Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sunday Black and White - Dogs at Work

But why can't I go to "work" with you?

I can eat all the food that everyone forgets in the back of the lunchroom fridge

I can bark at people from the guard shack that I don't recognize

I can sniff the packages that come through the x-ray machine in the lobby

I can help the attorney's in the building and then bill in dog hours

I can do undercover investigations.
I can work in tech support and delete your cookies and carefully check the SPAM

Save on janitor costs:  No more crumbs on the floor

Need that report, another coffee pod or a pen?  Can you say "fetch"
I can "think outside the box"

Meetings won't last too long because I have to go "out!"

then "in". . . . then "out"

I can be part of trials and hearings.

When the boss says "you really dropped the ball here" I can go find it!

You can get rid of the shredder

You need more work space?  I can re-negotiate your leash

You already have a "lab" at work, what's one more
and finally:

Squirrel interrogatories!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Getting Skunked Stinks

On my drive into work today, a little after 5:30 a.m. there's one stretch I go through that's two lanes each direction that goes through a large park area.

This morning I noted a late model VW bug that was apparently disabled and had pulled onto the grass edge of the road so not to block traffic.  It's quite dark and muddy out there, not the best place to break down.

There were two gentlemen bent down over the engine as I approached, working away.

In my headlights I saw two skunks lumbering quickly towards them, to see what the noise was about I guess.

The men would not see them coming, and I was not in a position to stop as I had someone on my bumper doing 40 mph.

Somehow I do NOT think that ended well.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Sun is Mirrored Even in a Coffee Spoon - On Grief

We shall deal here with humble things, things not usually granted earnest consideration, or at least not valued for their historical import. But no more in history than in painting is it the impressiveness of the subject that matters. The sun is mirrored even in a coffee spoon. . . .modest things of daily life, they accumulate into forces acting upon whoever moves within the orbit of our civilization
.— Sigfried Giedion, Mechanization Takes Command (1948)

This winter, and even into spring saw storms that had the city and most of the surrounding small towns come to a grinding halt.  Wind chills in the minus 20's and heavy, drifting and blowing snow resulted in a suspension of travel within parts of the city except for emergency vehicles and those seeking shelter. Out in the small towns, there was little movement, but there are those hardy souls that won't let frostbite and politicians tell them what to do.

We have another round forecast today and I have the blinds and what curtains we have, closed against the cold. Since the house is atop a walkout basement with windows above the ground level,  the huge windows on the south side of the house that look out onto the Spruce trees only have some antique lace, making for a lovely view but not maintaining the home's warmth.  Even with the little heater next to the desk, the chill eddy of cold licks in at my skin, as I go to get a warmer sweater and some thicker wool socks.

One needs to be prepared for such things. A few days ago it was in the upper 50's, before plunging again, another sleight of hand from the greatest of magicians, Mother Nature; Machiavellians stroke on the part of that foe, a new battle towards which it channels ancient wounds, inflicting its grievance upon the land. It will likely arrive to do battle when you least expect it when the prolonged blow of the dark and ice sinks through the skull and lays its claim deep on the bones of the winter landscape. It will not be a day and night safe for man nor beast.
Other than the sound of my husband puttering in the basement as he took a vacation today to do some home repairs, it's intensely quiet. No birds, no clattering of cars starting up. Just the sound of  the incessant wind, a  long, broad hum, as if through wires. There is little noise or movement, but the whine of a piece of shop equipment, maybe a half block away, the sound sticking to the cold air as if snow on a branch. Then the sound of a bell, a wedding that was scheduled this day in the corner church.

It's funny, I'm perfectly fine holing up at home for days with nothing but books, a kitchen, and some tools.  But tell me I can't drive to the store or run to the library, and I suddenly get cabin fever, peering out the window every so often, like a bird from a cage that fidgets with feathered annoyance.
I also noticed something else, something a little nicer.  My knee does not hurt.  After the fall that tore out my meniscus and the resultant surgery and physical therapy, my knee hurt, even years later.  After six months, it was bearable but always there, a twinge,  much worse in cold weather.  Now, six years post-injury, after adopting a serious military-style weight/boxing/cardio program,  I sit here and realize, it doesn't hurt.

