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October 2017

Rocky Rates It: A Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follett

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Sometimes I just need to lose myself in a good ‘ole family saga.  Put that family smack dab in the middle of haute Victorian London and I’m hooked.  I’ve read several works by Follett, so I knew I could expect dips, twists, and hairpin turns as I followed the fortunes of the Pilaster family.  I also knew I could expect a birdseye view of the political culture of the times smattered with just enough sex and violence to keep things entertaining.

I was not disappointed.  I love this kind of escapism.  Follett seamlessly weaves history and fiction to create a multidimensional story.  For me, this is just plain fun reading. Follett keeps me turning pages with an almost lightweight suspense.  Oh, the book’s no kiddie ride, but neither is it a heady tome that one has to “think about”.

The book is lengthy enough to spend a little time with, and I think that definitely helps readers build a sort of camaraderie (dare I say relationship) with the characters.  That being said, Follett does not plumb the depths I’d like to explore, particularly with the Pilaster matriarch and the coat-tail hanging Micky Miranda.

Overall, A Dangerous Fortune is an entertaining romp and I would recommend it for people who enjoy sagas.

Rocky  Rates It:  4/5 Stars

Piddling Things

 

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Mug shot

“Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

“It’s all small stuff.”

“Don’t let things get to you.”

“Don’t bottle it up.  Speak your mind!”

Stand up.  Sit down.  Follow the rules.  Forge your own path.  Be happy.  Life’s not all sunshine and glitter.  Differentiate while you standardize! Carbs will make you fat.  Carbs will give you energy.  March to the beat of your own drummer.  No, not that beat.

I believe I’ve come to the conclusion that nobody knows what the H. E. double-hockey sticks they’re talking about.  One of my favorite quotes comes from that great philosophical classic The Outlaw Josey Wales.  “You must endeavor to persevere.”  My father always sounded particularly nebulous and wise when he threw out this little gem in my childhood times of trouble.  I’d ask what, exactly, that meant and he responded with the equally obtuse “When you know, Grasshopper, you will be ready to go.”

Great.  The foundation of my psyche was apparently built on a vigilante, a Kung Fu loner, and a heaping helping of Yoda.  That’s why sometimes I can’t decide if I want to ride off into the sunset or Force choke someone.

Take Friday, for instance.  Two piddling things, trifles really in the grand scheme of this thing we call life, happened that profoundly colored my attitude and general faith in humanity.  Some sorry mug stole my “pet” coffee cup off the drying rack in the teacher workroom.  Not out of the extra dishes box, mind you, or off the fabled give-it-away table, but right off the drying rack where stuff clearly belongs to somebody.

My first impulse was to conduct a room-by-room search and show some masters’ degree-holding snit a little Sand Mountain justice (See, that Josey Wales stuff is ingrained).  But lunch period is short, and by the time I rounded up a bowl to heat my mater soup, I had a roomful of freshmen waiting on me.  One precious soul inquired about the contents of the bowl.  “Blood of my enemies,” I deadpanned.  The freshmen worked hard, especially for a Friday.

Fortunately, I had a standardized test analytics session scheduled for the remainder of the school day, which, as you can guess, cooled my boiling blood into a torpor.  I sent out a sweetly worded APB for the kind return of my coffee cup. Only those who know me well could read the Liam Neeson between the lines…”I want my coffee mug back.  I will hunt you down.  I will not stop.”  At the end of the day, my mug was still at large.  Come Monday, if it hasn’t re-appeared, I’ll start my campaign. Something along the lines of “I hope you’re enjoying my polka-dot mug.  It was passed down by my dear departed grandmother, who kept her teeth in it.”

Yeah, it’s a cup.  I get that.  It’s a piddling thing.

The second trifle came in the rush to get ready for the football game.  This week required me to drive 20 minutes east to get home and transform from a pirate to a lion only to rush back west an hour, choke down some bad pizza in a seedy part of town, and make it to the stadium in time for the pre-game heraldry.   Not only do we not miss a down; we greet the team/band/cheerleaders/chain crew fieldside.  It’s great!

