The Sweet Side of Summer

WP_20170727_006Are you aware that it’s National Ice Cream month? As if we needed an excuse to enjoy a creamy cold treat in July. I am happy to recognize the designation and consume my fair share, you know, to be supportive . . .

I have my favorites, coffee, dulce de leche and vanilla, but I enjoy more exotic flavors like black raspberry truffle or ginger. I recently discovered Red Velvet Cake ice cream, win-win for me, I love ice cream and I love red velvet cake. I even enjoy soft serve.

I have so many happy memories associated with ice cream. My Papa, my mother’s daddy used to take us down to get a soft serve in a small town down the road. If we ate coffee ice cream at the house, he liked to top it with cool whip. Often I would be sent out into the part of the house called the summer kitchen where there was a big trunk-like freezer to fetch the ice cream and or the cool whip. I was short, okay I still am, but imagine me kid short. So, I had to have a strategy to get them out.  I would lift the lid and peer over the top to see where they were. Then I would back up, take off at a run, launch myself onto the freezer’s edge, balancing on my belly. I would rock in, grab the ice cream and rock back out. Hard work, but always worth it. My parents and I have also made a Christmas tradition of getting our own pint of ice cream to enjoy for Christmas dessert, not eaten in one sitting, to clarify.

I can pass up a lot of desserts. But I don’t think I have ever turned down a bowl of ice cream.  It makes me smile and instantly puts me in relaxation mode. Let’s face it, a bowl of ice cream almost requires a meditative kind of concentration. You can’t text, or computer surf or much else. It takes a little effort to stir and smooth your ice cream so it is not too stiff or too soft and time is of the essence. The delight of the cool on your tongue and then the sliding down the throat. It is a simple but exquisite pleasure.

It’s a shame that I can’t call it a healthy food, so it does not find a place in my freezer on a regular basis. I have decided that when I get to be eighty, I am going to allow myself a small bowl nightly. For now, it is on occasion out on the town, or summertime in my freezer and of course Christmas.

I savor every creamy spoonful and that is something I think we could apply to other things in life. Savor and enjoy.

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 . . .

Summer Simplicity

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Tomato Sandwich anyone?

There are so many things I love about Summer. The long hours of daylight. The warm breezes that call you to the beach. Even the yardwork that this exuberant growing season brings. But, if I were pressed to identify the one Summer feature I love the most it would be the bountiful fresh and local produce.

A tomato sandwich or tomato slices stacked with fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar are flavorful and fresh on a hot summer day. Ditto a cucumber sandwich or salad. Fresh corn sautéed with a little olive oil and sea salt. Craving something sweet? Pick your berry and add a little whipping cream. I could go on and on. It is so easy to eat healthy and quickly this time of year.

I don’t know about you, but as the mercury rises outside, I try to avoid the oven and keep the stove top going at a minimum. This keeps my kitchen routine simplified. Less time, less mess with big payoff. The natural and simple flavors of the summer bounty tantalize and satisfy.

It is a good time of year to take stock. We are at the annual half-way mark on the calendar year. How are those New Year’s Resolutions coming? Maybe it is time to revise the goals or the plans. No matter, it is definitely time to pause and reflect. Savor the season and slow down. Go to the beach and read with your toes in the sand. Set up that game of croquet or float around the pool. In our modern, plugged in twenty-four hour a day world, this is no longer a nice sentiment, it is essential for our mental health.

Each year I enjoy this break from the busy Spring and respite before the event filled Fall. One of these Summers I am going to figure out how to take this simplicity with me through the rest of the year. Then again maybe what makes Summer simplicity so special is that it is part of the cyclical pattern of my life. There are things I love about the other seasons as well and perhaps I would not appreciate Summer as much if it was never ending.

So grab a glass of iced tea or fresh squeezed lemonade and find a breezy spot in the shade. Close your eyes and commit the moment to memory. That way this Fall or Winter when you feel overwhelmed and harried you can recall this scene, take a deep breath and remember to simplify.

Anticipation

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The first four books of my summer reading stack!

I am a year-round reader, but in the summer, I truly devour books. I can easily read multiple books in a week and I go through withdrawal when every August I have to slow the pace as I get back to the rhythm of a school year.

Here we are at the beginning of the summer and I am ready to dive in! You probably looked at my first four titles and thought, “Whoa Nellie, those are some eclectic picks!” and you would be absolutely right. Three of them are the next three months of book club selections and one was highly recommended by a friend and is written by a fellow debut novelist and I feel very inclined to support it.

I have a few favorite genres, mysteries and historical fiction topping the list and if I can get into a mystery series set in a time period, like the middle ages or the twenties, then I am in reader’s paradise! I do think it is important to be a well-rounded reader so I also enjoy contemporary women’s fiction, the more southern the better, and I enjoy reading about historical figures. I have also enjoyed some science fiction/fantasy works over the years.

One of the things I love about my book club is the selections are varied and some have been challenging reads, due to subject matter or genre. However, even if I found a book challenging to read, I have never reached the end of a book without learning something as a writer. As a reader I have learned to appreciate genres I might have passed by otherwise.

I love how a book can transport us through time or introduce us to a new place. I love when I fall in love with the characters, particularly in a series when you can re-visit them again and again. I have found myself a bit angry at an author when they have chosen to end a series.

Reading is a gift that lasts for our lifetime. I can’t imagine what it is like to not know how to read or to not enjoy it. As an educator I am horrified that there are people who choose not to read. In my classroom I view as my prime objective to not only help students fall in love with books, but to turn them into lifetime readers.

I’ll admit that is more of a challenge in these modern times with social media and technology demanding a chunk of our free time. You know that age old question about what would you want with you on a desert island? One of my items would be a never-ending library. Food, water, shelter, sure! But books to occupy my mind are a must have.

Happy reading my friends!

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 Heat Is On

weather stats for July 22nd

weather stats for July 22nd

It is Late July, when sweat seems to pour out of me like water through a sieve, even standing in the shade. If you have ever been in the South during July or August you know what I mean. Even the dogs don’t want to go out for more than a few minutes, preferring instead the coolness of the wood floor under the whirring ceiling fan and HVAC vent.  It is a bit ironic that folks refer to these days as the dog days of summer.  For me late July brings a different kind of heat as well.  My summer schedule of tutoring and writing along with some fun with family and friends is fast coming to an end.  soon I will add full time teaching back into the mix.  In the teaching profession, at least for the primary grades, there is a lot of classroom preparation and the district never provides the days necessary for that prep, so most teachers are already at it.  I have moved furniture back into place, cleaned shelves, labeled folders, prepared my parent handbooks, and those are just some of the tasks I have been immersed in to be ready for meet the teacher the second week of August.  I also feel the heat of the to do list of personal things I wanted to accomplish this summer that have yet to be dealt with, time is ticking.  Yes, the heat is on and it goes way beyond the humidity and heat warnings issued by the National Weather Service.  This too shall pass.  I will transition from Summer mode to school year mode, somehow accomplishing all that needs to be done.  Sometime around October, some cool nights and pleasantly warm days will make their way to the Lowcountry. It is a funny quirk of the human spirit, in January and February we will yearn for the same heat we currently find unbearable. There is something reassuring about the cycles of the year.  It is exciting for a new school year to begin, I have felt that excitement each year since pre-school in the early 1970’s and I never tire of it.  When I retire from teaching I imagine it will be one of the things I miss.  I am still feeling out the cycle of my writing life.  I may have been a writer most of my life, but I have only sought to be a professional writer over the past year. Next month will mark the anniversary of this blog.  I have completed two novels and am working on the third.  Yet I still haven’t figured out if there are seasonal changes that coincide with the writing,the ebb and flow of a writer’s year. The heat in my writing at this point is self-inflicted, it is not a pressure but a pleasure, a need to write.  I suppose and hope that one day, the heat will come from an editor to finish something, or from a schedule filled with author type engagements.  After a few more years of committed, consistent writing, I might even identify the yearly cycle of my writing life and come to appreciate when the heat is on.

The Promise of Summer

Isle of Palms, South Carolina June 2015

Isle of Palms, South Carolina June 2015

Anyone who is a teacher or related to one knows that from mid-August to June a teacher’s time is not their own.  They can tell you precisely what they will be doing any weekday at any given time between seven and four.  Each day runs on schedule with little deviation.  Science is always during science, of course the content changes and the lessons change from year to year to accommodate the needs of the current class and to keep the content from becoming stale for the instructor. Even the time off is regimented, you know well in advance what days you will have off, so it is difficult to whisk away for a fall leaf vacation in New England or to take in Paris in the spring.  Big trips are taken in the heat of the summer.  I am sure some of you out there are thinking, you get your summers off and we don’t, but the truth of the matter is we have earned those days, they are comp time for the sixty to eighty hour weeks typically put in to the school year and if you teach young kids like me, you need time to recover or you will soon depart this very demanding but rewarding profession.  Now, school is out!  These eight weeks are scheduled only at my whim, I do work tutoring and teaching a two week summer program, that gives me free afternoons, so while some time is scheduled, the majority of these eight weeks are blessedly my own. My routine in the summer always includes a weekly visit to the beach with a picnic lunch and a good book.  I savor my time on the beach, there is something soothing about the sight and sound of the waves crashing up on the shore.  the breeze counteracts the heat beating down from the sun, both of which seem to recharge my endorphins.  When I take a break from my book, I people watch, mining the scene for characters.  The beach is also a great place to think.  I reflect on the past, mull over the present and wonder about the future.  I close my eyes and ideas for my novels will flood my mind,  I have learned to take notepad and pen with me. Since as far back as I can remember the beach has been a happy place for me.  We spent hours on the beaches of Italy, Hawaii and Maine in my childhood. Living on the coast of South Carolina keeps me in my happy place most of the time, year round but especially in the summer.  Each June the promise of summer presents itself like a elaborately wrapped gift waiting to be unwrapped. It is the gift of time.  I want to read on the beach, write, organize closets, visit with family and friends, tackle a project or two. I did set up my tutoring schedule so I have several days a week free.  How fast the days and hours of summer become filled, the promise of extra time diminished.  Yet, it is still more time than the other seasons of the year.  As the years march on I have become more aware of the value of time and have even learned to be a bit selfish about how I spend it. The promise of summer is more time to do the things I absolutely love and savor them. This summer time makes me wonder what life might be like when I finally retire from teaching.  I was talking to my daddy the other day and sharing with him my working plans for the summer and adding in, I look forward to the day I can just spend my days writing.  He responded with “Well you can’t write all day every day.”  He is absolutely right.  I find several hours at a time is about what my brain and hands can take for a session, although when I am on a roll I can do longer or a second session later in the day or night.  So even if writing was the only must do on my agenda, I would still have hours to fill. I may not get to everything on my summer to do list but one thing is certain the time I spend on the beach will fulfill the promise of summer,