31 December 2008

Pay raise

In a short (two sentence), not-so-prominently placed article in today's edition of The State readers learned that members of Congress have elected to give themselves a pay raise starting tomorrow. The hike amounts to $4700 annually per lawmaker.

This in the face of 2008's economic melt-down affecting the entire globe. This after TARP, a $700 billion distribution from the US Treasury to bolster in-trouble financial institutions. This after two hat-in-hand visits from leadership of the Detroit three automakers in the year's closing months. This knowing of rampant job losses and business failures nationwide. This after Congress, sitting in judgement, having observed to UAW leadership that their workers must be willing to accept hourly wage cuts.

What a boneheaded way to end the year.

30 December 2008

A spa event

Yes, in Edgefield.

Our local library (the Edgefield County Public Library, to be more specific and accurate) sponsored a "spa event" this afternoon for the women of the community. The postcard invitation promised presentations on the female body, a make-up demonstration, door prizes and refreshments. Who could say no to that?

I arrived about ten of four to an upbeat greeting from the library staff. By the time 4:00 arrived there were roughly eight to ten participants in place, representing an amazing cross section of our community -- a poet to the Meals on Wheels driver. During the two major talks the exchanges between the speaker and the participants and among the participants were funny and entertaining and helpful. For that positive spirit alone I'm glad I went.

The most carefully covered information was the new (2005) food pyramid from the US Department of Agriculture. Rather than the old stacked look with grains at the bottom and fats at the top, this pyramid resembles a teepee, the food groups tall, thin and triangular. The pyramid also features stairs up one side, a reminder that diet without exercise looses effectiveness. Particularly interesting to me is that the pyramid is entitled "My Pyramid: Steps to a Healthier You" and via the website -- MyPyramid.gov -- it can be personalized to an individual, taking into account health issues, age and the like. Unfortunately, I've not been able to get the web site to come up yet. But, a personalized, almost interactive web site is a fine idea ...

29 December 2008

Eating out

Over the months since I retired (gee, it's been nearly 11 already), Tal and I have eaten out less-and-less frequently. The economic turn-down of the second half of the year definitely boosted that eat-at-home trend. The Christmas holiday has been quiet and during Susan's visit, we have done nothing different.

We changed that today just prior to her departure. I went off mid-morning to officiate a burial, returning shortly after noon. After I changed from my black suit and collar we drove into Edgefield for the mid-day meal. While Edgefield is known for its pottery and is enjoying a developing art colony reputation, the most fascinating spot in town is the Edgefield Billiard Parlor.

It's not unusual for the most unkempt construction worker to be sitting at the counter next to the mayor, both of them calling greetings to folks streaming through the door. Three pool tables inhabit the back of the dimly lit space and the dingy walls are covered with yellowing tributes to Strom Thurmond; Clemson, Carolina, Georgia and local high school football; the establishment's founding (and continuing) family. The menu is severely limited. If you don't want a hamburger, a hotdog, or chicken strips for an entree, you don't want to eat there.

But, the hamburgers are delicious. And, I always add very indulgent onion rings and then carefully finish off my order with a diet Coke. Go figure.

Even thougth Susan wishes we lived somewhere she wanted to visit, I think she enjoyed her lunch. And, whether she realizes it or not, she has experienced Edgefield's most vivid local color.

28 December 2008

Leftovers ... yum

I've been in the kitchen a lot since Tal and I arrived home on Christmas morning! A lot.

Christmas dinner, if I do say so myself, was great. I had never prepared a country ham, an event requiring days of soaking and changing water, hours and hours of boiling and a final baking prior to its presentation. The day after Christmas Tal's son came to fish with his dad and to visit with his sister. For that, since it was another cold, damp day, I cooked up a nice thick warming black bean soup. Then, yesterday, Bruce and his wife, Deborah, were invited for lunch. The centerpiece of that meal was a chicken, mozzerella cheese, tomato, dressing casserole.

Today, slighty tired and more than slightly uninspired, I simply heated up all our options, displayed them on the kitchen counter and we dug in! Yams, macaroni and cheese, chicken, ham, rolls were augmented with a crisp green salad. We feasted. And, finished up several dishes.

Having leftovers seems to be the reward for having cooked. So worth it.

27 December 2008

An anniversary

I awoke this morning and my first thought was of the date: December 27th. I was baptised at the Presbyterian Church in Milford Michigan at the age of four months and two days on this date 55 years ago.

Since my priesting I've always told families, parents and godparents in particular, to make as big a deal over the baptism anniversary of the child in question as they do birthdays, baptism being a rebirth and a day the faith was claimed officially for the child. My own observance of December 27th, also the feast of St John, is quiet, generally private, and sweetly fraught with memories of the people now gone who were likely present for the event. I've not thought about it before; I wonder if any photographs were made that day ...

During the day I spent time with the widower of a lovely former parishioner who died unexpectedly on Christmas morning. He and their two adult children are still in shock but able to talk about the details of the service we will have on Monday. (I have been given permission by both the diocesan archdeacon and the bishop to officiate the burial.) During my visit they also told me several dear stories of their beloved wife and mother.

One of the details I learned is that the marriage had reached its 55th anniversary a mere three days before Christmas. So, we -- that long-married couple and I -- have the number 55 in common. That's a connection all of us agreed we like.

