Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Another loss

My grandmother passed away last night. This has been a bad year for mothers in my family: first my mother-in-law passed away right before Christmas, and now my grandmother is gone. She was my last remaining grandparent.

I credit grandma for my love of reading. She bought me classic childrens' books by the boxful when I was a little girl and was always stressing the importance of education. She was a college graduate in an era when very few girls even thought of going to college. Grandma taught 4th grade forever in the little town where I grew up, and I've already received dozens of messages from former classmates of mine who were her students long ago, expressing their condolences. She lived a good long life and was able to live independently until she was almost 90 years old (last summer) at which time my aunt insisted that she move in with her for her own safety. I think that selling her house and moving in with her daughter and son-in-law was a real blow, even though they made her very welcome and took good care of her. She seemed depressed when I saw her last summer and I don't think she ever really recovered from losing her independence. I think she was ready to go, honestly.

May she rest in peace.

Margaret Martin Czmiel

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Scented May

There are so many sweetly scented flowers blooming in South Carolina right now that going for a walk around my neighborhood is a treat for the nose. I love the flowers that bloom this time of year!

Magnolias are the star of the show, in my opinion. We have one tree in our front yard, and several of our neighbors have them as well. The flowers have a delicious, lemony-vanilla smell and are as big around as dessert plates. No tree is more majestic than a mature Magnolia grandiflora in full flower.

Gardenias are blooming right now, too. We don't have any in our yard at the moment, but it's on the list of plants to have once we buy a home. They smell so good! There's nothing like floating several fresh gardenia blossoms in a bowl of water to perfume the house, and they look lovely which is an added bonus. 

The park down the street has a line of gardenia shrubs growing wild and covered in flowers right now. I'm thinking I may walk down there with the dogs later today and pick a few. The park is public property, after all, plus there are so many blooms that I could pick a shopping bag full and they would never be missed. A few flowers for the house might be nice!

Another scented flower blooming now is the Confederate jasmine that's taken over part of our back fence. I used to love this vine, and planted it there when we moved in and it was just a small potted specimen. Nowadays I find the scent too heavy and cloying for my taste. I won't be sorry to leave it behind; maybe the people who live here after us will like it, as I once did. I hope so.

There are other types of flowers blooming right now, but the ones I mentioned are the only ones that noticeably scent the air around the neighborhood. It's pleasant to go for late night walks with the dogs and to be able to enjoy the flowers with our noses instead of our eyes.

What's blooming in late May where you live? I'd love to hear about it!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

What a week!

It's funny to me how life can chug along in the same old ruts for months on end, with very little change, and then suddenly a week comes along that's just jam packed with life altering events and news.

Of course, there was the birth of my friend's daughter earlier this week, which was a very happy event, but not unexpected. That's been wonderful (and thank you all for all the kind comments and congratulations which I will pass on to Marla) but little did I expect there was plenty more news to come.

Wednesday night we got included in a group email along with Gregg's siblings informing us that their mom's estate is about to be settled, which means we need to make some decisions about how to wisely manage what's been left to us. It's not a fortune, but it's a significant windfall and we want to make the most of it. If we're careful, we can make a very good down payment on a home and still have a modest nest egg left over to put towards retirement (or emergencies). I think we both have mixed emotions about it all. I know I do. The worst part, for me, is the slightly guilty feeling that we're benefiting from his mom's death. And then there's the stress of knowing we're facing a bit of a learning curve regarding money management and also buying a house. So, again, good news, but this time received with mixed feelings.

Thursday morning weird events started to unfold at work. I won't go into details here except with what is public knowledge and in the newspapers and all over social media anyway. Our principal is out on administrative leave after turning herself in to the police and getting arrested. The only facts that are reported in the press are that at 4am last weekend, she was caught on camera crashing her car into another car and then fleeing the scene of the accident. Her mugshot is all over the internet, and I heard yesterday that students had gotten hold of it and were texting it to each other. Can you imagine what a nightmare this has been? There's one week of school left, exams are over, so the kids are already wild. Now they have a mugshot of the principal adding fuel to the fire. Crazy.

When I got home last night, I was ready to relax and have some downtime from such an exhausting week full of news and events, but there was still more news to come. I got a text from my aunt about 8pm letting me know that my 92 year old grandmother is dying and hospice has been brought in to care for her. She was in the hospital over Mother's Day weekend due to bleeding in her stomach, which was the result of blood thinners she had been taking. I knew her health was failing, but I didn't realize it was quite that bad. My aunt said she's comfortable and sleeps most of the time now, and it could be days or it could be weeks or even months. I'll have to get up there to see her as soon as school is out next weekend. Another dramatic piece of news.

