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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

General Stores, The Last Frontier

Country stores, those dinosaurs that dot the highways in disrepair with swinging rusty signs that read Esso, Mobil or Shell fell prey to the “chain” reaction, cherry slushy touting convenience stores of the 60’s.
Some country stores weathered the storm and morphed, ingraining themselves into the community as a sort of working man’s convenience store minus the brick facade. Think white clapboard with two front columns, a drive through for gasoline service, swinging old screen door, crooked stone steps and a sandy broken asphalt parking lot. Most had outside benches against the store wall, rusted oil drums for garbage cans and more pop tops on the ground than Jimmy Buffett has ever bruised his heel on and went back home. Inside; wide plank wood floors, rocking chairs and a pot belly stove tucked into a back corner were surrounded by glass cases, bins, barrels and wooden counters filled with everything from snakeboots, laces, hoop cheese, potatoes, seeds, pecans, beans, candies, jellies, country ham, bins with nails and so much more.
Most have indeed fallen by the wayside. Highways pushed through them, big box competition edged them out, some yet still operate under a different ruse. Restaurants like See Wee Restaurant on Hwy 17 Awendaw was a general store since 1929 until 1988. The inside of the restaurant looks very much like it did as a general store.
McConnels General Store operated in Mt. Pleasant on Highway 17, Mt.Pleasant until the owner, Mrs. Mary McConnell died at 101 years old last year.
So what does the future hold for the country store? If you google country store you are likely to come up with Dollar General, Mast General or Vermont Country Store’s. The hybrids of the country stores of past.
Food trucks, tents and Farmers Market’s provide us with the “I’m in tune with my community local vibe experience” or do they?  
I am fortunate to have frequented many of these old stores in my life. The first I remember was in Davis, NC. It sat at the intersection of two roads that led to the Cedar Island ferry. My uncle would take me in his rusty old Ford and we would sit on a wooden bench outside the store with our Nehi’s or Yoo Hoo’s to escape the sugar police, my Aunt Ree. My uncle had diabetes and we were in hot pursuit of his “fix.”
Uncle Moye never seemed to worry that passerby’s or patrons would tell on him and — Aunt Ree would never walk up on him she went “to town.” She said she didn’t like the smell of the store, it smelled of tobacco and wood-smoke. Big fat jars of plug and packages of snuff and cigarettes that came with coupons that you could collect and get premium gifts from a catalog.
The little store was a country girl’s palace with jars of Squirrel Nuts, Zippers, Cow Tales, Mary Janes and candy cigarettes. As I moved about over the years I was fortunate to have had one of these stores nearby in each town. So when we moved further out into the country towards Charleston’s “front porch” on the highway towards Walterboro, it was no surprise to find a bonafide good ole general store. My first visit went like this at Ace Basin Milling, Mac’s Farm Supply.
The grain silos with rusted caps lured me into the drive with my camera. The slap of the wooden front door drew me inside. I felt right at home when my feet hit the squeaky wood beams of Mac’s Farm Supply, the store smelled of earth and goodness. Clients in camos pulled up to bays to have feed and seed and corn loaded onto their truck beds while their canine companions wagged their tails and looked on from the truck cabs.
A half hour later I was still perusing. After leaving the jelly and pickle aisle I happened upon a substantial supply of snake eradication products. Creeped me out so I left there and checked out the cooler with cheeses and meats and a ice box full of Nehi’s in every flavor. Barrells and boxes held local grown pecan’s both shelled and unshelled, red and yellow apples and tuber potatoes for the farmers.
Two men rocked in chairs at the front, they hit the brakes a second when I came in. Believe me, these men know when a new person walks in the door. They’ve been in every country store since I was a little, gathered around the pot belly stove eating nabs and drinking cokes with peanuts. I am here to tell you that if you want to know anything about the community you are in, the answer is inside the walls of the country store. Better than the hair salon for carrying tales too. I never could figure out how my Daddy knew so much about everyone and hardly ever left the farm except for the trip to the general store or the hardware store. I was caught up in a story or two myself around a pot belly stove in the 70’s. The DNR would spotlight us blind down the country farm roads and catch us with a bottle of Boones Farm Strawberry Wine.  “Aren’t you Charles’s girl?” he asked.
The country stores doubled as full service gas stations too. When you pulled in a bell would ring inside that scooted out a proprietor in Dickie blue overhalls wearing a greasy rimmed ball cap on. He would check under the hood and clean your windows while filling up the tank.

