Friday, December 2, 2016

Come Fly With Me - For Sammy the Cat

Today we join Madi and Angel Easy in sending our well wishes to Sammy. Sammy is taking his final journey today and his hot air balloon will be landing at the Rainbow Bridge after many months of diminishing health.  We know how much his Mom Pam is going to miss him and are sending her extra special thoughts and hugs today.

Sammy is famous for his Teaser Tuesday, where he shows a picture from somewhere on the planet and everyone tries to guess where it is. Our friend Angel Easy was excellent at this and often got them right, my Mom, not so much.

In honor of Sammy here are our teaser pictures. For a clue - people thought Mom lived here until she opened her mouth.

Here's the arrival further away from her final destination, but in the same land.  That's from the cockpit of the jet Mom was flying (if there are any pilots in the group it's an NA-265 used by the military back when dinosaurs roamed the earth).

Yes, that was a long, steep hike.  When Mom saw this photo today, she looked at her knees now and just shuddered.

There goes the bus of tourists, guess Mom will be hiking back to the visitor's center - hopefully they will have beer.

Where in the world is this?  You put your guess in the comments and join in the fun with Sammy before he flies away.  Abby Lab

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Mailbox Sir Prize!

Abby Lab here - When this blog first started Mom told you about a delightful little book by Illinois author/artist Tracy Ahrens, which Mom bought for her granddaughters as the author was donating the sales to a local animal rescue.  Tracy did the drawings when she was in college, advancing through the years to incredibly detailed and beautiful graphite drawings of wildlife and pets as she continues her writing. Over time, Mom and Miss Tracy became friends.

Miss Tracy as I call her, has been a journalist and editor for newspapers, magazines and Web sites for over 20 years. Currently, she's a freelance writer for the Chicago Tribune and the American Red Cross Greater Chicago Chapter.

Tracy's won 51 writing awards statewide, locally and nationally. She is a member of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women.

Art by Tracy Ahrens

For years she's volunteered for animal rescue groups including the Kankakee County Animal and has donated portraits for fund-raising events at Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago, the University of Illinois Wildlife Veterinary Clinic in Champaign-Urbana, Ill.; Critter Corral guinea pig rescue in Steger, Ill. and Crossroads Shih Tzu rescue based in Joliet, Ill. In the past, she offered pet portraits through the University of Illinois Small Animal Veterinary Teaching Hospital to help raise funds for their Humane Connection Fund. Several of her pet portraits are currently on display in the Small Animal Clinic at the U of I (where Dad got his engineering degree).

Her portrait of a cat titled “Jackson Brown” (not the cat artwork above) is on permanent display at the Cat Fanciers’ Association Foundation cat museum that opened in June 2011 in Alliance, Ohio.

She's such a cool friend and we are glad to know her.

I'll put the address here to the Sammy Sparrow book (just cut and paste in your browser) as it would make a great Christmas gift for the little ones in your life. Mom said it's one of her favorite children's books EVER.

This year, though being really young (just a couple years older than my human sister) Miss Tracy was diagnosed with breast cancer that had spread.  The chemo was brutal on her already naturally thin frame and it made her SO sick. Mom kept in touch with her daily as best she could, offering support and prayers. Tracy lives with just her pets so it was a hard time, as it would  be for anyone.

She is through chemo and it looks like she is free of cancer although radiation will still happen.  That was joyous news for my Mom and me as I hated to see beautiful Miss Tracy hurting.
So today, a box comes in the mail along with some really cool cards from my friends in Blogville. The box had Mom and Dad's name on it.  Mom opened it up and read the card.  Miss Tracy just couldn't say no to the giant stuffie squeaky caterpillar for me and there was a delightful ornament attached to a gift box which will go under the tree this weekend.  Since Mom and Dad had a Dr. Who wedding cake the blue time traveling machine ornament was a hit.

Dad always wears bow ties like that Doctor and Mom looks like Amy so it was a natural.

That's the biggest stuffie toy I've ever seen!

I was QUITE transfixed by the toy as the tags were cut off. 
If I hold my breath, maybe Mom will hurry up.
I gently went down every single section, squeak, squeak,  squeak, squeak,  squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak. . . . . 
until. . . . 
Mom started looking for the Gin.

I was tired.

Hey, this makes a great caterpillow too! Thanks, Miss Tracy, from all of us.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Just When You Thought it was Safe Outside

Once a week, after a telework day, I go into our little Village and visit the acupuncturist.  I HATE needles, but acupuncture doesn't hurt at all, the needles are SO thin compared to the needles you get shots with.  Plus it's helped with pain, stress, and sleeping better, and my insurance covers their share. I walk out of there SO mellow, it's the highpoint of my "middle of the week".

