I work from home in Georgia and at the end of the day I need to get out of the house. This is such a departure from my life in Portland, Seattle and San Diego where long commutes made me never want to leave home. There were…a lot (ahem)…of weekends when my car would stay in the garage, I’d stay in pajamas longer than I’ll ever admit and the string of Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron movies would be interrupted only by trips to the coffee pot.
But here I actually want to leave the house! I call it “driving Miss Becky” since Stephen drives everywhere and I sit in the passenger seat, taking it all in, with my purse planted firmly on my lap. New songs are continually added to the soundtrack–Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Allman Brothers, Nina Simone, Tedeschi Trucks, Mississippi John Hurt, The Wood Brothers. Lyrics hit me in just the right way and I tear up and get chills at least once every drive. And just FORGET IT if an old gospel song comes on. We may not go to church on Sundays, but it happens in that car on more random Tuesdays or Fridays than I can count.
I can’t get over the light down here. It’s farther south than I’ve lived in over a decade, it’s definitely sunnier than the Pacific Northwest and we’re right at the edge of the time zone which makes the evenings a little later but there is something else. Maybe it’s the open space and clouds that change things so dramatically, maybe it’s because I’ve been inside all day, but the other frequent soundtrack in the car is me blurting out “is anyone behind you?!” Stephen checks and immediately slows down or pulls off to the side of the road because he understands sometimes you just need capture those hay bales.
In the winter our drives landed us at the local coffee shop to get something warm to drink and play cards. This summer we frequently end up at the ice cream shop where the welcoming sign out front says “Candy * Ice Cream * Funnel Cakes * Guns * Ammo” as ice cream shops doooooo. Eventually it’s time to make our way back.
We wind our way past farms and fields, my favorite turn of the century houses, front porches filled with rockers and porch swings until we turn down my street and drive by the lake. I watch how the setting sun changes the color of the water, geese floating over the wake from fishing boats returning to the dock and my neighbors out working on their yards. I exhale as we pull into the drive. There is no place like home.
These peonies didn’t look like anything special. They were unopened, wrapped in plastic and shoved haphazardly in buckets at Trader Joe’s. We bought them last weekend, the first time I’ve been to Trader Joe’s since I moved south in October.
We were in Atlanta to see a concert and get more familiar with the city. My relationship with Atlanta builds slowly…unlike the speed of traffic there. (Good. Lawd. Thankfully I was trained as a wee lass on the eight-lane freeways of Southern California.)
So these peonies sat in the backseat of the car for a few hours while we cruised around and lunched and eventually made our way back home where they were promptly dropped into a mason jar and put on my bedside table. They stayed there for a couple of days until one night this week, just before we were to leave and get ice cream, I walked into the living room and the light coming through the windows made me stop.
I spun around, grabbed my $4.99 Trader Joe’s peonies and spent about 10 minutes zeroed in on their thin ruffles, the shade of pink, the wonder of twilight and how drastically things can change when, instead of staying back, you lean in close. And then a little closer. And a little closer still. Close-ups are kind of beauty’s thing.
This is only one such moment. Stephen is sweet and doesn’t seem to mind when I whip out my camera every seven seconds. (And I think it will make both of our lives easier when I play my new favorite game, “what were we doing last year at this time?”) I can’t help it. I want to remember…
The BEST glass of Cabernet I’ve had in a while (Turnbull).
Being charmed by the book The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.
Stephen taking us out for ice cream. Chocolate peanut butter for me and lemon sorbet for him.
The feeling of relief when I think I’ve left the front door wide open but realize it’s just the new light pouring in from the new door and sidelights.
Getting chills and tearing up during the Tedeschi Trucks concert.
Lunch with Laura and dinners with Adam, Amanda, Wendy & Daniel and getting to know people better.
Stephen and I singing the Wood Brothers when we couldn’t get this song out of our heads. (Despite neither one of us being big drinkers.)
These early days of watching the Braves. When I kind of remember the players names but not the manager’s even though I like him and the story of his years spent in the minors. We’re both new to town.
Talking to my neighbor as we sat and rocked on the front porch.
If Ferris Beuller taught us nothing, it’s that “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.”
One of the first desserts I had when I came down south was banana pudding. I had never had it before and fell almost as hard for it as I did for this town.
Banana pudding is not in fact banana pudding but rather layers of cookies, bananas, custard and whipped cream. You can make it ahead of time and don’t have to turn on the oven so it’s basically a dream dessert for summer entertaining. (It also miiiiight be amazing for breakfast.)
Banana pudding’s origins are mixed. Many attribute it to the south. Many don’t. Here are my thoughts: People have been making it for a long ass time and it’s delicious. Let’s eat some.
1 8-oz block of Philadelphia Cream Cheese
1 14-oz can of sweetened condensed milk
1 5.1-oz box of instant vanilla pudding (6 serving size)
2 cups of milk
1 pint, or 2 cups, of whipping cream
1/4 cup of powdered sugar
1 11-oz box of Vanilla Wafers
3 ripe bananas
- In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk until fully combined.
- To the same bowl, add the vanilla pudding and milk. Beat until combined.
- In a separate bowl, whip cream until soft peaks form. Add powdered sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.
- Mix a heaping one cup of whipped cream into the pudding mixture.
- In a 9×13 pan, line the bottom and sides with vanilla wafers.
- Slice bananas thinly and layer on top of the wafers.
- Layer the pudding mixture on top of the bananas.
- Layer the whipped cream on top of the pudding mixture.
- Decorate with vanilla wafers.
- Refrigerate for at least five hours but it’s better to make the day before.
This is my first summer in the south.
My yard is in its infancy. Newly planted hydrangeas produce antique pink blooms that slowly turn white. Birds have found the new bird bath which still shows $56.99 written in marker on its side. The ferns seem to enjoy my watering skills. (The impatients however do not.) The grass is beginning to fill in but I still side eye its dry patches. The hostas have sprouted purple blooms, as does one hydrangea, a revolt against my wishes of “only green and white plants!”
I have fallen hard for my front porch. I found two antique wood rocking chairs that got painted a crisp black to match the shutters. The metric ton of Pottery Barn catalogs that show up on a weekly basis finally talked me in to two red and white striped pillows to match the flags. We sit outside every evening and watch the firefly show that begins just before nine. They seem to like Sam Cooke and Tommy Emmanuel. (Discerning fireflies, indeed.) (I think they also secretly like that I clap whenever they arrive.)
There’s a pitcher of sweet tea in the fridge. Ceiling fans whir keeping the air-conditioned house even cooler. It’s almost too cool when we come in from the thick evening air.
Stephen’s sister said “the power of the south is strong in you, young Jedi.” I have to agree. I sink into its softness, become lazy from its warmth. We drive around the country stopping to take pictures of old barns, churches, fields full of cows and horses. I eat my cherries in the sunroom because the morning light is just right. I grow quiet. Get creative. We talk of a small little restaurant with exposed brick, white table cloths, seasonal food and good wine. Then both shudder at the work involved in such an endeavor.
Stephen says his family just grew out of the ground in Georgia. And because this place is magical and because he’s who he is, I almost believe him. Roots are deep. Just like the garden, my roots are in their infancy. I wait to see what blooms.