Mac’s Farm Supply doesn’t have gas, except for propane, but they have just about everything “a settler” would need in these parts. After all the time I spent in there I ended up at the counter with a paltry bag of grits. Mac told me matter of factly that I needed to put some more stuff on the counter if I wanted to use my plastic. So I got another bag and a jar of pepper jelly. He peers over the top of his glasses at me and says “Not from these parts are you?” I grinned and told him we just moved here. He says “Witness relocation program?” I busted out laughing and have every single time I go in this store since.
Most recently, I found out why he has all the snake repelling products. I had two copperheads crawl out from under the house within 30 minutes of each other. I headed straight to Mac’s after Don shot the smithereens out of them. I went to that same counter I had hightailed it from months earlier and grabbed what I needed. I put the big bag of Snake Away on the counter and asked Mac “This stuff work?”  He puts his hand on the bag and tells me “You know what? I haven’t had a single snake on that aisle since I put that there.” “Well, that’s a start, ring her up.” I told him.
I went to buy pecans for my Christmas baking on a quiet Wednesday afternoon, when I got to the counter to ring up, Mac pulled out a 2018 Mac’s Farm Supply calendar and opened it to the back page. He pulled a stamp out of his drawer and stamped the store name on December 28th and pushed it to me. Then he reached under the counter and pulled out a wooden token and gives it to me. I knew what it was when I saw it, Daddy had a few of these in his pockets back when.
“Is this a round to it?” I asked Mac.
“Yep, no excuse now, you can get a round to it. See ya on customer appreciation day, we will have food.”
We did get a round to it and went to the customer appreciation day. Mac was being humble and gracious when he invited us, he didn’t make a big to do over it. When we rounded the bend in the road I was shocked. Cars lined both sides of Cottageville Highway, and Round O Road, and the parking lots were full. Everything in the feed warehouse had been pushed back and tables were lined together 3 rows wide and 100 feet long. Every seat was full and we stood in line to get a country fare fit for a country queen. A 40 gallon pot of collards was rolling, huge trays of venison and pork BBQ were being filled and refilled, another tray of Brunswick Stew and more trays yet with pork rice. At the end of the room were tables lined with homemade pound cakes and banana pudding. I heard one man say “That’s 15 pound cakes we put out in 30 minutes that’s gone”. Each table section had a loaf of bread and hot sauce and tabasco peppers on it. They even had take out containers for people to take to those who couldn’t come or had to go back to work.  The food was delicious, the company was great. There was not one single cell phone on the table, when’s the last time you saw that? Yes, it may have been customer appreciation day, but it was obvious that the appreciation was reciprocated as well, the community loves their store.
Spring dwindles, summer approaches and the days get longer. I look forward to frequenting the store to buy fresh vegetable trays, flowers and grits and hopefully get some chickens to raise.
Yeah, the hanger-on country stores may be a dwindling icon of a different era and nothing beats opening my door to find that book delivered that I want to read two days later, but — Amazon doesn’t come with a funny story and an ice cold orange Nehi.
I believe there is a place, a niche for the general and country stores in our communities. They remind us of a slower time, when we relied on each other and knew our neighbors.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Bury that fruitcake and get your Charleston Chi back on after Christmas.

Now, I’m one of the biggest Lowcountry Christmas fans in these parts. I’m decking the halls the minute the turkey carcass hit’s the skids. My tree is usually up on Thanksgiving night or at least wrestled out of the closet. I’m digging out my Elvis Christmas CD and walking around with specks of glitter for the next 6 weeks. But by January 3rd I’m over it.  I don’t think I’m the lone reindeer here. So I thought I would share my holiday de-stressing tips with you.

