World and Time Enough

Yesterday, my cousin and friend, Joanne Frehse from Charlotte came to visit and I told her about entering the Flower Show at the South Greenville Fair shortly after I moved to South Carolina last July. I remembered that I had written about the experience, and Joanne encouraged me to post it to my blog.  So today I offer you another variation on my Spring gardening theme and a little slice of southern living. Hope you enjoy it.


Throughout my busy life in New Jersey, I often scanned the newspaper’s list of “Things to Do This Weekend” and lingered longingly over events I wanted to attend like concerts, garden shows and community fairs. Then I’d finish my coffee, fold the newspaper and start cleaning, cutting grass, doing laundry or any one of a million other things on my to-do list. No more. Now, I get out my I-phone, bring up the calendar and start adding events. Retired life is good!

South Greenville Fair particpants.

South Greenville Fair particpants.

One of the most genuinely enjoyable events I attended so far has been the 58th Annual South Greenville Fair on Saturday, September 19th. The Fair consisted of various events intended “to educate and inspire community celebration of the science and technology of plant and animal production through youth participation involving the 4-H and FFA organizations”. (I vaguely remember learning about the 4-H club as a youngster in school, but other than that, I only ever heard mention of the FFA in the Dixie Chick’s song, Good-bye Earl).

Anyway, the Fair’s events included Goat, Rabbit, Dairy Cattle, Beef Cattle, Dog and Horse Shows. All-day events included the Antique Engine and Tractor Show, Grandpa’s Farm Show, an Art Show and what brought  me there — the Flower Show.  My sister and I learned about the Flower Show when we attended our first Simpsonville Garden Club meeting at the Rotary Club on East Main Street the Tuesday before the Fair. (It was as down-homey as it sounds. They served iced-tea and water, a cream pie and fruit. )

The topic of the meeting was how to prepare a horticulture entry for judging in the Flower Show competition. Thelma Barnett, Horticulture Entries Consultant, and mother of the current President Christine Barnett, explained requirements for cut specimens. In spite of the fact that my sister and I just walked in off the street, we were invited by club members to partake in the refreshments and strongly encouraged to submit entries .

I immediately thought of the wild ageratum my sister gave me when I moved in to my new condo and how gloriously it had been blooming throughout July and August. Yes, I admit it. I may be retired, but the thrill of competing for a prize made my pulse quicken. Even my non-competitive sister whispered to me, “I could enter my dahlias.”

That night, I went out and watered the ageratum well…just as we were told to. The next morning, I located an old glass olive oil bottle. I went outside and carefully cut a stem from my ageratum and lovingly wrapped it in plastic wrap to secure the stem in the bottle neck, exactly as we were instructed to at the Garden Club meeting. When I completed the tag with the appropriate information — I’d looked up the Latin name, Conoclinium coelestinum, online the night before — I glanced over at one of only two plants I was able to bring South with me when I moved…a salmon-colored angel wing begonia. I remembered  there was a potted plant category. How could I not enter this graceful plant…one of at least half a dozen plants I’d started from cuttings from one mother plant that bloomed constantly in my New Jersey kitchen over the past two winters, making me smile and giving me hope even on the bleakest days in February? Yes, this beauty deserved to be in a Flower Show.

Me and my 2nd Prize Begonia.

Me and my 2nd Prize Begonia.

My sister and I arrived at the Fair around 1:30 on Saturday. In spite of the fact that we were both hungry, we went straight to the Community Building. We giggled like school girls, recounting all the television shows and movies we’d seen about competitions like this one…not completely willing to admit how much we really wanted to win.

When we entered the building, I turned to the right and there was my begonia with a 2nd prize blue sticker on it. I couldn’t stop smiling. We walked down the next row and there sat my ageratum, a 3rd prize red sticker attached. I was starting to feel a little light-headed. As we rounded the last row of exhibits, my sister became discouraged. The day before she nearly backed out of entering saying we didn’t stand a chance of winning.  Just as she said, “My entry must have been disqualified,” I spotted her dahlias on a table apart from the other exhibits. I grabbed her by the arm and pulled her over to the table, where her Crème de Cassis Dahlias proudly bore a 1st place sticker and ribbon! Now we were both positively giddy.

Mary Ellen and her !st Prize Dahlias.

Mary Ellen and her !st Prize Dahlias.