How's that for a crazy, eventful, up-and-down week?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


I got to spend an hour holding this sweet little dumpling of a baby girl today.

Baby Carsen is absolutely perfect. I love her already.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Safe and sound

My friend Marla's baby daughter arrived this morning, safe and sound. Mom and baby are both doing great!

Sleeping in her daddy's arms.

Her name is Carsen.  ❤

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Greek to me

Yesterday I went to the local Greek Orthodox church here in Florence with Marla and her husband for the annual Greek festival.  The food is always outstanding and half the city turns out for a meal or a box of sweet pastries to take home. There is also dancing, music, and traditional clothing and crafts on display provided by the elders of the church. Yesterday I went inside the actual church for the first time to look around. Here are some photos I took to share with you. It was all so impressively ornate...simply beautiful. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The gift

A famously difficult and sharp tongued teacher at the school stunned me yesterday morning by leaving a gift of beautiful flowers on my desk. They were waiting for me when I got to work.

I thought at first that the rest of the office staff was having me on, I was so astonished, but they were  just as incredulous as me. Ms. S is a veteran teacher that rules her classes with an iron fist. Most of the kids are scared of her, and the staff tries to steer clear of her notoriously fiery temper. She's always been friendly to me, however. Everyone kept asking, "How did you ever manage to get on her good side?" And honestly, I have no idea!

Later in the morning, when I was finally convinced me that the tulips were indeed for me, I sent Ms. S an email thanking her and expressing my surprise. She emailed me back and said that I was always very kind, and she appreciated me, and when she saw the flowers she thought of me.

Can you believe that?

Monday, May 14, 2018

In a mood

I've been inexplicably irritable today. I'm not sure why, but everyone and everything was getting on my tits (as John Gray would say) all day long! 

 It doesn't help that it's already been up to 98°F the middle of May, no less. Ugh. The thick, sticky, oppressive heat makes me that much more miserable.

So I'm going to bed, extra early, with the a/c turned down low (to hell with the cost) so that I won't subject my husband to my foul mood. Also, I prefer to be alone when I feel this way.

How do you cope when the "I hate everything" moods strike? 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Three weeks

We're nearing the end of the school year and it's hard to believe that my first year at the new job is drawing to a close. There's exactly three weeks left until summer break. Statewide standardized testing started last Monday and the whole school has been feeling the strain of hours of testing, rearranged class rotation schedules, heavily monitored classrooms during testing (which are a state requirement), and on and on. I don't know who's more tired or stressed out--the kids or the teachers. Wednesday afternoon a boy got in trouble during his ELA exam for letting out a heavy sigh and muttering, "I hate this fucking shit". Ha! He pretty much summed up how everyone feels right now, teachers and students alike!

There's more testing next week, then final exams the week after that, but the last week of school will be easy. There will be an awards day, and a "castle day" which is when the kids get to spend most of the day outside playing games and sports, and then the last three days are merely half days. I'm so looking forward to summer break--this will be my first free summer since I was a young teenager myself!

Speaking of three weeks, it's been that long since I started making some serious and drastic changes in my life in an effort to lose weight and get healthier. I downloaded the MyFitnessPal app to my phone and have been logging every single bite of food that goes down my throat. Although the actual logging can be a bit tedious, I love the way it not only tracks your calories, but also keeps a running tally each day of your stats as far as vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, sodium, percentages of carbs versus proteins versus fats, and on and on. You can also log exercise, both cardio and strength training. If you put in your starting weight and height, and your goals, it will give you a daily calorie count to safely lose no more than 2 pounds per week. I like that. Twice this week I finished my day enough calories under goal that I got a prompt warning me that I needed to eat a little bit more. (I was banking calories ahead of planned indulgences the next day, not being silly). It's a good tool. I've been trying to use up my calorie allowances each day with high quality foods. And even better, I've finally started establishing the habit of getting up an hour earlier in the morning for a good walk with the dogs. Forty five minutes in the morning, along with another forty five in the evening (we always walk the dogs at night) equals about 5 miles of walking per day. Not bad! Of course, that's nothing compared to my friend Mary Moon who's been absolutely crushing it on her daily walks lately! Her beautiful (and long!) walks are an inspiration.

