Wednesday, October 17, 2018

To the Bridge and Back - On Memory

There are some of you that visit here, that know why this blog started. There are others, dog lovers like us, some brand new visitors from the blog hops, that probably wonder how "The Book of Barkley" (the book, then the blog)  came to be.

My Big Brother, an ex submariner, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Esophageal cancer in 2013.  He and I were adopted together as small children, though I only found out very recently that we weren't biological siblings. But we were closer than lot of siblings, though our careers often kept us thousands of miles apart, when he was under the water, and I was piloting an airplane miles above the earth.

He finished with chemo and radiation, dropping 100 pounds on his six foot two frame.  He moved in with our widowed Dad so they could support one another, and to get out of his house, as he couldn't hold on to it,  having lost his job as a Navy Contractor.  I lived 1500 miles away and had a job that had me living out of the suitcase too often, but I visited them as often as I could, during all of my vacations, and on every long weekend.
He held his own, even if towards the end, everything he ate got smashed in a blender.  Pretty much all he could get down was some protein shakes. (I thought he was joking when he said he'd put my leftover cheese omelet I brought back from a restaurant with some leftovers, in there with the juice, fruit and ice cream but he said it was tasty except "I don't think the hash browns were such a good idea".

But we had some time, to do some grieving, for the loss of  some older family members, including our Step-Mom who stepped to the plate after our Mom died fairly young from cancer.  We also had some time to do some laughing, especially as now he could share all the embarrassing childhood stories with my new husband who met him for the first time.  But we also  had a lot of time alone, up late, talking about our Dad, about growing up (or our inherent refusal to),  He told me more than once "you're a good writer, you need to put this down in a book" and I'd just laugh and say, "maybe after I retire".  He said, " we don't always get to retire, do it now".
At that point, I realized that the one  thing I am glad I did not hear from him in his end days was, "I wish I'd. . ."

I've heard so many people say "I'll do that when I'm older, when I lose 20 pounds, when I'm retired". We got through life saying "I would, but it probably wouldn't work out" or " I'd like to but. . ." We too often base our actions on an artificial future, painting a life picture based on an expectancy that time is more than sweat, tears, heat and mirage.

You can't count on anything. For out of the blue, fate can come calling. Barkley was in fine spirits at my wedding, weeks later limping; a few weeks after that--gone to the Rainbow Bridge.  In a flash, life robbed even of the power to grieve for what is ending. I think back to when my brother and I were kids, going down a turbulent little river with little more than an inner tube and youth, risking rocks and rapids and earth, just to see what was around the bend of that forest we'd already mapped out like Lewis and Clark. The water was black and silver, fading swirls of deep current rising to the surface like a slap, fleeting and gravely significant, as if something stirred beneath, unhappy to be disturbed from its slumber, making its presence known.  A fish, perhaps or simply fate. 

I was in the paint section of a hardware store the other weekend, looking for a brick colored paint to paint a backdrop in the kitchen. I noticed the yellows, a color I painted my room as a teen. I noticed the greens, so many of them, some resembling the green of my parent's house in the sixties and seventies, yet not being exactly the same color. The original was one that you'd not see in a landscape, only in a kitchen with avocado appliances, while my Mom sang as she made cookies. I remember Big Bro and I racing through the house, one of us soldier, one of us spy, friends forever, stopping only long enough for some of those cookies, still warm. Holding that funky green paint sample I can see it as if it were yesterday.  Memories only hinted at, held there in small squares of color.
What is it about things from the past that evoke such responses? A favorite photo, for some, a piece of clothing worn to a special event, a particular meal, things that carry with them the sheer impossible quality of perfection that has not been achieved since. Things that somehow trigger in us a response, of wanting to go back to that time and place when you were safe and all was well. But even as you try and recapture it, it eludes you, caught in a point in your mind between immobility and motion, the taste of the empty air, the color of the wind

Today is a memory that months from now, could be one of those times.  You may look back and see this day, the person you were with, the smile on your face, the simple household tasks you were doing together. Things, so basic in their form, as to, at this time, be simply another chore, cleaning, painting, another ordinary day, while the kids played outside and the dog barked merrily along with them. It might be a day in which you didn't even capture it on film, no small squares of color left to retain what you felt there as you worked and laughed together, in those small strokes of color, those small brushes of longing.

