Saturday, February 16, 2019

Love's Fine Blade - A Short Story

A Man's morning shave ritual.  It's something that's been done for centuries, even in the days of rampant beards, a number of men preferring to remain clean shaven. My brother always had a beard. With his red hair, build, and height he very much resembled a Viking, until cancer took 120 pounds off his frame, tempering his blade, honing his spirit.

Dad tried to grow a mustache once. It was in the early 70's, and was less than successful.  Dad had fine, dark red hair that resulted in a mustache that came in thin and sparse. I remember my Mom looking at the final outcome and trying her darnedest not to giggle and failing. Dad looked at with a wry smile and shrugged and went back to the bathroom and shaved it off.  Mom wasn't trying to belittle his efforts, her love fluttered over all of us like small wings, whisking away tears, and brushing aside fears.  She treated Dad the same way, but oh dear Lord, was that a sorry looking mustache and even Dad, realized it.
So from that day forward, each and every morning, Dad was in the bathroom shaving. For most men, the morning shave is something they must do each and every day.  It's done whether there is a houseful of kids bustling around, or they are on their own.

I remember my Dad's ritual which remains to this day.  After he does his morning work-out (which he has done six days a week for 80 years), he'd go shave.  He never uses an electric razor or any of the shave creams in a can.  No, Dad always has a mug of fine soap, a high-quality brush and a regular razor, with a straight razor when he wanted an extra close shave for a special occasion.

I remember vividly those winter mornings, all of us dressing quickly, not so much that the house was cold but hearts and blood and minds weren't quite awake yet and movement was with willful purpose until such time as the chocolate milk or the caffeine kicked in. Dad would come through the kitchen from where he worked out, giving my Mom a kiss, the morning sun highlighting the freckles on her face, then a kiss for each of us, still in our pajamas, our faces innocent of either guile or water.
While my brother and I tried to stay out of his way, he'd shave, the tiny half bath which was his bathroom, filling with steam. He was careful with the straight razor, pulling it over features as carefully as if they were oiled glass, rinsing the razor in hot water, as the dark stubble on his face brushed away like filings from a new gun barrel.  I simply watched from the kitchen table, carefully and quietly.  Dad was so intent in his task before he even drew down that fine blade in its first stroke, his attention was almost perceptible in the air, surrounding him as fragrance does, leaving a subtle impression of his intent long before the act was complete.

When he was done, he'd finish as he started, with a clean washcloth doused in extra hot water, laid on his face to steam it.  Then he'd finish with a splash of aftershave.  There were only a few that he would wear.
Brut was beyond popular when I was growing up, one of the first to use a celebrity endorsement to persuade men that grooming wasn't for wimps.  Famed heavyweight boxer Henry Cooper was the original "face" of Brut, urging men to "splash it all over"long before David Beckham had his first shave.

Then there was the Hai Karate. My Dad had some of that and was supremely disappointed and used to tease my Mom that his bottle must have been a dud as he didn't have to fend of any supermodels with karate chops like on the commercials. I don't remember what it smelled like but I don't think he ever had to fend off Mom wearing it, though, come to think of it, once, when he put on too much, she drove a golf ball from the back yard through the back kitchen window with a Five Iron.

Dad gave that up for Old Spice which he has worn ever since, though once in a while he'd put on "Stetson" and give Mom this look and she'd giggle and we'd go stay with our beloved Aunt and Uncle for a couple of days.
When I go home now, Mom's giggling laughter but an echo in the walls, Dad gives me a big hug and I can still smell the Old Spice on his shirt, that "Dad" smell that's both reassurance and comfort.

Now, there's not just aftershave, there is cologne, shampoo, body washes, shampoo/body washes (and the difference is?)

Most advertise themselves to smell like "fresh glacier extinguishing a giant forest fire full of deer in heat" or such things.  I think the perfect man natural scent would be some sort of mysterious combination of gun cleaning fluid, coffee, bacon, woodsmoke, and dark beer (with a slight undertone of 20-year-old British Motor Car Wheel Bearing Grease.)  But I love Dad's Old Spice and the sandalwood scent my husband wears.
I'm happy my husband has much of the same ritual as my Dad, with the soap in a mug and the high-quality brush. I get the soap for my husband's shave mug from

and cut a piece big enough for his mug, leaving a little chunk for hand soap. It smells incredible and lasts such a long time, with a soft, creamy lather.

The bottom of the mug can be filled with hot water, so that the suds above stay warm, which makes a straight razor more effective.  As yes, my engineer husband often uses one, so it's a closer shave.

