doc

I think the thing he was most fascinated by was the bright blue, glowing geo-locator button on my jogging shoes. I mean, who wouldn’t be, right? Nice to know that even if I didn’t know where I was, theoretically somebody, somewhere did.

I had been pedaling across the curve of the earth in the middle of the night in a four-wheel type of cycle, going home to Mother. How in the world would I find her in the dark? And, oh by the way, she died in 1990 and I had never been able to find the real “her” in life and even less so in death — she was gone years before her heart stopped.

How did I get hurt and why was I at this bright outpost of an urgent care clinic? A little girl with dark hair and big glasses and bright black patent leather shoes shamelessly eavesdropped on my conversation with the young doc.

I kept asking him: who were the people who came to my house?

Dreams. Nonlinear. Nonsensical. I love them.

sandy

I waited too long to write last week’s dream. So many of the evanescent parts of it have floated away. But I am still left to wonder: why did my subconscious bring my old friend Patsy into my dreamscape?

Images from the dream are more like scenes from her real life, experiences I either saw or knew about as they were happening. So was it a dream or a series of memories?

We are sitting together on my piano bench at home, Buck and other guests milling about, visiting. Sandy is belting out an old Carol King line — pretty sure it was I feel the earth move under my feet while I accompanied her. She held a glass of wine in one hand and swore like a sailor in-between verses. Okay, so this was definitely a dream. I’ve played piano while she sang before, but it was a supper club of sweet Episcopalians and the songs were usually old Broadway or snippets from The Messiah. Sandy has a glorious contralto, the kind of singing voice I would like to have. I have near perfect pitch, but only thin squeaks come through my pipes.

I dreamed of Sandy sailing the Grand Loop with her ill husband and later hugging the shorelines and rivers of Florida when he was dying and they had to dock so he could rent a car and drive to one of several hospitals for another useless round of chemo. Maybe it wasn’t entirely useless. Maybe it bought him time. But my dream is of Sandy, nurse Sandy, giving him injections; Sandy, the game companion, her brittle bones fracturing time and time again when jarred by the sharp, hard wake of a rude boater and knocked into unforgiving surfaces. Betrayed Sandy.

Sandy’s blank look of shock when she first read her husband’s will and trust, then tears of heartbreak and later anger, as it sunk in that he put her financial well-being into a trust managed by a long-grown stepdaughter who behaved as though she had waited a long time to become Sandy’s overlord and was going to extract every ounce of suffering and pain left in this dear woman, not to mention impoverishing her in the process.

Sandy, kneeling for communion, praying at the rail, hands raised like a charismatic.

It’s been close to five years since Sandy’s husband died and her second time in hell began. But now, the lawyering is done, whatever could be salvaged has been, she lives in a sweet little house in a dear little town far from here, and has found a good life with friends and a gentle, funny man who truly adores her. I know this mingles dream and fact. But that fact is no dream, and I am grateful that the haunted look is gone from my friend’s beautiful gray-blue eyes.

dream journal

At last. It happened last night the way it used to, way back when I was writing every day. I dreamed words, sentences, amazing images — a world. I’ve been sleeping too shallowly recently to dream at all. I’m still reeling. Still in the dream. Dreams, really. There were three, but I was only able to stagger out of bed and write and notes for two. The other, the first, is dim, fading. I doubt I can recover it. Of the two I remember, the first is “Patsy;” the second is “Doc.” I’ll post them later.

By the way, I attribute the restarting of dreams with the restarting of a daily writing practice. The words were so dry at first, like unused paint in a long-neglected tube. But they are beginning to feel a little more fluid, beginning to come from a deeper place. And now, dreams. A good and encouraging sign.

crack the dark world open

I dreamed last night of my long-dead father. One of those rare dreams I’ve learned to call a major gift.

Standing on a sidewalk at a busy intersection, I was waiting for a car or a bus or a taxi or something to take me somewhere. It was crowded. Lots of people. Many of them seemed to know me. They waved and shouted friendly greetings.

I remember adjusting the shoulder strap of my heavy bag that was filled with notebooks and sketch pads, craning my neck to look for my ride, when someone called out: “Wait! Don’t go yet. Your Daddy is coming to see you!”

My head snapped up and sure enough, a man who could not be anyone but W. T. Jones was striding through the crowded sidewalk, pulling off leather work gloves as he walked. His crack-the-dark-world-open brilliant smile went all the way to those flashing bright eyes that never left my face.

Before there was time to think or react or, thank God, wake up, I was wrapped up in those dear arms. “Baby girl!” he crooned, nearly waltzing me around, his joy my sunbeam path.

I awoke then and nearly sprang out of bed with energy and a smile, still feeling that loving affirmation from my sweet, long-missed Daddy.

