Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sunday Eats - Birthday Cake!

Abby's Dad

My husband's birthday  was this weekend and I asked him what kind of cake he wanted. Out of all the varied cake's I've come up with in the 8 years we've been either best friends or married, this was his pick. It's the easiest of all my cake recipes, using a mix, so I didn't argue.

Creamsickle Cake


Put 3 eggs out to bring them up to room temperature.

Stick a medium sized bowl in the fridge to get it cold (I'll explain later).

1 lemon cake mix (I used Betty Crocker Delights Moist Lemon).

Make as directed, using the room temperature eggs as per the box, but add 1 teaspoon of McCormick or Watkins Orange extract and 1Tablespoon of finely grated orange zest (the very outer orange layer of a orange, which you will wash thoroughly first before grating).

Bake in greased 13 x 9 pan as directed. While it bakes, clean the beaters and put in the bowl in the fridge (unless you are going to use a tub of Cool Whip instead of whipped cream.)

When the cake is out of the oven, poke holes through about half the depth of the cake every 2 or so inches apart with the back end of a wooden spoon.

In a small bowl mix, 1 cup boiling water with 1 small box orange Jello (NOT sugar free) and carefully pour over the cake, making sure it gets into the holes and doesn't just run down the sides.

Let cake cool 30-40 minutes.
When the cake is about cool, mix 1 small box French Vanilla instant  Jello pudding with 1 cup of milk (I used 2%) with a whisk. Add 1 teaspoon of orange extract. Let sit to thicken while you make the whipped cream.

Yes, you can use a tub of Cool Whip instead and add the vanilla pudding to it. (Just ignore that little twitch of mine).

Whipped cream - 12 ounces (a cup and a half) of heavy whipping cream.  Beat for about 5 minutes with the chilled, very clean and very cold beaters and bowl until it starts to thicken. Add in 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and whip a bit more, until it's the right consistency. It should take about 5-6 minutes  total with a chilled bowl and beaters. Don't over beat or you will have butter.

Carefully fold pudding mix into whipped cream and frost cooled cake. Store in refrigerator. 

Creamsickle is a trademark of the Popsickle company.  If you've never eaten one, you have missed out! I grew up on their products and love them to this day.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

On Preparation - Emergency Supplies for Pets


Having good provisions, be it for a disaster or a holiday party is always essential. (old picture but the Barkley photobomb made me smile). We think about the basics, nutrition, and water but we don't always think about the other things that make life good, coffee, perhaps a small tin or two of savory or sweet snacks. .  and how about PET FOOD.  Most of us might keep an extra bag or a few extra cans of cat food on hand. But that's not enough for more than short term for a pet.  If there is a full-blown disaster that may be more than a day or two, you will need much more.

My dog is part of the family, and during a disaster, is also an early warning system to anyone wishes to break into my home (Abby is a gentle dog but she has a ferocious growl and bark if she hears footsteps on the porch.)  I want to make sure she is safe in the event of a man-made or natural disaster.

If you have to evacuate.  Keep phone numbers for pet friendly hotels, nearby animal hospitals/shelters as well as Red Cross or any other relief agencies in the area you have as your evacuation point if your disaster is limited to the small area in which you live.  I mention Red Cross as they sometimes have supplied portable animal shelters during a crises in certain locations within the US.

If you have more than one pet and one family member, put one person in charge of a specific pet so they are tasked with making sure they know the pet's location at all times.

Make sure you have pet carriers for pets that won't ride freely in a vehicle and practice getting them into it for a few short practice drives.

Include in your handbag or backpack a pet description, any microchip info, pet insurance, and a photo of your pet in your kit, so you can alert others if you are separated as you evacuate (keep in your home supplies as well).  Have a tag with a phone number on your pet, but you may wish to leave your address off.  In a disaster you may not want to advertise that you are home. Meet up at a safe public location to retrieve your pet if you are split up.
If worse case, you are fleeing on foot, don't let your pet near any floodwaters, nor let them drink it. Be vigilant if you are in a rural area.  During flooding or fire, wild animals may be displaced as well and how they will interact with you and your pet is unknown.

