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.

It’s All About the View

By: Jeanne Reynolds

In just a few hours, I’m leaving work a little early (Boss, if you’re reading this, I worked through lunch today for this very reason) and heading to our dream someday-to-be-retirement home near Beaufort for the weekend.

I love that house. I love the barely-there moss green walls offset by bright white trim. I love the soaring ceilings with exposed beams. I love the speckly gray granite countertops and the mixed-width natural finish wood floors. I love the tabby fireplace that opens on three sides so we can enjoy a fire inside or out. I love the walls of windows that look out onto the marsh because most of all, I love the view.

cat-i-view

Ah, the view. It’s why we bought that particular lot and why the house is designed the way it is. When anyone who’s never seen it asks about the house, I whip out my phone and start scrolling for a photo that captures its essence … and always end up showing a picture of the view.

We’re about 25 feet from the marsh (elevated, of course — we do have hurricanes with those pesky tidal surges around here). The water and grass change constantly with the tides and seasons, and the sky changes with the time of day, so the view does, too. Many kinds of birds whose names I don’t yet know visit frequently. We’ve seen a family of raccoons and small herds of deer, too, but those are sprinkles on the icing of the cake that is sky, water and grass.

the view_Every Woman Blog

As much as I love how the inside of our home turned out, it’s when I look at the world outside it that I truly appreciate its serenity and beauty.

And suddenly it occurred to me life is like that, too.

When I stop paying so much attention to what’s going on inside of me and raise my gaze to the world around me, that’s when I can see — literally — the bigger picture. Like looking at the stars on a clear night, it makes me feel incredibly small and exponentially expanded at the same time. I’m a part of this. A very small part, but a part. And it’s so beautiful out there.

What a view.

The Fine Line

By: Jeanne Reynolds

Every Woman Blog_The Fine LineIt was just before 10 p.m. on a cold Thursday night when the doorbell rang.

I had already gone upstairs to get ready for bed. My husband was in the living room watching college basketball on T.V. Most of the downstairs lights were on, so it was obvious someone was home and up, but still … 10 p.m.? That’s never a good thing.

“Maybe you shouldn’t open the door,” I called down. Our front door doesn’t have a chain, so it’s kind of all or nothing.

But he did, to see what he later described as a soft-spoken woman in her ’30s or ’40s wearing a white coat.

“I was led to come here,” she told him.

“Are you in trouble?” he asked.

She said no, and when he gently pointed out it was 10 o’clock at night, she replied, “I understand,” and walked away down our front path. We didn’t see where she went, and didn’t notice or hear a car nearby.

The whole thing was a little scary, so we called the sheriff’s department that serves our rural northeast Columbia community. A short while later, an officer arrived to check around our home and the neighborhood. He saw nothing then, and we didn’t hear anything later.

The officer agreed we’d done the right thing. Maybe the woman was only a well-meaning religious evangelist with poor time management, but then again maybe she was mentally unstable or on drugs, or had a weapon in her pocket or an accomplice waiting out of sight. For perhaps the first time, I could understand why people keep a gun in their homes. At the very least, I thought about getting the old aluminum softball bat out of the garage to keep under the bed.

But as we settled somewhat uneasily into bed later that evening, we also felt some doubt. We wondered where the woman might have gone on such a cold night and if she was OK. We hoped the officer found her and was able to help her. We also hoped God would understand if one day we stand before him and he says, “I came to you when it was cold and dark, and you turned me away.”

I’ve had similar thoughts when driving down the road and seeing a motorist in apparent trouble, but haven’t stopped for fear of becoming a victim myself. A woman alone just can’t take that chance, I reasoned. It’s sometimes a struggle finding the line between wanting to do the right thing and wanting to be safe.

Once – just once – I did give a ride to a man I saw walking down a rural road in the rain. He had no umbrella because both hands were in use holding what appeared to be a cake box. Indeed, it turned out to be a birthday cake for an elderly relative. I was on my way to church that night, and maybe that was why I stopped. Or maybe I figured he couldn’t easily attack me with his hands full, and anyone carrying food in the rain couldn’t have much ill intent.

I’m not sure I believe God sends us tests, but I do know life brings events that can test our faith. Yet if I had it do over, I still wouldn’t have invited that woman in. In fact, if my husband wasn’t home, I wouldn’t have answered the door at all.

But I’m also still not sure I’m right.

Not Dressed to Impress

By: Jeanne Reynolds

When my husband and I returned from our honeymoon cruise many years ago, our flight landed without a problem in Charleston … but our luggage, alas, did not.

The good news is the airline located it with a day or so. The bad news is it was still in New York City, and apparently had been for some time, going ’round and ’round the luggage belt in one of the busiest airports in the world.

The more good news is no one had stolen it. The more bad news is apparently our stuff was so bad no one wanted it. And these were the “nice” clothes we had packed for a cruise to Bermuda.

Remembering that, I had to laugh (a little, to myself) last weekend when I decided to try the consignment store route for some cocktail dresses I thought just a little too nice for the Every Woman Blog - Not Dressed to Impressthrift store. They’re in excellent condition but I haven’t worn them in years and can use the extra closet space.

With the dresses carefully covered in plastic to protect them from the elements, I entered the consignment shop nearest my home. My first impression was somewhere between a flea market and a garage sale, except less well-organized. I immediately doubted this shop’s clientele would be in the market for sequins and black crepe, but I’d gone this far so I forged on.

Guess what? The proprietress rejected my dresses because they’re too old. Once again, no one wants my stuff.

OK, when I said I haven’t worn them in years, it might be like … 10 years … or more. (I lose track of time these days.) Maybe they’re not the latest style, but they’re beautiful and classic. Surely, I thought, someone would love to snap them up at a great price. Not so much, apparently. Maybe they fall in that no-woman’s land between vintage/retro and just … old.

That little figurative slap in the face caused me to take stock of my closets. It’s easy to see very few of my clothes are new. They fit well (thanks to running, I’ve been the same size for decades) and are comfortable, and I can usually manage an appropriate outfit for any occasion. But no one will ever mistake me for a fashion maven.

And I’m OK with that. One benefit of getting older is you get better at accepting yourself for who you are.

I guess I’m back to the thrift store donation. Kidney Foundation, be on the lookout for a sparkly little number coming your way soon.

I just know someone is going to want it.

My Goal is No Resolutions

By: Jeanne Reynolds

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Don’t believe in ’em.

But I do like to set new goals every year. Semantics? Maybe, but I think there’s a small, important difference between resolutions and goals.

Most people’s resolutions seem to be about fixing what’s wrong with us. Losing weight is the most popular New Year’s resolution in America according to most lists, while the very vague “get healthy” tops others. Get organized, quit smoking and get out of debt are also up there. And guess what? They’re also the most commonly broken resolutions, so come February the house is once again a mess, the credit cards are maxed out and we still can’t button our pants.

New Years Goals

Goals, on the other hand, are about accomplishment, building on our success and reaching our dreams. They feel positive instead of punitive. I may not achieve all — or any — of my goals in any given year. But thinking about them and putting them in writing helps me clarify what’s important to me.

So — in no particular order — here are some of my goals for 2017:

  • Run a half-marathon in under 2:05.
  • Paint our bedroom and get new linens and towels.
  • Obtain and complete at least 3 freelance writing jobs.
  • Lower my golf handicap to 14.
  • Finish the first phase of landscaping in the natural area of our Cat Island home.
  • Take a special getaway trip to celebrate a milestone birthday.

I’m far from perfect and there are many things that need fixing around about my person. But I’d rather focus my energy on the things I enjoy. That word — “enjoy” — has hidden power in it. Webster’s defines it as “to experience with joy.”

And if I were going to make a resolution, it would be to let myself experience more joy in life.

Make a Joyful Noise

By: Jeanne Reynolds

christmas carols

My husband has a great singing voice. As a teenager, he even turned down an opportunity to go pro with a barbershop group in favor of going to college. (Did I say he has good judgment, too?) My voice isn’t as strong, but I have a good ear for pitch and sing capably in the alto section in my church choir.

So this time of year, as carols and old favorites fill the airwaves, it’s not unusual for us to sing along with the radio — or even a capella — as we drive over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house or wherever. And we make a pretty good duet, if I do say so myself … with one exception.

No, it’s not “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” We can nail that, and don’t even get us started on the kids’ version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” with the funny asides between lines.

It’s “The First Noel.” Yep, plain ole kindergarten-easy “The First Noel.” Not the whole song, though, just the chorus:

“NOEL, NOEL, NOEL, NOEL!” 

The louder, the more off-key, the more obnoxious, the better. It’s a family joke with a story behind it that I’ve long forgotten, which doesn’t make it any less funny … at least to us. In fact, we can barely get out the first two “Noel”s before we’re laughing so hard we can’t sing. Others along for the ride and hearing this, ahem, performance for the first time are somewhere between bewildered and stunned, and I’m sure would leap from the car if it weren’t moving.

This is the stuff of holiday memories! Our unholy chorus holds a place of honor in my heart, right alongside my famous gingerbread men, the hush of candlelight at Christmas Eve service and the hunt for bows the cats have stolen off beautifully (until then) wrapped packages under the tree. No, it’s not the pitch-perfect Norman Rockwell moments I’ll always remember. Rather, it’s the quirky, unique, only-family-and-your-best-friends-could-appreciate-it times that make holidays memorable. I’ll bet — I hope — you have some, too.

We haven’t had a sing-along yet this season, but I’m sure it’s coming. Don’t know when — Christmas is full of surprises, right? So now you have fair warning. If you’re around us and hear the opening notes of “The First Noel,” leave quickly — or better, yet, join in!

Give the Gift of Receiving

By: Jeanne Reynolds

christmas season

The closest I got to shopping on Black Friday was a quick trip to the grocery store. (Downside of Thanksgiving dinner at someone else’s home: You don’t have a fridge full of leftovers to enjoy the rest of the weekend.)

Actually I must be missing a girl gene because I hate, detest, loathe shopping. Especially this time of year. My ideal Christmas shopping is more like a military maneuver: a lightning-fast surgical strike that identifies the target, removes it as quickly as possible and gets out.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t love giving. There’s no better feeling than seeing the delight on someone’s face when they receive something they truly wanted, or maybe didn’t even know they wanted and are surprised and thrilled.

Being able to share that feeling is also a gift — one that requires us to allow others to give.

And that seems to be difficult for many of us. Yes, gals, I’m talking to you, and to moms in particular. Genetic or cultural, most women I know are wonderful givers and caretakers, but sometimes struggle being on the receiving end.

christmas season

Case in point: My mom is 84 and lives nearby for the first time since I was in high school (we’re talking decades here). She’s a widow with a limited income and I’m half of a DINK household, so it’s fun to be able to treat her to lunch or tickets to the theater once in a while. When she comes to my home, I enjoy cooking for her and doing all the things she spent so many years doing for us.

The problem is she often has trouble accepting these “gifts.” She says it’s too much trouble for me, or I’m surely too tired, or she must pay half. I’ve tried to explain how happy it makes me to be able to give back to her, but I guess she’ll never stop feeling like she should be taking care of us. While I appreciate the love behind that, it does take a little of the joy out of giving for me.

I’m probably no different. How many times have I insisted I could handle a task myself instead of accepting sincere offers of help, or only accepting an invitation if I pay my share or contribute in some way? So, in the spirit of removing the plank from my own eye first, here are some mantras with which I’ll coach myself this holiday season (and beyond):

  • Thank you, I’d love to!
  • That would be wonderful. Thank you so much!
  • I really appreciate your help.

It’s a blessing to be able to give to others. And that includes giving others the chance to be givers, too.