Who Wrote Shakespeare?

On Sunday evening, June 26, 1977 I sat down at the desk in my room at Wroxton Abbey in Oxfordshire, England. The next day I would attend the first of my master’s level classes at Wroxton College, the British campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University. That summer we would be reading Henry VI, Parts One,Two and Three. Later in the summer, we would be attending all three of these Shakespearean history plays performed at the Royal Shakespeare Theater in Stratford-upon-Avon.

My sister, Mary Ellen, and me on a return visit to Wroxton Abbey, Summer 2011.

I still remember the thrill I felt when I read that the setting of the first scene was Westminster Abbey. I had just been there the day before. Yes, I loved Shakespeare before, but my three summers at Wroxton would transform that love into unconditional adoration.

Imagine my horror when I picked up the newspaper this past October and read the following headline: “Oxford says Shakespeare will share credit for Henry VI.” Wait…what? That’s right. Oxford University Press’ new edition of Shakespeare’s works will credit Christopher Marlowe as co-author of the Henry VI plays. [Are you rolling in your grave, Will?]

Gary Taylor, a professor at Florida State University and the principal investigator of the new edition crowed, “Shakespeare has now entered the world of big data.” He and a team of 23 international “scholars” used “computerized data sets to reveal patterns, trends and associations— analyzing not only Shakespeare’s words, but also those of his contemporaries.”

Seriously? Why would anyone do that? Have modern scholars run out of original ideas and thoughts to explore and research? This reminded me of one disappointing lecture by a tutor at Wroxton that focused on the number of active and passive verbs Shakespeare used in his plays. After listening to visiting Shakespearean scholars lecture all semester, providing brilliant insights into Elizabethan life and times and inspiring interpretations of Shakespeare’s writing, I found the verb identification exercise rather uninspiring. And now, computer analysis of Shakespeare? Positively dispiriting, not to mention yawn-inducing.

It’s no secret that writers often seek the advice of other writers, and in Elizabethan England, there was “a demand for new material to feed the appetite of the first mass entertainment industry.” I’ll concede that the small group of writers working at that time probably consulted one another and may have even collaborated. As a writer myself, I participate in classes and critique groups where members of the group provide wonderful suggestions about editing my phrasing, language, and even plot, and I have amended my work based on their suggestions. Does that make them my co-authors?

It’s hard to account for the obsession with discrediting a beloved and venerated writer who’s been dead nearly 500 years. Historically, there have been writers, scholars and critics who questioned Shakespeare’s ability to have written all the plays that have traditionally been attributed to him. Some say Shakespeare simply didn’t have the experience to write about the subject matter he covered. In response to that James Shapiro, author of Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? writes:

“What I find most disheartening about the claim that Shakespeare of Stratford lacked the life experience to have written the plays is that it diminishes the very thing that makes him exceptional: his imagination.”

The Bard

So, my question to the scholars using “big data” to analyze Shakespeare’s plays is what imaginative contribution have you made to the world of literature? Even if you’re right, does it really matter that Christopher Marlowe, a poet and playwright himself, may have written some scenes in the Henry VI plays, perhaps to help out a fellow writer trying to meet a deadline or because he needed the money?

Will any one of the scholars who completed this study be quoted 500 years from now? Methinks the answer lies in the Bard’s own words. Compared to Shakespeare, the scholar using computer analytics to define his work is:

“…but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more.” Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5

And as for his computer study, well:

“ It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.” Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5

Long live Shakespeare! Long live the Bard!

Let Nothing You Dismay

Earlier this month my sisters, Jane, Mary Ellen,  and I attended a play at Centre Stage in Greenville entitled Let Nothing You Dismay, a delightful  comedy about a couple awaiting the birth of the baby they’re going to adopt.  Yesterday, my mother, Mary Ellen, and I attended Miracle on 34th Street at the Greenville Little Theater.  At the end of the first act, when Kris Kringle has been remanded to Bellevue Hospital because he’s been deemed insane for saying he’s Santa Claus, the music playing  was…you guessed it…God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. As the actors scurried off stage in disarray and the lights went down, the music seemed to stop on exactly that line…”let nothing you dismay”.

That kind of sealed the deal for me. Right then and there,  I decided that my mantra for this year will be “Let nothing you dismay.”  Whenever I feel discouraged or blue, I will remember those words and carry on.  After all, no matter how bleak things might seem on any given day, there is always something to be glad and grateful for.

The Pollyanna principle is a subconscious bias towards the positive.

The Pollyanna principle is a subconscious bias towards the positive.