If your bugout location is a friend or family members property, make sure they are OK with you showing up with your pets.  If they are highly allergic or have small children that may not interact with your breed of animal safely- have a Plan "B".

Whether you are going to a safer location or hunkering down for the duration of the emergency -the following tips are invaluable to keep your pets safe (and don't forget supplies for your two-legged family members).

Make sure your pet is up to date with vaccinations/shots and you have at least six months of flea/tick medication.  If your pet requires any other medications make sure you stockpile several months worth.
Abby likes Blue Buffalo Basic (grain free and several "flavors" for variety

For food - remember canned food can be heavy and will add a lot of weight if you decide you need to leave your home. Dried food is better and a food bin with a locking seal or food grade buckets to keep vermin out.  Also keep a couple oxygen absorbers to preserve freshness and discourage larvae.  If your own provisions include canned meats and stews, that can be a source of food for a pet as well, but only as a last resort due to the high sodium content. Do not resort to a "cheap" food due to the bulk purchase. You want a food high in nutrients and essential fatty acids.  I rotate my bags each month as I purchase a new bag so freshness is not an issue.
I learned the hard way about giving Abby cheap food, then loading her up in the car

Your pet will also need up to 1/2 gallon of water per day, more if they are a larger breed.  Keep it in an assortment of mediums so you can grab a little or a lot depending on the circumstances. Do not store water in previously used milk or juice jugs.Treat stored tap water with 8 drops (1/8 teaspoon) of bleach per gallon (safe for pets and humans alike) if the water is clear.  If water is cloudy use water purification tablets and/or boil (if loca of tap water with a handle that are by the back door on the garden, then refill every Spring and Fall, a CDC reccomendation).
Treats and toys - will reduce stress.  Make sure if you are using peanut butter as a treat that it does NOT contain xyletol.  That's showing up in more and more PB and can cause fatal hypoglycemia and hepatic necrosis in dogs.

Add a couple of extra leashes and a harness to the food and water bowls.  In an emergency situation your dog may be as stressed as you, so even if they're good off leash in normal circumstances, leash them as you travel and keep them in the harness while in the vehicle. If you can, have one of the spare leashes made out of paracord so it can be taken apart used in an emergency.

Keep 50 feet of vinyl cord in your kit, for a runner or tie down.

Keep a thermal blanket for each family member including pets, which holds in 90% of body heat.  A pet bed should be added if you can.

Make sure you have newspapers and plastic bags for doggie waste.  If you are stuck inside, have a washable mat that the dog can use to relieve itself and treats to reward it when it complies with this new task. Another option - especially with a larger bread that's a veritable poop machine invest in a Doggie Dooley Septic Tank: it works like a miniature septic tank.using tural bacteria and enzyme cultures to reduce dog waste to a ground absorbing liquid. Just shovel stools into the system, add water and Digester Powder and you're done. It's a clean way to dispose of waste under any situation.
If you're a cat person, make sure you have extra litter, scoops, and bags to dispose of the waste.

Lastly - a first aid and care kit

Wound Spray such as Pet Relief Dog first aid spray. Pet Relief Dog first aid spray is an all-natural spray that will help your dog heal fast. It's 100% safe and effective.


No-Chew Bandages: PetFlex No Chew Bandage is a flexible, cohesive bandage with a bitter taste to help prevent chewing, biting and tearing of the bandage. PetFlex tears cleanly by hand, will not constrict, does not stick to skin or hair, and stays in place. It's just enough to dissuade 
your dog from chewing so that the injury can heal.

Manuka Honey - Manuka honey is a natural antibiotic and safe for pet consumption

Paw Disinfectant
Gauze Pads
Ear Ointment

If you have a breed prone to ear infections add Zymox for Treatment of Chronic Ear Infections: ZYMOX  is an over the counter enzymatic solution for dogs and cats in the treatment of acute and chronic inflammation of the external ear caused by bacterial, viral ,
and yeast infections. Have on hand in your emergency preparations. Treat once a day for 7 days for acute infection and once a day for 14 days for chronic infection.

