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!

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.

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.

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.

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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.