Posted in Encouragement

“You Is” — I’m Standing in Your Balcony

To Encourage Sincerely perhaps ranks at the top of gifts we can give one to another.  I will never forget the first time my daughter Amy and I ran, with tens of thousands of other runners, the annual July 4th 10K Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta.  (Perhaps “ran” is much too dynamic a word to describe what I did during those 6.2 miles.)  At each mile marker, and actually various places in-between, folks would appear in my peripheral vision with cups of cold water in outstretched hands, yelling phrases such as, “Keep it up, #4932, you can do it!” and “Just look at you running so fast!”  I would turn a corner or reach a hilltop and hear blaring cheerily from loudspeakers the theme song from “Chariots of Fire” or “Rocky.”  Such encouragement made me feel like an actual runner.

In a post from way back, I introduced the concept of Balcony People:  “Balcony people are those folks in your life who encourage you, lift you up, give of themselves to you in some way.  They make you feel valuable and important.  They climb the steps up into your balcony, lean over the railing, gaze back down at you as you struggle through life and yell, ‘You can make it!  Keep going!'”

In another post, Balcony People-Part Two, I introduced five guiding principles of Balcony People:

“1.  Balcony People are willing to take risks.  Because when we reach outside of ourselves to help or encourage someone else, we take the chance of being rejected, laughed at, embarrassed, or even thought of as a little weird.  ‘Old Man Saye, why do you keep telling me my yellow dress is just so very pretty?!  Please back away me!'”

2.  BP realize that what you reap, you sow.  Staying in balconies makes you happier and healthier.  Crouching in dank basements is unhealthy.

3.  BP give to give, not to get.  Because giving away good to others is simply the right thing to do.

4.  BP look for the good in others.  They realize the truth of the statement that we usually find what we’re looking for.

5.  BP express encouragement sincerely.  They don’t flatter or lie.  Okay, maybe except when I couldn’t think of anything good to say about one student’s essay, and all I could come up with was, ‘Cool font.'”

I know I have mentioned on the blog before that Kathryn Stockett’s The Help stands as one of the best novels I have read in the past few years.  I loved the story of black maids in the 1960’s south so much that I used it in several composition classes at Georgia Southern.  The book went over amazingly well, with many students telling me that they loved the book and would be passing it along to friends and family to read (and also telling me, disturbingly, that the book was the first one they had ever actually ever gotten all the way through).  The book ENCOURAGES the voiceless to realize that yes, they too have voices.

In the twenty-second scene below from the movie version of The Help, Aibilene explains to her young charge exactly what the girl is, and what she needs to believe about herself.  Oh, how our world would be beautifully improved if we would all see each other the way Aibilene sees Mae Mobley.

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I challenge you to find someone today, tomorrow.  Encourage.  Lift up.  See the good.  Get in someone’s balcony.

Posted in Delicious Joy, Where Happiness Finds You

Repost — September Oaks: A Midsummer Afternoon at a South Carolina Lowcountry Vineyard

It seems that some of the pictures from yesterday’s vineyard posting did not show up!  Uh oh.  So being the tech-savvy blogger that I am, I’m reposting them all just for you, faithful blogosphere residents.  Thanks. 

Yesterday afternoon I ventured off the too-beaten trail, heading away from hometown Savannah across the Talmadge Memorial Bridge on US 17 into the South Carolina Low Country.  My destination: September Oaks Vineyards, a small but incredibly beautiful boutique winery hidden in the midst of towering, ancient live oak trees, just outside Ridgeland, SC.  September Oaks welcomes visitors along a magical shaded drive, reminiscent of an antebellum plantation approach.  I’m 99% sure that the Spanish moss tentacles waved a Southern welcome especially for me as I drove onto the property.  (And I hadn’t even tasted any wine yet.)

Before meeting a soul, I did a little exploration of the grounds.

The muscadine vines looked in excellent health, grapes drooping heavily and bountifully in the July heat.

I was transported back …

… quite a few years (don’t ask!) to my North Georgia upbringing in Ball Ground near the foothills of the Appalachian Trail, and my father, “Tub,” making muscadine jelly from the grapes we picked along area streams.  I closed my eyes, and Dad stood before me in our little blue-curtained kitchen as he measured grapes, sugar and Sure Gel to create the heavenly treat.  I blinked and there was my mom, “Neever,” pulling hot golden buttermilk biscuits from the oven.  My biscuit, halved and steaming, centered on green Corelle.  The butter melting and glistening.  The minutes-new, still warm jelly spread.  Little Neal smiling in edible joy.

Okay, for goodness sake, let’s get back to the winery tour!  I thought I rested secure in my world famous blogger stature until I stood next to this tree.  It cut me down to size.

Finally I saw the sign to the wine tasting, so started to mosey over that way.

Got sidetracked.

Find Neal:

The rustically beautiful tasting room.

And here’s Nikki, the wine tasting hostess/teacher.  (She’s also an English teacher, so a kindred spirit.)

