Saying Goodbye to the Season

 

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The door out to the garage

Well, the feast of the Epiphany has come and gone so now there is no question, it is time to say goodbye to the holiday season until next year. I have put away the tree, the mantle decorations and the various other decorations in the rooms around the house. The Christmas dishes are tucked back in the cupboard and the holiday linens have all been laundered and folded.

There are two things left to do. I need to take the wreath down from the front door, although with it’s cream ribbon and shells in the evergreen, I feel I can get a few more weeks out of it. The other task is dismantling the display of greetings on the door out to the garage. This has become one of my favorite parts of holiday decorating. I go in and out this door almost exclusively. That means I get to see all the fun pictures each and every day. I enjoy thinking about the friends and family who sent them. So needless to say, I am not really wanting to take them down.

It is sad to me that so many seem to have given up the tradition of sending a greeting card. I am glad that so many of the people I know still do. I love the picture ones, especially from the folks I don’t see all the time. I like to see how the children have grown in the past year and I adore when the family dogs or other pets are included in the pictures.  I like how my Aunt Nancy always tries to find a dog card to send to me, knowing how much I will enjoy that. I love the way the gesture of these cards makes me feel connected.

For the past few years, I have always ended up receiving enough cards to fill the door and I hope that is the case for years to come. I know this year’s display needs to come down soon, but not today…maybe tomorrow!

 

My Two Biggest Fans

 

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My Christmas Card 2016

Every Year since Lucky and Ella were born they have been the stars of my annual card.  This year I loved the idea of having them show off my two other babies. Recently a friend reminded me that over 16 years ago I shared that on my life’s bucket list was to publish a novel. Here we are and I have now published two with my third due out in the spring.

2016 has been a very special year for me and I have high hopes for 2017 as well. I love being a teacher. I love being an author. But I have to say, these two beautiful fur babies give me unconditional love every day and I love them the most out of all my blessings.

Those of you with animals other than human in your home understand what I mean. For those of you who have never had the opportunity to love a creature other than human, I highly recommend it. Sometimes I think the other species we share this planet with are the better members of God’s creation.

I have to say Lucky and Ella are particularly smart (biased of course!). They understand when I pull them together for a picture and will patiently pose for me. This year Lucky came over and got on the sofa and settled in without any cajoling, just a quick call, that it was time for the Christmas picture.

While Lucky and Ella can’t read my novels, they have listened to them when I read aloud for editing. I also put them in the first book as the dogs of my heroine Lizzie. I like to think they are flattered by this and proud of my accomplishment of becoming an author.

They are ten years old now and I hope we have many more cards to come. Regardless I love our tradition of taking our card picture each year.

 

A Southern Shower

 

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The Front of the invitation I crafted for a friend’s shower

Some traditions are sacred to womankind and I like to think showering the bride is one of them. The bridal shower is a rite of passage. The gifts from any decade are intended to help set up a new household with style. Here in the south, that means oodles of monogrammed items from linens to glassware. The hostesses carefully select decor to integrate with the bride’s color scheme. The feminine touches of white, lace and flowers evoke membership in a truly special group, the company of women.

While we enjoy the mini-cupcakes, signature drinks, and the charming party favors, One friend made lovely jars of sugar scrub for all the guests, I think it is the continuity of the tradition that we find the most pleasing. The rhythm of life is confirmed every time we baptize a baby or hold a funeral for a loved one. Our celebrations of special occasions are milestones for the celebrant and welcome respites from the daily routine for those who are blessed to participate.

Isn’t it nice that life offers up occasions for us to pause, take stock, and count our blessings.? I found this shower to be sweet and relaxing. The aesthetic touches. from the candle in a large cream lantern on the table to the mason jars wrapped with burlap and raffia set the atmosphere. The women, most of whom have known each other for years, felt those bonds of friendship strengthened by our shared happiness for the bride. We oohed and aahed over the lovely linens, many of them monogrammed . We wrote messages of advice for the couple and made the traditional bouquet out of the ribbons off the packages. But mostly we enjoyed each other’s company.