Sam Splint
Kerlix Gauze Bandage Rolls
Celox (blood clotting agent)
Zymox Topical Cream
grooming brush
exam gloves (for first aid and applying topical meds)
doggie toothpaste and two toothbrushes
tweezer and magnifying glass (for ticks)

Since a vet may not be available learn basic animal first aid.  A great reference book available on Amazon is "First Aid Companion for Dogs and Cats" by Amy Shojai.

Training - teach your dog to bark at unknown persons or noise on your property.  Equally as important, teach them to stop barking on command (to not alert an intruder to your presence).  Abby knows both Woof! and NO Bark which was easy to teach with treats. Knowing STAY may save your dog's life.  Cats - well, good luck with that :-)
Have your emergency food and supplies location where they are together and easily able to be moved to a vehicle should hunkering down be no longer a safe option (this is where you will thank yourself for adding a loading cart to your ladders and home improvement stuff)  An old roller bag suitcase or duffels work or if you are going to a location where you won't be traveling further store the items in your empty food bins. We have the majority of the emergency rations for people and pets in the basement by the back door (it's a walk-out), easy to load up if there was an emergency that forced us to leave for a longer term with short notice.

We also keep a small duffel with just 3 days of supplies and a small medical kit for both people and pets by the back door  if the nature of the emergency if we have to leave immediately to stay elsewhere but only for a night or two (i.e. tree takes our roof, train derailment, or gas leak etc,).

Because Blinky the Snowman Says -

It's all fun and games til someone pokes an eye out.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Maybe Dull People, but Never a Dull Moment - an Abby Lab Post

Abby Lab again.

Today was a better day and EVEN better, Dad came home from work at lunch!  So instead of my dog walker it was DAD!  He said he was using vacation time to finish ripping out the front steps to get the concrete poured for the new front steps before the rain moves in this weekend.

He's out there making lots of noise as he takes out part of the sidewalk with a sledgehammer, but Mom just took him a piece of  pecan coffeecake and a rootbeer.

Then I got a small box from Chewy - but it really wasn't from Chewy - it was from my fella Frankie Furter with an Easter Sir Prize!

Last night was quiet. Mom stayed hom and didn't go to the Wednesday church service for Lent..  Every Sunday they disappear and I think church is the place that they go.  I don't go to church but would if they let me. Before Mom explained God to me- I was a  Frisbeetarianism  Thata's the belief that, when you die, your Soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

Dad is having a birthday this week. He turns 34.  Mom warned him not to make any comments abouat being "old".  Mom is older than Dad, she's not saying how much.  She's pretty quiet about some things. Like why she shoos me out of the bedroom when she gets dressed.  She probably doesn't want me to see her H.R. Pufnstuf tattoo that she probably has.

Mom decided to go on to this website Zazzle, where you can select and or create your own greeting cards.  Mom created one, and it came today, just in time, but with one (ahem) error.  Not the cover which she knew would make him smile.

But-

Even though today wasn't his birthday quite yet she showed it to Dad and he laughed his head off.

DUH Mom!

She thought the cards were just blank inside.

Well, there's a big roast in the crockpot and since it doesn't have garlic or onions, just beefy gravy with red wine, carrots, and celery, Mom said I ca have a piece along with some of the gluten-free cornbread.

Things just get better and better.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sometimes You Need the Bigger Box

Abby Lab here.

Mom said to keep it short as she just wants to sit in the quiet for a bit. Today was a tough day. She got word late yesterday that her squirrel  partner for many years died from an aggresive brain cancer diagnosed over the holiday season. We used to tease her about him as she is sort of like "Bones" on TV, but she said "yeah, but instead of a partner who is a handsome FBI agent, mine's a short balding Cajun". But she so admired P, a former Marine aviator, and they developed a deep bond as Christian colleagues working together in difficult circumstances. He leaves a wife and son in college. Mom's going to make sure there's money for his college if they come up short.

Then the events in London today which meant many going ons in squirrel central.

On her way home, she snagged the BIG box of wine, not the gallon but the one that's about a full bottle.  The adorable female bagger who has Down's Syndrome and is so friendly and helpful looked at her face, looked at the bottle and said "Mommy Juice Box?"

Indeed, young lady, indeed.