Twenty years from now, you may look at yourself in the mirror, at the wrinkles formed from dust, time and tears around your eyes, at the grey in your hair and you will think back to this day, the trivial things that contain the sublime. On that day, so far beyond here, you may look around you, that person with you in your memory no longer present, and you want it all back. Want it as bad as the yearning for a color that is not found in nature, in the taste of something for which you search and ache, acting on the delusion that you can recreate it, those things that haunt the borders of almost knowing.

You touch the mirror, touch your face and wish you'd laughed more, cared less of what others thought, dove into those feelings that lapped at the safe little edges of your life, leaped into the astonishing uncertainty.

My brother spent years running silent and deep under the ocean, visiting places I can only guess at as he will not speak of it, a code about certain things I share with him.   But I knew the name.  Operation Ivy Bells.  He understands testing the boundaries of might and the deep, cold deep depths to which we travel in search of ourselves.

I too have had more than one day where I stood outside on a pale crescent of beaten earth and breathed deeply of the cold.  I am here, my wings long ago hung up, tools in hand because someone has died and with great violence.  On those days I felt every ache in my muscles, I felt my skin, hot under the sun, the savage, fecund smell of loss in the air, laying heavy in the loud silence. Somewhere in the distance would come a soft clap of thunder, overhead clouds strayed deliberately across the earth, disconnected from mechanical time. I'd rather be elsewhere; the smell simply that of kitchen and comfort, the sounds; only that of laughter. But I knew how lucky I was to simply be, in that moment and alive.  I also knew, how blessed I was that after such days, I came home to my furry, four-legged best friend Barkley, who was my Black Knight in somewhat shedding armor, the soft-coated Kleenex when I needed to cry.

You can't control fate, but you can make choices. You can continue your day and do nothing, standing in brooding and irretrievable calculation as if casting in a game already lost. Or you can seize the moment, the days, wringing every last drop from them. Tell the ones you love that you love them. Hug your family, forgive an enemy (but remember the bastards name), salute your flag, and always, give the dog an extra biscuit. Then step outside into the sharp and unbending import of Spring, a dying Winter flaring up like fading flame, one last taste, one last memory, never knowing how long it will remain.
I said goodbye to my brother that last time, neither of us were certain as to what the future would hold. Had I known that just weeks later, my beloved Barkley would be gone to an aggressive bone cancer, followed just weeks later by my only brother, I might have held him longer, but I wouldn't have played the days out any differently.   For one thing we both agreed on, today is that memory, go out and make everything you can of it.

The Book of Barkley is that memory--for Barkley, for my brother, for all the laughter we wrapped around each other in the end days, to be carried on forward like held breath, in the airless days ahead.


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Catch and Release Dog

Apparently, I'm going to have to baby gate the kitchen when Abby is home alone or buy a different latch. Someone has learned how to snoot open a small portable storage cabinet.  There's nothing harmful to pets in there, anything dangerous for her to consume goes in the pantry in the basement.  Mostly this cupboards contains some empty jars for canning and a few packs of protein powder I'll throw in my lunch that were behind the jars.  Apparently, someone was drawn to the fruity smell of this single-serving packet of soy protein powder. I got home yesterday and jars were on the floor and I had a surprise in the dining room.

I don't think she ate ANY of it, as it appeared to be spread all over the floor. Not the 50 square miles of hardwood, but on the only expensive area rug in the house.
I will attempt to look momentarily guilty.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Weekend Eats - Flying Frisbees of Goodness

Abby Lab here - Mom made my favorite flying Frisbees this morning.  I don't get syrup on mine, but they are FUN to catch and eat.

