The First Day

I stand at the crosswalk as lights flash and cars whiz by the wrong way and wonder when, or if, I will be able to cross the street. It is early afternoon on my first day in London, on my first trip outside the United States. Jet-lagged after an overnight flight I struggle to make sense of my surroundings, overwhelmed by new sights and sounds.

Looking down, I notice “Look Right” stenciled on the street with an arrow pointing that way. I am grateful for the reminder, thinking it is there to remind confused tourists that cars travel the opposite way in Britain. Later, seeing “Look Left” on another street, I understand that because of London’s many one-way streets, it is for locals as well.

I try to blend in with the locals, but my body and brain seem to move in slow motion. I hope I don’t appear the overwhelmed tourist that I am. Months spent studying street maps and tourist guides did not prepare me for the reality. While I recognize landmarks and street names, the images I created in my mind do not match the masses of people, cars, and buses hustling through the city.

I finally cross the street when a crowd of other people does, hoping there is safety in numbers. The best way to adjust to time change when traveling east, I’ve read, is to stay up all day, then go to bed early that night. So to stay awake I amble through London, seeing a few sights and trying to learn my way around. By mid-afternoon, I can no longer manage it and trudge back to my hotel. Climbing the narrow flight of stairs to my small, clean room, I lay down and surrender to exhaustion.

A couple of hours later I wake up. Though still tired, the jet-lag fog is beginning to clear from my brain so I set out to walk the neighborhood around my hotel and find something to eat. Passing an Indian restaurant, I stop and read the menu posted in the window, happy to discover many familiar selections. Opening the door, the spicy aromas fill my nose and send a rumble through my stomach. After filling up on delicious curry and naan, I return to my hotel room for a good night’s sleep.

The next morning I awaken feeling more like myself. While the view out my window isn’t what I am used to, it is no longer strange and overwhelming. Just as I am getting accustomed to London, it is time to leave. I head to the train station for two weeks on the continent.

Each country I visit presents another first day, with a new city to navigate, a new language to muddle through, and, since this is before the Euro, a new currency to sort out. Already, I have changed, understanding that each place will be different, both from where I’ve been and from the expectations I bring with me. I adapt quicker and find I blend in as long as I don’t attempt to speak the language. Evenings I take a stroll or sit in the park watching people go by, enjoying a slower end to my days.

Returning to London, I am surprised how familiar it feels. Not only do I speak the language, I also know the currency, can navigate the Tube to get from the train station to my hotel and find that traffic coming from the opposite direction no longer fazes me. For the first time since I left the United States, I am in a place I have been before.

A week later I board a train for the north, to begin a year living in East Yorkshire. The year will have many firsts: the first time seeing the house that would be my home, the first time driving a car with the steering wheel on the right-hand side, the first time finding bottles of milk by my front door, and lighting my first coal fire. Nothing, though, will come close to the first day.

Road Map Skills

 

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On a warm Sunday morning, Daddy parked our blue Buick by the back door and opened the trunk. Handing him my suitcase, he added it to the other luggage in the massive compartment. Back in the house, I picked up a couple of books, a stack of Teen and Tiger Beat magazines, and the pillow from my bed. Placing them and my purse on the floor of the backseat, I got in while my sister did the same on her side. After one last check of the house, Momma and Daddy got in the car. We pulled out of the driveway and began the 1600 mile, two-and-a-half-day drive from our home in south Arkansas to southern California.

We had taken summer car trips most of my life: half-day drives to northwest Arkansas to visit family and day-long trips to Alabama so Grandma could see her sister and father. Since we made these trips once a year, Daddy knew the route to take. This trip was different. Though we were going to visit family, we were traveling in unfamiliar territory. This was 1979, long before GPS and navigation systems were available. Instead, to navigate across the country, we would depend on a road map.

I’ve enjoyed looking at maps for as long as I can remember. Whether paper road maps that unfold or maps in my history and geography textbooks, maps from centuries past or a modern road atlas, I could spend hours studying them. Along the way, I learned the basics of reading a map, and as we began our trip, I asked to look at the road atlas we were using.