In the dream, Daddy was slightly heavier than I remembered, still sun-browned with crinkles around his eyes and a light sheen of sweat as though he had just come off the construction site of one of his subdivisions in central Florida, circa 1964, the year his heart suddenly stopped.

Tough blow for a thirteen-year-old to lose her dad. My older brother was sixteen; our younger brother only nine. Mother was fragile and unbalanced. Tough all the way around. The lodge pole of our family structure was jerked away and the roof quickly fell in.

For weeks, now, I haven’t been sleeping well enough to dream, much less to remember a dream. Several hours have elapsed since the dream. I’ve walked to the gate with Lou, fed her breakfast, and brewed coffee.

Cutting strawberries and oranges for Sunday breakfast a few minutes ago, I laughed to realize I was whistling Daddy’s favorite song.

Open Mind, Insert Vegetable

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Baby Bella and Shitake Mushroom Bourguignon on Grilled Sun-Dried Tomato and Garlic Polenta

So okay, it’s been about a week since I posted a picture of my new cast iron tortilla maker and wrote about menu tweaks here at the Longleaf Bar and Grill.

“How’s it going?” you ask.

“Oh, it’s okay,” I lie.

Look at the photo.

Yeah. That good. . . and very nice with a  pequeño glass of Noval Black port.

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Sun-Dried Tomato and Garlic Polenta Chip

We grilled the polenta in thick slices on a Lodge cast iron griddle. After dinner, I discovered small, crisp disks left behind in the pan. They came up easily. I decided to taste one. Huge yum wow. I did leave one for Buck to try.

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Leaf lettuce with roasted cauliflower, walnuts, chick peas and dried cranberries

Seriously, I went into this week all out with the idea of creating a new, mostly vegan, vegetarian, or at the very least flexitarian kitchen. Buck and I thought it would be good for our health. Little did we know it would be a culinary adventure, full of exciting blasts of taste and super satisfying.

The night I tried Lynn’s Meatloaf, I cop to having a backup plan in case it turned out to be disgusting and inedible. After all, when you smush together a block of firm tofu, cooked lentils, oatmeal, celery, onion, catsup, Dijon mustard, soy sauce, and a sprinkle of sage, rosemary and thyme, who the heck can visualize the end result after 50 minutes in a 350 degree oven packed into a loaf pan? All I can say is, it’s better (a lot better) than meatloaf, and makes great sandwiches the next day.

One of our new favorites is black beans, brown rice, and a smorgasbord of toppings: sautéed peppers and onions, corn, and salsa.

We suspect there are tangible health benefits: lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar, squeaky clean arteries. But a big bonus we didn’t contemplate is that Buck is no longer experiencing the bloating and pain of IBS he has suffered for the past five decades. Will it last? We don’t know. We thought high protein low carb was just the ticket. Not anymore.

We ate a green lentil soup made with chicken broth (from the freezer), and a Nicoise salad with fabulous Tonnino Ventresca (tuna belly in olive oil — comes in a jar), so clearly we’re in the flexitarian camp, but the center of gravity has shifted away from meat-based entrees.

Bottom line so far: why did it take us so long?

February Pitcher Plants: High-Style Carnivores

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Are these pitcher plants gorgeous or what? Talk about a nice surprise. A crystalline blue sky and dry, cool air drew Buck and me outdoors yesterday to wander the fire line trails. There’s a swampy area where the road is too wet to cross this time of year. We walked right up to that spot; I looked off to the right, and there, in the pine straw and muck, nearly hidden, was this stunner. No wonder hapless insects find them irresistible.

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We only saw this one cluster, but it was our treasure find for the day.

January 2014 at Longleaf Preserve

Most of us have heard the old chestnut that the trick in life isn’t getting what you want, it’s wanting what you get. Expectations shade our perception of reality. Here on the Gulf coast of Florida, we’ve had a series of mild, rather pleasant winters. Until this year. Birds skating on the frozen bird bath for days on end is not part of my world view of “how things should be” in our winters. I can almost hear my friend, Jeanne, laughing. She lives in Moose Pass, Alaska, although even she has dusted out of there for an adventure to South Africa. (Check her fantastic photos at Gullible’s Travels.)

The ice melted completely late last week and now we’re back to more typical winter weather: chilly for a day or two, then a warming trend with rain, then cool again. Repeat until spring. Some beautiful days are coming, I’m sure. Like lots of other folks around the country, we’re eager for some bright sun blue sky days.

Here are a few January scenes. I wish now I had roused myself from the warm house and gone to the woods to get some ice and snow photos, but instead was true to my hothouse flower roots and stayed by the fire with hot chocolate, Buck, and a pile of books.