It's off our Village's crazy traffic circle (which I incorporated into  my new book because it is the craziest traffic circle I've even driven in and I moved her from Indianapolis, home of the maniacal traffic circle.) So after I make my way around the corner onto the side street without the blaring of a horn, the screeching of brakes or someone giving me the friendly Chicago "You're #1" wave,  but with a different finger, I can park out front of it or one of the small businesses that are closed and for sale.
Today I couldn't as it was the day they scoop up leaves from the street and that side of the street was closed.  It's too close to the circle, and too busy to park on the other side and dart across so I went south two blocks (the next block is one way in the wrong direction) into a residential neighborhood and parked.  I was parked at the end of the street in front of an old white farmhouse style house. Across the street from it was an old stone church, with no one in sight.

Ever seen a house and it just looked CREEPY?  This house did.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe it was the junk around the side yard and junk in the back, the slightly peeling greyish-white paint, and the dark upstairs windows, but it was really bothering me.  Plus I felt like something was WATCHING me, and I noticed how dark it was getting and how deserted the street was.  I prayed they didn't have some mean junkyard dog back there with all the junk because there was no fence.  I got out of my truck, still feeling eyes bore into me.  I looked around ready to dash back in the truck of the hound from hell came rushing out of the dark.

Then I saw it - in the window -  it's eyes GLOWING.

It was a tiny little chihuahua dog wearing a bow.

He was guarding the front window as inside I could see a kids video game on the TV playing in the background to the sound of a lot of giggling.

Sheesh, I'm a scaredy cat.

Have a wonderful evening, remembering our crazy friends that we so miss, both two and four-legged,

Fly Free Easy

It is with a very heavy heart and tears that I tell you what much of Blogville already knows.  Our friend Easy Rider passed away last night, while in care of the animal hospital.  There was no pain for him at the end, but there is pain for his family, who are grieving very hard as many of us have in the past.  I don't know if they are ready for words yet, but I'm offering these, having walked in their shoes. Know that your Blogville family cares, we pray for you, and we are here if you need an ear. -  LB

From TBOB:

The drive from the vet to home was as long as a lifetime, a collar and leash, lying on the back seat where only hours ago, lay someone so excited to be going to the vet, never afraid of that place, only happy for the extra attention and special treats.

Can I live with the drive, knowing he would never return?

There is no pain, no regrets.  Everything I gave him, he gave me back ten fold, listening to me chat away about my day, things that by my oath of duty, I couldn't tell anyone else. He was my black knight with wagging tail.  He was the finder of slippers and the keeper of hearts.

He was a dog, but he was much more than a dog.

He was support, he was patience.  He was the promise that, even with the worst mistakes, he still loved me.  He was that fire that cauterized me against loneliness and fear, the thump of his tail like the sound of a heart in the womb, creature comfort there in the dark and unknown.   He became the unevictable place in a heart so bruised it had pushed everyone harshly away that got too close. He taught me to trust again. With that trust, I found my heart's twin, who happily became his family, as well.

As a family, we take care of each other.  Having a pet is a commitment just as is any bond, either visible or invisible with another living creature.  It's not just being a good friend during the good times, it's being a friend during surgery, explosive doggrhea, and that pile of vomit in the corner on the one square of carpet that wasn't protected by a cheap throw rug.

You do what you can to help them during those scary, shadowed times, with tender, soothing words. You don't lay your hand upon them with forceful curse and belittlement.  They look at you to be the strong one, the better one, even if it's difficult to do.  They trust you to act from your heart and not from the infinite, internal voices of human fear and angst.

They pay it back in ways that can't be captured, but by the measured beat of a tail.  On those nights when you come home really, really late from work, your soul weary, the house dark, they will quietly come up to you, leaning into you, drawn from their slumber to your side like steel and magnet. At that moment, there as both your hearts beat in the silence, you realize that every measure of sickness and health was worth it.

For there is a great measure of trust and love contained in that warm web of bone and fur, the eyes that can commandeer your pancakes and the tail that wags for you as if you were the only person on the planet for them, and maybe you are.

Their time is so short, indeed, but that does not mean you should not love.  In "people" years, Barkley was probably sixty something. But they were years condensed down into their core elements, as if a simple ordinary succession of days were not enough, as if the love and all of that faithfulness, the freedom of the field, and the tug of a leash toward the horizon was compressed down into something as hard and brilliant as a diamond.  Everything, every single element of so many long days is there in that short span of time, compounded into that one leap, one surge,  toward the lights of a vehicle in the drive, one joyous bark that contains within it simply, "My person is home.”