It's not the pain that bothered me, I've dealt with pain.  It was being unable to run, to jump, to MOVE, quickly and without effort. It was crutches, then a cane, then just walking with a bit of a limp when the air pressure dropped and it ached.  It was sliding back in time, back to when I wasn't confident in my physical abilities when I was just a skinny, quiet little kid who was picked last for dodgeball, because frankly, I'd rather be inside reading a book that the teacher would think was inappropriate for someone my age.

It wasn't the pain, it wasn't an injury hat in the grand scheme of things, wasn't very serious.  I realized at this point that what is dire profundity to the very young, is usually just "been there done that" to those of us in middle age, which is still preferable to the six-foot deep and eighteen-foot square reality that faces us all eventually.
No,  it wasn't torn and missing cartilaginous tissue and the wobbly feeling I had every time I tried to use that leg.  It was losing a foothold I'd stretched so far and so hard for. It was realizing that we treat our bodies with a sense of entitlement we may eschew in other things as if breath was some plaything given to us just for our own pleasure. I look down on the small scars as if speaking to them. You will let me run, you will let me climb, you will let me explore and make mistakes and play. Now I can't walk up a flight of stairs. When our body fails us, it's like a personal betrayal

It's much as if seeing a beloved old building each and every day, an old church perhaps, the stones so study that time had not displaced it, could not ever displace it, not all of time could have.  Then one day you drive on past and it's simply gone, razed and replaced by a shabbily built storefront that won't withstand a good wind.
I sat here in this spot, six years ago, during another storm, crutches up against the wall, the curtains drawn, as the pain in my body drove for an instant upon me, the thorns of slain flowers.  On that day, I wished to be anywhere but sitting in intense pain. The sky was spilling snow, the only light there was laying low to the ground as if held down by the wind itself, unable to rise and move away. It was a day in which I could only sit immobile as the wind howled, dreaming in an Arctic landscape of a sea that never freezes and a landscape that is forever green.

It's easy to throw a pity party, and I was on the verge on that day I realized I was in a motorized scooter in WalMart, one place I swore I would never be.  But in that same moment, as Partner in Grime smiled down at me, his having been with me without fail since I got hurt, canceling his whole Christmas to get me home and tend to me, I realized all that I had. I also realized that putting the small end of the crutch out in front of me like a knight's lance, I could knock the Billy Bass out of the cart of the guy with no teeth.  Oh, sorry, accident, really. SCORE!
I am who I am through hurt and pain and failures and because of them.

Because of that, I know what is important. And that is all the endurance of which mind is capable, of which the flesh has an appetite for. That has kept me going on nights when all I could do was sit and hold a small faded photo, eyes, tightly shut, as if the light was diminished by its own grief, leaving only a lone huddled shadow upon the wall, pale and fading. That has kept me going when fate swiped a paw at me and I swiped back, harder, EPR's steady, left hand tight on the yoke, planting that aircraft on a piece of hard ground as small as my fear.
I get up from my chair and open the curtains up.  I'll have a higher heat bill, but for now, I want to look out, and up.  I look at the sun I've not seen in two days as the fierce wind hollowed the remaining light out of the sky, the light now holding a quality beyond heat and illumination.   In the distance the sound of a church bell, a deliberate note blowing free, like snow from a winter branch. Somewhere within, a priest lifts the Host in a series of shimmering gleams like warm rain that falls from the sky as vows are spoken, and what is broken is healed.
 - L.B. Johnson (in memory of Jessie, Sarge, and Molly, who we knew so well).

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Gotcha Daze

May 15th is Abby's 4th Gotcha Day.  Hard to believe.  The above photo was one that I came across this morning. THAT is the look of a dog that spent 5 months skinny, sick, and scared sleeping on a cold floor at a high kill shelter (that was actually shut down it was so bad) and then gets a nice surprise.

Her first encounter with her very own poofy and soft Orvis bed at my little townhouse in Indy.

 She stayed with me for a couple of weeks at my crash pad when I first got her to get her used to a new "Mom" after foster.  Then I took her up to Chicago to see her permanent home (my husband drove down the second weekend to meet her).

