My Life, The Writing Life, Whatever Wednesday

Southern Summers are Scarlett O’Hara

JB Scarlett SpringSouthern summers are Scarlett O’Hara. Warm weather flounces in without warning in March, and the pear trees burst into puffy white blossoms overnight. Within a week or two, the azaleas and dogwoods follow, filling yards with lush colors. Spring is a lot like Scarlett at the picnic – splashy, overdone and looking to be the center of attention.

JB Scarlett Summer


Summer storms are as strong and gritty (and sweaty!) as Scarlett rebuilding Tara.


JB Scarlett FallAnd when summer has to go? Well, fall is a narrow-eyed, angry Scarlett. “You’re done with me? Well, guess what? I’m done with you first!” Unlike my native New England, where the leaves take their time changing colors, building to a glorious peak of color in October; in coastal North Carolina, fall is a temper tantrum of Scarlett proportions. Trees go from green to brown quickly here. And don’t blink, because just as quickly, those same leaves curl up and die, flinging themselves to the ground in one last act of defiance and leaving barren trees behind.

And we’re left to wonder when spring will sweep into town again…..

The Writing Life

Nature’s Glory (and a distraction from writing…)

HydrangeasA few weeks ago, I loosely connected the editing process to the emergence of the beautiful oak tree discovered hiding in the ugly shrubs in our backyard. Maybe the analogy was a stretch, but it worked for me.

I could tie a dozen other analogies to nature, I’m sure (anything to keep me from dealing with actually writing my books!). But sometimes nature needs to be appreciated simply for what it is, without making it into a story.

So, while I give my energies to my writing this week (have I mentioned that I’m writing TWO books at once?), let me just share some of the beauty from my garden with you. Next week you’ll get a sneak peek at what I’m working on, I promise.

I planted these hydrangeas two years ago, and last year didn’t have a single blossom. Not one! It was disappointing, but hardly a surprise, since I am “She-Who-Kills-Plants“. I figured the spot I selected to plant them was too shady or too dry or too something, and I had no idea what to expect this year.

Well, let me tell you – the hydrangeas have outdone themselves! The pastel shades are incredible, and watching them blossom has been so much fun for me. I want a whole house and wardrobe of just these colors. Wouldn’t you?

(click to start a slideshow)

My Life

She-Who-Kills-Plants Tries Again

Every spring, I get the fever. The fever to plant and bring forth green and flowered life from the earth. There’s only one problem.

I can’t grow stuff.

Seriously – I am the world’s worst at plant care. I finally gave up on houseplants completely. If I get a plant as a gift, I immediately re-gift it to someone less likely to kill it.  Which would be anyone, really.

Compounding my inability is the fact that the few plants I do like and don’t kill are considered “deer crack” here in our neighborhood where the deer population is pretty much equal to the human one. Seriously – my first spring in North Carolina I planted three flats of pansies (one of my favorite flowers) in the small garden around the flag pole. Three flats, all carefully arranged by color for the prettiest arrangement. The very next morning, every single blossom was gone. Just leaves and stems sticking up. They quickly died. If there was any doubt who the culprits were, the deep hoof imprint in the soil solved it.

So Himself and I have come to an agreement. The lawn is his, and I can play with the containers and the flag garden. That’s it. Although, when he wasn’t looking, I added a small perennial bed behind the house last year. He allowed it to stay, with the admonition that it was mine to care for (don’t worry, despite his bluster he often waters it for me – probably out of pity for the plants).

Forever optimistic, I have planted flowers again this spring. In the flag garden, I’m changing things up and planting perennials that are supposedly not deer candy. Coreopsis and lantana (with a few geraniums as filler). They’ve survived two nights so far, but we’ll see….

The planters are supposed to be a mass of pinks – geraniums and petunias. Even I should be able to keep those alive. Right?

Hmmmm. Stay tuned, and I’ll let you know how it goes!

My Life

The Lizard Who Came to Dinner

A lizard walked into my house today. It’s one of those things that can only happen in the south. To me.

After a long morning of very productive writing (the mojo was with me), I let the dog out the front door, in the rain, to do her business. I was in a bit of a hurry, since I had to get to my day job for the afternoon. I’m able to work a couple of half-days every week to accommodate my writing, thanks to a supportive employer.

Anyway – Tully does her thing and I turn to go back into the house. As I open the front door, something fairly large scurries into the house in front of me. Now mind you, if it had been a spider, I would have gladly tossed a burning match inside and walked away. But no, it was a little lizard. We have a lot of them here in North Carolina. And by “a lot” I mean they’re freakin’ everywhere. They’re cute. But I do not want them inside my house.

Tully was relatively uninterested, but she was kind enough to nudge Lizzie into the dining room, where I could at least keep an eye on her.

But what to do? I’m not afraid of lizards, but I still don’t want to grab one with my bare hand, in large part because I was afraid I’d hurt it.

I looked toward the kitchen and saw the “bag drawer”. Ah-ha! I grabbed a large Ziploc bag and the chase began. Lizzie was not interested in exploring the inside of a plastic bag. But I got her into a corner, and she finally went along with the plan. Success!

Don’t worry – Lizzie was never in danger.I didn’t seal the bag even for a second. I snapped a quick picture and ushered her back outside, safe and sound. The funny thing was, little Lizzie seemed happier in the bag than in my house (we were both in agreement on that!). She didn’t want to leave it, even when I was trying to shake her out into the flower pot on the front porch.