26 December 2008

A few Christmas Eve photos

Black bean soup is simmering on the stove, Susan is playing the piano, and Bruce and Tal are out fishing. A few minutes are all mine to look at some of this season's photographic efforts.

With our need to be on our way home early Christmas Day, Mom served Christmas dinner a day early. This is the table shortly before the meal was served.

Mom and Dad's Christmas tree looked very pretty from the backyard and golf course. Too bad I had trouble with the exposure.

Lucia and Andy sent flowers, which arrived in an intricately designed box with careful and detailed instructions. Mom followed them to the letter and the arrangement developed beautifully.

25 December 2008

On Christmas day in the morning

We were up too early on this Christmas morning; our visit to Pawleys and my parents was too short. But, with us expecting Tal's daughter to arrive mid-day at our place in Edgefield County, Mom and Dad were ultra-accommodating, breakfast served and over in the vicinity of 7:00 with us on our way by 7:15. Our two full days with them were simply extraordinary -- laid back, comfortable, unrushed. They fall in the category of blessing, without doubt.

Last time we visited them, that being Thanksgiving, I managed to leave the Manfrotto tripod behind. With the tripod safely stowed in the trunk and with us almost to the Founders Club our cell phone rang. I'd forgotten to pick up my slippers and gloves from the porch. Isn't there some adage about wanting to return when one leaves something behind? Anyway, there's a twist this time. When I unpacked earlier this evening, I discovered the drinking glass and a hand towel from the guestroom bath in my tote bag. I'd stripped the bed and cleaned the bathroom in anticipation of my sister using the guest room over New Years. With several things to carry down the stairs I dropped those two things in the bag and then, with breakfast ready, forgot to leave them in the kitchen and laundry room respectively. So, Mom and I are holding those belongings of the other hostage.

Our drive home was uneventful and rather pretty. The sun came up as we were crossing the Waccamaw River at Georgetown, a huge radiant orb in the car's mirrors. And, that light shown on the nearly purple clouds filling the western horizon. By the end of our four-hour drive the sunlight had disappeared and the grey had given way to periods of rain. Somehow what I felt through it all was a nearly overwhelming sense of sweetness, the Christmas lights touching, the open convenience stores beacons alongside the road, winter's landscape spread out all around us.

As the miles accumulated, I thought about all the Christmases I -- and more recently, Tal and I -- have been mobile. Over the years since my priesting we have been present in whichever congregation I was serving at least through the Christmas Eve services. While we lived in Wilmington and Philadelphia, I was expected to work though the holiday, but that amounted to six years at the most. And, one year since moving to this part of South Carolina, when three funerals required my ongoing presence, we stayed home. Those occasions aside, Christmas for my whole adult life has been "gypsy" in nature. I have come to associate the drive to the South Carolina coast with Christmas. It's as integral to the holiday as are the Christmas cards, my favorite of all the holiday traditions.

The day is nearly over. We made it home before 11:00. Susan arrived shortly before 2:00. Dinner was at 4:00. I finished in the kitchen shortly before 8:00. Sitting here with everyone, humans and pups, in the house sleeping with the tree still lit, contentment is my pleasure.

I hate to let the day go.

24 December 2008

Scanning the past

What a day!

After we arrived at Pawleys I asked my dad about a specific photograph he made on Christmas Day 1954. I have a copy of it which has turned sepia-like over the past several years and I wanted to find a way to replace it. During the day he provided me with a plastic container the size of a shoebox, a box remarkably containing hundreds and hundreds of negatives. After a brief search through what were obviously the oldest envelopes, success!

That high moment was followed by several hours (interruped by meals and deliberate and much needed times-out) of struggle along a learning curve during which we, my dad and I, mastered the process of scanning negatives. Here is proof our our success in the form of the image I so wanted to reproduce.

This photograph was made the Christmas I was one year old, making me about 15 months. My mother is watching me play with a marvelous gift: a stuffed dog my dad helped me name George. Isn't she giving me an "I've got your number" look? By the way, I still have George all these years later, 54 years to be exact!

Of course, I couldn't not continue exploring that box of bounty. Today we practiced our techinque. There simply was not enough time to scan everything that caught my eye (translated: captured my heart). But, I know what I'll be doing on the next visit!

Fast forward a number of years and this is Joyce and me at the Rocking Tree at Brookgreen.

Going back in time, added to the mix here is Paul who was born in December of 1957. We look as though we like him pretty much.

The scanner's a rest now and so are we all. Such satisfying accomplishments should bring on good sleep.

23 December 2008

Christmas spirit

I've written about Advent and Christmas expectations several times during December. With retirement has come significantly increased contemplation time. Living a mindful Advent this time around, while being a distinct (and unfamiliar) pleasure, has been a challenge as well. I have actually found myself looking at the whole of the Christmas hoohaa through disbelieving eyes, wondering what in the world we're all so frenetically trying to do, to feel, to experience, to prove. What is the point of all the craziness?

Midway throught the season I had a conversation with a friend who told me with some sadness that given the economic turn down, with many members of his family living far enough away that they are going to miss seeing each other this year, since he has demanding work difficuties bearing down on him he was not at all in the Christmas spirit. I was satisfied with my response to him, having suggested that Christmas joy isn't an all the time promise (despite what print, television, internet ad campaigns proclaim), that Christmas spirit can be a matter perhaps of mere, fleeting moments of unexplainable contentment which must be noticed and acknowledged and savored.