Tracing with my finger, I realized I was able to follow our route. I looked ahead, to see if I knew where we would turn next, then explored the legend, learning what unfamiliar marks on the map represented. There were small numbers printed beside the highways and roads, and I asked what they meant. Daddy explained they represented the miles between towns. Watching the scenery out the window, I saw the highway signs, their numbers corresponding to the ones on the map. Coming to an intersection, I found the highway number we needed and followed the arrows to know which way we should go. The more I learned, the more confident I became in my ability to use the map, skills put to the test when we drove out of Arkansas and onto unfamiliar highways. I was surprised – and pleased – when Daddy asked me what road to take or how far to the next turn off. As Momma confirmed my answers with her written directions, my pride grew.

Crossing into a new state, we would stop at the Tourist Information Center and pick up the free road map they offered. Easier to hold than the bound atlas, they were opened then re-folded, showing only the area we were driving through. These maps also gave cities their own maps, detailing the highways and major streets helping us find the routes to bypass the congested downtown areas.

Near Amarillo, Texas we merged onto Interstate 40. This would be our route as we traveled west through New Mexico and Arizona until it ended in Barstow, California. There was no need to read the map, but I still kept it close by. To pass the time I noted the highway number at an exit, then traced its route to see where it led. Looking at the spiderweb of highways stretching across the pages, I’d choose one and see what towns and sights were nearby. The more I looked, the more I discovered about the land we were passing through.

Nearing San Bernadino, our destination, the traffic increased until all lanes were filled with speeding cars, trucks and motorcycles. This was very different from the rural roads and small-town streets back home. Now, the map wasn’t detailed enough to help and we used the written directions Momma had received from a cousin. With cars passing on both sides, and on- and off-ramps appearing quickly, Daddy needed each of us to watch for our exit and clear traffic when we changed lanes. It was an intense hour or so, but we found our exit and soon pulled into our cousin’s driveway.

I have wonderful memories from that trip. I visited Hollywood and Universal Studios, attended my first professional baseball game, and went to the beach and played in the surf. We visited the Grand Canyon and we watched the flat yellow prairie of west Texas give way to the brown rocky hills of New Mexico. My fondest memory, though, is the pride I felt when my parents trusted me with reading the road map, giving me a boost of confidence I needed in my mid-teens. The road map skills I developed that trip have served me well since.

Old habits die hard, the saying goes, and when it comes to maps, that is true for me. I still prefer a paper map to plan road trips, spreading it out to understand an area and tracing the route I want to take. I purchased a road atlas to find the quickest way to make the 12-hour drive when I moved to Florida, and I still refer to it to help me visualize a location. I will use an online map to plan a trip, but I write out brief directions to refer to when driving. It is a system that works well for me, yet I feel like an anomaly. Do other people use paper maps anymore or have GPS and spoken navigation taken over? The last time I requested maps from several state tourism offices, the ones I received showed major roads but left off many of the backcountry highways I like to explore. Road maps and atlases can be purchased, but they are hard to find in the middle of a trip.

If maps are not readily available, do people know how to read them? If not, what is lost without those skills? Aside from the obvious – not being able to navigate if there is no power or signal to the GPS – there is also the loss of visualizing our place in a city, state, country or the world. Reading a map requires actually noticing where you are, looking for road signs to guide you, not waiting to be told where to turn. Maps can point out things along the route you might otherwise miss, be it a historic site, a hidden lake, or a town with a funny name. While GPS can be very helpful, telling you which lane to get in on unfamiliar city streets and on busy highway exits, using them without ever consulting a map means you lose out on the bigger picture of where you are and what is around you.

I know that with a map, and time to study it, I can find my way to a destination whether across town or across the country. It may be “old school,” but I am proud of my road map skills.

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Creative Beginnings

Sewing and crocheting supples

It was a long day in the car driving 500 miles to visit Grandma’s sister in Alabama. Daddy drove and Momma sat in the back so Grandma, who got car sick, could sit up front. My sister and I were young, and alternated between the front and back seats when we got bored or started picking on each other. To pass the time, Grandma brought hand crafts to work on, and as I watched, she held a piece of fabric with a hoop around it, filling in the printed design with colorful thread. I was used to seeing Grandma put in a hem or sew on a button, but this was different. “What is that?” I asked. It’s embroidery,” she answered, pushing the needle down through the fabric, then pulling it back up again. I kept watching as miles of sugarcane and cotton fields passed outside the car windows. “Will you teach me how to do that?” I asked. “Yes, we’ll get you a piece to work on when we go into town.”