Also happening in three weeks (a few days less, actually) my friend Marla is due to have her new baby. Since I have the summer off, and she only lives about a mile away, I'm looking forward to seeing her and the baby often and helping out if they need anything. Our mutual friend Martina has knit the cutest little combination stuffed kitty/blankie thing for baby. I feel like a bad auntie because I haven't knit a single stitch (yet). Of course, no baby born in South Carolina at the end of May has any need for knitwear for at least 6 months, but still. As soon as school is out I need to start something. I know that there are at least a couple of knitters who read here--can anyone recommend a (not too difficult) pattern for a small blanket? I'm looking for ideas and inspiration. Martina and I are also planning to have a small "Welcome Baby" shower for them later on this summer and that could be an extra gift from me.

What does the rest of May hold for you?

Sunday, May 6, 2018

My favorite kind of weekend!

It's been a wonderful weekend, filled with lots of the people and things I love most. I am so lucky.

Yesterday morning began with meeting up with some book club friends at 8am for coffee, then we were among the first to arrive at our county library's big annual used book sale. What fun that was! I was on the lookout for a few specific authors and titles, which I didn't find, but I did leave with two hardcover and two paperback books for the grand total of $2.50. One was an old book titled "The History of the Fragrant Rose" which looks like it will be a nice addition to my gardening collection.

Pictured here alongside the David Austin catalogue that was already residing on my nightstand, ironically enough. 
After buying our books, my friends and I drove downtown to the city's Saturday morning market to have breakfast and shop. Several local vendors set up their wares under tents from 9am-1pm in a large parking area. It's mostly farmers selling local vegetables as well as wonderful grass fed meats, milk, cheeses, and eggs, but a couple of tents were selling crafts, food, and coffee.

See the lady in the above picture, wearing jeans and turning towards me? She's part of a farming family who were frequent customers of mine at the bookstore, and some of my very favorite people from those days.  As soon as I snapped this picture she spotted me and ran over and gave me a great big hug! I haven't seen any of them since I got my new job, and running into her was a real treat.

Her family sells wonderful local meats raised humanely on well run, all-organic farms. I had to buy a few things from them, including sausages, a gallon of rich grass fed milk, and a dozen fresh eggs.

Speaking of eggs, the market manager was under a tent cooking up breakfast frittatas with local eggs and veggies. Here's mine cooking. It had chorizo sausage, zucchini, minced sweet potato, diced heirloom tomato, kale, and a sprinkling of soft white farmer's cheese to finish it off. The guy wrapped it in a small, warmed tortilla when it was done, and it was absolutely delicious! Cost: $4.00

Also for sale: the best, sweetest, most delicious strawberries I've ever had. I bought one of these big green buckets and I haven't stopped popping them in my mouth yet!

The same guy selling the strawberries had heirloom tomatoes for sale. He said they're still coming from Florida at the moment, but the local tomatoes will be ready in three more weeks, give or take a few days. I love a good tomato more than most things in life, so I bought a big bagful of them......

......and made myself the quintessential Southern lady lunch later that afternoon. Behold the makings of the classic Tomato Sandwich:

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It has to be Duke's mayonnaise, and it has to be soft white bread. The only other ingredients are a perfect ripe tomato and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. That's it: perfection.
Since yesterday was also Cinco de Mayo, I had my friend Martina over last night for margaritas. We had hoped Marla could join us, for the food if not the tequila, but she wasn't feeling up to it at the last minute due to an ear infection. Which was just as well, since we wanted to discuss a small party we're planning to have for her and the new baby this summer. We were also able to drink all the margaritas we wanted without feeling guilty doing it in front of her!

And we did have a few! I think the only things that saved me from a hangover this morning were using only good quality tequila, triple sec, fresh lime juice, and ice for the drinks and eating lots of fresh veggies, chips, guacamole, and strawberries while drinking. We both got a bit tipsy, and it was a lot of fun. A perfect way to finish out a great Saturday! 

How has your weekend been?

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Lovely May

It's such a beautiful time of year. Just yesterday I was sitting outside after work, drinking in all the loveliness around me and trying to think of how I would describe it to you.

One thousand shades of green. Friendly birds at the feeders; house finches, sparrows, cardinals, mourning doves, wrens, grackles, chickadees and the occasional goldfinch, all calmly eating their fill despite two humans and two canines sitting close by. An American robin hopping in the grass among butter-yellow dandelions. Warm sunshine and blue skies. A clan of unusual red squirrels that live in this part of the neighborhood, chasing each other merrily around the big old oak tree out front. The sound of the children (all new to our street) riding their bikes and playing after school. The frogs and crickets, singing, when the sun starts to set.

I can barely stand to be inside, this time of year.

For your Saturday enjoyment, and in keeping with the theme of appreciating the natural world, here is a beautiful piece of writing I wanted to share with you today.

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