LONGLEAF STORIES

full circle in the hundred acre wood

Contrary to what some might imagine, even the Duchess of Longleaf (moi) must arise from her life of studying ancient texts while reclining on a white leather chaise and being fed peeled grapes by the Duke to, (oh it pains me to say this), clean the damn mansion. I’ve changed the blog header from those evocative, but dreary, dead pine trees (thank you, Hurricane Ivan), to the gorgeous cone-flowers from last summer to cheer me while I work.

I just learned that taking a butcher knife to the large corrugated box that brought Lou’s most recent 34 pound bag of dog food is a great warm-up for the task ahead and really, quite satisfying. Normally Buck the Duke takes a huge machete to empty shipping boxes and slashes them into even pieces that will fit in the recycle can, but this morning he has not yet arisen and this particular empty box has offended my eye, thus, the butcher knife. Lou retreated to her kennel in the Lodge to allow her mistress’s strange mania to pass. All in all, not a bad upper body workout!

I fear I’ve let our three days of bleak winter here on Florida’s Gulf coast get to me, and have scattered old New Yorker and Harper’s magazines, along with continually in progress novel chapters that I will one day as God is my witness finish, and temporarily forgotten that some fine morning our realtors will call and say that an oil tycoon or shipbuilding magnate wants to come look at the house. In an hour.

I don’t want to be like one of those biblical maidens who failed to keep their lamps filled with oil. So, to work! Catch y’all later.

 

Several years ago I watched a woman, head of some agency or other, testify before Congress. No, no, I wasn’t there. My viewing privilege was courtesy of C-SPAN. I ran across my scribbled notes today.

All the muscles in her haughty face turn down.

She sits straight, one hand over the other, swallowing as though her mouth is dry.

Cords in her neck stand out. Angry.

Her hands flutter up like birds.

 

Fast breathing visible through her perfect ivory sweater, thin chest enveloped in a charcoal pinstripe suit.

She looks like an afghan hound.

Capping/uncapping her pen.

Not a ghost of a smile.

 

countdown-clock-1Buck and I talk about the weird elastic nature of time often, how it seemed to creep along when we were children playing in the long grass of an endless summer, but now it gallops along in an uneven manner, pausing to linger for delicious moments, hovering, then resuming its brutal dash to the finish line. We recall being mesmerized by the large millennium digital countdown wall clock that hung in the Canton, North Carolina post office clicking down the months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds until the turn of the century, that much-hyped Y2K non-event. It was as though we were kittens who had wandered into a black mamba den. We couldn’t look away.

At my annual routine  gyn visit yesterday, my doc and I talked about a range of things. My health, naturally, and I gave her a copy of my mammogram, colonoscopy, blood labs, and summary report from December’s annual Mayo Clinic executive health physical. We also talked about her frustration with a new record-keeping system that requires patients to update their information on an electronic pad out in the waiting room before they see their provider. I saw a frail elderly woman upset, nearly in tears, as she and her husband tried to navigate their way through terrain that was clearly unfamiliar to them. Another young woman squinted at the screen as she juggled a crying infant. I could see she was about to blow a gasket. Just as I was called back for my appointment, I saw her take the tablet to the counter and begin to vent to the hapless receptionist. It’s a system that appears to have been designed by bureaucrats and insurance companies, not doctors and nurses.

Anyway, we’ve been seeing one another for these annual visits for some years now. We’re nearly the same age. She’s only a year younger, at 64, a runner, cyclist, and single parent of grown kids. I look forward to our yearly chats. It feels more like we’re old friends sharing a cup of coffee rather than a pap smear and breast exam. We talked about her recent trip with three other women to bicycle all over Italy. It sounded wonderful. We congratulated each other on being youthful and fit. And we talked over the risks and benefits of continuing to use a low-dose estrogen and whether I wished to go from annual pap smears to once every two years rather than discontinuing them altogether since I am over 65 and ten years post hysterectomy.  She is both a respected source of knowledge and a comfort to talk with.  I think we encourage each other in our journeys. And perhaps when she retires, we’ll go for a real cup of coffee, maybe even a bike ride.

One note on age: I used to think 65 was old. Really old. Silly. It’s not. My new Gravatar photo, a selfie shot yesterday after my doctor’s appointment, shows, I think, that I’ve finally become a fully-grown bear, a happy, but serious person. I’m ready for the final third of this wondrous, mysterious life and hope to make at least 100.  I’m eager  to collaborate on the next chapter and learn what happens next.  What’s your journey?

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January 9, 2017. At age 65, taking it all in.

 

 

 

 

WordPress Daily Prompt: Uneven

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So I’d been reading and writing all day, except for a walk to the gate with Lou to fetch the Sunday paper, and I was pretty sure I needed to go to the grocery store if we wanted anything besides oatmeal for supper, but didn’t want to because I was enjoying myself reading and writing.

The solution, once I took a few minutes to see what was hiding in the freezer, the fridge and the pantry, turned out to be a sumptuous feast. Chicken thighs tossed with olive oil, garlic, oregano and Montreal Steak seasoning roasted with chunks of zucchini, onion and whole shallots in a hot oven for 45 minutes. I had forgotten all about some beautiful organic carrots in a zip bag in the fridge. I cut them into diagonal slices, simmered, then drained and tossed with a sweet little lump of butter. I simmered vegetable stock with turmeric and a swig of olive oil, then let whole wheat couscous steep in the hot liquid until it was fluffy. Totally unneeded for this feast, but a pretty addition, was a can of Del Monte stewed tomatoes, chopped, to add to the couscous.

