Thursday, November 26, 2020

On Thanks



Thanksgiving isn't the same with both Mom and my brother gone.  But thinking of that got me to smile with a memory from a Thanksgiving long ago. Mom had read somewhere that cooking the turkey in a bag would render the turkey very juicy. Except she missed the part about low temperature and the type of bag. So Mr. Turkey went into the oven in a Safeway paper shopping bag,  pop-out timer side down.

 As he roasted, the juice and grease pooled in the bottom of the bag. When the timer popped, "turkey's done" it popped THROUGH the bag, releasing all the hot grease onto the burner.

WHOOSH!

Big Bro calmly said "Mom, the turkey blew up!"
It was the first and only time I heard my Mom say a four-letter cuss word. Dad admonished her to leave the door closed as she turned the heat off.  He simply stood in the corner of the kitchen, muttering "Oh, the Humanity", tears rolling down his face as he was laughing so hard. We had KFC that year as the remains were removed in a bucket.

After Mom took ill, there were other events. A time at the vacation cabin where Dad cooked pancakes. I'm not sure how he did it, but you could hardly cut through them. He gave one to our wiener dog Pepper, who took it outside and buried it in the sand along the shore. Big Bro threw another one in the fire. It didn't burn.

I can picture that as if it were happening now, the splash of sunlight on cedar, the memory, of the smell of wet dog and the taste of laughter, of where people have lived and will always.
Hygge.  The word comes to mind, especially at Thanksgiving.  It's a Danish word that roughly means eating and drinking and being together with friends, a feeling or mood that comes from taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary everyday things simply extraordinary. We don't have any such word in the English language, and life today seems to rarely accommodate such a ritual.

I can be insular, and driven. At work I take no quarter and am not intimidated by blood, death or bad hair days.. Yet at home, I am a caregiver, as my Mom was with us. Even when she was tired, she would make us homemade cookies and pastries to have after school or with our lunch. Shortening scrapped from its can, dough formed and rounded, rolled flat, and rolled up, carefully studded with fragrant spices and baked golden.
When at school, I'd open up my lunch box, and find every given day, a peanut butter sandwich, an apple, coins for milk, and an ice cream and a small tinfoil packet I'd unfold with great care. Inside, the scraps of her making, dusted with cinnamon and sugar, soft and whole. I do not share. I scrape the foil clean.

Dinner at the big table wasn't just on Thanksgiving. It was every night but TV Tray in the Family Room Night. But on those dinners around the big table, I can't recall so much of what we talked about or who said what, but I do remember the gathering, the smells of beef and fresh vegetables, of laughter, of stories from school, from work, a discarding of weighty thought and the simple gathering of those you love, for the nourishment of the soul. I can't recreate the exact moments through what I cook, or who I serve it to, but I still can remember how those simple meals made me feel, the redemptive power of the communion of those who love one another.

When Dad sold the family home the only things I wished from it were small; things of worth, but perhaps not value. A couple are tattered cookbooks in which are written Mom's notes of when she made something new and if we liked it. One was a folder in which Mom placed handwritten menu plans for family gatherings and holidays. Some were planned dishes, some were instructions for the meal itself. Piece after piece of small lined paper, on which her handwriting lay.
So many scraps of paper, so many meals, some dated 1962 when she and Dad were still new in the house.  It was the house she lived in the remainder of her life and to which they brought me and Big Bro home as small, scared children, to heal with them, then to belong, as family.

I hold those pieces of paper and feel the warmth, a woman preparing food for her family, for her friends, small hieroglyphs that tell me nothing but that someone loved us, scribbled messages that would not make sense to everyone but will never fail to be understood.

At that family table we learned many things.  We learned patience (I tell you young lady, you are going to sit here until you eat that squash!) We learned aerodynamics (spoon at 45 degrees, wind from the SE at two mph, PEAS, initiate launch sequence!)  We learned thanks, and not just at Thanksgiving. We learned comfort and safety.

