Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Going Away and Coming Back

So we're back from Chattanooga and it was a good trip. I think I may have enjoyed the drive up and back as much as the actual trip, but that's because (a) I didn't do any of the driving, and (b) I got to read out loud from one of my favorite books the whole journey. The book I was reading was Handling Sin by Michael Malone and if you haven't read it, I suggest you do because it's five hundred and something pages of pure, unadulterated rollicking good times. It's about a middle-aged man, stuck in a deeper rut than I'll ever be who is handed a mission by his crazy father and who, because his inheritance is involved, is forced to accept it and of course his life is changed in countless and terrific ways.
Good reading for a woman afraid of being a prisoner of her own sweet life.
I've probably read the book at least three times over the years but it's nice to be reminded that life is infinitely interesting if chances are taken and roads are explored. And so forth.
I love to read out loud. I miss reading to my children and thankfully, my husband doesn't mind at all if I read to him while he drives. I get to do all the voices and Handling Sin has a rich plethora of voices to read. Reading out loud satisfies a few of my loves- reading, of course, and the joy I feel when I "perform", which is what reading out loud is, if you do it right.
So the drives were fine and our room was lovely. Everyone we met in Chattanooga just could not have been nicer, from the guy who helped us with our luggage to the hotel manager that I shared the elevator with on the day we left. When he asked me if everything had been good during our stay, I told him that mainly, yes, everything had been terrific, except for one major problem, which was that the bed sheets would NOT stay on the bed, although I had to say the bed was one of the most comfortable I'd ever slept on and it was. He sighed and said he was truly sorry and that hopefully, by the time we came back, this would not be a problem.
We were tourists, my husband and I, although my folks come from the Lookout Mountain/Chattanooga area. I actually lived there when I was a small child and my memories are vague and misty and some of them are not so good. I went back when I was thirty, on a combined honeymoon-meeting-my-father-for-the-first-time-since-I-was-five trip. Nothing like starting a marriage with a little baggage, eh? We went up there again when my old daddy died and so you'd think I would avoid Chattanooga like the plague, but honestly, my feelings about the place are pretty darn positive, so it must be a nice little city.
And it is a little city. There are big buildings and many of them are old and beautiful, but it's a small enough place that even without the slightest idea of how to find our hotel, we did, just by sight. It's a charming big-little city. Or little-big city. Whichever.
We didn't get to nearly all of the cool places I hear they have there now. We did go to the aquariums and that was a good day. And one day we drove up to Lookout Mountain and visited Rock City, which is still there, still going strong, and still as hokie and cool as it was when I was a child. You just can't beat the combination of mountain vistas, enchanting rock formations and gnomes painted in phosphorescent colors and lit with black lights.
Well, it works for me.
We also went to Ruby Falls, which I had never visited before and quite frankly, will never visit again. You take an elevator 260 feet down into the heart of Lookout Mountain (with a great many strangers) and when the doors open, you find yourself in a rather dark cave where someone is waiting to take your picture so that you can preserve the memory. We decided not to pose. I think we were feeling a bit claustrophobic and in fact, as I told my husband, I could feel the entire weight of the mountain on top of me. This made it a bit difficult to breathe, but I managed to get things under control and along with all the others in our group, we made our way down rocky paths carved into the rock and cave formations until we got to the falls themselves, which were a bit disappointing, even with the laser lights and Hollywood-style movie soundtrack, due to the drought.
Damn global warming.
But still, we saw the falls and then we all treked up the path to the elevator and blessedly, ascended safely back onto the face of the earth.
Phew. Disaster averted, once again.
So it was a good trip and we ate some good meals and had some good drinks and nothing bad happened (you just can't count sheets not staying on the bed as something bad, really) and now we're home and I have to say that I'm glad we went and I'm glad we're back. I had missed my own bed and the roosters next door that wake me up in the morning and I'm glad to be eating sane foods again and I'm glad to be back in my office, typing away.
I have, as I had before the trip, mixed feelings about travel. It was fun, and as they say, we have memories that'll last a lifetime (of Ruby Falls, at least) and that's all good.
But I have an awful lot to do here, what with the garden and the house and writing and maybe making a few Christmas presents and seeing all my children and a few friends and I hear we're going to have a Casablanca cast and crew get-together soon and boy, I am surely looking forward to that.
And I suppose I should just accept that this is the way I am- a woman who does indeed love her life, even with its narrow vistas, and who is happy to keep both feet on the ground and whose idea of a good time is to make a really nice soup.
My God. I am boring.
Well, you read it here first.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tiny Steps In A Great Big World

