Longleaf Stories

full circle in the hundred acre wood

Baked Eggs and Spinach

Baked eggs with spinach, skim milk, a sprinkle of grated cheese and toast.

So a couple of years ago I bought two adorable little All-Clad individual baking pans, thinking I would cook, I don’t know, individual eggplant parmigiana or crab casseroles. Instead, except for a couple of goes with roasted veggies, they’ve pretty much remained secluded in their adorableness in a cupboard under the island cook-top bar.

That is, until the Breville Smart Oven arrived.

the Smart Oven®

Now the little pans stay on top of the counter. I think a sliced apple dotted with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon would be good in one pan, maybe a grits casserole in the other. Breakfast, lunch or supper.

Here’s the driver that made this luxury purchase practical: we have one regular-sized, eye level oven that looks pretty but quit working about two years ago (when it locked our Thanksgiving turkey inside and went into the cleaning cycle), and another oven that has gotten long in the tooth and works, but sits almost on the floor and hits you in the face with heat like a blast furnace when you use it.

The clincher is osteoarthritis of the hands. My fat-knuckled fingers can no longer come close to making a fist and the fine motor skill needed to pick up coins or other small objects is shot.

I’ve explored lots of different current options, from supplements to paraffin baths to NSAIDs  to physical therapy. None of the above helped. What did was a discussion I had about six months ago with a fine 79-year-old rheumalogist who has the mind of a scientist and the soul of an artist. His name is Dr. Ashton Graybiel, and he also suffers from osteoarthritis in his hands. We talked about how it affects handwriting, piano playing, strength and range of motion. He enjoys cooking, too, and gave me some tips on excellent lightweight, inexpensive little knives that are sharp as the dickens. The brand is Victorinox. I got the red one pictured in the link. Love it.

We talked about the power of habit and how, if we can change certain aspects of the way we move, the way we pick up things, the way we stress our fingers, we may be able to lessen the repercussions (pain) from certain activities without giving up what we love to do. It was a philosophical discussion on the nature of pain and a person’s ability to respond to and manage how we think about it. Fascinating.

My conversation with Dr. Graybiel has percolated in my obsessive little mind for a few months now. Each time I would think about my reluctance to replace the eye level oven or struggle to lift a large roasting pan of veggies or chicken from the remaining oven, something just out of conscious thought would click. Click. Click. Click.

The “aha” moment arrived in the form of the Breville Smart Oven. It sits on the counter, ready to go and I use it every day. I’ve come to love the convection feature, something I never bothered to figure out when the large oven was working. The lightweight, smaller pans are a delight.

In short, I have cleaned the big old oven and don’t plan to use it again. And when we sell the house, as we are likely to in the next year or so, we’ll put a brand new, never been used, one in for the buyers.

Best of all, instead of lamenting what I can’t do, I’m celebrating what I can, and hoping in the next decade researchers will be able to replace the lost cartilage in my hands with natural cartilage created by my own stem cells, or something brilliant like that. Wouldn’t that be something?

 

It’s hard to catch a photo of Lou when she’s speeding like a Formula One racer towards a thrown dummy or her favorite Kong ball. Or when she leaps high in the air, agile and graceful as a dolphin. But the little Lab not only has moves, she has moods.

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Here, Lou is sitting in my desk chair, looking at the computer screen as if pondering the strange world her human inhabits.

It was twenty degrees at 6:30 this morning when I slid open the glass door in the living room nearest the kitchen to let Lou out to pee. The concrete was icy. She didn’t like it, but made it the eight feet to the grass. She bounced around in the icy crunch, a blur of brown fur on four pogo sticks. She squatted to pee, watching me like dogs do while I stood in the warm house.

I opened the door for Lou to run back in. No dice. She paced on the grass right at the edge of the concrete, but wouldn’t step onto it. I called her. She whined. I held up a toy. She barked. Finally, I pulled on my boots, got a treat from the pantry, went to the foyer for her leash, and traversed the icy patio myself, stepping carefully. I couldn’t blame her. I didn’t like it, either.

Lou took the treat (of course) then jumped all around. “Sit!” She tentatively hovered her rear end over the icy grass and allowed me to click the leash onto her collar. I took a careful step forward, she resisted, and the collar slipped easily off her neck. Fortunately, instead of dancing away, she seemed eager for me to slip it back over her head again, then took one step with me and dashed for the house, leash and all, leaving me flailing. I stepped slowly, deliberately on the slick surface and closed the door behind us. Adventure over.