Satisfaction with the answer aside, however, long after his departure -- for days not hours -- I let that sad admission roll around in my head. That the approach of Christmas leaves a vast number of people poor in spirit, not to mention financially poor, seems a tragedy. The astounding promise of God with us is lost, not to mention rendered meaningless by the way we choose to observe it.

Tal and I woke up this morning at Pawleys Island and have enjoyed a long, leisurely day with my parents -- eating, talking, resting. During the late morning we enjoyed a 14 hole, vigorous walk on the golf course prior to the begin of play, the overnight freeze having made for a delay in starting times. This afternoon we took a short trip to Litchfield Books, a superb, local bookstore where I found a journal for the new year. More than once through the day I caught my own attention, knowing to the marrow of my bones that what I was experiencing could be no less than joy. Nothing flamboyant. No giddiness. Not a firework in sight. Just a sure knowledge that I was in the right place, doing the right things, profoundly aware of the present -- enjoying and grateful for it. Ah, the stuff of Christmas spirit.

22 December 2008

All done

Well, in a manner of speaking, anyway.

This past week, beginning with the trimming of the Christmas tree, has been a wonderful and busy one. Planning to depart after noon today for a visit with my parents on the South Carolina coast, we wanted to leave the house ready for our return home Christmas day when we will welcome Tal's daughter for a visit of several days. I tried out makng a list of everything I had hoped to accomplish during the week. It was a formitable list and probably overly ambitious (at least some of it unnecessary). But, most of the items on the list were finished when we left the new gates closing behind us earlier today. Now, I can get home on Thursday, Christmas dinner on my mind, without any heart-palpating anxiety or dread.

I love feeling finished, however rarely that feeling occurs.

The week of Advent four

This is the day, were I legalistic about observing Advent, refraining from launching into Christmas celebration too soon, that Tal and I would begin getting our abode ready for the feast of the Nativity. This year, for anyone reading this weblog, you know we began last Monday, first and foremost wrestling with the tree and its illumination, a week earlier than normal. I didn't struggle at all with that decision which amounted to a shortening of Advent. We had our reasons, travelling today being the primary one.

I am aware, though -- this year in addition to most others, that my wanting to observe Advent is met with many responses, curiosity to ridicule to scorn. So deeply entrenched in the culture is the whole Christmas machine that even those who insist that we need to put Christ back into Christmas make the declaration with the soft glow emanating from an immaculate stable in mind. The Christ in Christmas for many centers on a misty-eyed of singing "Silent night, holy night" while holding a flickering candle. A Christ-centered Christmas in those cases is a sentimental experience and it ends, if not by the time the gifts are opened Christmas morning, by the end of daylight hours on December 25th. (We would be saying something along the same line, perhaps, were we to insist that summer is over at the end of the day on June 21st.)

Advent is not a sentimental season. Neither is it a season of excess. Of all the liturgical seasons this is the one I have always liked the best. The lectionary readings are about watching and waiting, about unexpected life and changing the way we live, about death and dying. What difference, if any, is this birth going to make? It isn't simply about who is being born or who was born. More importantly and more personally and more urgently, what might be born in me were I to allow it? What might come to life and change the world were I willing for it to happen?

An awful lot of discomforting housecleaning has to be done before we can enter into the feast of the Incarnation with that understanding. And, yes, in many cases something (many somethings?) has to die before the new thing can be born. Hence, the importance of this more or less four week period.

I wish it for people, for all people, Christian or not, that understanding. I wish it, knowing it will be easier always to short-circuit the process. I wish it, well aware that dodging quiet contemplation will lose almost everytime in the face of pursuing "Christmas spirit," that memory carried from childhood, sometimes accurate, oftentimes not, a pursuit that most of the time leaves us disappointed and sad and then glad when it's all over. I wish it, and will keep wishing it through the twelve days of Christmas -- through the process of our untrimming the tree for another year.

21 December 2008


We have done it again. Reached the point where the sun is as far from the celestial equator as it can get. Winter began today and Tal and I are leaving shortly for a holiday party. It's already dark and cold; the temperature tonight promises to drop dramatically.

The last time this happened the sun was at the other end of its eliptic course. On the first day of summer we were at Shining Falls Lodge in Manitoba and the day seemed to go on forever. This photograph was shot at 10PM after we had returned to camp as a powerful storm brewed.

These six months have gone by in a flash.

20 December 2008

The last day of autumn

The day began with breakfast, a production including coffee, sausage patties from Cones Meat & Farm in Ridge Spring, a vegetable fritatta and English muffins with strawberry preserves. The conclusion of breakfast brought on a flurry of cleaning up after myself while Tal and his son set off on a fishing trip to a local pond. That soapy process took more time than making the mess and eating the (delicious) meal conbined. Oh well ...

Although this was almost the shortest day of the year, I luxuriated in the fact that the minutes and hours of the day passed slowly. I didn't look up to find it to be 3:00 in the afternoon, an all too often occurance. Instead, today was a day of doing one thing at a time -- the meal, laundry, restarting the guestroom television in advance of a Christmas houseguest, visiting with a former parishioner come calling, some filing and notewriting.

