stack

 

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My latest book stack. In the foreground are the three I just read, in the background are my anticipated reads.

 

I’d like to thank my book club for bringing diversity into my reading life. It might surprise you to learn that as a writer of southern women’s fiction I am a huge fan of reading mysteries, and I can trace that all the way back to my Nancy Drew days. Right now my favorite stories on the telly as they would say in my favorite genre are British mystery series like Father Brown, Miss Fisher, and Midsomer Murders.

While I have also read a ton of women’s fiction over the years, the book club I’m in has brought before my eyes, dystopias, biographies, dark fiction, historical fiction and the list goes on. I am richer for it, not just as a writer but as a human. After all one of the great joys of books is exploring new worlds, ideas, and possibilities we would never encounter in our everyday lives.

Books or at least pamphlets, inspired schisms in the church, revolutions in countries and other world-changing events. I’m not saying anything that earth shattering is in my current stack, but from every book I read, fiction or non-fiction I gain a different perspective on humanity and expand my own empathy towards others and ideas on living.

No matter high-tech this world becomes or how pervasive social media becomes, books will have an enduring place. Social Media has the power to spread messages, true or false in lightning time, but the messages are just the headlines, not the in-depth examination of the human condition or revolutionary ideas. Books are where we can explore and understand. A book must hold up to much more scrutiny as to the validation of its facts and examination of its ideas.

We, humans, have a primal need to express our thoughts and communicate our ideas and we use a wide variety of art and media to do so. To me, books are the most important form we have. The one invention of the printing press centuries ago has allowed words and ideas to be shared through time and we have not stopped sharing words around the world since.

No matter if your stack sits on a bedside table as mine, or in a queue on a digital device, keep stacking and keep reading, you will be richer for it.

The Power of a Deep Clean

 

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A screen shot of a Facebook Post I wrote this week

Overall, our brush with Hurricane Irma was way more than expected here in the lowcountry, but thankfully my personal property was unscathed apart from a fence board dislodged and some minor branch damage.

In the days prior I had taken care to drag in all the plants, patio furniture, grill and the decorative items from the front and back of the house into the garage. So the day after the storm seemed the perfect time to drag out the power washer and clean the house, driveway, and patio while they were in a bare state.

For me, there are some chores I find exceptionally satisfying to complete. Primarily because the effort is immediately apparent and the results last for more than a day or two. Lawn mowing and power washing are two such chores. So I happily spend a few hours getting wet and dirty as my house and pavements were stripped of their layers of grime, pollen and green growth that clings to the surfaces hidden much of the day in the shadows.

I watched as the spray removed the layers to reveal surfaces renewed back to their original states and of course the writer in me thought about how this was a metaphor for renewal in our lives.

Renewal is a theme that has run through my thoughts on a regular basis. I love that we can choose to renew our lives by taking stock, re-evaluating and then making changes, big or small. Over time we gather our own grime; fears, drudgery, unhappiness, dissatisfaction etc. But we can choose to wash it away in a sense.

We can change careers, leave toxic relationships, relocate, renew commitments, make deeper connections with the people who matter in our lives, seek out education or guidance. We have the power to power wash our lives and I strongly believe we should do this on a regular basis.

We may accumulate jetsam and flotsam as we move through life, but we don’t have to carry it with us. When I spend too many days feeling like I’m chasing the wind and putting out fire after fire, I know it’s time to take stock and get myself back on track. I find that when I take the time to clean up my life the clarity of where I’m going next brings a peace and purpose

So I highly recommend power washing your life, no hose required.