Now if you don't think of your annual vacation the week after Christmas, then you didn't celebrate it right. But hold on to those miles, stick your chewing gum over that enter button on the Travelocity page if you have to. You don't need a banquet laden cruise, you just need a sick day, one little ole sick day and here’s how it goes;
Open your freezer and start pulling. No you are not going to use those giblets or that duck fat. Save them you say? For what? They’re going to be a frozen mystery baggy in 4 weeks. Jesus, just let it go.

Okay, now look at that pile on the table and start yanking. Put your yard slickers and go to the shed, get a shovel and go bury those God awful fruit cakes in the yard. Now go back inside and open a window, no it's not freezing outside, you are in Charleston. Gather up the half dozen half eaten jars of mixed nuts and toss them to the birds and squirrels. Let’s go back to that table again. Those Hillshire sausage rolls, they make great window and door draft stoppers.

On to the refrigerator, open it up. The door just about fell off didn't it?  That's because it's weighed down with a plethora of partial jars of condiments. (One of my New Year’s resolutions is to find another word for plethora) I’m at least aware of the fact that I have overused it and that is the first step to recovery. Okay, back to the condiments — tell yourself,  "I don't want another clove poked, pineapple laden, whiskey dripped, fudge topped, nothing." and toss them all. There, don't you feel lighter already? I do, I just want a piece of plain old avocado toast.

Okay scan the room. A bowl full of corks, seriously how many corks do you need for crafts? Toss them, I promise you will have enough for next year if you start in June.
Well, that was a good start wasn’t it? Don’t we feel 10 pounds lighter? Now go fill your diffuser with ANY essential oil that doesn’t smell like pine, apples or cinnamon and grab your car key's. Let's go to our Carolina de-stressing zone.

 I don't think I've ever been so glad to be alone in Charleston traffic with the radio jamming. I can finally hit the scan button on the radio without landing on Christmas music, at least until next October. Yep, it’s just me and Box and Jessie B jamming down I-526 playing a mean ass drum solo to AC/DC, “You shook me all night long.”

So where are we headed? Far away from Santa Claus lane. Any place that we don't see red, green, silver, twinkling and blinking lights or glitter is a good start.
For me, it's usually a brisk walk alongside a pounding surf. We are so fortunate, we have so many places to choose from! Botany Bay, Morris Island lighthouse, Station 23 Sullivan's Island, or a jaunt through Old Village and then to the end of Pitt Bridge. The surf and the gulls bear no resemblance to a partridge in a pear tree. I’m one of those weirdo’s that think’s plough mud smells good and a walk near the beach always leave’s me hungry!! Fish sounds good for dinner, think I’ll pop into the Teeter. Oh look, they’ve clearanced the Christmas foil wrapped Hershey’s kisses! I'll just eat the green ones and save the red and silver for Valentines. I assuage my chocolate guilt by buying a bottle of Chardonnay (without a cork.)

Most of my favorite places to rejuvenate are located on the fringe of several lowcountry communities. These are just quiet enough for me to pound out the reverberating beat of Mannheim Steamroller and strains of badly sung Auld Lang Syne’s and — reflect on the Peace, Love and Joy we wished each other over the past month’s. Happy New Season’s!
Caw Caw Interpretive Center
Mepkin Abbey (check out their option for spiritual retreat.)
Charles Pinckney Historic Park
Donnelly Wildlife Mgmt Area
Audubon Swamp Garden
Botany Bay
Pitt Street Bridge
Morris Island lighthouse road
Station #18, Sullivan’s Island

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Marvin Gaye, Black Lives Matter, Kenny Chesney, Jefferson Davis — up in here, up in here

