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.

Girl versus Machine (and the girl won!)

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The Challenge! (My broken washer)

Those who know me well, would say I have an independent streak a mile long.  It might come from being an only child, but I suspect when I examine certain members of my family tree, I come by it through my DNA. I have been known to take on installing tile, wood floors and light fixtures on my own. I also loathe spending money on things like car repair or appliances. This may come from my Scottish heritage, it is my understanding the Scots are thrifty, practical and hold tight to the purse strings. It also comes from the circumstance of being an educator and despite holding  a Master’s degree and many graduate hours past that, my income is on the lower end of the spectrum. Not complaining, love teaching enough I would do it for free most days, just stating fact.

So when my washing machine broke, I investigated the cause.  I was able to determine it was the inlet valve, so armed with that I contacted a repair person who informed me I would still have to pay $75 for the diagnostic in addition to the cost of parts and labor. Needless to say I balked at that. I knew what the problem was, surely I could figure out the solution.  So with the magic of the modern world . . . the internet, I googled my quandary. Just like that I found what part I needed and a video on how to replace it. I sourced the part locally for $65, but found the same part on Amazon for $28 with free shipping, it would just be a bit over a week to wait for it.

 

Fast forward ten days and I was beginning to get nervous, I had actually been over two weeks without doing laundry and had four pairs of unmentionables left in the drawer.  I did have several friends who offered their laundry facilities to me and I did take one up on it and did a load of bedding during a Christmas party at her house. So I was thrilled to find the part waiting for me after work. this didn’t seem more complicated than the time I replaced the thermostat.

Armed with a wrench and a screwdriver (full disclosure I only had flat and Philips and needed the star shaped one called, torque? I had to borrow that from a neighbor) I took apart my machine with confidence, I had watched a video after all.  Twenty minutes later, part was replaced and  machine put back together.  I am now happily doing laundry!

I tell this tale to remind all the girls out there, you can do most anything if you put your mind to it and invest a bit of time in learning. We are not helpless females or the weaker sex.  We are capable, intelligent and resourceful women. We ask for help when we need it, but we are brave enough to take on tasks like washing machine repair, adding another skill to our repertoire.  My character Addie, the heroine of my trilogy is like me in this respect.  There is a sense of accomplishment and a boost to confidence from these experiences.  I also enjoyed basking in the glow of my daddy’s “Atta, girl” reaction to my success, independent or not, I like to make my daddy proud.

So next time girls, when something breaks or you just want to add some chair rail or crown molding (I have done that too) don’t reach for the phone, do a bit of research and see if you can do it yourself. I can’t guarantee your success, but I can guarantee you will grow from the experience, improving your confidence and creating your independence.

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.

A cottage For Sale

For Sale

For Sale

Recently my heroine Addie, or more specifically her mother Miss Eleanor has forced me to participate in difficult conversation, so it was a delight when Addie was given the opportunity to do something fun. Now, I should say that I do not try to have first hand experience in all my characters do, things on the shady or less moral side, I let my imagination do the writing. However when I can I try to use as much first hand experience as I can, which has lead me to new experiences,  My characters have taken me out of my comfort zone I have now been to a shooting range and gun class and a Turkey shoot for example.  Sometimes they have me driving around town scoping out locations for scenes or possibly a place of employment.  So I was delighted when Addie was given the opportunity to house hunt and find a charming southern home. Perhaps it will entice her dashing detective Jack to consider setting up house keeping and take on the adventure of matrimony.  This house will definitely be a place of safe haven to the important people in Addie’s life.  So, I am actually looking at homes for sale, (via internet, don’t want to waste a realtor’s time) to find the perfect house for her.  Of course the fictional house will most likely be a combination of what I actually find, and I suspect it will be close to the dream cottage I have in my head with a wide wrap around porch, and wide plank wood floors.  I am gleeful with the thought of moving Addie in and giving her assistance in decorating, although that is one talent she gleaned from her proper southern upbringing (too bad she has not learned to cook . . .yet).