Stay safe my friends.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Barkley Memories - Finding Home


La Querencia, a Spanish word difficult to translate, but it invokes a space of sanctuary.  In the story Racing Through Paradise, William F. Buckley says, “The word doesn't translate. It is used in Spanish to designate that mysterious little area in the bullring that catches the fancy of the fighting bull when he charges in. He imagines it his sanctuary: when parked there, he supposes he cannot be hurt. The role of the matador then is to move the bull out of his secured spot."

It is a spot where a dog can sleep, tummy exposed to the sun. It's that secret place where antelope graze without fear and a redhead can sleep protected and safe. It's a point in space where an eagle can soar above the trees and an elk can fight to the death or his dominion. It's a place where one can make a fresh start, or a last stand. In the bullring, it’s called Querencia, and its translation is as diverse as the enigma of its existence.

For me, it's just a little Mission Bungalow built exactly one hundred years ago.

The house I grew up in wasn't a huge place, only one bathroom that had a tub, requiring a schedule worthy of a battle commander on early mornings.  There was just one other smaller bath with a sink and a toilet off the garage for us to come in and clean up after we tinkered with tools and cars.

I had my own room, being the only girl in the family, with a window that looked out onto an apple tree that since has been cut down. I climbed out of that window more than once, dropping into the darkness on the ground in silence. Not to sneak out and party or any other mischief the other kids were up to, but to simply get out of the house, out into the outdoors, sitting on the grass out back, watching the stars on those nights when I was restless. I'd think of things that I'd dream of, if only I could sleep. A small tidy home and shop of my own someday, a good man, a big dog and all the chocolate I could eat.

But as life renews itself, so do dreams. Living with just Barkley in a humongous house, full of expensive things I had to work doubly hard to pay for, coming home late to the one that patiently waited, something dawned on me one night. My dog Barkley didn't care where we lived, what we owned, or who would judge us for that.  All he knew was unbridled living in the moment and following your heart. He appreciated the things that held no form, that bore no name, the glint of sun off of a pond, a walk in the woods, one last look at the night sky as the stars finally fade. As we walked and Barkley went into full point on a plastic deer in someones yard in that old subdivision, I thought how he has also was pointing me to the things that matter in life - loyalty, devotion and love without strings attached.

So I sold it, at a significant financial loss with the market tanking, but I didn't care. I wanted a life where I still worked hard, but work wasn't what defined me. wanted a home, a house that looks less like a magazine and more like a life, the sort of place my Dad would smoke a pipe in, with high wooden beams, old tools and a place to use them, a house for a writer, a retreat for the dreamer.
People say that with change we grow. I'm not so sure I see it quite that way, but rather that we become what we always were, but had changed, molded or kept hidden to satisfy others. Changing our true nature to fit some preconceived notion of how the happy, successful person would live, or with whom. With the changes in my life,  with each friendship I've made and maintained over time, people more like myself, and less like who I was expected to spend time with, I'd become more true to myself. It's as if with each change, whether with loss or with happiness, with challenge, with new friends and new discoveries, the layers peel way like thin skin of an onion, exposing nerve endings to the chill air, awakening something that lay dormant for too long.

With that in mind, I simply loaded up that car with what I could carry, my dog in the backseat, happy simply to be where I was,  with whatever changes came. We wandered, he and I, until we found what was for us, home.

When I showed a professional associate the picture for the place that would finally become home with my husband, I was met with "you're going to LIVE there? It's so small!!  If I had your income, I'd be buying one of those big houses on the lake. Where are you going to shop? What are your neighbors going to think".

You know, I really don't CARE what the neighbor's think. I quit changing who I was to conform to society a long time ago, a foreigner to the immutable laws that TV and greed seem to have placed upon people. I simply wanted to come home and grab a tennis ball and go play with my dog in the yard. I didn't want to come home to a huge cavernous dwelling where I rattled around with the stranger I was becoming, heaving and sighing with the work of keeping that life up, uttering the sounds of someone engaged in a battle without arms.
My first summer here, the air was still warm with life and need. I looked around, I looked down at small things, green plants enduring in hard ground to find light and air, like stars amidst a night sky. I looked up straight into the sun, and for that brief moment, when I must turn away, I could see a pure clear circle, illuminating everything. I saw my shadow, and that of a black Lab, with a shape that was us, yet didn't define us, simply a form, in this place in time, following what was truly within us, wherever we went.