You can't see her tail in the photo it's so hypersonic!

May we have many more to celebrate sweet Abby.

Monday, April 16, 2018

On Perspective - The Value of Sparrows

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?
 and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
 Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.
Matthew 10:29

Snow covers the ground, here so early on a late Spring morning.  The neighborhood is quiet, no one leaving for work quite yet, no tracks in the snow, but for an early morning taxi, one of the neighbors likely headed to O'Hare.

You think the snow is done for the year with May halfway here.  Then two weeks later, there it is again.  There's a lot of life like that.  You get through one big adventure, thinking, that will be the best one yet, only to have another, even better down the road.  Or you suffer hardship and loss and think "that's it, Lord, I can't handle any more of this" only to have your words catch in your throat with the tears as life swats at you with its clawed paw yet again. Then there are the moments when danger is all around, and you are pretty sure you are already dead but pretend to be alive for those around you who do not see that you are only a pile of ashes and dust, only to fly past the red line into the rising sun as your co-pilot states "Well Skipper, THAT was hardly "light turbulence" was it?" and you both laugh. I miss the flying, I don't miss the nights in hotels in beds that were never soft enough, or warm enough, yet are always big enough to remind you that you are alone.
Out in the driveway sits an 11-year-old Truck.  A lot of people ask why I don't buy a new one.   I can afford it, yet I don't see the point in making a car payment when I have wheels that get me where I want to go, with just enough rust, that carjackers look on it with derision. But good, gently used trucks are hard to find in Chicago, where the salt takes its toll, on anyone not willing to wait at the car wash every single week and the potholes often have their own potholes.  My truck has been mostly garaged since purchasing from a dealer well south of here, and overall I'd have a hard time finding one as reliable.

Plus nothing says "Yield" like a redhead woman driving a giant black extended cab  4 x 4  with Browning and American flag stickers on the back window in Chicagoland traffic.

It's going to get some use this week.  As you already know, my husband, "Partner in Grime", got in an accident at a notoriously bad corner in our village last week  No one was hurt, and no one was cited, it is a blind spot that has claimed more than one fender.  But the local auto repair place is backed up and it will be a week or so until it is done.
I guess I'll be teleworking or taking some leave so he has wheels to go to work.  Best laid plans of mice and men, they say but it beats paying for a rental car.

When bad things happen, how we survive them is really how we look at it  Some people look at every slight, every setback as if looking into a dark forest that is more than gloom but an actual menacing hostility. With the slightest rustle, they are ready to scream, in fear or for help.  I look into the forest and see, sometimes, danger, sometimes challenges, but ultimately a silent journey that will have me leave it for the next clearing, stronger, with a better-defined purpose of what the plan is for my life.  In such moments, you don't look down at the scars, but simply embrace the joy that comes with both reckoning and recognition of finding your path.
The snow is being replaced by sleet now.  If I'm going to go get some more seed and food out for the critters now would be the time.  No matter the weather, when it's winter and the ground is frozen, they know I will come. They don't see me when I'm inside, they don't know from where I came, they just know I am a presence that will tend to them, even if it's burying a still form out in the garden when time catches up with them. For just as sparrows do not worry they also do fall to the ground.

As I went out, the stillness was the first thing I sensed, then the brilliance of the ice that had struck the ground, only to hold on fast for dear life, lest warming come.  It shone with a brilliance that is newly blown glass as if the slightest shift in the air would shatter it to pieces.  Above it the sudden glint of the sun through the clouds, there for that moment as if enchanted into staying by the mysterious spell that is a snow-swept landscape. Some people don't like the cold brightness of snow, seeing it as cold brutality as opposed to a cleansing brightness.  I love the snow, yet I understand how others view it, knowing too well the peace that a warm night can bring to a day weary soul.
From the nearest tree, a squirrel peers from the branches.  I don't get too close, as rabies in the species is common but there are a couple of the older red squirrels that are so used to me, they will come out of the shadows and greet me when they hear the rustle of the peanut bag. They're not pets, they are wild things, even if I've named a few that live among our 100-year-old Spruces, including Bubba the world's fattest Robin, who I can't see, though he is likely nearby. Such is the nature of wild things and wild dreams, which when viewed, summon our wish for constancy, but when out of sight, seems so elusive and illusionary, they appear less like dreams and more like ghosts that now live in another dimension.
I scatter some peanuts and some sunflower seeds, making sure the feeders and suet corral are full and return to the house.  In my wake, small winged forms hop happily into the bounty even as I shut the door to the house as the wind blows the snow into intricate patterns like some ancient hieroglyph that only God can read.