He shaves at night after I've had my bubble bath, and as I curl up on the sofa with a splash of Scotch, he'll begin that ritual.  He's shaved in hundreds of hotels, in countries all over the world, the ritual much the same yet, there's something almost peaceful about the act performed in one's own bathroom, in one's own home, small rituals of sameness.
Many of us wander all over the world, the esteemed and the obscure, the bold and the invisible, earning beyond the oceans our riches, our scars, and our destiny. But when we go home, we are rendering an account, we are sweeping away those things we picked up that pull us down, as we surround ourselves with the familiar, with that which is cherished.

When he is done, he'll join me on the couch in his bathrobe, his measure of Scotch already poured, the house quiet but for hundred-year-old sconces on the walls that lend the room an aura of timelessness.  We won't talk much but of family, of things in our home that need repair, or simply our day as we sit and stroke the flanks of an old black dog that lies beside us.  Such rituals are as fine as a blade, as comforting as stone. Shared, they are as bright and uplifting as the flash of sparks as dulled blade and stone meet.

Soon, I will leave my husband again, to make another trip to see my Dad in Assisted Living, my childhood home now only a memory.  I dread the changes I will see in his physicality and changes in his world. But in going home, when my frail Dad takes me in his arms in a big bear hug, he still smells like Old Spice, and I'm six years old again.
So much has changed, I thought as I took one last look at the house before the keys were passed to another family.  It was a house that saw both the lives and the deaths of my two Mom's, of my brother's presence that still thundered through the rooms, the walls now missing the medallions of his courage.  So much gone, swirled down the drain with past and present tears. But still, I look at the world as I did those long ago mornings, carefully and quietly. And when Dad gives me a hug, and I breathe deep a familiar scent, it is the same feeling I now have in my own home each night  In that moment of ritual, I'm at peace, safe, and loved, with a future that is too far away to fear.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Kung Fu Valentine

I was a little sad for Valentine's Day with the closing of the sale of my childhood home last week (a blessing with Dad's assisted living expenses that we've had -  but still hard to see) and watching so many things of my Mom, Dad, and brother's go to auction or charity  We just don't have room for it here, and shipping items more than a few items back to Chicago via UPS was out of the question financially.  I do have some great small glassware pieces of Moms and a few things of my brother's  including his favorite shirt which still smells like him (at least in my memory).

I did get my husband a couple of things to celebrate the day though.  His French Press for coffee at work had broken so there was a replacement.  It was just a Tardis one.
With some SERIOUS coffee for those Monday mornings. 

And there was a handcrafted card - not by me as they usually don't let me play with sharp things around people that are still alive (sorry, forensic humor) but I got this AWESOME card for him (he's a train buff) from  Check out her etsy store, Kate has some wonderful and beautiful cards and the prices are very reasonable for the quality you will get.

My husband did do his best to cheer me up.  I had told him NOT to get me a fancy Valentine's gift, as we're putting a new roof on as soon as the weather warms up and that's $$$.  I said, "just take me out for Thai Saturday and I'll cook us Valentine's dinner after work" (including the Oreo/White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake above).

But he surprised me with something he put together for me with an online find and some hobby paint.
My very own redheaded Kung Fu Bobblehead with a homemade card. 

He got the belt color right (Shao Lin Twin Broad Swords - Get Off my Lawn!)

Dinner was wild caught salmon from (seriously worth the price - as good as what Dad and my brother used to catch and cook the same day) poached in white wine with herbs, garlic cheese bread, and peas with the cheesecake for dessert. (Sorry for the low light, not the best photo).

I was smiling all evening.
Whether you had a Valentine with you or not we hope your day brought a smile.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Thankful Thursday.

Today we are joining our friend

 For the Thankful Thursday Blog Hop.

Thank you for all of you who prayed that my 98-year-old Dad's house in Washington State sold before we were out of savings to pay for his Assisted Living care (he refuses to live with us, my cousin, or grandchildren - all who have offered up their homes to him). It was on the market longer than we liked, but what we expected given that it was fall/winter.  But it is sold and closed -  all the contents sold at auction or donated to charity and though he did not get near what he wanted for it (it's built right next to a big box mart, so it's like prison break lights on the back of the house at night) it's enough to pay for 3 years care without my having to tap into my retirement savings. I'm sad that there were so many things of my late brothers I couldn't bring here as we just have zero wall space or storage left in our little Bungalow in Chicago but I shipped home by UPS some of my Mom's cookware, crystal, and glassware that she loved as well as some of my brother's Navy submarine memorabilia and my Dad's WWII Uniform. There was so MUCH stuff after living there for 70 years, you can only imagine how much work it was for all involved.

