There are some of you that visit here, that know why this blog started. There are others, dog lovers like us, that probably wonder how "The Book of Barkley" came to being. But this post is for my friend Amy, the Mom of the incredible
My big brother, an ex-submariner, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Esophageal cancer in 2013. He and I were adopted together as small children and were closer than a lot of siblings, though our careers often kept us thousands of miles apart. We weren't biological siblings, but both with tall frames and red hair, few knew that.
He finished with chemo and radiation, dropping 120 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 vacation, 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. He was only 11 years old. In a flash, life robbed even of the power to grieve for what is ending. I think back to when my beloved big 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 my brother 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 empty air, the color of 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 gray 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.
My original major was Criminal Justice with a minor in Forensic Anthropology. I was the weird kid in school that did my "career day with the Forensic Pathologists, looking at people parts in jars. Now, when I'm called to the witness stand as Dr. Johnson, I look around for that person, feeling like a little kid playing in a grown up's body. But in my work, my first assignment was the week of 9-11 and I have seen things that have seared my soul.
It is on such days where I stood outside on a pale crescent of beaten earth and breathed deep of the cold. 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 a week later, my beloved black Lab Barkley would be gone to an aggressive bone cancer, followed just weeks later by my 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 of us who have lost beloved pets or family members. It's,for all the laughter we've wrapped around each other in the end days, to be carried on forward like held breath, in the airless days ahead.
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 coarsely 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 nutmet 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 peache In large bowl, whisk eggs, milk, maple 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 good sized handfuls of blueberries and 1/3 cup granola or almonds instead of the peaches/walnuts.
Feng Shui (pronounced "fung shway") examines how the placement of things and objects within it affect the energy flow in your living environment, and how these objects interact with and influence your personal energy flow. Your personal energy flow affects how you think and act, which in turn affects how well you perform and succeed in your personal and professional life. Feng Shui affects you every moment of the day — whether you're aware of it or not.
Many people decorate their homes around the principals of Feng Shui, creating an ordered, peaceful environment for living.
Look how tranquil it can be.
But where I hang out - it's a little different, there's dozens of stuffed dog toys, there's chewy's and squeeky's and bones. There's coats for walking the dog in the rain, there's parkas for walking the dog in the snow. There's tennis shoes and snow boots. And there's dog hair - on the furniture, on the floor, on our clothes. There's a reason the antique mission style furniture is covered in black fabric or black leather.
Abby Normal Johnson
There is no order of placement - things are wherever they get thrown with the "Mom - can I have a treat now". So, I have a way of arranging my home that's similar
We call it Fleng Shu (pronounced "flung shoe"). And it's home.
Mom's Third Book "Small Town Roads", has been picked up by a very large and well-known Christian Publishing House. She still has some polishing work to do with her editor but she has met her account rep, book sales rep, and marketing lady, and the final manuscript should be to them soon. She had to do some homework on the small town police thing as she's a Fed in a huge city but with her experience having a Mom that was a Deputy sheriff she had a lot of fun with it.
Unlike her first two books, printed through a small publisher with no placement in brick and mortar book stores due to the publishing cost, it's going to get a lot more attention, marketing and such, being available to 71,000 bookstores and libraries and not just online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and it will be featured at a number of large Christian trade shows.
Having two books that both went to #1 at Amazon, with The Book of Barkley being a featured Indie author in Kirkus Review Magazine as well as winning a major International Literary award, was a big help in pitching it to them. Mom says she can't automatically expect this one will do that well, lightning may not strike thrice, but I hope that her friends will enjoy the story, and the message. (And she really hopes the Chicago library folks that had her over for a big book club event with lots of wine will ask her back!) But when she finished it, she said the practice of the first two really helped her make this one deeper and richer, while still including the zany humor that adds humanity to a deep rooted message.
Storyline: Rachel Raines is orphaned after putting off college to care for ailing parents. Finally she's off to a major city university and the fun loving, young party girl has better things to do then go to church, even if a good student. She inherits her only relative's tiny home in a small town in the middle of nowhere a few months after graduation. She wants to stay in the city, but that house is the only place she has any memories of her family, her childhood home sold to pay for medical bills, burials, and her continued education.