About the time Tal and Bruce returned, happy with their catch, it was time for me to depart for my three-hour stint in the Rocky Shop, Edgefield Regional Arts' pre-Christmas gallery just off the square. Foot traffic there was steady with lots of opportunity for conversation and some reading (the shopkeeper before me left her Sunday edition of The New York Times-- yum!). When I locked the door and headed to the car after 5:00, the evening light was so soft, the Christmas lights on the square and those in the still-open shop windows a offering a satisfying glow.

Ah, this is the way it's supposed to be.

19 December 2008

Seeing things

As our culture’s penultimate holiday moves ever so swiftly into our nearer view and as I consciously and not-so-consciously look back over this year and gaze into 2009 as well, I have come to an initial conclusion. One of the qualities which has helped me though life thus far is an ability to adjust my point of view. As always, the very thing labeled a strength can also be perceived as a major tripping point – and often does just that, resulting in gravel ground into the knees. The trick is to manage that strength/weakness dichotomy.

My weak-leaning tendency is to give myself away. I can understand only too well another’s point of view. And, it took at least 40-to-45 of my 55 years to give myself some credit. The message I had learned – very well – somewhere along the way was that I didn’t count for very much, that everyone else’s ideas and opinions, thoughts and observations, heartaches and joys, competencies and achievements were ever so much higher, better, deeper than mine. I had to understand the other person; expecting or, entirely forbidden, requesting reciprocity was out of line.

At this moment I’m not sure when or how that attitude changed, but as our culture’s penultimate holiday moves every so swiftly into my nearer view, I am totally certain that “it” has happened and that I’m better for it. A vast majority of the sermons I wrote over the 15 years I served the church came from that slowly developing place of adjustment, a biblical passage undergoing a transformation from what I’d always thought, from the literal “this is what the words say” to what it might mean, to what it could imply for everyday life, my own and the lives of those who listened to me week after week. My closest relationships are marked, no longer by an automatic handing over of control and authority to the other person, but by an ability to be present and to listen and to respond, hearing without having to agree, honoring another position without having to defend my own, offering in a non-anxious way (I hope) different ways of seeing things.

What any or all of this might mean for 2009 is anybody’s guess. My strongest hope is that I can – and will – continue to stay tuned in and aware, willing to use what might be one of my unique gifts.

18 December 2008

Receiving a message

Tal and I have gardenias growing under our bedroom windows on the back side of our house. Truth be known, they’re much in need of pruning, having grown rather dramatically higher than the window sills in the four plus years since they were planted. One morning this week Tal brought me a cup of coffee while I was still curled up in bed (a pampered woman, I am) and as we sat and talked I saw not merely gardenia leaves through glass but this.

Tal thinks I’ve gone over some edge and delights in telling me so! Do you happen to see the word “desk,” too?

Never let it be said I don’t accept instruction. As a direct result of my having seen more than mere gardenia leaves through the steam from my coffee, my congested and neglected desk is receiving more than a little attention.

Now that I seem to have taken up reading leaves I wonder what the next message will be.

17 December 2008

The promised photos

The decorating's done. Now ... on to the housecleaning. The dust we stirred up is almost frightening.

First though, here are the photos I promised at the end of Monday. They're unedited and I didn't give much thought to proper pre-shutter lighting or to adjusting the white balance. But, you get the idea. Tal took at the boxes back to the attic before supper and everything -- save the dust and bits of tinsel -- looks rather nice. I'm looking forward to enjoying the soft glow of the lights and the unusual sight of bowls filled with gold stars and pinecones and the like between now and the Epiphany.

These two taken in the dining room were shot using a tripod with two variables: exposure and lights in use in the room. I know. I need to keep working on indoor technique. Our second tree -- the wrought iron one -- is partially visible on the left side of the lower photograph.

16 December 2008

Two casualties

No, it's not that. The wreaths are still on the gates. This casualty was totally unexpected.

We have lived on Country Club Pond since May of 2004 and haven't seen a beaver for at least three years. Last week's rain filled the pond-turned-mud flat to overflowing, the spillway running full for over 24-hours. When Tal came in for lunch today he brought the news. Both of our recently planted (and flourishing, I might add) weeping willows have been cut down, the bark stripped and the remains left floating in the shallow water.

The gates on which the Christmas wreaths are, safely, residing were intended to keep the deer from ruining the shrubbery. They work, those gates. But, we didn't count on the return of the beavers. Grrrr.

After lunch Tal returned to the water's edge and placed cages around the dawn redwood and other tender trees. Perhaps the beavers were just moving through; there was no other evidence of their presence. But, in the next few weeks, when we set out replacing the destroyed trees, I suspect we'll take that extra precaution in every case.

Live and learn.

15 December 2008

A tradition reassessed

I hate to admit it, but it's true. I don't like trimming Christmas trees.

For years and years I've put up a good front, professing a delight in the tree, live or fake, painstakingly administering the lights first, large lights the length of the trunk (illuminating the tree from inside ... thank you Martha Stewart), small lights along the branches to the very tips and back. Large ornaments must always grace the lower branches with smaller ones at the top, the colors balanced, reds not near reds, golds not near golds.