The cleanout of the house could not have happened without the help of my cousin Liz and her partner Keith, and Rod, our late Pastor's son, who also was the Realtor.

Seeing the home empty of all my memories made me cry but it's such a weight off my shoulders now that this is done and Dad has enough money for several more years care without our financial help. Living 5 hours away by plane has not made it easy but I totally get that Dad wanted to stay in the home as long as he could and in his home town until he is called Home to our Lord.

I am glad I still have lots of photos like this one back in the 90's of my childhood playhouse. My Dad and Uncle Richard (who was an engineer at Boeing and my Mom's little brother) built that in the mid 60's and my brother and I spent many happy hours playing in it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Hair Raising Days

I head (no pun intended) to the hair stylist about every four-five weeks as my hair grows beyond fast.   Usually, though, the visit is after my work day, the salon being open until 9 PM. I give my regular stylist a lot of credit.  My hair is baby fine, curly (I refer to it as "free range") and well, red. I won't mention the few strands of grey and trying to match that.  It's the hair stylist equivalent of juggling knives.

I went in last week for a hair cut and some "natural highlights" which involve a  transfer of cash similar to ransom, and an hour and a half with enough foil on my head to attract a number of conspiracy theory admirers.

I also went in without lunch or dinner due to the day I had at work.  I figured that I could grab some takeout on the way home as my husband was out of town and I hadn't planned on cooking, Abby Lab was being walked a couple of times and fed by my dogwalker due to the long day (legal hearing) so she was taken care of.

As my stylist did the trim, I had a ladies magazine on my lap, with my reading glasses off,  as the beautiful genius that does my hair finished up the cut and blow dry.

Did I mention that when I hit 50  I had to get "reading glasses" and anything just a  foot away is a bit blurry? First, it was the pages at Bible study, then mailboxes, and soon I was looking through the rack for "readers" with all the other grandmothers.

The magazine I was reading at the salon had a colorful picture of a bowl of soup in it.  I started to get really hungry  It looked SO good and that bagel and apple and coffee at 6 a.m.were distant history. I think I drooled on the page. The lady in the next chair over mentioned that, looking quite perplexed when I said: "I SO want a bowl of that."   I couldn't wait until I was free of sculpting gel and a dryer to stop at the gourmet grocers for some of that, the broth, the succulent chicken, perhaps some shrimp, while I curled up with a glass of expensive white wine and Bach.

Then I put my glasses on.
I'd been drooling over cat food. Friskies Fancy Feast no less.

After that,  I stopped  McDonald's for a Filet O Fish and the liquor store for a bottle of white wine, just grabbing one from their "pick of the week" display as I was tired.   When I got home and tried to open it with the wine opener and I couldn't puncture the top I realized it was a twist off cap.

Filet O'Fish and McWine.

Maybe I should have just gone for the cat food.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Saturday Eats - Chicken Run

I'll just be crossing the road while you get that oven preheated.

Abby T. Lab here.  Mom just has to share a recipe she came up with that was a HUGE hit in our house and elsewhere.  For when she had her crash pad and was commuting between Indy and Chicago she had a roommate for a while, a female coworker who had just sold her house she shared with her husband and had a few more months before she could retire and join him in a nearby state they'd bought a smaller home in for retirement.  It worked out great, both were pilots and had a lot of things in common and both went to bed early, got up early and left on the weekends to see their spouses. Her roommate also fed me extra treats when Mom wasn't looking.

Mostly in the work night evenings, they shared a bottle of wine and tore apart the Criminal Justice type shows on TV.  Mom did the cooking though.

Mom's roommate was a great friend but she could NOT cook and admitted it. The one time she baked chicken breasts for the two of them, it had the consistency of a Nyla bone, so Mom just started making dinners on the nights both of them were home. We knew how bad it was when her roommate's husband had a mild heart attack and could be heard raving about how "great hospital food was!"  So Mom taught her how to make a few things, super easy recipes you couldn't mess up and the next time she saw her friend's husband he said, "bless you!".

This one is SUPER easy.  Even those that don't "cook" can make it.
Poppyseed Chicken

You will need:
A large cereal bowl of Panko bread crumbs (either Italian seasoned or plain and add 1 tsp of Italian seasoning or oregano or basil.)
An egg
4-6 chicken thighs (or your favorite dismantled chicken parts)
a bottle of Poppyseed salad dressing (you won't need the whole bottle)

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg with a splash of water.
Dunk chicken pieces in egg
roll them in the bread crumbs until lightly coated.

