Saturday, March 17, 2018
Both were innocuous in appearance, yet in realizing where they came from it was if they possessed of some secret, to galaxies far beyond the limits of imagination, created somewhere in deep space, perhaps in a time when things were not irrevocably fixed to their form.
In a container in my vehicle is another stone, this one a sturdy chunk that possesses neither beauty or function but was picked up from a lake high up in the Sierras where a hundred and fifty years prior, the Donner Family was stranded. I'd gone up there after a death in my family, to just get away from the city and be alone.
I'm not sure why I picked it up and took it home, nor why I still have it, But it's there among the tools of my trade.
There on the shelf in my office are other such things, small bits of history, small stones, a piece of bone that appears to have been carved, a perfect, pristine shell, both delicate and strong. Water and history, two elements of life that draw me in deeply, draw me back to such places. Part of my childhood was spent on the shores of a body of water in the West where we stayed in a little cabin with a view of the water, years before Californians discovered it and developers took over the place, building vast condos that blocked out the sun.
My brother and I would get up while it was still dark, and march down to the water's edge, hoping to get there to see the dawn explode over the water. I could spend hours there, just watching the way the water shaped itself around the rocks and me, the gentle waves moving against the shore, like breathing. In the bright cold water, there would be all sorts of strange creatures, all sorts of mysteries.
Big Bro and I wade along the edges, gingerly looking, while not harming anything that was there, hoping to find a prehistoric shell to take home, knowing that at some time, all of the lands where our family homesteaded had once been part of this ocean. We occasionally found bits and pieces of things, some strange, some so very familiar.
Many of you have seen a sand dollar. They're commonly sold in souvenir stores. But what you see is only the remaining skeleton of a living sea creature. When living, the sand dollar is covered with fine hair-like cilia that cover tiny spines, soft, and almost purple in color. But the remaining shell is beautiful, fragile, white. The essential essence of what this creature was.
We'd come home at the end of an adventure, our pockets full of small rocks and shells and artifacts of the day. I felt somehow at home with these small bits of the ancient land, though I felt as if I was living in an alien world in the small eddy currents of their homes, among creatures that were so different from me, somehow I knew I belonged there. At night, we'd build a fire and sit and listen to the lapping of the waves, dreams of my future filled my head.
One of my favorite places in the world is the rocky coast of Northern Ireland. Being there reminds me of those days of childhood, the rush of the water an affirmation of what draws me to search and discover. It takes me back to the taste of salt on my lips, that of rain or tears, only the years remember. The water rushes, then waits, as I do, moving in, retreating, watching, still waiting. Remembering everything past, hoping for everything good of the future, in a bone-deep calm that belies the deep ache in my muscles as I climb up ancient stone steps that lead to cliffs hundreds of feet above.
I wasn't alone, though the rest of the group, took the bus back the short distance, there was a handful us, strangers but kindred spirits, not speaking, simply looking outward. The others don't dare the height, the edge, not with the wind that day, but we do, not feeling the fear until afterward, only feeling alive, on the wind the smell and the taste of the longing to simply be here.
But for now, a few more hours, a few more artifacts of time I stole from the past, flirting with the ancients, hard rocks, the smell of peat and coal, a land brushed with snow, burnished with the traces of those that went before. Traces that say, remember me, remember this, for in it you will find yourself, and leave a piece of your heart behind.
There on top of a sea green cliff, I will throw out a rock to watch it splash down far below, as above, I watch above, from a strong, yet fragile, light shell that houses this old soul. The rock flies through the hindrance of the deepest sleep through the stiff fabric of the wind, into the warm sea.
It's only a rock, only a bit of artifact of the past that holds in it, not the prolonged burden of time that too many embrace as they age, but the bright colored fluent movement of youth, the dancing heels of those days of risk and glory. Perhaps the days of my youth are gone, as is the rock, yet the feel of its absoluteness will remain in my hands, in me, long after the wind goes silent.
Thursday, March 15, 2018
Abby is snoopervising, only retreating to the futon for a nap when Vlacula comes out to clean up the area rugs.
I'm helping Mom!