Now, I’ve already admitted in previous blogs that I am a Pollyanna, and to my chagrin, my cheerfulness over the years has sometimes been dampened with that chilly glass of frosty words, “Oh, it’s easy for you.” Maybe.  I won’t deny that I have been extremely fortunate in my life. I never take that for granted and every day I feel a profound sense of gratitude for my good fortune.  But my life has not been free of tough choices, and a bit of hard work and determination have also been part of it.  I may be wrong, but I also think my constant search for the silver lining doesn’t hurt. Let me give you an example.

This Fall I was hard pressed to find the silver lining in a notification from our local Department of Public Works that the city would no longer be collecting glass for recycling because manufacturing new glass was now cheaper than recycling it.  At the time, I scratched my head, questioning this logic. I thought we recycled because we wanted to reduce the amount of waste going into landfills and save our environment,  not because we made money doing it.  Recently, as I put a glass bottle in the regular trash, I shook my head and asked the air, “Doesn’t anyone do anything unless they’re making money anymore?”  A dismaying thought indeed.

www.simpsonvillegardenclub.com

www.simpsonvillegardenclub.com

Well, I thought about it and I am pleased to say I came up with an answer.  My garden club works for no money to fulfill its mission “to stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening among amateurs; to encourage civic plantings and recycling of solid wastes; to aid in the protection of nature’s plants and birds; to promote the study of gardening, landscape design, flower arranging/horticulture and environmental concerns through schools and non-commercial flower shows; and to encourage the love of all phases of garden club work among youth and seniors”.

That’s right. All of that is accomplished by a dedicated band of woman who generously volunteer their time and work tirelessly for the sheer joy of gardening and a deep-seated belief that what they are doing is good for the environment  and good for the community they live in.  The Simpsonville Garden Club:

  1. conducts monthly meetings, free to the public, with speakers who teach us how to be better gardeners
  2. plants the garden outside of the Police Headquarters in Simpsonville
  3. maintains an eco-friendly planter donated by the club and placed in front of Simpsonville’s historic clock tower
  4. conducts a yearly garden show at the South Greenville Fair that members of the public can participate in for free, and
  5. conducted a tour this summer of home gardens volunteered for viewing by members of our community.

So my feelings of dismay are dispelled by my fellow gardeners. I salute you, Steel Magnolias, who give so much to so many, asking no money in return for the work you do. You are the silver lining I was searching for.  I am cheered knowing  that no matter what gloom and doom is reported in the news today, no matter that you won’t receive a penny for the work you do, you will continue “to touch the earth and make it grow”.  Tidings of Comfort and Joy!  Merry Christmas, Everyone.

sam_1209

My pointsettia from last year survived and bloomed again this year. Life’s good.

The Definition of “Tough”

My friend, Nina Augello, shared with me something she wrote while at Elmhurst General Hospital with her father last month. I’m pleased to be able to share it with you.

What does it mean to be tough? Archetypes like the 6 foot 4 inch cowboy battling the elements in a lawless landscape come quickly to mind, but they’re probably a bit simplistic. I am sitting besides my 90 yr. old father in his hospital bed where he has been wrestled into submission by 4 injections of sleep medication and a powerful tranquilizer. He doesn’t want to be here and he is periodically still yelling orders in his sleep. Yesterday when it finally hit him that he was in a hospital, he looked me in the eye and in the most lucid tone told me that I had no brains for bringing him to a place like this.

In many ways he was right on point because the ER was a noisy beeping madhouse of the screaming unwashed with no Mother Theresa in sight and I was supposed to be the smart one—so there was no greater insult he could hurl that would hit me where I live. He has always been a take no prisoners tough cookie.

To say that my father is strong willed is a laughable understatement. Even as his dementia has progressed he has maintained a strict schedule of grooming and exercising and hasn’t relented in his demand for home-cooked meals prepared to his specifications. I am strong-willed too and as the first born and the “son” he never had my childhood is littered with many a clenched jaw confrontation that I am surprised to say didn’t cause us to pulverize our back molars—apparently our teeth are strong-willed too.

Notwithstanding the breathing problems that sent him to the ER, he is at once whistling in his sleep and then asking for coffee in Italian. Last night (his first day in the ER} he asked me if I had prepared dinner and do we have enough to feed all these people–a perfect coda to my running joke that when I was growing up, my family cooked enough food to feed Nebraska if it dropped by unexpectedly.

The electrical system of my father’s heart is winding down and there is a circling the drain effect on his lungs and kidneys. Being old is not for sissies but being “old” old is a whole other deal that no amount of jaw clenching is going to ameliorate. At some point soon I will be faced with difficult choices and will have to decide in proxy when it’s time for him to stop fighting the good fight.

