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Monday, October 28, 2013

Hotfoot it

Don’t ask me why I feel the need to write about cast iron, but I do.  This may go down as the most boring post ever, but here goes… 

We are committed fireplace folk in the fall and winter, but there’s a thing about fireplaces as most of you know.  They look good, but most of your heat goes up the chimney.  I have no idea why it took us so long, but finally, we purchased a cast iron fire back to retain heat and radiate it forward.  It arrived last week.
We figured if the fire back is anything like my cast iron pans, we’d be good to go.  Any chef will tell you cast iron offers uniform distribution and tons of heat, which, ehem, reminds me of a story. 

Years ago, I asked my husband for a cast iron pan for Christmas.  By then, we’d been married a while and let’s say he knew me to be selective—okay—high maintenance, as it pertains to things kitchen related.  So, when he discovered the cast iron pan I was looking for cost about twelve dollars, he figured he must have got it wrong.  That year I received a lovely fry pan made of anodized something-or-other in which he invested a small fortune.  It was great.  But the next year, I asked for a cast iron pan again and squealed when I unwrapped one.  My husband tells that story a lot.  He finishes with the line, “I can’t believe that’s all she wanted.” 
In a way, I can’t either.  But when I was in an antique store last week and my heart lifted at a display of cast iron pans, I got it.  Cast iron speaks to continuity.  My grandmother’s grandmother probably used cast iron.  Pioneers perched cast iron cooking pots over open flames, and shoveled coals onto dutch oven lids to bake. Mothers passed their cast iron down to daughters. The metal is pure and sturdy.  Season it well and it will last your whole life. Season it well and it will last another generation, too. It speaks to things warmhearted, griddle cakes, cornbread drenched in honey, caring and love. If I were to give cast iron human characteristics, I’d use words like steadfast, loyal, even and true.  And man, does it get hot.

But, back to the fireplace. Since there are no embers left under the grate, no coals radiating, the first fire of autumn doesn’t throw much heat.  But the other night when I inaugurated the season with the new fire back in place, warmth emanated across the room. For once, I didn’t have to spend an evening with my feet under a down blanket in spite of the fire roaring in the grate.  And long after the flames died down the room remained toasty.

Ah, the simple things.  I love to cook with cast iron and now I get to sit in front of it too. The metal may conjure warmhearted attributes, but the dreaded winter is coming.  I'm pretty sure I'll be spending the next few months blessing it for its warm-footed qualities, too.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Road Trip

My husband and I have been trying to get away for a weekend together for a while now, but life has conspired against us.  So on Thursday when he proposed a take-off-before-dawn-and-see-what-the-day-brings-us-trip for Saturday, I was in.  

The sun comes up pretty late these days.  Just before seven we backed out of the driveway and headed north on a traffic-free highway to a town where, family history has it, my Irish ancestors landed.  We had no plan, other than to score breakfast first thing, which we did, in a linoleum-floored diner with chocolate and coconut cakes resting under domes at a counter, and no kidding, a waitress who called me “Hon.”

Back in the car, we took a reconnaissance mission and found ourselves on the road to Plum Island, home of a national wild life preserve I’d heard about forever.  Lucky for us the government reopened because last weekend, the place would have been closed.  Still, not knowing what we were in for, we parked and took a loop trail to an observation tower in the middle of a salt marsh where a photographer had camped out with his tripod and two bags full of camera equipment.  He didn’t seem to mind the company.   
Fifty feet up, we took in the 360 degree panorama of salt marsh hay waning to tawny, the late fall colors offering pops of muted heat.  The wooden platform creaked under our feet, arguing crows chased each other across the sky, the photographer click, click, clicked as a heron took flight.  As is typical, at the top of the tower, we discovered the battery in our Nikon was dead, but I don’t travel anywhere anymore without my point and shoot, and now of course there is the IPhone.  We took our own pictures, and then descended the steps to a trail toward the other side of the island for an ocean view.

I don’t know what was the best part about the day.  That we followed whim not appointment? The boardwalk stroll through untouched sand dunes to a massive beach, empty of everyone but fishermen? 

The return to town, to a hulking barn of a place called “Oldies” with row upon row of antiques for sale, many of which knocked on my memory and brought me face to face with my youth?  Was it the walk by the river where working fisherman used bow-thrusters to moor their massive fishing boats?  Or the ride south to dinner overlooking a sheltered marina, still filled with boats although we are approaching November?  It was all of that and then some.  

Because, as if the day wasn’t magnificent enough, we got home in time to watch the baseball game.  Hail Mary, full of Grace.  Our Red Sox are going to the World Series.        

Monday, October 14, 2013

Past Peak

I give some of my photos to a non-profit sometimes.  They use local pictures on the front of birthday cards they send out to seniors in town.  Mostly, when they need images, I pull things I’ve captured over the course of the year from my files but this time, they asked for specific locations, and early last Saturday I went out, camera in hand.  That trip opened my eyes to fall and the idea that the year is slipping away.  This week, evidence of its waning has arrived in a jumble of tree debris blanketing our yard.  