I don't know what happened today, but I simply didn't want even to begin. And, time's awastin'. Fortunately for me, Tal had mercy and we ended up making the tree a joint project, a wonderful first in our household. He took it upon himself to unroll and test the strings of lights, keeping the lights coming as I placed them, not to mention turning the ornament hangers from a large green, mangled-looking blob into individual "cees" of plastic-covered wire. He knew, I guess, how unfortunate a meltdown -- during this jolliest time of the year -- would have been. Were it not for him we likely would have been treeless this Advent/Christmas/Epiphany.

In the end, it's a very pretty tree. I shall enjoy sitting with it in the evenings, turning on the lights before making the coffee in the mornings and I'll likely not want to give it up come January 6th.

And, here at the end of the day we have two trees! My newly realized aversion to tree trimming isn't so new, it seems. Last year I bought a wrought iron tree, which is exceptionally easy to put together, requires no lights (yippee) and holds a limited number of ornaments. We weren't going to put it up, but with several categories of left over ornaments when we finished with the living room tree -- stars, crosses, angels -- we decided to have a tree in the dining room, too.

So, today I pretty much ran the gamut, going from not wanting a tree at all to having two. Photos to follow.

14 December 2008

Through the woods

We set out on an 18-hole walk on our local golf course in the middle of the afternoon. The weather's obviously beginning to change. Not as cold as it has been. There's a dampness in the air.

The first nine holes were unobstructed, no golfers. But, several groups were spread out on the back nine. Staying out of their way led us into the woods along the course and gave us an entirely new view of the terrain. Rambling around through the pines, into low-lying groves of a now leafless tree which I couldn't identify, and with my new wreath-making skills yesterday-fresh, noticing vines (they're everywhere) was a simple joy -- and harder walking than we're accustomed to.

I used to envy people their Sunday afternoon leisure. We take advantage of that leisure these days almost jealously. Knowing now what I've been missing for so very long, the envy was a pretty well-chosen response. Trading in envy for gratitude, however, is a calmer way to live.

13 December 2008


Today has been full, a typical Saturday given the proximity of Christmas. It's on days like this that I am especially aware of the gift of retirement. Were it not for that I would have spent the day writing sermons, crafting bulletins, attending meetings, desperately not sending Christmas cards again this year, trying to cram in meal planning for Christmas guests. I won't go on. Instead, this pre-Christmas time includes shopkeeping for both Edgefield Regional Arts and the Art Association of Ridge Spring, sending personally designed cards, listening to Christmas music, deliberately, here at home.

And, today I attended a vine wreath-making class taught by a former parishioner, sponsored by and held at the National Wild Turkey Federation here in Edgefield. It was a great event, inspiring the creativity of everyone who participated. My finished wreath is shown here, with apologies for the photograph. The wreath itself is comprised of a number of different kinds of vine: grape, yellow Jessamine, wisteria, and the decoration includes cedar, holly, boxwood and cones from a white pine on the golf course at Pine Ridge Plantation.

Tal was genuinely surprised when I brought the wreath out of the trunk. I'd love to know what he really expected I'd produce and bring home.

12 December 2008

Of more than one mind

While the American people learned details of Congress' decision not to give the Detroit three many millions of dollars in bridge loans to get them to the first of the year, Tal and I learned that he is allergic to formaldehyde (no, we don't live in a FEMA trailor), managed our financial situation with our financial planner and waded into Sam's on a shopping expedition. These simultaneous activities fascinate me.

  • Although I paid rapt attention to Dr James as she talked to Tal and me about the why of the dermatitis on his hands, I was intensely aware of the aftermath of the decision having been made in the halls and chambers of Congress.
  • While our financial planner explained getting to the bottom of a recession in terms I could actually understand, I couldn't help but notice Tal's hands, wondering what we are using at home in terms of soaps and lotions that contains formaldehyde.
  • Even though I was monitoring our carefully crafted shopping list as we trooped through Sam's, I was considering how to go about finding the information the financial planner needs.

At no time did I feel separated from the current moment. That is, I wasn't only partially present and I didn't interject comment about the other train of thought into what Tal and I were doing. But, there was clearly more than one thing going on in my mind.

Part of being human. Part of the fascinating power of the brain. I wonder why the phenomenon was so strong today.

11 December 2008

Deliver me

The post's title is part of a longer sentence uttered by my dear husband as we approached Columbia this morning in rush hour traffic. "Lawd, deliver me from this." At the moment he was definitely speaking for us both. I-20 was fully stopped in advance of the interchange with SC6 and again at US1. When traffic did move, it inched. When it moved faster, drivers tended to accelerate too rapidly, requiring panic stops when, inevitably, progress came to a halt once again. Fortunately, the heavy rain that moved through during the night had abated. I don't know if it's merely a perception on my part, but I do believe drivers operate their vehicles differently (translated: worse) in bad weather.

"Deliver me," he exclaimed. It might be a good idea to make those appointments for a bit later in the morning. Without doubt extended stop-and-go traffic like we experienced today makes us both appreciate our rural existence and Edgefield's three stop lights.

But, today wasn't totally consumed with "deliver me" moments. With another appointment for tomorrow morning and a SC Troopers Association Christmas gathering this evening at a Columbia hotel we are staying in the area for the night. While it rained much of the day (an understatement), we got in a good walk along the Columbia Canal between Tal's appointment and lunchtime.