As I went out on my own, even when I didn't have a family of my own, there was a gathering, even if I just invited over my bachelor colleagues, put together a ham and some homemade mashed potatoes and the trimmings while we listened to music and actually talked about something other than our jobs. For it was the sharing and the care that was important, not necessarily what we ate.
Hygge, it's something I learned from my Mom as I watched her growing up. Even as Dad bought her the latest appliances to ease her burden as she grew sicker, she continued to make things as her Mom and generations past had done, stirring by hand, shaping and crafting, only forming a brief and sullen armistice with the food processor when chemo was winning.
She made meals in health and she made meals in sickness, those last days where there was a look on her face as if having seen something which she knows existed even as she refused to believe in it. She'd pause, blink as if the sun was in her eyes, then go back to peeling the carrots for one of perhaps thousands of relish trays she made in her life. Then she'd set it upon that old dining room table with the captain's chairs that looked like something taken off an old schooner, a table that looked out of place among all the 70's orange and yellow shag carpeting but was as timeless as that moment.

She carried more than meals to the table, she carried us, with broken dreams and broken hearts, holding us together, even as she left us.

 "You did good Mom," I say to an empty kitchen, the curtains in the window moving with the opening of a door as if breath. Then the curtains fall still, the room quiet as if this hushed little space is isolated in space, without time or dimension, hollowed whisperings of love and safety amidst the turmoil and fury of time. There is no light in the room now, but for one small kitchen candle, the flame standing sentient over the wick as I wait for the sound of steps on the porch.

My Dad's table will not ever be graced by all of us again, but it will be the inheritance of those who remain, few of them family by blood, but all of them family by acceptance. I hope that one day, long after I am gone, a small child will sit at it and say "tell us the story about when Great Grandma Grace's turkey blew up". . . .

. . and laughter will ring out again.
-LBJ

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

New Book Out!!


My short story "Lessons on Loss" (about my Submariner brother)  has been published in the anthology "Writer Shed Stories - Love and Sacrifice, edited by award-winning author David W. Berner.  I was very honored to have my story selected as only 15 stories out of the 300 entrants were picked.  Several are Midwest authors but there are selections from all over the world. Being so sick much of this year, this was the only serious piece of writing I did and I'm proud of it.

"WRITER SHED STORIES, Vol. 2, LOVE & SACRIFICE is a collection of short fiction, memoir, poetry, and creative nonfiction from authors all over the world. The aim of Writer Shed Press is to offer stories that leave lasting impressions, words that linger long after you've read them. WRITER SHED STORIES is published annually by Writer Shed Press and edited by award-winning author David W. Berner."

It is available now on Amazon and at independent bookstores. 

 https://www.amazon.com/Writer-Shed-Stories-Vol-Sacrifice/dp/B08L8NGDDX/

Friday, September 25, 2020

Update From the Johnson Household

 


Just an update here - still dealing with the staph infection in my leg.  Two visits to the hospital since March and 5 weeks of antibiotics put a dent in it, but it's still not gone and the antibiotics have destroyed my gut to the point I'm not able to hold food down.  Getting better but after I get done working I just don't have any energy for writing though I'm keeping the dogs entertained - Hugs - Brigid

Friday, September 11, 2020

On Words and Dreams

Finishing a project.

Why does it seem that when we set out to do something, the actuality of it seems forever away, and when we're finished, we look back wondering how we did it at all.

Everything we touch, hold, use, or love---was once just an idea. Had the person who first envisioned that thing thought too keenly as to his or her chance of success, it may have never happened at all.

My writing started with social media, some short stories for friends, It was a way to unwind, a way to work through things that were painful, it was a way to view my life and actions as a third party, which sometimes is painful in its revealing of the past and past actions that weren't good choices.