I've been thinking about aging a lot lately. Maybe it's the weather or maybe it's what I see when I look in the mirror or maybe it's how I feel when I get up in the morning or maybe it's how I can't remember what the hell I did yesterday. But mostly, I think it's how I seem to have lost my sense of adventure. Perhaps I've only misplaced it, but for the life of me, I can't find it.
I've always understood that age is just a number. This fact has been illustrated to me by knowing people who are old at thirty and others who are still young and eager for whatever adventures life has to offer at eighty. My own mother just got back from Egypt and she had a great time. And yes, she's eighty years old.
Me? I'm about to go all the way to Chattanooga, Tennessee for four days and I'm stressed as hell, worrying about what to pack and how much my diet will go to shit in four days, eating in restaurants.
Who's the old person here?
I know it. I claim it. I hate it.
Is it my DNA that makes me this way? Is it a natural born tendency to want to stay close at home where my own bed is, my own kitchen? What in the world am I afraid of?
In theory, I want to travel the globe. I want to experience what this world has to offer before I die. I want to eat foods that I've never eaten, hear languages I've never heard, see trees that I can't imagine as well as paintings and pyramids, rivers and the sun-baked white buildings of Greece against a sea and sky so blue I can't imagine it.
But I'll never do any of these things if I can't get off my own porch and decide what goes in a suitcase.
I'm thinking about this a lot and I'm trying to figure it out. I'm hoping that our little trip to Chattanooga will give me a boost. It's my husband's and my 23rd anniversary and I want to be able to go everywhere with him for all the rest of the years we have together. To be an adventuresome and daring woman who says YES to life and means it with all her heart and all her soul.
My husband deserves that but even more importantly, I do too.
I'm going to go pack now and I'm going to try not worry so much about what all I need to take.
Because really, all I really need is what I have- my man, our love, and the ability to jump right in to the big clear waters of life, dive down deep and come up smiling. I know I have that somewhere. I just have to find it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What's For Dinner?

In the book Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns, there is a discussion of how pious a character is. It goes something like this:
“She’s so religious she asks God what to cook for supper.”
“Honey, every woman on earth asks God what to cook for supper now and then.”

I remember this exchange every time I stand in the produce section of the grocery store, wondering what to fix for dinner. I would probably ask for divine inspiration if I thought it would do any good because although I do really like to cook, I just flat get tired of trying to think of what to cook. I'm so desperate for ideas that I ask my husband what he'd like for dinner at least once or twice a week.

I say desperate because every time I ask the man what he'd like to eat, he says one of two things. Either white bean chili or clam spaghetti.

It’s like those are the only two dishes he can ever remember that I cook. Either that, or those are the only two things I cook that he likes, which I find hard to believe.

I’m a decent cook. I can cook full-on Southern and I can do crunchy-granola hippie. (I actually used to make my own granola, but that was another lifetime ago.) I can do low fat, vegan, vegetarian, carnivorous, and child-friendly. I’m versant with what I call Florida cracker cooking, which involves a lot of fish and game as well as your breads made of corn, and I can do a few passable ethnic things as well.

So I can and do cook a lot more than white bean chili and clam spaghetti.

So why can’t the Man come up with more than two suggestions for a night’s menu?

I’m not sure. If pressed, he will offer to grill something. This always cracks me up because he presents the offer as if it would take the entire responsibility of the meal off of me. As if grilling some sort of protein over a fire means we don’t need a salad, some vegetables and some sort of grain or bread to go with it. Since we don’t eat much meat these days, there’s not a whole lot he can grill anyway and don’t tell me that grilled eggplant is something he could do- I’m sure he could, but for some reason, my fellow just doesn’t get excited about grilling vegetables. He’ll do some on the side, but it’s encoded in his DNA that the real reason for cranking up the coals is to sear a piece of meat, and he does a good job of that, whether it’s the occasional chicken breast, pork chop or a tuna steak. I always enjoy what he grills, especially since I’ve usually marinated it beforehand.

I’m into marinade, which I even use for tofu. And no, he does not grill tofu. He’ll eat it and if I begged, he’d grill it, but he’d never in his whole life suggest it.