What a gift we woman have in the company of other women, celebrating the beautiful moments in life together. What a blessing that the time-honored tradition of showering the bride is still alive and well.

 

 

The Cheering Season

 

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Death Valley, Clemson South Carolina

It is football season once again and here in the south we are giddy with the return of tailgating and team pride. In this season of political discord and worldwide woes, the balm of team colors and bragging rights after the weekend games is a welcome distraction. Across our nation, we are enjoying the game from pee-wee to professional. Personally enjoy college ball the best and also rooting for the local high school team, the Wando Warriors.

In the south loyalty to team ranks with religion and family. Woe to the bride who does not consult the game schedule when selecting the date for her wedding. If your team plays on a Thursday  night, bleary eyes are expected and forgiven at work on Friday. The beginning of the season is  a fresh start, full of hope and dreams of  a conference or  national championship or a least a bowl game.

We elevate tailgating to fine entertaining. We decorate our cars, we post team flags from our porches and we wear our team colors every jeans-Friday and game day. We the fans are all in, no matter who our team is. Why do we seem to go overboard for a game?

The truth is, it is more than a game. It is part of the tradition and the flow of the seasons. It is a celebration of the fact life ticks on and we are here to continue to enjoy it. It means we enjoy the camaraderie of fellow fans as well as friendly rivalry with our loved ones who insist on  being fans of one of those other teams. Football season is social and  if you are lucky enough to cheer for the team that has Dabo Sweeny as the head coach, it is filled with words to live by.

Currently, I find the state of the world leaves me  disheartened and in great need of a distraction that is healthy and hopeful. Thank goodness it is time to focus on first downs and scoreboards. In this cheering season, I will wear the orange and the purple. I will also absorb the hope and energy each game will bring. Happy Fall Y’all!

 

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 . . .

Forever Free

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The fourth of July is once again upon us. Signs of patriotism adorn our communities. We make plans to gather with family and friends for picnics and barb-e-ques. We top it off with fireworks, magical enough to turn a ninety year old into a nine year old for an enthralling hour.

We take our freedom often as a rather than a gift. We go about our daily lives oblivious that it could be any other way. Maybe that is an effect from our success as a democracy. We have few citizens who truly understand what it means to fight for that freedom. I am sensitive to this, having grown up in a military family. My undergraduate degree is in Political Science, primarily because of my love of country. I would argue my twenty-three years (so far) as a public school teacher would be my version of dedicated service to my country.

I am still like most of my fellow Americans. I enjoy the fruits of freedom without too much contemplation on the toil and care that makes that toil possible. So I was surprised when reading the book Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, that I found myself reflecting on freedom and what it truly means.

The book was a glimpse into cultures I have little understanding of. While there were some things to appreciate, like the value placed on family, there was much to make me very thankful to be born in the west, under the stars and stripes of freedom.

This book did more than make me thankful. It made me realize freedom needs to be cared for and cultivated lest it rots. It also got me thinking about how freedom does not mean anything goes or “easy street” for citizens. Freedom can be hard. It means options and choices, which require us to be thoughtful and discerning about those choices. It means we have to be respectful of those who don’t see things the same way we do and work for common ground, or at least a way to tolerate the difference. For Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who grew up indoctrinated against free thought or choices, freedom was a bit bewildering and she says tiresome. I got that. Sometimes don’t we wish someone would just make the decisions for us and just tell us what to do?

That unfortunately would be the unravelling of a democracy. We have freedoms and we enjoy the fruit. The price is to tend the garden by participating and voting. We have to think and make the hard choices. We need to recognize there is a battle for freedom going on in the world and our enemy is the easily named terrorists, but it also the taking for granted the very freedoms we should be vigilant to protect.

So while I will indulge in a hot dog and hopefully some fireworks, I plan to pledge anew my commitment to be forever free.

 

Brand-new Heirloom

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Keeping Box handcrafted by my Daddy and given for Christmas 2015

The title of this blog post at first glance might be considered an oxymoron, but I urge you to ponder the idea that something might earn the status heirloom if it meets certain criteria.

