Alone Again (Naturally)

By: Jeanne Reynolds

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As I began to think about this post, the title of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s 1972 hit song (yeah, fellow boomers, you remember it) immediately popped into mind. The lyrics are terribly sad; but, to me, the title itself is not.

Quite the opposite; in fact, spending time alone is a blissful luxury. More than that, it’s essential for those among us far down the introvert scale, and, well, completely natural.

That’s exactly what I’m doing this moment, and I don’t mind admitting that I’ve been looking forward to it for the past week. I have the world’s best husband and great friends, but sometimes nothing beats some quality time alone.

The list of things I may do over the next 24 hours is written only with a very light mental pencil with a very big eraser:

  • Eat exactly what I want, when I want. Shrimp at an outdoor table along the waterfront, or takeout pizza at home with my favorite summer rose?
  • Take over my husband’s special recliner (he’s not here, after all) and read while enjoying the marsh view as the tide comes in.
  • Do a little weeding and run the blower. Seriously, I love my little battery-powered blower. Talk about instant gratification.
  • Run a few miles early in the morning before it gets too hot. Or walk if I feel like it.
  • Watch whatever’s on the Food Network.
  • Catch up on Instagram posts, and post a few new photos of my own. Hmm, what time is that high tide?
  • Go to bed whenever I get sleepy,and wake up without an alarm clock.
  • Talk to myself way more than I speak to other humans.footprints-in-sand.jpg

I know, not too exciting. And looking back at that list, I realize I could do most of those things whether I’m on my own or not. Truth be told, I frequently do. I’m not antisocial or shy. It’s more about recharging my mental, emotional and physical batteries in the way I know works best for me: alone. Naturally.

Love is …

By: Jeanne Reynolds

My husband and I just celebrated our 24th anniversary. Our wedding was traditional: I wore white, the processional was Pachelbel’s Canon in D, and the scripture was I Corinthians 13.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

I’ve been to many weddings where those verses were read. They’re always beautiful, but perhaps even more meaningful now than they were 24 years ago. I think it takes awhile to realize how true, how important and how aspirational they really are.

It’s not as easy as it sounds to live up to these verses. Keep no record of wrongs? How many of us haven’t sighed in exasperation because we’re apparently the only one who can see the kitchen trash can needs to be emptied — again? Does not dishonor others? Ever heard someone making the person supposedly dearest in the world to him or her the butt of a joke? Does not delight in evil? Has a self-satisfied “I told you that wouldn’t work” ever crossed your lips?

My husband isn’t perfect, but he does a much better job of living these words than I do. I’m going to keep trying, and trust he isn’t keeping record of my wrongs.

Also, here are few modern translations I’ll add from our marriage:

  • Love is rooting for someone else’s birdie putt to drop even if it means you’ll lose the hole.
  • Love is spending time with each other’s sometimes-crazy families without complaining.
  • Love is saying thank you for every meal prepared, even the less-than-stellar offerings.
  • Love is commenting — or not, depending — on a new haircut.
  • Love is not commenting on the recently snugger fit of a favorite old pair of jeans.
  • Love is hours of yard work side by side when the temperature is exceeded only by the humidity.
  • Love is silently buying a replacement when someone accidentally throws away a piece of the lawnmower.
  • Love is letting someone else have the last Klondike Bar.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Through the Eyes of Love

By: Jeanne Reynolds

Mom is turning 85 in a couple weeks. My siblings and I, our spouses and assorted offspring are using the occasion to gather from three cities in two countries for a mini-reunion. It’ll be the first time we’ve gotten together that doesn’t involve a funeral in many years. So, long overdue, and likely to be a lot more fun.

Mom isn’t too Internet-savvy so I feel pretty sure I won’t blow a surprise by telling here about the birthday box. A couple months ago, I wrote and emailed a bunch of far-flung family members and friends, inviting them to send a card, letter, photo or email to celebrate her birthday. I’m putting these in a large decorative box I got at the Dollar Store (hey, it’s really pretty — don’t judge) that we’ll present to her during the trip.

I haven’t opened the sealed envelopes, but the notes that came through email I kind of had to read so I could print them out nicely. Which gets me, finally, to why I’m talking about this.

I’ve learned things I never knew about my mother. One of them is how many people think she’s a ton of fun and admire her brave spirit and sense of adventure. Well, OK, it’s her 85th birthday and nobody is going to send the written equivalent of a bouquet of dead roses, but still.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things I appreciate about Mom. I bake great cookies because of her, and nobody outdoes me with curling ribbon and a pair of scissors. Weekly trips to the library as a child instilled my love of reading, which I think has everything to do with my love of writing. Classical music and Broadway show tunes are — thanks to her — part of my repertoire, too.