Then, it was time for one last errand, before I handed over my keys for the week.  The sirens were the first things I heard beyond the scrape of a snow plow and the honk of a horn as cars positioned for first place on a street slick with sleet.  Up ahead, a cluster of red and blue lights and an ambulance that was waiting too far away from the actual crash to bring thoughts of comfort.  First responders were tending to the uninjured, standing on the sidewalk, while the roof was cut off from what used to be a small car to extract the soul that had been there.
There was no going forward, there was no turning around, at least yet.  I could only sit and watch the scene thinking of time, of forest creatures and blazing suns, pondering actions and dreams, the sound of tears and the wet warmth of laughter, and the bright red agony that is a loss beyond control. I see the faces of those that for at least for a little while I have outlived, and I touch a coat on the seat that still bears the woodsy scent of that last person who wore it.

As I turned and headed back home, the errand being one I could put off for a couple of days, I realized that I had no reason to grumble that I have to share my vehicle or any costs out of pocket for the repair.  Partner had only a crumbled fender as a result of his lousy morning last week, and fenders can be fixed. I looked up to the sun, now in hiding, and said a quiet thanks to He who watches over, not just the birds of his field, but his fledgling, forgiven children. - L.B. Johnson

Saturday, April 14, 2018

DIY Walkies

Mom, Dad, you know it's like 2 hours past Walkies Hour?  See my unhappy face?  What's the hold up?
Oh, I SEE, Dad gets homemade biscuits and bacon gravy 
Sure, I got some bacon but I did NOT get a walk.
 Sure, butter me up with pets, like that will work.
OK, it's working.
What's this?  Dad made me a new leash out of paracord. My old one was getting kind of faded and grungy.  U of I colors.  Thanks, Dad! 
 The coat is on  - that's a good sign.
 While we're young Dad!
 Come ON already.
I like my collar, it will pull snug if I try and escape it but it's not scratchy or tight.
Oh boy, walkies!
Off we go!

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Fender Bender Story - By the Squirrels

We live pretty close to an intersection of an often busy road I NEVER turn left on across the four lanes, as there is no traffic light on our street, there is a big store right on the corner with a blind spot, and in the very early morning, with the sun coming up in your eyes and not everyone with their headlights on coming from the cross streets, I'd rather avoid it. I go over a block using a back street to a street with the traffic light with a left-hand signal to head to work, even though it's a longer drive and the traffic light is SLOWWWWW due to the amount of traffic on the main road during rush hour.

But my husband always braves turning left from our street when traffic isn't heavy. I think he won't in the future. He got hit by another car he couldn't see yesterday morning at the blind spot which really messed up his car (new cars, I believe are made out of packing pellet material), and we'll be down to one vehicle for a couple of weeks as it's repaired. Fortunately, there were no injuries requiring medical attention, the other driver has the same insurance company we do, and the police did not cite either of them.

But the squirrels got an eyeful and will recreate the accident for our friends.
OK, I don't see anyone, I can slowly go out into the intersection.
Oh, NUTS!  Where'd that car come from?
Wow, there's tiny bits of broken fender everywhere!
At least there are some possible witnesses.
Uh, Officer?

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Remembering Jessie

In memory of Jessie from

Three years is much too short of a life but you packed all the love you could into that snapshot in time. You will be missed.

- The Johnson Family

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Life's Artifacts - A Chapter From The Book of Barkley

CHAPTER 42 – Life’s Artifacts

On the desk is a shell, unearthed from the sand on a distant ocean as a child, the spiral whorl of the shell drawing in my gaze, inviting me in deeper. On the shelf overhead, a handful of tiny rocks rest on polished wood, all pretty much the same size, yet so different.  One is clearly a piece of fossilized shell, expected on an oceans edge perhaps, but not on a Great Lake.  Another has holes in it, like Swiss cheese from the power of the water. All but the large shell are from a stretch of shore not far from home, on which one evening, three friends walked with two black labs, the male following protectively behind the female, both just happy for the company.

