Amusing News: The Nutella Crisis

Yikes! It’s the last day of February–something to be grateful for. But to my horror, I realized I hadn’t written a blog this month. It seems to be getting harder and harder to do. I actually started out the year thinking I’d try to write at least two blogs a month, but clearly that’s not happening.

I have gotten ideas for blog topics, but they’ve seemed lame or just too mundane to bother writing about. I keep waiting for inspiration that somehow seems to elude me lately. Nevertheless, I decided today I would finally write about a news item that made me laugh when I read it back on January 27th. The headline read “Discount on Nutella Spread Sparks Chaos”.

First of all, you need to know that I love, and I mean LOVE, Nutella. Last year I spent a week at Skyterra Wellness Retreat and I recall a class on nutrition in which I asked if Nutella was good for you. Of course, the instructor politely suggested that I try to make my own. Hey, I’ve made a lot of changes to improve my eating over the years–I bake my own bread, I eat fruit and vegetables everyday, and hardly ever eat red meat. Nutella was something I was unwilling to give up.

Besides, I regard Nutella as sheer perfection and I simply can’t see the point of trying to make my own. How can you improve on perfection? Heck, Nutella on honey-oat bread is one of the first things that attracts Detective Nick Manelli to my heroine Holly Donnelly in Second Bloom.

Okay, so now you know my relationship with Nutella. Imagine my reaction when I read the headline: “Discount on Nutella Spread Sparks Chaos”. If I had read that on-line, I’d have been certain that the article was satire, but since I was reading The Greenville News, and not Mad Magazine, I had to read further.

It turns out that in France the price of 950-gram jars of Nutella was reduced from $5.85 to $1.75. Quite a good discount. Here’s what happened:

“Chaos erupted in supermarkets across France as shoppers brawled to get their hands on discounted Nutella…Police had to intervene in a brawl in the northern town of Ostriccourt, Le Parisien newspaper reported. An employee at one store in Forbach, near the border with Germany, linked the scenes to an orgy, telling Le Monde Newspaper that shoppers had broken items in their rush for the treat.”

In France. Of all place! Can you believe it? I would have thought this was the kind of behavior at which the French would look down their haughty noses. I mean, aren’t the French always dignified, stylish, elegant? At least, that’s the image pervasive in American marketing and advertising.

I had to laugh out loud the other night when I saw one of those commercials for Cindy Crawford’s miracle face cream that was created by a doctor with special melons that come from the somewhere in France. I wondered if she would sell as many jars of face cream if those melons grew in Poland or Guatamala. I also wondered if a discount on her beauty products would create as much havoc as the sale on Nutella.

Well, the long and short of it is I really got a kick out of that news article. If you’ve read any of my past blogs, you may already know that I’ve stopped watching television news because I just can’t bear it most days. I still read the paper, though. Finding amusing news is not easy, but sooner or later, I manage to come across a headline that makes me laugh. Hope it did the same for you. Happy end of February!

Coffee, Clocks and Celestial Occurences

 

Skywatchers, are you ready for next week’s celestial trifecta: a supermoon, a blue moon and a total lunar eclipse?

One of my most favorite things about retirement is not having to rush to get out the door and catch a train in the morning. After more than thirty years of commuting from northern New Jersey into Manhattan, I now luxuriate in lingering over the newspaper, working a crossword puzzle and drinking cup after cup of coffee in the morning. Only when I’m good and ready do I finally commute from my kitchen island to my dining area table and turn on the computer. Ah, life is good!

Of course, a leisurely breakfast is simply a delightful corollary to waking up when your body signals you’re rested, and not because an alarm has blasted you awake. I think I may have set my alarm clock once since I moved to South Carolina. This morning, however, I read an article about a triple lunar event next week that may just get me to do it again.

On January 31st we will witness a supermoon, a blue moon and a total lunar eclipse. I don’t know about you, but I find something very moving about solar and lunar events. Every time I recall this past summer’s solar eclipse, I just stop and smile. Here in the Piedmont we were very fortunate to have had perfectly clear skies to witness that awesome moment.

My friend JoAnne Manse, my sister Mary Ellen and I shared the experience with hundreds of other skygazers at the Roper Mountain Science Center in Greenville. I’ll never forget the hush that fell across the crowd as the sun and moon crossed in totality, followed immediately by spontaneous applause. The moment was magical.