Well, this has been a week from hell but heaven won out —again. In the category of absof'nlyridiculous, this one was right up there. What a difference a week can make, last week it was yoga in the morning, 10 flights of stairs everyday, 5-7000 steps a day. Bring it on, feeling good.
Then there was this week. We have this corner of our property that has a beautiful ancient Angel oak on it. I want this area cleared so bad and we keep inching our way too it but it is covered in poison ivy. I am so allergic to it that I can't even look at without having an anxiety attack. The yard is all clear of it, everything is, except that corner. I volunteered to do the weed eating on this cool 95 degree day and commandeered the whizzer from Don. After the normal trimming of the perimeter I inched my way into un-chartered territory. I knew better. The minute the weed eater wrapped and slung a vine at me, I laid it down, I knew I was in deep Calamine. After extreme wash, rinse and repeat cycles, I still broke out in hives and blisters. I painted my body Mary Kay pink and silently damned the world to laugh at me.
On our only day off  I went with hubby to Lowes. We decided to begin building a shed. I helped Don move the plywood, just a little. The next day I could not move, at all. When a blanket lying on your toe hurts your back, you are in trouble. For 4 days, my dear hubby moved me, lifted me, fed me and helped me dress.
We are supposed to be starting a new cabinet job and I still can't move. Don goes on without me. So it’s me and Snowy at home alone. I managed to get out of the bed, brush my teeth and take a shower but couldn't pull clothes up. Uh oh.
Snowy is a little upset with me because I am throwing her food at her. Then I picked up this tool, this awesome tool. I think people use it to pick up trash by the road but I use it to get cans down from top shelves, it has a grabber on the end of it.  Let  me tell you, there is not a whole lot that I haven't mastered this week with this thingamajiggy.  I have pulled up drawers, opened drawers,  pulled out pots and lifted a dog bowl with precision.  Haven't mastered the corkscrew just yet.
In the midst of all this going on, roofers have arrived to replace our roof.  I used the awesome grabber to push back items that were about to crash to the floor from the roof assault.
My plan for this day was to maneuver 4 steps down and a walk to the mailbox. I traversed the yard and talked to the one of the roofer’s who asked where the A/C plug in was. I figured it was for their power tools. Nope, he pulled a 3 foot long, 1980's boom box out of his truck and sat it on a stack of shingles.
Today is also spray day for the cabinet doors, so the yard is full of trucks; old trucks, new trucks, red trucks, blue trucks, political stickers, NFL team stickers, hats ,shirts, opinions. Alongside the roofing trucks sat a truck with a disabled veteran tag and conflicting view stickers. The driver served two terms in Iraq, was injured in a IUD that blew up their tank and later suffered shrapnel injuries from second stint.  All were working side by side in the sweltering heat, swatting the same Avatar sized mosquitoes and swallowing gnats with their Mountain Dew and Gatorade on this 95 degree “fall” day. 
I looked up on the roof, there wasn’t a single angry person up there, I looked on the ground and the cabinet spraying was going along just fine too. Chicken bones, soda can’s and Krispy Kreme donut boxes were strewn across the yard and roof trash was literally everywhere and I didn't have a care — I was getting a new roof.
I didn’t screen our roofers to see what color they were. I didn’t ask our veteran who they voted for. I trusted that everyone could perform their different jobs on the same turf, Earth. Facebook wars aren't the front lines of America, persevering people are.
Racist battles or trenches battles, I would have defended the RIGHTS of EITHER one of their views in my yard that day. But today, in my yard, in my America, there’s no need because there isn’t a co-exist, there is only exist.
I went inside, cracked a window for a few minutes and enjoyed a morning on the soul train. Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, singing, roof ripping, spray generators and raucous laughter. All is well in the pines.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Edible Charleston Magazine, thanks for the opportunity to write this up! What an awesome Charleston evening.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Eggs & Eclipses