Is it done yet?

Bake on a cookie sheet sprayed with non-stick spray in a  preheated 400 F oven for 25 minutes.

Open oven when the 25 minutes is up and drizzle about a cup of the salad dressing over the top of the chicken pieces, just enough to lightly cover the meat without it spreading down onto the hot pan.

Bake another 20 minutes.  (For large pieces like breasts make it 25 minutes, for small drumsticks or thighs make it 16-20 minutes , 165 F on the thermometer poked in the center).

It's crunchy, but not TOO crunchy, with a wonderful sweet and sour flavor and the chicken inside is incredibly moist (I got a little bit of the meat with the coating removed, yummy!)

Lab Tested - Dad approved.

Abby Lab

Thursday, February 7, 2019


The photo is the little "pocket Titanic" complete with iceberg and lifeboats that sits in my office.  It has silently made its way onto the table in meetings before.

All I can say after a very busy week getting caught up post furlough. . . .

Thank Dog tomorrow is Friday!
Could I have a treat while you pour that second class of Chardonnay Mom?

Monday, February 4, 2019

An Abby Lab Rescue Memory - Her First Real Bed

For me?

Abby the Lab here.

In my previous life I didn't get to get up on the furniture and was outside in the cold a lot but after 5 months in a shelter, my new Mom let me up on the couch.  I kept getting down as I didn't think I was supposed to be up there, but she said it was OK and gave me pats.  It's so soft but I only sneak up there when Mom and Dad aren't on it.

I have my own little dog bed where Mom used to stay when she was working.  It's sure more comfy than the hard floor of a kennel, but it was cheap and it's not real poofy - nothing like "THE BED", but Mom keeps the bedroom door closed when she is at work as she has a fancy schmancy bedspread on there that is hard to clean.

Then one day, a big box came to Mom's work crash pad.  Mom said it was from Orvis as they had a sale-- a BIG sale and she got something for almost half price. Barkley had an Orvis bed and just loved it and it lasted forever, but she wanted me to have one of my own.  Want to check out their great dog beds? Click on the well-known name. . .

It's the world's biggest softest dog bed!  It's so fluffy, with really tight stitching and a durable, ultra-soft cover.  When she took it out of the wrapping-- it expanded like a life raft.
Mom knows about that.  Once she was flying an airplane (a little business jet) to India to be delivered from the aeroplane factory.   Three of the VERY young Indian pilots were on board.  They didn't have the experience yet to make that sort of trip so the owners arranged for the seller to deliver it with contract pilots (which was Mom and another pilot) and bring them home from plane school. Regulations required that for a flight across the ocean the plane had to have a rented life raft to be carried in the cabin to be pitched out of the plane and inflated if Mom had to pull a "Sully".

The young Indian pilots were QUITE excited about the flight and about just learning to fly their first jet so Mom and her copilot told them to just read and relax in the back and  "don't touch anything".

Halfway across the Atlantic, there's this big  WHOOOSH sound from the cabin and one of them ran forward with -

"Captain L! Captain L!  Raft Veery BIG!, Raft, Veery BIG.!"

Yup - they'd accidentally inflated the life raft and Mom had to kill it with a cheese knife from the galley so they could exit the airplane when they all landed to fuel.
MMMM Cheese.

So, it was sort of like that.  Bed very big!  Bed very big! Look - my tail has gone hypersonic!

My Ovris bed is SOOOO COMFY!

I can't believe it's still all mine all the time and I don't have to sleep on the Pita Bed from Walmart anymore.  I love my furever home.
I love my Mom.
Abby Lab

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Abby Lab on the Pooper Bowl and Other Sports

It seems you can't turn on the TV without sports, channels devoted to sports, channels of discussions about channels with sports and always, sports-related references on every show out there, including even Mom's favorite shows. .

Linda: And in sports, Yankees fifth-blurnsman William Wu is out with an injured knee

Morbo: So, humans have easily injured knees. My race will find this information very useful indeed. Mua-ha-ha!

Mom's not much of a sports fan either but when she blew out her knee a few years ago during "Labrador Retrievers on Ice!",  She found that most of her guy friends blew out their knees with an event involving a combination of testosterone and a ball (as opposed to her injury which involved Barkley, a female golden retriever across the street, wintery steps and gravity).

So I kind of doubt she will be watching the Pooper Bowl in our house today as she has about the same level of understanding of the game that I do.

I'd have Mom write this but her exposure to sports in school was wearing a one-piece thigh length gym monkey suit the color of sanitarium walls and dribbling a basketball on the court indoors as to not mess up her hair.