But reading about her solo trip halfway across the country to meet the family of her brand-new groom who had just shipped out to Guam, or the stories she made up with my cousin Rob about the unidentified couple in a mysterious family photo, helped me see a new side of her.

I guess this must be a little how parents of a wild child feel when they hear the teacher or his best friend’s parents rave about how well-behaved, polite and helpful he is. Huh? Are you sure we’re talking about the same person? I mean, this woman can drive me nuts, rendering me speechless with some of things she says, her alternate-universe “memories” and her rapid changes of plans.

Mom will probably still drive me batty sometimes (and no doubt I’ll return the favor). But this experience has encouraged me to look at her a little differently. Maybe I could try taking off the daughter glasses now and then, and seeing Mom through clearer eyes — eyes of love.

Happy birthday, Mom!

If Change Is Good for You, Why Is It So Hard?

By: Jeanne Reynolds

Ever since we got married, my husband and I have shared a dream for our retirement that would combine our love of the North Carolina mountains and the South Carolina lowcountry. We’d have two small homes — one in the Asheville area and one near the coast — and split our time between them. We’d have the best of both worlds.

We searched for months and years and eventually bought lovely lots in beautiful areas: one in Mills River, between Hendersonville and Asheville, and one on Cat Island, minutes from Beaufort. Toward the end of the recession, thinking construction costs were about as low as they were going to get, we started building the first of these homes. If you’ve read any of my earlier posts, you know it’s right on the marsh and immediately became my happy place. We planned to build the mountain home several years later, when we retired and sold our home in the Midlands.

Everything is going according to plan, right? Well … yes and no. We soon found owning and maintaining two homes is a bigger challenge than we expected. And the final price tag of the new home was significantly higher than we originally anticipated. On top of that, the taxes, homeowners’ dues and road assessments on the other lot meant we were writing checks every year for the privilege of owning something we wouldn’t benefit from for many years.

So we made the difficult decision to let the mountain property go, and satisfy our summer cravings for cooler, leafy surroundings by renting from time to time. But during more than a year on the market, we didn’t get even the tiniest nibble of interest. It was so long, the listing agreement lapsed and we didn’t even remember our agent’s name.

That was until a couple of weeks ago, when out of the blue he called to tell us someone wanted to look at our lot. Within days we had a signed contract, with a closing rapidly approaching.

And now, suddenly, I’m sad. Relieved, but sad.

It’s hard to let go of a dream, even when you know it’s the right thing to do. It’s hard when your head and your heart are in different places. Sometimes it’s hard to admit when your dreams themselves have changed — that might mean admitting you yourself have changed, in a way you didn’t plan.

However, I’m making a conscious decision not to second-guess our decision. That means separating sadness from regret, because regret is a waste of time. Learning from past mistakes is one thing, but wallowing in the “what ifs” and “should haves” is unproductive, and constantly looking backward instead of forward can be dangerous (remember what happened to Lot’s wife).

Change may be good for us, but sometimes it’s just hard. And that’s OK.

Birthday Wishes

By: Jeanne Reynolds

By the time this posts, I’ll have only a few days left … in this decade, that is. Then my age will begin with a new digit. This is a REALLY. BIG. BIRTHDAY.

It’s weird to think the time I have left is half or less than the time I’ve already spent. (If you didn’t follow that, don’t worry, you’re getting older, too.) What I mean is, according to actuarial tables, my family history and my own state of being, I may have 30 years left – 20 good ones, if I’m lucky – to do some of the things I’ve always dreamed of.

Which made me think, what exactly are those things? I don’t want to call them a bucket list, because God willing and the creek don’t rise I won’t be kicking any soon. But here are a few dreams I have yet to realize.

I want to …

  • Drink dry rose in Provence and real Champagne in Paris.
  • Spend a week in Tuscany seeing everything … or nothing.
  • Make a hole in one.
  • Publish the children’s book I first wrote when I was 9 years old. (There’s a hippo in it, but I don’t want to tell you more and spoil the ending.)
  • Learn to paint well enough that I’d actually hang one of my pictures on my wall.
  • Be able to touch my toes without pain in my hamstrings.

There are some others I could add, like riding an elephant, seeing the pyramids or reading every book Alexander McCall Smith wrote, but I’m OK either way (and I’ve already jumped out of a plane). Still, it’s kind of a short list and even I have to admit it’s a bit self-oriented. So I’ll add two more:

  • Remember never to take for granted the kind, gentle, romantic man who is my husband.
  • Continue learning what God’s plan for me is and for what special purpose he has put me here.