Life in essence, remains the same, even as it changes, these existing things have always been true. It's a small flower, small spots of fresh life, unheard poetry on the hidden side of a planet spinning in space. It's an articulated bark of welcome, it's the wag of a tail. It's darkness, light, and a great thirst to quench before winter's darkness is one of permanence, things you can not hold, but which fill up empty spaces in a life much better than material possession.
What would we be, were we shed of all those material things, of our possessions, our titles, of our names? The things in the forest have no name, they have no earthly riches, yet they still exist; they still are profound in their creation. The creatures of the forest have no titles, and survive based on skill and cunning, not their credit limit or the car they drive. The plants grow and thread and seek light, just as man, when shedding that which is unnecessary, sees the light that is often truth.

On the wall of my Dad's shop area is a old picture of a bullfight.  One he bought for the house as a newlywed which Mom took one look at and sent to the garage. We teased him a lot about it, and just looking at it brought he and my mom to laughter that ended with a kiss and a knowing smile. Yet, in looking at it today, I see the bull, not as a shape, with form and depth, a mass of muscle and bone inherent with the capacity to hurt, but simply a creature knowing what it needed, and willing to sacrifice so very much to keep it.

Behind his house, where deer once wandered down from the mountains, delicate and untouchable as smoke, leaving only tender footprints in the flower beds to mark their passing, stands a Big Box Mart or two, that blot out what is left of the timber and much of the sun. I remember my Dad watching them cut down the trees, with eyes like pieces of a broken plate, steadfast in his refusal to sell, as most of the neighbors did. This house is his home, a dwelling where he raised his kids and outlived two beloved wives, a place he will only leave when he ceases to breathe, the fight in him, only then, having flown away.
My room he has kept, just as it was in my youth.  The walls are still yellow,  my favorite color, a few stuffed animals in the corner, a poster on the closet door,  a music stand.

Mom's kitchen is unchanged but for the refrigerator, once covered with childlike artwork, now laid bare. The wall behind it in the family room that once framed drawings from grade school and ribbons from the science fair is now covered with commendations and more complex ribbons, pictures of airplanes and submarines and the children of the family, proudly swearing an oath to their country in a solemn moment of choice and service, each and every one of us.
Many of the memories there in his home are happy ones, some are bittersweet.  There are the small ceramic things my Mom made, still carefully dusted years after she was dust herself. There is the teddy bear by my bed, showing the signs of wear from when I came home  from the hospital without my daughter and cried myself to sleep  in his fur night after night, while my Dad listened, helpless in the next room, wanting only for me to be happy again.

When I walk in, those memories  remain, though they are dampened by the years, overlaid with other memories of happiness.  As they say, you can't go home again, but we, by our nature, try. It changes, and it doesn't, it's the warmth of a kitchen, a flag flying out front, old tools in the garage and the skills passed on by a Father. It's four walls and new family members who will gather and remember those who are gone.

In those first weeks after Barkley left us, I would step up the steps up to my own porch. I wanted desperately to hear the soft "woof" as Barkley waited in the kitchen for me to step in. But I could only walk in, in that utter quiet that was now the house, sensing those who were absent who inhabited this place but existed now as only ghosts of my past, living on the breath of memory.
I stood outside the door, hearing hushed wind, hand on the doorknob, hesitant to open the door to every memory, hesitant more, to leave them behind. I stood there silently, my presence not detected by dogs forever silent, motionless, trying to blend in with the house, the dark wood and trees, listening to the living presence of a home, all the lives and love and heartache that went into it, that formed these four walls, that now formed me.

I listened, as a churchgoer does, to chants in ancient languages that no one understands, but listens to anyway, the words a peace that flows like water. There was no bark but that of the trees, and the baleful sound of a wind that spoke the name of one departed. I listened for things I'd dreamed of, if only I could sleep.