Football: My Grandpa loves football. He'll watch it all day long if allowed. I've tried, but so far all I understand of the game is that it is divided into four 15 minute quarters, each of which lasts up to several hours and a dead pig is involved, but no bacon. There's running and a lot of crashing into each other and falling down. That is followed by replays in slow motion of the running, crashing and falling down, seen by every camera available anywhere, including the Hubble telescope and the next door neighbor's "DeerCam". That, then, is followed by 10 commercials featuring large vehicles, beer, and women who don't seem to own much in the way of clothing. At any given time, there are about a dozen players from each team on the field while the other 100 or so players that ran out in the beginning of the game sit on the sidelines, hoist Gatorade and wave at their Mom's, while the coaches pace rapidly up and down the field, looking like they have a live, angry ferret in their pants.
Now that football is covered - let's talk about other sports.

Skiing: Mom's never been skiing. She told me about one ski area in the Sierras viewed during a drive into the mountains on a cold sunny day that had a cautionary road sign with a cow on it, to alert drivers on their way to the slopes to the free range cattle in the area. She didn't go skiing but someone drew skis and a stocking cap on the cow with a Sharpee.

Mom's Application for squirrel employment:

Have you or anyone known to you plotted to overthrow the U.S. Government? That would be a no.

Have you ever defaced a State Cow Sign? I didn't inhale.

Skiing's not bad, in and of itself, for falling off the side of a mountain does take a fair amount of grace. But not all females view attaching slippery sticks to her feet and then getting hauled up a mountain on a tiny wire, feet dangling over the abyss, as fun.

Snowmobiling: Less a sport, and more an outdoor "activity" it can be a compromise for those that don't want to go skiing, while still playing in the snow. Most snowmobiles weigh as much as a freight train. Remember that before you attempt an assault on a steep incline with a date on the back that only has SO much forward center of gravity. Additionally, getting "stuck" in a snowdrift is not the same as "oops, I ran out of gas". You are not going to get a smooch, you are going to get frostbite.

Bullfighting: Popular in Spain, Portugal and parts of Latin America, it's more of an art form than a sport. But I know about it in that my peep Grandpa has a beautiful wall sized 12 frame panorama of a bullfight, painted in oils, complete with spurting blood, that he bought for his first house with my late Grandma. She banished it to the garage. After she passed and he remarried, he tried again to hang it in the living room. It's in the garage. That tells you something about women and bullfighting that is probably all that needs to be said.

Racquetball: It doesn't matter what year it is, most people playing racquetball have more wrist and headbands than an Olivia Newton John video. The game consists of hurling a ball against a wall like a kangaroo after espresso shots and swearing. I am not even sure if there is a point system involved.

Golf: If it were any slower it would be farming.

Hockey: Mom's son in law plays hockey. Keep your Stick on the Ice J.

Soccer - Although thousands of kids in the U.S. played on teams, professional soccer games in the U.S. seems to draw the fan base of the last airing of John and Kate Plus 8. It's immensely popular in other countries though, not so much here. The biggest complaint is that it's "slow" but compared to golf it's positively frantic~

Hurling: Hurling is a sport of Celtic origin that involves men without helmets whacking the hell out of things (including each other) with a stick. From a viewpoint of testosterone and impending violence, hurling makes American football like an episode of Barney the Dinosaur. Don't take a female to a hurling event if she is squeamish at the sight of blood. I enjoyed it, though had to ask a couple of time "so is that one deaded??" After one such game, the men proceeded to go to a pub to drink a concoction of tomato juice, Guinness and Worcestershire sauce. That was probably to replace the blood loss. (Note: Not to be confused with "curling" the world's No. 1 broom related sport.)

Ice Skating: Highly competitive with winners getting medals and losers getting "Snoopy on Ice". It's more fun to watch if you like choreography as much as athleticism. The women are all beautiful and the men can do backflips while wearing 1970's disco shirts.

If you're not into choreography, it can be more fun if you make a drinking game out of it and knock back some White Wine every time one of the announcers makes one of the following comments:

"And he NAILS it!"
"What he does, he does very, very well."
"He *just* couldn't hang onto the landing."
"He fell just short of the rotation."
"He's gotta be happy with that program."
"Five or six major flaws, but otherwise an excellent, *excellent* program in anyone's book."

Caber Tossing: I don't know of many females who would say no to watching a handsome male Scot in a kilt throw a telephone pole, a sport of more strategy than thinking. But with most contestants being tall, muscular and good looking, you're probably not going to impress if you take her to a Caber Toss, then go home and suggest a game of lawn darts, even if you leave your pants off and wear a kilt.