This is the best recipe ever and makes the lightest, most aerodynamic Frisbees ever with the best texture as well as lift over drag ratio!

In one bowl mix:

1 cup plus 1 Tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar

In a small bowl mix

1 cup room temperature buttermilk or plain kefir (or use one cup milk or nut milk that you've replaced a Tablespoon of with lemon juice, then let sit five minutes).
Splash of vanilla (about 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon)
1 egg (at room temperature) or equivalent egg substitute.

Whisk wet ingredients together, and then SLOWLY stream in while whisking - 

1/4 cup melted butter or melted vegan butter substitute
Mix wet and dry ONLY until mixed (do not overmix) and cook on a griddle.   Don't make them too big to make them easier to flip.  Makes about 10 medium sized pancakes.

Warning - Eating Too Many May Induce Flying Frisbee Coma

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Secret Language of Pets

Abby Lab here.  Mom says I know quite a few words already, but I know a LOT more than I let on, many that SHE doesn't know. I posted a short list a couple of years ago but I've seriously added to my vocabulary since then.

Barkroom -that small dark closet I go to when it thunders
Ballderdash -  a mad chase across the dog park to fetch the ball.
Floordrobe - that pile of clean clothes that makes the best place to nap when pulled off the bed
Slowbber- lazy drooling
Peticure - getting my nails trimmed
Hairaphernalia - all the grooming stuffs Mom has to keep me looking nice
Napcident - accidentally falling asleep while watching for squirrels
Overtoyed - being SO excited from all the new things to play with
Foodiness - when I sulk because you haven't fed me yet
Vettlement - what Mom ends up paying the vet after the pet insurance settles the claim
Fooditarian - the ability to eat anything that's found on the kitchen floor
Infilthtrate - when I come in the house with muddy paws
Toppleganger - knocking something breakable off the table with my tail
Peeography - mapping out the neighborhood one bush at a time
Incendairy - that time I got diarrhea from eating too much cheese
Naptivating -  something that just makes you want to sleep
Carioki - when I howl to the radio on a drive
Intoxicat - when someone's had a little too much catnip
Petrofried - what happens to me when there's big storms
Meanderthal - people that walk me too slow
Shoeberries -  The little decorative bits that are all that's left of your new shoes
Bathroam - following my Mom wherever she goes
Sockrifice - eating just one sock out of a pair
Peeoccuppied - not paying attention to Mom when I'm doing my business
Cattitude - you know what I'm talking about
Carpolepsy - being all excited about a "drive" then immediately going asleep
Phonundrum - barking at the doorbell when it's really Dad's phone
Mytopia - when the walk to the dog park is longer than it looks
Chillenged - Not wanting to go out and potty when it's 10 degrees out
Fartunate - what you are when someone else in the room gets blamed
Bathing Snoot - putting your cold nose to your owners backside as they get in the shower
Puffalope - a square puffy creature that comes through the slot in the door that's so fun to kill
Petrol - checking every corner of the yard for squirrels
Blamestorming - making it look like the cat did it
Toilert - when I bark because you get up at night to pee
Suppervise - when I have to watch every bite that goes in your mouth
Catsnip - getting Mittins neutered
Shedlines - when Mom realizes she needs to vacuum up the hair today
Abdicat - when you renounce all claims to be head of your kingdom when you get a feline
Travelsty - having to commute to the veterinarian
Nocra- not liking vegetables as "treats"
Mouse Potato - the cat that just sleeps all day
Fartland - a great open expanse of couch that you suddenly have all to yourself.
Bonecall - something you just have to respond to
Askinine - when humans ask "do you want to go out?"
Stuffiecate- How you dispatch the plush squeaky toy before disemboweling it
Epoophany -  I will know the secret of life if you just let me out one more time
Interwet- when I knock Mom's coffee over on the keyboard with my nose
Treat and Great - saying hello to my pet sitter
Lawndry - pulling the clothes off the line is fun!
Reciprocat - taking the neighbor's "free kitten" because they took one of yours
Defence - what the neighbor put up to keep their dogs from getting lose
Affleasement - when I just have to give in to the urge to scratch
Furloin - if I keep licking myself there Mom will give me food to distract me
The Collar Store - where we go to get cheap pet toys
Toester - laying on Mom's feet to keep them warm
Catacombs - where the kitties go hide in the basement when it's time to go in the cat carrier

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Hurrican Michael

Sending good thoughts to any of you in the path of hurricane Michael today or in the coming days.