My daddy has been a woodworker from as long as I can remember.  No matter where we lived he managed to find a place for a workshop and always seemed to have a project in the works.  When I was a young girl he built a Swiss chalet dollhouse for me and I remember sitting and watching, the smell of fresh sawdust swirling around. To this day that warm woodsy smell brings back happy memories of my childhood and my daddy.

In recent years when I visit my parents, I often hear the power saws and occasional banging travelling up through the floor of the family room from his meticulously kept basement workshop.  One Christmas I asked for and received a jigsaw and he supervised my building of a dog bowl holder, complete with bone shaped handles I cut out on the side pieces.  He also taught me how to use a compound miter saw and when I got one of my own, I tackled window trim and crown molding for my home. I have been blessed with a skilled teacher.

However when my mother and I were presented with similarly wrapped packages this past Christmas, I had no idea I was unwrapping a handcrafted keeping box complete with a removable tray and a divided storage section underneath.  Both the tray and the drawer at the bottom of the box are felt lined.  Mama’s was slightly bigger, but she has way more jewelry than I do.  I admired the wood, the dovetailed joints and the paneled lid.  I was in awe of the time and thought that went into the building.  Neither my mother or I had requested a keeping box, he thought about us and what we might appreciate.

So what would the criteria be to make something an instant heirloom?  I would suggest the top of that list would be handcrafted.  Other factors are if the piece in question is made with care and consideration for the recipient.  Is it something that can be handed down with the story of who made it?  Is it something to treasure?

This keeping box meets all that criteria in my opinion. It is now on the short list of what must be taken in a hurricane evacuation.  I chose to put the jewelry pieces I use most in it so that I would use it on a daily basis.  That way I appreciate my daddy each day and am reminded of the love he has for me.

A Highland Fling

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Clan MacDonald Ranald

 

Cold winter nights are made for binge watching and Netflix provides plenty of options. While my blood runs red, white and blue American, to the point I get teary at patriotic songs, there is something ancient also coursing through my veins and it stirs at the sound of bagpipes.  My heritage has origins in Scotland and the romance of tartan and lochs is hard for this girl to resist.

I have always loved BBC productions from comedy’s like Keeping up Appearances to dramas like Downton Abbey and Foyle’s  War.  So you can understand how I got sucked down the rabbit hole with a series called Monarch of the Glen, with my own clan’s laird and family as the fictional characters.  It has drama as well as comedy and the Scottish lochs and hills are breathtaking.

America is full of folk with something ancient from across the sea beating in their hearts.  After all unless your ancestors were here prior to the European takeover of the sixteenth and seventeenth of the new world, you came from off.  For over two-hundred years my more recent ancestors along with some who arrived after our countries one-hundredth  birthday forged an allegiance to the stars and bars, many generations demonstrating it on the battlefields from the revolution to the Vietnam war. Yet if I go three-hundred years back I find our family firmly entrenched in the British Isles and I like to think I can honor that as well. Although admittedly, my Scottish ancestors were probably enemies of my English ancestors if you read the history or watch Braveheart.

If you look at the motto inscribed on my pin pictured above you will find the words, “My Hope is Constant with Thee”  and I think I have lived that motto all my life, well before I knew of it or the clan it comes from and I spring from. There is no scientific proof that we carry the legacy of our ancestors or their character traits in our DNA, but when I look at the characteristics of my ancestors known through letters and diary entries as well as the ones I have been blessed to know in person and compare them to mine I have no doubt I have inherited more from them than eye color. Perseverance, optimism and  stubbornness just to name a few.

So I have no guilt over my Netflix binge, just like a good book the BBC delivers characters you can connect with. I have enjoyed my escape to the old country and the theme of honor your heritage and its traditions that runs through each episode. The siren call of the loch has uncovered the tartan that is woven into my soul.