But she eventually figured it out, and we both ended up right where we belonged. Perhaps a metaphor for a future book? Hmmm……

Lizard Friend



My Life

The Audacity of a Southern Spring

With both an early Easter and the early arrival of spring in eastern North Carolina, I decided to share one of my first bylines. This was published in a local paper a couple years ago, but still rings true. It’s an ode to spring in the South from the perspective of a transplanted Yankee. I’ve added a few pictures of mine from past springs and this year.

There is nothing shy about a southern spring! Happy Easter, everyone.

Once again I find myself amazed at the boldness of springtime in the South. There is nothing halfway about spring here.

1780We moved to eastern North Carolina from Syracuse, New York, where the average snowfall is 120 inches, and the record (just a few years back) was just shy of 200 inches of snow. So you’d think spring would be the favorite, most beautiful season of the year up north. And it is lovely…eventually; but it tends to be a long, drawn-out, muddy affair. Tall snowbanks become black with dirt and last for weeks upon weeks. The sun disappears for days (months??) at a time. Spring weather in the North is damp, raw and monotonous, broken only by the occasional nor’easter bringing just a little bit more snow.

Flowers appear in very distinct phases in the North. Crocuses pop up, only to be buried in snow. Daffodils come and go, and then tulips take their place. Trees might be starting to green up by tulip time, but very slowly. Finally, by mid-to-late May, things start looking green and lush. Northerners certainly appreciate it, but they can’t help wondering what took so damned long.

Spring 10

But here in the South? Well, there is nothing halfway or take-your-turn about a southern spring. The first onslaught is the seemingly overnight invasion of large balls of delicate flowers atop the many ornamental pear trees. Few sights are prettier than driving down the drive past our town hall, surrounded by the cloud-like trees.

Spring 8The ornamental pears are just a prelude to the real show, though. It feels as if spring fairly leaps into our neighborhood without warning. In the blink of an eye, trees are fully in leaf and the scenery is overloaded with bold color. Drifts of saffron-colored pollen cover every possible surface. While annoying, you have to admit that the absolute abundance of the stuff is rather awe-inspiring. And immediately after the pollen invasion comes the millions (seriously – I counted) of seed bundles. Never in my many years living in upstate New York did I ever have to use my wipers to remove tree seeds two inches deep on the windshield. It’s mind-boggling. And impressive.

And the flowers…oh, my…the flowers. My eyes tend to start above the ground when I’m walking down neighborhood streets when the dogwoods bloom. Unlike the soft, round pear trees, dogwoods are brilliant horizontal brushstrokes of white against the green trees. My husband says the dogwoods remind him of pine boughs laden with snow, so white are the blossoms, and so linear their displays.

Spring 6Azaleas form the foundation at ground level, providing layer upon layer of in-your-face color. When we first moved into our home, we discussed clearing out a scraggly bunch of shrubs off to the side of the house, but we never got around to it before winter. When spring arrived last year, I noticed a flash of color beyond the window shades one morning. Curious, I walked around the house and was flabbergasted to discover a breath-taking batch of azalea blossoms that towered over my head, filtering the sun through petals of powder pink, blazing fuchsia and glistening white. Needless to say, we did not clear out any of those “scraggly” bushes, and they rewarded us with waves of blossoms again this year.

I’m sure I’ll eventually be able to accurately label every scent when I take a spring or summer stroll. Gardenias? Wisteria? Hollyhocks? I don’t know what’s in season or what smells like what. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the onslaught of nature’s perfumes. The confounding mixture stops me in my tracks on some walks, and I wonder if this is what an exotic jungle might smell like. Earth. Spice. Green (yes, in North Carolina, green has a smell). And sweetness that floats through the air and reminds me of cotton candy.

And southern birds? They sing in the dark! If you’re a native, you might be wondering what I’m talking about, but you have to understand that there are no birds (or at least none that I’ve heard) in the north that sing at night. Nighttime in the north is quiet time, when all God’s creatures go to sleep, except frogs and bugs. But not in the South. No, southern birds party. All. Night. Long. There’s something magical about waking up at 2AM and hearing a solitary mockingbird singing a lyrical, trilling melody into the darkness. I eagerly await the back-up singers who are due to arrive soon, when every insect known to mankind will be roaring at the stars night after night.

Even the weather is brash in a southern spring. From scorching sun in the afternoon to frost at night, there are few temperate moments. Inches of rain are shrugged off here like a passing shower would be in New England. And the storms…. I mean, I’ve experienced some incredible thunderstorms through the years, but here? Here, it feels like someone’s lobbing bombs into the back yard. Crashing, booming, shuddering thunder and blinding blue lightening. Not for the faint-hearted, it’s more like a special effects show someone might design for a ride at Universal Studios.

Spring in Carolina is no genteel southern belle reclining on a pillared porch. She is dramatic, noisy and drenched in perfume. She kicks off her slippers, wraps herself in colors too bold for rainbows and dances her way through extravagant days and moonlit nights. She doesn’t mind if we want to dance with her, and she also doesn’t mind if we simply sit and stare in silence and awe.

The southern spring just wants us to NOTICE HER in all her glory. And she’s mighty hard to miss.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.