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!

 

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.

 

The Cheering Season

 

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Death Valley, Clemson South Carolina

It is football season once again and here in the south we are giddy with the return of tailgating and team pride. In this season of political discord and worldwide woes, the balm of team colors and bragging rights after the weekend games is a welcome distraction. Across our nation, we are enjoying the game from pee-wee to professional. Personally enjoy college ball the best and also rooting for the local high school team, the Wando Warriors.

In the south loyalty to team ranks with religion and family. Woe to the bride who does not consult the game schedule when selecting the date for her wedding. If your team plays on a Thursday  night, bleary eyes are expected and forgiven at work on Friday. The beginning of the season is  a fresh start, full of hope and dreams of  a conference or  national championship or a least a bowl game.

We elevate tailgating to fine entertaining. We decorate our cars, we post team flags from our porches and we wear our team colors every jeans-Friday and game day. We the fans are all in, no matter who our team is. Why do we seem to go overboard for a game?

The truth is, it is more than a game. It is part of the tradition and the flow of the seasons. It is a celebration of the fact life ticks on and we are here to continue to enjoy it. It means we enjoy the camaraderie of fellow fans as well as friendly rivalry with our loved ones who insist on  being fans of one of those other teams. Football season is social and  if you are lucky enough to cheer for the team that has Dabo Sweeny as the head coach, it is filled with words to live by.

Currently, I find the state of the world leaves me  disheartened and in great need of a distraction that is healthy and hopeful. Thank goodness it is time to focus on first downs and scoreboards. In this cheering season, I will wear the orange and the purple. I will also absorb the hope and energy each game will bring. Happy Fall Y’all!

 

Southern Girl Rule #64: A little paint will make a big difference.

 

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My Clemson inspired laundry closet

Thumb through any southern magazine and you will find we take pride in our homes and gardens. We treasure our family heirlooms and our flea market finds. Our homes reflect ourselves and offer us a haven to escape the stresses of the modern world (That seems to be so important these days).

For a southern woman, her house is never done. There is always a project to work on. A room to redecorate or a piece of furniture to refurbish. I keep a running list of the house projects I want to take on and I enjoy the process of planning each one.Some are small and can be accomplished in a weekend, others are pricey, so they are on the long term list and others I can complete in phases. Whenever I feel overwhelmed in other areas of my life I find that by accomplishing something on my list restores my inner harmony.

Last winter I took on changing my front door color and I still smile when I see it. Like most people, my laundry room, really an over-sized closet is nothing to get excited about. It is located off the kitchen in the small hallway leading out to the garage. It was builder’s white with the typical wire shelf. Every time I did laundry or got down something for entertaining, I would lament its utilitarian state.

I have dreamed of a Pinterest-worthy space with custom shelves and a counter top over the washer and dryer. I would jazz up the light fixture and add some artwork. As you can imagine that put this project in the phase by phase plan.

As this school year got underway and I felt overwhelmed by the unfortunate decisions the district I work for has made leaving myself and colleagues feeling undervalued, I pulled out the list. I needed a project to restore my balance. I needed to be inexpensive and fast, I had little in my pocket and only a weekend before I was back in full swing with students (Let me say here, those students are why I will continue to teach for at least a few more years, simply said, I love them). Not much is cheaper than a can of paint and the space is small enough I could start and finish in one day. So laundry closet re-do phase one it was.

I love how color can evoke emotions and affect moods. I wanted the color I chose to bring cheerfulness to the weekly task of laundry. Being that the space is hidden away behind folding doors, I knew I could take a color risk. Orange became the color of choice. It is warm and sunny and it doesn’t hurt that it reminds me of the Clemson tigers. From the moment I brushed the first of it on, I knew I had made the right decision.

So the satisfaction of completing a project restored my sense of harmony, at least for a few days. Living with the color brings me joy every time I open those doors. So a little paint can make a big difference, maybe I’ll paint the garage or pantry next. I definitely am looking forward to phase two of the laundry closet; shelves and counter. I will be ready for some more self-restoration by Christmas break.

 

Unplugged

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If you detected a theme connecting last week’s post with this one, you would be correct. I hit the proverbial wall this past weekend. It happens every August and I have learned after twenty-four years, the only remedy is to unplug.

Not only did I ban computers and tablets. I even neglected my phone. I did venture to the grocery store, but no farther and the only fellow living creatures I spoke two were my always supportive golden retrievers. I did indulge in some Netflix binge watching, but I also spent time getting my house back in order. I believe there is an old adage about  clean space, uncluttered mind.

I am not a “neat freak” or a minimalist. When I am particularly busy, my dining room table becomes buried in the debris of a week of dropped items to be dealt with later. My desk at school? It is only neat on the first day of school and the last. Every day in between it’s a battle to keep it semi-organized. I am proud to say that 99.9% of the time I know where everything is.

One of the most satisfying  tasks  I accomplished during my self-imposed time-out weekend might seem trivial, but it had the biggest impact on rejuvenating my mind and spirit. I tackled the cooking utensil drawer in my kitchen. I took everything out, cleaned the drawer and the organizers then reorganized all the tools. Now the spatulas are in their own space and so are the measuring spoons. Even the mushroom brush and ginger grater are neatly laid in a new home. Order brought to the chaos of several years of tossing items  back in the drawer.