Armed with a Criminal Justice degree and top grades from a prestigious university that should have taken her to the FBI, she finds her self as a rookie patrol officer in a town that has no coffee baristas, no single men her age and the only local restaurant has a giant plastic cow on the roof and scrapple is probably the "soup of the day". Well, there was one single man, but he broke their date after she arrested him.
But small town doesn't always mean safe and she's caught up in a unexpected meth lab bust, and in one moment of violence, her whole life changes, as does her look at her future and her faith.
It will be different then my previous books, fiction and obviously, a Christian theme. a hopeful and gentle one, stressing the values of self reliance, working together as neighbors, and commitment to family and faith as we were raised. The main characters have firearms, faults, and the Constitution on their wall, and I hope the ride won't be too dull.
Lord willing, it should be published before Christmas.
Mom's dad, at 96 is not doing real well, so she's going to print a copy and put it in a binder and send it to him next week but he was very proud at the news.
in that I am NOT a fan of pumpkin. This time each year EVERYTHING is suddenly infused with pumpkin spice - coffee, tea, desserts, and beer
Yes, pumpkin flavored beer.
My husband said it's only a mild hint of pumpkin but I wouldn't try it. He said it was very good.
Sorry. I absolutely adore Fall and Halloween and all the orange and black decorations we put up.
But I'm still not going to try it.
Then I looked at the label. It looked like a lizard wearing liderhosen. He said no, that's a GRASSHOPPER. Points at "Hopper" on the label like I am possessed. Looks like a lizard to me. I told him I think there are jobs out west where Millennials just smoke weed and get paid to design beer labels. He looked at me and said "but I'M a millennial". True (and that explains all the cougar jokes). But I'm still a cranky old pumpkin hater.
But what can I say, my engineer husband is so very smart and he built me new steps with lumber and hard work that are easier on my bad knee (oh minescus, I miss you so). The steps now go back to the yard at a much shallower angle instead of a VERY steep slope to the driveway edge (I think he got the hint when I told him the Red Bull Games were interested in using our steps).
A pictorial version of "how I lost my meniscus".
This way we can install a fence to let Abby Lab out. So I'll forgive him the pumpkin thing, especially since he's scraping and repainting the sun room trim in a bit as well and putting up a punching bag in the basement so I can take out my pumpkin spice aggression and burn calories productively (30 minutes of boxing is 2 nice sized glasses of Chardonnay!)
Brick landing to go! I might even make something out of the beer.
The "clock" in the back is an old timer for developing film, an antique
Sourdough Pumpkin Ale beer Bread.
I have to say, I had a piece for breakfast and it was really good, only a hint of sweet and spice to it, not a "arghhh PUMPKIN spew! spew! spew!" reaction. Flavor wise it erred more on the side of a ever so slightly sweet yeast bread rather than a typical sweet pumpkin bread. If you use a different beer your taste may very, but this was nice, not "Pumpkin-y" at all.
I made mine with my Einkorn based wild yeast sourdough starter but will give directions for both
2 and 1/2 cups 50/50 mixture of einkorn and whole wheat pastry flour (or use white or whole wheat)
1/2 cup sourdough starter (or equal amount flour in place of)
1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon (just a few shakes)
1 bottle pumpkin style ale
Beer instructions: if using all flour, use full bottle.
If using a sourdough starter that's really thick (have to spoon into measuring cup) remove 2 Tablespoons of beer and put rest in mixture
If using a sourdough starter that you can pour into the measuring cup, remove 1/4 cup beer then add rest
Mix well and place in bread pan sprayed with non stick spray
Pour 2 tablespoons melted butter (or melted vegan spread if you are so inclined as this recipe otherwise has no eggs or dairy) over the top and pop in oven.
Bake in preheated 375 F oven for 50 minutes. It should pass the knife test with a firm crispy brown top crust (check it, as it may look done before it is, as the butter browns this up a bit more than other breads).
It was also really moist, and really didn't need the butter.
Not that I was going to leave that off or anything anyway. Like the bread a lot. Still hate pumpkin spice.
Abby is out for a long walk with her Dad while I get a few things done around the house.
Today - while I dive back into the book (goal to have it to my editor complete by next weekend). is two of my favorite bundt cake recipes to take to church or work. The first one is VERY easy. It's moist enough to eat without frosting but you can drizzle it with chocolate syrup with whipped cream for a more decadant dessert.
