Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Someone's Brain is Tired.

 Abby Lab here - Mom says her brain is tired after a long trial today.  
 She'd rather be riding her bike.

Still, there were moments of fun after everything concluded, and some coffee was spewed in her secretary's cube.  She doesn't go to the office much anymore so it was fun to see people. Mom still has a cube she can use if she is up there, but she mostly works from home now.
The calendar is old but she likes the message.
My Mom is sort of a nut and has goofy stuff up everywhere.  Including the ham radio diagram and the gnome target she took out with some .45 at the LEO range after a bad Travelocity experience.
 She's happy to have more space with her promotion but she misses being outside doing field work.
 But since she blew her knee out she has to be careful.
Dad is home from his parents, wine is poured and there is spaghetti sauce simmering in the crockpot and homemade bread to go with it.

You all enjoy your evening.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Friday, July 27, 2018

Driving Miss Abby

Abby Lab here - a saved post from Mom while she is on the road.  She should be home this weekend sometime. Her Dad is moved to assisted living out in Washington State and is adjusting without much stress.  Prayers for my Dad while he drives to his parents in Southern IL due to the death of his grandma this week. I get a whole weekend of my favorite dogsitters!
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The photo is Miss Madeline Car, a restored Triumph that sits in my garage longing for warmer days and solitary country roads. In the city,  where traffic is heavy and the red signal light appears to be only a suggestion,  I drive a very large, full size, extended cab 4 x 4. It's helpful for visibility in this and other cities where everyone drives like they are in Nascar.  But it is really not maneuverable enough for  Chicago, the home of high-speed slalom driving thanks to potholes which are cleverly laid out in key locations to test driver's reflexes and keep them on their toes.

Still, I feel safer in it than most vehicles I've owned and since it's paid for I'll just stay on my toes.

Work-wise - over the years I've had an assortment of cars to use while on official business, all that came with strict rules as to who and how they were used.  If I'm in the work vehicle, I obey the speed limit and slow ever further down if I see a Patrol car, because nothing will make you the object of jokes more than getting a ticket while in the Squirrelmobile.
Some years back before I was with the Secret Squirrel agency, I worked for another such outfit that we will simply refer to as International Sneaky Service, different work, but like any job, with its own set of rules. As always, I was the only woman and commonly I was the team leader.  Several of us were out on a mission when, at the place we stopped on our drive, to eat lunch, the local animal shelter was having a "adopt a pet" for the locals in the parking lot next door. One of my work team wandered over to pat a pooch. He came back and said "there's a really cool Lab I want to adopt, he's older, no one wants him, I have to give him a home".

I'm in command here, he's looking at me for the OK. He's got no one, a couple years from retirement, his girl leaving him after a long tour away. I haven't seen this look on his face for far too long.

I look at the rest of the group, one of them a combat vet who got shot down, his legs burned badly, he's missing some toes, but not his heart. Another was a former Marine, as tough as they come, but whom I've seen shed tears when a dog was lost in duty. The probie with us was quiet. I nod my head.

Twenty minutes later, he has custody of one very happy, well behaved and older, male Labrador retriever. But how to get the dog home? We'll just put him in the official Sneaky Service vehicle and bring him back to headquarters where he can get transferred to his new owners truck stealthily in the parking lot out back as he was off duty when he got back.  But probie says "we can't' take anyone on official business in the Sneaky car, we'll be up on charges".

I said, "that's people, no "civilians" allowed,  contractors/ employees only, we know that but there's nothing in the rules about a dog, he can't sue our boss if we have a fender bender" So off we go, all the while, probie stewing and fretting in the back seat, treating the dog like a bomb getting ready to blow. Finally as we near our destination, he just loses it, his voice rising up an octave as he exclaims, "A dog in the Sneaky car, a DOG in the Sneaky CAR!! We might as well have a KILO of COCAINE in here!!"

