Attending to the Signs

 

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Sycamore leaf in my front yard

I’m not sure when it happened but fall has definitely arrived here in the lowcountry. I had been searching for signs in the world around me and in the long-range forecasts by the local weatherman. But then October got fully underway and I got distracted.

It happens to me several times a year and I suspect it is the same with others whose primary careers are in education. August, October, and May are the busiest months and I get lost in the vortex of school. October might surprise some, but remember it is the first report card and hence parent conferences for each student. This year it seems to arrive too soon, I suppose due to the eclipse and the hurricane disturbing our normal school year patterns.

When the calendar turns to autumn and parts of the country are already revelling in cooler temperatures and changing leaves, here in the lowcountry we are still sweltering in the heat and high humidity. Yet we press on with fall activities such as football games and pumpkin patches.

October flirts with fall. A few cooler or at least lower humidity days, followed by a resurgence of heat mark most of the month. The air-conditioning hums along, it is still needed most afternoons and we all try to resist turning on the heat for those few cooler mornings. I personally make a rule no heat on until November, so I have gotten dressed at lightning speed a few mornings. I may give in a day or so early this year. It has been in the seventies, but today is in the sixties with a low in the morning threatening the upper thirties. No worries the heat will be on for only a night or two before we return to a few eighty degree days.

I have been so wrapped up with report cards, conferences and trying to be not all work by participating in the busy fall social season, I tuned out for the last week or so and this morning I was taken by surprise by the marsh grasses waving golden heavily amongst the green. The beauty of the waving grass with the water in the background took my breath away.  Leaves along the road are tinged with brown and yellow and my Sycamore in the front has begun dropping its leaves. The breeze is blowing cool, a front is moving through and taking the warm air with it, albeit temporarily. I am giddy with anticipation for crisp air.

When I noticed today that the hints of fall from a few weeks ago had turned into the signs of the season I lamented the fact I had not been paying attention to the moment of transition. I had missed it because I was too wrapped up in other things. I finished the last of my conferences this week and I did manage to participate in two social events, book club and a faculty night at an art place, however, by Friday I was so exhausted I came home and crashed. It wasn’t until Saturday morning I realized I missed a friend’s annual Halloween party. I have enjoyed that party many times and I am sad I missed this year, especially since some in attendance I don’t get to see that often.

The message I think I received from the party miss and the marsh grass change is to slow down and take the time to notice even in the midst of all the busyness. We only have so many falls to enjoy in this life, I want to soak them in. I realize I can’t shirk my responsibilities and nor do I wish to, but I also know things aren’t in balance when I get so exhausted I don’t remember an annual party. I hope you realize it’s not the party but the people that I regret missing.

So today I’m going to seek out some leaves to crunch under my feet and breathe in the fresh air.  I will renew my intention to pay attention to the world around me and appreciate each day for the many gifts it gives.

 

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!

 

An Annual August Eclipse

 

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Protective gear ready for the solar/lunar event

Here in the zone of totality eclipse mania is reaching epic proportions. Locals have been warned to fill up the gas tank and stock the groceries as if a hurricane was approaching. Traffic is going to be a nightmare and I have planned to stay close to home. In the first two days of the school year, I was mandated to teach a lesson on the eclipse to prepare students midst all the back to school lessons that are so important for establishing routines for the classroom. I am excited, it is cool to be in a place with the optimum effects from this space phenomenon.

It is ironic to me that it is occurring in August because as an educator starting my 25th year of teaching every August has an eclipse in the zone of totality. It lasts way more than two minutes, more like four weeks.

Even when I can set up my classroom in July and get some planning done ahead of time, I still find that a new school year eclipses my life to the point of total darkness. I sometimes forget to pay bills, although one year I accidentally paid bills twice. House work and yard work is put on hold until I can’t ignore it any longer and then what gets done is the minimum. I realized last night I was out of hair towels, so a towel wash will happen today amid my lesson planning and sorting my kids into spelling groups (Yes it is a Saturday and I’m going to put in at least 6 hours of school work).My writing life, well, maintaining my weekly blog post commitment becomes a Herculean task and my novel work is on ice. I miss my characters, I miss escaping to their world, I know they will start waking me up out of the few hours I manage to sleep if I don’t carve out some time for them soon. Personal relationships also are eclipsed by the school year, I barely manage to connect with my parents and friends. My parent’s anniversary is every August and the flowers I ordered will be late because I didn’t remember to order them until last night and their anniversary falls on a Sunday. I even do crazy things like stick my keys in the fridge, leave all my toiletries at school on Meet the Teacher day or leave my lunch on the kitchen floor the first day of school.

By Labor day the sun will shine back into my life and I will find balance again. I will be in the rhythm of the school routine and carve out the writing time and the social time without the fog of heavy exhaustion. So this thing happening up in the sky, no big deal, I’m a veteran of an August eclipse.

 

Southern Girl Rule #79: Reuse and Repurpose

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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

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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.