Equinox

September 22 was the autumnal equinox. Here in South Carolina the weather has felt like summer throughout September, but that day there was just a touch of Fall in the air. I know many people welcome the cool, crisp days of Autumn, but for me, they come with wistful sadness that the carefree days of summer are over.

equinoxThough I’m sure I learned it in school, I realized I wasn’t absolutely certain of the definition of equinox, so I looked it up.  Wikipedia states: “An equinox is an astronomical event in which the plane of Earth’s Equator passes through the center of the sun which occurs twice each year, around 20 March and 23 September. On an equinox, day and night are of approximately equal duration over the earth’s equator.”

I wanted to know more, so I surfed around the internet and found an article entitled: All you need to know: September Equinox by Deborah Byrd in Astronomy Essentials/September 26, 2016. (What did we do before the internet?) One of Byrd’s observations that interested me most was that because early humans spent more time outside than we do, they used the sky as both a clock and a calendar. She writes:

“Our ancestors built the first observatories to track the sun’s progress. One example is at Machu Picchu in Peru, where the Intihuatana stone, … has been shown to be a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes and other significant celestial periods. The word Intihuatana, by the way, literally means for tying the sun.”

The Intihuatana stone – also called the Hitching Post of the Sun – at Machu Picchu in Peru. It was used to track the sun throughout the year. Photo via Imagesofanthropology.com.

The Intihuatana stone – also called the Hitching Post of the Sun – at Machu Picchu in Peru. It was used to track the sun throughout the year. Photo via Imagesofanthropology.com.

I continued to surf my way through a few more articles that talked about equinox traditions. No surprise that autumnal equinox celebrations, for obvious reasons, are associated with harvest time and involve giving thanks for a successful harvest.

One article that made me pause stated, “It is a time to give thanks for the summer and to pay tribute to the coming darkness.” Hmmm. The idea of paying tribute to darkness stumped me. Then I wondered why, if we experience almost equal day and night, is this phenomenon named equal night and not equal day? (The word equinox drives from Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night).

The day before the equinox I  finished reading Anna Quindlan’s Miller’s Valley. This wonderful book, the life story of Mimi Miller, recounts her life’s journey, from her earliest recollections of growing up on her family’s farm to a glance backward in an epilogue where she reveals her age as 65. In her lifetime Mimi experienced her share of both joy and sorrow

One of the most painful chapters for me involved helping her mother pack up their house to move. While I read that chapter I had a memory of a stack of books on the desk in my living room in New Jersey. That recollection was so vivid that I remembered one book in particular, how the curtain hung behind the desk and how the rhododendrons looked through the window. And in that moment of recollection I felt a profound nostalgic ache for the home of 25 years that I left behind and a part of my life that was over.

At the same time, I looked around my condo, grateful for this new home, so happy to be here for this new chapter of my life. How is it possible to feel an aching, longing for the past and complete pleasure in the present simultaneously? Equal day…equal night. Bittersweet. Perhaps I, like our solar system, can hope to achieve balance only once a year. The rest of the time I will give thanks every day for the light and try my best to honor the darkness.  Farewell, Summer. Welcome, Fall.yinyang

Dolce Far Niente

Livingston ManorSummer is coming to a close. Even here in South Carolina the weather has cooled just a tad. School actually started last week in the Palmetto state. This morning I awoke early and saw a school bus picking up students at 6:25 AM. That is so wrong!

I feel total sympathy for these youngsters, deprived of the last two lovely weeks of summer. I know summer technically ends in September, but growing up, Labor Day always signaled summer’s end and the days leading up to it were savored, held on your tongue like that last piece of penny candy fished out of a little brown paper bag.

I’m an adult and I know I should be writing, but even I, of iron self-discipline, had to force myself to start writing this blog. The only thing that made me open my laptop this morning was my horoscope in today’s paper that warned, “You are committing daily acts of self-sabotage.” Ominous words, indeed! I haven’t written anything in weeks.

Still, I can’t stop rolling around in my mind a fabulous Italian phrase I learned from my friend, Nina, this summer. “Dolce Far Niente”… the sweetness of doing nothing. Yes, that to me is what these last, languorous days of August are for. Not for weeding and pruning, but for sitting on the porch or patio, sipping a cool drink, watching the grass grow. Not for swimming laps, but for bobbing on a noodle in the swimming pool. Not for working, or even planning, but for the sheer pleasure of doing nothing.

“Unlike aquatic species, the turtles have the ability to travel upland and estivate for the remainder of the summer.”

“Unlike aquatic species, the turtles have the ability to travel upland and estivate for the remainder of the summer.”

Another new word I learned this summer from my subscription to Wordsmith.org is estivate which means “to pass the summer in a dormant state”. If you read my January blog, New Year’s Confessions of a Retiree without Resolutions, you may remember I lamented the fact that I felt like a tortoise in a world of gnats and humming birds. How apt that Wordsmith’s sample sentence used to illustrate usage of the word estivate was this: “Unlike aquatic species, the turtles have the ability to travel upland and estivate for the remainder of the summer.” It’s official. I’m now adopting the turtle as my personal mascot.