He cared nothing about where we lived, how I looked or how much money was in the bank.  All he cared about was how to bequeath that which sustained him, in his too short life, his faith and his love, as he patiently waited for my return.

When he greeted me, he seemed to know when I just needed to sit in the quiet.  He seemed to know when I wanted to play.   If there were a ball to be thrown, he would abandon all restraint and gave every fiber of himself, to reach for that which was before only a dream--unmitigated glory.  His life was not deadlines, or deals or caring about the things that in all reality will not matter at the end of life.  His life was simply a joyous run ahead of that avalanche of time that would be his enemy had he any concept of it.

He was more than a dog. He was love that crept in on four paws and remains, as long as memory lasts.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Thoughts Headed Easy's Way

Please put your paws together with words of healing and hope for our friend:

He is quite ill and required emergency surgery for a bloating issue and his paw-rents are ever so worried. Go leave them a kind word at their blog or over at Power of the Paw (link is the top banner on the right sidebar).  Mom's just on her lunch break at work, so hopefully there will be better news by the time she is done.

 Abby Lab

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Message from "Speed Bump" Dog

Mom - if you didn't want me to lay in a high traffic area, why'd you leave a dog bed on the floor after you did your workout?
One last thing - if you stretch yourself into a Pretzel when you exercuse (what Mom calls it when she skips half the workout cuz she's lazy) why do they call it Yogurt?  Wrong food!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Sunday News from Abby T. Lab

The reviews for Mom's book are coming in.  She knew that a Christian fiction genre book wouldn't sell like her two non-fiction books but it was important for her to share her values with her family - her dad especially as he is in the last days of congestive heart failure after outliving two wives and two children (Mom is all that is left).  It's not a "preachy" book and not for one particular denomination, more the telling of simple small town values of caring and fellowship with our neighbors of divergent ages and backgrounds and a story of how we need to rely on things other than just ourselves in times of deep loss or danger.

The fact that her Dad  loved it was good enough, but she would like to get the message about it to sell a few more to donate to animal rescue. One review she was particular excited about was a name she knew was the pseudonym for a famous writer, as he had already dropped her a personal note to let her know how much he loved it even if he normally doesn't ever read the Christian genre, just action, and adventure books (though he was a Book of Barkley fan).  She said thank you so much to everyone for the kind reviews.

Mom said the Publisher will be lowering the Kindle Price in December, as it was higher than she wished, but she said if anyone that's a member of Blogville buys a Kindle between now and Christmas she will mail them a free autographed copy of the paperback to give someone as a gift .  Just leave the first few words in the first sentence in chapter FIVE in a comment so she knows you have it, with your address for the paperback to be mailed before the holidays.

Abby T. Lab
Editor in Training, Book Marketing, and Pizza Wrangling

Rachel Raines is looking for a place to hide a heart full of loss, and a quieter patrol than Chicago. The bequest of her aunt's house seems like the perfect opportunity for both, if she can survive the gigantic spiders, creaky plumbing, and inevitable challenges of being the rookie on a small town force.

Down the street, her aunt's best friend, Evelyn Ahlgren, marks the passing of seasons and neighbors, long mired in her loneliness as a widow. When the young woman with scars of her own befriends her, they strike up an unlikely friendship across generations that just might help them both heal.

A beautifully told, heartwarming story of finding the best in people and the small towns, this book is like finding a treasure in an old attic. Enjoy!
LB Johnson, author of the best-seller "The Book of Barkley", has done it again. This heart-warming, true to life story of a young woman who finds herself pursuing a career in law enforcement, but in a small town instead of the big city she'd imagined. John Lennon famously wrote, "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans." But with the help of a neighbor, life, and the persistent nudging of the Holy Spirit, she finds herself opening up to an existence she'd never considered.
Having read the author's other two books, I was excited to pick up her first fiction piece. This book has a similar feel to her previous works, with warm and flowing descriptions, meriting multiple re-reads to catch all the nuances of her prose. I was curious how the issues of faith would be handled, this being published by a Christian publishing house. In fact, it was a sublime and personal handling of faith. Her characters are well fleshed out, and interesting, as they explore loss, life, and love across generations.

This book would make a fine Christmas gift, for the well-read teen on up to your grandparents. And as a plus, the author also donates profits from her book sales to various charitable animal rescues and other animal service organizations.
I opened this book eagerly. L.B. Johnson writes with ease and experience, openly sharing the truth of life in concepts and images all too real, yet lyrical.