Speaking of God’s plan, yeah, none of us knows if we have 30 years or 30 minutes left. Which means why wait for this birthday or any other to get started on my dreams? I put a yoga class on my calendar for this week (that toe touch thing).

It’s small, but it’s a start.

Letting It Go

By: Jeanne Reynolds

When your husband thinks you’re so stressed out you need to go away for the weekend instead of cooking and cleaning for him, you should probably listen.

I don’t deal well with chaos and clutter, and when you’re having the entire inside of your home repainted, you have both. There’s a point — or a couple of weeks — where it gets worse before it gets better. I was at that point late last week.

It’s not just the painter’s gear everywhere and the furniture pushed together in the center of every room, it’s the stuff that has to come out of the large furniture to make it light enough to move. And then of course you can’t just cram it back in later, because it’s the perfect opportunity to sort and reorganize and discard/donate/regift.

I found things in my dining room buffet cabinet I didn’t even know I had. I certainly hadn’t seen or used some of them in 10 years or longer. I clearly didn’t need them, and some I didn’t even like. Why, then, is it so hard to let them go?

These items fall in several categories:

  • Things people gave me that I never really liked or used much. Exhibit A: Two pairs of glass candlesticks received as wedding gifts from a group of co-workers. Lovely, but they hardly fit my lifestyle, plus I don’t even remember the names of any of the givers.
  • Things I once liked but my tastes, needs or decor have changed. Exhibit B: A peach-colored tablecloth with lace overlay. A hand-me-down from my mother that I used a few times but peach doesn’t do it for me these days.
  • Things that are perfectly good — in some cases still new — but I just don’t need them and never have. Exhibit C: Multiple sets of crystal tumblers.
  • Things I love that I might not use much, but when I need them, I need them, and just looking at them makes me smile. Exhibit D: A few silver serving pieces and a large Waterford crystal vase.
  • Things I don’t use but have strong emotional ties to. Exhibit E: My grandmother’s green glass butter dish with domed cover. It was the one thing she told me she wanted me to have as she lay dying in the hospital. I mean, c’mon.
  • Things I like and use all the time: Exhibit F: A set of woven cotton placemats and napkins. Yes, my husband and I actually have dinner once or twice a week in the dining room with cloth napkins!

The items in the last three categories were easy decisions. It was the first three that caused the most mental anguish — and there were lots more of them than the others. What if I suddenly need one of those faded green napkins? Isn’t that crystal decanter too good to give away? And shouldn’t I save that old blue tablecloth for picnics? I was riddled with doubt and indecision as I packed up each item, whether for donation to a charity thrift store or to pass along to a friend or family member who will love it anew.

I know I’m not alone in this, hence the dozens of books and magazines telling us how to simplify our lives and declutter — not to mention the proliferation of self-storage businesses on seemingly every street corner.

I think what the problem really comes down to is not discarding the items but feeling like I’m discarding the people I associate with them. That’s what’s hard to separate. But really, if a family relationship depends on whether I hang onto some old china and linen, then I have bigger problems than a crowded cabinet.

Now, can I interest you in a set of vintage Stetson china dinner plates?

Thoughts While Walking Back in Time

By: Jeanne Reynolds

If you find yourself in the most beautiful and charming of cities, Charleston, on a sunny spring day with the luxury of a free afternoon, the choices seem endless. Tour a historic house or visit an art gallery? Lunch and libations overlooking the water? Shopping on King Street?

All good, but to me, nothing can top a few hours strolling back in time through the gardens at Middleton Place. Here are some random thoughts from a recent visit I was fortunate to enjoy:

– Azalea beds are the only place pink, orange and red not only don’t clash but actually look amazing.

– What’s more important to enjoying the Lowcountry: no heat, no humidity or no gnats? Answer: Yes. Enjoy it while you can.

– A dogwood tree in full bloom festooned with Spanish moss looks like a decorated wedding cake.

– A single alligator attracts more excited attention than a whole field of flowers.

– The malicious destruction of beauty in an attempt to crush the hope of enemies is really sad.

– The amount of money, labor and, most of all, vision it took to create these gardens is mind-boggling — not to mention what it must take to maintain them today.

– Southern accents are generally more pleasing to the ear than those from “off.”

– Being led beside still waters really does restoreth my soul (I didn’t lie down in green pastures but I saw people who did).

– Bees will usually leave you alone if you leave them alone (at least one person lying in the green pasture didn’t think so).

– Looking closely at the intricate design of some flowers: Wow. Just wow.

– There are probably a lot of ghosts here, but I hope this incredible beauty is bringing them peace now.