As we walked, we talked about other time we'd walked that same path and realized we were celebrating an anniversary. Tal and I began dating after Thanksgiving in 1988 and one of our first adventures was a walk along the canal, then something of a novelty having not been open very long. The area has developed well, the walking path along the canal having been extended all the way to Gervais Street and the State Museum, and the area at the head of the Canal with a long view of the Broad River now sporting a replica of one of the four lock-keepers' houses and even a fish ladder. The canal area is now part of the Three Rivers Greenway, a 12-mile linear park on both sides of the Broad and the Saluda and along the Congaree which is formed at their junction.

So, we didn't need to be delivered from everything today. Making it into Columbia without incident brought us to a very enjoyable place and a remarkable anniversary walk. Today, by the way, we walked farther and faster and more companionably than we did 20 years ago. Pretty impressive, all things considered.

10 December 2008

An introspective day

Rain was supposed to arrive here last night. When I awoke in the wee hours of the morning, temporarily sleepless, the nearly-full moon glowed palely through thin clouds, illuminating the water on the pond just well enough for me to enjoy the subtle glimmer. By no means was being awake the worst thing that could have been going on.

By the time Tal and I took that first, almost healing sip of hot coffee shortly before 7:00, however, the rain had begun. And, it rained all day, oftentimes hard, thunder rumbling in the distance, lightening a flicker I wasn't entirely certain I had actaully seen. Tal attempted to watch television after lunch. During intense periods of rain the picture "cubed," DirecTV leaving the air completely several times.

But, what a wonderful day. With only two errands taking us away from home briefly, the better part of the day was quiet. Working on the Christmas cards, catching up entries in Quicken, sorting through the loot I hauled home from yesterday's Ambassadors Tour, preparing for an overnight in Columbia tomorrow -- everything was a pleasure. I wouldn't trade it for anything and, even though the hours passed slowly, the day ended way too soon.

The rain's still coming down. Good sleep awaits.

09 December 2008

New ambassador

Today has been great fun and I am too tuckered out to write more than a line or two. But, you are reading words written by one of Edgefield County and The South Carolina Heritage Corridor's forty plus newly minted ambassadors. Impressive, huh?

After a lovely breakfast at Oakley Park, an antebellum house museum and UDC Shrine, in Edgefield, our rolling classroom set out with Bettis Academy, the town of Trenton and Titan Farm on the morning itinerary. After a wonderful lunch at Riley's on Main in Johnston, we visited the Edgefield County Peach Museum just a few storefronts up the street and then reboarded the coach for the afternoon. By the time we arrived back at Oakley Park for a wine and cheese reception shortly after 5:00 we had visited the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Freshwater Coast Discovery Center, the Tompkins Library, the Edgefield County Archives and the offices of the Edgefield Advertiser (the oldest continually run newspaper in the state). I am going to sleep gratefully and well.

Here are few images made during the day.

Our rolling classroom, driven by Andrew Lott, was very comfortable, complete with TV screens on which the view from the front of the bus was displayed all day. We didn't have to fight for front seats. In fact, I quite enjoyed sitting in the back of the bus.

A fragile quilt on display at Bettis Academy and Junior College -- an institution founded in 1881 by the Rev'd Alexander Bettis, a former slave who was taught to read by his master.

This is part of the peach sorting apparatus in the packing shed at Titan Farm.

One of a visitor's first sights on entering the National Wild Turkey Federation is the floor at the threshold. The turkey fan inlay is comprised of seven different woods: black walnut, lace wood, Brazilian cherry, zebra wood, wenge, curly maple and Honduras mahogany.

This is a detail of the ceiling in the Tomkins Library on the square in Edgefield, home of the Old Edgefield District Genealogical Society.

At the end of the day my totebag was stuffed!

08 December 2008

House cleaning

We hear frequent mention, particularly in the arena of the political, of cleaning house. When politicians are not doing what we would like, we declare that what we need is a good house cleaning. Sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes that should happen and sometimes it shouldn't.

But, what needs to happen closer to home, here in Edgefield County at 207 Country Club Road to be specific, is underway. I'm cleaning house in earnest. Too frequently the place gets a lick and a promise, to use a phrase I've heard my whole life. A making the place presentable in the shortest possible amount of time. Getting the dog hair up from along the baseboards. Sweeping the porches. Uncovering the kitchen counters. Yes, it gets that bad.

But, today I started. With only a block of time in the middle of the day to work I decided to tackle the bedroom, bath and closet -- and to take my time. Turned out it was enjoyable and sweet. I looked at the photographs I was dusting, felt the contours of the sinks as I washed off the residual soap and whiskers, thought about my great, good fortune as I smoothed sheets and tucked in blankets, looked forward to reading in bed while wiping off the light bulbs in the bedside lamps. Somewhere I'd lost track of gratitude for what surrounds me, for the items I use every day.

By the time an afternoon obligation took me away the area of the day's focus looked pretty nice AND I'd managed to get in the laundry and to sweep the hardwood floors in the rest of the house.

Tomorrow? Polishing the kitchen cabinets will be the primary task. I plan to enjoy that, too.