Right now, I invite you to indulge yourselves, my friends. No matter how crazy, busy your life has become or how accustomed you are to constantly being on the go, take at least one day to sit down in the shade and reacquaint yourself with the sheer pleasure of doing nothing. September will be here soon enough. Estivate while you still can!

First Anniversary

One year ago today, July 23, 2015, I moved into my new home in South Carolina. For the first few months I enjoyed the newness of my surroundings, but I did not feel quite at home. Honestly, I felt as if I were on vacation for the longest time (I think the swimming pool in my complex was most responsible for that.) I’m not sure exactly when, but one day, sitting at my kitchen island, I realized I was home and it felt great.

Flower Bed 2015

Flower Bed 2015

Overall it’s been a terrific year. I’m lucky to be near my mother, sister and brother-in-law who’ve wanted me to move here for years. We get to do a lot together that simply was not possible when I was just visiting.

Since I arrived, I’ve also met many wonderful people…my friendly neighbors here in Mauldin, my fellow mystery writers at Sisters in Crime, my writing colleagues at Creative Writers of Greenville, my pinochle pals at the Mauldin Senior Center, and my sister gardeners at the Simpsonville Garden Club. Most recently, I’ve found another group of kindred spirits, The Newcomers Club of Greater Greenville. Isn’t that just the greatest idea…a club for people new to the area?

Same Flower Bed, J2016

Same Flower Bed, 2016

Taking advantage of all the cultural activities Greenville has to offer, my sister and I have attended plays and musicals at almost all of Greenville’s theaters including The Peace Center, The Warehouse Theater, Center Stage and the Little Theater of Greenville. The performances have been top notch and tickets here are sooooo affordable. We even saw wonderful free performances of Julius Caesar and As You Like It put on by the Upstate Shakespeare Festival in Falls Park on the Reedy River in downtown Greenville. Mauldin had a Friday night series of free concerts and dancing that culminated in a special celebration on Saturday, July 2nd ending with a fabulous fireworks display. Two days later we attended the Red, White and Blue Festival in downtown Greenville with another magnificent fireworks display. (We love fireworks.)

As I’ve written about in previous blogs, I’ve been gallivanting with both the Mauldin Senior Center and Lifewise, a Senior Program through St. Francis Hospital. We’ve travelled to Columbia, the state capital, historic Union, nearby Spartanburg, and Athens, GA. We visited historic homes and churches, plantations, and college campuses. We even visited a local farm in Simpsonville where we made bricks out of clay soil and harvested broom weed, making our own brooms.

Best of all this year, I have been blessed to have dear friends and family make the trip to visit me…Jane and Rip Noble, Carl and Phyllis Yaglowski, Patricia Rock and Trish Sutherlan, Joanne and Mike Frehse, Judy Olsen, Joanne Kempton, Nina Augello, Jay Johnson, and Joanne Manse. Every visit was special and I enjoyed showing everybody the sights of Greater Greenville.

Last night I re-read all of my previous blogs working my way backwards. It was a sweet trip down memory lane. One of the best parts of being here and being retired is that I have more time to devote to writing, though I admit I’m not as diligent about it as I’d like to be. Still I have managed to complete the final draft of my cozy mystery, Second Bloom. I’m pleased to report that one of the literary agents I contacted so far asked to see my first three chapters. That’s pretty exciting. The really good news is I’ve started working on a second book which includes the same lead characters as Second Bloom, Holly and Ivy Donnelly, two middle-aged sisters who love to garden and just happen to get involved in solving murder mysteries.

Bet you didn't know okra had such a beautiful flower.

Bet you didn’t know okra had such a beautiful flower.

If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you know that a love of gardening is something I have in common with my main characters. I have to say the growing season in the South is another one my favorite things (that and the sprinkler system at my condo complex). I had a big job amending the clay soil, but after adding a considerable amount of topsoil, I planted vegetables in April and started harvesting zucchini and cucumbers in June followed by okra, tomatoes and eggplant in early July. Yes, life here is good.

I am pleased that through the wonders of technology and telecommunications I have been able to remain in touch with my dear friends up North. Once a month I Skype into an apartment on East 83rd Street in New York City with my book club of 30 years. Through Facebook, Linked-in, Twitter and this blog I’ve heard from so many people I’ve actually been out of touch with even when I lived in New Jersey. All in all it’s been a fabulous year and I’m looking forward to many more. Thank you so much for reading my ramblings and thanks especially to those of you who take the time to comment. I love hearing from you. So please keep reading and I’ll keep writing.

A selfie with my lettuce crop in April.

A selfie with my lettuce crop in April.

Book Review: Garden Spells and First Frost

Enchanting. That’s how I would describe Sarah Addison Allen’s books about the Waverly family if I had to do it in one word. Both Garden Spells and First Frost charm us from page one. The Waverly women live in our world, but they’re different. They possess remarkable talents that set them apart from their neighbors in the small town of Bascom, North Carolina.