So, imagine my surprise as my beloved, exhausted from his own school day and rushing to get the farm animals fed before we speed across the bay on a quest for football glory, plops a single bloom on the counter as I’m getting my game face on.  “Your new gardenias are starting to bloom,” he says and is off to find a sweatshirt before I can thank him.  The heady, aromatic scent of the gardenia wafts through the air and I crush its petals against my wrists, a balm alleviating the hectic stress of the day.

It was a singular act, simultaneously thoughtless and thoughtful. I can’t tell you the last time he bought me flowers…that’s not the way we quantify our marriage, as if there must be some sort of floral manifestation of love to make it believable.  That solitary bloom, however, held the promise of endeavoring to persevere.

Yeah, it’s a gardenia bloom.  I get that.  It’s a piddling thing.

Predators, Studs, and the Art of Pasture Maintenance

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We SO much wanted the kids to love horsemanship.  We went 0-4.

Living on a farm is a real “Circle of Life” kind of experience. Papa from A Day No Pigs Would Die said, “Dyin’ and getting bornt is dirty work.”  He wasn’t exaggerating.  Raising animals, kind of like raising teenagers, can get downright grisly.  I’m lucky enough to get to do both!  Here’s what we have going on at Moore’s Creek Farm these days…

OUT of the Egg Business (at least this season):  My chickens and laying ducks got plucked off one by one by a gang of renegade raccoons.  The ruffians would lure the birds into sticking their little heads out of the fence, grab ’em, and start a sick game of tug o’ war.  The poor victim couldn’t scream because of the stranglehold and would come out the other side of the wire dead, divested of its feathers, and ready for eating.  At least that’s what the evidence points to.  We do have the designated survivors sequestered in a pen-within-a pen setup;  they are safe, but my egg business is kaput.

We aren’t ignorant folks, but it can be surprisingly challenging to thwart coons, snakes, foxes, coyotes, owls and the like.  We plan to relocate the hen housing to an area on the farm where the predators will have to run the Great Dane gauntlet to have a go at the birds.  This more open-concept design will sacrifice shade for our feathered friends, but should offer another layer of protection.  I expect shiplap to be involved in the renovation.

We ordered a replacement flock of chicks.  They will come by US Mail in cute little chirping boxes.  The babies will stay in the barn nursery until they feather out and become big enough to start trying to kill each other in the small cages.  The barn is relatively safe, but we must be careful not to leave the door ajar…that looks like an open invitation to a feast for rat snakes.  With a little luck, I’ll be back to providing farm fresh eggs for multiple families by spring.

Ole Number 29:  We have a resident artist here at the farm for a few months.  He’s a gorgeous Black Angus bull with an ear tag that identifies him simply as 29.  I am tempted to make a Weinstein joke here, but perhaps it’s too soon.  You get the idea.  Ole Number 29 is most assuredly serious about getting his job done, and he practices his…um…creativity with enough gusto for us to feel pretty confident we’ll have a couple of calves running around the farm before long.  He’s friendly enough to come right up to the fence for a head-scratching, but I’m just going to let that fence stay right between us.  I’m not sure I quite trust that glint in his eye.

Winterizing:  Russ spent a good part of the day yesterday on the tractor bush-hogging the pastures.  Next weekend, winter grass will get planted so that hopefully we won’t go broke buying hay for the cows and our guard donkey Jack the Ass.  The way this usually works is that we spend a bundle to keep from spending a bundle.  Once the seed is planted, that will cue the driest fall season in Baldwin County history.  Nary a blade of new grass will grow and we’ll get to help support the haying industry…or we’ll get a gorgeous stand of green and the cattle will munch contentedly throughout the winter.  It could go either way.  That’s part of the fun and frustration of farming.