I have observed that when men grill there are rituals involved. Of course building the fire or starting the coals or gas is important. Having plenty of condiments and seasoning at hand is necessary, too. In my husband’s case, these are garlic salt and pepper, which is why I marinate, I suppose.

But I believe that after the actual piece of protein to be grilled, the most important factor in successful male outdoor cookery is the beer. Or manly cocktail.
This is what I have observed, anyway.

I discovered about a dozen years ago that I, too, could grill food. Not only could I grill food, but I could cook the rest of the kitchen-prepared meal at the same time. I could grill, make a salad, steam some broccoli, make some bread and set the table too. I could not only do all of this, I could drink beer at the same time! If necessary, I could watch the children and run a load of laundry too, but I'm not here to brag.

This discovery so disconcerted my husband that I had to quit doing it. It was if I had cracked some male code and had become a freak of nature, not unlike a poodle who was suddenly able to speak in perfect Latin.

So I leave the grilling to him these days.

And he leaves the menu planning to me.

“Honey, whatchu want for supper?” I ask him. There’s always a long pause, as if he’s thinking about it and ever hopeful, I can almost believe he’s going through all the many meals in his head that I have presented him with over the years, trying to decide which one he might be in the mood for. A lovely bean and vegetable soup with home-made sourdough bread? Spicy mustard shrimp with brown rice and vegetables? A healthy, delicious, colorful stirfry? My amazing salmon with spinach and edamame beans? Black beans with rice? Veggie burgers and oven-baked French fries?
What? Just tell me what you want. I’ll cook it!

And then he speaks.

“Clam spaghetti?” he suggests. “White bean chili? I don’t know. You pick.”

I sigh and wish I had a personal relationship with Jesus so that I could ask him for a little inspiration.

But then again, Jesus was, by all accounts, a man, and one prone to fasting at that, so I doubt he’d be much help either.

“Thanks,” I say. “I’ll think of something.”

And I always do. It’s almost a miracle, how I come up with something healthy and tasty to cook every night of the week.

Tonight we’re having clam spaghetti, which, when you think about it, has a lot in common with loaves and fishes.

So thanks, fellows.
I appreciate your help.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Rest In Peace

Got a call just a few minutes ago from the brother of the woman I wrote about on September 3. She passed away last night at home with her loved ones around her.
I'm so sorry she's gone, but I'm so happy she didn't have a lot of time to suffer. She'd been in the hospital until last Sunday but she wanted to go home and they called in hospice and she got to go home and finish up the hard job of dying there.
I don't know what happens to us when we die and I don't think anyone does, no matter what they say. We all want to believe that something happens. That we just don't disappear. And isn't that what a lot of religion is all about? The reassurance that we don't just disappear when we die. That our life will still have meaning and that somehow, somewhere, we're still around.
I don't know. But what I do know is that this woman is not hurting or in despair any more. And that her life will not go unmourned and that it did have meaning. She touched my life and my family's life and I'm sure many, many others.
And I'd like to say here that I think hospice is one of the blessings of our community. They are not afraid to face what we will all experience but which we all fear, which is death, and they come in like angels and help the dying and the family members face death with dignity and compassion and comfort. And if that's not a holy task, what is?
I surely hope that my friend got to a place of peace before she took that last breath. I bet she did.
Time to light another candle, and my prayer for this one is a prayer of gratefulness that my friend was able to take off to parts unknown (to us, anyway) and is now a part of the light. That's how I think of her, anyway. As part of the beautiful October light that is shining on us all.
And she is resting in peace.

Monday, October 8, 2007

A Tiny Blogette

I'd just like to say that there are three things in this world that make me really happy to pat. They are:

Babies' behinds.
Bread dough.
Garden dirt after I've planted seeds.

The amazing thing to me is that all of these feel very similar when given a little pat. A bit bouncy- giving and yet firm, pleasing to the touch and totally alive.

That's all.