Embroidery

My early embroidery pieces
My first two embroidery pieces

We visited the Five and Dime store the day after arriving so my sister and I could pick something to play with during the trip. I selected a doily, embroidery floss and a set of hoops. Back at Aunt Bonnie’s house, Grandma helped me place the hoops on the fabric, separated the strands of floss, and showed me the basic stitches. Though I worked on the piece the rest of the trip, it was months before it was finally completed. I made another piece and gave both of them to Momma. She used them on a dresser for years, before putting them away, returning them to me a few years ago.

Crochet

Yarn, crochet hook and work in progress
Crochet work in progress

Grandma also taught me to crochet. Starting with a basic chain stitch, I crocheted a yard or two of it before unraveling to practice it again. Once I had mastered that stitch, she showed me single and double crochet stitches. It fascinated me to take yarn and a crochet hook and make something with it. I have crocheted since then. One Christmas, when I didn’t have much money, I bought yarn and a pattern to crochet scarves for everyone on my list. Years later, I made a couple of afghans for my parents who always appreciated gifts made with love. I even made a few things to sell on Etsy. These days I crochet for fun. I love learning and practicing new stithces, and pull out my supplies when I need a change from writing or a break from everyday stresses.

Sewing

Sewing and crocheting supples
Grandma’s shears, snippers and other supplies

Grandma moved to live near us when I was about five. I knew she sewed, having made and altered clothes for my sister and me our entire lives, but I saw just how much sewing she did. Besides doing alterations at a local department store, she also sewed for others from home. A room off her bedroom became a sewing room which was filled with stacks of neatly folded fabric with patterns and notes attached, tins of buttons and zippers, and spools of thread. Her black Singer sewing machine was usually threaded and ready to go, while works in progress hung nearby.

Watching her take flat fabric, cut out pieces, and sew it into clothes seemed like magic. I wanted to learn to sew. One Sunday I spent the night with her to help turn pieces from her scrap bag into clothes for my Barbie doll. After supper, I asked if we could start but Grandma said no. “The Bible says Sunday is a day of rest, so we don’t do work,” she told me. For her, sewing was work, understandable since she was paid for it, not a hobby or fun activity. Yet, even after retiring from the store, she continued making clothes and doing alterations. When she passed away, Momma found her sewing room was full of projects, some in progress and others waiting. It may have been work, but it also kept her busy.

Momma taught me how to thread her machine and do basic mending, but in my early teens I wanted to learn more and asked Grandma to help me make a dress. At the fabric store I selected white eyelet fabric adorned with small bouquets of blue flowers and a sewing pattern too complicated for my beginner skills. At Grandma’s house, we laid the cutting board across her bed. Following the pattern directions, she showed me how to find the grain of the fabric and how to lay and pin the pattern pieces for cutting. Using her sharp, heavy shears, we cut out the pieces then organized them in order. I was ready to start sewing, but first there were notches to cut, pieces to baste and darts to put in. Sewing, it turned out, involved a lot more than sitting at a machine sewing pieces together. Even after we started sewing on her Singer, there were more steps than I expected: taking out and re-doing stitches, putting in facings, and ironing pieces so the seams lay the correct way. Impatient to get my dress made, I got bored, lost interest, and quit going to Grandma’s to work on it. Eventually she finished it alone. I enjoyed wearing the dress, but it was always accessorized with a sense of guilt that I had let Grandma down.

I may have been bored, but I did learn to sew. Not only can I sew on a button or repair a hem, I have made and altered clothes for myself. I’ve volunteered in the costume department of local theaters. My favorite thing is to take pieces from different patterns and create my own designs.

I keep returning to the skills Grandma taught me, drawn to use my hands to make things. While I never saw sewing and crocheting from a pattern as being creative, thinking anyone can learn to do it, I was wrong. Though I never believed I was a creative person, I now realize that whenever I make something, I am, in fact, creating the final project. Taking raw materials and turning them into something else is an act of creation.

I am grateful Grandma took the time to teach me. I am grateful I have her shears, snippers and thimble to use. I am grateful I can carry on the tradition of creating things with my hands.

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Royal Wedding

 

The alarm on my bedside clock began blasting its obnoxious tone at 3:15 am. Half asleep I reached over and hit the snooze button, trying to remember why I had done this to myself. As a night owl, I was more likely to stay up until 3:00 am than get up at that time. It was July 1981. I had recently graduated from high school, and with a month to go before I began college, had no plans that day. I drifted back to sleep until the alarm sounded again. Turning it off, I got up and dressed.