Claire is a successful caterer, but the recipes she’s learned from her grandmother produce edible delights that often have odd and sometimes life-changing effects on the people who eat them. Elderly cousin Evanelle finds herself compelled to give people things, never knowing why. Of course, the recipients always need Evanelle’s unlikely gifts, though they don’t know why at first. And the apple tree in the backyard throws its fruit to impart a message to those who eat it.

Garden SpellsEven the name, Garden Spells, has a dreamy quality to it. The gardeners among us must smile when we think about planting seeds and watching them magically transform into gorgeous flowers or luscious vegetables. This first of the two novels involves the surprising return of Sydney Waverly and her young daughter, Bay, to the family homestead. Ultimately, Garden Spells is a love story…a tale of how Claire and Sydney reconcile and how each finds romantic love, ready or not.

If you finish Garden Spells, sad to say good-bye to these charming characters, no problem. The Waverlys return in First Frost. When a stranger arrives in town, he upsets the peaceful balance Claire and Sydney Waverly have achieved in their lives. The sisters, along with Evanelle and Bay, whose gift, by the way, is knowing where things belong, again use their special gifts to work their way through the challenges to their family brought on by the stranger’s story.

Firt FrostIf you want a break from the harsh and often painful realities that surround us, Garden Spells and First Frost are the ticket. Don’t be surprised if you start wondering whether or not you have something in common with the Waverlys. Is that green thumb of yours just a learned skill, or a magical talent passed onto you from your mother, grandmother, and who knows how many generations before? When you phone a friend and she says, “I was just thinking about you?” is it a coincidence or your “gift”? When you miss the train that derails…just plain luck or evidence of your inherent intuitive powers? You decide.

Happy Father’s Day!

James Francis Handley 1925-2000

James Francis Handley
1925-2000

In August 1945 my father, who was 20 years old, was on board a US Navy minesweeper bound for Japan preparing the way for marines to launch an invasion. The invasion became unnecessary when President Harry S. Truman and his advisors decided to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively ending the war with Japan. It’s hard for me not to applaud that decision.

After serving in the Navy, my father returned home to Pringle, Pennsylvania, married my mother and joined his father as a loom fixer in a textile mill. Back then fabrics were still being woven and produced in factories in the Northeast. My grand-father lived with us and he and Dad worked both day and night shifts at the mill. I remember because sometimes they slept during the day, and we had to be quiet as we played.

When Dad was not working, we did just about everything as a family…food shopping, church on Sunday, television at night, trips to the lake for swimming and picnicking in the summer and ice skating in the winter. I don’t remember interacting with my father alone much in the early years of my life. My mother was the disciplinarian, making most of the decisions regarding my two sisters and me. She didn’t work outside the house until I needed braces when I was in sixth grade, so my mother was the day-to-day “supervisor” in our world…not my father.

Galway Bay, 1980.

Galway Bay, 1980.

When the textile mill closed in the early sixties, my father got a job with J.P. Stevens at a small research facility they maintained in Garfield, New Jersey even after all the production mills moved to the unionless South. I remember my mother telling the story of how my father got the job with the very real conviction that it was part of God’s divine plan. My mother and father were out at a local bar one Saturday night. A man, I don’t recall whom or his connection with my father, came into the bar and struck up a conversation with them. He worked in New Jersey. When he learned my father was looking for a job, he said he’d seen an advertisement for a loom fixer in the paper and that he had the paper out in his car. He actually went out and brought the paper in for my father…further evidence of God’s hand at work.

Dad could fix anything and was always working when he came to visit.

Dad could fix anything and was always working when he came to visit.

My father applied for and got the job, and for the next four years he commuted to New Jersey. At least, back then, that was our idea of commuting. He lived with my cousin Carol and her husband in Rutherford, NJ during the week and only came home on weekends. Monday mornings he would leave our house in Pringle at 5:30 AM and drive straight to work in Garfield. Monday through Thursday he stayed at my cousin’s. Friday after work he’d drive back home to us. We all knew when he was on his way up the street because our dog, Sparkle, would start wagging her tail in excitement even before any of us heard the car.

Reflecting back on that time compared to now, I wonder how many men would do that for their families today? Four years? Would they do it for six months even? It is remarkable to me now looking backward. Never mind not seeing your family or sleeping in your own bed four nights out of seven. The weekly drive alone was grueling and hazardous. Today’s interstate highways have changed all that, but in the early ‘60’s Route 80 didn’t exist. The drive consisted mostly of windy, two-lane roads through the Pocono Mountains to the Delaware Water Gap, followed by Route 46, a slightly better road because it was a divided highway, but the going was slow because it had lots of traffic lights. In the winter, the Friday night journeys through the Poconos back to Pringle were downright treacherous. In spite of all that, I don’t remember my father ever not coming home for the weekend.

As I mentioned, my mother was our most constant influence, but there were a few occasions when she turned us over to my father. The day of my cousin Marie’s shower that my mother was hosting at our house was rather memorable. My little sister, Mary Ellen, was only about two years old, so she got to stay home, but my mother must have instructed my father to take my older sister, Jane, and me out for the day. We were probably five and nine. My father took us to a local bar with him. It was a great day for us. Coca Cola and candy bars flowed freely and we played pinball sitting on top of bar stools. All the men got a big kick out of us and kept supplying us with coins to play. What a great day!