Fencing:  One of my greatest pleasures living out here on the farm is the “chore” of checking the fences.  My job is to walk along the fence lines of the pastures to make sure there are no security breaches. What it really is, though, is an act of love.  Russ keeps a strip along all the fences mowed so that I have a clear path (and a jump on any snake sightings) as I walk.  Naturally, he fixes any fence problems as he does this.  What I get is a tour of the farm, a pleasant bit of exercise, and a daily reminder of the blessing of elbow room.  Smart man.

Folks can take their McMansions, planned communities, and even their beach houses.  Those are all great, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I have fantasized about each.  But when I really get to pondering, there’s no place I’d rather be than right here, mad raccoon raiders and all.

Spittin’ Images, Blood Relations, and Mysterious Legacies…the Making of Clemenceau’s Daughters

 

Syd Jewel
Spittin’ Image

Call it fate, or call it the creeps, but the idea behind Clemenceau’s Daughters emerged as I was thumbing through my great-grandmother’s photo album, trying to decide if I had the ambition to digitize a bunch of old photos of people completely lost to the collective family memory.  I felt pretty guilty as I toyed with the idea of simply burning it, letting the dead stay buried and lost to time.  Something just didn’t feel right about destroying it, though.  I turned a page and startled, dropping the album as the hairs rose on the back of my neck.  My daughter, pensive expression and devil-may-care stance, stared at me across a century.

I had no information about this girl whose uncanny resemblance to my Syd was enough to convince folks of the validity of reincarnation, or, at the least, the power of genetics.  Gently, painstakingly, I pried the photo from the page in hopes of a clue.  Scrawled on the back of the photo in my grandmother’s distinctive hand was the single word Jewel.  I remembered my grandmother taking me to visit an ancient relative in what could only be described as a hovel.  She lectured me on manners and not turning my nose up at Aunt Jull, whose poverty was by choice.  I was just a child and found it inconceivable that someone could actually live without TV.   I soon found out Aunt Jull also lived without indoor plumbing.  It was like walking into another world.

Could this Jewel be the Aunt Jull my grandmother took me to see?  The girl in the photograph did not reconcile with my memory of the old woman, pruny with age and ripe with the smell of snuff, so unlike my grandmother who left traces of Estee Lauder and talcum powder in her wake as I walked behind her.  I recall little of that day except the having the vague sense my grandmother was making more of a pilgrimage than a social visit and that, somehow, I had been judged.

I called my father to ask if he remembered a Jewel.  He was my best shot since everybody else on that side of the family is dead and gone.  “Jull, you mean?” he piped up without hesitation, “Yeah, she was the old bag who talked to ghosts.  Spooky as hell.”  The hairs rose on my neck again.

That old photograph haunted me for weeks.  If family resemblance can be that marked, what about personality?  Was there anything to this macabre snippet of family lore?  I started poring through the other albums I inherited from the matriarchs of the family.  I ran across another photo of me as a little bitty thing standing in the roots of a storm-tossed, upturned oak.  It towered over me, the naked roots twisting almost protectively in tendrils about a face that also echoed across generations.  I thought about family trees and how death uproots us from our past.  I thought about young Jewel, my Syd from another age, and what little was remembered of her.  Could the two of them be connected in any way beyond blood?

Renae Clemenceau materialized and a novel sprang to life.

 

Clemenceau’s Daughters is available right here at rockyporchmoore.com or your favorite book retailer.

 

 

Nate’n To It

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Rocky’s “should be famous” hurricane wine punch

 

The tailwinds of  Hurricane Nate whistle through the trees this morning, providing a rhythm section to birdsong and punctuated by the cymbal shriek of our guineafowl and the deep baritone bray of Jack the Ass.  Aside from a forgotten wind chime, spread-eagle on the grass, all is as it should be on the farm.

What did we ever do in these situations before street-level radar and Jim Cantore? How did people know it was time to make a run on bread and batteries, or jump in their bathtubs (which should have been filled with clean water if they followed the hurricane preparedness guides correctly) when their cell phones screeched out yet another tornado warning?  Who would have ever expected a hook signature or rotation in a hurricane without the good folks at the media to help us through the storm?