Examples that light up a scene and illuminate the story:
"... a statement of endurance too abundant for human speech ..."
"... colorful wildflowers splashed on the ground ..."
"...the odor of a whetted knife carving shadows into the night..."

Johnson uses the present tense, a confident author's voice that's an immediate witness, up close and personal. The story is a first-person account by an intelligent young woman, alone, a new cop with big city experience transplanted to a small town, after inheriting her elderly aunt's home, an old house cluttered with bittersweet childhood memories.

Joining a small town police force means dealing with gruesome tragedies up close, mishaps typical of a small town, death and injuries that devastate loved ones. Johnson's young female cop tussles with the hardship of loneliness, and she uses this fictional first person journal to speak of her faith, devotion to duty, and the abundant human warmth of Small Town Roads.
Sometimes heroes are not bronze muscled doers of great deeds. Sometimes heroism is getting out of bed when every joint hurts, and doing a difficult job when everyone else turns their back, and knowing there are a thousand days ahead of you just like this one with few breaks and fewer opportunities for joy. Sometimes heroism is having a big heart when having any heart at all seems to be a liability. Most of us never have the opportunity to be the type of hero action movies are made about, but we all can be heroic in our day to day lives just by caring. That is what lies at the core of this book, and the big heart and caring shine through
This book is in one word: rich. The imagery is vibrant; you feel as if you know the characters.It is a tender, lovely story told from the heart. I've read this author's other efforts, and this doesn't disappoint. Not a quick read but worth the time to curl up and get lost in the vibrancy.
Small Town Roads is kind, gentle, poetic, but grippingly bittersweet in the meeting and meshing of the times and values of two distinctly different -- but so much the same -- women in a small American town. L.B. Johnson is a writer to watch for tomorrow, but she is also someone to enjoy today".
-- John L. Moore
Award-winning novelist and journalist, author of The Breaking of Ezra Riley and other novels.
 In the tradition of Kent Haruf's bestselling Plainsong, L.B. Johnson has written a lyrical, meditative story that acknowledges the dangers and comforts of our world. Small Town Roads is a loving story about an old, slow place where the terrible loneliness of grief eases because ordinary people decide to be community.
--Katie Andraski
Author of The River Caught Sunlight
Heart-warming and endearing, this read brings the reality of small town life and the meaning of community, life-long friendships and the healing of a grieving soul to readers. Refreshing and uplifting, L.B. Johnson has eloquently portrayed the different seasons and paths that life takes us on. Through a series of journal entries by Rachel as one of the main characters and a beautifully written narrative, the author sheds light on renewed hope in God's purposes and will, despite the past and current circumstances."

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Phartzan Beltch

Abby Lab here.  My boyfriend Frankie at

had a hilarious post up recently about post-Thanksgiving which consisted of:

1. Burrrrrrrp !!!!!! 
2. PHarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrt !!!!! 
YOU decide who said What. 

Frankie said it was all Ernie but I sent them a photo from a local model train show that Mom and Dad went to, to which Frankie commented on here later. Sharing for all post-holiday.

Cheers - Abby Lab

P.S. Mom told Dad that she never farts, burps, or sweats.  That's why when the "honey do" list is nearing the expiration date, she nags, as otherwise, she would EXPLODE.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Gobble Gobble

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Blogvile Paw-lice in Action

Blogville Paw-lice Officer Abby Lab here.  Just reporting on a possible crime scene at home.

Dad is a Mechanical Engineer.  Or at least he TELLS Mome he is.  :-)  For you see, Mom has never actually seen his workplace or a paycheck, but large amounts of money just show up in their savings account.  Mom teases him a little about it.  Sure, you can go to Google and type in his name and a Patent or two comes up, but that could be a clever ruse.

A day or so ago, Mom came home unexpectedly early, and on the clothesline downstairs where Dad had done some laundry before running an errand were all these gloves.  Dozens of gloves, all stained with dark rust-like colors that wouldn't come out.

As a Blogville Paw-lice officer, I was right on that suspicious behavior.

Mom hears the back door open, then footsteps in the kitchen followed by a creak at the top of the stairs ... She peers up and asks him as she  holds up one of the creepy stained gloves.

"So babe - tell me again - mechanical engineer . . . or serial killer?"

She thinks she made him snort his beer.

Fortunately, he doesn't have to go to the plant Friday as he has a vacation day that's a use or lose day. Mom has to work but it is telework on Friday so he can see what she does during the day and we can all eat lunch together.