I know next to nothing about wine, so the experience was fascinating.  According to their website, September Oak’s “goal is to create  unique and high quality wines, specializing in wines made from muscadine grapes (vitis rotundifolia). We’ll also be developing a variety of wines from different vinefera grapes as well as blending the merlot and muscadine grapes” (SOV Website).  The tasting included seven wines: a Chardonnay, SOV Family White (made from the muscadine grapes you saw earlier, and whose aroma reminded me of my dad’s muscadine jelly), White Merlot, Kiwi Gold (yes, with locally grown kiwi), Crescent Moon, SOV Lenoir (“a dry red that brings history home with the Lenior grape that originated in the Low Country in the 1700’s”), and SOV Family Red.  Some of these wines have already won prizes.  Congrats!

[Do you KNOW that at a wine tasting you actually DRINK the wine?!  Glass after glass.  Like SEVEN glasses.  Isn’t wine alcoholic?]

Here’s another wine-taster, Damon from Hilton Head.  (I asked him for a recommendation for a great HH restaurant, and he immediately said, “The Sage Room, on the south end.  Tell them I sent you.”  So I plan to, soon.  I’ll keep you posted.)  Damon knew SO MUCH about wine that I felt like one of the Kardashians trying to talk to Einstein.

I mean, he asked questions about grape growth patterns and parent vines and bouquets.  The foremost, burning question on my mind was, “Yall think I shoud buy this?  It’s so cool!”

It was my lucky day …

… because after the tasting, I ventured behind these doors (Wizard of Oz-ishly) and met the September Oaks owner Grady Woods (cool and appropriate last name, don’t you think?) and his polite son Kent, as they were working.

Grady showed us some of the equipment and explained about plans for expansion of the winery.

I stood behind a barrel and made the announcement that maybe I would just start up a winery/vineyard.  (As some of you know, I have frustratingly abandoned my desire to be a tugboat operator.)  I thought that perhaps I could call my winery something like NealNowReallyEnJoysWineTastings.  But I got no respect at all from Nikki and Damon:

But I got even by confiscating a big ole barrel of wine.  “I gotta load this by myself?!”

What a great Low Country afternoon.  I will definitely go back one of these days.  You go with me!

Now which way is Savannah?

See you next time.

Posted in Delicious Joy, Where Happiness Finds You

September Oaks: A Midsummer Afternoon at a South Carolina Lowcountry Vineyard

Yesterday afternoon I ventured off the too-beaten trail, heading away from hometown Savannah across the Talmadge Memorial Bridge on US 17 into the South Carolina Low Country.  My destination: September Oaks Vineyards, a small but incredibly beautiful boutique winery hidden in the midst of towering, ancient live oak trees, just outside Ridgeland, SC.  September Oaks welcomes visitors along a magical shaded drive, reminiscent of an antebellum plantation approach.  I’m 99% sure that the Spanish moss tentacles waved a Southern welcome especially for me as I drove onto the property.  (And I hadn’t even tasted any wine yet.)

Before meeting a soul, I did a little exploration of the grounds.

The muscadine vines looked in excellent health, grapes drooping heavily and bountifully in the July heat.

I was transported back …

… quite a few years (don’t ask!) to my North Georgia upbringing in Ball Ground near the foothills of the Appalachian Trail, and my father, “Tub,” making muscadine jelly from the grapes we picked along area streams.  I closed my eyes, and Dad stood before me in our little blue-curtained kitchen as he measured grapes, sugar and Sure Gel to create the heavenly treat.  I blinked and there was my mom, “Neever,” pulling hot golden buttermilk biscuits from the oven.  My biscuit, halved and steaming, centered on green Corelle.  The butter melting and glistening.  The minutes-new, still warm jelly spread.  Little Neal smiling in edible joy.

Okay, for goodness sake, let’s get back to the winery tour!  I thought I rested secure in my world famous blogger stature until I stood next to this tree.  It cut me down to size.

Finally I saw the sign to the wine tasting, so started to mosey over that way.

Got sidetracked.

Find Neal:

The rustically beautiful tasting room.

And here’s Nikki, the wine tasting hostess/teacher.  (She’s also an English teacher, so a kindred spirit.)

I know next to nothing about wine, so the experience was fascinating.  According to their website, September Oak’s “goal is to create  unique and high quality wines, specializing in wines made from muscadine grapes (vitis rotundifolia). We’ll also be developing a variety of wines from different vinefera grapes as well as blending the merlot and muscadine grapes” (SOV Website).  The tasting included seven wines: a Chardonnay, SOV Family White (made from the muscadine grapes you saw earlier, and whose aroma reminded me of my dad’s muscadine jelly), White Merlot, Kiwi Gold (yes, with locally grown kiwi), Crescent Moon, SOV Lenoir (“a dry red that brings history home with the Lenior grape that originated in the Low Country in the 1700’s”), and SOV Family Red.  Some of these wines have already won prizes.  Congrats!