Call me old fashioned but I enjoy taking care of a home and a kitchen for my husband so he's got a comfortable place to come home to after a long day of work (as do I).
My husband does as much work as I do, probably a bit more with all the renovation. It's a shared responsibility but I don't mind doing the tasks he doesn't like to do, just as he cleans the gutters and does the weeding and yard work, which I don't like to do.
Because if I was expected to do everything it would be.
TALK TO THE PAW!
But I'm lucky to have a husband like my Dad, that views the house as a shared responsibility. As he deals with spiders, and plumbing reworkings, I try and leave enough meals so that after a long day, or regular weeks away from home in a hotel, he doesn't HAVE to cook or eat something from a box.
We had roast beef sandwiches for lunch but tonight's dinner was "what's in the fridge. The stir fry I made a couple of days ago was gone and I usually do my grocery shopping on Friday morning early before work when it's not so crowded.
3 large tortillas.
the usual canned stuff.
some frozen veggies
2 cooked chicken breasts
about a cup of sour cream
a bag and a half of cheese
and a few jalapenos
I can make something out of that. (the light was pretty low but you get the idea)
Tex-Mex Chicken-Jalapeno Lasagna
No noodles to boil and a tasty mix of creamy, cheesy, and savory with a nice little crisp bite from the peppers.
In a cast iron pan with a little olive oil saute until softened;
1 large onion
Set aside 2 cups of grated Mexican Blend Cheese
In a bowl mix:
Can of Cream of Cluck Soup
A cup of sour cream
A small box of spinach, thawed and drained and squeezed between paper towers til all the moisture is out.
A few dashes of seasoning salt (I used Janes Krazy Mixed Up Salt - My favorite as it is lower in sodium than many seasoning mixes).
The sauteed onions (or replace with celery or yellow or orange bell peppers if you don't like onions)
3-5 chopped de-seeded jalepanos. (I used 5 for hot, not make your eyes water hot, but zippy)
Chop up 2-3 cooked chicken breasts (or prepared veggie chicken or tofu), dusted with a little ancho chili powder before cooking).
Layer in a non-stick sprayed 8 x 8 pan
1 flour tortilla
1/3 of the soup mixture
1/2 of the chicken
a big handful of cheese
1/3 of the soup mixture
1/2 of the chicken
a handful of cheese
remaining soup mixture
Bake, covered with foil, at 325 F for 35-40 minutes, until bubbly and the cheese is melted.
And the beer was for the cook.
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Maple Bourbon Walnut Pie
1 pie crust - unbaked
2 and 1/4 cups walnut halves (chop some of them smaller)
1 Tablespoon honey
1 generous teaspoon butter
pinch of cayenne pepper
melt butter in fry pan on medium, add remaining ingredients and heat and stir until the nuts are lightly coated and the honey is starting to crystallize a bit. Remove from heat, let cool slightly and place in unbaked pie shell
In a medium bowl whisk until light and blended:
4 extra large eggs
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup real maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon plus 1 pinch Cinnamon
2 Tablespoons Bourbon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon orange zest (the thin orange covering of an orange, grated)
Pour over walnut mixture and bake in 375 degree F oven for 30-32 minutes, until solid in the center.
Cool for 30 minutes and serve with whipped cream
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Sunday, March 11, 2018
Chapter 2 - Lessons from the Road
I thought of my late brother tonight as I drove to a work assignment, someplace out where it was cold and barren but for some emergency vehicles waiting for me. I no longer live out West, but with my husband in a tidy little bungalow closer to the
, a place where weather can be just as treacherous. We’re newlyweds, my getting the courage to remarry after twenty years on my own, with an introduction by friends and a bit of help from a big black dog. But that is its own story. Windy City
When the visibility is down around a quarter of a mile, that truck in front of me seems no larger than a spool of thread until its brake lights come on, and then it looks enormous. With almost a foot of snow, it looks so peaceful out there, everything blanketed in white, as innocent and smooth as the surface of so much cream. But it’s not a good day for travel; hundreds of flights canceled, probably thousands when all is said and done. Don’t drive if you don’t have to, the radio warns, as under the hood the engine rumbles with threat and promise both.