People said "you need to write a book" and I put it off with the inevitable excuse of "after retirement". Part of it was (insert Dr. McCoy voice here "Jim - I'm a doctor, not a writer!") But honestly, the thought of actually writing an entire book was beyond daunting; it was flat out frightening.  Not just that people wouldn't like it, but whether I could actually DO it.
I pictured it in one of those $5 bins at the book store, spent brass of the heart that no one wants to pick up. I pictured the sound of the critic's crickets, or worse---their scorn. The Book of Barkley did very well, #1 for a long time, winning multiple awards, but everyone likes dogs - right?  The second book was harder to write and being such a deeply personal story, to weather the failure of.

But I sat down and wrote Saving Grace.  Not because "all the cool kids are doing it" but because it was in me, and if I didn't let it out, it would wither and die, as would some of the memories it bore. As well, telling my story as an unwed teen birth mother, if there was just ONE young woman who made the decision to give her baby up for adoption in lieu of abortion, by reading my words, I knew it was worth every bit of work and worry.

That it touched so many close to me, especially my recently widowed Dad, who sat holding my hand during 34 hours of hard labor, made the risk work it. And when it too, went number one I made the decision to donate THOSE sales to animal rescue, a choice I've never regretted.  Since then, there have been 3 more books, all best sellers, all the proceeds still going to animal rescue both hear and in the UK.
But this post isn't about the books, specifically,  it's about dreams.

My parents fell in love as teenagers. World War II interrupted their wedding plans but they wed on his return from England, so many years later. A lot of the airmen overseas and the women left behind, took up with others, the relationship not withstanding the time and distance.  Dad certainly had a score of beautiful women present opportunities to him, from what my uncles who served with him said. But he came home and immediately married my Mom, after years apart.

He himself, tells few stories of those times. All I have of those lost years is a stack of letters, carefully held together with a ribbon.

I wrote of that in Book Two:  Saving Grace

" There underneath the photos lies a stack of letters. Mom and Dad wrote to one another for four years while he was overseas, not returning Stateside once during that entire time. Reading them feels a little like eavesdropping, as you can almost hear the words as they formed---heartfelt, intimate. I opened one; it was just one single page, and I thought of the way their day stopped at the brink of it. In these letters bridging the time and distance they had to be apart, there was talk of how much they missed one another; of how their families were faring; of good coffee and how Dad missed vegetables from the farm; of burning heat and a cold on the field that would murmur to your very bones. There was playful affection, there was unstated passion and stated promise. Some was in Mom's flowery script, the rest in Dad's meticulous, indomitable hand. "Is everyone there well?" Mom would ask, and Dad would reply that they were, though some were now only well beyond Lamentations."
Barkley waiting for his dad to come home

Dad never imagined that he would not come back, he never told himself that they would not be married, would not have children, would not make a life.  Even in times of great battle, he held the final prize in his hand, never doubting that it would come to be.

He watched over that dream as our Father in heaven watches over us, his creation shaped out of the primal absolute that contained nothing and all, knowing we are equally as capable of being ruined and being saved, but believing we will be saved, as to believe anything else is to perish.

We all have our dreams, just as we all have our fears.  My husband was, and is, a gifted musician, a prodigy as a youngster. He performed with a symphony orchestra in Austria before he was 18, offered a scholarship to study music.

He wanted to be an engineer.

He still plays, well enough to make me cry.  But his passion is creating---inventing things out of form and void, and steel and noise, things that touch his brain and his heart---for what the heart holds becomes our only truth.
I talk to my father every night, there in his dwindling days.  He has done a lot to be proud of: Golden Glove Boxer, retired Air Force Lt.  Colonel, a manager in a large industrial company, past Secretary and President of the Lion's Club,  a Freemason and father.  I asked him if he had any regrets, things he wished he had done.  I asked, not to remind him of regrets, but to see what in his mind's eye is important, looking back almost 100 years.

What he said was his regret was.  "that time in my 20's I spent $5 on hair tonic to grow hair from the bald barber", and he chuckled.

What he said he was most happy for surprised me, until I understood what it means.