In the coming days I’ll get to see just how tough I really am.

In Memory of Angelo Augello

1926-2016

Angelo Augello passed away Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2016

 

Book Review: Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving

The main character of John Irving’s novel, Avenue of Mysteries, is a writer named Juan Diego Guerrero. Irving says this about his protaganist’s writing:

“In a Juan Diego Guerrero novel everyone is a kind of outsider; Juan Diego’s characters feel they are foreigners, even when they’re home.”

avenue-of-mysteriesThe same can be said about John Irving’s novels in general, but this is especially the case in Avenue of Mysteries. Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, Juan Diego and his sister, Lupe, are los ninos de la basura or dump kids. Their mother was a prostitute and they were raised by el jefe, the dump boss, who had a relationship with her at one time. Whether or not el jefe was Juan’s biological father is one of the book’s many mysteries.

What is extraordinary about Juan Diego is that he has taught himself to read, scavenging books that have been tossed in the garbage. Even more remarkable, he has taught himself to read both Spanish and English. Lupe, on the other hand, speaks her own language that only Juan Diego can understand. He is her translator. Some people think she’s retarded, but  she often surprises them because she can read their minds and sometimes she can even foresee the future.

We learn the story of Juan Diego’s life in Mexico and later in Iowa, mostly through his dreams and memories. After the luggage carrying his medication is delayed on the first leg of his flight to the Phillipines, Juan Diego’s “thoughts, his memories—what he imagined, what he dreamed were jumbled up.” And thus begins a masterfully crafted story that moves seamlessly from the present to the past and back again.

On the back jacket of Avenue of Mysteries is a blurb lifted from a TIME magazine review. It says:

“…unlike so many writers in the contemporary canon, he [John Irving] manages to write books that are both critically acclaimed and beloved for their sheer readability.”

I have to tell you I laughed out loud when I read that. So, was the reviewer acknowledging that critics like books that are unreadable? I have read my share of critically acclaimed, prize winning novels that experiment with time…no boring, formulaic beginning, middle and end for them. Quite frankly, they make my head hurt. Half the time I’m not sure who’s speaking or what century we’re in. I do believe those writers should read and study Avenue of Mysteries. This is how you do it so that your reader is with you every minute, enjoying the journey, spending time reflecting on the ideas you’re writing about, not struggling to figure out who’s who and what time period we’re in..

"The books which help you most are the books that make you think the most." Theodore Parker, American Transcendentalist and reforming minister of the Unitarian church.

“The books which help you most are the books that make you think the most.” Theodore Parker, American Transcendentalist and reforming minister of the Unitarian church.

There is so much more to say about this book. Irving expounds on various topics —writing, life’s mysteries, Shakespeare and the Catholic Church (anyone who went to Catholic school will most certainly recognize Sister Gloria) to name just a few. There’s also one wonderful episode in which Juan Diego views a book store bulletin board in Lithuania and mistakenly thinks he’s stumbled on a dating service that matches people based on the novels they read. He thinks it’s a wonderful idea. My question is why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?

I look forward to writing future blogs inspired by Mr. Irving’s reflections. I’d love to  share some of his thoughts on writing and I especially can’t wait to write my answer to the question “Who wrote Shakespeare?”

Just a word of caution. In previous blogs, I have expressed my love of cozy mysteries and happy endings. The word cozy is not one that could be applied to John Irving’s work, and satisfying might more aptly describe his endings than happy. If you’ve never read John Irving before, you might prefer to start with his all-time, best-selling novel , A Prayer for Owen Meany. However, if you are looking for a masterful piece of writing that gives you much to think about, Avenue of Mysteries is the book for you.

Book Review: Dear Killer

I was an English major in college and have a Masters Degree with a concentration in Shakespearean studies, but I must confess there are times I like nothing better than to crawl into a cozy mystery or a romantic suspense story. Especially when the world seems gray and gloomy, whether literally or figuratively, I know no better escape than reading about a plucky heroine who says and does all the things I can’t, a shero who conquers the bad guys and finds true love with some hunky hero. Formulaic and unrealistic? Perhaps. But sometimes that’s just what you need.

dear-kill-cover-finalTo my delight this week I discovered a new, audacious female protagonist, Marley Clark, when I started reading Dear Killer by Linda Lovely (http://www.lindalovely.com/). Marley is a 52-year old widow and a retired military intelligence officer, working as a security guard for the fictitious Dear Island community where she lives on the coast of South Carolina. When she discovers the body of a local real estate appraiser drowned in a Jacuzzi, she becomes involved in a murder investigation that upends her lazy “Mayberry by the sea” and puts her in mortal danger.