Allen, being my only sibling, had taught me how to drive; but what I remember most was his teaching me how to drive in the snow out in the West where we grew up, the two of us and our parents. We’d take the little VW Bug I had over to the empty high school parking lot where there were no people or light poles. There I learned all about braking, sliding, skidding, and the physics of stopping with a stalemate of snow and rubber. He’d teach me to recognize a skid, how to immediately pick out a distant visual target and keep your eyes focused on that target, while I steered out of it as he issued commands to keep me pointed in the right direction like a border collie directs cattle—his tone fast and quick and light, words darting in and out of my field of vision.
As I relaxed into well-practiced maneuvers, I simply listened to him talk; about things that angered him, things he wished he could change as he got older, what was right with the world, and what he could to do preserve those things. And I quietly listened, there amidst snow flying as if from a blower and donuts formed of chewed rubber, circles as identical and monotonous as milestones.
I put his teachings to test on hill and valley, letting that little car run like it was a horse, leaning forward with a yell as we got into fourth gear as if by doing so I could somehow outpace it as we both fled the sheer inertia of Earth. That car and my spirit ran free of the fence lines, free of themselves, racing with a quality of movement in our motion totally separate from the imaginary pounding of hooves or the whoop of joy as I discovered flight in four-wheeled form. I put mile after mile on that car, the land stretching out until only darkness stopped her, the heavy scent of pines lying across the road for my trusty steed to disperse as if the scent were tangled skeins of smoke.
I also knew when to rein it in, slowing it down on slippery turns, downshifting through those sharp corners that are judgment and sentence and execution. I knew to stay behind the clusters of bright shiny cars, artificial flowers to which the restless bees of the law would be drawn. I also knew when to drive away, coasting out of a driveway when I arrived at a high school crush’s to find him with someone else—that long slow tearing that leaves no scar of tire, only an internal lament that is the rending of raw silk.
Those lessons saved me more than once, like when the car slid toward an embankment late one night, that dark space where one’s shadow waits for your death, only to recover and continue on. You’ve likely been there as well. It happens so fast: one minute you’re staring bored at the speedometer, and the next you’re snatched out of your lane in a torrent of rubber and refinanced steel, other vehicles scattering like rabbits suddenly looking for their warren.
When that happens you may not even know the cause--speed, black ice, or the force of Mother Nature that's as distant to indictment as God. All you know is that for a moment your useless hands are clasped tight to a useless steering wheel, and by only muscle memory you try and keep the pointy end forward, the headlights revealing not your safety but the now-empty road’s abiding denial. When you finally stop all you can hear is your heart and the tick of a watch, that curved turmoil of faltering light and shadow in mathematical miniature reminding you how close you came to running out of time.
Such moments are the reason my last little car was traded in on a truck, though in city traffic a truck would be about as maneuverable as a dirigible. But I don’t mind. I know about weather and idiot drivers, and I also know about fate. Because fate waits, needing neither patience nor appetite—for yesterday, today, and tomorrow are its own. For fate I’ll arm myself, as I look down on a little Smart car scooting along the slick road between semis like a lone circus peanut among a herd of stampeding elephants.
I come to a halt at a rest stop. I get out, stomach in knots, regretting downing the salmon oil supplement with my vitamins and a glass of milk on an otherwise empty stomach. As I walk through the trees an unladylike belch sneaks out, fragrant with salmon—and I can only think to myself: I’ve survived the drive, now I’m going to get eaten by a bear in a rest stop in the middle of nowhere.
But I make it back to the vehicle with some animal crackers from a vending machine, none the worse for wear, hoping I can make it through the night without running off the road, wishing I had Allen with me for company.
I hear his voice in my head on that drive, echoes of the phone calls we made over the years. Sometimes he just wanted to vent a bit—not about the particulars of his military work, which he would never discuss—but simply other things he’d gone through. Our Mom’s death to cancer when we were barely out of school; a fire that took his home; a bitter divorce. But I’d let him talk without interruption. For one thing he taught me other than slips and skids: that there are things we should never stop refusing to accept. Be it injustice and dishonor and outrage, not for cash for a better car, not for accolades, not for anything. There are things one must continue to be outraged over, to fight for, hands firmly on the wheel of where you want your life to go. His words are in my ears to this day: “You will have regrets, but never let yourself be shamed.”
