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Friday, May 13, 2016

My Spotless Oven

My oven is spotless, shiny on both sides and in the bottom. The racks are still soaking in my sink, but they will also be spotless before I sleep.

“Why,” you may rightly ask, should you give a tinker’s damn about the state of my oven? It's cheeky of me to assume my oven could ever be of any possible interest to you, but I'm going to tell you anyway. 

  I believe all special occasions should be celebrated with food, preferably something sweet and gooey. So, this afternoon, I set out to bake two lemon meringue pies, my grandmother’s handwritten recipe (which has nothing to do with sweetened, condensed milk) on the counter before me. One pie in honor of Kristy’s visit, which begins tomorrow, and one in celebration of Melissa’s successful semester in pursuit of her BS in Nursing.

The prep work went swimmingly. I carefully measured out the flour and sugar, zested and squeezed the lemons, poured out a little salt, and cut off two tablespoons of butter, placing each ingredient in its own bowl or ramekin just like on TV. It took me years to learn it’s the easiest way to get it right. I once made a pecan pie and forgot the sugar, so you’ll understand my ramekin fetish. I separated the eggs, employing the wildly popular Natalie Dupree method which involves bare hands. 

It was time to go to work, so using my 30-something year old Kitchenaid, I beat the egg yolks until they were light and fluffy and added the sugar, flour and salt. I poured the mixture into my favorite sauce pot and began cooking the custard, stirring constantly, just like Grandma did. 

Satisfaction is making a custard without a double boiler and having it turn out perfect. By the time it was stiff enough to pull off the heat and add the butter, I was sweating like a whore in church despite the countertop fan blowing in my face. I tucked a dish towel into the pocket of my blue and white striped apron so I could mop my brow every minute or so.

So far, so good. Next I pricked the pie crusts (the only thing about this recipe that isn’t from scratch,) and baked them for a few minutes. When they were cool, I spooned custard into each of them and turned back to the Kitchenaid to beat the egg whites and a little sugar into stiff peaks for the meringue. With a great self-congratulatory sigh, I piled it on the pies and made little designs on the top with a spatula before putting them on a baking sheet and into the oven.

After five minutes, I peeked. The pie on the left was browning at a faster rate than the one on the right, so I donned my oven mitts with seashell printed on them and pulled the rack toward me and turned the baking sheet 180 degrees. Easy enough. Almost there. I pushed the rack back into place. Only it didn’t push. It balked. It hesitated. It tilted up and deposited both pies face first into bottom of the oven, where they immediately glued themselves. 

Don’t even say it. Who, besides me, would bake pies on Friday, the 13th?

A lesser woman would have had a come-apart at that point, but not me. I cussed. I cussed the oven and the racks and the baking dish. I cussed the heat and the sweat pooling in my bra, but I didn’t cry. I scraped the pie out of the oven, started the cleaning cycle and stuck the racks in a sink full of hot, soapy water. Then I did what any self-respecting cook would do. I scooped some of the wretched pie into a bowl and ate it. It was delicious. Anyone who says they wouldn't have done the same can't be trusted. 

With all of that out of the way, like the true Southern Belle I am, I pulled off my apron, smoothed my gray linen dress and I went into the bar, where I carefully measured out a jigger of Ketel One and poured it over a few ice cubes in a Waterford roly-poly tumbler. I dropped in an olive, picked up a cocktail napkin and took a ladylike swig. I sat the glass down and topped it off, just because I could. 

Tomorrow morning, I’ll have drive to the Winn-Dixie for more pie crusts so I can start the process all over, but for now, I’m lounging on my leather fainting couch in the sunroom, admiring the brilliant red of the hibiscus blooming on the deck and watching hummingbirds zoom in to feed just outside the window.

Life is sweet.



Copyright 2016 cj Schlottman

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Happy Birthday, Clint

Author's note: Please leave your comments on this page. I'm taking a break from Facebook, and I want to know what you think. 
Thanks.