This morning’s paper mentioned that even without the supermoon, the combined blue moon and lunar eclipse that will occur next week hasn’t happened in the USA since March of 1866. The West Coast will have the advantage this time around, however. Central and Eastern USA will only see a partial eclipse because the moon will set before totality. Channel WDBJ7 reports, “On America’s East Coast the eclipse will start coming into view at 5:51 a.m. and will give viewers in cities like New York only a small window to see the reddish moon.”

I definitely plan to set my alarm so I don’t miss whatever view we will have of this extraordinary celestial event. After all, I only need to do it, once in a blue moon.

Thanksgiving

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” J.R.R. Tolkien

The day after Halloween I was a bit dismayed to see a complete and immediate shift in focus to the Christmas holiday season. They were even playing Christmas Carols at my dentist’s office…in October!

Thanksgiving seems to have been skipped right over. I can only suppose that’s due to its continued resistance to commercial viability. No Thanksgiving gifts to be bought. Only modest pumpkins and wreaths decorate our front entryways. And, no matter how retailers try, they just can’t seem to get more than a few of us to send Thanksgiving cards. The only ones who can be sure of an uptick in sales are turkey farmers.

November Tomato Harvest

I agree totally with J.R.R. Tolkien whose quote I stumbled upon in this morning’s newspaper. Now, that’s the spirit of Thanksgiving, isn’t it? It’s all about food and good cheer, even if we don’t sing Thanksgiving carols. I love Thanksgiving and I  want to celebrate it in my heart every day this week. Christmas will be here soon enough.

And I have so much to be thankful for. Just like the first celebrants in 1621, this year I give thanks for a bountiful Fall harvest, especially for my tomato plants. I still have plants that self-seeded mid-summer producing tomatoes–in November! Now, for that I am truly grateful.

A Monarch Butterfly Visit to my Zinnia Patch

Also, every year I grow Zinnias in my flower beds, and for the second year in a row, I have been treated to rather lengthy visits from pairs of Monarch butterflies who seem to delight in the nectar of their colorful blooms. Last year there were two butterflies. This year there were six. Perhaps I’m kidding myself, but I like to think that I’m now an official stop on the Monarch Butterfly migration trail and as the years go by, I’ll be visited by more and more butterflies as they journey southward.

Finally, I’m profoundly grateful to have reached my full retirement age this year in good health. So wonderful to be able to just live, enjoy life and do all the thing there was never enough time for when I worked every day. Hallelujah!

I hope you have time this week to truly enjoy and savor it. I wish every one of you a day of good food and good cheer, surrounded by the people you love. Happy Thanksgiving!

Murder Most Poisonous

If you love mysteries, don’t miss The Wicked Plants exhibit now at the NC Arboretem!

If you’ve been following me on FaceBook, you may know that I’ve been out gallivanting again. Last week my sister, Mary Ellen, and I made our annual trek to Hendersonville to get apples. I just eat them, but I’m looking forward to Mary Ellen’s baking with them. Within the coming weeks, I’ll be treated to apple pies, cakes, turnovers, crumbles, sauce, and who knows what other divine recipes she’ll come up with.

At the NC Arboretum, backed up by–you guessed it–a gorgeous Holly bush.

As much as I enjoyed that trip, I experienced triple the enjoyment on Wednesday when we took a bus tour with Mauldin’s Ray Hopkins Senior Center to the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, NC. The trip was originally announced months ago, and we signed up, not knowing exactly what to expect.  You can bet, I didn’t expect something particularly beneficial to my cozy mystery writing.

Imagine my excitement when I checked on line just a few days before departure and learned that one of the exhibits at the arboretum was entitled Wicked Plants.  Based on a book with the same name and sub-titled The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities, the exhibit description intrigued me.  When I read,

Entrance to the deceptively cozy Wicked Plants exhibit.

Thought-provoking, entertaining and educational interactive displays are set inside a Victorian-era ramshackle home, where visitors travel from room to room and learn about various poisonous plants that may be lurking in their homes and backyards. History, medicine, science, legend and lore are brought together to present a compendium of bloodcurdling botany that will entertain, alarm and enlighten,”

I nearly swooned! Talk about serendipity. This exhibit could have been tailor-made for a mystery writer whose sleuths are gardeners. In one room, a murder victim lies face down on the table and clues are scattered about the room. Your job is to figure out the cause of death. In the dining room, each place setting has a written description of a food item on the table. Each item can, in certain instances, cause death. Using a shaded magnifying glass, you can find the name of the toxic food item embedded in the place mats. What a lot of fun!

