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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Book or Movie – Which Do You Prefer?

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A River Runs Through It was on TV recently. I have always enjoyed this movie, for its gorgeous images of fly fishing in Montana rivers, and for the story of a father and his sons connecting while fishing those rivers. As I listened to Robert Redford narrate the closing line – “I am haunted by waters” – I remembered I had not yet read the book. The next day I logged into the local library and downloaded the book.*

What a wonderful read! Norman Maclean is a gifted storyteller, and the written version surprised me with the humor he used to describe people and events, a talent I hope to develop. This is one instance I enjoyed both the book and the movie, which is not what I usually experience.

A couple of years ago, I came across Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity ebook on sale. I enjoy the Bourne movies and wondered what details the book could supply to fill out the story. While I did get more information, I also found the book moved slower than the movie, with much of it involving Bourne and Marie talking through things, trying to help Bourne regain his memory. I have to wonder how I would have felt about the book if I had read it prior to seeing the movie. Would my opinion of both been different?

I read each book in the Harry Potter series before seeing the movie version of each. I loved the world created by J.K. Rowling in the books, and while I enjoyed seeing that world come to life in the movies, I also knew how much had been left out, how scenes had been shortened so the movies were kept to a reasonable length. I always left the movies wondering if people who had not read the books fully understood what was going on.

So why bother watching the movie version? Because I am a visual person, and I love physically seeing the world created by an author. While it isn’t always what I had imagined in my mind, it still appeals to me to see how a story is portrayed in a film. If I read the book after I see the movie, I visualize the scenes based on what I saw in the movie. Yet, I will also continue to read the book that movies I enjoy were based on, to fill out the story, get details left out and understand the characters better.

Do you prefer to read the book or watch the movie? If you do both, do you prefer to do one before the other?

*The book is titled A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, which consists of 2 novellas and a short story.

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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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Gray Days

It has been cloudy and cold this entire month. I moved to Florida to get AWAY from this weather, but it occasionally finds me. Looking out at the gray clouds see in the picture reminded me of a time from my past, a week of gray, cold weather when I was a teenager. This was before I had ever heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which I believe is part of what was going on with me. It is a short story that you may be able to relate to. 

It was late January my freshman year in high school. As I sat in the front passenger seat of the car in the school parking lot, I looked out at the gray sky and shivered.

Heavy, dark gray clouds hung below the lighter grey sky. It was hard to tell where they ended and the gray concrete blocks of the building began. Even the trees, bare of their leaves, were a grayish black. How many shades of gray were there?

It had been this way for about a week, and I wondered when it would end, even if it would end. I could handle cold if there was at least some sunlight to warm my soul, if not the air.

The cold gray outside reflected how I felt inside – dull and lifeless. All I wanted to do was crawl into bed, pull up the covers, and not emerge until it was sunny and warm, there was color to be seen, and my soul brightened up.

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Painted Bones

Growing up in the country, we always had a couple of dogs, our version of an alarm system. For a treat, Momma would give them bones leftover after cooking roasts and pork chops, and they’d carry them into the yard and happily gnaw on them for hours. Sometimes my sister and I would step on them while playing outside. It hurt for a minute but was just a part of our life.

Until that afternoon.

I was five or 6, my sister three years younger. Daddy was mowing the yard, and Great-Aunt Kate, who lived with us, was walking around outside checking on her chickens and flowers. Suddenly, there was a loud “clunk” as the mower picked up a bone and forcefully threw it out the side of the mower and into Aunt Kate. Daddy stopped the mower and jumped off while yelling to Momma to come help. Aunt Kate had been badly hurt.

After they got her in bed, my sister and I were given the job of walking through the yard and picking up all the pieces of bones we could find, to prevent this happening again. As we found bits and pieces, we proudly piled them on the steps to the back door. When we thought we had found them all, I told Momma, who thanked me and told me we could go back to playing.

My sister, however, had another idea.

Gathering her watercolors and brushes, she proceeded to paint the bones we had collected. Nothing fancy, just transparent blotches of colors on the dirty, chewed bones. Momma came out as she was finishing, and oohed and aahed over them, telling her what a good job she had done.

A few days later, a friend visited to see how Aunt Kate was doing. As Momma described all that had happened, she showed her the painted bones. The friend looked at them 0and said, “how creative!”

It was creative to see the bones differently, not as trash, but as a canvas to create on. It was creative take something that had caused pain and beautify it. And what I felt was that since I didn’t think of it, I was not creative. I think I’ve always believed that you either are creative, or you aren’t. It isn’t something to be learned or developed. And since I didn’t have the idea to paint the bones, I wasn’t creative.

Every time I have difficulty writing my stories, my first thought is I’m not meant to be writing and need to just move on to something else. Every time I look at Instagram and see the beautiful photographs, see the creative ideas people have for sharing their stories, I wonder why I have trouble coming up with ideas to post, and think, yet again, that I’m not creative. But I am tired of holding myself back, tired of assuming I’m not creative and want to challenge the assumption I’ve held for too many years.

I want to expand my definition of what creativity is. It isn’t just about seeing old bones as a surface that can be decorated. Taking leftovers and making a good meal out of them is creative. Finding a way to bring in more money is creative. Finding a way to change your life, however slowly, is creative. Some of us may naturally be more creative, but it is a skill we can all learn. Maybe it is more like a muscle that needs to be exercised, developed, refined.

