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.

 

 

My Cheating Heart

 

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View from the Magnolia Cafe and Bakery in Beaufort, SC across to Lady’s Island.

I have made no secret about my love for the South Carolina lowcountry and the Charleston area in particular. I came of age here, I have loved, lost, lived with this place the backdrop. It is permanently etched on my heart, the saltwater, and the pluff mud course through my veins, I think my very soul would shrivel if I had to leave here forever.

But, I have a confession to make. I’ve begun an affair with a little town down the coast. Beaufort is also part of the magical lowcountry. The Port Royal Sound is captivating and the town itself is how our area was long ago, before mass growth.

It’s a walkable town. Residential is close to the commercial areas and the small annex campus of USC. Beaufort is big on charm and the arts. It has an intellectual and literary side that is palpable, and I’m drawn to know more. It is not crowded or pretentious. It is not in a hurry, Beaufort is a comfortable chair on a breezy porch. It is the gardenia in the garden, inviting you to stop and soak it in.

Yes, I have fallen hard. I have fantasies about buying a little cottage where I could live part-time, I don’t think I could bear to leave Charleston altogether. Fortunately for me, part of the book I’m finishing and most of the book next on my writing to-do list take place in that siren on the Port Royal Sound. I plan to make many repeat trips, you know. . . for research.

I hope I won’t make Charleston jealous and I hope she understands. She truly is my first love and will always be. I’ve just discovered this heart is big enough for two.

 

Kicking Into High Gear

The outward sign of my internal awakening

The outward sign of my internal awakening

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

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

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

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

B.Y.O.G and B.Y.O.H, Are you all in?

My B.Y.O.G. Shirt

My B.Y.O.G. Shirt

The Clemson Tiger head coach is an awesome coach, not because he is in the middle of a winning season, but because he gets what it takes to be all in.  Recently he was reported to have told his players, that even though he could teach them the finer points to the game of football and design plays and hold the players accountable for practice, what he could not do for them was the very thing the players would need to win each game.  The players themselves had to bring their own guts and heart onto the field with them, they had to be all in. While this was a great inspiration for the sports field I heard it as an even better inspiration for life. I believe this is an essential truth  The opportunities we are given via education, the experiences we gain in working a career path, The complicated dance of give and take, ups and downs we have in the many kinds of relationships we have with other human beings are not enough if we don’t bring the guts and the heart to our lives and how we live them.  To be fully engaged and reap the biggest blessings we have to be all in.  That means doing the hard work with passion and purpose.  It means caring for and loving others even when they can’t give you the same level in return at this moment.  It means having patience with a child even when they are being difficult.  It means going the extra mile for a client, or student or co-worker.  All in is putting your best out there with perseverance, determination, and love.  You have to be brave, take risks and make sacrifices.  But isn’t it all worth it?  If you are all in, you will get the max out of this beautiful life you have been given.  The romans were on to something with their motto, Carpe Diem! Seize the day, and do it with all that you have, with all of your guts and most importantly all of your heart. I vow to live this life B.Y.O.G. and B.Y.O.H., I am all in.

The Southern Woman’s Paradox

Southern Women are Strength and Softeness

Southern Women are Strength and Softness

Women in general and southern women in particular spend their lives juggling many roles, there is a perfume ad from my childhood that illustrates this paradox beautifully. It went something like this “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and never let you forget you’re a man, cause I’m a woman . . . ” I got the message loud and clear, being a woman means being all things at almost all times.  Quite a tall order.  In iconic movies like Steel Magnolias, the portrayal of women is women of strength and determination, this is not a characterization or a presentation of an ideal, it is truly how most of the southern women I am blessed to know are.

We pride ourselves on our strength, our ability to take what comes our way with grace and finesse.  You do not want to impede a southern girl on a mission, especially if that mission involves protecting one of her loved ones. We are fiercely loyal to those we love.  A southern woman when faced with a problem will come up with a plan A, B and C in a matter of minutes, something will fix this!  We pour out care on others through casseroles, pumpkin bread and small tokens to cheer up those in need. No matter if they are family, friends or just neighbors. There is no task too menial we won’t cheerfully take on if it will lessen the burden of our loved ones.  So now I am guessing you are thinking what is the paradox?

The crown in the picture above should be a clue.  Deep down despite the fact that we are capable, strong women, we long to be truly feminine.  We swoon over monograms.  We love to get dressed up and be taken out on the town.  We long for that officer and a gentleman to sweep us off our feet in a grand romantic gesture. We expect our men to open doors and love to feel taken care of.  While flowers and other romantic gestures are nice, what we really need is to know our man has our back. We want to know he will catch us when we fall, dry our tears and be a shoulder to lean on. To hold our hands on romantic walks, in moments of crisis, at prayer and everything in between. We want him to recognize our strength but also see the vulnerable heart that lies beneath. We want a man to above all protect us, respect us and treasure us.