I was dismayed, however, when I arrived at the gift shop only to find they were all out of copies of Wicked Plants, which I’d decided was going to become an essential part of my mystery writer library. Disappointed, I returned to the lobby to meet up with my tour group. More serendipity! As I passed the receptionist’s desk, I saw a lone copy of the book on the counter. Not being shy, I ran over and asked if it was for sale. After some checking, they told me, that yes, I could buy this display copy. What good fortune!

The Quilt Garden

 

The Wicked Plants Exhibit aside, I highly recommend visiting the NC Arboretum in the coming weeks. Especially since the temperature has dropped and it’s finally Fall, y’all. The Arboretum was developed on land the state of NC bought from the Biltmore estate that is now Pisgah National Forest.

We only had time to tour the area from the Baker Exhibit Center to the Education Center, but it was wonderful. The Quilt Garden made of yellow chrysanthemums used to form butterflies is not to be missed. And if you are a fan of bonsai, hurry. The bonsai specimens are amazing, but they’ll only be outside for a little while longer, before they get taken indoors for the winter.

So happy to be blogging again and sharing my serendipitous experiences with you. Please write and tell me about yours.

Holly and Ivy–oops!–Sally and Mary Ellen searching for clues.

The Writers Block

August 14th — How did that happen? It seems like just yesterday I was planning my trip to New Jersey to attend a family wedding and heading up to the Catskills for a reunion with my book club of 30+ years. I missed my July blog completely and now I’m wondering how to get in all the summer delights like baseball games and pool time in the few remaining weeks of summer.

Yesterday I stopped mid-chapter 41 of Book 2 in my Holly and Ivy mystery series and was eager to get back to it this morning, but in addition to planning summer pleasures, I’ve got this growing list of things to do, and at the top of the list for days has been a note to post an announcement about the wonderfully inspiring speakers, Anna Katherine Freeland and Carole Gallagher, who presented at our Sisters in Crime local chapter on August 3rd. Then I remembered I’d previously written a blog about The Writers Block, a workshop these two women facilitate at Perry Correctional Institute, a maximum security detention facility here in South Carolina. I decided I had to sit right down and get this blog out to the world.

Every Tuesday Anna Katherine Freeland and Carole Gallagher drive to Perry and work with a group of men who are part of the prisoners Character Based Unit, a program initiated by prisoners and “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 two women co-facilitate a weekly writing workshop where the men write in response to writing prompts, and the entire group participates in reading and discussing each piece, offering constructive critiques, starting with the strengths of the pieces they share.

Available at: www.thewritersblockproject.org.

The Writers Block has published Didn’t See It Coming, an anthology of their work. Reading their words, I find it just a little heart-crushing on this cloudy morning thinking that perhaps if these men had such inspiring teachers as Anna Katherine and Carole when they were in school to help them articulate in writing their universal feelings of anger, frustration and despair, they might not have committed the crimes they did.

The fact that these men now write to express their deepest feelings is quite moving. The fact that they do it so well is downright awesome. Learning that the men in The Writers Block write with a limited library, no internet access, no computers, with pen and paper, I am ashamed of my all-too-often, self-indulgent complaints and excuses for procrastinating when I know I should be writing.

In a blog I wrote last October, I was voicing the lamentations of a writer riddled with self-doubts, “wringing my hands, feeling like a fraud and a failure, wondering what in the world makes me think I can write.” That’s when I read the poem below written by Arimatia Buggs, a member of The Writers Block, 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.

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

Paul Simon — He Blew That Room Away

On Saturday, June 4th, my sister, brother-in-law and I attended a Paul Simon concert at Heritage Park in Simpsonville, SC. Fantastic!. His mix of new and old songs did not disappoint. Some songs left me exhilarated–some caused a nostalgic ache for a past long gone. Through it all, I marveled at the connection I felt to this man whom I know only through the words of his songs.

And what words he wrote! Words that painted pictures so vibrant that to hear them brings back vivid memories, real and imagined. I was fairly mesmerized when Paul sang America. As he crooned the words, “Kathy, I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh”, describing their bus ride and “counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike,” I could see the scene so clearly, I felt certain I’d been on that bus trip with them in 1968. I guess, in a way, I was…we all were.

Me and Julio Down by the School Yard makes me laugh out loud whenever I hear this line–“Mama looked down and spit on the ground every time his name was mentioned.” Can’t you just see her? With words, Paul creates an indelible picture of a woman who demonstrates her contempt for someone wordlessly.