Basking in the afterglow of our success, we strolled through the Art Show, then outside where we got barbecue rib sandwiches from the man who won first prize in the BBQ Cookoff competition. Yum!  After that we had freshly churned, homemade ice cream. We each got a mix of chocolate and vanilla with Reese’s Pieces. Get this…the Reese’s Pieces were actually pieces of Reese Cups chopped up in the ice cream.

We ended the day watching a girl of no more than 10 win a fist full of red ribbons riding her horse with such mastery that it took my breath away, reminding me of every dreamy horse book I read as a girl, from National Velvet to The Black Stallion. Sigh! It was clear to me that the South Greenville Fair fulfilled its mission to provide “a format for the community to see, experience, and help promote the value of our environment and natural resources to preserve our rural heritage”.

Now that I am retired, I have to admit, I sometimes hear “Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near”. Ironically, I also now have “world and time enough” to enjoy events like the South Greenville Fair. I have a feeling the pure pleasure of it all will keep my heart pumping a good, long while…that and the adrenaline rush of competing in the Flower Show. Just wait until next year…

New Year’s Confessions of a Retiree without Resolutions

This morning (January 7, 2016) I read in The Greenville News that Furman University student, Chris Drose, was named to Forbes’ annual “30 under 30” list.  What did he do to earn that accolade?  Well, Mr. Drose, who’s studying English and Economics, “uses his free time to research companies to determine how much their stock is actually worth.”  He then posts his research results on his blog:   His whistle-blowing report on patient deaths at the facilities of a company that provides treatment for substance abuse and behavioral health issues resulted in a 54% drop in their stock.

And then there’s my blog…I don’t think I’ll be making any “70 under 70” lists.  This is only my first post since December 2nd!  I’ve already broken a cardinal rule of blogging by not adding new content on a regular basis.  To my horror, I just checked out an article entitled “The 23 Unwritten Rules of Blogging” by Lily Herman .  This is what she says:

“5.      If you want to keep people engaged and coming back, you should post three or four times per week on your blog (once a day is even better!). Ideally, plan and keep to a regular schedule. This keeps your readers from wondering whether or not you’re coming back.”

Seriously?  Who can do that? And who has time or would even want to read something I wrote daily?  Surely, people have more important things to do than read blogs every day.

Honestly, I sometimes feel that I’m a tortoise in a world, not of hares, but of gnats and hummingbirds.  I confess…it makes me feel…well, old.  But that isn’t quite it because most of the time I feel the same way I did when I was in my twenties, and I can’t believe I’m 64.  It’s something about the digital world and cyberspace.

The attention span of a gnat is about .210005 of a second. Life span: 7 days.

The attention span of a gnat is about .210005 of a second. Life span: 7 days.

I’ve been on Facebook for several years, but it wasn’t until I started blogging and wanted to let people know  I posted something that I started checking my Facebook newsfeed regularly.  At first I found it exhilarating to be in contact with people I hadn’t been in touch with recently…school friends, former business associates, friends and family who have relocated all over the country.  That, of course, has not changed, but recently, I have caught myself losing the odd hour here and there scrolling mindlessly through tons of posts that really don’t have a lot of meaning for me. After encountering the same political statement or inspirational quote posted multiple times,  I had to ask myself if this activity was really serving any useful purpose in my life.

Hummingbirds flap their wings so fast (about 80 times per second) that they make a humming noise. Life span: 5 years

Hummingbirds flap their wings so fast (about 80 times per second) that they make a humming noise. Life span: 5 years

And now for Confession Number 2…since my December 2nd post, I hadn’t written a word until last Saturday, January  2nd.  Shocking admission from a writer wannabe, right?  Okay, in my defense, besides scrolling through Facebook, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner; threw a surprise birthday party one week later for my mother who turned 90 on December 3rd; spent the next week tooling around with my sisters (my sister, Jane, came up from Florida for my mom’s birthday and stayed for a week); did all the Christmas stuff…decorating, shopping, gift-wrapping, etc.; had a dinner for cousins from Connecticut who stopped for a visit on their way to Florida; met with my Cozy Mystery Writers critique group (which is kind of ironic, since I wasn’t writing much);  and did all the other things it takes to make a life…cooked, cleaned, did laundry, walked the dog, yadayadayada.  Confession Number 3: I’m not going to resolve to stop letting life get in the way of my writing because I’m enjoying my life, and I’m not exactly sure how much more of it I’ve got.

The fastest recorded tortoise speed is 5 mph. Life span: 80 to 150 years.

The fastest recorded tortoise speed is 5 mph. Life span: 80 to 150 years.

