Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Our Autumn Equinox in Photos

An Autumn Equinox woods walk...

...gathering and harvesting...

...enjoying magical sights...

...of summer becoming Autumn.

And delightful mushrooms. How stories of fairies and gnomes and little people abound as we explore...

I think these were my favorites! In front of the mossy old wood, such a lovely sight!

Heading back home with a full basket. Sticks for winter kindling, leaves for a project, flowers for Autumn bouquets...

Checking on the garden, where the winter beans are making a debut!

Gathering herbs for drying.

Can you see the heart shape? 

Bringing it all indoors as day fades to evening...

And winding down with a little treat at the end of a special day!

How did you spend your Autumn Equinox? Were you able to get outside, enjoy nature in your area? I'd love to hear about it! Also, don't forget to enter the Autumn Equinox and Birthday Giveaway here on my blog to win this scarf, handknit by me!

Autumn Blessings from Pan Pan Studios!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Autumn Equinox and Birthday Giveaway!

Autumn greetings! As many of my readers know, this is my all-time favorite season! Autumn Equinox, the beginning of the season here in the Northern Hemisphere, is always an exciting time at our house! We'll spend tomorrow beginning to gather kindling for the fireplace, an activity we'll repeat many times as winter makes it's slow approach, and enjoying new cooler morning and evening temperatures. Soon we'll have a fire-pit on the patio and the leaves will be the color of flames. Something about this season, which includes my birthday, makes me feel so at peace!

Autumn Equinox also kicks off the two week period that leads up to my birthday, two weeks which also include my mother and niece's birthdays as well! Special times. In honor of all of this, I am hosting a **giveaway** here on my blog! I'll be offering, to my readers, this long, beautiful scarf, knit by me from recycled t-shirt yarn!

This scarf is perfect for draping and it's purple-blue tones are a great contrast for fall colors and will also be perfect into winter and even spring!

My favorite model! And yes, we are Big Bang fans!!

To enter this giveaway, simple do one (or more!) of the following:

1.Share my blog via FB
2. Share my blog via Twitter
3. Share my blog via Google+
4. Share my blog via Bloglovin
5. Share my blog on other social networking site like Instagram, Pinterest or your own website/blog

Comment here and let me know that you shared it, and where! Please include an email address, FB link or website link in your comment so that I can contact the winner!!!

It's that simple! And if you follow my blog as well, you'll be entered twice!

I will put all names into a bowl and draw a winner two weeks from today, October 5th. Winner will be notified by October 8th! And shipping, worldwide, is on me! :-)

This is such a blessed time of year for me and I want to share some of that blessing with you, my readers! There will a post on the wonderful time we had at yesterday's Farm Fresh Fair and also an exciting blog name change coming soon, but I am making a cheesecake for my mom's special day and need to get busy in the kitchen! Happy Autumn Equinox (Spring Equinox to my readers in the Southern Hemisphere!) to all, and I look forward to hearing where you share PanPanStudios!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How I Make the Most of Busy Weekday/Workday Evenings

On a run this week, I thought about how I used to view weekday/workday evenings...

I'm not proud to say that I once referred to it as 'the second shift'. I would come home from work focused on all the work that needed to be done at home. Some days I felt like I was going through motions and I just wanted tasks to be done so I could sit down.

And I couldn't wait for the weekends to come so I could relax. 

Now, I've learned to see beauty in the simplicity of workday/weekday evening routines. Weekends are wonderful, but it is possible to make weekday/workday evenings not hectic and stressful, but peaceful and pleasant times together as family. Here are some things that work well for my son and I!

1. Unplugging and getting outside

These days, 'unplugging' is an essential part of our evening routine. I've written many times about the importance of being present and being in the moment. I have made a habit of no longer looking at social networking sites from my phone during workday/weekday evenings. I might view these sites in the mornings before I leave for work, but I find it is easier to be in the moment and fully present if I am not looking at my phone during evening hours. 

Time in nature is so important to our health and well being. Disconnecting from technology and immersing myself in nature, even only for a few moments, rejuvenates me after a long busy day at work!