Doors and Decisions

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The Finalists

I am generally a decisive person.  I chose the College of Charleston with such conviction I never even mailed off any other applications.  When I decided to buy a house I did it in a matter of a week. I decided I wanted to be a writer and I wrote, the stories just pouring out of me.  When faced with major life altering decisions, I will weigh the pros and cons of each option, but then I commit to one, never second guessing.  So I am in a bit of a quandary as to why selecting a new color for my front door has led to months of mulling and waffling.

My house is a warm gray with white trim and black shutters.  The door is currently black as well and I have always found it to be a bit boring.  I have a natural penchant for things red and it is a classic door color, but it is also somewhat predictable.  I am all for tradition and love classic design, but I loathe being cookie cutter or expected.  On a trip to Dublin Ireland I was taken by the charm of the door colors around the city and was particularly drawn to the green ones.  Green would be a bit unexpected, but not too out there, like say purple ( I like purple, just not as a door color on my gray house).

So I originally brought home about twenty paint chips, about two-thirds green and one third red.  I agonized and culled it down to five, interestingly only one is red.  Then I began to overthink it.  What does the color say about me?  What message would it send?  In my mind red tells a visitor you are welcome, this is a cheerful home with a traditional and confident homemaker.  Green on the other hand, while also welcoming, says this homemaker is a bit unpredictable and likes a modern twist on a classic.  Pardon me while I scream my frustration with myself, IT’S ONLY A PAINT COLOR!

Somehow this minor decision has become a major statement on who I am.  Can I be summed up in a paint color?  I think not, I am a bit more complicated and I would dare say multi-colored than that. Besides, I can change my mind quite easily and just repaint if I find I don’t want to live long-term with my decision, much easier to switch then say the purchase of a car or major appliance. So why the angst?  I bet a psychiatrist could have a lot of fun with this.

So what is an indecisive girl to do?  Well, I have not finalized my decision, but I have committed to a deadline for a decision.  I will make my choice by December 31st so that my first weekend project of the new year will be to paint my door. If there is one thing I have learned to do well is to make a plan and commit to it.

Just like a book is revealed in its pages, not its cover, a home is revealed by its atmosphere not its door color. So with a new year I will have a new door color and regardless of what that color might be I know my house will say you are welcome and this is a place to feel at home.

Traditions and Rituals

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Christmas Card Pic for 2015

Tis the season of rituals and traditions and I confess I find a lot of comfort in this.  When there is so much strife in the world and worry in life, there is something reassuring to know the annual card photo, the decorating the baking and many of the events to attend will by and large be untainted by the world.

There are a few exceptions, we notice those missing more acutely and some events change or don’t take place.  Some folks become such slaves to tradition that they go through the motions but don’t enjoy. Instead they stress and grumble at fitting it all in.  They try to out-Pinterest the neighbor and out-bake Martha Stewart.

I like to think the missing loved ones are with us in spirit and remember past Christmases with them.  When an annual event is no longer, then there is opportunity to find or start a new event.  Tradition and ritual should be savored not dreaded.  There isn’t to my knowledge a Christmas commandment list that declares, thou shalt send cards or thou shalt make handmade wrapping paper.  So if the cards stress you out, don’t do them. If the idea of baking gives you hives, don’t turn on that oven.  Follow the traditions and rituals that make your Christmas season joyful.

I enjoy so many things in this season.  My annual photo for the card is fun to create.  My co-workers so enjoy the Southern Living cheddar, cranberry pecan shortbreads I make. They start asking for them the first week in December and when I finally deliver them the Monday of the last week of school before vacation, I enjoy the faces lighting up as I present them. One of my friends does an annual cookie party and collection for the East Cooper Community Outreach, and I enjoy taking a big box of diapers, having a nice glass of wine and visiting with friends. Another friend has a cookie swap party, our Bunco group December gathering is always extra special and then there are the parades on land and water.  However, if any of these events become burdensome or unenjoyable I will skip them. This year I skipped the parades to give some quieter moments in my calendar.

Traditions and rituals have value, only if you appreciate them and consciously participate in them. Enjoy the Christmas season, soak up the goodwill and strive to be a part of the peace on earth.

Merry Christmas y’all