Jane, Dad and me at the amusement park.

Jane, Dad and me at the amusement park.

I don’t remember how my mother found out where we went that day. I vaguely remember being told something like “Don’t tell your mother.” I didn’t. But we lived in a town one-mile square where we were related to just about half the people in town. Someone told. The next time my father took us for the day, we went to Angela Park, a now-defunct, but then brand new, amusement park. That was fun, too. But to this day, I believe I owe my great fondness for sitting at bars to that first time. In restaurants with a bar, I actually prefer to eat at the bar than at a table, much to the dismay of some of my female friends, who, in my opinion, missed out on going to a bar with their fathers, a rite of passage generally reserved for boys.

I have lots of memories of my father driving us places. Along with the textile mills in the North, Sunday drives with the family have also become a thing of the past. Hard to imagine a time when just getting in a car and driving around country roads for an hour or two was considered a pleasurable way to spend the afternoon, something adults and children alike looked forward to. My favorite memory was a drive on the old Chase Road near Huntsville Dam one Sunday afternoon. A little black dog started to run alongside the car and my father stopped and let her in the backseat with us. That was Sparkle. She was just a puppy without a collar, who picked our car to run after…apparently another divinely ordained occurrence. Our first dog. Another great day!

My father died from Alzheimer’s in 2000. A few months after the funeral, my younger sister, who along with my mother, cared for my father to the very end, asked me about Dad’s Days at Douglass College where I went to school. I hadn’t given much thought to those uniquely, all-girl college experiences in years. I told her how my father drove down to New Brunswick by himself every year, and how we would spend the day at various activities around the campus. I would choose our agenda. I vaguely recall bus tours of campus, but in general whatever we did was largely forgettable. One instance I do recall, however, was a really lame performance by a young woman who forgot the words midway through the Ave Maria. I remember a polite exchange of glances between my father and me, and our laughing about it afterwards. I also remember having lunch with my first year college roommate and her father, a college graduate himself. Later my father remarked to me how good it would be to be a professional like my roommate’s father. That evening long after our fathers left campus, my roommate told me her father said he wished he could be like my father who was so personable and easy to talk to. I remember thinking to myself that I was the luckier of the two of us.

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

As one of three sisters and part of a family that always did most everything together, I have only a few memories of experiences that my father and I alone shared, those four Dad’s Days among them. I knew the concerts and lectures we attended on those days were not exactly the kinds of things my father enjoyed doing, yet he came all four years. I asked my sister what made her ask me about Dad’s Days, and she told me that she was going through his things after he died. In a box in my father’s drawer, he had saved the pins he’d gotten each of those Dad’s Days. At that moment I felt sorry for those who inherit only money and property, lesser gifts than the simple, yet certain evidence I received that day that my father loved me and treasured moments that he and I alone shared. What a great day!

Life is Good

Last week I got an email from a colleague asking if I still taught my writing class for marketers. As you may know, I was a marketing consultant in the construction industry for nearly 30 years, so I sometimes still get these inquiries. I must admit, they are a bit of an ego boost.

A few days after that email, I got an email from a friend who wanted to know if I had some time to talk to her about a re-branding project she’s working on for an engineering firm. Jokingly she asked if I had a few minutes to chat…that is, if I wasn’t too busy “gallivanting” in my retirement. [Great word, gallivant. It means to “go around from one place to another in the pursuit of pleasure or entertainment.”]

It just so happens that I read that e-mail while on a bus in between a tour of the Walnut Grove Plantation in Spartanburg, SC and a visit to Kornerstone Farms, a sustainable, multi-generational farm in Woodruff, SC, where the family’s eight children took us around introducing us to their chickens, milking goats, pigs, dogs and beehives.

In the evening I wrote back to my friend. “Well, as it turns out I was on a day trip today to the Walnut Grove plantation. Does tomorrow around 10:00 am work for you? Lunch with the garden club president at 11:30. Honest…I’m not making this stuff up.”

As soon as I acknowledged that I had, indeed, been “gallivanting” and wrote what I was up to, I realized it sounded… well…a bit make believe. And get this…after I sent the e-mail I went back to reading The Secret of Red Gate Farm, a first edition Nancy Drew mystery that my friend, Nina, sent me for my birthday. Am I having too much fun? Can you have too much fun?

A few weeks ago, when I was walking the dog, I met up with a man whom I see walking my condo complex regularly. We greeted one another and I asked, “How are you today?” His reply: “Living the dream every day.” I’m fairly certain he meant that ironically, but I have to say, that’s how I feel most days. Don’t get me wrong. Even a cock-eyed optimist like me gets the blues some days. But overall I have been blessed with little patience for self-pity and a remarkable ability to snap out of the doldrums, and for that I’m truly grateful.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’ve stopped watching the news. I used to be a news junkie, but no more. The media is saturated with murders, robberies, terrorist attacks and car crashes and I just can’t bear to watch a daily summary of all the bad things that happen. I do still read the newspaper, and while the paper reports on the same awful occurrences, I can scan the headlines and move on to the human interest stories I prefer. Somehow I always manage to find some newsworthy gem that really tickles me and restores my faith in humanity.