Today would be Clint’s 82nd birthday, and I wish he were here to celebrate. I wish he had stayed healthy and strong and virile, so we could grow old together. I wish we were celebrating at fabulous restaurant, drinking fine wine and holding hands across the table. But he’s not here. It’s only me.
I’m here, in the now. I have my memories, precious and dear, and I hold them in my heart. There is a place in my soul were Clint lives on. We are together in a way impossible in life, I think. There are no misunderstandings, no arguments (which were seldom), no illness and helplessness, no crippling stress. I no longer fear his inevitable death and the emptiness it left in my life. 
When he died, I suffered in such a way my body turned on me. My fibromyalgia was worse than ever, and I never slept through the night without pain. I had a series of autoimmune disorders that began before he died. I had eosinophilic gastritis and was on steroids to control the pain for almost a year. I suffered stress-drive atrial fibrillation six months before he passed away. I was exhausted from trying to hold up the plane, prevent life from taking its course. 
After Clint died, I had an ugly rash called lichen planus. I lost my balance and my memory and was nauseated for two years. I went to work one day and didn’t know what to do. In short, my body and my brain shut down, forcing me to stop, to live in the moment, miserable though it was.
It was four years after losing the love of my life when I began to believe my life could go on, that there was room in my life for happiness if only I would embrace it. That was two and a half years ago, and I was in the throes of Parrish’s severe mental illness. He was in a hospital in Atlanta after his first suicide attempt, and I was wondering what I could do to make life easier for him. 
In the very act of getting outside myself, I made a decision that was good for both of us, and we moved home to Saint Simons Island, my hometown. The first year and a half were rife with the stress of caring for Parrish. So often during that time, life seemed to consist of a series of roadblocks to happiness, but through it all, I became conscious of a sense of being grounded, a feeling I never knew in Macon after Clint died. 
Parrish’s sudden death set me back, and I fell into a deep hole of depression, wondering if I would ever find a way to climb out. His death reactivated my grief for Clint, and I spent months hiding from my losses. I sprinkled Old Spice on their sweaters and wore them around the clock. They wore the same scent, and the smell brought them back to me in a soothing way. I drank too much and didn’t eat right. I rarely slept and binged on Netflix until my vision was blurred. I could not see past my pain.
Then, last fall, I remembered meditation, its centering power, its ability to put me in the moment. But I had to learn all over again. I got out Parrish’s copy of 10% Happier by Dan Harris and read it in one sitting. I bought Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness and followed the instructions and did the exercises in order to refresh my long-neglected practice. 
I began to meditate regularly and include Metta Prayer in my daily life. I set realistic goals, hoping to meditate for only five minutes at first. Some days I meditate for longer, but no matter how much or how little time I spend in the practice, I am more centered in the moment and more capable of letting go of the negatives in my life I can’t change.
I remembered good habits I had let fade into the background and began frequent walks on the beach. Implausibly, I had forgotten the beach was there for me, the place I turned to, as a child and a young woman, for solitude and reflection and healing. In a real way, my walks are a form of meditation. Breathing the salt air alone is comforting.
After years of chronic pain, I am comfortable. I don’t wake in the night with burning pain. My thinking is clear and reasonable, and I feel good about my life. I look to a creative future I once thought impossible. 
Clint would be very happy. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Sand Art Courtesy East Beach and The Atlantic Ocean

Shells are not the only treasures the ocean leaves when it flows out. The other today, at dead low tide, the I noticed the receding water had carved works of art in the sand. I don’t ordinarily take my phone when I walk; it just seems somehow counterproductive. The beach is my cathedral, and I certainly wouldn’t take a phone to a church building. But for whatever reason, I had it tucked into the back pocket of my jeans and was able to capture this image.
I’m presenting it to you from all four angles. What do you see?