The den was on the opposite side of the house from my parents and younger sister, so I could turn on the TV without waking them. I settled in on the red, green, and gold plaid sofa to watch every minute of the royal wedding of the Lady Diana Spencer and Charles, the Prince of Wales.

 

Cinderella was always my favorite fairy tale, the story of a lonely girl turned into a princess with some fairy-tale magic and the love of a prince. I felt much like her, overlooked by the boys I went to school with, and dreaming of catching the attention, and love, of my own “prince.” Reading romance novels fueled that desire, as did the news coverage leading up to the wedding, presenting it as a fairy tale come to life.

I loved the history and traditions of the British royal family, its titles, uniforms, and pomp and circumstance, captivating me. The news coverage in the weeks leading up to the ceremony talked of the romance and pageantry while showing scenes of London, a city I dreamed of visiting. Getting up at 3:30 in the morning seemed a small price to pay to experience this moment of history.

 

The newscasts filled the two hours preceding the ceremony with talk about Charles and Diana’s engagement, especially her sapphire and diamond ring, mention of the royalty, dignitaries and celebrities who would be attending, speculation about what Diana’s dress would look like, and a look back to when Princess Elizabeth married the Duke of Edinburgh in 1947, using her post-WWII rationing coupons to pay for her wedding dress.

Tens of thousands of people lined the route from Buckingham Palace to the Cathedral, many of them having camped out for days to get a prime location. The day was a national holiday and the weather cooperated providing the perfect opportunity for many to see the procession in person.

The guests arrived and entered St. Paul’s Cathedral as the Royal Family departed the Palace in their horse-drawn coaches. Finally, Diana and her father left Clarence House in the enclosed Glass Coach for the 20-minute journey to the Cathedral. She appeared shy and demure behind her veil, waving to the crowd and chatting with her father as they neared their destination. The coach pulled up to the Cathedral steps, and Diana emerged. Her wedding gown of ivory silk taffeta and antique lace featured a large ruffle framing the V-neckline, puffy elbow-length sleeves and a full skirt. Her 25-foot train was wrinkled after the ride in the coach, and she carried a massive bouquet that cascaded to her ankles. She looked every bit the fairy tale princess we thought her to be.

 

My mom and dad got up, surprised to see me awake so early on a summer morning. They ate breakfast then my dad left to begin his rural mail route. My mom watched from the kitchen window as she washed the dishes before joining me for the exchange of vows. Most memorable were when Diana and Charles each mixed up part of their vows, and when Diana did not promise to obey her husband, giving us a glimpse into a more modern woman behind her shy exterior.

The Prince and Princess of Wales left the church to ringing bells and more cheers from the crowd. Returning to Buckingham Palace in an open coach, they soon appeared on the balcony with the rest of the royal family to wave to the crowd. In the midst of it all, they surprised everyone with a kiss, beginning a new royal wedding tradition.

 

Little did I know that in a month I would meet the man I would marry two years later. Our wedding wasn’t anything like the royal wedding, yet I felt like a princess in my dress with a train trailing behind me. Instead of a crown, my long veil was attached to a wreath of flowers that encircled my head. It was a perfect day and I thought we were beginning a wonderful life together.

Five years after our wedding, we flew into Heathrow airport to begin a year of living in England. We spent much of our first day in London groggily wandering the streets, trying to find our way from one tourist site to another, seeing in person the places I had dreamed of seeing for years. As we walked down the Mall from Buckingham Palace, passing Clarence House, I was struck by how grand the royal residences were, and how large the city was. Later, I rode the Underground to Sloane Square, walking the places that the Princess had before the world knew who she was.

 

 

Sadly, their marriage ended in divorce as did mine. Happily ever after, it turns out, doesn’t happen because you are in love and have a fancy wedding. It takes a lot of hard work, patience, open communication and commitment to see it through. And even then, it may not be enough. People change, priorities shift and sometimes it may be best to end the misery and go separate ways.

Thirty-seven years later, I’m not the naive teenager I was on that July morning. I no longer read romance novels or dream of a “prince” to give me a better life. I have been lucky enough to know couples who had good and strong marriages, who married for love and kept it alive through the years. They give me hope that even if it doesn’t look like the fairy tales I read as a child, there may indeed be happily ever after.