Be safe and may your skies clear up soon.

The Johnson Family

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Calling On All Yorkie Lovers

Most of you will remember Military Wife and Pug Life.  She took a break from blogging to pursue a dream but we are in regular contact and she is well and happy with her husband and a new Pug Rescue.  The folks she got her rescue dog from have a new rescue that could really use some Power of the Paw.

This senior dog has some special needs and we are asking anyone to consider donating.  Even $5 can help.  The rescue organization is run by the nicest folks and we hope to help.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Backseat Barkley Memories

For about 3 years I had a commute of about 4 hours each way every Monday morning and Thursday night. I was moving to Chicago to get married - but I had a career and a home in Indiana.  My home sold  finally, so I rented a little condo and continued the commute until I could get an equivalent position up North

Fortunately, I had a big, sturdy American made barge of a vehicle to haul Barkley, and later Abby, back and forth.

Sometimes there's miscellaneous cargo of the squirrel, and not so squirrely in the back..
Often it was dark when I left Monday morning, which was actually my favorite time to head out. It gave me another night "home"  and I missed the worst of the traffic.  At 3:30 a.m. the roads were mostly vacant, the sky nothing more than the thin deceptive perception of safety.
So I always made sure the doors were locked, and the road ahead clear. Then the night succumbed to day, and everything quickened, the traffic, my pulse, as the light spread over the road like water. Soon it's day and from the vantage point of a vehicle that sits up high, I could see all sorts of things.

Over the many months, I snapped quite a few pictures on the drive.  The photos aren't great as 80% of them are from the point and shoot in the glove box in case of an accident and yes, I need to wash my windows.  But it's fun to look back on some of the trips, "bed hair" and all.
The doggie gaze equivalent of "Mom - What the. . . .?"

This truck probably cost more than some of the houses just west of here.  You could have performed surgery off most of its surfaces.  The driver apparently very proud of it, wants you to know who is driving it by the giant day glo orange name across the back window.   At first I thought his name was "Tarzan".  Either I'm getting nearsighted or I REALLY need to clean these windows..
Driving through the freeway stretch of Gary (which is normally done at twice the speed of sound, the cops not even wanting to pull anyone over on that particular stretch), I saw what appeared to be the Batmobile.  At least the Batmobile Gary style.
The young man driving it was probably the best driver on the road, in and out of lanes discretely and expertly, yet not being stupid (unlike Vlad the Impala that tried to kill me several times).  I'm not sure what that hood ornament is.

On this same stretch of road, another trip, there was a vehicle for which I didn't get a picture as the traffic was to heavy to be distracted by a camera. There were a couple extra antennas on it.. One looked like it was Elmer-Glued on. It looked too new to be a Grand Marquis de Sade, more likely a later model Crown Vic, but the shape and color were such that hundreds of drivers in the past had likely slowed down in its presence thinking it was an unmarked cop car.

The driver, as well, was all in black, with a black baseball type hat, earpiece in his ear, muscled arms clenched on the wheel. In the back window, another black ball cap, this one with 3 letters indicating a squirrel type employer. At this point I started to grin, knowing a bit about such headwear. I can tell you one does NOT put them in the back window of their car, although you can buy souvenir ones on the internet. They're worn for a specific purpose and it usually involves a search warrant.
But what our Mall Ninja failed to realize, that despite the old police shaped spiffy car with the extra antenna or two, the clothing, the hat he bought on the net, and "the look", one thing just screamed "mall ninja!"

The yellow triangle in the window that said "Baby on Board".