Last week I was drawn to a brief item with this caption: “Father, Son in Custody After Kidnapping Plot”. A 51-year old father and his 22-year old son lured a woman and her four teenage daughters to a house in Centerville, Utah where they tied them up in the basement. Their plans were thwarted when “they were overpowered by the women they abducted.” The men are now in custody and facing felony charges following the botched kidnapping plot. Now if that story doesn’t brighten your day just a bit, I don’t know what will.

The Pollyanna principle is a subconscious bias towards the positive.

The Pollyanna principle is a subconscious bias towards the positive.

Yesterday I shared on Facebook a little known 9/11 story about how the small town of Gander, Newfoundland helped 53 planeloads of travelers who were re-routed and stranded there for two days after the attacks on the World Trade Center. The townspeople rallied to house, feed and take care of everyone during those horrendous two days when the world stood still. In return, the travelers created a trust fund to provide scholarships for the students of Gander to repay them for their generosity of spirit in a time of need.

Now you can call me a Pollyanna and focus on the “bad” news if you choose to, but I’m going to keep on gallivanting, living the dream, looking for examples of our shared humanity and stories that demonstrate the triumph of the human spirit…proof that life is good. Are you with me?

World and Time Enough

Yesterday, my cousin and friend, Joanne Frehse from Charlotte came to visit and I told her about entering the Flower Show at the South Greenville Fair shortly after I moved to South Carolina last July. I remembered that I had written about the experience, and Joanne encouraged me to post it to my blog.  So today I offer you another variation on my Spring gardening theme and a little slice of southern living. Hope you enjoy it.

                                       ************************************

Throughout my busy life in New Jersey, I often scanned the newspaper’s list of “Things to Do This Weekend” and lingered longingly over events I wanted to attend like concerts, garden shows and community fairs. Then I’d finish my coffee, fold the newspaper and start cleaning, cutting grass, doing laundry or any one of a million other things on my to-do list. No more. Now, I get out my I-phone, bring up the calendar and start adding events. Retired life is good!

South Greenville Fair particpants.

South Greenville Fair particpants.

One of the most genuinely enjoyable events I attended so far has been the 58th Annual South Greenville Fair on Saturday, September 19th. The Fair consisted of various events intended “to educate and inspire community celebration of the science and technology of plant and animal production through youth participation involving the 4-H and FFA organizations”. (I vaguely remember learning about the 4-H club as a youngster in school, but other than that, I only ever heard mention of the FFA in the Dixie Chick’s song, Good-bye Earl).

Anyway, the Fair’s events included Goat, Rabbit, Dairy Cattle, Beef Cattle, Dog and Horse Shows. All-day events included the Antique Engine and Tractor Show, Grandpa’s Farm Show, an Art Show and what brought  me there — the Flower Show.  My sister and I learned about the Flower Show when we attended our first Simpsonville Garden Club meeting at the Rotary Club on East Main Street the Tuesday before the Fair. (It was as down-homey as it sounds. They served iced-tea and water, a cream pie and fruit. )

The topic of the meeting was how to prepare a horticulture entry for judging in the Flower Show competition. Thelma Barnett, Horticulture Entries Consultant, and mother of the current President Christine Barnett, explained requirements for cut specimens. In spite of the fact that my sister and I just walked in off the street, we were invited by club members to partake in the refreshments and strongly encouraged to submit entries .

I immediately thought of the wild ageratum my sister gave me when I moved in to my new condo and how gloriously it had been blooming throughout July and August. Yes, I admit it. I may be retired, but the thrill of competing for a prize made my pulse quicken. Even my non-competitive sister whispered to me, “I could enter my dahlias.”

That night, I went out and watered the ageratum well…just as we were told to. The next morning, I located an old glass olive oil bottle. I went outside and carefully cut a stem from my ageratum and lovingly wrapped it in plastic wrap to secure the stem in the bottle neck, exactly as we were instructed to at the Garden Club meeting. When I completed the tag with the appropriate information — I’d looked up the Latin name, Conoclinium coelestinum, online the night before — I glanced over at one of only two plants I was able to bring South with me when I moved…a salmon-colored angel wing begonia. I remembered  there was a potted plant category. How could I not enter this graceful plant…one of at least half a dozen plants I’d started from cuttings from one mother plant that bloomed constantly in my New Jersey kitchen over the past two winters, making me smile and giving me hope even on the bleakest days in February? Yes, this beauty deserved to be in a Flower Show.

Me and my 2nd Prize Begonia.

Me and my 2nd Prize Begonia.

My sister and I arrived at the Fair around 1:30 on Saturday. In spite of the fact that we were both hungry, we went straight to the Community Building. We giggled like school girls, recounting all the television shows and movies we’d seen about competitions like this one…not completely willing to admit how much we really wanted to win.