It was my Daddy's birthday this week, it's been almost 3 years since he died. The stabbing heartache has eased, the pain has turned to longing —to see him, hear him. I'm so grateful for the memories, even the painful ones, they keep him with me.
I tried to talk about him on his birthday and a couple of days after, my throat wouldn't open and my eyes leaked.
But the memories were constant, consoling. My sweet sister who admittedly tells that she knows nothing about her childhood other than that she was born, quoted him word verbatim on the phone. I was telling her that we finally have our flooring put in
"Daddy would be so proud. Do you remember that night we got the new TV and he said "If I can't pay cash for it, it's not coming in the house?" she asked.
"I sure do sistah, I sure do." I told her.
Yes, Don and I could have easily had the flooring and anything else we wanted "The American Way" and put it on a Lowes card or any number of credit offerings — but we decided when we moved into the country to live smaller, to prioritize our purchases and never buy anything unless it was paid for with cash. You see, long before Dave Ramsey founded his debt free Financial Peace University, a common sense country man in Dorchester, SC did — my dad.
Daddy moved us underneath a 300-400 year old Angel Oak in the early 70's. We didn't have a phone but we had ways to communicate (just short of smoke signals.) If my granny down the dirt road needed us, she went out onto her porch and shot the pistol in the air. Don has that pistol today. We didn't have a TV for a while either.  And then — one afternoon a delivery truck stirred up the dust down our sandy dirt road.  The sliding delivery truck door opened and a television so big I didn't think they would get it through the front door arrived. A Curtis Mathis, top of the line colored television. And —we had 3 channels!! That night we sat around the oak cabinet encased TV and watched either Ponderosa, Gentle Ben or Little House on the Prairie, one or the other.
One of us with a caffeine buzz from the rare bottle of Coke in hand exclaimed "We must be rich!"
Daddy shot the pride down quick. "No, we sure aren't, if I can't pay cash for something after bills, it doesn't come into the house." It stuck as a memory, I wish the concept had stuck longer. But we are back there now, Don and I. We love living simple, the American dream didn't have to be chased, we could have jogged to it easily.
So — as this coincidental (or not) world goes, a few days later my sister and I are together in an antique store that she couldn't (and maybe didn't) wait on me to peruse. We are almost through the place and there is a basket with marble eggs in it. A dozen or so, various colors. I pick up one and tell the story to a friend that is with us. I've told it before but appreciate that they didn't remind me, repeating it is therapeutical.
I could have purchased several of the eggs or the whole basket, for that matter I could easily go onto Ebay or Amazon and get a whole slew of them, but — I only buy one for memories sake as they present themselves
As I placed the egg in my stone fruit and egg basket at home I recalled it again, as Daddy told it.
"When I was a young-un, we collected eggs every morning and brought them in. The pickings were getting slim and my Daddy figured we had a snake problem. Well Mama had a basket on the kitchen table and it had these marble eggs in it, my Daddy looked at those eggs after he finished eating and took one out, later he went outside and put that marble egg in one of the hen's nest. Then one evening we came in from working the fields and there was this huge snake stretched across the dirt road, it just couldn't budge. Daddy got out of the truck, killed the snake and then slit it's swollen belly and got Granny's marble egg back. He took it inside, washed it off and put it back in that basket."
I was in North Carolina when Granny moved to the nursing home. I didn't get any of her marble eggs, don't know where they went, but I could very well have one of them in my bowl right now, I get them from thrift stores or yard sales or wherever they appear. My eggs could very well end up in a  resale store one day too, but the story hopefully will live on if I tell it, like my Daddy told me. I guess the moral of the story would be "Don't put all your eggs in one basket, put some in the hen's nest."
I think of him this morning — the historical eclipse, a day that makes the rhyme "Hey diddle diddle the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon" seem logical. I think of the conversation we would have if he were here.
"Daddy, what are you going to do for the eclipse?" I'd ask.
"Well, it depends on what time it is. If it's nap time, I will be sleeping." And then he'd wink and wiggle his nose and tell me that he has built a contraption in his shed out of beer cans and scrap metal"
Don and I would laugh and tell him "No thank you, we bought some of those newfangled glasses that are going to protect us from going blind."
The sun rose this morning, bright and blazing on this day near Charleston, I'm about 30 minutes from where that hen house was, where Daddy was, where we were. We don't all get to choose where we are going to be on certain day's, like the object of Carly Simon's disaffection in her song lyrics, “You flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun."  but — we can choose who we are going to be with. Don and I will go outside on the tailgate of the truck, have a cocktail, in celebration of an earlier happy hour and watch the anomaly in the sky with our glasses. Remembering the card board boxes we had in the early 70's and then I'll toast to the creator of our unnatural and natural wonder's and  to Daddy  "What does it look like from your side Daddy?"