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Last night, Lou snuggled while Buck and I ate chicken soup by the fire.

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And later, we read our books into the wee hours, while Longleaf Lou dreamed.

 

For The Daily Post word prompt: agile.

“Granddad, what’s a loophole?”

“Well, Julia, it’s one of the many ways adults break their promises. It’s like when your big brother puts his hand behind his back, crosses his fingers, then looks straight into your eyes, bats his baby-blues, and promises not to run off and leave you when you’re at the playground.”

“I hate it when he does that.”

“Yes, I know. And what does he tell you when you say he broke his promise?”

“He says it wasn’t really a promise, that he had his fingers crossed when he made it, so it didn’t count.”

“That’s right.”

“So do adults cross their fingers behind their backs when they make promises?”

“In a way, sweetie, but it’s even sneakier than what your brother does. The adults who do this are usually the people we vote into office based on what they say they will do once they’re elected. But most of them put a lot of tiny little fine print on those promises that are the adult’s way of getting out of doing what they promised to do. That fine print is called a loophole.”

“But isn’t that another way of telling a lie?”

“Yes, my darling, that’s exactly what it is.”

The Daily Post word prompt: loophole

 

Most of the time reading about writing is just lofty-sounding procrastination, a deep dive into craft or inspiration that stalls facing a blank page or (worse) a rewrite. Nonetheless, here are ten of my favorites that give me courage — if not to high-dive without a net — to proceed in a workmanlike way and have faith that a disciplined writing practice will produce enough flashes of what feels like inspiration to drag us over the finish line. Kind of the way I hike mountains: lots of preparation and psyching myself up, bitching and moaning and gasping for air all the way to the top, then dancing for joy at the pinnacle, and singing and feeling proud all the way back to earth.

Some of these I’ve read only once. Others multiple times. At least half of them are likely to be familiar to you. Enjoy!

RobicheauxRobicheaux by James Lee Burke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One out of place character seemed to have been dropped in courtesy of Stephen King. Otherwise, my same old beloved good Will Patton’s voice and Dave Robicheaux, Clete and Alifair were in character. I hate it that James Lee and Dave are getting old. But as I, too, am aware of that pull toward the earth in a way I wasn’t even five years ago, the voice resonates and keeps me company. Thanks, Mr. Burke.

View all my reviews

If my Daddy had lived until January 12 of this year, he would be 105 years old. But he died 54 years ago, when my brothers and I were just kids. His brothers are all dead now, too, and so is their one sister, Iris. I never knew Iris well, but I always thought her name was one of the prettiest I’d ever heard. She was born in a time when flower names were in vogue: Iris, Rose, Daisy. The Jones bunch lived in the country in a shotgun house between Jay, Florida and Brewton, Alabama.

My memories of that house and the old folks there, my grandparents, Marvin and Hattie,  are thin as the curl of light wood smoke that greeted us on our family’s annual winter pilgrimage from Miami, but just as pungent.  Their rooms smelled like wood, damp flannel, kerosene and old people.

It was an after supper porch-sitting generation, where people talked to one another. Imagine that. Men brought out pocket knives and whittled. Women rocked babies and mended clothes. There was soft laughter and a lot of sighing.

And when dark fell and the great existential questions of life were raised,  no one had a gadget or a gizmo to divert to for canned answers. Instead, someone, usually the eldest, was looked to for wisdom. And most often, that person would gaze at some far point in the darkness way beyond the porch and say, once all ears were focused and listening, “I don’t know for sure. I’ll study on it.”

Grace could barely see the white dashes in the middle of the road, the early morning fog on I-10 was so thick. Her hands were clammy and she had to struggle with herself not to turn back. It was time for sunrise, but all she could see of it was a smeary glare trying to insinuate itself through the wet gray blanket obscuring the landscape. She left Pensacola at four, stopped in Marianna for a fill-up of gas and coffee and would be approaching Florida’s capitol city of Tallahassee in another hour. The sun would be blazing by then and probably stay with her all the way to Port Everglades and the prison where she would meet the most important man in her life for the first time: her father. For Laura’s Free Flow Friday.

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