Now, I’m not going to pick on Jim Cantore.  Any man who can juggle his pecs a la The Rock while spelling out potential doom is okay by me.  I’m not going to chuckle too much at the local third string weatherman who spotted a waterspout (via the station’s remote camera, mind you) and gave us the play-by-play as it made its way to the beach, his tone more like that of a sports commentator calling a touchdown run as the thought of a future Emmy could be read on his face as plainly as the waterspout/tornado appeared on the split screen. That Emmy run dissipated as quickly as the waterspout when the station hit a rather unfortunate (for the weatherman) spate of tech issues.  I understand the gravity of the situation, especially in light of recent storms, and I’m sure many of us here on the Gulf Coast are relieved that this one was a bit, well, overblown.

As we breathe a collective sigh of relief, I’d like to provide you with a light-hearted look at this dark and stormy experience.

Hurricane Preparations: You could smell the hope and teen spirit rise on Friday as 1800 cell phones vibrated simultaneously with the storm warning, causing the high school to register as an epicenter on the Richter Scale.  “I’ll bet school will be out on Monday!” flew like a viral tweet across the campus, most likely perpetrated by the overwrought teachers.

The superintendent, who apparently has Jim Cantore on speed-dial, issued multiple cease and desist orders for the idea of closing school while simultaneously admonishing school personnel to keep the millions of dollars worth of school technology housed in classrooms high, dry, and backed up just in case the worst occurred.  People started to worry that Friday night football might be cancelled.  The superintendent wisely chose not to take the school system to Def-Con 1 until Saturday morning.

Closings:  Social media lit up over the course of Saturday as Lower Alabama collectively rolled up the sidewalks and tucked in.  APB’s of which stores had water and a well-timed truckload bread sale peppered Facebook.  Hundreds of well-meaning citizens, including me, posted about how they were personally battening down the hatches.  Then things got real.  The churches started cancelling Sunday services.  Nothing else was quite as effective in putting worry into the heart as the news that the Lord would be sitting this one out.

Hurricane Cooking:  You never know if, when, and for how long you’re going to lose power during a hurricane, so it’s time to put on the feed bag.  Hurricane cooking is second only to a good funeral spread, and with the news of no meeting on Sunday, I just threw caution to the wind.  Hurricane cooking is defensive cooking meant to soothe the soul and the nerves, so I pretty much said to heck with health and stuck to a menu that completely ignores cholesterol warnings.

We feasted on bacon-wrapped Conecuh sausage bites kissed with brown sugar,  spicy chili with a pone of cornbread, fried okra (hand-breaded, none of that frozen mess), and “Redneck” burgers.  Crisco was heavily involved.

To take the edge off, I whipped up a pitcher of Hurricane Wine Punch.  This is a sweet “nectar of the gods” kind of drink that somehow only tastes right if you keep it in an earthenware crock.   You guys who know me understand that I’m not fond of measuring when it comes to cooking, but a number of my Facebook friends have asked for the recipe, so do your best.

Mix up about half a bottle of muscadine wine, a bottle of red wine, a jigger or two of Cat Daddy moonshine, a splash of lemon juice, about a cup of sugar, and some Milo’s.  Squeeze a lime into it and let it set in the fridge for a couple of hours.  It’s mighty fine sippin’.

I’ll be sippin’ some more today.  You know, to take the edge off the upcoming school week.

 

Rocky Rates It: Love Your Life by Cheryl Marks Young

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Love Your Life is a comprehensive workbook for discovering your passion and actually doing something productive if not profitable with it.  It is most decidedly not an “if you can dream it, you can be it” guide of feel-good psycho-babble.  The text hinges on the metaphor of a master gardener; a metaphor that is, if you’ll pardon the pun, cultivated methodically throughout the book.

Straightforward and no-nonsense, Love Your Life calls for significant introspection as well as identification and mobilization of support people to help you achieve your goals.  It proscribes a logical, measured process that is facilitated by the dedicated reader response space throughout the workbook.