One of the joys I have writing my characters is living a bit vicariously through them and having them experience events from my own life, disguised with twists of course. I have found even though my characters begin as a figment of my imagination, as they develop, they take on a life of their own and begin to dictate to me how the story must unfold, at least how they are going to react to all that is going on around them.  Addie is not very domestic and imagining her nesting conjures up some opportunities for humor.  I on the other hand once fancied myself as a Martha Stewart, June Cleaver and Jaqueline Kennedy rolled into one, (Or at least I aspired to be that perfect woman)  so house hunting sounds like a delightful way to spend some days and imagine the happy home a house could be transformed into.  It will be interesting to see how Addie handles all the opportunity for domestic bliss that is coming her way, I can say for sure, I will be a bit jealous. Thankfully she will need me to come along and live it with her.

The Character of A Man

My Boston Red Sox's Cap

My Boston Red Sox’s Cap

With the exception of my lawn mower and my power tools, the most masculine item in my house would by my Boston Red Sox’s cap.  Not that my house is exceptionally frilly, I tend to gravitate towards classically tailored things like checks and toile, but I digress, my purpose in writing this post is not decorating, but rather to introduce you to the rationale behind my male characters.  I have been thinking about my male characters lately and how I develop them and I find that at least the men who play against my leading ladies have some characteristics in common.  Now I think of myself as a southern women’s fiction writer and I definitely delight in developing my female characters.  However the men are just as important and I would argue my heroines could not achieve their greatness without the steady support of their men.  After all how do you think Scarlett would have turned out had she not had Ashley and Rhett pushing her to become a better woman? I would like to say upfront my novels are not and I hope will never be, sickly sweet or steamy romances, that is just not my style of writing and my mother does read my work. But I appreciate what a certain level of romance can bring to a story and I wish for my heroines and frankly all women to have a good man in their life.  As I examine my leading men, Lizzie’s Bennett in “The Eyes Have it” and Addie’s Jack in “Pearls of Wisdom, I find both are men of integrity, kindness and infinite patience as they deal with all the baggage and scrapes both Lizzie and Addie find themselves in.  While each book has other minor male characters with varying degrees of virtue, my leading ladies have the support and love of men who live their integrity by their actions and have a sense of humor to boot.  My leading ladies on the other hand are flawed and must grow through the story to come into their own.  Those good men, Bennett and Jack seem to be just what my girls need to reach their potential. So while I celebrate the southern woman and all her grit and grace, I also want to celebrate the men who love and support them. Even this strong, independent and yes, flawed southern girl recognizes that a man of good character can make all the difference.

On The Dirty Side

My Legs after a stint in the garden

My Legs after a stint in the garden

I have waxed poetic about my garden in previous posts, making it sound much more enchanting than it probably is.  Our southern climate makes gardening a year-round activity.  when I bought my house and my yard was a blank slate I spent hours pouring over gardening books and drawing out ideas attempting to design a garden to rival the gardens featured on the pages of Southern Living.  I imagined wearing simple sundresses, a floppy straw hat and gloves as I would putter around the yard, with just slight perspiration and a flush to my cheek.  The epitome of a graceful southern lady in her charming garden. Well, the reality is far from the fantasy.  I do love working in the yard, it is much more satisfying than housework. However, I don’t perspire, I sweat, what seems like buckets, and it stings as it runs into my eyes.  I have learned to wear old paint and dirt stained clothes, as the picture above attests I get coated with dirt from head to toe. My flush is more like beet red as I overheat in the ninety degree weather.  About the only part of my gardening fantasy that meets the reality is a floppy straw hat I wear and the gloves that keep some of the dirt out of my fingernails. As I think about it, my dirty gardening is a great metaphor for life.  Life is not clean and neat and everything in it’s place (Can I use this as an excuse to avoid housework?) it is unpredictable, messy and hard work, but isn’t that what makes it interesting?  My character Addie, the heroine of my trilogy is about to become a first time home owner and I plan to have her dabble in gardening, I am pretty sure she will be a gardener like me. I have visions of some comedic scenes for Addie involving nature, tools and soil. I hope Addie will learn to love it as much as I do. After all, gardening and life are little more fun on the dirty side.