Linda Lovely is masterful at writing page-turning suspense scenes. I stayed up past midnight last night because I just couldn’t stop reading…that from a person who rarely makes it up past ten o’clock. Lovely’s writing style is a pleasure to read and Marley’s voice throughout is full of wry wit and raw, honest female emotion. She’s absolutely someone I’d enjoy having a few beers with.

What about the romance, you’re probably wondering. Well, Lovely does not disappoint in that aspect. The deputy sent to investigate the murders is Braden Mann. That’s right, Braden Mann…what a name! What a guy! He’s twelve years younger than Marley, but he doesn’t even seem to notice. Their spicy love scenes will warm you up on a cold night.

And here’s the best of all…Dear Killer is just the first in the Marley Clark Series. I’m often regretful at the end of a book when I must say good-bye to characters I’ve come to enjoy spending time with.  How I love learning these characters live on in a series!

My next book club title is John Irving’s Avenue of Mysteries. It’s been awhile since I read a John Irving book and I really am looking forward to it. Then there’s Bruce Springsteen’s young face beckoning me from the cover of Born to Run, which I just haven’t had time to start reading. Marley Clark will have to wait a bit…but winter’s on its way, and I have curling up in front of the fire on a dark and stormy night with No Wake Zone, book 2 of the series, to look forward to.

If you like romantic suspense, you’ll love Dear Killer.

Didn’t See It Coming

November begins in just a few days and I was beginning to despair that I could come up with a blog topic for October. Oh, lots of ideas have come and gone, but I just couldn’t seem to settle on something I really wanted to write about. Actually, I confess, I haven’t been able to write at all this month. My moribund search for an agent along with a rejection from a publisher sort of took the wind out of my sails. I spent much of this month wringing my hands, feeling like a fraud and a failure, wondering what in the world makes me think I can write. Knowing all writers experience moments of dejection and self-doubt was no consolation.

Instead of writing, I spent one day clearing junk off my laptop and discovered an article entitled Ten Steps to Becoming a Writer by Joe Bunting of The Write Practice (thewritepractice.com). That motivated me to at least start typing a journal entry every morning. Here’s how my first entry on Monday started:

From A.Word.A.Day (www.wordsmith.org)

 ORNERY
adjective: Having an unpleasant disposition: irritable, stubborn, combative, etc.
 Yes, today, I feel ornery. I want to indulge in being ornery. I don’t want to be Ms. Nice Guy. I want to rant and rave and rail against everyone from the unwashed masses that simply annoy me to anyone who makes demands on me. I don’t want to be the sane one, the smart one, the responsible one, the one who knows better.”

It went downhill from there.

Then on Tuesday night my sister and I went to Centre Stage to see Luna Gale, a powerful play in the theater’s fringe series. (If you live in the Greenville area, try to get to see it.) Before the performance, we stepped into the theater lounge and on the counter I noticed a stack of paperback books entitled Didn’t See it Coming. I picked one up and saw it was the work of The Writers Block Project.

I first learned about The Writers Block when Scott Lewis, the warden at Perry Correctional Institution spoke at our Sisters in Crime meeting earlier this year. Perry Correctional Institution is a maximum security prison here in South Carolina which has instituted a Character-Based Unit “composed of men who have indicated a desire to make changes in their lives, even if they will spend the rest of their lives there.”

The Writers Block Workshop is one of the classes the men can enroll in as part of the behavior contract they sign when they are accepted into the Character-Based Unit. I bought the book and read the section entitled “I Write Because…” I immediately knew what I had to blog about…what I had to share with you.

Below is a poem written by Arimatia Buggs in response to the writing prompt: “I write because”.

I write because I must

I write to release

To bring inner peace

To make sense of confusion

 To focus life’s kaleidoscopic illusion

To mend the souls of those broken kindred spirits

Who feel what I feel and see what I see

But never penned the words so it was left up to me

I write because I must

I write because of peace, love, joy and pain

Stress, hurt and strain

I write to appreciate

I write to innovate

I write to reveal

What I see, know and feel

To cry and to vent

To forgive and relent

To reminisce of time spent

I write because I must

I write to breathe

I write because I believe

You can achieve everlasting life when you write

Living forever on a page

Then reincarnated–through reading–through windows of

The soul to stand again upon life’s stage

I write because I realize I am who I am because of words.

Words that moved me, taught me, grew me

Made me into the man that I am

I write because I must.

Today I, Sally Handley, write because I have been inspired by Arimatia Buggs. Didn’t see it coming.

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

To get a copy of Didn’t See it Coming (only $15), or to learn more about The Writers Block, visit www.thewritersblockproject.org.

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.