The dog was obtained during our meal break, and these guys were my responsibility. If anyone was going to get chewed out for giving Fido a lift it would only be me, NOT the probie. Fortunately, we had arrived. As we covertly left the vehicle for another team to soon use, and got ready to move Fido, we discovered the reason said dog may have needed a new home. From the back seat came a cloud of doggie gas that would gag a maggot. Retreat! We quickly got him out and closed the doors, moving him to the waiting truck of his new Dad. As we went inside the building, not even noticing we were back, we couldn't help but see the new guys open the door of the car we'd just evacuated with "WT . . . *)#(@. . .What's that SMELL! OMG!!!!"

That's been quite a few years ago. His remaining short years were good ones, happy and well loved, with his adopted Dad, who apparently had no sense of smell. Hopefully, now, he is in doggie heaven, where everything smells like bacon.

Barkley Memories - Alway Up to Something

Then there are the long trips by myself. I'm not sure why I enjoy the car trips. I guess the wandering spirit runs in my blood, passed on my from Air Force father to me. Seems like ever since I got a control yoke in my hand I've been wandering across miles of land . . . across rivers and towns. My Mom would have preferred I marry a hometown boy and stay in the tiny town in which I was raised, but once I tasted adventure, I was born into that gypsy life and have never really known another.

St. Expurey said "he who would travel happily must travel light". And this adventurer did travel light, based across the US, with a short stint as a contractor overseas. I remember those early years, I remember not just the travel, the airplanes themselves, but the feel of the starched uniform shirt I wore, the smell of a crewman's aftershave (which thank heavens wasn't Brut). It seems as if all my early years were reflected in the window of those moving airplanes. I see my reflection, my past, through bug sprayed glass that tints the world bright.

The airplane, the destination and the years changed, as did the landscape of my career, but some things never changed. Days in an airplane traveling far. Miles and hours spent watching the landscape, silver grain elevators, red-winged birds, mountains formed of ice and fluid need, and rivers without borders, all blending into a bright diorama of life racing past. The world looks different from above, clouds massive and dark, looming up like a target in a gun sight, looking twice the size of an ordinary man.

I have spent a half of my life it seems on the way somewhere. I have watched a hundred cumulus clouds erupt, the mass assassination of mayflies and the disappearance of a slice of cherry pie at a tiny airport diner and the journey was only beginning.

Along with me came the music, classical, jazz, and music from the Swing Era f there was a CD player in the vehicle. There are parts of the earth you can hear music of all types, there are areas where all you will find is country Western. Some of it is good, it certainly taught me a few things. .

(1) No matter where you are in the plains states, somewhere, on some station, someone is playing "Bad Bad Leroy Brown".

(2) If the singer is going on about taking you for a ride on his "big tractor", he's NOT talking about farm equipment.
3) there will be areas where all you can find is rap or Hispanic music. If that happens make up your own country songs - "If he hadn't been so good lookin I might have seen the train".
And finally, after many hours straight of broke down, done wrong, sad tears kind of songs I realized that -

4) At the gas station of love, sometimes it's self service and no fresh coffee.
Finally, though, I'm home where, fortunately, I have someone of the four-legged variety waiting eagerly for me, (with the two-legged kind arriving home soon) Life is good, worth singing about, even if my knee has gone to sleep.

Til then, I have Abby. She's good company, at home or in the truck. She's a heartbeat at my feet on those nights I'm alone in the house when my husband is on the road and a draft of lonely wind taps at my soul. Like Barkley, she's the uncomplicated creature I could be if I knew better. She challenges any threat with honor; to bark at the UPS man is the utmost of patriotism for her, and she quietly offers me an affection ignorant of my faults. She sleeps deeply yet watchfully and for her cunning seems to have no knowledge of death, and relies on me to do her worrying about that for her.

When she goes on a trip with me, she gently lets me put the driving harness on her, so she stays secure, then quietly lays down and goes to sleep until we have arrived. I will miss Barkley until the day I die.  But getting an older dog from Rescue was one of the best decisions I ever made along the way. Since the day she showed up at the door with her Foster Mom, she's been a warm, brave and loving companion that has made the continued journey worth taking.





Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Results From the Horse-Spittle (As Abby Lab Calls It)

The good news is the shadow on my mammogram was not cancer but a fluid-filled cyst which is already drained and inert. My other cancer screenings (routine) came back clear today as well. Not to be TMI time but if any of you hear about the colon cancer screening you can do in your home (if you are not high risk) it was so much better than the alternative and my insurance covered it.  Cologuard.

My poor husband though, looked at the kit and the instructions and said "are you going to be able to do this?

 To which I replied (and yes, this is TMI time).

 "I have a Ph.D. I can poop in a box."

 Thanks for all the prayers and healing thoughts.

The Johnson Family

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

On Anniversaries


Sometimes you think you can fly, only to be destined to drown.

And so we stay earthbound. "Should have". "Would have". Those are words in all of our hearts, at least once. We recall much of a life as each year passes, candles on another cake, warm breath against the flames. But what do you remember most, the best day of your life or your last regret?

The difference is profound.

I look at my Dad, and when my late brother's name is mentioned he gets this look of profound grief on his face, even as I've learned to get through the day as a stoic. He is a man who is not Time's trinket and for him, my brother's collapse and death on Good Friday was if it was yesterday.

But he'd not have given up the experience of adopting and raising him, both of us, for any happier ending.
I remember a few short years ago, when I thought my heart was in pieces, not likely to heal.  A fractured goodbye, and the realization that the person I had cared for, who had asked to meet my family and had done so, was a breathing ghost. I was left with just a rose, drying between two pages, the blood from an internal thorn tearing something loose inside, the print of nose against the glass of a skyscraper where I leaned into it so the tears couldn't be seen. Afterward, I wondered if life was even worth living, there in that brief darkness before there is light.

But I didn't go down that path, the thought only one of brief self-pity, not intended to be action. I had a really good cry or two and a giant plate of Nachos and a beer or three with a six foot pony-tailed blond, who has always been my rock among best friends. Then I met my gal friend M.C. and as we drove around a haunted landscape, I realized that although I hurt, I FELT, and that was a good thing.

Then, after a long night's sleep, I picked up the phone and called a guy friend, someone I had chatted online with for years, sometimes spending hours sharing geeky puns and jokes. I knew he would understand. My boyfriend and I broke up", was all I said, and he listened, as he always did while I talked it out, and tried to put it behind me.
It wasn't the first time my heart had broke, and wouldn't be the last, but the feeling peeled something from me, like skin from an onion, leaving nerves exposed to a cold that bit with weasel teeth. It brought back a memory of that first loss of someone I loved and a memory of how I handled it. For that first time my heart broke, I did what a lot of people do. I pushed everyone away, pushing my boundaries, sometimes hanging up high in the air, the g-forces on my body a distraction from the pain, the air parting like the Red Sea, my only need to move on at maximum risk to my body, and minimum risk to my soul.

I wanted nothing from the world but the ability to push through it without being touched.  I talked little to people but much to the sky, whispering to it my regrets as I rolled through 40 degrees of bank, taking counsel with that great blue solitude.
You think that cheating death like that would make me feel alive but for a time, it was a battle without passion, grey and colorless, with neither the urge to win or the fear to lose, played out before an arena with no audience.  I came within a few knots of a final pronouncement more than once and found that I had nothing left to say.

The only sound was the wings cleaving the air, a sound that is like all other sounds of profound mystery, the lap of a wave upon a shore, the echo of taps, the whispers of a voice that speaks to you in dreams from an eternity away, heard but not comprehensible.

I lost out on a lot of life during those brief years.
This time, I was a bit older, and a little scar tissue and I weren't strangers, having been through much worse than breaking up a budding relationship. This time I was going to open myself up to friends and get out and enjoy my life with the four-legged friend who had taught me that lesson. With Barkley in tow, we got out and we talked and we learned to laugh again, and in fairly short order. There were whiskey and bacon and late nights with two good friends laughing as we compared the merits of Barry White versus William Shatner and Greensleeves or Zamfir and his Pan Flute as music to get lucky by. On one of the rare days, I let that last heartache get the better of me, one of those friends said "if you had to do it all again, knowing it would teach you how to feel again, would you"?  I looked at her and said "hell yes."