Young engages readers with a practical voice that is never condescending. Furthermore, she does not pad the text with an exhausting litany of anecdotes/testimonials like many other books of this genre.  I found it both useful and refreshing.

Rocky Rates It:  5/5 Stars

Rocky Rates It: The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud

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The Emperor’s Children is the most “adult” book I’ve read this year.  Every character is mired in his/her own sense of inadequacies, be they real or imagined.  From the self-possessed Marina who strives for a name beyond that of her famous father to the hapless Bootie, whose idealism threatens his own destruction, Messud presents a cast of characters varied and beset with personal demons.

Messud blindsided me by incorporating national tragedy in the plot line.  I found myself hoping the characters would be able to shake themselves from their narcissistic stupor by the sheer force of history in the making.  I wanted them to transcend an agnosticism that seemed as pervasive in this novel as Sunday-go-to-meeting in my own life.

I found the characters rich, fraught with problems of their own making, and multi-dimensional.  The jacket calls this novel a “tour de force”.  I usually scoff at such, but in this case, Messud delivers.

Rocky Rates It:  5/5 Stars

Where Are You, Breakfast?

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Sit-down Breakfast

I don’t know what happened to breakfast.  Somehow, in the hustle to slide in ahead of the morning bell, I lost it.  Now, when I think of breakfast, it’s with that soft glow of nostalgia–sepia toned and crackled around the edges like the bone china gravy bowl Meemaw jokingly called her petite spittoon.

I see it in vignettes, me caught in various stages of childhood, like a collection of Polaroids.  Little details of memory remain in perfect focus.  Daddy joking with a faceless waitress that he likes his coffee like he likes his women:  tall, hot, and blonde as Mommy grins and busies herself cutting my little brother’s pancakes, her brown hair tucked neatly behind her ear.  Sawing into a slice of country ham at the Holiday Inn and trying not to slosh the redeye gravy into my scrambled eggs.  Papa crumbling stale cornbread into a tall glass of buttermilk and declaring it better than a Coke float.  Uncle LD slurping his coffee from a saucer while Aunt Kathryn sips daintily from a teacup, eyeing her starched tablecloth.  Aunt Charlotte serving a plate of fresh-sliced tomatoes and cucumbers and my cousins acting as if that were typical breakfast fare.

I am always elsewhere in these breakfast musings, never at home.  I’m sure we had thousands of delicious breakfasts growing up;  my mother was a fine cook, but the only images from those days I can conjure are of me propped up watching Saturday morning cartoons with a Tupperware bowl full of Lucky Charms.  It wasn’t until I was married that I could appreciate those Norman Rockwell moments as imitations of life rather than extensions of a Walton’s holiday special.  It wasn’t that I had a dark childhood;  it was quite the opposite, actually.  I just have little if any recollection of gathering around the breakfast table as a family when I was a child because we were always on the go.

My kids, however, should have little problem reminiscing over the wonders of a table laden with biscuits, eggs, and bacon for days.  Saturday morning breakfast is an event at Grandma’s house.  It’s not unusual to have multiple members of the extended family there, and everyone is ensured heaping helpings.  When our daughter is home on leave, she stays with her grandma to be sure she doesn’t miss out on the fun.  All four of my kids have been known to snub their noses at my meals (some more frequently than others) to hold out for Grandma’s wonderful breakfasts.

I envy them those memories, but I don’t really feel short-changed.  Grandma whipped up these moments for me, too.  Breakfast is not really lost;  it’s just been pre-empted by all my scrabbling to make a future, to make ends meet, to make “it” in a world where it’s getting harder and harder to gather round a table and slow down enough to enjoy the simple pleasure of a pat of butter sliding down a mound of steaming grits.

But, you know what?  It’ll be my turn to be the grandma one of these days.  I’ll be the one who gets to call time-out so my kids can build their tomorrow while savoring the flavor of yesterday.  I’ve been well-trained.  Breakfast, after all, is so much more than bacon.

 

 

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