When we entered the building, I turned to the right and there was my begonia with a 2nd prize blue sticker on it. I couldn’t stop smiling. We walked down the next row and there sat my ageratum, a 3rd prize red sticker attached. I was starting to feel a little light-headed. As we rounded the last row of exhibits, my sister became discouraged. The day before she nearly backed out of entering saying we didn’t stand a chance of winning.  Just as she said, “My entry must have been disqualified,” I spotted her dahlias on a table apart from the other exhibits. I grabbed her by the arm and pulled her over to the table, where her Crème de Cassis Dahlias proudly bore a 1st place sticker and ribbon! Now we were both positively giddy.

Mary Ellen and her !st Prize Dahlias.

Mary Ellen and her !st Prize Dahlias.

Basking in the afterglow of our success, we strolled through the Art Show, then outside where we got barbecue rib sandwiches from the man who won first prize in the BBQ Cookoff competition. Yum!  After that we had freshly churned, homemade ice cream. We each got a mix of chocolate and vanilla with Reese’s Pieces. Get this…the Reese’s Pieces were actually pieces of Reese Cups chopped up in the ice cream.

We ended the day watching a girl of no more than 10 win a fist full of red ribbons riding her horse with such mastery that it took my breath away, reminding me of every dreamy horse book I read as a girl, from National Velvet to The Black Stallion. Sigh! It was clear to me that the South Greenville Fair fulfilled its mission to provide “a format for the community to see, experience, and help promote the value of our environment and natural resources to preserve our rural heritage”.

Now that I am retired, I have to admit, I sometimes hear “Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near”. Ironically, I also now have “world and time enough” to enjoy events like the South Greenville Fair. I have a feeling the pure pleasure of it all will keep my heart pumping a good, long while…that and the adrenaline rush of competing in the Flower Show. Just wait until next year…

Spring Fantasies

According to the Book of Genesis human life began in a garden…the Garden of Eden. Any wonder why so many of us love to cultivate the soil and grow things? I have so much I want to say on this topic that I’m sure I can’t get it all into one blog. I also don’t know where to begin or how to organize my thoughts, so let me just jump in at the point where I got the idea for this blog.

Purple and Gold Pansies, March 18, 2016

Purple and Gold Pansies, March 18, 2016

On February 28th, I think it was, I marveled at the display of pansies at either end of a planting island on my street. The picture you see here was taken today, March 18th, but I have to tell you the plants looked almost as good a month ago. We have had an unusually warm winter, even for the South, so the pansies that normally survive the winter here, are thriving. What a delight to see them every day! (I smile whenever I look at the rich purple and gold hues…Garfield High School colors.)

One of the many reasons I chose the condo I live in is that I have my very own patio surrounded by mulched flower beds. The same way I pictured my furniture inside, I envisioned lush plantings of flowers and

June 2015

June 2015

vegetables in those empty beds. That brings me to another thing that triggered today’s topic — a quote from Marian St. Clair, a Master Gardener who writes a blog and a column for The Greenville News.  In a column a few months ago, Ms. Sinclair wrote: “Despite challenges and constant setbacks, or perhaps because of them, gardeners are stubborn folks who nurture a dynamic fantasy life. In our minds, perfection is always within reach and next year’s garden is bound to be the best yet.”

I just love that quote. Until I read it, I never thought about gardening as fantasy fulfillment, but that really is an accurate description. When you put daffodil, tulip, and hyacinth bulbs in the ground in the Fall, you are planting based on some fantasy you’ve conjured up in your head about what they will look like when they come up in the Spring. You’ve imagined it all first. (I do believe the rich fantasy life that drives gardeners is the same one that drives fiction writers…but that’s a topic for another blog, of course.)

I still remember the first time I planted red tulips and purple grape hyacinths in my yard in New Jersey. When they bloomed in the Spring, the shock of color nearly made me giddy. And, yes, as Marion St. Clair stated, I began imagining what I would add to my garden the next year to make it even better. Every year I added not just bulbs and perennials, but whole garden beds to my yard. One of the hardest parts of leaving my home in New Jersey, was saying goodbye to the many plants I’d nurtured over 25 years.

Snap peas, March 18, 2016

Snap peas, March 18, 2016

Not to worry, though… I’ve already begun anew. Just last week, I got out my basket of saved seed envelopes and planted what was left in a packet of snap-pea seeds. When the green leaves started to poke their heads through the dirt after the rain last week, I was ecstatic. Yes, we gardeners are not just stubborn; we’re resilient and ever optimistic.

Oh, I have so much more to say about gardening, but I’ll save it for another day. I must, however, end with a appreciative nod to the Simpsonville Garden Club which my sister and I joined last month. At this month’s meeting, we elected new officers. This is how it went:
1. Eileen Hofmeister from the nominating committee presented the slate of nominees: Judy Rogers, President, Judy McGinty, Vice President, Sylvia Lockaby, Treasurer and Christine Barnett, Secretary.
2. Current President Christine Barnett asked if there were any other nominees from the floor. There were none.
3. Eileen made a motion that we accept the proposed slate of nominees by acclamation.
4. Someone seconded the motion. All were in favor, and no one opposed the motion.
5. The slate of nominees was elected by acclamation.