Rugby: Similar to soccer, only in that shorts and a shirt are involved, it involves throwing yourself with courage in front of a large, bloodthirsty New Zealander (see bullfighting).

Nascar: Love it or hate it, where else can you get three dozen teams playing on the same field doing 200 mph, with loud engine noise and prayer on national television, all without apology.

Wrestling: Chuck Norris, with the Element of surprise, could take any one of them on a bad day. That's all I'm saying.

Croquet: I don't care how much gin is involved, it's still boring,

Baseball: We went to one non-professional game where there were families and kids and dogs. There was lots of cheering and a crowd that was both enthusiastic and well behaved.  I didn't get to chase the ball though but we had a great time.  It's the all-American game for a reason, plus unlike soccer, if it has boring parts there's hot dogs and sno cones.

Hot Dog!  Yes, baseball is our favorite.

Abby T. Lab

Sunday Eats - Cinnamon Swirl French Toast

Homemade Cinnamon Swirl Bread French Toast.

• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 1 cup warm water
• 2 1/2 teaspoons yeast
• 2 1/2 cups King Arthur Bread Flour (it’s higher gluten than regular flour so you don’t get so many gaps in your cinnamon bread)
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 tablespoons cinnamon
• 1/2 cup white sugar

1. Mix the 2 tablespoons sugar with the warm water in a very large bowl. Add the yeast and do not stir. Let it sit for five minutes. Add the oil, salt, and flour. Mix by hand, adding more flour as necessary until the dough forms a large, soft ball. Flour a table or work surface and knead the bread for 5-10 minutes.
2. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and brush the top with a little extra olive oil. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour. It should be very puffy. Divide the dough in half and punch it down.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll each half into a large rectangle. For more tight rolls in the bread, roll the dough thinner. For thicker softer rolls in the bread, roll thicker. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl and sprinkle over each loaf. Roll up the loaves tightly and let rest for a few minutes before putting in the oven.
4. Bake on a cookie sheet or baking stone for 30 minutes, or until it sounds hollow. When in doubt, overbake this one. It might look brown on the outside, but that’s okay because the inside really needs to bake all the way to get the layers filled out. Cool before slicing.

French Toast – in 8 x 8 pan mix 2 large eggs, a generous splash of milk (about 3 Tablespoons), 1 Tablespoon of sugar and ¼ tsp Vanilla. Whisk. Dip six pieces of bread in batter on both sides and cook on an oiled griddle until browned. The cinnamon sugar will make it "stick" more than regular FrenchToast with white bread so work the spatula under it a couple of times as it cooks.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Snow Days

Those of you who have read The Book of Barkley will recall this chapter but I found the photos I took of Barkley back then and thought I'd share them on this day that Abby Lab was able to go roll in the snow safely after the minus 50 windchills of the last few days. - LB

From The Book of Barkley - Outskirts Press, all rights reserved.

Outside the snow starts, the door painting a path out into the white, only one lone dog brave enough to take it tonight.  His paw prints leave a trail like bread crumbs, delicate and soft, disappearing even as I look for them as the snow falls down.

The cold and white is going to skirt the edge of my world tonight. I am glad to be in safe and warm, for I remember too many nights out working in the elements as winter shook its fist at the forecast.  Tonight, the roads will be mostly empty,  nothing else braving the space around us but some poor, cold creatures trying to seek shelter as best they could, a couple of forlorn horses of a distant neighbor, waiting to be brought back into the glow of light in the stable. If I looked out onto the snow, beyond the bounds of grass and the water and horizon, it appears to come down ever so frantic and furious. A life,  these years, can seem to hurry past that way if you let the vision of it trick you, a glimpse of white, of black, then gone, when you may least expect it.

This is probably our last winter in this old ranch style house.  I'd bought it with the intent of my Father living with me on the impending death of my stepmom, when he changed his mind, unable to leave the home in which he built his memories of her.   It's a decent older home, better than the McMansion I'd given up a couple years prior in another city, especially with a  huge fenced yard which Barkley loved.  But  I wanted to downsize more, not really needing the "mother in law" set up.  The extra space, even if the house was modest in construction and price, with the piece of land it sat on, was still a lot to maintain as a single woman, one who really didn't have time for a  young dog, let alone a house.