Dark Chocolate Pistachio Pudding Cake
1 bundt pan
1 box Duncan Hines Butter Recipe cake mix
1/2 cup orange juice (no pulp)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup cooking oil
1/3 teaspoon Penzey's Mexican Vanilla (you can use vanilla extract but the Penzey's is amazing)
1 three ounce box jello pistachio instant pudding
4 extra large eggs
Mix ingredients in large bowl with hand mixer on low until blended (about 30 seconds).
Beat on medium to medium/high for 2 and 1/2 minutes, scraping bowl frequently.
Pour about 2/3 of the batter into a bundt pan sprayed generously with non stick coating mix. Into remaining batter, mix with a spoon until blended- 1/2 cup MINI dark chocolate chips (the larger ones will sink into the batter)
3/4 cup plus 1 1/2 Tablespoons Hershey's Special Dark chocolate syrup.
Pour onto the batter in pan. You do NOT need to marble this with a spoon.
Bake at 350 for 55 minutes (check at 50 minutes, a thin knife inserted into the cake near the middle should come out clean).
Drizzle with a bit more syrup or eat plain. The second cake is a "blast from the past" if you grew up in the 70's. I remember my Mom making this and recently found the recipe printed out on a little card in Dad's kitchen. It takes longer to make than the cake above but it's worth it.
I hadn't had it since I was a kid when I ran across the recipe again, adding a bit of lemon zest and mellowing out the "pucker up" tart glaze a bit with milk and lemon extract instead of straight sugar and lemon juice. It was a nice change, yet still a very familiar taste, just as good as I remembered. It's an incredibly moist, tender crumb, and the outside gets this nice little crunchy bite around the edges from long slow baking at a lower temperature.
7 Up Cake 3 sticks salted butter 3 cups sugar 5 extra large eggs (at room temperature) 2 Tablespoons lemon extract 1 teaspoon lemon zest 3 cups of all purpose flower 3/4 cup 7-Up
Glaze: 1 cup powdered sugar 2 tsp milk 2 tsp lemon extract a splash of 7-Up (until you get the consistency you want, start with 1/2 tsp. and go from there) Preheat oven to 325 F. In a large bowl, cream butter for about 3 minutes with a hand or stand mixer on medium high to high. Add in the sugar (about 1/4 of the total at a time) and beat for additional 17 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as it mixes. (Yes, you heard me, 20 minutes total). Add eggs, one at a time, beating a minute after each one (the mixture will look VERY fluffy). Add lemon extract, lemon zest and the flour, one cup at a time, mixing on low or by hand just enough to combine (don't over beat once the flour is added). Gently fold in the 7-Up and pour into a greased 12 cup Bundt cake pan and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes (or until a thin knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. (check at 50-60 minutes, this cake is easy to over bake). Cool and glaze.
For today, while I make a pot of coffee and hunker down to write a few more chapters, including this one -- a tale of exposed windswept places and hearts that withstand the cold. The chapter is written from the viewpoint of the book's main character, a young woman, orphaned in her early 20's, that post college graduation takes a job as a police officer in a very small town,living in a tiny old house her Aunt left to her when she too passed, instead of living off her inheritance, having fun in the big city. Along the way, she finds herself, danger, and God. You all be safe now.
Chapter 11 - from Small Town Roads (Xulon Publishing Company, early 2017)
You could see the air mass coming on down
from Canada. I couldn't 'help but think of this
one day some years ago wherein the local TV news channel had to substitute a
regular reporter for their meteorologist. She was obviously very
pretty but of weather knowledge-- there was none. But she
tried. What made me snort tea, was in her stress in relaying what was on
the radar, she blurted out on the air. "From the north comes a Giant
Green Blob!!" (that would be precipitation Miss)
Myself, I rely on Accu-Cow weather for the drive. He's the
cow that's perched on top of the diner. No, not a real cow, he's made out of
some hard plastic. If Accu-cow is dry it's nice out, if he's wet, it's
raining. He's always there as I make my way to work or run errands.
But today Accu-cow is almost moving in the stiff wind, a wind that
is VERY cold.
