Friday, May 23, 2008

Easing into summer

As the Memorial Day weekend kicks off, I can't help thinking about how this holiday has always played such an important role in my life. I know it has serious meaning, a chance to remember those who have gone before us, but for me it has always marked the official start of summer.

As a kid, my family would pack up the car and head to our summer home in Colonial Beach -- the house where I still spend summers -- for the first long weekend of the season. All of my friends here had time off from school and beginning on Friday night we had big plans for the weekend. The gathering would begin on my front porch. From there we'd venture to the old dining room, which actually was more than that. It had a banquet length table which was great for large groups sitting around eating crabs or a smaller group sitting at one end to play raucus games of canasta. My record player was in there, too, and we always had the latest 45s of music by Johnny Cash, The Platters, Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers. We spent a lot of nights back there playing cards, partying and dancing. We'd also use the kitchen to bake pizza in the ancient and unpredictable oven and on one memorable occasion we made taffy. What a mess that was!

Over the course of the weekend, there would be badminton games or croquet in the backyard. We'd play chicken in the river. I'm sure that had rules, but I have no idea what they were. I just have old movies of girls sitting atop the boys' shoulders trying to shove each other into the water. I'm pretty sure this was an early predecessor to some of today's more mindless TV reality shows.

In more recent years, when I had my bookstore here, this was the first big weekend for customers returning for the summer season. It was a chance to catch up with regulars, meet new tourists to the region.

And for the past couple of years, since closing the store, this has been the kickoff weekend for the town's monthly Market Day events, in which I am heavily -- and wearily -- involved. I've already loaded up the car with boxes of souvenir T-shirts, sweatshirts, caps and even some of my books. The band has been booked -- Dixieland this time. There are plans for hot dogs and barbecue. And the weather, with which I become obsessed for at least a week prior to the opening day, is reportedly going to be spectacular.

I'd love to hear what your plans are for Memorial Day weekend or about the childhood memories you have of this kickoff to summer. Just click on the comments link below and share them with us. Or email them to me at

Whatever you do, drive safely and enjoy the weekend.

Sherryl Woods

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Pay it forward...

Okay, this is a very different thing from paying down debt or paying in advance or any of those other things having to do with your financial life in these difficult economic times. This is a fun, feel-good thing.

I missed the movie in which this concept was examined, but the other day, out of the blue, I got to experience it first-hand. There I was in a long line at the Starbucks drive-through, already cranky as I went about my early morning chores at Home Depot, Wal-Mart and other big stores with endless opportunities for walking in a fruitless search for what I needed. When I finally arrived at the window to pay, an incredibly perky young clerk announced that the driver ahead of me had paid for my iced cafe mocha. An earlier driver had apparently started the morning's trend of paying it forward...paying the tab for the driver in the car behind. The clerk asked if I was willing to do the same and gave me the charge for the car behind me. It was a bit more than mine, but absolutely worth it to think of the surprise on that driver's face, the same surprise I'm sure was on mine. I was still smiling as I drove away.

Now those of you who've paid attention, know I tend to be a cynic. I'm also an ex-journalist. I question everything. And I'm sure on closer examination, I could find all sorts of reasons why this particular pay it forward experience is just some kind of gimmick. Somebody -- whoever started it that morning -- obviously paid for two orders, their own and the one for the car behind. Whoever turned up solo, when there was no line, probably got nothing free and the person at the end of the long line was the only one who never paid at all. Still, it gave the entire day a whole new spin for me. It had been fun, unexpected, nice. How many times do we ever come away from a long line feeling like that?

So, here's my challenge to you. Do something totally unexpected and nice for someone -- a friend, a total stranger, a family member, it doesn't matter. It just has to come from out of the blue and with the proviso that they pay it forward, that they do the same for someone else on the spur of the moment. Take a bouquet of flowers to a coworker, or some vegetables from your garden. Buy coffee for the person behind you in line.

The key to all of this is to get into the habit of being nice for no good reason, just because it might make someone feel better. I promise it will make you feel better, too. And wouldn't it be nice if we all spent five minutes every day on an act of kindness like this? It might even begin to make a dent in all the rudeness we encounter. Then again there might not be enough free cafe mochas in the world to accomplish that.

Sherryl Woods

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Memories of Mom

Mother's Day is rapidly approaching and as it does, I am always struck with sadness that my mom is no longer here so I can celebrate the day with her. She's been gone for 30 years and hardly a week passes when I don't think about how many things we never got to share or how much I could use her advice or a shoulder to cry on.