Confession Number 4: I have been a bit discouraged about my writing lately, but here I am today…blogging again.  I’m also happy to say that since January 2nd, I actually re-wrote the first chapter of my cozy mystery.  I’d gotten de-railed after learning that I violated police procedure in a crime scene I’d written in my first draft. It took me some time to work out a solution in my mind, but finally I did and I’m pleased with the result.

Slowly, I’m getting back on track…but, alas, that brings me to Confession 4. I believe I’m destined to remain a turtle in this fast-paced world of the 21st Century.  But maybe that’s not entirely a bad thing.  I just read that tortoises have one of the longest lifespans in the animal world and are a symbol of longevity in some cultures. There’s a good chance I may outlive the editing process.

Once again, I am encouraged.  Take heart, dear readers and friends, if , like me, you cannot multi-task, and the lighting speed of this brave, new digital world  leaves you breathless.   Let’s not forget the lessons of our youth.  Remember what Aesop said. “Slow and steady wins the race.”

Whether you are a tortoise, a hare, a gnat or a hummingbird, I wish all of you a most wonderful 2016 with abundant time to contemplate, savor and enjoy all that is dear to you.  Happy New Year!

Tortoise & Hare

Ode to a Thimble…how a little piece of plastic inspired me

Because I was busy this week writing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I didn’t get to write a new blog post.  Instead I pulled out this item I wrote a few year’s ago to share with you.  Hope you enjoy it.

Yesterday I invited two friends to lunch on my patio.  It was Monday.  Can you image that?  I’m preparing to close my business at the end of the year, so I no longer feel the need to spend every free minute trying to develop new business.  I am 60 years old, and sometimes when I say that, I can’t believe it’s true.  I don’t feel the way I imagine a 60 year old feels.  Or, perhaps it’s just that I feel no different than I’ve always felt.  In some ways, I feel better, stronger…surely wiser, but I digress…

The yellow thimble sitting in my sewing basket, easy to locate even after a 750 mile relocation.

The yellow thimble sitting in my sewing basket, easy to locate even after a 750 mile relocation.

The real reason I’m writing this is to pay homage to a homely little object…a small, yellow, plastic thimble that has resided in my little sewing box for as long as I can remember.  My sewing experience has been limited to button repair, and the occasional hem.  I never use the thimble when I sew.  I’ve only ever used it when I bake cookies.

That may sound strange, but there is a recipe in my well-worn Joy of Cooking called Jam Tots.  It calls for you to bake the cookies for 5 minutes, then open the oven, and using your thumb (which I don’t recommend because the dough is just too hot), or a thimble, depress a hole in the center of each cookie.  Continue baking for 8 more minutes.  Next you allow the cookies to cool and proceed to fill them with jelly or jam.

I discovered the recipe probably 30 years ago.  My mother, father and two sisters re-located from New Jersey to South Carolina.  I inherited all of the leftovers in their refrigerators, which included 3 or 4 jars of jelly.  I didn’t eat much jelly, so I wondered what to do with it all.  Now, I’m sure you are thinking, “You could have just thrown it out.”  Somehow, in spite of the fact that I was born in 1951, the dead center of the Baby Boom, I was a child of depression era parents.  We didn’t waste anything.  And I went to Catholic school where we actually learned proverbs like “Waste not; want not” in school.  Do they teach children proverbs anymore?  I wonder sometimes, if they teach them anything.  But again, I digress…

So back to the jelly surplus.  One weekend I opened my Joy of Cooking in search of uses for the jelly and discovered the Jam Tot recipe.  I went to my sewing box, which was a Christmas gift from my mother a few years before.  There was a yellow thimble, which I put to use baking my first recipe of Jam Tots.  They were quite a success, and I even remember taking some over to the elderly woman who lived next door.

That was nearly 30 years ago.  Since then I moved to a condominium where I lived for 5 years, and, as a result of the real estate boom in the 80’s, I was able to sell my condominium and buy the house whose upstairs apartment I had lived in when I first discovered the Jam Tot recipe.  Last year a friend of mine gave me a jar of Lemon Raspberry Marmalade.  Once again, I pulled out my Joy of Cooking, sought my thimble and created a very “adult” cookie that was a hit with my book club.  Yesterday, I realized I didn’t have a satisfactory dessert for my patio lunch, and at the last minute decided to bake another batch of Jam Tots with Lemon Raspberry Marmalade…you see I’m still not a big jam/jelly/marmalade consumer.