2. Plant a garden

There is something so rewarding about growing your own food! But it is a lot of work! By splitting it into smaller jobs to be done daily or every other day, it is more easily manageable to work full-time and also maintain a garden. And there is a tremendous sense of peace, for me, in having my hands in the dirt after a long day of work!

A garden is also a great way to get children away from television or video games and also eating healthier foods. I find that my son is much more likely to eat foods that he planted, grew, and tended himself than if I simply purchase these items at the market. I never required him to work in the garden, but would occasionally ask his assistance when I was busy tending some part of it. It was easy for me to watch him play outside if I was in the garden, and I find children are inherently curious about things adults are doing and in time will want to help. I'm pleased to say this is how it has unfolded for us! The garden is a big part of our lives.

3. Find an exercise you enjoy and can easily fit into your evenings

I discovered running about a year ago, and have been practicing yoga for many years. These activities help me to feel healthy and strong, and I tend to alternate between each depending on the weather and how I feel. Because evening hours can be busy after long work days, I keep my runs and yoga routines shorter than what I might do on weekends - just enough to feel the benefits of regular exercise! And running has an extra plus, just like gardening - more time outdoors!

4. A bit of spontaneity makes a weekday/workday evening more fun

A visit from a friend, making an apple pie, visiting grandparents, or just going out to dinner...all of these things can add a new dimension to a weekday/workday evening! Instead of pressuring myself to have certain things done on certain days as I did in the past, I leave room to be spontaneous. Weekday/workday evenings should be as enjoyable as weekends! 

5. Find simple, flexible routines that work for you and your family

Doing homework immediately upon arriving home just did not work well for us. Neither of us wanted to come in and focus on schoolwork right away. So now, my son does his homework while I am tidying up the kitchen after dinner. This way I am close by and can answer questions or lend a hand. I also have found that keeping extracurricular activities, like classes I am taking or sports my son is participating in, to a minimum - one activity at a time, and no more than two evenings a week - help keep the weekday/workday busy evening burnout away!

6. Have something that you authentically enjoy to close your day with

A cup of evening coffee and good book...these are a perfect close of the day for me!

A knitting project works, too! 

I used to try and accomplish many things in the evening that were not always my authentic interests. My motivations for these projects were based on a feeling of always needing to be working towards some grand goal that would bring some sense of accomplishment to the day. Now, I find joy in the simple routines of the day and do not need grand goals to constantly be striving towards, only joy. I'm very grateful for this magical, wonderful life that we have and I am grateful to be able to close a day doing something I love!

There are so many ways to make workday/weekday evening routines less stressful and more meaningful, and I'll write more on this subject soon. The weekend is just around the corner, and I'm looking very forward to The Rabon Creek Farm Fresh Fair on Saturday and my mother's birthday celebration on Sunday! I'm sure there will be posts on both events, as well as on the change of seasons. Autumn is my favorite season and it is shaping up to be a beautiful one here in South Carolina!

Happy Thursday, all! 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Personal Growth, Football Season, and Blog Branding

*I apologize in advance for lack of photos...there just did not seem to be any that fit this particular post!

I seem to be at a fumble when it comes to officially branding my blog...there are just so many things I want to share and write about, and sometimes they do not flow along with a prescribed theme!

When I started this blog years ago I had no real idea in mind other than writing and sharing my writing with others. It has only been over the last year and a half or so that I've started to grow my readership and other writing opportunities have come via my blog. I attribute this to keeping the concept or theme generally about living simply and solo parenting.

When I look back at older posts, I sometimes shake my head. I think to just take them down altogether because they are not at all reflective of who I am and/or where I am now. Sometimes I find them a bit embarrassing, even. Still, they remain. Some part of me needs to own them, too, for they were authentic words at the time they were written. I recently read an interview with a popular author who stated that his first novel, which was much acclaimed, was a great source of embarrassment to him now because all these years later, he finds it very naive and trite.

That's how I feel about my earlier posts. Raw, naive, trite. There is a lot of ego in those early writings. I have a friend who is in her mid-thirties, as I was in the beginning of my blogging, and she is at a place now to question many things she formerly thought were certain about herself. Her likes and dislikes and ideas about who she is are all shifting...she recently purchased a dress that a few years ago, she'd never have dreamt of wearing. I smiled when she said this to me, "I don't know why I liked it so much. It's so not me!" she exclaimed.