   
                                 


Please click on the "Post a Comment" button and describe what you see in each image. The first person to leave a comment will see a button that says "No comments." I'll post the results next time. Remember, I'm in Facebook Rehab and won't see comments you leave there. Only those here. My blog posts are automatically posted to FB and Twitter when I publish them. Thanks.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Merry Christmas

Lately, when walking in the edge of the sea on East Beach, I have taken Clint and Parrish with me in my imagination. Clint is 41, strong and athletic, and he is holding my hand. We are completely in love. His head crowned with blond curls, Parrish is 5 and running in and out of the shallow waves, stopping to inspect shells and pieces of driftwood, calling us to inspect his finds. The sun is high and bright and we are brown with it. This fantasy comforts me, takes me to a time when there was no hint of how sick Clint would become or that Parrish would fall victim to severe mental illness and alcohol and drug addiction. I am content in their love. The smell of the ocean is in our noses; a gentle breeze from the southeast is soft on our shoulders and tousles my hair into ringlets. We are happy, washed in the healing sea air, kicking the water that runs up on the sand in clear sheets edged with sea foam. 

Yesterday, Christmas Day, I once more took the two most important men in my life with me to the beach we all so loved. Before leaving my house, I collected some ashes from each of their urns and mixed them together in a small bottle, symbolically reuniting them in a way that never happened in life. They were estranged for years. Clint resented the pain Parrish’s illness inflicted on me in the same way he resented any force in my life that wasn’t positive. If they had lived, the probability of them reconciling was remote, as much as I wanted it to happen.

As I was making my way from the Old Coast Guard Station north toward Gould’s Inlet, I stopped occasionally, kissed the bottle, and sprinkled some of their ashes into the warm water of the incoming tide. They both so loved the sea. As I made my way toward the inlet, looking down in my usual way, scanning the sand for an olive shell or a sand dollar, I was surprised to look up and see a pall of fog just ahead. I walked directly into it, head high, and breathed in the salt of it, the weight of it, feeling somehow freed by it.

I turned and began my way back, savoring the sand between my toes and the uncommon warmth of the water. After a few minutes, the sun was in my eyes. I deliberately parked my sunglasses on my head, hoping to catch a few of its rays on my pale cheeks. 

As I walked back toward the parking lot, I came on a snowman, or I should say, and sandman. He was perfectly proportioned, Santa hat sitting jauntily atop his round head, reflective sunglasses in place on his carrot nose, and the artist had given him teeth made from a cockle shell. His arms were driftwood, and as I stopped to admire him, a woman hung a red glass Christmas ball on one of his arms. 

Merry Christmas

© 2015 cj Schlottman

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Contentment



     It’s a sunny fall afternoon, skies blue and a sweet-tempered breeze ruffling the leaves on the oak trees in my yard. I scoop hulled sunflower seeds into a green plastic cup and pour them into the feeder that hangs from a chain outside my window. Chickadees in their black caps along with house finches and tufted titmice scatter as I approach but return before the back door closes behind me. They flit and hover around the perches designed to collapse when larger birds touch down. A chickadee clings to the chain, waits its turn as others sort out the pecking order, decide who eats first.
     A painted bunting, magnificent in its clear vivid hues of red, green, blue and yellow, the first I’ve seen this year, flies in to join the fray. I am transfixed. He restyles the image and it morphs to high definition, the other birds fading into a dull backdrop. He feeds, occasionally looking around, stays long enough for me to take a poor quality photo through the window. And he is gone.
     Out in the yard, at the feeder filled with whole sunflower seeds, cardinals and red-winged blackbirds, the occasional bossy jay, even a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers feast at their own table. The small birds feed there as well, given the opportunity. Six mourning doves inch their way across the ground below, salvaging seeds dropped by the others. A single brown thrasher creeps up on them and they scatter, some lifting their round bodies up into the branches of the ligustrum that lines the fence. The bully moves on. After all, he prefers insects to seeds.
     Glowing iridescent green and red in the sunshine, a single ruby-throated humming bird perches at the water station and drinks. He returns to hover at the cobalt blue feeder I have hung, a source of the nectar he needs for energy. He disappears, no doubt foraging for insects to gorge upon as he doubles his weight in order to survive the journey across the Gulf of Mexico.
     I sit and watch the dance being played out before me, surprised to know I am content, happy in this moment of my life. Contentment has eluded me for so long, I hardly recognize it. I embrace it, cherish the cascade of ease and comfort and belonging it pours over me.


Copyright 2015 cj Schlottman