I do believe our nation would do well to look to the Simpsonville Garden Club as a model for how to run an election. Congratulations, ladies!

Until next blog, whether you’re a gardener, a writer, or both, I wish you boundless optimism, limitless imagination and an abundance of rich fantasies to carry you into Spring.

Good Reads and Happy Endings

Well, it’s the end of February and this is my first post. Tsk! Tsk! But it’s been a really good month because I’ve accomplished a lot and, most importantly, I found an editor for my cozy mystery, Second Bloom. I’ve only got a few more chapters to revise before I send it off to her. That means I can start writing Book Two of my planned series in March. Finishing something, however big or little, is always satisfying. The end of one thing allows for new beginnings and that’s always exciting.

Emma Watson as Hermione Granger

Emma Watson as Hermione Granger

That brings me to my topic for today…good reads and happy endings. This month I discovered that Emma Watson has created a book club group called Our Shared Shelf on the website GoodReads.com. (I know. Can you believe our little Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter movies is all grown up and the Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women?) Of course, I joined Goodreads.com and also Emma’s group…I’m one of 115,569 members.

If  you find yourself searching for “good reads”, I think you’ll really like GoodReads.com. What I love about the site is that you get to see what your friends are reading. You can also read reviews they’ve written and decide whether or not you want to try a book. When you sign in, you link through your Facebook account, and your Facebook friends who are also members of GoodReads.com, automatically become your Good Reads friends. It’s simple, uncomplicated and it’s free.

As a result, I’ve been reading a bit this past month…of course, I’m always reading. I’m a member of a book club for over thirty years. Since I moved to South Carolina, I “skype” in. (Skype is just the most wonderful communication technology…but that’s a topic for a whole other blog.) This month we read How to Be Both by Ali Smith. Does the title make you scratch your head? Well, the whole book left me scratching mine. Here’s my Good Reads review:

How to Be Both“Not a fan of this style of writing. From the title to the very end of the book, I longed for a simple declarative sentence to dispel the murkiness of the convoluted dual narratives. I know this was a prize winner lauded by critics, but I was neither enlightened, inspired nor entertained.”

So there you have my criteria for a “good read”. I want to finish a book feeling enlightened, inspired or entertained. Otherwise, I feel cheated. I admit that, left to my own devices, I’d read nothing but murder mysteries. Clearly, they fall under the entertainment category, and, after all, that is one of the reasons I belong to a book club.  I want to be pushed out of my comfort zone. Most of the time, I am rewarded with the enlightenment or inspiration, if not always entertainment, that result from reading books I wouldn’t ordinarily choose myself. All the Light We Cannot See by A. Doerrs and State of Wonder by Anna Patchett are two that come to mind.

Ironically, I think my tendency to read mysteries is that they tend to have satisfying, if not entirely happy, endings. The puzzle is solved, the murderer is caught and everyone can go on and live happily ever after. In spite of that general rule, I was recently horrified by the ending of Anne Cleeves’ murder mystery, Blue Lightening. I won’t give it away, but I felt quite blindsided and heartbroken by a murder that occurs near the end of the book.

Okay, I confess. I love happy endings. I mean, who doesn’t? If I want to feel hopeless andOld Yeller depressed, I can read the newspaper or watch the news on television. If I want to feel baffled and confused, I can watch the political debates. When I invest my time reading fiction, I want to conclude feeling something positive. No matter what awful things happen to the characters I read about, I want them to triumph in the end. If fail they must in order to move forward, at the very least, I don’t want their spirits crushed, because my spirit will be crushed as well. Remember Old Yeller? I cried my eyes out when they had to shoot him, but he died a hero, and the movie ends with Yeller’s puppies running around, making us smile as only puppies can. That’s what I’m talking about.

Low Country BoilRight now, I’m reading Carl T. Smith’s Low Country Boil, set in a small fictional town on the coast of South Carolina. When I met Carl at a Creative Writers of Greenville Meetup, he told me he writes stories about “strong women and enigmatic men”. How could I not want to read one of his books? I just started, but here’s what I wrote on GoodReads.com:
I’m on page 27 of 395 of Lowcountry Boil: After reading Ali Smith’s How to Be Both, this book is like a tall, cold glass of water following a walk in the desert. Beautiful, crystalline prose: “There was no moon to speak of — a slender cut that chiseled shafts of light through the limbs of the live oaks and created quiet shadows and sequined reflections on the surface of the water.” Can you ask for a better opening line? —

Another book I’m reading at the moment is Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. How I love this man and his enthusiasm for writing! But that, too, is a topic for another blog. Nevertheless, I want to end by sharing with you a quote from his essay, “How to Keep and Feed a Muse”, in which Mr. Bradbury contends that we must surround ourselves with experiences that “feed” our inner spirit if we’re going to be creative:

“Look at yourself then. Consider everything you have fed yourself over the years. Was it a banquet or a starvation diet?
Who are your friends? Do they believe in you? Or do they stunt your growth with ridicule and disbelief? If the latter, you haven’t friends. Go find some.”