Chaos brought to order by just a little effort and attention. So I am going to try to make it my goal to spend at least two evenings a week and maybe most of a day on the weekend to unplug not just from technology, but from the real world. I will try to rest but also to take on something  to return to order. Hopefully, that will help me stay more balanced between teacher, writer, and daily life.

Wishing you a day or two to unplug so when you power-up you can be at optimal performance.

Remember To Rest

 

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A Sunset over the Stono River

Mid-August for a teacher is much like the last few weeks of tax season for an accountant. I’m back to rising well before  the sun. I arrive at school at six a.m. and lucky to get out of there before four with a bag of work. After a quick dinner, I do another three or four hours of school work before I crawl into bed. Housework? I am ignoring the deplorable condition my house is slipping into. Writing career? On a few weeks hold. Although I have not missed a blog post yet. I have also taken care of some of the business side of things. But no time for creating. This too shall pass. I will have assessed my students’ starting points and planned accordingly. I will have fabulous parent volunteers to help with things like copies and folders. The school workload will lighten.

In the interim, I find myself so exhausted and I have to remind myself to rest. In the immortal words of someone, Rome wasn’t built in a day. I don’t have to have it all figured out in the first few days, that is a pressure that is self-inflicted. A tired teacher is not much use to anyone.

Our world spins sensibly giving us a natural day and night. In our modern world of light available twenty-four-seven and instant connections via the internet and continuous news cycle, we tend to ignore the natural rhythm of work and rest. Just look at the rise of sleep disorders. We are only human, we must rest.

So this weekend I’m breaking myself of my August habit and I’m not going to do any school work. I’m going to get this house back together and get reacquainted with my fictional friends and yes I’m going to sleep in. Will I be less of a teacher? Most likely not. I probably will be better because I will be refreshed.

Moving forward, I vow to make this year the most balanced yet. I can be a fabulous teacher, an engaging writer, grow my writing career, spend time with family and friends, keep a clean house etc. as long as I remember to rest.

So this is a short blog compared to my average. You’ll have to excuse me, I need to go and rest.

 

Camp Anyone?

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Me at age 9 heading off to Girl Scout Camp

Once every summer I get a little nostalgic for my summer camp days. Who doesn’t love a week or two away filled with swimming and other activities? Then I remember the dark, the lack of air conditioning and the mosquitoes. I had, and still have bad reactions to mosquito bites. Calamine and a drug called attarax were my weapons. Unfortunately the medicine made me very drowsy, so after taking it the next twelve hours tended to be lived in a fog. I loved the s’mores but as a picky eater, I wasn’t too wild about the food offered in general. At least there was cereal, a food I wasn’t allowed to have at home.

So why would I be nostalgic for a place I spent foggy, itchy, and hungry?  It isn’t so much the place as the feeling of camp I would love to experience again. So how to recapture the feeling?  I have come up with some ideas on how to improve summer camp so not only will it be appealing to the adult me, I might be able to return from it well rested, fed and bite free.

First, the location would be on the edge of a beach, but the cabins would be air-conditioned with attractive indoor plumbing and electricity. A closet and an antique pine chest to actually unpack your clothes would be a must. The cabin would be furnished with quaint wrought iron beds with thick mattresses, real sheets and quilts. There would be comfy chairs for curling up with a good book placed in front of a stone fireplace.

The activities would still include swimming and boating, but lets add in massages and other spa treatments. Yoga might be nice. Instead of arts and crafts, we could have landscape or still life painting and smocking or some kind of needlework.

A menu would be offered for meals prepared by a chef. Dinner would include a wine list. Of course there would still be s’mores around the fire with sing-alongs, but it would be set up within a bug-free perimeter.

Are you with me yet? I do think my childhood (rough to me) camping experiences were vital to my development and I don’t think I would really want to change them to my adult version. After all children need to have such experiences to make connections to nature and learn to appreciate all they have back in their climate controlled  homes with their parents. However as an adult I feel I get plenty of time with nature as I care for the yard and garden. I certainly appreciate the fact I have creature comforts that a good part of the world’s population does not. Camp for grown-up girls has a completely different purpose. It would be about rest, renewal and rejuvenation.

It just might be time to go dig out that water proof duffel bag . . .

Beauty In The Everyday

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Monogrammed Handkerchief

Our modern world is filled with fast and disposable conveniences. From tissues, paper towels, and even one use dental floss picks.  While on the go or dealing with children these disposable items definitely have their value, yet I sometimes think the utilitarian qualities of these conveniences has taken some of the beauty of the everyday.

Take for example the lovely linen handkerchief I have shared here with its monogram and delicate design. Almost too pretty to consider using, right? Well, it may not be what I would want to soil while fighting a cold, but I would definitely use it for other everyday tasks and then launder it like a pro. It may seem like a simple thing, but by choosing to use this hanky I am saving the lives of trees. I’m also soothed by it’s beauty. This was not made by a machine, but by the loving hands of a family member. Pulling this out of my handbag reminds me of that connection. It brings a smile to my face. I can say with certainty that a paper towel or tissue has never done that.

