The Gift of Time

 

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Hampton Park, Charleston, SC

It is Spring break here this week and that has freed me up for writing and I am finally moving forward again on my fourth novel, I may even finish it this week. The gift of time from my teaching responsibilities I have consciously made the effort not to squander.

The old adage of all work and no play makes Julie a dull girl, nagged at me. As the week began I was talking with a friend whose’s first question to me was what are you going to do this week? I rattled off m plan to write, go to doctor appointments, take the dogs for their annual shots, etc.  Her next question was what are you going to do for fun?

Sometimes we get caught up in the idea that if we aren’t working on something we are somehow wasting time. In our culture, it is un-American to be unproductive.  When I get exhausted from the pace, I sometimes wish I was European, where they seem to have a better way to balance.

After I got off the phone with this friend, I decided that if opportunities came up for fun this week I was going to take it. That night a post came through from a teaching colleague who had moved away and was in town for the week, inviting me to join her and others at a Tuesday afternoon happy hour. I immediately replied yes. Then I accepted a same day invite to join two friends for dinner. At the happy hour, I set up a coffee date at my favorite french cafe with another friend. Each day I have gotten an invite to join in or meet up for fun and I have accepted every one. I call all these invites a God wink, a nudging to do what I need to do to refuel and refresh. Isn’t that what Spring break is supposed to be about?

Unlike teaching, I can’t write for ten or eleven hours a day, I have tried to write for several hours a day breaking the sessions up with moving with housework or yard work and that works for me. The balance between sitting and moving is a conscious effort for health reasons for a writer. While your brain gets a workout and dare I say a drain, your body suffers from the sitting in front of a computer screen. My restless body cries out for movement.

Which brings me to the idea of being still. Another thing that Americans are generally uncomfortable with. After all, if you are sitting still how are you being productive.  I have been using a yoga DVD to improve my flexibility and at the end of each session, there is a segment of lying still and focusing in on your breath. At first, it was awkward, I wanted to just jump up and move on to the next task, the work of yoga was done. Now, I enjoy the time, after all, it’s sanctioned by the yoga instructor as part of the workout, so it’s not wasting time.

This same friend that questioned me at the beginning of the week is battling an aggressive cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation plus a barrage of doctor’s appointments. The gift of time means something entirely different for her. She is forced to spend lots of time sitting around and waiting for tests, waiting for treatment, waiting to feel better.  The finite nature of time in a human life has been brought to the forefront of thought.

Shouldn’t that be true for all of us, diagnosis or not? Our lifetime is finite, some of us with have more years than others, but none of us should squander the time we have been given. Does that mean we have to fill our days and nights with productivity? I say yes and no. Yes, make your life count, stand up for a cause, do work that makes this world a better place. No, because this life we have is not a full life if we don’t share with others, enjoy it and take moments to be still and reflect on it.

As this was one of my friend’s chemo weeks, she requested I bring her a strawberry milkshake, one thing that she can have that doesn’t seem to make her nauseous. Spending time with her has become a priority for me. She is ten years older and our friendship is like a big sister and little sister. She makes me laugh and is a sounding board when I grapple with life’s issues. I can only hope that I give her as much as she has given me. It was nice to take her one in the middle of a weekday afternoon. It was a beautiful out so we took our milkshakes a block over to Hampton Park, which sits outside the gates of The Citadel. We found a sunny bench to sit and watch our fellow park visitors. We chatted some and also sat in companionable silence. At one point she asked me what I was thinking about. I told her I was just soaking in the park and the sunny day, which was true, but I was also thanking God for the gift of time with my wonderful friend.

 

What Time Is It?

 

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My favorite watch.

I have been hyper-focused on time since the beginning of 2017. The passage of time, time management, how much time I have to do certain things or how little, depending on the subject.

I feel like the older I get, the faster time seems to pass. Sometimes when I look back I am overwhelmed by what I accomplished in 2016. I feel equally overwhelmed by what I need to accomplish in the coming year. So I take a deep breath and think about how no matter how I proceed, it will be day by day, hour by hour and minute by minute.

I am one busy girl. I teach full time, I tutor, and I write novels and try to learn about and manage all that goes into the life of an author. Plus I take care of a household and maintain relationships and carve out a little me-time here and there. It takes careful time management to make it work and occasionally I get off plan. Deep breathing. a step back, a re-prioritizing and then we’re back on track.

Like every adult, there are things we must do and things we want to do. Balancing that can be exhausting, sometimes I really wish there were twenty-six hours in a day. I also wish that there were times we could slow the passage of time down, think more days with our elderly loved ones. At other times I wish we could speed it up, think standing in line at the DMV.

The passage of time is unmerciful. We can let it have great influence in how we live our lives, or we can go with the flow as the optimists like to say. I hope when I get to the end of my life, ideally, age 108, I will be able to look back and think I used my time on this earth wisely. I also hope I managed to work in a fair number of days where I frittered the hours away doing things that brought me joy.

We don’t know how much time we have ultimately, but we do know it is finite. If you think about it too much you can stress yourself right out. As I’m typing this I’m stressing that I have only a few hours to get some chores done before I have to get into bed. Maybe I need to give myself permission to put some things off for another day and instead get some good snuggles in with my golden retrievers. I think it is safe to say at the end of my life I won’t be remembering how great it was that I got that other load of laundry done on a Wednesday night. Yes, the laundry will need to get done at some point, but if I only have so much time to spend, I want to spend it on more important things.

So I am choosing to think about time as a gift with an expiration date. I am going to make the most of the time I’ve got.