I still remember first hearing The Dangling Conversation when I was in high school. The sound was so new, the words so thought-provoking. I followed Paul as he made the transition from Simon and Garfunkel to his solo journey. I crossed with him the Bridge over Troubled Water, and more than 20 years after I first heard his words, I was again blown away by Graceland, one of my all-time favorite albums.

Paul Simon has written so many words and phrases that have become part of our lexicon. If I say “Mrs. Robinson” in describing a woman, need I say more? Who doesn’t know about the “50 Ways…”? And as we age, don’t we have to smile when we hear the refrain, “Still Crazy After All These Years”?

When I came home after the concert, I couldn’t just go to bed. I pulled out my Essential Paul Simon CD’s and sat listening, amazed at the memories they stirred in me and how much a part of my life those songs are. The best is that Paul Simon continues to write and sing his songs. Thank you, Paul, for a lifetime of unforgettable music and poetry. Rock on!

Try not dancing or at least wiggling as you listen to Paul sing Late In the Evening.

 

In Search of Silver Linings

Oh, give me a home
Where the Buffalo roam
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard
A discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

–“Home on the Range” Lyrics: Dr. Brewster M. Higley, Music Daniel E. Kelley.

I love that lyric. Must have been all those Westerns I watched as a little girl that instilled that dreamy longing in me for a place where the sun always shines. Can’t you just imagine how wonderful it would be to never hear a discouraging word?

Well, if you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you know I’m an incurable optimist always seeking the silver lining in the darkest clouds. Some weeks it’s harder to accomplish than others. I finished reading J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy last week, and while the author is an example of the power of hard work and perseverance, his book left me a bit despairing. The senseless bombing at the Ariana Grande concert this past week also left me feeling –well– quite frankly discouraged.

But then I read about Keren Taylor, founder of WriteGirl, a Los Angeles based nonprofit that connects teenage girls with mentors to empower girls to express themselves in whatever genre suits them–poetry, journals, screenwriting, playwriting, etc. The goal is to provide support for  girls through whatever problems or challenges they are facing.
Taylor says, “There might be a storm raging, but we are here to be fierce protectors of these young women and their future. It’s not easy but sure feels good.”

Writegirl has a 100% success rate in getting girls to apply to college. That is an amazing statistic. Best of all, the program is expanding to include boys and is even reaching out to correctional facilities. Again, it may be the Pollyanna in me, but I don’t see how anything but good can come of this. [For more information: http://www.writegirl.org/keren-taylor/]

Then yesterday I read about the remarkable singer-songwriter, rapper, record and film producer, Pharell Williams, and his commencement speech at NYU. He said:

“This is the first generation that navigates the world with the security and confidence to treat women as equal. You are the first ever. Our country has never seen this before. It makes some people uncomfortable. But just imagine the possibilities.”

And just this morning, The Greenville News reported that the Nicholtown Presbyterian Church, a predominantly black congregation in Greenville, received $2,000 and a letter in their mailbox last week. The donor wrote there were two reasons for the bequest. “First, I am white and used to be a terrible racist…” The donation signified a “heartfelt apology to the African American community.” The second reason ? To show that “miracles, just as in Biblical times, still happen today…” Encouraging words, indeed

Countdown to Book Launch

I’m delighted to announce that my cozy mystery will launch on Amazon.com on May 15th. What’s a cozy mystery you ask? Ironically, when I started writing Second Bloom, I had never heard the term myself.

The word “cozy” says it all. Whatever you picture when you hear that word–a fireplace, a steaming pot of tea, a fluffy comforter, the smell of bread baking in the oven–that’s what to expect from a cozy mystery. Jessica Faust of Book Ends Literary Agency explains it this way:

“When you read one you feel like you’re being embraced by a world you want to be in. You’ve found new friends and maybe a protagonist who inspires you or who could easily be your best friend. The book itself doesn’t move too fast, there tends not to be a lot of blood, usually no more than one body…”

Like so many other mystery fans, I developed a  love of traditional and cozy mysteries reading Nancy Drew books, graduating to Agatha Christie as I got older. As I wrote in my November blog: “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.”

I got the idea for Second Bloom, the first book in my Holly and Ivy Mystery series, sitting in the garden at the Daniel Webster Inn on Cape Cod. My sister and I were admiring the flowers and I said something about Rosemary and Thyme, the PBS cozy mystery series that featured two women gardeners as amateur sleuths. Suddenly I got the spark of an idea. Wouldn’t an American version be great…a series about two sisters who garden and solve mysteries? And that’s where it all began, the summer of 2010.