I did enjoy being able to watch him play though, even as today I am more happy to stay in the warmth of the house, my reflection in the mirror, flakes of snow in my hair from opening the door.  How did winter get here so quickly, I think as I look in an old mirror, imagining the generations that have looked into that gleaming surface, asking themselves at least once, how did it all fly by so quickly, asking those questions across those years, time they hopefully learned didn't matter, as they savored every last remnant, there in the depths of something they had questioned too long.
Barkley loves the snow.   He runs and jumps, snooting the snow up in the air as I try and take pictures of him from the covered porch  The camera never does him justice though, failing  to capture that movement as he appears to fly, the steam of his breath, the thudding spray of snow as he lands, laid out in pixeled particles of white. But I suddenly want to capture that moment, between stillness and unbridled motion, where even mass seems to be physically altered, changing from solid muscle to wind the color of night

I look at him, them look at the sky.  Both he and I for this moment, becoming "pups" again.

As children, growing up where we did, "snow days" were infrequent. The world didn't stop for snow where snow was not uncommon. When we got one, we'd be outside the door before the breakfast dishes were even put away. Snow was not cold; it was not work or worry. It was a divine benediction which spread itself out onto the world where we waited with glee. Grabbing an inner tube to ride down the cleared foothills, shoving a couple Archway cookies in our pockets and heading out into the dazzling white, we'd heed the siren call. There I would simply wait my turn on the hill called "widowmaker", content to just sit and look up into the wonder as we waited our turn.

That tube was not my transport to the stars, it was a defiant gesture against the mortality that grew closer to the edge of our vision every year.  It wasn't a simple inner tube.  It was a defiant shout.  It was my shield.
Then, I'd launch myself with abandon out into it, flinging my form down onto an inner tube that was traveling downhill much faster than my Dad ever approve. There was nothing but movement and emotion, snow in the amber fire of my hair, my cheeks flushed, body arching up into the air, trying to maintain the moment that I knew would come crashing down much too quickly. At the bottom of the hill, chest heaving, I'd simply look up into the sky and say thank you, for that moment, as time gathered itself back up and started ticking again.

Then, face flushed with anticipation, I'd pat my pocket to make sure my cookie was secure and I'd trudge back up the slope again. As I peered down into the void I'd say, "I probably shouldn't do this ", as I launched myself off yet again into space, remorseless and laughing, flying down the slope, potent, strong, as free as an eagle, not knowing yet as a child, that even for the eagle, all space can still be a cage.
That's the snow I wish to remember. Looking up into the heavens trying to see where it originates, then the slow fall of it, parachutes of white dropping down, slower and slower. They fall, weightless, ethereal creations of magic and intermolecular forces, some felled by warmth, some turning to water against one's tongue, some slain by a sled.  Yet tomorrow, next year, there would be another flake and yet another and another soul to hold it in the palm of their hand, if they are only there to reach out for it.

Barkley continues his play, forever a puppy, with no concept of another winter, only this one, everything just captured here now, running as hard as he can.  Looking at a pile of work on the table to be completed tomorrow, I wish I could do that, could play in that slow, suspension of time and moisture, one where what you feel and seek and love builds upon itself in endless form,  honed by the cold depths of the sky.  You can't catch the snow,  you can only watch it fall to you, grasping it briefly, stretching out your hands to clasp a wisp of air and hold it for a moment.

But I can't, I have obligations and chores and things to do that don't involve a dog.  He barks with a "come follow me" note, but getting chilled just opening the door to check on him, I simply fling his favorite toy as hard and far out into space as I can before I shut the door and impatiently fetch a treat to get him back inside in a few minutes.

"The Toy".  It's this bone length thing covered with yellow tennis ball material to which a thick plastic cord is attached so you can really wind it up and throw it. It's THE toy. He has a half dozen different balls and toys, but once this one showed up they were ignored. He knows the word "toy"  as opposed to "Ball" or "Mr. Squeeky" or "The Ropers" and will fetch it from anywhere, digging through the snow if necessary to find it.

I went into the kitchen, leaving the family room glass outer door closed, but the curtains open. Dogs can get frostbite on their paws, ears, and tail if left out in freezing temperatures for lengths of time so I would keep an eye on him.

I saw this movement in my peripheral vision, a black form jumping up into the air like a kangaroo. What the. . . . .?

The toy is stuck high up in the branches of a tree, just inside his fenced area, I threw it too far out, and too high.

He jumped and he jumped as if he could somehow magically get that high and grab it.  Come on, this next time, surely I'll get it!  But he is totally silent, not a bark, so intent on the capture, he is bound and gagged by his obligation.