The icy wind blows down from Canada, mother nature pulling the chill deep out
of the ground and throwing it in your face, daring you to fight back. It is a
frigid mass of air we've not seen in my lifetime.
Looking out across a flat horizon I wonder why this view looks so
different than when I lived in the city.. Certainly I can put on the scientist
hat and say it was the glaciers that moved down from the north in the Cenozoic
era, or the giant dust storms that followed that carried the soil away, then
replaced by layers of volcanic ash from the West, creating a vista of
fertility. But the difference is more how I live in it, as opposed to it's
There is something about being able to see so near and so far.
Some people feel exposed out in the open land, I don't. I walk the fields, and
patrol the streets, nothing more than a moving lightning rod for those things
that might wish to strike me, but they don't. I feel a lot out here in the open
heartland, my my dog Clyde
my side, and it is not fear, it's comfort. It follows me as I walk, the sound
of my breath, the whisper of God there in the corn, the vista of open miles of
ground in which I perceive the absolute truth about the past, a truth beyond
the buildings and billboards of illusion.
Trees throughout much of the northern plains are few, taken down
so that the soil may be tilled, only a few remaining as protection against the
marauding wind that cuts through the land late at night like a Viking horde.
The cold presses down, pressing deep, into layers of topsoil, and the bones of
ancient buffalo, who bury themselves further down to get out of the wind,
strataform of bones and life and death, forming the coal that drives much of
Tonight, this close to the window, I can almost smell the cold,
the odor of a whetted knife, carving shadows into the night. My body responds
in a way as ancient as these lands, and I pull my black sweater across my
chest, tight and warm, and turn away from the glass.
"You ought to move south", my friends from college would
say. "How about California or Florida?" I enjoyed as a youth, like anyone,
days snorkeling, blue water dreams and tropical sun. But that is not where I
want to live year round. I am not at home in such places all of the time,
preferring these months of quiet cold, time to think, to write, to dream broad
dreams, icy fingers down my neck making me shiver, the fire, melting
marshmallow against my skin, melting me.
The lamplight dances along the walls, my shadow following. Clyde is asleep on the rug, feet in the
air, exposing warm fur to a remembered sun of August, feet chasing dusk
colored rabbits within a dream. I think back to tales of my ancestors on my
Mom's side, who came to the United States settling in Minnesota. Of great grandpa, new to the country,
moving a household across miles of land, risking all he had to form a new life
out where winters are raw, beating miles of ocean and illness and pain, only to
lose most of his money, belongings and food as wind swept fire roared through
where he lay sleeping one night. But he got out, accessed the damage, and
gathered those small coins he had left to him, and moved on to safer ground.
The wind sings its siren song against the eaves, daring me to
leave, to admit that staying in the Midwest, the land of my ancestors, where I had no family other than my
Aunt was not a good idea.. But I won't. The price that was exacted for learning
my way alone out here left my heart an almost empty purse, with just a few
scattered coins tinkling in the bottom. Yet I know it was a journey I had to
make. You make decisions with what is in the heart at the time, and when the
chill wind blows, you take stock of your life and your decisions and seek
shelter elsewhere or you stand and fight for your life and heart, and what
fuels it. To do otherwise is to wither and die. Out here, the price of
innocence is high.
Outside, the wind howls, mute in its anger, with no breath now but
a sigh. Clyde the Lab and I flee inside with drumming hearts and warm hands and hoist a
challenge to the cold as the fire ignites the night. Here and there faint
windows glow, while the trees outside lay their shadows across my shirt like
scraps of black velvet. I close the curtain and pour the wine and listen to my
They say the Rockies are God's country, but so is this, a small juncture of trees and
grass and an old easy chair inside a warm house. A small point in space among a
great expanse of glory, where the Trinity is intact because it had never been
otherwise, simply tested by the fragility of youth and the passion of yearning.
God lost and then found, postulated here in the open miles of our faith and
I think I understand why my grandparents settled here and I find,
more and more, that I am like them. I belong to this cold landscape, surviving
like the small creatures outside, by wit and heart and faith in my Lord. As I
turn back towards the fire, I listen to the wind, tapping the glass with the
resonant sound of a few small coins that are left in my heart, ready to be
spent. I know that I'm where I need to be, as snow brushes the window like a
kiss and I wait for the knock of wind at my door.