You all have a safe, and sane Thanksgiving. Whoever you're with.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Belated Sunday Eats - Creamy Mac and Cheese

Temperatures in northern Illinois dropped from the 70's to the 20's within a couple of days.  I can't complain, as according to Facebook, a post of early November of last year was Abby romping in some snow in our backyard and this year we maintained spring-like weather (including heavy thunderstorms) until the third week of the month.

But it made for a weekend where it was just nice to stay inside, and warm. , ,

. . . and do some home cooking.

The last three years have been a blur, I got married, moved twice, wrote 3 books, put 36,000 miles under me back and forth to Dad's and 30,700 miles between crash pad and home every weekend before I could get transferred.  I lost my beloved brother and my dog Barkley and adopted Abby Lab - the best thing I could have done.  FINALLY, I have time to just sit and read that big stack of books that I keep here and also at my  ninety-six-year-old Dad's house.
My husband and Dad - enjoying their reading.

I also plan on trying out some new recipes. I made this for dinner Sunday night and it was a huge hit and some of the creamiest mac and cheese I'd ever made.
After I made this Abby was begging (she did get the little shreds of cheese stuck to the food processor blade and bowl) and my husband was stealing spoonfuls as it cooled, I looked at him and said: "has anyone in your generation actually eaten homemade mac and cheese?"  He shook his head - mac and cheese comes in a blue box or a frozen red box. . right?

This was the best mac and cheese I've made in several years, and aside from standing at the stove stirring for 14 minutes (with wine - I'm ambidextrous when it comes to whisking and drinking wine), it was super easy to make and my husband raved about how good it was.  Even these pictures, taken two days later as leftovers with some fresh breakfast bacon (it was too dark when I first made it for photos), doesn't do it justice as to how creamy it was when it came out of the oven.

Creamy Mac and Cheese (serves 4 as a main dish, and 6-8 as a side dish)

1 and 3/4 cups dry macaroni

12 ounces sharp cheddar (I used 8 ounces of sharp cheddar, grated from a block and 4 ounces of pre-shredded cheddar/jack leftover from making enchiladas Saturday). If you can, grate your own. Pre-shredded cheese doesn't have the moisture of block and has preservatives. Shredding your own tastes SO much better; is cheaper, and makes a creamier mac and cheese.

3 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp dry mustard (in the spice aisle for you new cooks)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg
4  to 5 shakes of a jar of crushed red pepper (about 1/4 tsp.)

2 and 1/2 cups milk (I used 1 % -  what I had in the fridge)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Grease or non-stick spray an 8 x 8 casserole dish.

Mix flour and spices in a small cereal bowl.

Bring a saucepan of water to a rolling full boil.  Stir in pasta.  Cover and turn off heat.  Set timer for six minutes. (seriously - for servings up to four -  I never stand and boil my pasta any more, a trick I learned from Murphy and Stanley's Mom. I just give it a quick stir, cover with a tight lid, turn off the heat, and walk away, using the normal time on the box).  Since this will cook further in the oven, I only cooked it to "al-dente", so it was still a bit firm to the bite.

Grate the cheese - you want 3 cups total.
When the timer goes off for the macaroni - drain, then rinse with very cold water and drain again so it quits cooking and place the pasta in a large mixing bowl.

Get timer, beverage of choice, and potholder on standby and in reach.  Once you start the next step you do NOT want to step away from it for "another glass" or "let the dog out" or you will  likely scald the milk or end up with lumps.

Melt butter over medium-high heat in a heavy saucepan. Set a timer for 14 minutes. Whisk in flour and spice mixture, over medium/high heat, whisking constantly for two minutes.  Use a real whisk, (even WalMart has them), rather than a fork.   In a slow stream, add the milk, whisking constantly. Whisk until the timer goes off and the mixture is thickening at medium-high heat.  You want it steaming but NOT coming to a full simmer (bubbles).

Turn off heat and stir in grated cheese, stirring until it's melted.

Pour cheese sauce over macaroni, stirring to break up macaroni and place in 8 x 8 x pan.  Bake uncovered at 375 for 20-25 minutes until bubbling around all of the edges and just starting to brown. Let cool for 3-5 minutes.

Top with chopped bacon or buttered bread crumbs for a vegetarian version. I believe there was a vegetable in the room so we covered all food groups.
Hey - there's still some cheese left Mom.  Angry bird wants some!

Sunday, November 20, 2016


The neighbors threw out a bunch of stale bread to feed the squirrels. Unfortunately, some of it went where Abby could snag it.

She can't eat grains. She's fine - a little chicken and yogurt and some time in the back yard did the trick (plus some open windows).  But I have two new terms with regards to the Labrador Retriever Digestive Track. 





Sunday Black and White

Thanks to our hosts: