Southern Girl Rule #79: Reuse and Repurpose



The chair that inspired a repurpose

If you read magazines like Southern Living or Better Homes and Gardens like me, you see plenty of stories of how a home owner decorated primarily using hand-me-down and garage sale type finds. They use paint and fabric, change knobs and legs and transform pieces into treasures. Sometimes they take items made for one purpose and use them in new and unique ways, proving that most things can be versatile if you use a little imagination.

So what does this have to do with a new and very modern classroom chair? Well, for a number of years I have used chair pouches to help my students corral folders and also to add a warmer, comfortable feel to my classroom. My Mama has sewn two sets of classroom pouches for me over my career and the last set we added iron-on turtles to go with m school’s mascot. Well if you have read my blog lately, you know I am changing schools and switching from a loggerhead to a coyote. So this summer I got excited and paid a pretty penny to have patches put on over the turtles to show the coyote and lettering to name the school and my section, 1D. That’s reusing, right?

Fast forward to moving in and finding that after twenty-five years in a public school classroom, someone has decided the typical chairs are no longer adequate and modern curvy backs are the bomb. I imagine by now you realize where I am going with this. Alas, the pouches don’t fit.

After a moment or two of panic and a black hole opening up and sucking money into it, with the help of some co-workers and friends I began problem-solving. Could we add something to the pouch? Could we attach the pouch to something that would fit the chair? Could we beat the chair into a normal shape? (No one suggested that one, it just flashed through my mind, I’m not a huge fan of modern- pretty to look at, not practical and I definitely wouldn’t want to live with it.) Each suggestion had its own difficulties.

After several conversations and text exchanges with my friend Emily, we have come to the second part of the rule. If you can’t re-use, then repurpose. We will be cutting out all those wonderful patches and reattaching them to curtains and who knows what else, we have a pow-wow scheduled in the room to brainstorm.  This rule is definitely more fun and more productive with a friend.




Embracing The Coyote



The patch covering up my loggerhead turtles on my student seat sacks for our new school. The Design is by Melissa Gaddy, very talented owner of Marsh Grass Monogramming.


Almost 13 years ago, my school was over crowded and we split by grades, K-2 moving into our own school with the cute mascot of Loggerhead turtle. Living in the South Carolina Lowcountry with many of our communities championing the sea turtles, it was a natural fit and I loved it.

Presently these two split schools have become overcrowded again, a consequence of living in paradise and having the likes of Conde Nast declare you the top destination. So the new split brings prek-5 back under one roof in the new Carolina Park Elementary and our new mascot is the Coyote.

It was bittersweet to leave the school I thought I was going to retire from. I miss those left behind, but so grateful for the ones taking the journey with me. I miss the idea of a school focused on the primary grades, but love that I will see former students grow and will have older kids to do collaborative projects with for my students.

One thing I have been resisting is the idea of a Coyote over a turtle. But when the color scheme of blue, green and gray was introduced and the very talented Melissa Gaddy of Marsh Grass Monogramming made the coyote more cute than fierce, I began to warm to the idea.

Yesterday I got to take a tour of the new building with fellow faculty and staff. I was blown away by the natural light and the finishes. I am in love with the storage that is built into the rooms. Here I am a 25 year veteran of teaching and I feel giddy like a new teacher.

I have approximately 4 to 6 years to cap off my educational career before I turn to writing full-time. I am truly thrilled to have such a beautiful place to pass those years. While I will always be more of a fan of the beach and native creatures that make the Lowcountry their habitat. I might just find I enjoy howling at that palmetto moon too.

Office Hours



My work area

One of the advantages of living in the South Carolina lowcountry is the proximity of the beach and each season I seek the sand and surf for different purposes. For example, in the winter I love to walk, think, process, and reflect. In the summer I set up my office hours.

A writer never really takes time off, your brain is always contemplating stories and characters, consiously or subconciously. Teachers on the other hand have what some consider the gift of summer, but what teachers know to be comp time for the many hours we work beyond our contracted hours. As both an educator and a writer, I spend a lot of hours working. That could be teaching, private tutoring or my author life and I enjoy it. Too much down time and I get a little antsy. Too little and I crash and burn and that what has me savoring this summer.

I have learned from past summers, if I schedule too many tutoring students, I don’t feel rested for the next school year. Plus, as my writing career continues to grow it needs more of my work time. I also know my time at the beach is non-negotiable, it is a must.

See beach time is more than relaxing, it is time set aside to read without distraction. If you read anything touting advice for writers, a given on the list is to be an avid reader. I have been a devourer of books before I began school and always have a stack calling my name.

During a typical school year I manage to read a book or two a month but in the summers I can read several books in a week. To keep that pace, my office hours on the sand are a committment to reading. The average person might think I’m loafing, but I can clearly make the case that I’m working dillegently. At least that is my story and I am sticking to it!

So with my toes in the sand, skin buffeted by the breeze and ears filled with the waves lullaby, I can spend several hours soaking up the beach and the literature on my knee. These are office hours I can enthusiastically fill. From one of my favorite Cole Porter songs, “Nice, gig if you can get it.”


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



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.


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!

Southern Girl Rule #5: A glass of Tea and Lunch with a Friend is good for your health

WP_20160329_001I was on spring break this past week and while I can not boast to any exotic time off in the tropics, or even packing a bag to go anywhere, I did indulge in one of  my favorite activities. Lunch out with a friend is not only something I truly enjoy, I think it is essential for my mental health.

I am fascinated when I do get to go out mid-day on a weekday and see what the rest of the world is up to. As a teacher, I have spent a whirlwind twenty minutes of dining on a packed lunch in the somewhat lacking environment of a primary school cafeteria. So on a teacher workday, or vacation days, I try to be a “lady who lunches” as often as possible. Teachers often feel isolated from other adults, even with colleagues down the hall and in rooms next door. My writing life is also a bit isolating. Let’s face it, you can’t be distracted by others when you are composing dialogue or plotting out the route your characters are going to take to get to the end you have envisioned. I was an only child, so I guess I have had plenty of training on how to be alone and be happy with my own company. I want to make clear, I am very happy on my own, but as we all know that adage, “No man is an island,” I think it is healthy to emerge and socialize now and again.

I do love people, and I have rarely regretted saying yes to a social invitation. I have written before on how important cultivating friendship is. Your true friends, are your touchstones.  They give you a reality check, they cheer you on and they give you strength when your reserves get depleted.

I do enjoy lunch with a group of friends, but there is nothing quite like sitting down with one treasured friend and sipping iced tea. (I wish mine could be sweet tea, but that is a health no-no for me). I have one dear friend who is a bit older than me and has been retired from teaching for several years. We meet for lunch regularly and I always leave with a smiling soul.  I love to listen to her talk, she grew up in Cheraw, South Carolina and her accent is distinctive. I love how we can tell each other anything without judgment. I treasure that friendship and I treasure the time to lunch, al fresco on a sweet spring day.

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,