07 December 2008

Cynic or realist

It's taken all week, getting two simple artificial wreaths up on the new gates at the head of our driveway. The mission of finding the wreaths themselves took a chunk of Tuesday. From place to place I trooped. Perhaps I should more accurately say from place to place I drooped. Most that I found were two small, each gate being nine feet wide and requiring something substantial. A few, not ideal but that would have done, were too expensive. The search ended at Lowes with 36-inch blanks (meaning, I learned, undecorated), an extra bonus being that all the Lowes Christmas merchanize had been marked half off at Thanksgiving. I worked at adding bows last night in a tangle of wide, wired red ribbon and Tal and I attached them to the gates this afternoon using very handy "cable ties" which he had found at the local hardware store.

While I am pleased with our efforts, I have managed not to become overly invested in the greening of the gates for this holiday season. When Tal asked me last night if I were going to put anything beside the bows on the wreaths, I gave him the same line I gave myself on Tuesday as I made checking price tags a priority during my search, not wanting to like too much one -- a pair, actually, costing more than I wanted to pay. Let's be realistic. They won't last the season. We're not going to have to worry about storing them for Advent and Christmas 2009."

Our house is at least 325 feet from Country Club Road; the gates are not even visible from the garage or from the front door. I know we will likely be relieved of responsibility for those wreaths in the very near future ... if not by morning. Before all is said and done they will be appropriated, filched, made away with, pinched, purloined, ripped off, snitched, swiped, even stolen! in the dark of night.

Realistic? Cynical? I don't know which label to use. I wanted to put wreaths on the gates because the gate project during the last six months has been such a pleasure. Since we purchased this piece of property I've always wanted those gates. Essentially, we put wreaths on the gates because I wanted to and I am pleased that they are there.

What happens now will be OK. Any pleasure I experience on seeing them (that is, if I see them) as I come and go during the next few weeks will a bonus added to the pleasure of this day.

Today's newspaper, The State, included on its editorial pages a quote which might sum up the point I'm trying to explore.

Things won are done. Joy's soul lies in the doing. William

What Tal and I did today brought me joy. That joy will not go away if the wreaths do.

06 December 2008

Fleece and silk

Already this season I am unapologetically tired of being cold. And, it's only December 6th.

This afternoon I hosted in a seasonal gallery in Ridge Spring SC. I am in awe of the talent in this quiet, rural part of the world. The items on display and for sale ranged from painted goards to watercolors, from stained glass and mosaics to photographs and jewelry, from collage to pen and ink. It took me about a quarter of an hour to move through the room, appreciating each item.

But, the gallery is in an old school. I like to say it's a building that looks like a school is supposed to look. A flawless way of dating myself, I might add. The building is owned by Ridge Spring and has no heat. The temperature when I arrived at 1:30 this afternoon was in the low 50s, the sun shone through thin clouds. It was warmer out than in. Standing on the porch to watch a train move through town provided several minutes of relief.

By 3:00, however, the cloud cover had thickened and any reassurance the sun, weak as it was, had provided dissipated. A space heater warmed the spot where I was to sit, but not well. Walking the oval pathway through the gallery did little to build up internal steam. I was cold. Four o'clock and closing time's coming was such a relief.

I own Polartec outerwear and LL Bean silk underware. That will just have to be my gallery uniform. Unstylish and warm. It beats today's well-dressed but frosty alternative.

PS You do know that come summer I'll complain about the heat too, don't you?

05 December 2008

Some days are simply better than others. Today the weather was not particularly nice. Thought it didn't rain, the sun was pale. It never really warmed up. And, more of the things I'd intended to do during the day are still undone than those I managed to check off the list. But, Tal and I went for a walk after I got home from my stint in the art co-op and supper turned out well. There isn't anything I can put my finger on. I was simply a good day.

One of the prodominant features of this day, however, has been a fifty-one year old memory. I couldn't say what time it was when the call came. Mom and Dad (Mommy and Daddy then) were gone; Grandma Johnson was with Joyce and me. I've tried remembering where the telephone was. Outside Mom and Dad's room, near the kitchen door? Was there a telephone? Had to have been. I remember Grandma taking the call. But maybe it wasn't a telephone to the outside world; there may have still been only one of those at Brookgreen. Maybe what she answered was the wooden, crank telephone (magnetophone?) used within Brookgreen.

Not that the telephone itself matters at all. What Joyce and I learned from our grandmother was that we had a brother. I'm not sure either of us knew what that meant and I know we were unprepared for how another sibling was going to change our young world. But, the moment of hearing the news and the extraordinary woman who delivered it will be in my memory both long and vividly. The fifth of December 1957 was a very good day. And, having a brother -- today even more than then -- is one of live's best joys.

I've loved thinking about all this today. What the weather did or didn't do was inconsequential. What I had to do and didn't finish was less than important. My fifty-one year old memory -- "you two have a little brother" was all it took to make this a better than normal day.

04 December 2008

Discipline is discipline

Last evening’s news and this morning’s newspaper brought more reports of the big three automakers and their plight. The company representatives are making their way to Washington again this week, their detailed proposals for how they will use the funds they want Congress to appropriate having been sent ahead of them. Thirty four billion dollars is hard for me to understand. For this trip these executives are travelling in hybrid vehicles produced by the companies they lead. Too bad they didn’t think of that on their own and make that choice in the first place. The private jets of their last jaunt to Washington were an unfortunate mistake.

I think most people are divided on the question of giving the auto manufacturers the funding they seek. On one hand millions of jobs are at stake, those employed in industries supporting the manufacture of American vehicles reaching far beyond Detroit. On the other the companies clearly have been badly run, leadership short-sighted and greedy, labor unrealistic about what is equitable and what the industry can actually bear.