So many words of his as I drive along, words of not just wheels, but commitment to something bigger than both of us. They are words that got me to change course when I lost direction, words that helped me as well to take on a mantle of duty I never regretted even as I was forced to put it down; words to live that last life that I left behind. Now, years later, I have taken up that duty again, with his words—words that like a long climb up a rocky road were stepping stones of atonement. All of them words I’ll remember long after he is gone, words that I’ve handled so long the edges are worn smooth; words that will keep me alive.
“Focus on the target, you can do this. . .”
Saturday, March 10, 2018
I'm having a quiet day at home today. Yesterday while Mom was in the recliner reading a mystery book and I was snoozing on the couch I was having this great "chase the rabbit" dream and I fell off the couch. I tried to catch myself, as I woke up as I went over the side. But Mom couldn't move fast enough to grab me and I landed hard, at a weird angle and my right leg was sore last night. The Vee EE Tee said it's nothing serious and just take it easy for a few days.
I thought I nailed the landing,
But Mom said it looked more like this.
Friday, March 9, 2018
Well, the ice crystals DO look like
branches don't they?
branches don't they?
The roses are made out of duct tape. Dad made the
for Mom since she said she didn't want
real roses for Valentine's Day as they just die.
Thursday, March 8, 2018
Tuesday, March 6, 2018
CHAPTER 49 - Ghosts
After the death of Barkley, I received this note from a female friend, a sailor and adventurer with an indomitable spirit: “When I was 18, and lost my lifelong companion, Sally - with me since birth, a small black and white cocker mix, my best and sometimes only friend, my soul-mate. She loved me, I believe, more perfectly than I could ever have loved her in my inexperience. When she was 18 she died and I grieved and I cried and I still get tears in my eyes when I think of that sweet little soul who gave me so much. So, no, you never get over it, I do not know anyone who has loved a dog and has said goodbye that gets over it. The pain? As you know, it eases, it becomes a sweet memory with time, you still get tears in your eyes, but the smiles and laughter at the remembered fun and antics of your 4-legged Pal returns to you. My mother is part Iroquois, and although a lifelong Catholic, carried with her some of the mythology handed down in her family. She knew my grief was raw and painful and that only time would help heal the wound in my heart. She said to me ‘Sally walks with you, and with time, she will allow you to feel her there beside you. During the first time of grief, you are blind to her, and that is as it should be, so she will know she is no longer in This World, but now walks in the Spirit World. When you are ready, she will help ease your pain by showing you memories and helping you laugh again when you are ready to see that she is not lost to you, but always remains a part of you. Your tears will then be tears of joy at your good fortune at having known such a one."
Monday, March 5, 2018
I finally got the Popovers almost perfect, yet decided to mess with them again. What about adding cornmeal, for a crunchier, corny texture, but still keeping the custardy, delicate bread like interior?
It took several baking runs, just making 2 or 3 popovers at a time. Too little cornmeal, they tasted like regular ones (which is still good). Too much, they were a corn muffin on steroids, not a popover (anyone need a boat anchor?)
I tried them out on my husband. He had his head buried in a 1991 Army Survival Tips ("you know, most women have a copy of "Twilight" on their nightstand) when the popovers came out of the oven.
Me: "what do you think?"
Husband: (long pause as he finishes it) "Well it IS better than what's in the Army book".
Me (picking up book) ". . . the lizard meat is done when the skin bubbles and cracks."
So ladies, for a man pleasing bread that's better than lizard on a stick, try Abby's Mom's Corn Popovers (makes 3 popovers, to double the recipe use the amounts in the parenthesis).
1/2 cup milk plus two Tablespoons, at room temperature (1 and 1/4 cup)
2 eggs at room temperature (4 regular eggs)
1/2 tsp wild honey (1 tsp)
1/2 cup fresh flour MINUS 2 Tablespoons (3/4 cup)
1/4 cup cornmeal (1/2 cup)
1/4 tsp. salt (1/2 tsp)
1 and 1/2 Tablespoons butter (3 Tablespoons)
Preheat oven to 450 and place un-greased popover pan inside.