I have long made a habit of packing a cloth napkin and real silverware in my lunch box each day. Yes, that is a sustainable, good for the world practice and I am glad of that, but that was not my motivation to begin that practice. I do it to add a bit of home and care into my workday. I enjoy the patterns and colors on the cloth napkins and I find they remind me to savor my lunch and pause in my day to appreciate the moment. the extra items in the laundry are a small price to pay.

If you have beautiful things, things that speak to you and have the power to brighten your day, I say use them. Not just for special occasions, but for the daily occasion of living. Adding beauty into the everyday takes very little effort with the big payoff of refreshing your soul as you move through our fast paced, high tech and disposable world.

I would like to think here in the South we are a bit better at practicing this, but even here modern life takes its toll. If we are mindful and take care to use beautiful items in our everyday we can insulate ourselves from the effects.

I dare you to serve Tuesday night dinner on the good china or treat yourself to a pleasing insulated mug to pour your work coffee into and ditch the throwaway cups. Be mindful of the beauty in everyday life.

Recapture Your Sandcastle Days

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Me on the beach in Italy circa 1971?

 

 

Another summer is upon us and I for one can hardly wait!  I am blessed to live by the beach, so I can go anytime, but there is something about a weekday in the Summer that seems so indulgent. Those of you who read this blog regularly know that besides being a writer I am a first grade teacher and frankly at this point in the year, I am beyond exhausted. Fortunately Summer gives me time to recoup, so I can burn the candle at both ends for the next school year.  I do work in the summer, but part-time. My writing, well that seems to be a three-hundred-sixty-five, twenty-four hour a-day kind of job (and I love every minute of it!).

The beach is the best place for me to refill my tank. I love going out on a Tuesday morning, with my chair, a great book and plenty of refreshments. The crowds are less, along with the traffic and I get the sensation I got away with something.

In my book The Eyes Have It, my main character Lizzie also turns to the beach to find solace and strength. She also has the advantage of a dock looking out to the water and marsh, another spot for thinking and healing (An advantage of living a fictitious life!).

In Chapter Four, she spends some time on the beach at the Isle of Palms, just trying to make sense of what has been happening in her life and find her bearings. I took this opportunity to express my philosophy on the beach as her observation as she walked along and I offer it here as a quote from my pages. “All looked content with life, that was the balm the beach gave, it didn’t matter what life was like off the sand, on the sand you were free, transported back to sandcastle and Popsicle days, the endorphins from the sun and the soothing lullaby of the waves.”

I have so many childhood memories of the beach. The picture up above is me as a preschooler, soaking up the beach in Italy. I was lucky enough to spend first through third grade living in Hawaii, (My daddy was military) and I still dream of a place called Bellow’s Beach on Oahu as my ideal beach vacation. Think wood floor cabins with the trade winds blowing through, slamming screen doors taking you steps away to the beach.

I plan to indulge in the beach at least once a week this summer and I encourage you to seek it out or at least a water view of some sort. See if you can sooth your soul. I might even enjoy a popsicle!

The Bling Is The Thing

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The finishing touches

Yes, I am still waxing philosophical about my front door and its make-over. When I finally made a color decision and analyzed the meaning behind it, I was so relieved I did not realize I had not quite finished the task.  After all every southern girl worth her salt knows rule 11 states: accessories make the outfit.

Okay, I made that bit up, I am not sure there is a written and numbered rule book for southern girls, but I am sure if there was one, at least one of the rules would address the importance of accessories.  The art of layering jewelry, scarves and just the right shoes or boots take an outfit from presentable to personal style.  At home, the artwork, pillows, and accent lamps do the same.  Those are the items that say this is home and this is who lives here.

So needless to say, I realized quickly my older dark planters that went well with my basic black door, did nothing for my new blue door.  So shopping I went.  Can I just say that finding lime green planters the first weekend in January was a daunting task and took ten stores to find. (I have a little beef with this, as here in the coastal south, planters are maintained year round) I had a vision and I was not willing to settle.  I also envisioned silver as an accent and I could not find a silver A anywhere. I found gold, tin, red, black even hot pink, undaunted I selected a resin tan one and with the aid of some silver spray paint, the vision was complete.

So if I am true to my theme in the past two blog entries; decisions on color are really about taking chances and giving yourself permission to grow and change, then accessories are more than planters and adorable silver birds.  So here goes my take on the accessories.

What we fill up our lives with and the attitude we project out into the world are our philosophical accessories.  Our best accessories are our smiles and the acts of kindness we offer to others.  The bling in our lives are the things we do that honor our authentic selves and leave the world a little better than we found it. It is amazing that when you do these things, people around you will pick up on the inner glow it creates and the joy becomes contagious.  So in this year of renewal I am challenging myself to do something each day that adds some sparkle into the lives of the folks around me.  After all…the bling is the thing.