In 2018 I want to challenge myself to explore being creative. Tell myself, as often as I need to, that I am a creative person. Accept that some days writing is hard, and keep working on it anyway, because that is what creative people do – keep working and trying different things.

Let’s see where a creative mindset will lead me!

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Toy Trains

Christmas morning in front of tree with toy train on floor

Christmas morning in front of tree with toy train on floorI don’t remember Christmas when I was two years old. Pictures show me smiling as I sit on my new tricycle. On the floor around me are my other gifts, including a small train track with a few cars on it.

According to the story, my dad wanted to get me a toy train set for Christmas. “You can’t give a girl a train set!” my mom told him. “Why not?” he asked. He thought it was a fine gift for any child. As the second of 3 boys, he wasn’t around girls while growing up so his reference point was what he and his brothers had played with.

I am sure you can imagine who actually played with the toy trains. Growing up he always had to share with his brothers, but this time he was in charge. In fact, I’m not sure if I ever played with it, and since I had one sibling, a younger sister born 7 months after I received it, my dad probably played with it more than anyone.

Twenty-five years later, my mom mentioned that several of their friends were putting train sets under their Christmas trees as decoration. She thought it was a fun idea, and of course, my dad was fascinated to watch them go around. That gave me an idea.

My dad was always hard to buy gifts for. If he asked for anything, it was something practical that he needed. A homemade card meant more to him than anything that could be bought, and in later years, his usual reply was “just come home for Christmas.” So buying him a train set, one that was his – no sharing with brothers, no pretending it was his daughter’s gift – seemed the perfect opportunity to give him something fun and completely unexpected.

The look of joy on his face when he opened that gift is one of my favorite Christmas memories as an adult. I didn’t often surprise my dad, but the train set did. It was a larger than the one I received, both in the number of cars and the size of them. After Christmas, he carefully padded the top of the dining room table, placed a large piece of plywood on top, attached the track, and played with the train set for months. He added more cars, and more track to handle them. Eventually, it entertained the grandchildren as it ran under the soft glow of the Christmas tree lights, letting a third generation share the joy of toy trains at Christmas.

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Submissions Spreadsheet

One of the tasks of a writer is to keep track of where, and when, you have submitted articles. You need to know where so you don’t resend to a publication that has previously rejected it. You need to know when, so you can follow up when you don’t hear back.

There are numerous ways to keep track of them. What I use is a spreadsheet system described by C. Hope Clark in her article Keep 13 In Play. This system made sense to me, so I created a spreadsheet based on her suggestions. I like the spreadsheet and find it helps me keep track of things. The biggest drawback for me is there are 3 sheets to complete for each submission – one by date, one by title and one by publication – but I believe having access to the information in multiple ways helps me be more organized.

Click the link to start the download – Submissions Spreadsheet Blank,

It downloads in .xls format and you can edit it to suit your needs. You can move, rename and add columns, as well as change the size of the rows and columns. I’d love for you to give it a try and see if it works for you.

If you find it doesn’t work for you, google “free submission tracker” and see what else is available.

Good luck and keep writing!

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Candy Canes

There were always candy canes in our stockings on Christmas morning. According to Momma, Santa not only put gifts under the tree, he also filled our stockings and left a candy cane at the top.

Each December, we pulled our stockings out with the rest of the Christmas decorations. Handmade for us by Grandma, we hung them on the mantle above the fireplace waiting for Santa’s visit.

Christmas morning, we’d open our gifts, then turn our attention to the stockings. Removing the candy cane from the top, we’d pull back the plastic wrapper, put one end in our mouths, and enjoy the peppermint sweetness as we emptied our stockings. Playing with our gifts, we’d continue sucking on the candy canes, which grew shorter by the minute. The last of them would be in our mouths as we helped pick up discarded wrapping paper and bows with sticky fingers.

Years passed. My sister and I grew older and learned who actually put gifts under the tree and filled our stockings. Later, we moved away, got married and had children, events that added more stockings to the mantle. Momma and Daddy moved to a new house, one with a mantle large enough to accommodate all the stockings. We still woke on Christmas morning to find a candy cane in each stocking. It was a tradition we loved and expected.

Then one year, Momma called me and my sister aside, lines of frustration showing on her forehead. “I need you to go to the store.”

What’s up?”

I can’t find the candy canes anywhere.”

Do you want us to help you look?”

I’ve already looked everywhere! Maybe I forgot to buy them after all.”

We told her not to worry about it, grabbed car keys and headed out. We fought a packed parking lot, a crowded store, and a long wait in the check out line to keep the tradition alive another year.

After I divorced, I didn’t bother buying candy canes at Christmas. I was alone some Christmas mornings and had no place to hang stockings. Besides, Momma had them in the stockings at her house. Even after meeting my boyfriend, and moving in together, I still don’t buy candy canes. He isn’t concerned about decorating for Christmas and he doesn’t like sweets, so there was no reason to renew the tradition.

But now he has a grandson, and I’m thinking the time may be right. I’ll make a stocking, find a place to hang it, and put in a candy cane on Christmas morning, saying that Santa left it just for him.

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