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Libraries and Me

Public Library Camden Arkansas

I have used the library most of my life, starting with the Public Library in Camden, Arkansas.* Momma checked out books for me until, when I was about seven or 8, she took me to get my own library card. We climbed the steps to the red brick building, pushed open the heavy door, and stepped inside. As always, I immediately noticed how quiet it was, hearing only the sounds of hushed voices and the librarians checking in and reshelving books. Approaching the desk, Momma told the librarian I wanted to get my own library card. She smiled, took my name, completed the paperwork, and handed me my card with a reminder to bring it with me when I wanted to check out books.

I then headed to the children’s section to slowly look through the shelves of books. While I had books at home to read, the library gave me a larger selection to explore, and I believe having access to them helped grow my interest in reading. Finally selecting a few new ones along with some favorites, I carried them to the desk and handed them and my card to the librarian. She removed the check out cards, stamped them with the return date, and handed the books back to me, telling me to enjoy them. I walked out feeling very grown up.

As I got older, there were fewer trips to the library. I amassed quite a collection of Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, which I read and reread, and romance novels. By high school, English classes required reading many classic works, and with other homework, left little time for pleasure reading. This situation only worsened when I was in college and graduate school. By now, trips to the library were to conduct research for school projects. This was the 1980s before you could find information with an internet connection and a few clicks of a computer mouse. I would wander through the stacks for the books I needed, carefully checking what was located on either side of it, a tip I learned from a professor that I continue using today. Sometimes what I needed was stored on microfilm or microfiche, or was located in a specialized library elsewhere on campus. Other times the resource wasn’t available locally but could be obtained through interlibrary loan, another wonderful service offered by libraries. I cannot count the hours I spent researching and studying in libraries as a young adult. The quiet atmosphere, which I had first noticed as a child, was the perfect change to department study rooms or cramped student housing. Living in England for a year, I researched my Master’s degree thesis in a nearby library, soaking up the history that surrounded me.

In my mid-30s, I moved to a new city as a stay-at-home mom with a four-year-old child. I had time to read for pleasure again, and went to the local library to find books for both of us and to pass on the tradition of exploring shelves to find new things to read. The nearest branch was located in a converted 1903 school building. Our footsteps echoed as we walked down the wood floor until we reached the old door that creaked as we opened it. Inside was the room that housed the library. While small in size, it offered a good selection that was regularly rotated with other books from the library system, as well as Children’s Story Time every Wednesday afternoon. Several years later, a new branch was built, replacing the cramped space in the school building and providing a larger selection of books, plenty of room to sit and read, and ample parking. It was wonderful to be able to find more books close to home, yet I missed the coziness of the previous location, perhaps a reminder of the small library I had frequented as a child.

Moving to Daytona Beach, I quickly got a library card and took advantage of other City Island branch, Volusia County Librarythings the local library offered: free wi-fi when my apartment didn’t have it, a quiet place to work, and DVDs to borrow and watch. Even after I moved and had internet access, I continued using the library, both in person to check out books, and from my computer at home to download books to read on my Kindle. Like many things, I took it for granted, thinking the library would always be there. Then Hurricane Irma blew through in the early morning hours of September 11, 2017, the rain and tidal surge flooding many buildings downtown, including the local library that I use. Seven months later, it is still closed, and I have missed having a library close by, being able to stop in and check out books to take home and browse the shelves of books for sale to find new treasures for my collection.

The latest report is the library plans to reopen in May. I hope so. Libraries have always been in my life, playing a variety of roles as my life has changed. I hope there is always a library nearby.

What role have libraries played in your life?

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*The photo of my hometown library in Camden, Arkansas was taken in late December 2010. Six months later, the library caught fire one night and was destroyed. The library was rebuilt in a new location.

 

Jelly Beans

Easter morning Momma woke us, telling us to get up because the Easter Bunny had left eggs for my sister and me to find. We’d hurry to put on our new Easter outfits of spring dress and white shoes. Some years the temperature outside felt more like winter than spring, so we would add a sweater or coat. Other years were rainy, so we would hunt for eggs hidden inside. Then there were the years that were just right – sunny and warm, the scent of blooming flowers filling the air.