"Who we are is a fluid concept, even to us," I replied. Because I have learned this. Other people I've known at past points in my life might remember me and how I was at a certain moment in time, but it is not who I am now. Sometimes this bothers me because I may not have been my best self when I knew them...but I have learned to let this go. I believe the people who ebb and flow in and out of our lives do so for a reason, and that these situations have lessons to teach us. I believe who we are is a fluid concept and these experiences often help us tap into our higher selves, to become who and what we need to be at certain moments in time.

And this all leads to my current journey...my son is playing football this fall, and football is currently a major subject of discussion at our house. He is totally enamored with the sport, and has been for quite some time. Last year, for the first time in  my entire life, I hosted a Clemson-Carolina football game viewing  (for my non-South Carolina friends, this is a major sports rivalry that you really have to be born and bred here to truly understand! But of course, Carolina won!) I made snacks for all and yes, I watched the entire game. I think this was the first time in my life I ever watched an entire sporting event on television. And the funny thing is...I'm looking forward to doing it again this year, too.

I know, it's amazing to me also. I would never have imagined myself to be a football parent or a sports team fan...and yet here I am, rooting for Carolina along with my son and friends, and feeling wildly excited about watching him play his first game, and the coming season for our favorite team.

So how does this come into play in terms of simple living? I think it's just a going-with-the-flow kind of thing. Being open, and not judgmental. Allowing myself to experience different things and not defining myself with labels or notions of who I am based on who I was in the past or, most importantly, who I think I should be. Yes, many things are not 'me' and would not bring me much happiness or pleasure if I tried to embrace them...that is why forcing things on people or having things forced on us is so unpleasant and unsuccessful. I used to think I knew what was best not only for myself, but sadly I thought at times I knew what was best for others, too. (Blush, that is so embarrassing to me now!)

 I feel now that the best way to demonstrate living simply, going with the flow of life, and all the beauty and happiness this can offer is to embrace this concept myself, and lead by example whenever possible. This is true in my life, as well as my blog.

And I'll leave those old posts up, because they are who I was at that time, as we say here in the South, 'warts and all'!

Happy Friday!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Spontaneity and Apple Pie

I am not the most spontaneous person, most who know me well would agree. Perhaps it comes with maturity, but I like having some sense of how the day, week, or even the month will unfold. I think this has to do sometimes with being a parent, especially during those early years when you learn that anything can and will happen. It is almost impossible to try and make plans or keep a routine in early days of parenting, especially when you are parenting solo! So these days I really enjoy a sense of order and consistency to certain things, despite the idea many people have that because I am creative I would be very spontaneous and always do things 'on a whim'.

In reality, I tend to be reluctant to be spontaneous. There is a sense of security in my days that wasn't always present years ago, and I value it. I do not believe routine is a 'death sentence' as some people say, especially not if you enjoy the routines and they bring you peace, like my yoga practice, my work, or even my running schedule.

However, I do believe it is good to be spontaneous, and it doesn't have to be a major thing like a weekend trip or repainting a room. Spontaneity is a subject I've written quite a bit about because it isn't always so easy for me, and I find the biggest reason is that by nature, when a fun idea comes to me, sometimes I just procrastinate acting on it because I've already envisioned what a day, weekend, or even an afternoon will entail and I am attached to that idea. So I put the spontaneous idea on the back burner for another time, even though there is no valid reason not to do it.

Today, I'm pleased to say, that did not happen! For days my son and I have been passing by a field with an apple tree growing there, seemingly wild, with many apples going unpicked and falling to the ground.

I used to take my son to my aunt and uncle's house to pick apples from their tree each fall, and we would make apple pies and apple crisps and apple sauce and all kinds of yummy things. A few years ago, however, their apple tree contacted a tree illness and had to be cut down. So it has been some time since we've enjoyed picking apples that are just growing organically in nature. I was so keen to do it again that today, we stopped at the house closest to the apple tree and knocked on the door!