The resulting book, Second Bloom, is  a cozy mystery about Holly Donnelly, a 55-year old adjunct English professor, and her younger sister, 52-year old Ivy Donnelly, a recently widowed, retired nurse. The look-alike sisters are reluctantly drawn into the investigation of an elderly neighbor’s murder when Juan Alvarez, Holly’s trusted gardener, is accused of the crime. Holly fears police detective, Nick Manelli, assumes Juan is guilty and won’t conduct a proper investigation, while Ivy feels the “hunky” Manelli is not only a good cop, but also a possible romantic match for her sister. The burning question is: can the clues the sisters unearth from neighborhood gossip about the victim’s family, a politically connected neighbor and a powerful real estate developer help save an innocent man, or will the gardening duo dig up more than they bargain for?

Tomorrow, April 27, I leave for Bethesda, Maryland to attend the annual Malice Domestic conference. This gathering is an annual fan convention  that celebrates the traditional mystery. As you can guess, these are “my people”. I’ll be there spreading the word about my imminent launch…all those years of marketing have not been lost on me.

If you like cozy mysteries, I hope you’ll check back here on May 15th. If you subscribe to my blog, you will automatically get notified when the book goes on sale and, if you subscribe before May 15th, I’ll send you Holly’s recipe for Honey Oat Bread.
Until then, wishing you sunny days and cozy nights!

Retreat…No Surrender

Dictionary.com lists six definitions for the word retreat. Quite possibly the first one that comes to your mind, as it does to mine, is this one: “the forced or strategic withdrawal of an army or an armed force before an enemy.” This definition has a negative connotation, associated with surrender and defeat. But the retreat I want to talk about today is “the act of withdrawing, as into safety or privacy; retirement; seclusion.”

Laurelwood, the exercise and yoga facility at Skyterra (www.skyterrawellness.com)

Last week I spent seven days on a retreat…not the religious kind, though it definitely had its moments of spirituality. This retreat, focusing on health and well-being, took place at the Skyterra Wellness Retreat located near Brevard, North Carolina.

Why, you might ask if you’ve been following my blog, would someone, who is healthy, retired and spending most of her time walking the dog, gardening and reading, need to go on a retreat? I acknowledge that I am very lucky to enjoy good health, but I have noticed lately that I’m not as strong as I used to be and my balance is not what it should be either.

Many people go to Skyterra to lose weight. The program does provide nutritious meals and daily strength-building and yoga classes. But Skyterra’s focus is not weight loss. It’s healthy eating. Not exercising to burn calories, but exercising to build strength and improve mobility. This program is about health and wellness for individuals of any age, but particularly ideal for retirees who want to stay fit, active and able to enjoy our retirement.

I must admit the first day I was terrified that I would hurt myself. Everyone else seemed to be able to stretch and perform the exercises I could not. When it came to modified push-ups on an elevated box, I completed one, but got stuck in the down position on the second one requiring help to get back up. Bending, I could reach just a bit below my knees while everyone else was touching their toes or grasping their ankles. The day we did a class on balance, I had to stand near a wall when standing on one foot in order not to tip over, while others were fully stretched out, leaning forward like soaring eagles standing on one leg.

I wanted to take the whirlpool bathtub home with me.

After Day 1 I was certain I would not be able to get out bed on Day 2, but guess what? I had no aches or pains the next morning. I think the Epsom salt soak in my whirlpool bathtub had a lot to do with that. But I also think the yoga classes in the afternoon helped restore the muscles that got tested in the morning. Skyterra’s unique blend of activities gets you to move outside of your comfort zone, then helps you get back to center.

Yes, Day 1 was a humbling experience, but at no time did I feel embarrassed by my limitations. The people in my group were just lovely and encouraging, and the young instructors at Skyterra are truly amazing. They pay close attention to everyone and work with you on the areas where you are weakest, assuring that you don’t get hurt. Their support and encouragement is truly heartening.

On Day 2, I no longer worried about hurting myself. I did my best. It didn’t matter that everyone was better. By Day 6 I could feel that I was stronger and I could actually stand on one foot longer without tipping over. On Day 7, when we were re-assessed, I’d lost 2 inches off my waist, 1.4 % of body fat and gained 1.1% muscle mass. Not bad for a 65 year old, right? I admit it. I’m quite proud of myself.