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Watermelon, the ultimate party favor. Bradford Watermelon's & Edible Charleston Magazine

When the barometer starts rising and we edge near the summer-fun holidays, I start digging in the pantry to take inventory of my picnic and outdoor fare—paper plates, baskets, checkered tablecloths, cups, glasses, colorful tableware. All of these will accompany the summer garden bounty that our Lowcountry sandy soil offers up. Along with those platters of grilled steaks, brats and fresh skewered local shrimp, I can’t think of a more pleasing table than one heaped with bowls of our sun-ripened summer fruits. Plums, peaches, blackberries, blueberries and cantaloupes are all ripening on the vines this very minute. But the all-time picnic favorite is a late-bloomer, slowly orbing and filling its concave with juices and brimming flavor into the dog days of summer—watermelon, the party favor of the picnic.
I have a confession that may disallow me from having a “Native” sticker on my car: I don’t like watermelon. But, I love everything about it. My favorite summer memories revolve around outdoor gatherings that had the barrel-shaped beauties icing down in kiddie pools and tin tubs.  Some of the best neighborhood moms would walk out a screen door and just split one open right on newspaper-covered steps for us yard kids. Barefoot boys and girls darted to and fro in grass-free yards beneath the draping oaks with watermelon-drizzled chests, legs and feet. Seed spitting was an art and accidental seed swallowing was conversation for days after.
Because I didn’t like watermelon —and everyone knew it—I became the most popular gal at the kiddie table. I can’t count how many times I had someone whisper in my ear. “Can I have your piece of watermelon?”
I’ve decided to test my palate once again this year. But this time I am going to try what I hear is our region’s best watermelon—the Bradford watermelon. Sweet with a juicy pulp, this is a late-season melon. So, although I will crack a hull or two for others during the summer picnics, I will anxiously await this striped beauty in August for my enjoyment.
The Bradford watermelon has been mentioned in several press releases over the past few years after the seeds, thought to be extinct, piqued the curiosity of Nat Bradford of Seneca, South Carolina. Bradford stumbled upon a book tying both the name Bradford and watermelon to his family.
What ensued was the unearthing of a centuries-old seed strain that tied directly to his lineage. With the help of David Shields, distinguished professor at the University of South Carolina, Bradford traced his family watermelon seed back to a 6th great-grandfather, Nathaniel Bradford. This watermelon was thought for more than a century to have become extinct, but Shields helped Bradford finish the story. Bradford’s 6th great-grandfather had shared seeds of the watermelon with some well-connected and successful seedsmen in the early 1850s. These seeds developed into a profitable business and it was the most popular of watermelons, despite the drawback that its fragile skin kept it from being as easily transported as the other hardshell watermelons that came along in the early 1900s. But soon those thick-layered melons became more profitable because they were able to be stacked and shipped without breakage. Alas, the Bradford watermelon was left to the confines of its locality and thus became distant history. But Bradford says, “Although the commercial line disappeared, my family never stopped growing the original watermelon.”
Today, because of the renewed interest of the melon and discovery of its history, Bradford, his wife, Bette, four sons and a daughter are trying to make a living off the land by reintroducing this delicate and historical family watermelon on their four-acre property in Sumter.
Bradford humbly cautions against expectations of a sprawling farm visit. The farm is in its beginnings. “This is a slow, methodical process, and I am trying to do this the right way, the slow way, the way it was done all those generations
ago. And the seeds were just planted the first week of May, so there won’t be harvest until August. But, we encourage you to visit and follow us online, and we do have products made from the watermelons available on-line. Also, you can buy seeds and plant your own from this heirloom Bradford watermelon.”
Other exciting ventures from the watermelon have been developing as well. One is the recreation of his late grandmother’s watermelon rind pickle recipe that hadn’t been made since before her passing in 2006, and the creation of watermelon brandy. But one of the most exciting things for Bradford was the recreation of watermelon molasses that hadn’t been made for 125 years. That endeavor involved a flatbed trailer ride for 45 40-pound cushioned Bradford watermelons to the downtown Charleston kitchen of Sean Brock and his culinary crew to concoct this delicacy.
Seeds, watermelon rind pickles, molasses, small batch watermelon brandy produced by High Wire Distilling—the story just gets juicier as it goes. This watermelon seems to be deciding on its own, which path it wants its vine to trail. Says Bradford, “Randomness, it seems, rules my life at times.”
The randomness of life, much more than the logic, makes it fun.
And that’s what makes the watermelon the party favor of the summer.