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Buck and I are in bed already. He’s reading and munching on a Dove dark chocolate. My treat is a ramekin of frozen mango chunks and blueberries. Goooood.

 

So why was a 60 horsepower diesel tractor in our bedroom last night and why did I start it up (mum mum mum mum mum mum-mum low rumble), drive it through an improbably wide hall, and take out a metal and glass pole lamp with a wrought metal bird’s head at eye level, all while wearing a clingy black dress and high heels?

This, dear readers, is what makes dreams so compelling and — quite often — fun.

But dreams are evanescent. They get away from us quickly unless we consciously hold on to the disappearing image, grab a pen and write it down  — or type as I’m doing right now, before my (gasp) first sip of coffee.

I had a dream a week or so ago that I meant to write down. It was so interesting. At least I staggered out of bed, found a pen, and dashed off the stream of conscious words that streamed out of my barely awake brain.

Here’s what I wrote:

a path with sand spurs

told Buck I was’t wearing the right shoes for this

people upside down in cars, blood trickles, laughed like I was the crazy one when I asked what I could do

puppies and fat children in beds

role-playing by Rotarians

California

lost my shoes, my phone, my camera

couldn’t find Buck

walked back — seems like I drove some odd vehicle part of the way

dark

foggy

tried to find . . .

Okay, so even though I wrote these word scraps down, in the light of day a week or later I can’t make head nor tail of what was going on in this dream. It is just gone, baby, gone.

How about you? Do you remember your dreams? Do you even want to? Are they scary or do they make you laugh?

 

Daily Word Prompt: Gone

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I gave away most of my cookbooks several years ago to the local junior college’s culinary program, and never looked back. But I hung onto a few, including some I had barely opened, but felt guilty about giving away since they had belonged to Buck’s late first wife. Karen was a fine artist with a great fondness for entertaining friends. She and Buck raised three children together and had a real love affair for most of their marriage, but at some point they began to dream different dreams, and eventually divorced. Karen married a locally beloved retired pediatrician 24 years her senior in an Episcopal church ceremony within weeks of when Buck and I eloped to Dale County, Alabama where his cousin set us up with a county judge.

Karen and Joe had twenty years together before he died. They traveled the world and enjoyed the local arts culture, birds of like feather in so many ways. But despite her relative youth, Karen’s health wasn’t good, and in 2005 she died from complications of a stroke just 60 days before Buck’s and Karen’s 45-year-old son, Darryl, died of a heart attack. You might say 2005 was one tough year. The construction of our new home was roughly 60% complete when all this happened. We couldn’t go back, but it was the hardest thing in the world to move forward. It took a lot of the joy out of that remarkable project.

After Karen’s death, I helped the kids with the sorrowful task of cleaning out her waterfront condo. There are several stories in that alone, but I won’t go down that trail today. I wound up keeping several of her cookbooks, her recipe box, and a Le Creuset cast iron set in Flame. I told the kids the Le Creuset set is designed to pass on to the next generation, so if any of them or their children ever develops an interest in cooking, I’ll keep  them clean and well-used. Which I do.

So when Buck and I used one pound of the shrimp we bought at Joe Patti’s on Wednesday for a peel and eat boil, I tucked the other pound into a zip bag encased in crushed ice in the coldest part of the fridge and we hatched the idea of making Shrimp Creole for Friday’s supper, a dish we haven’t eaten in years. After a quick, unsatisfying search of internet recipes, I remembered Karen’s cookbooks. The three I saved were from a specific region of the country, really a culinary universe all its own: NOLA.

Here they are:  Brennan’s New Orleans Cookbook by Hermann B. Deutsch (1961),  LaBouche Creole by Leon E. Soniat, Jr. (1981), and The Commander’s Palace New Orleans Cookbook by Ella and Dick Brennan (1984). After comparing Shrimp Creole recipes in each, I went with the one from Commander’s Palace and followed it with two exceptions. I didn’t have fresh tomatoes, but used Muir Glen organic San Marzano style from the pantry, and used only two teaspoons of Louisiana hot sauce instead of the recommended four. Good thing, too!

Internet recipes can be a mainstay, especially from trusted sources like New York Times Cooking, Epicurious, and Cooks Illustrated, among others. I especially enjoy Sam Sifton’s NY Times Cooking newsletter . It’s like a friendly, newsy email from a friend. It gives you access to their recipe data base with your own recipe box. And it’s free. No need to become a subscriber. Best deal out there for foodies.

I think Karen and Joe would have enjoyed sharing our supper last night, even if we were ex-laws in life. I wish they were both still topside.

 

Here at my desk, encircled in light, the outdoors dark all day with loud rain a white noise no soundtrack can replicate, Buck and Lou hunkered down and plotting in the lodge at the other end of the house, I float on a sweet, bright sea of memory, jostled by waves of nostalgia. I found a treasure trove of posts and pictures about an old house Buck and I owned for a short while out on Perdido Bay (the Florida side).

It was 2009. Some of you old pals will remember the story. I think it was a blow for you, too, when we just couldn’t make the reality sustain our dream of it. We still think about living in a shady spot on the water — a lazy river, not a bay, surely not the Gulf, and who knows? It might happen.

I’m reconstructing the old posts and pictures, and inserting them here chronologically, so if you “followers” (heh) get messages in bottles that seem out of sync floating onto your shores from me, that’s why. This was an awfully sweet, albeit short, full-of-longing chapter for Buck and me. The category, in case you go looking, is “Sugar Shack.” There’s a search box on the sidebar way down toward the bottom.

I’m headed to the kitchen to whomp up a pot of Shrimp Creole. Just the thing with this cold front blowing in.

 

 

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