I opened up the door to go on in. I had no words for what I was feeling. I had no name for the quiet that waited inside. But that was OK. There are no words for the shafts of light between the trees, of the unity of earth and roots and small creatures that are born and die as food for the soil. There are no names for the rocks that direct a streams flow, for the fur and leaves that line an eagle's nest. Yet they are, and always will be. Strong. Necessary. Waiting.

 - LB Johnson

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sunday Black and White - In Memory of Sugar


Humans stay on this earth a long time
 learning to be good.
Dogs stay just a short time
 as they already are.
Unknown

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Saturday Eats

While my husband went and got supplies to rebuild the front porch (looking every bit of a hundred years old and starting to sag from a rotted support post from years before we got the place and landscaped it for proper drainage),  baked, cleaned and cooked

Abby is snoopervising, only retreating to the futon for a nap when Vlacula comes out to clean up the area rugs.
I'm helping Mom!

Call me old fashioned but I enjoy taking care of a home and a kitchen for my husband so he's got a comfortable place to come home to after a long day of work (as do I).
After they got married my great grandmother did that, my grandmother did that, my Mom did that (when she wasn't being Deputy Sheriff).  But they did it out of love, the greatest of reasons.

My husband does as much work as I do, probably a bit more with all the renovation. It's a shared responsibility but I don't mind doing the tasks he doesn't like to do,  just as he cleans the gutters and does the weeding and yard work, which I don't like to do.

Because if I was expected to do everything it would be.

TALK TO THE PAW!

But I'm lucky to have a husband like my Dad, that views the house as a shared responsibility.  As he deals with spiders, and plumbing reworkings, I try and leave enough meals so that after a long day, or regular weeks away from home in a hotel, he doesn't HAVE to cook or eat something from a box.

We had roast beef sandwiches for lunch but tonight's  dinner was "what's in the fridge.  The stir fry I made a couple of days ago was gone and I usually do my grocery shopping on Monday when it's not so crowded.

3 large tortillas.
the usual canned stuff.
some frozen veggies
2 cooked chicken breasts
about a cup of sour cream
a bag and a half of cheese
and a few jalapenos

And BEER!

I can make something out of that. (the light was pretty low but you get the idea)

Tex-Mex Chicken-Jalapeno Lasagna

No noodles to boil and a tasty mix of creamy, cheesy, and savory with a nice little crisp bite from the peppers. 

In a cast iron pan with a little olive oil saute until softened;

1 large onion

Set aside 2 cups of grated Mexican Blend Cheese

In a bowl mix:

Can of Cream of Cluck Soup
A cup of sour cream
A small box of spinach, thawed and drained and squeezed between paper towers til all the moisture is out.
A few dashes of seasoning salt (I used Janes Krazy Mixed Up Salt - My favorite as it is lower in sodium than many seasoning mixes).
The sauteed onions (or replace with celery or yellow or orange bell peppers if you don't like onions)
3-5 chopped de-seeded jalepanos. (I used 5 for hot, not make your eyes water hot, but zippy)

Chop up 2-3 cooked chicken breasts (or prepared veggie chicken or tofu), dusted with a little ancho chili powder before cooking).

Layer in a non-stick sprayed 8 x 8 pan

1 flour tortilla
1/3 of the soup mixture
1/2 of the chicken
a big handful of cheese

1 tortilla
1/3 of the soup mixture
1/2 of the chicken
a handful of cheese

1 tortilla
remaining soup mixture
remaining cheese.

Bake, covered with foil, at 325 F for 35 minutes, until bubbly and the cheese is melted.

And the beer was for the cook.
It was REALLY tasty and made enough to feed six folks, and should freeze really well for leftovers.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Sugar Has Gone to the Bridge

Run free Sugar, over the years so many wonderful posts and adventures, and of course, the Sunday Black and White Blog Hop you helped host.

You will be deeply missed by more than just your beloved family.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

On Special Moments

For those occasional lousy days, followed by  bad hair, bad breath mornings, when your furry best friend let's you know you are absolutely the most beautiful, important thing in the world.

I miss you Barkley - and those special moments.
But I'm so happy to have Abby the Rescue Lab waiting for me while I work (her Dad was home today on a house project and got a photo of her looking for my truck almost to the minute when I normally roll in).