The man who answered told us he did own the property but we could pick as many apples as we liked! Not wanting to take advantage of his kindness, we picked enough to make an apple pie! For all my foreign readers, what is more American than apple pie, right? :-)

Today was just a typical Monday and the ride home was also typical until I stopped at the apple tree. Suddenly there was excitement about getting home! We were making an apple pie for dessert! Now every Southern cook worth their salt always has the ingredients on hand for pie of just about any kind, so I put my assistant to work making the crust while I washed and cored the apples. I was delighted at how naturally beautiful they seemed, despite a few imperfections that were easily cut away. I will take cutting away an imperfection over icky pesticides any day!

Boys love cooking, too!!

Filled with yummy natural goodness and ready for the oven...

...and a bounty left over for the composter! Nothing is ever wasted in this kitchen!

About the time I popped the pie into the oven, a friend stopped by and stayed for a slice. We were so caught up in visiting and conversation that I forgot to take a photograph of the finished product! I did, however, manage to sneak a shot of my son's slice, all warm from the oven and topped with vanilla frozen yoghurt!

My friend and I enjoyed coffee and conversation with our slices of apple pie, and the experience added something special to what was shaping up to be a typical Monday. It was even more special that we'd picked the apples ourselves from a tree right near our home.

Most days after work the last thing I feel like doing is coming home and making a pie in addition to making dinner, homework, and other evening routines. Many times I fall into the trap of thinking things like this are for 'special occasions' but it is in being spontaneous that we transform a typical evening into a special occasion! By the time I got home I was excited and felt energized and the workday just melted away. We had a great time both making and eating the pie. And my friend was delighted to have popped by just at the right time!

While I do greatly value consistency and routine, I'm making it a point in my life not to become so attached to the safety of it that I don't allow room for spontaneity and all the lessons and joy it has to offer, including apple pie!

Happy Monday, all!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

September 4th

I'm sitting at the kitchen table, working on the monthly budget, and feeling pretty good about the decisions I made as to how to allot the addition income from teaching summer school this year. Then, I notice the date...September the fourth.

September the fourth...this day...

Twenty-seven years ago, on this day, my older brother Doug was killed in an accident.

He was 19. What I felt for him at that time was love that bordered on hero-worship. It was a Friday afternoon, and I was a typical thirteen-year old girl, hanging out in my room, lying across the bed, most likely reading. I remember this because I can still remember sitting up when I heard the phone ring, hoping it might be a friend calling me.

It wasn't.

 I remember being told the words, and the world spinning, back to three years before, when I first became aware of Doug. You see, he was the child of my father and his first wife, and I never even knew he existed until I was ten years old and he showed up at our door.

Our father was no deadbeat dad, however. He supported my brother all his life (my mother wrote the child support checks each week) and they had spent time together. For reasons my sister and I could never, and will never, understand, but have long since forgiven, our parents simply chose not to tell us about him.

Doug knew about us, however. And as soon as he was old enough to drive, he drove over to meet us.

There was a lot of catching-up. He came to live with us, which delighted my sister and I to no end. I  remember the house suddenly being filled with teenage boys always lounging about, as he was popular and made friends easily. I remember my sister's friends all falling in love with him pretty much simultaneously, and  they were at the house a lot more often, too. I remember the dumb stuff, like the logs of cookie dough we'd talk my mom into buying at the market so we could eat it raw. I remember him wearing leather jackets with only thin t-shirts or tank tops underneath, even when it was chilly outside. I remember the ridiculous white Miami Vice suit he wore on special occasions, and I remember that he played the guitar and liked writing songs. I remember him always admonishing me about being too young for boyfriends. I remember that his favorite song was Round and Round by the group Ratt.

But without a photograph, I can't recall the exact details of his face, how he looked when he smiled. And for the life of me, I can't remember the sound of his voice, or his laugh.

I don't think I cried the day he died. I don't think I cried at the funeral, either. As an adult, I now realize that most likely, I was in shock. I was still getting used to the fact that he was in my life when suddenly, he disappeared from it. And at thirteen, I don't think I fully understood what that meant. The adults were so busy consoling the other adults that my sister and I got somewhat lost in the grief shuffle. We understood somehow that their grief was supposed to be more intense than ours, so we just stayed out of the way. I didn't talk much about him, though our family spent time with his children and my sister and I still hung out with his friends. Sometimes, I would wonder if it, or he, had all been a dream...but then, his children...