I did get a picture of this. . .
Camouflage submarine?

Even with a state that's about as hilly as Saskatchewan, I still don't get more than 18 miles to the gallon.  But I bet I get more than this guy, driving a truck that appears to be made out of four separate vehicles with a camper that appears to be attached with Velcro. I kept my distance in case the wind picked up.
And, in an off the freeway foray to get gas in a safe area,  I saw this. Fifteen miles per gallon in hot pink.   I'd tint my windows too if my SUV was that color.
Then - this classic, another pink vehicle, a distinct shade of light pink  I recognized. It's a Mary Kay car I thought. You know, one of those new and shiny fancy cars with the sticker on the back "I Won It, Ask Me How - Mary Kay."

But as we got closer I could see it was a very beat up Volvo, with the rust marks to show its age. But it was pink. Pink, painted with a brush.

With a fresh and flawless Mary Kay "I Won It Ask me How" sticker in the back window.

The man driving it looked like the guy from the Red Green show and the car was full of junk, likely a run from the farm to the junkyard or dump.
There were quite a few drives though, where the cars were mundane, the landscape clouded with shadow and the camera stayed still.  Such were the mornings I looked at the light coming up in the sky, shooting upward in the darkness like the upward floating tresses of a drowned maiden sleeping in a motionless sea, I wish I could capture that.  I also knew that the cheap little camera in the vehicle, in motion, never captured it, that moment or the words in my head and I go back to my coffee and the thump of the miles.

I kept an eye on the weather as well, high winds not being a big concern in my vehicle, but definitely affecting other drivers I'd just as soon stay out of the way off.  I kept the radio tuned to the local alerts, and there is always the weather cow, one of the first pit stops on the journey. It's not the cheapest gas around, but the place was frequented by most of the local LEO's.  It was more country than the city and the bathrooms were spotless (unlike the ones up by Crown Point where I think they lock the gas station bathrooms to keep people from sneaking in and cleaning them). 
 Weather cow says it's windy with a chance of flurries
 Weather cow says it's sunny.
Weather cow says it's raining.
Look, Mom !  A trailer full of tractors!

Barkley could sometimes be a pest, with stops for walks, and begging for treats and Barking at the Dart Trucks (I think he thought the Dart guy on the back of the truck looked like the UPS man) But I so I missed him after he went to the Bridge, driving that big Chevy Subdivision of a vehicle, logging miles between light and dark, the clock on the dash only changing the minutes, it seems, when I look away, the slight of hand of time that shapes us all. There were some lonely trips before we got Abby, that is for sure.

Thank you, Barkley - for all the good trips and the good memories and for watching over us while we made that last year of drives without you.  We all miss you.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Saturday Morning Breakfast Memories

Meals together as a family were a constant as a kid. We were allowed to eat in front of the TV on Friday nights and Saturday nights. The rest of the time it was at a table, though for breakfast on weekdays it was usually just the kids as Mom would eat with Dad as he often left for work quite early.

Those times around the table were good, though as usual, when kids eat together we didn't always behave well. I will admit, somewhere in there, a pea was flung. Dad was Scot/Irish, but Mom was Norweigian. Peas were a staple. I was also quite skinny and physically very active, with a healthy appetite, so one day when I wasn't eating as quickly as I normally did, Dad noticed and said "What's up B, you're eating like a bird", to which my brother R. muttered under his breath, "yeah, Rodan."

You remember Rodan, the murderous superpterodactyl in the Godzilla movies. Rodan was the Japanese monster version of the F15-E and the nemesis of Godzilla. Most of my generation saw them, if only in reruns on Saturday years after they came out, with Godzilla intent on eating Tokyo and battling with an assortment of monsters. They were really cheesy movies, usually dubbed and good for a laugh.