Grabbing our baskets filled with green Easter grass, we’d hurry outside. We searched among the clumps of daffodils and irises that filled our large yard, and in lower crotches of the apple trees. We looked beneath the giant oaks whose gnarled, weathered roots protruded from the ground, creating the perfect space to cradle an Easter egg. Before long, our baskets were full of eggs, both hard-boiled eggs, dyed a rainbow of pastel colors, and the brightly colored plastic eggs that pulled apart to reveal one of my favorite Easter treats, jelly beans.

I’ve always preferred chocolate over other candy, so I’m not sure why I anticipated jelly beans on Easter morning. Maybe it was because I didn’t eat them very often. Maybe it was the sweet taste of the different flavors – grape, lemon, orange, lime, and cherry. Perhaps it was the slight crunch of the outer shell that gave way to the jelly center. Whatever the reason, I was happy finding them on Easter morning.

Sometimes I ate them one at a time, savoring each distinct flavor. Other times, I put two of the same flavor in my mouth, creating a stronger taste. I also experimented with different combinations to see what they would taste like. While my favorites have always been red cherry and green lime, I enjoyed them all, happy to take the black licorice-flavored ones my sister didn’t like.

I still ate jelly beans as I got older, and was excited to try Jelly Belly® jelly beans when introduced in 1976, fascinated that they could taste like peanut butter, root beer, and buttered popcorn. Smaller than traditional jelly beans, it was hard to eat them one at a time. The package printed combinations to try, such as peanut butter and jelly, and green apple and caramel.

*****

Jelly beans took on a different role in my late 20s. I woke up one Sunday morning with a throbbing, pounding pain above my left eye. Unlike any headache I had experienced, the intense pain drained my energy and left me queasy. Aspirin didn’t help, and I could only escape the pain by sleeping. The next day my doctor diagnosed it as a migraine.

It was the first of many, coming every other month and lasting for three days. I tried several prescription medications before discovering the over-the-counter medicines that provided enough relief to allow me to work. I also found that keeping food in my stomach eased the queasiness. What I craved most was something sweet, the sugar perhaps giving me some energy when I hurt. After trying gumdrops, candy corn, M&M’s and other chocolates, I found that jelly beans helped the most.

I still get migraines, but they are less frequent and intense. Keeping food in my stomach continues to help the queasiness, but I no longer crave jelly beans. Since I am cutting back on sugar, I rarely buy them, or any candy, these days. But every so often, I walk down the aisle in the grocery store, notice the rows and rows of candy, and see the bags of colorful jelly beans. I smile, recall enjoying them in my past and think to myself that maybe it is time to enjoy them again. I grab a bag, put it in my cart, and anticipate enjoying the sweet taste of jelly beans.

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Daffodils

“Ten thousand saw I at a glance, tossing their heads in sprightly dance.”
W
illiam Wordsworth (1770-1850)

The dirt road rises and the dense woods open to reveal the cleared land where our house and yard sit. Row upon row of bright yellow daffodils blanket the hill beside the road and driveway, a guide to the entrance. Even though there is still a chill in the air, I excitedly think “it is spring!”

A second large patch of daffodils decorates our backyard. When in bloom, they cover almost half the grassy area where I practice cartwheels and round offs. Daffodils also circle a large oak tree and are scattered in clusters around the yard.

Daffodil is the common name for any of the varieties that fall within the Narcissus genus, a member of the Amaryllis family. Thought to have originated in the woods and meadows of southern Europe, particularly the Iberian Penninsula, and North Africa, they spread out from there reaching Asia by the 10th century. Their popularity grew in Europe after the 16th century and they were the subject of poems by William Shakespeare and Willliam Wordsworth. Settlers brought them to the American colonies, and today they can be found throughout the United States.

“Daffodils,
That come before the swallow does, and take
The winds of March with beauty.” 
William Shakespear (1564-1616)

When I was about seven Aunt Kate had me help her plant a small row of daffodil bulbs in an empty space between two outbuildings we used for storage. I helped her dig out a trough and watched as she planted the first bulb, showing me how to correctly place it. She had me plant the remaining 8 or 9 bulbs, then fill in with the dirt we had dug out. Handing me the metal watering can, she told me to give them a good soak to help pack down the dirt and set the bulbs. (Tips for planting and growing your own daffodils.)

The next spring, like magic, the leaves and buds appeared, opening their trumpet-shaped blooms a few days later. I was excited to have planted something that actually bloomed, not realizing that daffodils are some of the easiest flowers to grow. Seeing the daffodils return each spring always brought a smile to my face.