My mother was an avid reader, who quite likely set me on the path my life has taken. Not only did she get me hooked on romance novels, but she actually loved to write, even more than I did . . . or do on a day when the words aren't coming easily. She never saw my first book in the stores or even knew I was attempting to write one.

There is, however, one story I like to tell about her longtime friend, who now lives in South Carolina and whom I see each year as I drive north or south between Florida and Virginia. Dottie was in a bookstore one day, hunting everywhere for my latest. She had the clerk looking as well. Suddenly a book fell from the shelves. It was mine. When she told me of this amazing coincidence, I replied, "That was no coincidence. That was my mama." We still laugh about the idea that even from the hereafter, my mother's doing her part to promote my career.

Mom was a wonderful listener, a trait that endeared her to all my friends. I still recall, as I sit on the front porch of my home in Virginia with these same friends today, all the times they would sit in the exact same place -- if not the same chairs -- and spill all their secrets and dreams to my mother. It's little wonder that these people are like siblings to me. We grew up with the same woman encouraging us, building our confidence, comforting us when we were hurt.

There are days it's almost impossible for me to believe that she's been gone from my life almost as long as she was a part of it, but that's the nature of the relationship, isn't it? Moms influence us, become a part of who we are, stay with us always.

So for all of you whose moms are still with you, I hope you'll spend time with them this week. More importantly I hope you'll spend time with them when it isn't
Mother's Day. Treasure the time you have, because it can end all too suddenly.

And for those of you who, like me, no longer have your mom to turn to, to be there for all the triumphs and tragedies in your life, treasure the memories that remain and take some time this week to rejoice in those.

Sherryl Woods


Thursday, May 1, 2008

This old house...under construction

Early on I mentioned in a comment on this blog what it's like to have a contractor for a husband . . . or a friend. Little did I know that I was about to discover the true meaning of my own words.

Last fall when I left for my winter home in Florida I sat down with my friend, who's been a contractor for many years. He's done plenty of work for me including the renovations of my bookstore -- twice -- and the major overhaul of my kitchen. I had two interior projects I wanted to have done over the winter because they'd be so disruptive to my life if done while I was actually living in the house. I was having a good bit of my main bathroom gutted and having my office/guest room painted and the closet built out to contain a section for office supplies, another for gift wrap and a section for guests' clothes. We went over paint chips, a sketch of the closet and so on.

Off I went to Florida last October, happily envisioning the changes I would find on my return. I passed along model numbers for a new sink and a new toilet. I found just the right faucets. Then I conducted a hunt for floor tile, after being assured that changing the tile wouldn't delay the project.

We had many conversations over the winter, though few about the projects. About a month before my return, he asked oh-so-innocently, "Now, just when are you coming back?" A cold chill raced down my spine. Then, "Which of those paint colors did we decide on for the bathroom?" I did not find this reassuring.

When I was more than halfway here, visiting with friends in South Carolina, I got another call. When installing the new faucets in the shower, he'd discovered a leak. This on a Sunday, in a town where finding the plumber can be a full-time job on a weekday. The next day, somewhere in North Carolina as I drove on I-95, there was another call. The plumber would be here before the day was out, but there was a second leak. Now, neither shower nor toilet were functional. I almost made a U-turn and went back to Florida.

It is now just over two weeks since I drove up to find an old sink and toilet in my side yard, then walked in the door and found my dining room piled high with bags filled with stuff removed from the medicine cabinet and the storage unit in the bathroom. An hour after I arrived I was sorting through junk, some dating back to my mother who died 30 years ago!! Please, let's not consider what that says about me as a housekeeper, okay? The point is I was immediately overwhelmed by the chaos.

The story does have a happier ending. I have a functioning bathroom again(it took three days total for the plumber to deal with the leak -- one day to track him down, one day on the job and another day to fix what was still leaking after the first visit). My office is organized enough that I can actually sit down and write without thinking I should be hanging curtains or throwing out yet more junk.

This tale of woe is not meant to make you feel sorry for me (though a little sympathy would be appreciated), but to explain why I haven't done a blog for a couple of weeks. Now I would absolutely love to hear your horror stories about renovations that have gone awry, taken longer than expected, or even the bright and shining examples of things that turned out exactly the way you wanted them to, and on time. Click on comments below and share your experiences with us, or email them to me at and I'll post them for you.

As for my contractor, we're still friends. After all, we've known each other since we were 12, so we know way too many of each other's secrets. And even when I find him the most frustrating, I know I can count on him to get the job done with meticulous attention to detail. He's very, very good at what he does . . . and driving some 100 miles round trip each day to work for me probably is above and beyond.

And now that I can walk into a bathroom that looks even better than I envisioned it, or into an office that's freshly painted and almost organized, I like him even more.



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