So while at face value this seems paradoxical with the strong, intelligent modern woman, I would suggest it is like two sides to the same coin or like multi-facets in a fiery diamond. I have spent more of my days presenting myself as the determined woman who can handle anything, but I must admit my vulnerable heart needs to be treasured. That does not make me weak or fickle, it just makes me a complicated southern girl who will give you my all in strength and my all in softness.

It is this that has made me realize my character Addie, the heroine of my trilogy is actually more like me than I thought.  When I first created her, I did not see many traits in common, besides a determined spirit. However Addie like me has spent most of her life focused on the strength, and so many of her loved ones have come to depend on that.  But with circumstances that have forced her to examine her life and reinvent herself, she has come to realize she needs the softness equally as much, yet that has her completely in a tailspin of vulnerability.  Addie will have to take great risk to her heart, but I think she’ll find it worth it, at worst she will grow to trust herself to give her heart to someone. Incidentally this is not something we have in common, I would say when I give my heart it is completely. This of course makes me much more vulnerable than my capable, independent, strong public persona would indicate.  But it also means that if I love you, I love you plain and simple and with all I have.  I don’t just mean romantic love, but all kinds. So what if Addie can learn to do this what could it mean for her and those she loves?   At best Addie will gain people in her life she can give fierce loyalty and who will allow her to indulge in her softer side.  And isn’t that what all of us southern women want?  Strength and softness that is what makes a southern woman a true treasure for anyone who opens up their hearts to her.

The Eyes Have It

Yes Eyes are the window to the soul, but a photo of just eyes seemed creepy

Yes eyes are the window to the soul, but a photo of  eyes by themselves seemed creepy. Plus who hasn’t been grateful to hide their feelings behind a pair of sunglasses?

The Eyes Have It is the title of my first novel, and yes it is still under review at the publishers (sigh…I suppose that is better than rejected). It is a play on the phrase “the ayes have it,” but it also is a reference to the idea that the eyes are the windows of the soul.  Eye contact is one of the best ways to connect with someone and get a “read” on their state if mind. When someone is genuinely happy their smile goes beyond the upturned corners of their mouth and reaches right up to their eyes.  Love, compassion, and concern are genuinely communicated through the eyes. Eye contact avoidance can also speak volumes, but I caution that sometimes someone avoids direct eye contact because they are shy or intimidated, not because they are avoiding or hiding.

It can be quite frightening to look in someone’s eyes and realize that despite the gorgeous blue color, it is an icy hard and closed soul looking back at you. A decade ago that was my clue that a love entanglement I was in was not the kind of loving, compassionate, faith based relationship I was seeking, and without that person making radical changes would never be.  I was still heartbroken, but after time I realized it was not the loss of that person, it was that I had allowed myself to be swept off my feet and fell for some smooth lines instead of first looking for the more important indicators that would have told me about the character of the man. I am a bit embarrassed to admit I fell for some lines, but in my defense I was at a vulnerable place in life, I felt like I was trying to meet a timetable for life and had not yet come into the self-confidence, self-acceptance and self-assurance that comes from life experience and putting trust in the divine higher power that truly makes all things possible. If I had taken the time to really examine his eyes, I would have realized his soul was closed to the spiritual connection I craved. That connection I realized would be a requirement to build a true and meaningful life together.  Lesson learned the hard way!

My heroine in The Eyes Have It, Lizzie, also has to learn this lesson the hard way, in this respect we are kindred spirits we also both love to cook and love the Lowcountry life in South Carolina but that is where the similarities end.  Lizzie has come to a place where she does not trust her own gut, she is disconnected from her spirit and has to work at grounding herself again, reevaluate what is truly important in life and learn how to recognize a good man when he is looking right at her.  I think I am much better at that, thanks to my experiences from a decade ago, so I can’t say I regret that chapter in my life completely, I learned an important lesson. I learned what is most important to look for in the eyes of others. Kindness, warmth and compassion that shines from the eyes are so much more important than smooth lines. I also learned God’s timeline is not necessarily the same as ours, but that is a whole other blog.

Love the man whose laughter and smiles connect from his mouth to his eyes.  If you want to know how someone is feeling about you look into the windows to their soul, no matter what they say, the truth will be there. Yes, I learned all that from one bad relationship choice. I now make the conscious choice to look into the eyes of people I meet and the students I teach to show them compassion and kindness, and more importantly to the people who have come to be a piece of my heart, when they look into my eyes I want them to see the love I feel for them shining out from my soul to theirs. If you need to know the essence of someone, If you need to find out how they really feel, take a good look, into those, piercing blue, vibrant green, chocolate pools or kaleidoscope hazel windows. After all, the eyes have it.