Three Fine Feathered Friends

Three feathered Friends Original painting by: Julie Allan

Three feathered Friends Original painting by: Julie Allan

A few weeks ago I had my thirteen year old “niece” (read my college best friend’s daughter) come and stay with me for a week. She has called me Aunt Julie for years and her mother and I are both only children, so I am the only Aunt she will ever have on the maternal side.  Our mornings were taken up with the summer program I work each June and she was my assistant.  So I tried to plan lots of fun things for us to do in the afternoons and evenings.  One of the local art studios in Mount Pleasant, Wine and Design, offers open studio times when you can go in an pick any painting of the wall and then attempt to recreate it, rather than the usual class where everyone paints the same thing. That really appealed to my creativity and I knew my niece would find something she liked as well.  I was immediately drawn to a painting of three birds, although the original color scheme was unappealing to me.  I have a slight obsession with birds, I love them in toile fabric, cast in metal and carved out of wood.  I get a thrill when I see the cardinals at the bird feeder in the garden or when I spy a hummingbird flitting among the flowers.  However well after I completed my painting and got it home I realized it was not just that the subject matter was birds, it was the fact they were a trio that had truly spoken to me.  I have an original work, not by me, of some very expressive cows standing at a fence hanging in my kitchen.  I fell in love with it immediately in an art gallery booth one summer.  My mother grew up on a farm with cows, they were a distant memory by the time I came on the scene, but their smell seemed to live on in my grandfather’s barn.  So we have had a few inside jokes in our family surrounding cows, some with squirrels too, but that is a whole other tale.  When I saw that cow painting, I saw my mama, daddy and me, my first and most important trio. Since it was just the three of us in my nuclear family, trio’s have always been an ideal configuration to me.  This is also one of the reasons why I fell in love with Nancy Drew books, she was the center of a trio, she was enhanced and complemented by her pals, Bess and George. In college I had two best friends, Mary Ann and Carla, we were a trio within our sorority.  When Mary Ann came and picked up her daughter at the end of the week, I showed her my painting and explained it was her, Carla and I.  It is amazing to me that for almost thirty years the three of us have maintained a friendship.  Every few years we get together for a girls weekend, usually at my house, after all who doesn’t love to come to Charleston?  We slip easily back together as if time has not passed since the last time, although I do notice the changes the essence of our trio seems eternal.  When I stop to think about it we three are completely different from each other.  We share very few if any interests, hobbies or even similar lifestyles.  We met when we pledged our sorority.  All three of us only children, all three of us blonde, but after that even then you would be hard pressed to find any other connections.  Yet we bonded, and I think enjoyed the fact we were so different from each other.  One of us brash and thriving on the wild side.  One of us preppy and living by Emily Post’s rules.  The third, shy and reserved, suited for the country.  I won’t tell you who is whom, but I bet you can look at the birds and determine by my feather color choices which bird represents which description.  Come to think about it, the three older ladies that are central characters in the trilogy I am writing are much like Mary Ann, Carla and I, though not consciously.  I  wonder if we will become like Lydia, Dale and Miss Virginia. Time will tell, I would like to think we will be friends in our golden years. For now I am content to still be part of a trio of fine feathered friends.

The Scent of the South

Gardenia: The Scent of the South

Gardenia: The Scent of the South

If the sight of a Magnolia blossom is an iconic symbol of the South, then in my humble opinion, the Gardenia would be the signature scent. In late May stepping out into my garden is a heady experience.  The fragrance seems to roll off my Gardenias in waves.  For me, this classic bloom evokes visions of vintage table linens, heirloom silver and strands of pearls under a moonlit sky.  Gardenias speak to the charm and romance that characterizes the South.  I also think they speak to the larger than life personality and the strength of South.  While the blossom bring to mind white ball gowns, the evergreen leaves symbolize endurance.  The powerful fragrance once you have experienced it, is instantly recognizable.  The Gardenia, if you will pardon my expression, is no shrinking violet. I like to think southern girls are the same: graceful, unforgettable, and capable of great endurance through the ups and downs of life.  So if you come across a Gardenia in bloom, close your eyes, take a deep breath and inhale. I promise it will conjure up the essence of the South and you will fall in love with this magical region I am blessed to call home.