Beyond that simplistic assessment, I think most people want Congress to make demands of the automotive industry, requiring self-regulation, tauter business plans, more concern for the country as a whole, increased investment in more earth-friendly vehicles. And, I think most folks want their representatives in Washington to express on their behalf the disgust and disappointment they feel. I fear, however, that Congress will not be able to take that route – the high road, so to speak.

It’s hard to demand restraint from one quarter when the quarter we inhabit is not above reproach. Alarming reports on the associations of Michigan congressmen and from where their comfortable millions have come are probably a mere hint of the situation in which manyt of our elected officials sitting in judgment of the auto industry find themselves. When you’re on the take, you can’t very well demand something different from another involved in the same questionable behavior. Members of Congress, for fear of being called to account themselves, are probably not going to do or say what really needs to be done or said.

But, before I allow myself to travel too far along this cozy road of self-righteousness, my “how could theys” fervent and incredulous, I’m going to call myself down. Tal made a banana pudding this morning to take with him to a family gathering in Aiken. A pudding doesn’t take a full box of the Nabisco Nilla wafers he prefers. The leftovers are in the pantry. Were I to put those extra cookies in a bowl here on the counter next to the computer, could I retrain myself and eat only one serving, that being 11 cookies. (Yes, I know that statistic.) Could I manage to have just a couple? Or, would I, true to form, not stop until all the cookies were history? No one would ever know. Tal wouldn’t notice they were all gone. What would it matter?

Admittedly, cookies are a little thing and the auto industry is a big thing. But discipline is discipline. If I cannot discipline myself in little things, should I assume I can expect more of another? Yes, we as individuals, as Americans, as constituents, as those who elected a congress to speak for us have to make some decision where the automotive industry is concerned and make that decision soon. But, our self-righteousness is out of place. We are all players in this mess. If I’m going to say “here’s where you are wrong,” I’m also going to have to self-aware enough to add an “and here’s where I am guilty.” While we cannot, any single one of us, effect much or any immediate change in Detroit or in Congress, we most surely can in ourselves. And, frankly, what a feat that would be.

Jesus had a little something to say in this whole matter:

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? “ Luke 16:10-13b
Well-said. By the way, all the Nillas are still in the pantry. I didn't try the "on the counter" test.

03 December 2008

Out on a limb

The deed is done. Before giving in to sleep last night I printed a photograph on something other than copy paper or card stock. Regulation HP photo paper. A first. Today I put that black and white image in a black frame and packaged it for mailing. Tomorrow I will drive it to the post office in Edgefield and send it on its way to someone who will receive it as a gift. Another first.

I'm embarrassed to say it's been a hard process. Seems making photographs is one thing. Sharing them -- putting them "out there" -- is another. Sort of like being out on a limb, a surprisingly limber one with a tornado in the forecast. That sounds rather melodramatic. But, it feels pretty accurate.

Precarious is OK.

02 December 2008

Christmas cactus

In the rainy days since returning home from the Thanksgiving holiday I have busied myself creating a Christmas card to use this season. Having decided against a family photograph (all of us, including the dogs, need haircuts), I went back in the Elements 6 catalog to a series of images of our Christmas cactus which bloomed shortly after we brought it in from its summer residing in a shady flower bed.

When I produced a single sheet mock-up showing two cards, one with the photograph in color and other in black and white, Tal requested that we use the color image. A good choice, I think. But, I 'm pleased enough with the black and white to share it here.

The printer in Batesburg informed me late today that the cards would be ready to pick up tomorrow after lunch. I'd best get to finalizing the mailing list.

01 December 2008

Twenty five windows

I've not been forgotten.

Every year I served the Church of the Ridge an Advent calendar appeared in the mail, arriving before Thanksgiving, sent sort of anonymously by a parishioner and someone who over time became a dear friend. It was always sent directly from the bookstore at an Episcopal church in Augusta GA with no enclosures, no name, addressed in unfamiliar handwriting by someone on the store's staff.

But, sleuth that I am -- actually, a pretty fair listener, I heard this man say during a party that that his favorite slice of the Christmas holiday pie was the Advent calendar. Introduced to him during this childhood by an elderly relative, he'd taken up the practice of giving them away in large numbers. And, with that tidbit my benefactor's identity came to light.

Just over two weeks ago our mail included a card from the post office alerting us to an envelope too large for our mailbox. A special trip to Edgefield post office. The familiar mailing label. Inside a two-layered rectangle of cardboard with a picture and 25 windows. I'm still on the list!

This year's calendar is the most lovely and substantial of all those I’ve received. It's also rather understated, something of a rarity, most that I've seen bordering on garish and prone to cast glitter everywhere. The nativity scene on this calendar includes the magi, shepherds and sheep, in addition to the holy family and their patient-looking donkey, the surroundings subdued, but luminous, in golds, deep reds and shades of grey. It's a restful scene, one I cannot help but hold up to what I see in my imagination of the post-stampede scene in that Long Island Wal-Mart. How did we get from there to here?

So today, door number one. And -- today and for 24 more days, a reminder to be calm, to treasure every breath no matter that any particular moment holds, to be present and mindful.

And, perhaps selfishly, the sweet knowledge that I’ve not been forgotten.