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Restoring Ourselves - A Tale of a an old Bungalow and a Pile of Stuffies

It was that time of the evening when things grow both restless and weary.The sun has dipped below the horizon, just enough light remaining to make out the forms of a couple of bicycles strewn across a lawn down the street, abandoned by children called in to supper. Piled up in the corner by where I sit and read are Abby is the pile of Abby's "stuffies" laying as if napping, where they will remain this late afternoon until she gently carries them to her dog bed at night, to sleep by her side.

As I get ready to go out for a quick jaunt around the neighborhood before dark, it's not hard to see the houses that have big screen TV's in the living room as they are directly evident if the windows are open, or providing that tell tale glare of light through the curtains. For many people, the TV is on as soon as they walk in the door, People come home, turn on the television, turn on the video games, draw the blinds, their view of the world that which comes through on the TV, losing imperceptibly their sense of the outside, of the world beyond a news anchor.

If someone walked past our porch at night, they'd see no such light. For we don't have a big screen TV. We don't have a TV at all, but for a small one in the in basement where we can get the weather with an antenna on the roof if we're down there due to Mr. Tornado.  If we want to watch a favorite show we have boxed sets, (cheaper than cable) from which to pick, watching on the computer monitor that can be turned to face the cozy futon in the office. Even that is something we only do on some weekends.
The crash pad where I lived after I got married, but before I was able to transfer to our Chicago facility, had a nice TV from my old house, but it was given to the young couple in need who are got all of the furniture, which we really have neither need nor room for up here.  They had lost everything in a natural disaster, and on a waiting list to adopt a baby, were anxious to be able to provide a furnished home.  They rented a small house, I provided all of the contents of mine, and they were finally at ease, that baby coming along in two months time from an unwed mother loving enough to give her child up to a good home.  Some things just work themselves out.

I'm fine with my smaller, older home. But anyone curious or casing this place to rob it would see hardwood floors, restored antique furniture, lots of leaded and stained glass and a Victrola, my service revolver in the nightstand and a few vintage LEO pistols of generation's past carefully locked up in the safe.
As big and beautiful as it was, I don't miss my old house.  It was your typical McMansion, those huge suburban  houses that are less home than monopoly game house squares of plastic and cheap lumber and wasted spaced.  What wood is there is usually laminate, the walls not thick enough to withstand a really good storm or the thump of a neighbors bass played too loud. They look OK now, but I can't imagine what it will take to sustain them 100 years from now, if they're even still standing.  But they are big  and "new!" with three car garages full of a lot of things that aren't paid for yet, the neighbors house so close you can't swing a tax assessor without whacking your next door neighbor. Some didn't even have furniture - the people buying them not having enough money after buying the too big house to properly furnish it.
Our house is old, it's small and it's sturdy.  There is no big mortgage, there is no credit card debt for the furnishings.  But for a small table that was a family heirloom, everything in our view we bought with cash, or picked from curbside trash, restoring it as best we can, those items that another found to have little worth.  I think the only things well under 50  years old in the house are the computer, the mattress, the frame of a couch we restored and the two beloved souls I live with, both two and four legged.

I've had a couple casual acquaintances look at the sagging porch that needs to be redone, the antiquated kitchen and a sun porch that makes the Green Acres house look upscale and make a subtlety snarky comment about it. They're not invited back. It's a work in progress, the whole house being a restoration project, much of the work on things you won't see on the surface. I look at it differently, I guess.  I don't see what still needs to be done.  I see what HAS been done.
The little village within the big city we live in is small, with a train station, a small grocers, a mom and pop pizza place and a couple of pubs.  The houses themselves are grey, white, brown or brick, no trendy Victorian doll house colors, no urban renewal shades of  yuppie reclamation.  The houses and porches are the shades of time and shadow and quiet murmured voices gathered between columns, as if time and breath had made them all one quiet color, a hushed vestibule where all is forgiven.

Within a short drive is a trendy urban area where people live in half a million dollar apartments, taking the train into the city, some not even owning cars as every bit of millennial spender and excess is within walking distance. We do go there as that's where the big home improvement store is.  That's where we bought all the copper pipe and wood for the house and a nice runner for the hall at a good discount, because the young man with the trendy haircut couldn't multiply $12.97 times 6 on a piece of paper when the calculator went missing.