As I put the cookie dough in the refrigerator to chill, I went to look for the thimble.  And, of course, it was right there in the sewing box, waiting to serve.  As I picked it out of the box, I was struck by how infrequently I used it, but how perfect it was for the job at hand.  What also struck me was the fact that sometimes I can’t locate something I bought last week, but the thimble was exactly where I knew it would be, where it has been for more than 30 years.

This humble little piece of plastic has been with me for most of my adult life, and that I found momentarily awe-inspiring.  In a world where thimbles have become ‘useless’ collectibles, and where I have made three trips to Best Buy to dispose of obsolete and broken electronic and digital equipment that I’ve owned for less than five years, this little yellow thimble survives and has purpose.  As I embrace my 6th decade I am delightfully inspired by a thimble.

My Inspiration!

My Inspiration!


Jam/Jelly Tot Recipe

Makes about forty-two 1-1/4 inch cookies

Cream 1/2 cup of white or brown sugar with 1/ 2 cup butter.

Beat in:

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Roll the dough into a ball and chill briefly for easier handling.

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Pinch off pieces to roll into 1-inch balls.  Roll the balls in sugar, or for a fancier cookie, in 1 slightly beaten egg white, then in 1 cup finely chopped nutmeats.

Place them on a lightly greased and flowered sheet.  Bake 5 minutes.  Depress the center of each cookie with a thimble or your thumb.  Continue baking until done about 8 minutes.  When cool, fill the pit with one of the following:

  • a bit of jelly or jam
  • a preserved strawberry
  • a candied cherry
  • a pecan half
  • a dab of icing.

No Longer Riding on the Merry-Go-Round

Those words just popped into my head the other day, and I wasn’t sure why.  Of course, they seemed a perfect metaphor for retirement.  If you ever stepped off a moving merry-go-round as a kid, you remember the dizzying feeling you experienced.  It took a while to get your footing on solid ground…not unlike the feeling you have when you step off the career carousel.

CarouselThe dizziness you experience is both elation and fear… happy to be off the work merry-go-round… hopeful, yet uncertain, that retirement will turn out as well as you imagined.  All I can tell you is that after flying by the seat of my pantyhose for the last six months, buying and selling property, and relocating 750 miles, it didn’t take long for me to adjust.

Of course, I’m not entirely retired…I am writing a mystery, collaborating with another writer on a Young Adult novel, sampling every writer’s group in the South Carolina upstate, co-organizing a Cozy Mystery Writers/Readers Meetup group, joining a community Garden Club, making a list of local colleges where I can teach English Composition as an adjunct next year because I miss teaching, attending every cultural event I can fit on my calendar, writing a blog…well, you get the picture.

It took some time for me to remember where today’s title words came from, but after a bit, I heard John Lennon’s voice in my head.  After searching my I-tunes I found Watching the Wheels from his Double Fantasy album and played it.  In the song people questioned John’s stepping off the merry-go-round.  By contrast, many of my friends and former colleagues sent me congratulatory messages and a few open admissions of envy after my announcement of retirement last week on Facebook.   Of course, John Lennon was only 40 years old at the time he wrote that song and the lead-off song on the album was Starting Over … don’t you ache for all the songs he didn’t get to write?  Don’t you yearn for someone to express the profound as simply and clearly as he did? But I digress…

In that song, John Lennon said he was enjoying “watching the wheels go round and round”.  For some of us, that’s the image of retirement we fear, but I have good news.  Many of my fellow baby boomers who contacted me said they were “semi”-retired or still consulting.  Whether we continue working for financial reasons, or because we are doing something we love to do, or because we just can’t imagine stopping, we need a new word to describe the period of time now known as retirement. After all, here’s the definition:

  1. 1. the act of retiring, withdrawing, or leaving; the state of being retired.
  2. the act of retiring or of leaving one’s job, career, or occupation permanently, usually because of age

Well, neither of those exactly describe what I’ve done or what many who wrote to me are doing.  Maybe we need more than one word to describe this phase of life.  How about “extended earning” if you’re working for financial reasons?  And “fulfillment” if you’re continuing to work because you love it?  And “renaissance” if you’re doing what I’m doing?

Whether the period “formerly known as retirement” is imminent or a decade or two out there for you, I hope all of you reach the “renaissance” phase.  I think it truly can be the best time of your life…the best shot you have at really doing what you’ve always wanted to do…the thing you’ve never had time to do.  A time for renascence, for starting over…IMAGINE.