Dad had a wonderful marriage with my step-mom in his later years.  We all thought the world of her, and he genuinely loved her. But as he nears his end days, it's the photos of my Mom that have come out of drawers and sit on the table by his bed. So I was at first taken aback when he said "I'm glad I loved and lost Gracie" (my mom)

But it was not because he was the one that physically remained after she died, but because he was glad that he had followed his heart, not his good sense. Because if he had not, she would not have become the one he had to grieve over, because he chose to abandon the idea of them.
Abby, our senior rescue with her new Dad


Those of us who have lost our precious furry family members understand.  Though we hate that deep hurt of loss when it is their time to leave us, we have no regrets about the months or years with that soul, if offered a choice now to change the experience.  So many precious memories, so much love, we would not have experienced if we'd not dare to dream that dream, of making them part of our lives.

So as you look around your life this day- think to things you'd like to hold onto, picture flesh and blood, wood or glass, cat or dog, paper or plastic.  Do not think about all you will risk to get it. Do not think about how long it might take, or even if it will be what you expected.  Do not think about what happens if you get it and lose it one day. Do not ask if others will like it--- but only that you will like it.

I look at a photo of my parents on their wedding day.  Dad in uniform, my Mom wearing a beautiful dark suit.  They look both innocent and immortal, even if slightly amazed to be saying those vows. Best friends since sixth grade, they were in their mid-twenties before fate was such that they could be joined.
On my table is a violin, worth ten's of thousands of dollars.  I carefully put it away, for in a couple of hours my husband will be home and that table will be littered with all manner of tooling bits and mechanical drawings and plans. They will lie next to a small pile of books to be autographed and mailed for a dog auction and a little journal where I jot down bits for further writing.    All of those things are objects that print the often silent mold of our dreams and desires, as easy to be ignored as small fairy feet, when they are magic indeed.

Close your eyes and dream your dream---then make it real.


Friday, August 14, 2020

Hiding in Sepia

If I lay under the coffee table Mom won't find me to cut my toenails.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Haunted Butt

I think with two older dogs we could probably offer "Poltergeist tours" of our living room after they have had their evening kibbles and yogurt treat.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Updates from the Johnson Household

Curled up by the Central A.C. vent - my favorite spot in the living room.

Abby Lab here.  Sorry Mom's not been posting much.  She was on antibiotics for 5 weeks due to a bad STAFF infection (do you get that at work?) in her left foot.  That made her throw up a lot.  Dad, because he loves her so much - got her a big orange bucket from Home Depot that says "You Can Do It" on the side.  He's also been cooking dinner every night which means we're having baked chicken, steamed rice, and canned vegetables a lot because everything seems to make Mom spew like a fire hose (trust me folks - it's not pretty).

Lorelei and I have been getting walks from Dad and our dogwalker and in the afternoons Mom will sit at the base of the back steps and throw the ball, but we HAVE to return it to her.

For today, just some funnies.  Thanks to all of you who also follow us on Facebook that were praying for Mom's recovery.
 For Dad.











Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Clickbait Dog

You're all seen the ads off on the sidebar of a popular news site, with a eye-catching picture or headline. I'll admit the ones with the rescued puppies have always drawn me in, until I realized I had to scroll through incredibly S-L-O-W loading pages, one at a time, filled with more ads and usually give up before reaching the end of the story.  Many have pictures that aren't even in the stream (celebrities you didn't know had died - well because they hadn't).  Arghhhhh.

 Click Bait

Clickbait is a pejorative term describing web content that is aimed at generating online advertising revenue, especially at the expense of quality or accuracy, relying on sensationalist headlines or eye-catching thumbnail pictures to attract click-throughs and to encourage forwarding of the material over online social media.