[Do you KNOW that at a wine tasting you actually DRINK the wine?!  Glass after glass.  Like SEVEN glasses.  Isn’t wine alcoholic?]

Here’s another wine-taster, Damon from Hilton Head.  (I asked him for a recommendation for a great HH restaurant, and he immediately said, “The Sage Room, on the south end.  Tell them I sent you.”  So I plan to, soon.  I’ll keep you posted.)  Damon knew SO MUCH about wine that I felt like one of the Kardashians trying to talk to Einstein.

I mean, he asked questions about grape growth patterns and parent vines and bouquets.  The foremost, burning question on my mind was, “Yall think I shoud buy this?  It’s so cool!”

It was my lucky day …

… because after the tasting, I ventured behind these doors (Wizard of Oz-ishly) and met the September Oaks owner Grady Woods (cool and appropriate last name, don’t you think?) and his polite son Kent, as they were working.

Grady showed us some of the equipment and explained about plans for expansion of the winery.

I stood behind a barrel and made the announcement that maybe I would just start up a winery/vineyard.  (As some of you know, I have frustratingly abandoned my desire to be a tugboat operator.)  I thought that perhaps I could call my winery something like NealNowReallyEnJoysWineTastings.  But I got no respect at all from Nikki and Damon:

But I got even by confiscating a big ole barrel of wine.  “I gotta load this by myself?!”

What a great Low Country afternoon.  I will definitely go back one of these days.  You go with me!

Now which way is Savannah?

See you next time.

Posted in Five Friday Happy Bringers

Five Friday Happy Bringers (7/13/12)

It’s lucky FRIDAY the 13th!*  And here are Five Happy, Happy Bringers.

* From now on, Friday the 13th is going to be considered a very lucky day filled with all good fortune.  Okay?  Good.  It is now so.

1.  Enjoying a fire in July (!)

2.  Elephant Ears and other Joys of Nature

3.  The Cross

4.  Hanging these pics correctly the first attempt.

 

5.  Always having the right tools.

Joyful Weekend!

Posted in Joy in Nature, Savannah Joy

Welcome to My Backyard, the Alley of the Angels

Welcome to the alley of the angels

Hey, they say your eyes can gleam

When you can a just tell the truth all night

(And you can chase them dreams all night)

Welcome to the alley of the angels.

 — John Cougar Mellencamp

Places–I love the poetic resonance of that word. Some places are special; you had them growing up, of course you did. And do now. Magical places. Special because of their cocoonishness, or their broad openness. Their smell, or their connection to friends or family. Their lightness, or darkness. Their safety, or risk.

So I was aghast a few years back when I attended a writing conference at the Sea Turtle Inn in Atlantic Beach, FL, and one afternoon decided to skip the meetings and drive down memory lane. I headed south to Jacksonville Beach to find the motel where my family and I vacationed from about the time I was six or seven till I went away to college. It had those wonderful beds where you inserted a quarter into the headboard, and the mattress vibrated! For fifteen minutes! My mother, father and brothers would all hop on. Who needed the Ritz?

I knew exactly where the Horseshoe Motel stood. I had been there SO many times as a kid. But I started to doubt myself when I passed the lifeguard station and came to the ridiculously sharp turn in the road far beyond my memory motel location. I can be dense, so it took me at least three to-and-fro trips before I realized (admitted?) that the place had been demolished for a condo. Sad. A childhood place gone for good.

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I live in beautiful downtown Savannah, smack-dab in the middle of the nation’s largest historic district, to be exact. I can hear the huge freighters blowing their bass notes at night …

freighter2

… as well as the clatter of horseshoes as carriages tour past Colonial Park Cemetery across the street.

Horse1

I love walking the Savannah streets, breathing history.

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I don’t really have a backyard, in the traditional sense of the word. But, boy, do I have a backyard! It’s really a small alley, which runs behind the building where I live.

Even though it is communal, and somewhat small, there are hidden crannies where one can sit and read, or laptop, or daydream. It exudes a trace of otherwordliness, a fragrance of excursion. I step into my “backyard,” and suddenly I’m in Europe–Florence, Italy perhaps, trying to decide on which trattoria to frequent. I sit to read in its botanical wealth and am lost, not just in the book’s maze, but in the place, the green, the leafyness, the nowness of nature.

This place calls me to look up, to pause and see.

To view from unfamiliar perspectives and angles.

A tremendous perk of having place appreciation is that windows appear, and open (or shut), and allow you to see just what you desire to see. Or simply, and deliciously, to dream.

There’s power in place.

Both growth and potential growth. Both static and kinetic.

Sometimes sitting is all that’s needed in life. To embrace “is-ness,” accept “am-ness.” Breathing in, breathing out.

A sense and celebration of place, our place, they gift us with calm assurance that we are where we are, for good reason. That rhythm and movement take us (or keep us) where we need to be.

*

My backyard invites me to …

And such encouragement affirms the heart of this attempt at blogging.