The orange tree I photographed last week now stands naked, a rumpled skirt piled around its roots.   Everywhere, it’s snowing leaves.  Almost before I caught them,  the vibrant colors of autumn gave way to gold and taupe, except for the oaks that will cling to green until November frosts force them to brown and let go.  Last week there were pops of color everywhere. 


 Today, the bare fingered trunks lining the pond down the street mirror water that’s steel grey.

This weekend, we cut back tomato plants and stacked wood.  The boat came out of the water.  Pignuts and acorns ping off the gutters and pop under tires as we exit the driveway.  In the woods, a carpet of yellow needles pads the ground, muffling our footsteps.  As I cut dead flowers in the garden, one lone cricket offered a muted chirp, as if inviting us into the quiet.  Reminding us that nature's quiet time is coming.  Preparing us for the winding down.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Take a Seat (Please!)

When my dad passed away almost ten years ago, his children divided up his furniture.  I was the recipient of two circa-1969 mustard-colored vinyl chairs and to say they weren't attractive would be a compliment.  Since then, they’ve lived in our finished basement, for the most part, out of sight out of mind.  In truth, they were a better quality furniture then we’d find today, but the cost to have them reupholstered would have been prohibitive.  Over the years, my husband and I talked about getting rid of them, but I couldn’t do it.  The last time I saw my grandfather he was sitting in one of those chairs. During one of the last visits I had with my father, he had the other stacked with paperbacks he’d read, and I returned home with John D. McDonald and Elmore Leonard.  Those books are still on my shelf.

But still, sometimes you have to broom sweep the fragments from life to start things looking fresh again and when the pile of unused "stuff" we’d been collecting behind the false wall of our basement expanded beyond its assigned pallet, it was time to clear it out.  We spent a week hauling things out to the garage, polishing and pricing for a Saturday yard sale.  Anything that didn’t sell would become a charitable donation, or go to the dump.  Nothing was allowed back into the house.  

When my husband mentioned selling the chairs, my stomach dropped.  But the night before the sale, I agreed it was time to let them go.  Early the next morning, we washed them down, placed them at the bottom of the driveway.  We situated a coffee table with a basket of dried flowers on it between them, thinking the chairs would be perfect for a college dorm room, or a graduate apartment.  We figured they’d be the first thing to go.  

Except they weren’t.  

By 11:00, I dropped the prices.  At noon, I dropped them again.  The coffee table went, but still, no one looked at the chairs.  Every time my husband looked down the driveway he said, “I’m not lugging those things down to the basement again.”

The yard sale ended at 1:00.  All the while we packed and organized the unsold items for charity, people trickled up our driveway. Most of these late-in-the-gamers made a purchase, but not a one looked at the chairs.  I thought about it hard, but even I didn’t want to haul them back downstairs. At 4:00 I carted them street side, marked them “free” and left for the grocery store.  There a neighbor found me.  “Those chairs at the bottom of your driveway.  Can I store them in my garage for my son?  He just rented an apartment in the city.” 

A half hour later, they were gone.  Lesson learned.  Sentiment may be priceless, but butt-ugly needs to be free.  I picture the chairs, sitting in some bare-bones apartment enjoying their new lease on life. 
Somewhere, my grandfather and my father are elbowing each other in the ribs.  “Can you believe she thought about keeping them?”

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Back to Front - IWSG

It's IWSG time.  To read more posts supporting writers, go here.

I haven’t forgotten IWSG, but I came close this month.  There’s a good reason for it though.  This writer is writing!  I’m back in class, a novel-writing workshop through Grub Street again, and golly gosh…guess what we have to do for that?  We write.  Now there’s a novel idea. Ba-da-bing.

Yesterday I was scheduled to read up to five pages to my peers.  And here’s my quandary.  I’ve actually finished two drafts of this novel.  I’m working hard on the last third of draft three where I discovered a real twist to the story, but haven’t figured out how to resolve it.  But when I am reading this WIP to my class, I have to drop back to earlier bits of the book.  It is too hard for the readers to give objective criticism to page two hundred fifty, without knowing what happened on page sixty.   So I read from where they know and then leave at the end of the evening filled with ideas on how to fix those five pages, which is all good except that it's a complete distraction from what I’m trying to edit toward the end of the book. 

Small price to pay though, for actionable feedback that de-clutters those five pages and helps the story to sing.  Sometimes I feel like I’m writing forward and backward, and that the only way I’ll complete this thing is when I meet myself in the middle.  But still, I’m writing.  And conflicting.  And massaging.  And nuancing.   And so far I love this story to death.

For anyone who wants to self-educate, in class, we’re reading Between the Lines.  Master the subtle elements of fiction writing, by Jessica Page Morrell.  So far, there are lots of yellow highlights in my copy.