Mr. B’s black lab Schmoo had made that trip many times, I’m sure.  But that day was a first for Barkley. I could almost hear the thoughts in his head as he looked at it with a “that’s the biggest pond I had ever seen” look on his face.

Animals weren’t allowed loose on the beach, so with a long leash, Barkley simply bounded in, swimming parallel to the shore as we walked.  Schmoo, too old to swim, but not to dream, carefully walked in hard sand with those she loved, memories of happy times with her people here, splashing across her face.

Finally, Schmoo sat, and Barkley emerged from the water and as the sun set, I waved off to the West. There, a big city rose like Oz, a city where unknown to me on that day, someone quietly waited.

Outside the window, a plant opens up, spilling forth its seed onto the soil. I remember days of working in the flowerbeds that my Mom so lovingly maintained.  After her death, I kept it going as long as I could for my Dad, until adulthood called me away. As I toiled in the garden, the sun kissed the top of my head, the touch a benediction, a blessing.

I had not yet learned of other kisses, the ones in the crook of the neck where the head joins the body and the body knows not its limitations. The one that dances on the skin like light that falls upon it, outstretched hands gathering fistfuls of flowers imprinted upon starched cotton. I had not yet learned that love is not just as wild as the flowers; it's as fragile and elusive as glass; that in nature, the most delicate of things are often trod underfoot as they go unnoticed.
At the bookstore recently, an engineering manual, two generations old, was opened to browse. In it was an ancient leaf, carefully pressed within the pages, the person who had done so likely long gone. I have many books like that old book, purchased from stores that contain more light than dust, yet containing within them things old and forgotten, things that in the wrong hands would only grow older. Finding the right one is like finding treasure, fingers tracing the spine, fingers that are gentle and forgiving, not wishing any further scar upon that which binds.

Such books find their way home, where they lay looking out from under leaded glass, pulled out to be read on late nights, the mind marveling that other minds marveled, the mysteries, the mistakes, playing out across the pages as if they were penned today. They tell their tales like the lonely, animated elderly, to anyone who is willing to listen, lessons given without rancor or heat, so many words that need to be said while they can still be heard.
On the top of the bookshelves are blown glass bowls, inviting someone to fill them with something, but remaining more beautiful in their solitude. They are containers, yet they are as much contained by the air around them, being none the less beautiful for the empty space they shape and form.

The bowls lay in the shadow of a photo. The frame captures a giant of a man and a younger woman, appearing dainty in his shadow though she's taller and sturdier than many men. They are clad in black leather, the form of a motorcycle in front of them. The sun shines on hair the color of copper, on shared features that confirm their familial bond and their heritage, yet the thickness of the leather hints at the outside temperature.

They brought to that day the smell of the wind, drawing it in as it wound up through mountain passes, exhaling it on that rush that is horsepower and gravity as they descended back down into the valley like flying fish before the prow of a ship. They look as if they've ridden two hundred miles, but by their smiles, they look as if they could ride forever.
As I look at it, I'm aware of my own heart beating within this vessel which has traveled so many miles, will travel so many more. I pick up the phone to call him, that man I call Big Bro, the voice tired, but happy to hear from me, the words filling empty air.  Like me, he is aware of the fragility of the body, the heart, the lines of blood coming in, blue and needing oxygen, the red lines flowing back out, the heart, like a busy road’s roundabout, keeping everything moving, keeping him alive.  The heart beats along with the whoosh of the machinery that monitors him now, but he only laughs.

I don't know how he does it, staring down into the whorl of something as old as time, something that is always waiting. How much easier to pretend it doesn't exist.  How much easier to raise a fist and curse he who created a body as fragile as it is strong, so many different ways it can be broken and bruised, some beyond fixing. But the laughter is recognition, that even as we all will die, today we live, for where there is living blood and water, there is joy.  Our hands reach out, not to each other, separated by a thousand miles, but to themselves, clasped in buoyant, not bitter prayer.