Laughter was a constant in our house, as was home cooking. Food was always a measured production. Nothing gourmet, and rarely something out of a can. Growing up towards the end of the first great depression, Mom learned to make up a delicious meal out of almost nothing left in the fridge. To this day, I still prefer a meal made myself, even if it's wheat crackers and some good brie and a beverage, to something fast food-like. So we ate well. But with active lives, outdoors at every opportunity, walking and running, exploring, running full forward into our life, none of us had a spare pound of flesh.
As a kid those breakfasts were special. We'd start with a beverage. Coffee. Well, the adults anyway, for them, as myself now, coffee was a food, not a drink. We kids got milk and orange juice. I always begged for some coffee (without success) because that wise looking man on the Hills Brothers can, which was wine red and studded with twinkling stars, always looked so content, full of the knowledge of those secret adult rituals as he drank deep from the coffee bowl. The decidedly grown-up feeling of the act itself and the Hills Brothers man with his deep coffee contentment was likely the reason I thought that my parents lingered over the table. And they did, whispering the quiet whispers of long lovers, while we snorted and charged around them, playing soldier and spy.

(As always, click on food photos to enlarge.)
When the meal began, it was a silent flurry of crunchy bacon, the soft doughy texture of homemade pancakes, french toast or rolls, and perfuming us all, the deep-seated comfort of cardamom and cinnamon. The meal would last until every last morsel was taken; it seemed as if we could eat endlessly as if we'd had some successful inoculation at lunchtime and could handle anything. The kids would help my Mom clean up as Mom and Dad lingered around the breakfast table for one last cup of coffee.

As we bustled about, washing up and blowing bubbles at each other with the dish soap, we could hear them, the laughter, and the comfort of their being there. As we finished, I went to pick up from the table the can of coffee with the little man and the stars. But instead, I sat down beside it, full to bursting and simply happy to sit, surrounded by family, unable really, to move past the moment. Whatever laughter there was, there was, whatever deep worries we might all have had still swirled outside our door, but for now, there was something deep and starry in the kitchen. Someplace not just magical, but safe. No matter what happened to us, it seemed like we had these moments to reinforce our bonds, and I lived through many a hard year on the memories of that measureless family security.

This Saturday's breakfast brought that back in small ways, as I gathered with those I love near or near in spirit and thought, the smell of morning coffee bringing a smile to my face, even if I don't have a big brother around to pick on me.

Baked French Toast with Peaches and Walnuts (recipe below). It's a classic recipe from the Pampered Chef which I just tweaked a little bit.

My changes?  I tried adding a little extra of the quality vanilla I use and a couple extra secret seasonings. One of those was Cardamom, used by my Mom in a lot of Norwegian baked goods.

The rest is easy, someday "real" bread, homemade country French here, slathered with a thin layer of cream cheese on each side, poked with a fork and topped with fruit and walnut meats. Then over the top is poured a whipped mixture of eggs, seasoning, pure maple syrup, milk, and butter, baked until puffy and golden. It only takes 10 minutes to put together, and 20-25 to bake. You'll have it on the table before you know it.

It's the perfect family breakfast or you can make it and share with friends. It makes a nice big pan full, perfect for when you have folks over who are hungry enough to eat Tokyo.

Baked French Toast (adapted from a recipe by Pampered Chef )
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
14 slices (1 inch thick) French bread (don't use the smaller baguette size).
1 (29 ounce) can peach slices, drained or a couple of cups of chopped apple slices
 1/3 cup walnuts, halved or coursely chopped
 3 eggs
1 cup less 1 teaspoon milk
1/3 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons butter melted (halved)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
Spread cream cheese over both sides of bread slices. Place bread in 13 x 9 inch or lasagna style baking pan. Prick bread slices several times. Top with fruit; sprinkle nuts over peaches.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs, milk, syrup, butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamon (you can just use cinnamon if you don't have the other) vanilla extract and half the melted butter. Pour mixture over bread.

Drizzle the top with the remaining butter.

Bake for 22 to 25 minutes or until firm in center. You could also make this with a couple of good-sized handfuls of blueberries and 1/3 cup granola or almonds instead of the peaches/walnuts.

 Yields 6 servings.