Some Things Never Change


Saturday, October 6, 2007

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Glamourous

For all of you wondering what life will be like when the chickabidees leave the nest and there are no more soccer games/softball games/t-ball games/fall festivals/youthorchestra/volunteer-at-the-school-planting-bushes days to take up your weekend- let me give you a little peek into what lies ahead of you.
The husband and I got up this morning and drank a few cups of coffee, read part of the paper and he unloaded a bunch of pecan wood off the back of his little truck. I made up to-go mugs of coffee, grabbed the parts of the paper I hadn't read, my purse, my phone, and a bottle of water and we jumped in the truck and headed east.
First stop was the Huddle House by the Monticello, I-10 exit. Now my usual breakfast is a bowl of flakes, fiber and fruit, but on this day (which I proudly proclaimed to be sin day) I ate a startlingly cholesterol-laden plate of eggs, grits, toast, and bacon. God bless the pig.
We drank more coffee and read the parts of the paper that interested us and people-watched at the Huddle House, which is an-almost successful imitator of the Waffle House. The food is good but they don't even have a juke box with songs about grits! Come on! Nor do they have salsa bottled under anything clever like Casa de Waffle. And they take credit cards! The Waffle House takes nothing but cash, which makes me wonder about a lot of things, not least of which is how do they get away with that?
Anyway, it was a fine breakfast and then we got back in the truck and headed down to Highway 27 to get to Perry which was our destination. We were on a mission to collect a truckload of chicken shit to put on our garden. A friend of ours had made a connection for the stuff and turned us on to it. We didn't really have the actual directions, but since we all have cell phones these days, even chicken farmers, we knew we'd find the place.
We got to Perry in good time. The little truck, despite having not been driven for months, ran like a merry little old Singer sewing machine, although something seems to have died in the engine, causing a bit of a nasty odor, but it disappeared as soon as we got up to highway speed. While we waited for the chicken farmer to return our call and give us directions, we drove around downtown Perry, Florida for a while and let me just say that Perry does not appear to be booming. The downtown part, anyway. But we saw some lovely houses and an impressive number of old train depots and then the chicken farmer called us and we drove east on Green street and took the turns off of that that were required and we found the chicken farm. Chicken ranch? Poultry farm?
It was a small operation and I have to say that it did not smell as evil as most chicken farms I have known. It was an overcast morning and there was a good breeze, so things were not so bad. We got there before the farmer and had to wait a bit and I did have a fairly bad moment when I got a hot flash, all the bad smells overcame me, and the flies were attacking like something out of a National Geographic article on Australia. But then the farmer showed up with his small and frisky Jack Russell boy-dog and things got moving along. He got on his green John Deere front-loader and proceeded to load up the truck bed with composted chicken shit. It really does not smell that bad although as the farmer warned us, there are a few chicken wings embedded in the shit, here and there. What would you expect?
I walked around a little while the loading was going on, more than grateful that the John Deere was doing all the work and not me and the husband with shovels. It was a beautiful piece of land with oak trees and an old barn that I spied an antique juke box in (did it come from a Waffle House?) and the little man-dog amused me.
The loading came to an end and we chatted a few moments with the farmer who is a very interesting man. He not only owns over five hundred acres of land, the chicken operation, and eighty head of cattle, but also two Dollar General Stores and some mini-storage operations. "Those things are a license to steal!" he proclaimed. "I'm sixty-two years old and I'm ready to relax a little. I'm trying to sell the Dollar General stores. I don't want to deal with anything but the mini-storages and the land, which is my real love."
I could tell he was a fulfilled individual and I liked him a lot. He told us to spread the word about his chicken shit and is thinking about selling it bagged up, as organic. He's an honest guy and would have the University of Florida certify it as organic before he does that, so if you're interested in getting any of it now, before it goes high dollar, let me know.
We got back in the truck after telling him and the little doggie good-bye and headed back out to Highway 27. I wanted to stop for something to drink, which we did at a convenience store. I bought some iced tea and a bag of Cracker Jack and my husband got some tea and a...fried chicken wing.
I could not believe he did that, but he did, and he enjoyed eating it and then he shared my Cracker Jack with me on the drive home.
We have not unloaded the chicken shit yet (and this will involve me and a shovel and I just can't wait) and have had a nice, slow afternoon and are now cooking some protein on the grill and I have a loaf of bread in the oven as well as some asparagus, red peppers and onions in foil.
We've listened to Prairie Home Companion and we'll probably fall asleep as soon as we eat our supper.
And it's been a good day as far as I'm concerned and I'm sure we'll grow collard greens and mustard greens and cabbages that would win blue ribbons at the fair in the chicken shit we brought home.
So that's what life is like when the kids grow up and move away and you have the leisure and ability to do whatever you want with your weekends.
I'm sure you can't wait.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

A Trip Down Memory Lane

A tiny wren flew into my back porch this afternoon via the dog door. It took a few dips and spins around the porch, danced a little on the ceiling fan and hopped around on the old glider. It didn't seem to mind me or the dogs at all and seemed so comfortable that I have to wonder if it isn't one of the little birds that was hatched on the porch this spring, just come back to take a quick peek a the old birthplace.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Working For Your Love

Went to see my old friend Lynn today.
She's not old, it's just our friendship that is. We met and became fast friends thirty-two years ago this month. We were both young, blonde hippie girls then. She was in school and I was barely pregnant with my first child. I was twenty-one, she was twenty-five and we've been sisters-of-the-heart ever since. She's been a major part of my kids' lives since before they ever took their first breaths. She's been Aunt Lynn to all of them.