Additionally, I feel confident that I can continue to improve because the strength-building and mobility routines we were taught, I can do at home. All participants received an email with links to videos of the many exercises we performed daily.

Skyterra is an amazing program for the body,but it is  much more than just a physical improvement program. The Skyterra approach nurtures body, mind and spirit. The lectures on stress management, improving sleep, goal-setting, menu planning and self-compassion all help nourish you mentally and physically.

Nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Skyterra is the ideal setting for a retreat. Walking the property, hikes to the surrounding waterfalls, sitting on the dock by the lake all provide opportunities for contemplation and self-reflection…something we rarely do at home with those bills to pay, that closet to clean out, and…well…you know.

Nina and I on a hike to the waterfalls.

One more thing…all of the people at Skyterra, from the Owners to the Instructors to the Chefs, are just so darn nice, you can’t help but feel welcome and at ease. So if you’ve been considering a vacation, or you’ve actually wanted to go on a retreat, I recommend Skyterra. I went with my friend, Nina, who flew into Asheville, NC from New York, but I assure you Skyterra is a place you could travel to by yourself and feel perfectly comfortable.

Yes, aging brings with it some physical limitations, but with a little bit of effort  we can reduce the negative impact of those limitations. If you can, go on a retreat for your body, mind and spirit. Remember…you’re only old once. Don’t surrender.

Let Nothing You Dismay, cont’d.

The morning of the blizzard in the Northeast two weeks ago, I woke up and thought about what my day would have been like had I stayed in New Jersey. If the snow had started before I awoke, I would have had to shovel my way from the front stoop to the street in order to walk the dog. (I learned from experience that stepping on un-shoveled snow, especially in freezing conditions, only leaves frozen lumps that remain on your sidewalks until Spring thaw.)

My house in New Jersey, Februrary 13, 2014.

In order to walk the dog, I would have had to wear ice cleats over my boots to prevent falls like the one I took a few years back that resulted in a trip to the emergency room. Depending on how rapidly the snow was falling, I would have had to shovel my way back from the street to my front stoop after our walk.

Back inside, I’d put on a pot of coffee and walk from window to window, wondering when it was going to stop, hoping this day would not be the day my trusty landscaper, Jose Alvarez, would fail to show up to clear the walks and driveway. After breakfast, I’d put a fire in the fireplace and again make my rounds from window to window.

Should I start the snow blower and at least get the first few inches cleared, just in case Jose didn’t make it, or should I just wait until the last flake had fallen? Would I be able to get out of the driveway the next day to get to work? I would have continued to fret like that all day long.

Pansies survive all Winter in South Carolina. Photo taken February 16, 2017.

After two winters here in South Carolina, I am profoundly grateful I made the move to this milder climate. The day of that Northeastern blizzard, we enjoyed bright sunshine and temperatures in the 40’s here in Mauldin. The previous snowfall, we did get an inch of snow, but the roads were all melted by the end of the day…and that’s with no plowing. Admittedly, it’s been an unusually mild winter here, but last year was pretty much the same.

I find it nothing short of miraculous that this Dianthus bloomed for me all Winter.

The best part of all is that our last frost date is April 15. If you are a gardener like me,that is a dream. After the year-end holidays, you have the month of January to relax, flip through seed catalogs and peruse your garden books. In February, you can plant your snap peas and lettuces outdoors and start your seeds for the summer garden.That is exactly what I did last Sunday following the Master Gardener Symposium my sister and I attended on Saturday.

Entitled “Ideas for an Inspiring Garden”, the symposium lived up to its theme.The most stirring and motivating talk of the day was delivered by W. Gary Smith, a landscape architect and designer with the soul of an artist and gardener (http://wgarysmith.com/). Mr. Smith’s lecture focused on natural patterns in the landscape and how to replicate them in our own garden designs.

Image taken from “Green Prints – The Weeder’s Digest”, No. 49, Spring 2002. Don’t you love that title?

Mr. Smith’s last slide was an idyllic photo of some rustic chairs clustered beneath a copse of trees overlooking a breathtaking mountain vista. He said he couldn’t help getting emotional about gardening and that in a world where many people feel fear and anger and view the world as a dangerous place, gardeners know better. He was met with thunderous applause as he concluded his talk by encouraging us to continue to create places of beauty, love, comfort and solace in our landscapes. (Sigh!)

So forget the groundhog. Whether you’re planting seeds  out-doors, or you’re at the reading seed catalogs phase, or even if you only have one houseplant on a windowsill to comfort you, be hopeful and inspired. Spring is on the way!