Gosh, I just love that. No starvation diet for me, thank you. Books, like good friends, must nourish us.  Go find some good reads and have a feast. Till next time, Happy Reading!

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You may be hearing from me in the form of quotes or book reviews posted on  GoodReads.com  and shared via Facebook. If you’d like to share what you’re reading with a community of readers, I encourage you to check out GoodReads.com. Alternatively, feel free to share your book recommendations by adding a comment to this blog. And, don’t forget that by adding your email to this blog’s subscribe list to the right, you’ll receive an email when new blogs are posted. At the rate I’m posting, you clearly don’t have to worry about being overwhelmed by too many emails. LOL

Life Lessons from a Yo-Yo

On Saturday I received a phone call from a friend and business colleague whom I’ve known for years, but whom I haven’t spoken to in a quite a while.  Lisa only recently learned I had moved to South Carolina, visited my blog and called to catch up and reminisce.  As we were about to hang up, I remembered to tell her that I still had, in a prominent spot on my bookcase, the yo-yo she had given me many years ago.  I could hear her smile at the other end of the phone line as she said she was happy to know that.

You may be asking yourself a few questions right now?  Why would one business colleague, particularly a woman, give another business woman a yo-yo?  A yo-yo is a child’s toy after all.  And why would the memory give both of us pleasure now?

Well, I met Lisa back in the 1990’s when she signed up for a 10-week Marketing Basics class I was teaching through the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS).  In the class on Trade Shows and Conferences I explained how important it was to have something in your display booth, like a give-away key chain or pen with the company logo, or even a simple bowl of candy, that would draw people over to your booth and facilitate the start of a conversation.

Next, I told the class the story of my first trade show.  The engineering firm I worked for at the time had purchased an exhibit booth at a Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) conference.  Before I go any further, just in case you’ve never met an engineer, let me ask you a question.  Do you know how to tell an engineer who’s an introvert from an engineer who’s an extrovert?  Answer:  the extrovert looks at your shoes when he talks to you.  Now, I’m not trying to be mean, because I love engineers.  Really, I do.  They are the most logical, fair-minded and honest people I’ve ever met.  But they are conservative in every way, spend most of their lives avoiding the spotlight and would rather slide down a razor blade than make a spectacle of themselves.  Now, imagine engineers designing a tradeshow display booth.

My boss bought our first display system which consisted of square black felt panels that snapped onto metal poles anchored into round metal disks…think High School Science Fair.  Next, he selected the photos for the display.  Most were pictures from our brochure…none bigger than 8 x 10…pasted on foam board and framed with gray mats.  You could just about see the photos and you couldn’t read the captions from the other side of the tradeshow table. The most modern thing we used in our display was Velcro to attach the photos to the felt boards.  My giveaways?  Business cards of the engineers attending the conference with me and twenty 1-1/2” thick, spiral bound brochures, most of which I packed and took back home with me because no one wanted them…too heavy to carry around the tradeshow…too bulky to pack and take on a plane.

I found this photo in an old photo album. The display you see here is actually an improvement over the first one.

I found this photo in an old photo album. The display you see here is actually an improvement over the first one.

The next year I was again asked to organize the firm’s participation at the SAME conference.  My experience the previous year had taught me that our display unit was outdated, but since state-of-the-art pop up units were expensive, I knew I was stuck with what we already had.  I suggested that we get pens with the company name and logo to take as giveaways.  My boss’s eyes widened. He looked horrified at the suggestion.  This, after all, was The Society of American Military Engineers conference.  What would they think of such crass commercialism?  We were engineers, not used-car salesmen.

I did manage to convince him that we should order much larger professional quality photographs for the boards, and I created lightweight, single-sheet, tri-fold summary pamphlets to replace the spiral-bound brochures.  At that point in my career,  I had finally learned to pick my battles wisely.  Clandestinely, I packed a basket, and once I got to the show I bought several pounds of chocolate candy  that I used to lure people over to my booth.

“Hey, what about the yo-yo?” you’re probably wondering.  Well, here’s the yo-yo part of the story.  That year at the conference there was an engineering company three booths down from me.  They had military engineers at their booth non-stop during the show.  What were they giving away?  Yo-yos.  What fun it was watching these distinguished men in uniform demonstrating their prowess with these little-boy toys!  They were having a ball, and they lingered around that booth talking to the company representatives longer than usual…an exhibitor’s dream.

IMG_0417The last day of my Marketing Basics class, Lisa came up to me to say good-bye and handed me a wrapped gift. Imagine my delight when I opened it and found a Yomega High Performance Fireball Yo-Yo. The yo-yo stood upright, nested in a red velvet base inside a hard plastic display box. To this day, I keep that yo-yo on my bookshelf . Lisa’s phone call after all these years, like that yo-yo, reminds me that connecting with people on a human level is not just what matters in marketing, but what really matters in life.