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!

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!

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!

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.

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.

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.