Recipe — Bradford tells me that his family enjoys watermelon rind pickles with Ritz crackers and pimento cheese. I concocted a recipe today; I think it may be a winner. Buttery club crackers topped with a piece of Prosciutto ham, goat cheese (Humboldt Fog) and chopped Bradford watermelon rind pickle.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Confessions of a Southern Gardener

I enjoyed writing this essay for the inaugural edition of Charleston Edible Magazine. A few months ago, probably around the winter solstice, I curled up on the couch with my 2017 Burpee Seed catalog, over-wintering like the shriveled stalks of last year’s garden outside my window. I anticipated the extra tock of the clock each day that will eventually lead me to long, leisurely, southern summer evenings. I was anxious to wipe the slate clean and start anew—my yard a fresh palette.
I decided to do a little “sow-searching” before committing garden genocide again this year. I’ve concluded I need to “know thyself.” It has been much too easy to forgive myself for the time and money wasted by not keeping up my garden.
Rather than dumping a bunch of seeds into poorly worked ground on the first warm Carolina day in spring and hoping for the best, why not read the directions and work the soil on a cold, cloudy January day? I did just that; I scattered the seeds and pressed them gently into the earth. Imagine my surprise when I saw a bumper crop of fledgling wildflowers bursting forth on a cold February morning. Yes, the nascent beginnings of another season.
But—memories of gardens bygone haunt me. My past gardening blunders consist of, but are not limited to the following: breaking the ground and my back on the first warm spring day, haphazardly preparing the soil for beautiful high-end plants, watering sporadically at best and then acting surprised when the squelching hot Carolina sun cooks them to a crisp, planting shade plants in full sun and full-sun plants in the shade—just because that’s where I wanted them. I would then avert my eyes for the rest of the summer from that plot until late fall when I couldn’t stand to look at the stick plants anymore. When my puny gladiola did a down dog pose because I planted them too shallow, I spewed expletives as if it were their fault. Finally, I donated the upside down clay pots, green with mold, to the creatures that inhabit them. However, all was not lost. My hubby has a green thumb and, although devoid of flowers, the raised beds he began last year were a cornucopia of organic veggies and I canned a whole lot of squash. I managed to salvage the season semi-successfully by starting a productive herb nook. Rosemary, fennel, holy basil, grapefruit basil, lavender, stevia, tarragon and sage. I dried the herbs by hanging them upside down in a cool dry nook inside and then filled jars with wonderful fresh herbs that lasted all winter. I also made a nice shaker jar of Herbs de Provence, awesome on salads and pasta.

Today, the sun is beaming and the ground is warm and if all goes according to Pinterest (my Pinterest fails far outnumber the successes) and my journal notes, in a few months I will be walking down a cool, pebbled path with a basket of fresh-cut flowers holding an adorable pair of garden scissors, my hand sliding over the tops of rosemary bushes releasing their aroma. Both sides of my path will be filled with fragrant, colorful flowers. Heirloom roses will climb white trellises, all perfectly pruned and landscaped. Birds will pick the bugs off of plants. Bees and butterflies will compete for pollination. A statuary waterfall and bench will await me at the end of the trail and then I will see it, the ultimate prize: the highly coveted “Yard of the Month” sign!  
But the truth is, gardens don’t just happen. There is a time and season for everything—pruning, watering, planting, rooting, de-heading flowers, etc. The universal kick start began on March 20, the spring equinox. According to my little Farmer’s Almanac, life and movement in the natural cycle appear to pause or “stand still” for about five days during this transition. I decided to pause with it, reflect on my garden plans and their feasibility. I determined how much time and money I want to put into my little garden and expect the results to be as such. I will ride the current of spring’s surge of abundance but try to keep my goals realistic. I believe I would like this quote on a garden plaque for encouragement:  
“Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” —St. Francis of Assisi (Who can’t use a little sainthood in the garden?)
If all my aspirations fail, I will drown my sorrows on a shaded porch, in my rocker, with a glass of Chardonnay while admiring my hanging baskets and potted porch plants.