We talk of those days along the shores of the water, the floors of the forest, the things we unearthed, rocks and sticks and shells, and even occasional bone and brass. Some of those things found their way home, others were left where they lay, left as future treasure.
I loved him as a child, as I do now because he never made me automatically play the field nurse when we all played soldier, for showing up at the playground to keep the schoolyard bullies away. I love him because he is gentle in his size, yet knowing, had I said the word, he would have thumped the one that long ago broke my heart, even as he understood why I would never ask that of him.

I've seen him laugh so hard that he cried tears that would not come otherwise. I've seen his face turn to stone, there where the seas fell, and men drown.  I love him because he never cared for convention even as his life is one of structured order and solitude, even as he is one of many that together forge service and honor.

I still recall the day as a teen, when I did a long cross-country to build flight time and landed near the Naval base where he was stationed. Getting a crew car from the FBO, I got directions onto the base and to his place.  But how was I to find his home among hundreds of battleship gray dwellings, all of the same shape and form, bearing within, seemingly identical lives? He gave me the general street directions and simply said "you'll know it when you see it".  I did, the big "FOR SALE BY OWNER" sign with the giant pink flamingo sticking out of the yard, visible a hundred yards away.
Everyone asks how he is doing now, but he discusses little of his cancer treatment, makes no complaints, offering neither prediction nor guess, and I understand why. His future to me is unknown but he is a constant and prefers to live each day as if it's constant, even as we are both aware it is indeed, so transient. So we tell our tales, especially those as we ran as children along the edge of the waters, along the rim of the earth as though we and we alone, were its inhabitants and guardians.

The picture with the motorcycle stands over other shelves of glass and bone and rock, many of them, capable of smashing the others, yet all a part of something big, something that is more than memory. There among them, two pieces of paper, on which lay two names, marking not just a seating arrangement at a wedding reception, but a moment in time.  I hold one of them up to my nose and breath in the scent of the paper, of cold air and a warm kiss, there along the nape of my neck, as gentle as the sun, as protective as armor and I smile.

There are so many things on those shelves that most would not notice; small artifacts, strewn across the wood, pieces of time and place, of breath, suspended, and words not necessary for us to hear. There are pieces of the past, portents of the future, the tears and the shouts, the still and the peace, the power to be afraid, the freedom to live anyway.
Then I open up another book, a newer book among many, of warriors and maidens, of fairy tales and spaceships. Within it lay a dried red rose, saved for something I cannot articulate, kept in the throes of that hurt that even the most intelligent believe can be forgotten if it is hidden. I take it out, carefully brushing the pages as I do, so that no remnant remains, not even dust, as I carry that long, fractured goodbye out to the trash.

I step out of the house, to new beginnings, down the steps that lead into the spruce trees, the trail past the garage just a thin scar upon the earth. My feet step on bits of branches scattered about. A cone from a tree shatters under my foot, bearing fragments down into dried needles and tuft of rabbit hair, deep into the soil, where perhaps it will rise as treasure again. - L.B. Johnson

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Tuesday Eats - Amish Poppy Seed Chicken

Barkley was born in Amish country in Ohio, an area I really loved living close enough to visit often. But work had other ideas and I moved after our Ohio office downsized. Still, I enjoy many of the recipes I learned when I was there. This was one I hadn't made for my husband so getting a super deal at the local family owned grocers on chicken, I made this for dinner.
You can make it ahead and heat at 350 in a 13 x 9 pan for 30-40 minutes at 350 F., or like me, make it in the crockpot, adding the crispy, buttery crumbs as you serve it over Amish noodles (or potatoes, rice, or biscuits). I've also made this with cauliflower instead of chicken for a vegetarian friend and it was well liked.

Amish Poppy Seed Casserole (serves 6)

2 very large boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces (about 4 cups chicken).
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1 cup sour cream
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper
 Dash of crushed red pepper
Mix and place in pan. Before baking (or after cooking in crockpot) top with:

1 sleeve Ritz crackers smashed and browned in 1/2 stick butter until golden and brown