With a heavy sigh as I'd just gotten warm again,  I get bundled up in coat and boots and go out. The snow shower had passed, and I could see him out at the edge of the yard,  inside the fence that blocks him from the pond. When he saw me he ceased jumping but continued to stare up.  It's just a toy, I think, but he looks at it as if stuck on the edge of a vast ambiguity, a lonely figure waiting by a hopeless ocean for time and tide to change course.

 I've seen a lot of expressions on this dogs face, but this was the first time I could actually detect "worry".  I didn't think dogs worried.  They don't have taxes, cellulite, ex's or bills and facial hair as they get older is, well, normal. But they do know hurt, they just quietly just take it in, recording it complacently in their suffering, not wishing their person to worry about them.

But today,  he looked with a stillness that dropped like stone to the depths of my being, a  look on his face that would have stopped even the most involved soul. Dogs can do that, those looks, that put out of mind all of the follies of dog farts, the hair that covers every surface of the house, spent dollars and the chewed shoes.  It's a look that made me want to comfort him, even as he does for me with no memory of my failures or the hints of my doubts.

Mom,. Mom, my toy, she's stuck, help!

If I fall out here, and break something I'm going to freeze to death.  I've got stuff to do, this can wait til it's warmer.  The ladder is in the garage and the sky is getting dark.  All of those thoughts run though my head as he stares up, my form the only thing between him and that gaping ocean.  It's my responsibility.  He's my responsibility.  But there's no way I'm going to try and drag the ladder out of the garage, around the house and through the little gate.  I climbed trees as a kid, I only need to get up a few feet where I can grab it or swat the toy to the ground.

Those childhood trees were stouter trees, however, and I was smaller then, and soon I am half tangled in the young tree, it's trunk bending painfully in ways I haven't seen since my first Yoga class.  I thought of a trebuchet, the laws of physics and how a flung redhead taking out the kitchen window might not be something the insurance agent wanted to hear.

I went and got the ladder. The conquest of worlds, the emancipation of those sold into bondage, the pride and power of freedom's forces, those are fit materials for a courageous tale. The rescue of a fuzzy toy would hardly be accountable but for the look of this dog, for whom the act was as all important, all-consuming, as well, bacon will be tomorrow morning.  This dog had his needs, and I knew that whether I was simply "what's her name with a ladder" or his instrument of documented destiny, I had a role to play here.

Barkley 1.  Tree 0.

And the world began revolving again and I could go back where it is warm, even if I am met with yet another pleading look.  Play with me!

Sorry buddy, Mom's busy, I say, as I head back to the garage,  leaving that pleading look behind.   Overhead, a flock of geese, winging through an aberration of white, a mournful honk, black and white, braving the cold, pursuing the echo of sanctuary.  I hear their cry as  "come follow me" But I can't. Not quite yet.  The snow blooms with the insistence of Spring, and I am earthbound with things to do.  I turn away from him, flakes gathered at my feet, tumbled in the wind like rose petals blown aside in a lovers haste departure.

I still have an evening ahead of me among reports, artifacts of life on my desk, shattered shells and bone, and intertwined with the broken pieces a black feather from a bird, a pine cone, a small piece of swirled gemstone that looks at me like an eye, daring me to look deeper, to find some closure for those that need it, even if that is me.  It's easy to get caught up in that, it's my work, it's how I think, finding logic to behavior in science that doesn't seem to exist in the human world.

Then there is this goofy dog outside with a fuzzy yellow toy in his mouth, covered in snow like it's some sort of Popsicle.  He's simply enjoying the day for what it is.  I can't help but break out in a big grin when I think of that.  Perhaps, I'm not as grown up as I think I am.
Ladder put away, I turn around and go back towards where I think he wandered.  His paw prints that followed me to the gate have already been covered with new snow, his presence but a dream. I close my eyes for a moment and the paw prints are as if they were never there, a dream that one wakes up smiling from, but can never get back, even if they return to slumber. But he is here. Somewhere.  There, a sudden revelation of black fur in the fleeting gleams of snow, with a bark "you came!" that was like the glow of sparks from a struck stone, the wag of a tale which for him is absolute truth.  How I will always remember the sound of his barking as I approached, muffled in the snow, hearing it as a child, through ear muffs.

I go to him with a pat and a treat, to get him back to the house, to play with me inside in the warmth, while my work waits for another time. Our feet barely touch the ground as we run towards the house, towards the gilded blaze, our future, he and I, somewhere ahead in that diffused glow. Like those horses out in the neighbor's field, we move towards the light of the door,  bright as tossed coins in a collection plate, a saving, golden Grace.  Home.  It is benediction and absolution, even if covered in dog hair.

There is a door, and we fall in, into the embrace of warmth, flakes of cold in dark hair.