 

Daffodils have a long history of breeding and by 1739 Dutch nursery catalogs listed 50 different varieties available. Today there are between 40-200 different daffodil species and 25,000 hybrids registered in a 13 part classification system.  I had no idea daffodils came in so many varieties even though Aunt Kate once tried to teach me the different ones that grew in our yard. I only remember her pointing out jonquils, buttercups (which actually are not daffodils), and my favorite name, the double daffodil “Scrambled Eggs”, whose center does indeed resemble scrambled eggs.

I often walked among the rows of daffodils, picking a few and catching a whiff of the scent in the spring breeze. Bending down to sniff individual blooms, I noticed some were stronger than others. When I was 16, I picked handfuls of daffodils, stuffed them into a wide-mouth vase and placed them on the nightstand beside my bed, a cheery sight when I entered my room. Laying in bed that night, I noticed the scent was rather strong with so many blooms crammed together, and I woke the next morning almost overpowered from the scent filling my nose and tickling my throat. Still, I loved it and kept them there as long as possible, removing dead ones, and dusting up the yellow pollen that coated the table each day.

The daffodils would bloom for a few weeks unless a late freeze or frost killed them. As the blooms died, we would deadhead them, pulling off the dried, shriveled, brown heads. The leaves stayed green for a few weeks, but once they began to yellow Daddy would mow them down, allowing the bulbs to begin creating the flowers for the next year.

After Momma and Daddy sold the house and moved to town, Momma planted daffodils around their new yard. Not only was she carrying on the family tradition, she was also celebrating the annual Daffodil Festival in my hometown of Camden, Arkansas. Long associated with spring festivals, daffodils are celebrated annually in other parts of Arkansas and throughout the United States.

I don’t know if the daffodils, especially the small row I planted, continue to bloom around the old house. If they do, I hope the new owners enjoy them. I miss seeing them each spring, yet spending most of my adult years renting or moving didn’t make it feasible to plant my own. Maybe now is the time to change that. Daffodils grow in zones 3-10, and while there is mixed information on how well they do in Florida, I am in zone 9a so it is worth a try. Time to take a look at what is available, order a dozen or so bulbs, plant them around the yard and renew the tradition of welcoming spring with daffodils.

Sources:
American Daffodil Society, https://daffodilusa.org/
Southern Living, https://www.southernliving.com/garden/flowers/daffodil-flower-facts
Todayshomeowner.com, https://www.todayshomeowner.com/whats-the-difference-between-daffodils-jonquils-and-buttercups/
Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_(plant)

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Full Moon Magic

Today is a full moon. For centuries the full moon has been blamed for madness, werewolf transformations and an increase of strange behavior (based on stories from First Responders and Emergency Room workers). While there isn’t scientific evidence to support these beliefs, the stories continue.

For me, however, the full moon has always been magical. Waking up as a child to the light of the full moon streaming in through my bedroom windows, I would look around the room, amazed at how much light there was in the dark room. It seemed as bright as the sun – it is sunlight reflected off the moon’s surface after all – but the light is different, subtler, softer. When I got older, I realized that under a full moon I could walk around outside without the need for a flashlight. I have a friend who makes it a point to take a walk under the light of the full moon each month, soaking in its magic. I like this idea, and if I can’t walk, I will stand outside and look up, the light of the full moon shining on my face.

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My favorite memories, however, are from when I lived aboard my sailboat. Here’s that story:

I crawl into the berth at the back of the boat and settle in for the night. Looking up, I can see out the open hatch. While the lights from the marina block out most stars, I can see the backstay running from the top of the mast to the stern of the boat just behind my bed.

A breeze moves the boat, gently rocking me to sleep. A few hours later, I wake up and realize my cabin is filled with light. Looking up through the hatch, I see the full moon, perfectly positioned to shine on my face. It is only a few days each month that the moon is in the right position for this to happen. Mentioning this to a friend, she asks why I don’t close the hatch, and maybe even cover it, to prevent the light from waking me. Because I like the moonlight on my face, I reply. It is only a few days each month, and I enjoy lying there, in the quiet of the night, watching the moon.

The return of the full moon reflects the rhythms of nature, marking the passage of time. I reflect on what has happened in the past month, when the moon last visited during the night, and wonder what is to come in the next.