No, I'll pass on all the "hip" places unless they have tools.  I'm perfectly happy browsing in an antique book store or standing in line at the grocer with elderly Polish women.  Dressed as if they are going to church, many of them have survived more than one war, holding our numbers and waiting for the deli clerk to slice meat that was roasted in the store, not unwrapped from cellophane, shaving the meats and the cheese and carefully wrapping them up for me with a smile. There's homemade sausages, salads, and potato pancakes, foods known well to the immigrants that settled in this place. I'll pass on the toaster strudel, and buy one of the real thing, made by hand, breathing in the scent of sugar and yeast as I head home with my bounty, driving past an ancient church and a small park which knows know only the shades of those first children that played there.
Am I just getting old - looking at the past as simply stories of youth and bravery, doomed to forgetfulness as I eventually pass, as we all will, those points of affection and regret into a fog that quietly dims the lights? Or have I simply changed what parts of the world are important to me based on how I have touched the world, and it has touched me in return?

I think it is the latter.  Getting to middle age is is some way, like surviving a war.  There are false truces and negotiations, retreat and reconciliation, triumph and treachery. In the end, if you are lucky, there is peace, your warrior's medals and ribbons being internal, only recognized when you look into the mirror and see those first lines around your eyes and smile because you know that despite it all, your sustained breath is its own little victory.
It's a peace I enjoy and as some of my peers rush around getting Botox and fillers, putting on enough makeup to make Krusty the Klown jealous. I'm perfectly content to put on sweat pants and tactical lip gloss and just hit the road, face bare and long red ponytail trailing behind me like those red warning flags you see on timber hanging off the bed of a fast moving little pick up.

So tonight, I'll  take a jog down through the village across the railroad tracks and down past the old church.  In the small graveyard there stands upon a grave site, a  stone angel, her shadow painting a canvas of dimming light as I move past.  She is a melancholy spirit, crafted in another century, her eyes closed as if in prayer, her mouth open as if she turned to stone in the moment she uttered her life's final secret.  Around the grave there is a garland of living flowers, grown wild, even as the rest of the small graveyard fades to dust, flowers reaching for one last bit of sun, there amidst the silent stones, the histories that live on in this place.
I wonder how many people have walked past her, with earbuds on, or their head down with texting, not realizing the significance of a forgotten grave - that one small thing, that soul - at one time, the most important thing in the world to someone, held through sickness and health, and cherished even as they grew old and faded as flowers will.

How many now, truly possess that which holds weight and value, something that when viewed, when held, lights up the eyes with the triumphs of all risks and renunciations. Or have we become a society of the easy and disposable, be it a product, a relationship, or worse, even a life?

As the sky begins to spit snow again, I hurry home, but not before lifting my closed eyes up to heaven, mouth open, catching flakes of snow on my tongue, a self-communion of one, as I say a blessed thanks for a long safe travel through life.
As I approach our house, the light dimming, I see the glow of the television sets in other homes, an unearthly artificial glow, as canned laughter seeps out of an open window. As I arrive home, climbing up the tired stairs unto the large porch, there is light inside from the wall sconces, rewired but decades old, bright as a spark, significant of human shelter and repose. As the key rattles in the door, there is a soft woof of an old Rescue Lab, her grey muzzle snooting me happily as I enter the house

A burglar casing the place would look through the front window and shake their head, seeing little for which they would give value. I look inside and see the riches of a strong house that shelters me with vigilant accord. It has stood for a hundred years, with an air of history and invincible possession, which will remain, long after I am gone.

I set my keys near the Victrola and my husband's Fedora.  As he calls out a greeting from the kitchen, I pat Abby the Lab on the head, looking at the small precious things that have been rescued and now live here, grateful for eyes that finally learned to see.
 - L.B. Johnson

Monday, March 13, 2017

There's SNOW place like home.

Abby was overjoyed to see snow one last time, after a few days in the last week where it was sunny and warming up.

But after rolling in the snow several times and letting her back inside, I walked into my office after getting a load of laundry started on my lunch break (telework day) and found her sleeping like THIS.


I think someone is COMFY!