But since I'm starting work really soon, I'm going to offer Abby Lab Clickbait - (no actual links just for grins on my lunch break). Cheers!
Abby Lab Can't Hide from the Rumors
Final Photos Taken Seconds Before Disaster Struck
Left at the Shelter Because She was Old- Her Revenge Makeover Will Astonish You.
Why Did this Dog Order a Huge Box of Treats From Chewy? The Reason will Shock You!
What this Dog Did in the Backyard Will Make You Question Everything.
Top 10 Reasons a Dog Barks.  #7 Will Blow Your Mind.
She is 12.  Looks 7.  Learn the Truth Now!
Dog Spots the Treat.  Can you Believe What She Does?
5 Insane Plans for Getting Extra Food You Won't Believe Are Real.
Avoid Baths With this One Weird Trick.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

DIY THUNDERSHIRT

THIS IS SOMETHING I POSTED BACK IN 2016 THAT MIGHT BE HELPFUL FOR THIS INDEPENDENCE DAY FOR THOSE OF US WITH PETS THAT HATE FIREWORKS. Have a safe and happy celebration of our nation today - LB


Abby is terrified of both thunder and fireworks.  Most storms she just goes in the closet in the bedroom or the one behind my office where the winter coats are kept.  We will put a soft pet bed in there and she'll lay on it the her head peering into the room. But when there are fireworks - she immediately goes into the  bedroom closet and as narrow as it is, folds herself up like an accordion so she can get horizontal in the very back of it.  It just looks painful

Unfortunately, fireworks in the city aren't limited to July 4th.  No, all the locals will be shooting their personal ones off every evening as soon as they are  off work starting a good three days prior.  Last year, we went to the crash pad in Indianapolis which was in a more rural area and a strict "no fireworks" in the condo complex so it was quiet. Now that I no longer commute I had the option this year to go to my best friends (MC from the Book of Barkley with all the rescue cats).  She and her partner Mr. B. have a large country home but I was sadly informed that her Dad passed away today after a long stint in nursing care and she needs her family now, not company.

So Plan B (as in bow wow).
Yes, I should have ordered a Thundershirt.  My Vet says about 80% of dogs have great success with them and they h ave a money back guarantee. But it's too late now to get one, things already starting to pop around the neighborhood.

So DIY Thundershirt.  Acting on the same principals that the gentle pressure on certain points on your pet will calm and sooth, I made one out of an ace bandage (that was about 5 feet long).  You could also use a long scarf on a smaller dog.

Since the bandage wasn't quite big enough to hit all the pressure points, I used supplemented the back section with a long narrow scarf.
Take the section of bandage and wrap the middle of it across the dog's chest.   She's not looking too sure about this, and has already heard some "Pops" which are making her nervous.
Bring the back of the bandage up over the withers, cross and then bring down below the chest. If long enough bring it back up to the spine and tie it off or fasten with Velcro at the base of the spine like this diagram.

Since my bandage roll wasn't long enough to bring it on up again over the her lower back, I just fastened the ends on the belly with the piece of Velcro that came with the bandage and used separate section of scarf to cradle and pressure the back part of the belly, tying it up above the base of her spine.

It should be snug, but not so snug your dog can't easily sit or lay down.  I also added a drop of PURE frankincense essential oil to the bandage on the chest and put a drop, warmed in my hand, rubbed into the fur on the top of her head and around the outside of her ears. Frankincense is pet safe and is VERY calming for dogs.. Lavender would also work but remember, dogs are quite scent sensitive, before you apply it, put a drop on your hand and see if they have a "no thanks" reaction to it and don't force it if they don't like it.  Abby loves the scents. JUST a drop is plenty and check with your vet if you consider any other oils as some can cause liver and kidney toxicity.  Also don't use the cheap synthetic oils that are just a fragrance of frankincense, not the actual essential oil.

Sit!  Stay!
 Sure I can sit Mom - but this floor under the table is SERIOUSLY lacking foodable crumbs.
 Somebody is MUCH happier even with the boomies starting to go off!   BOOM!
 I'm not afraid of no fireworks!
Thanks Mom - but seriously the next time, don't use the animal print scarf - I don't want Frankie Furter to think I'm a cougar!

Next time there is noise - I'll get the real Thundershirt -  but this really worked and was made with things we had on hand.