Where Meaning Dwells

“One in six men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime. Most of them will die of something else before the prostate cancer would have killed them.” The urologist sat on a swivel stool and looked at my husband, who was perched on the edge of the examination table.  “But here is where it gets tricky,” Dr. G. continued. “How long are you going to live?” He glanced over at me, flashed his steel-blue eyes. I felt like he was gauging my reaction to see how open he could be, whether I would get up and run out of the room. He looked back at Buck. “Because that’s a big factor in determining how, or whether, we treat it.”

Buck doesn’t have prostate cancer, or at least if he does we don’t know about it. Yet. But his Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) numbers have turned erratic. A chart he and I made last night from 2008 to December of 2013 looks like a nascent Bull stock market beginning to make a run. And the doctor’s question goes to Buck’s age. “You’re an unusually healthy guy for 76,” he said. “Extremely fit. No meds. Most likely good for what? Ten to twelve years? Maybe more?”

My ears began to buzz, and I had to concentrate on breathing to keep my hands from clenching the chair arms, to keep my face impassive when I wanted to scream. I felt like an atomic clock was in the room with us, counting down seconds.

Buck laughed easily. “Oh, more, I think. Maybe a lot more.”

We talk about death sometimes, and he makes me swear to stay healthy and safe. I swear. I make him swear to live forever. He promises to try.

The urologist explains to us that Buck’s PSA numbers aren’t alarming in isolation, but have begun to show a certain velocity that can be a danger sign. He wants to be sure if there are any cancer cells present, he knows which type they are. Apparently some are quite aggressive and some are not. The doc recommends an ultrasound examination and biopsy. Buck agrees and a time is set for next Wednesday.

We’re back home now. It’s raining and dark, with deep, nearly continuous rumbles of thunder. Buck is downstairs in a room we call “The Lodge,” writing away on the revision of a book he has just completed. I’m upstairs in an open area we dubbed “The Treehouse,” drinking spiced Chai and writing too many words in a bright circle of light. The curtain of rain outside the windows when it hits the concrete patio below makes a sound like tin foil crinkling.

A woman acquaintance warned me once that I was unwise to be so close to my husband; that in time it would bring me grief. Can you believe that? Foolish woman.

Besides, grief has been my close companion since I was 13, and I am unafraid of it. It is like that inner part of a ripe tomato skin, the part I call the velvet, the part where meaning dwells. You can only get to it by dropping the ripe tomato into boiling water for thirty seconds and then lifting it out with a slotted spoon. The peel slips off, revealing the gem-like velvet. Grief is always in the room with us. Grief, I think, is also the kernel of love.

A happy postscript: Dr. G’s nurse, Patty, called Friday morning, to advise us there were no aggressive cancer cells, no passive cancer cells, not even any passive-aggressive cancer cells, none at all. When I looked at Buck, he suddenly seemed years younger. When I caught my own eye in a mirror later in the day, so did I.

When Florida Trend Came to Call

Well, it was a long time ago. I was engaging in all sorts of activities on the life-change scale that can make a person anxious. I separated from my husband, the one I had told five years earlier I wanted a divorce, but as things do, they rocked along for a while. Then almost at once as though a fairy godmother had granted me three wishes, I met the love of my life whom I had been so lonely for and didn’t know how to find him, I had an idea for a business, and I moved to Pensacola Beach.

I guess the rest is history on a small, but lovely, scale.  I divorced, remarried (30 years ago now), created and eventually sold the business, Aladdin Communications, to some sweet guys from New York City. One day, when Aladdin was still in its infancy and I was living in, and running the business out of, a house on stilts on the beach, the prestigious magazine, Florida Trend, came to call. It was a little bitty piece, but startling to this small-town girl.

The writer and photographer came to call toward the end of 2003. By the time it appeared, in March of 1984, I had been properly divorced for 10 months and Buck and I had eloped to Ozark, Alabama and been married in the Dale County Courthouse on February 17, 2004. Big doins’ in those times. Big doins’.

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The Trouble with Trouble

1-The trouble with trouble.

Grace Futch Grider sent me this cocktail napkin. It’s vintage Grace. I ran across it this morning. when I was fetching a writing “vision board” back out of the closet that I had begun some months ago. The last time Buck and I saw Grace was in a hospital bed. She was aggravated because pancreatitis had gotten in the way of her immediate desire to put her nearly eighty-year-old self and a bunch of her fun-lovin’ friends on a train to Las Vegas. Gracie was a tough, self-made business woman. She founded Pensacola Beach Realty at a time when women running a business show here were an oddity. She served on a bank board with Buck. She was a passionate, if not especially skilled, golfer. She was a hell of a woman, a hot mess, and two tons of fearless fun. It’s been eight years, and we miss her like crazy.

The best I can do, Gracie, is enjoy the memories and name a pretty darn good book character after you. You’d like my Grace. She’s giving as good as she gets and more. Sound like anybody you know?