Mama Love

Mama and me 1968

Mama and me 1968

Mothers are a common denominator among all humankind.  After all, we all required one to come into existence.  However after birth the experiences we have with that person called Mother are widely varied and extremely personal.  I was blessed beyond measure, born to a mother who not only wanted me, she has continued to love me unconditionally just a few years shy of a half century.  I must admit, I probably have not always made that easy.  We certainly have had many topics on which we have not seen eye to eye, but we respect each other enough to accept our differences.  Another blessing is the fact she is here with me, three quarters of a century old and if our family history is any indication I fully expect at least a quarter of a century more. I know many have had quite different experiences, losing a mother too young, struggling with a complicated relationship, and some don’t even have the opportunity to know their mother.  I find writing mother characters fascinating.  The character of a mother is complex.  She has the role of mother and those relationships to explore, but she also is a person separate from the role of mother.  She has a past prior to motherhood, complete with aspirations that she may have put aside to take on the role of mother.  She may struggle with the balance of wife, friend, career woman, mother etc.  This makes for a character with ample opportunity for conflict, growth and complex interactions with a variety of other characters.  She can be the antagonist or protagonist. My mama, after reviewing my book Pearls of Wisdom, asked me if she was the mother, Miss Eleanor. I assured her that was not the case.  They may be both considered prim and proper ladies, but beyond that Miss Eleanor is a figment of fiction.  Miss Eleanor does not love unconditionally, at least not on the surface. She is not content to accept Addie for who she is. She constantly trying to mold her as she sees fit.  My mama has never tried to change me. She has always accepted me for who I am and for that I am forever grateful.  Thank you mama for giving me a life full of love.  Thank you for always cheering me on and always being a safe haven for me in life’s storms.  Happy Mother’s Day!

The Measure of Time

I am fairly new, not even a year, to the phenomena of Facebook.  I am still exploring its benefits and its detriments.  I love reconnecting with friends from the past who somehow drifted away.  I love seeing photos of kids and events I was missing out on because I was not on Facebook.  One of the things I have observed is it has become a way to measure the passage of time.  People post way back pictures to celebrate or in memoriam.  Milestones are documented: Wow, can that kid really be old enough to get their college acceptance letter? It seems like yesterday they were skipping down the hall at school. There are times I feel time stands still, in Charleston we have many historic landmarks that are preserved with loving care to make it seem as though they were frozen in time. I have found my age stands still for me, somewhere in my early thirties and I have to really think to remember how old I am. Yet in the twenty-nine years I have called this charming coastal community home it has also moved ahead in time with a vibrancy that keeps us in the current century as well.  (Not all growth has been to our benefit, some has changed the feel of our community forever, but that is a subject for another day.) I would like to think my life has progressed with that same vibrancy. My HVAC broke this past week and as I was contemplating whether it would be reparable or need replacing I realized it was approaching it’s tenth birthday.  I have lived in my current house for ten years!  How is that possible?  It seems like yesterday I took the plunge to purchase a single family home complete with yard.  I had never used a lawnmower in my life.  My friend Stacy brought her lawnmower over and gave me a lesson, yes that is me wearing a dress and pearls while having a go at lawn care.  While that seems over the top even for a southern girl, in my defense I vaguely remember I had an event requiring such attire shortly after the lesson.  Behind me you might be able to tell my backyard was completely devoid of plant life, including grass.  Now, ten years later it is a veritable Garden of Eden with magnolia, river birch, eastern redbud, camellias, roses, herbs and so much more. These days I mow in shorts and a t-shirt, I am practical after all.  When I look at that picture I see a year, maybe two gone by, certainly not the decade that has expired.  Those who know me are well aware of my plan to live to be one-hundred, and I guess beyond if my mind is still sharp, one-hundred seems so very far away from my forties.  Yet I am acutely aware that when I get there the lifetime before will seem like mere moments.  So I am going to wear my pearls more often, even for the mundane tasks and try to revel in the present before it’s gone.

First lesson in lawn mowing.

First lesson in lawn mowing.