Time passed. As Robert Frost so elegantly stated, "The thing about life is, it goes on."
For us, it did. And has, for twenty-seven years now.

In a month, I'll be forty one. This means Doug would be forty-six. In the almost three decades since his death, the world has changed dramatically. His two children are grown, married, with children of their own. They are each the spitting image of him, as we say here, but in vastly different ways. These children, and grandchildren, they are solid proof that he existed once, as are the few photos I have and the small brass wolf pendant he gave me a few months before he died. Sometimes I hold it, trying to recall what he said when he gave it to me. It's an unusually masculine pendant to have given to a young girl, and I wish I could remember something, anything, about it. Did he buy it for me? Was it his and I asked for it? Did he find it somewhere?

Doug's photo hangs in our hallway, and my son likes to speculate on what relationship the two of them might have had. I bet he would take me fishing. He went fishing sometimes, right?  I say yes because I can remember seeing a photo once of him when he was close to my son's age, holding up a large fish. And because my son wants to think his uncle would have taken him fishing. And I want to think that, too.

Each day, on the way home from work, we pass the cemetery where he is buried. Occasionally, we pull in, park the car, and walk among the headstones until we find Doug's. Many times, I've been touched to see items left there: flowers, stuffed animals, balloons, even random items - a strand of mardi-gras beads, a fancy Zippo lighter, a faded photograph of no one I recognize sealed neatly in a ZipLoc bag...

Why are there tears in your eyes? my son will ask.
Well, it's been a very long time, and when I see this stuff, it just makes me happy that so many people still remember him.
If you're happy, then why do you want to cry?
Because...I need to remember him, too.

In memory of Douglas Franklin Loftis July 9th 1968-September 4th 1987

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Unplugging and Getting Outside!

Occasionally I notice that I seem to be spending too much time connected to tech and not connected to what is real, live and in front of me. Or at least, with so much professional and personal communication now taking place electronically, it can seem that way.

I'm now committed, more than ever, to unplugging as much as possible so I can focus on the things I love doing, such as spending time with my son, and being out in nature as much as possible. And Autumn is my absolute favorite season for being outdoors!

Here in the American South, summer can be stifling. With highs often in the triple digits and humidity making it feel even toastier, spending time outside can take real dedication. The woods, however, tend to be cooler, even on ninety-five degree days like today. We spent a majority of this day off from work and school enjoying the woods and all the signs that the lovely fall season is soon to be upon us! After a long Southern summer, we are ready for some cooler temps! 

Seeing the changing leaves is so thrilling!


And the creek...these woods have been a huge part of my life since before my son was born, and he has grown up exploring them. I used to worry because we did not have a tidy, fenced yard of our own, but I could not have asked for a better backyard for him to roam and play and learn in than these woods!

We have watched so many seasons of geese grow up at this pond,

caught tadpoles, watched the heron fish,

or just relaxed! 

Reconnecting with the grounding energy of nature is so essential to our happiness and well-being, especially because I spend my workday indoors and very engaged with computers and technology.  My son spends most of his school day inside as well, so this time is healthy for both of us.

We are so blessed that we don't have to go very far to be in nature. Just a few steps from our front door...

and we are there!

This week I read a post on a favorite blog about setting boundaries with media and I want to reference this subject here as well, because it is so important. My decision to unplug in the evenings and spend only a small amount of time with technology on weekends simply means I am making the conscious choice to spend less time looking at a phone or my computer and a lot more time looking at the world around me. 

So I challenge you to unplug a little today, even just for a few hours, and get out there. Autumn is coming for those of us in Northern Hemisphere, and there is so much beauty to see this time of year! Today was the most amazing day with many hours spent outdoors just enjoying being in nature and being in the moment. I was very tempted to pull out my new yoga mat and flow through some poses right there on the trail, but I decided to save that for another day. 

Today, I just enjoyed being here.
Where we are.