Mix flour, cornmeal, and salt in a medium bowl.
Whisk milk egg and honey in small bowl.
Nuke butter until it's melted.
Whisk liquid into flour, JUST until combined (there will be lumps).
The oven should be about preheated now, remove the pan, pour in butter into 3 TINS (for the smaller serving recipe) and swirl around. Spray top of tin and RIM with nonstick spray and immediately pour batter equally into the three tins. (it works better if you pour a little water into the empty tins).
Bake at 450 for 15 minutes. WITHOUT OPENING OVEN
Lower Heat to 350 and bake for 20 minutes more.
Eat immediately! (like that's a problem). These would be really good at dinner with chili or stew.
For an easier and just as tasty version (which bakes up quite crisp on top but not quite as high), cook at 375 F for 30 minutes.
Sunday, March 4, 2018
Saturday, March 3, 2018
Thursday, March 1, 2018
How this trip was different was that my dog of 11 years, Barkley, was not making the journey with me, only his collar and leash and a few toys in a box that I could not bear to part with. His remains were in the polished box on my crash pad dresser. I laid my hand on it as I left, imagining warmth that was not there and softly said goodbye, telling him I'd be back soon.
It was a solemn drive and a lonely one. You'd think an animal that slept a lot wouldn't be much company on a long drive but he was. He was the reason I'd stop at the rest stops so he could get a little walk; he was the reason we'd sometimes go through a drive-thru where he would get a kid sized burger, no mustard or pickles, and a soft serve cone. I'd take a point and shoot camera and hold it up without taking my eyes off the road. Many of the pictures continue to make me smile to this day.
One more inch and the Cheez-It's are MINE!
We've all been there, going on about our lives, happy, with a plan, then suddenly, what was mapped out is literally shredded before us, leaving us to pick up the scraps laid down on the floor and move on, that rewind button nowhere in reach. It can be the biggest moments of our lives, it can be the smallest ones. It can be a relationship ended, or a friendship snubbed. It can be simply a day where nothing went as planned, unforecast weather aloft, a cantankerous crew chief, and you really can't complain, as everyone's looking at you for direction as you're the commander; you can simply hunker to the new challenge sobered looking out the cockpit window as you realize your deep dependence upon the invisible.
I'd always prided myself on being the kind of person that could handle things most people couldn't, so aware of how in those moments when man's bones and flesh are laid upon fate's altar to be torn, there is a moment when that will of bone and flesh to remain alive is almost enough to sustain it. I approached each day with that will, only to find that it took just one act of fate, that neither marked my flesh or my form, to make me as fearful as a child, suddenly left alone.
With my family and friend's help, with their shared stories, memories and laughter, my heart healed. There isn't a day I don't miss my brother, but I feel him close. There are days I still pick up Barkley's collar and tear up but there are as many days as I laugh as I relate a story I never put to paper about Barkley, sharing with the friends that knew and loved him.
She's been with us three and a half years now, and she acts as if her former home, the shelter, that great drive for emergency vet care, was all the memory of someone else. When she bounds up the step from the yard, she pauses at the back door, as if sensing she had gone to sleep in one place and awoken to another. What is painful to her is only a dream. When I come home at night, she is laying by the back door, rising only on the sound of my voice, as if she had laid guardian to all I held dear in my absence, only relinquishing it, these walls, and windows, and memories of dogs gone before, only when I was safely home.
I will open the door and she will be there dancing around as if I'd been gone for years, and we'll enter the house together, those last years together crowded into one moment, one room, one instant of time so full there is no room for tears, but only breath.
Today, I knew that even if cancer had not come into our lives, Barkley would still be gone. There are some journeys that are inevitable for us all. Yet as I looked outside, I realized that whatever has happened to me, the world outside was just how we both would remember it. There was motion, there were laughter and tears, there would be new memories and love that ebbed and flowed like the waves upon the lake. As I looked out on the water's surface, the gentle waves swept away vast and drowsy, like a vision of life with a shadowed surface and somber depths. I gave it a defiant smile and ran after the dog, toward a future that sparkled off in the distance like diamonds.