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.

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.