Those thoughts float through my head as the moon slowly moves away from my face. Sleep returns until the light of the sun begins filling the cabin. Another reminder of the rhythms of nature, the passage of time. A new day begins. And before I know it, enough days will pass, and the full moon will return.

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Sweetheart Valentines

We were restless first graders, squirming in our seats. Anxious to get the party started, we sprang to action when our teacher told us to gather our supplies.

Taking out an old shoe box brought from home, we cut a slot into the box top so the Valentine cards could be slipped in. I don’t recall injuries, which is amazing since a room of awkward, excited kids were using scissors. Next, we wrapped the box in craft paper, then decorated it with construction paper, ribbons, crayons, paper doilies, and glitter.

Hearts were made by folding a piece of construction paper in half, then cutting half a heart along the fold. When opened up, it made a whole, symmetrical heart – something I could not do otherwise. Paper doilies were glued on in one piece and adorned with construction paper hearts, or cut into pieces and scattered about the box. Crayons added further decoration, as did a squeeze of glue sprinkled with glitter. I can only imagine the mess left for the janitors to clean up later that afternoon.

Once finished, we’d proudly display the boxes on our desks. Taking out the Valentine cards we’d brought from home, we’d walk among the desks, slipping one into each box. Everyone received one, even the snot-nosed kid who was always picking on me. Most were simple Valentine cards purchased in packages. Sometimes though, we’d receive something extra. There might be a sucker inserted into holes that pierced the paper or, if we were lucky, receive a box of Sweetheart® candies.

The heart-shaped candy wafers came in small, rectangular boxes. A window on the front gave a view of the candies, while the back had space for writing the name of who it was To and From. Valentine Day sayings were printed on the pastel-colored candies such as Be Mine, Love You, and Kiss Me. Easy to chew for a quick sugar-rush, you could also suck on them for a few minutes and savor their tangy sweetness as they melted on your tongue. Since there were other goodies to enjoy at the party I usually saved mine to eat on the way home, or for a treat the next day.

Sweetheart® candies are still around, but with a few changes. A 2010 formula change produced a softer candy with more vivid colors and a more intense and sour flavor. The printed sayings have evolved as well and now include Text Me, You Rock, and Tweet Me, reflections of the times. It doesn’t matter to me how they look and taste now. Seeing the boxes of Sweetheart candies takes me back to my school days when Valentines was a day of awkwardly delivering Valentine cards to classmates, hurrying back to my desk to see what I had received, and savoring Sweetheart® candies.

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Cardinals

Seeing cardinals throughout my life.

Seeing cardinals throughout my life.Sometimes, when I bend down and look under the awning over the bathroom window I can see him. A male cardinal sitting near the top of the neighbor’s tree. A bright shock of red that stands out against blue sky and green leaves, that also provides much-needed color on gray days.

The tree is often a bother, dropping small leaves that land among the small lava rocks that border the patio. It seems I am constantly picking them up. Yet, that tree gives the cardinal a place to land so that I can see him, a sight that always makes me happy.

My great aunt began every day feeding the squirrels and birds that filled our yard. First, she would throw birdseed on the ground and placed it in feeders. As the birds began to arrive to eat, she’d crack open the pecans to feed the squirrels that would take them from her hand. Of the numerous birds that arrived, the red feathers of the male cardinal were the easiest to recognize, and the first bird I could identify.

Many years later, I moved to Memphis and discovered that a bush outside the garage was home to a male and female cardinal. After watching them flying in and out of the bush, I carefully pulled back the branches and discovered the nest they were building. A careful look a few weeks later revealed three pale, speckled eggs. Then one day I walked by the bush and was surprised as a flash of red flew out of the bush, just missing me. The male cardinal was warning me to keep my distance from the featherless babies that now inhabited the nest.

I moved a mile or so away a couple of years later. Sitting on my back patio, I enjoyed the variety of birds that flew by: mockingbirds, robins, blue jays, and cardinals. I often wondered if those cardinals were related to the ones who built the nest in the bush by the garage of my former home.

I don’t see as many cardinals in Florida. They don’t stop at the birdbath outside the living room window, perhaps because it is often filled with mockingbirds, doves, finches, small blackbirds, and the occasional woodpecker. So anytime I do see them, whether on the utility lines behind the house or perched atop the neighbor’s tree, it is a happy sight.

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