When I met Lynn she was just the dancin'-est woman you ever saw. Music was what she loved best and she loved a lot of things- the sea, rum and coke, cute fellas, children, her friends. She was about the most joyful woman I ever met, too, and not afraid to work as hard as any man ever born to get what she needed.

She met a man and married him. He had two kids and she took them in like they were born to her. She couldn't have loved them more if they were. It wasn't an easy marriage, it wasn't an easy family, but she loved them with a powerful love. She worked hard at loving them.

She understood that sometimes you have to work hard for love. She knew that.
We went through so much together. Marriages, divorces, birth, death, good times and bad. She moved to Houston for awhile, but we were never really apart. We were that kind of friends.

And then about seven years ago she was diagnosed with a horrible degenerative neurological disease. She knew something was bad wrong. She kept dropping things and her hands didn't work right. Lynn's hands had known how to type a hundred words a minute; they could cut fabric and sew, they could spread themselves in the air as she danced like strong, quick birds. They could cook, and tend her son, they could carry and tote and now, all of a sudden, things were dropping out of them and they wouldn't work to put in her earrings or fill out a form. And her mind wasn't quite right. And she started forgetting how to do things like talk, go to the bathroom, open a door, turn on the CD player, zip a dress, button a coat, peel an orange.

So they told her she had this disease and that she would die eventually, a slow, painful death.

She's in that process now. Her words are mostly gone, although once in a while she'll tear my heart out by saying quite clearly, "I love you," or "Thanks for coming" when I've gone to visit her in the nursing home where she lives.

In the last week, she's forgotten mostly how to walk and has had several falls. She had to go to the hospital twice yesterday after she fell out of her bed and did a faceplant. She has stitches in her chin, a busted lip, a swollen eye, a cracked jaw. I can't imagine the trauma she went through, having to go to the hospital in an ambulance, the pain, the blood, the strangers. She was withdrawn today, she seemed scared.

I got in the bed with her and she beamed at me when I said, "Do you know I love you?" It was like the sun came up in her eyes. She knows.

I've loved her for so long. And it was so easy to love her when we were young and the path before us looked like a flower-strewn road of soft, white sand we could dance down forever, maybe ending up at the beach where the sun sparkled diamonds to jump and jitter on the waves.

It's harder now, that love. It's mighty hard to go see her in a nursing home where she lies in a bed and stares out of the window and waits for someone to come along to feed her, give her water, give her pain medication, turn on the Beatles for her to listen to. It's painfully hard to love someone and see them like this- caught in a nightmare where the only path is a hard rocky one that can only lead to a hoped-for light that will offer relief and release.

I fed her some lunch although she didn't seem to want much and who would with all that injury to her mouth? Her sister and mother were there. They visit her all the time and her sister brings cookies she bakes and quilts she makes and flowers she grows for the nurses and the aides and in that way she is making them pay attention to Lynn. She's put pictures up all over the room of Lynn at various points in her life and also pictures of things Lynn loves the most- Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Statue of Liberty, her friends. Mostly of Lynn's son, the boy born to her late in life, the child she never thought she'd have.

I don't even know if Lynn can see those things any more. She doesn't seem to. But she knows me and she knows I love her.

Bruce Springsteen came out with a new CD today and one of the songs is titled I'll Work For Your Love and I listened to that song after I left the nursing home.

I think we forget that sometimes we do have to work for love. For the love of our spouses, our children, our friends, and all the people who have tucked themselves up into our hearts. It's easy to dance down the soft road with someone with the lure of the sparkling water before us. It's a lot harder to trudge down the dark road with them where the rocks cut our feet and the destination is so final.

Hard work. But in the end, it's the work that matters most.

And work that we constantly need to remember is one we must be most grateful for, because that means we're human, that our ragged hearts are still working, working for love.