 

 

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Remember To Rest

 

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A Sunset over the Stono River

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Sip and Savor

 

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A small batch bourbon in Charleston

I recently went out with two friends to the bar at Husk in the heart of historic Charleston.  We went there to try the cheeseburger which came highly recommended. I had expected an interesting and lengthy drink menu and I was not disappointed.  I was highly impressed that the golden liquid called whiskey and bourbon had a menu book all of their own.  The range was seven to sixty dollars with offerings from all over the world and many from the United States.  I admit I enjoy a good bourbon, I tend to be a wine drinker, but I thoroughly enjoy a bourbon and ginger, or a quality selection poured neat. One of the friends I was with was quite knowledgeable about many of the offerings.  The other one was a complete novice.  She asked would you get it with water, over ice, with a mixer?  We explained to her that a quality bourbon is meant to be sipped, to be savored.

That got me thinking about quality versus quantity. I thought about the tendency in our instant and fast paced world, to grab and go, rather than sit and sip.  I have come to appreciate the smaller and slower things in life.  A slice of artisan crafted cheese over a pound of factory produced cheese. One set of high thread count sheets over a linen closet full of multiple sets of lesser quality. A well-made, classic article of clothing over a bag full of trendy lesser quality clothing from a chain store.

I like to think that I have crafted my life in a way that I savor the moments, even the mundane things.  It is a battle sometimes in this world to go, go, go, constantly looking forward and not savoring the moment we are in. I think writing keeps me more reflective and thoughtful and observant. I hope that makes me a bit more appreciative of the beauty in the everyday as well as the moments that sparkle.

If I think about life as a fine bourbon, enriched over the passage of time, then I have to draw the conclusion that life should be sipped and savored. Bon Santé my friends!

Enchanted Evening

A Thursday Night at Home

A Thursday Night at Home

This past Thursday night I was blessed to spend a few hours with two of the best kids ever (I fully admit I am biased here). It happened to be the eve of the anniversary of the 9-11 tragedy, that still brings tears to my eyes and ache to my heart fourteen years later and I honestly hope it always will.  Otherwise it will cease to be a reminder that we do have a choice to make the world a better place, to not allow the evil in the world to win. After the kids and their adorable puppy went home, I got on Facebook and read many touching posts about honoring those lost on 9-11 and it got me thinking about what is a meaningful way to honor them.  There are grand gestures, donations to charities and moments of silence among many options, but I would like to offer the thought that while remembering on the anniversary is honorable and respectful, perhaps how we live our lives the other days of the year are equally important.  There are a few things I believe wholeheartedly: One, We can not live in fear or the terrorists win. Go out, travel, participate in the world. Two, Love can and will triumph over the evil in this world. And third, making this world a better place is more about daily living, the way we treat others and the attitude we choose to take, than about the grander events that are newsworthy.  Having said that I would like to share with you the enchanted evening I spent with these precious young souls and what I learned.  While I prepared  a meal of a  from scratch Alfredo sauce and tortellini and peas and pancetta, the kids worked on homework and played with the three dogs who were having a blast on their own playdate. We sat down to the table and I shared a blessing from a book of blessings before we broke our bread.  After cleaning up dinner we did some more schoolwork, the older one asking for extra practice with multiplying and dividing integers and I quickly found some worksheets on line (Is that not a dream student who asks for extra homework? The teacher in me was thrilled!). After quizzing the younger one on continents and oceans we had ice cream and set up the board game Clue. While the twelve year-old and I battled our deductive reasoning skills, the seven year old paraded around the house in my high heels.  Throughout the evening we laughed, shared our thoughts and just enjoyed each others company.  If these two are a representative sample of the generation of the future, I believe we are in good hands. None of the things we did that night were extraordinary, but they should be treasured just the same.  9-11 on a grand scale reminded the world how precious life is, even the every day activities of homework, dinner and play.  Before 9-11 many people took the daily blessings like spending such an evening for granted.  For a short time after, they vowed to change that, I would venture to guess many after a time, allowed busyness and other priorities to creep back in, we are all guilty of taking the everyday for granted.  This particular evening reminded me to guard against that.  Despite working all day, spending my evening this way fed my soul and revitalized my spirit, what a blessing!  I look forward to many more enchanted evenings with my loved ones reveling in the ordinary and wish for you the same.

Message in the Moonlight

The Blue Moon July 2015

The Blue Moon July 2015

I was intrigued by the media coverage of the blue moon, enough to do some on-line research into it.  I learned the blue moon occurs approximately every 2.7 years, so not as rare as other celestial phenomena such as comets making a visit to the neighborhood, but rare enough to warrant them as special.  Incidentally the moon is not actually blue, it is just a full moon that occurs in a month that has already had a full moon.  This time the cloudy skies obscured my view and my amateur photography did little to correct for the conditions when I tried to capture it. I suppose if we lived in ancient times the occurrence of this blue moon would be considered auspicious.  I’m not sure if it would herald impending disaster or glad tidings.  Preferring to live life on the sunny side, I vote for good things to come. As a coastal girl I am tuned into the power of the moon. It pulls on the tide, it sparkles on the water.  I find the days and nights around a full moon to be restless.  As a teacher I have years of anecdotal evidence that children walk a bit more on the wild side during the full moon phase and I dare say we adults do too.  As a child I remember night time car rides when I fancied the moon following us home like a guardian angel. The crescent moon is dear to my heart, it is after all a symbol of my beloved South Carolina.  However, the full moon, especially if you can witness it’s rise over water, it is soul-stirring magic. This blue moon seemed to say, “Get ready, great things are coming your way” so I revel in the anticipation.  At the very least the blue moon can give us pause to unplug and gaze skyward.  We can ponder and dream and that is a powerful thing.

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,