I didn't see my friend that I called that night for a few months, our talks continuing with the usual matters between people that share hobbies and books, even if they don't share the same generation. Then one night he mentioned a date with a ballerina, and I pictured them out, young, beautiful, laughing and felt something twist in my chest that had not been there for a while. But I didn't say anything, not then, not when Barkley and I would meet him for a coffee.
Then one day he called me after landing from a  long business trip overseas and asked me to an event we both loved, not a date, just a typical outing with friends someplace upstate.  I said yes and plans were made. After hanging out all that day, he asked if I wanted to get a bite to eat once we'd had a chance to get cleaned up (playing with steam engines all days can get a little dirty) and we located a couple quick burger places near our respective hotels.  He showed up at my door dressed in dress pants and a crisp shirt, and the burger joint I was expecting as planned, turned into an intimate, elegant bistro, a glass of wine, and a conversation about things much deeper than the night, things only hinted at, never said.
Halfway through the meal, I thought to myself "holy cow, this is a date".

That was seven years ago, on a warm, clear day.  That date is now my husband.

Because he asked.
How often do we stay silent, when we are searching, when we need help, when we are hurt? How often do we shut ourselves away when we want a cool touch upon the brow or a hand that helps us up a steep slope. There is so much that can keep us from the truth of things, holding us in that toil of a heart's hesitation.

Sometimes it's pride, sometimes it's hurt. Sometimes it's history.  Often it's the fear of being rejected The safety stays on, the mouth stays closed and while we think we are protecting ourselves, we're merely closing a door on life, one that can be as fixed as one of a prison.  In doing so sometimes we lose a friend, we lose an opportunity or we lose on love- that improbable, inexplicable and sometimes bewildering thing that binds us together despite our blood, or through it.
A fellow I knew professionally, lamented to me in a moment of vulnerability after a very late night on the job that his old high school crush was marrying someone else.  I said "did you ever ask her out" and he said "no. . . I knew she would say no, she was beautiful and popular and I'm. . . . ", accepting the words as he uttered them with an almost eager fatalism. That which makes something its truth also makes its meaning.  I should have offered comfort, but I remained silent, not knowing what to say.

So he and I just continued to work, in silence, our untrammeled feet taking us to a place rendered quiet not by solitude, but by loss. We worked on, blind and deaf to any emotion but the gathering and I realized I should have said something, if only, "next time. . . ask" said with a smile, and a hug from a friend, not a colleague.
On a day when another birthday shortly looms,  I look at what is around me, and how I almost lost it, lost myself, simply by never taking the chance, listening to my fears, and not to my heart.  For the past does have a way of coming back to us.  You can fear in in silence, treating it as if you would an unwanted dream or you can learn from it, remembering it like a fine book, full of wonders and maybe occasional warfare, but as full of life as the landscape around you.

From what I've learned in 59 years on this planet, is the earth is simply a standing place and how you look at what is around you is your loss or your gain.
The sky and water weld together without joint, the sun descending down, touching the lake with a soundless hiss.  Soon, the moon would spread over this place with the thick sheen of silver. This is just one day in time, one day to be cataloged in memory.  The living trees, the flowers planted by another's hands, so still they appear to have been formed in stone, even to the smallest bud, the feather stroke of a tiny leaf.

I touch the porch railing of this old house, tracing it the way fingers trace a human backbone, there under the skin, in the silent perusal of that which becomes wonder. Another year older, another day wiser.  I could worry about, or as I did on that birthday not that long ago where I could give my best friend and Partner a T-Shirt that says "I Can't Drive 55" and just laugh, a sound that will bend the trees and shake the fixed stars in the sky.  I turn towards the door, where there is a light on, waiting.

Monday, July 23, 2018

When it Rains, It Pours

Abby Lab here:

Mom asked for warm thoughts and prayers this week.  My Dad's grandmother died suddenly today, then Mom's Dad had a serious health decline and has to go into nursing care tomorrow (he's been living in his home with a nurse's aide Mom provided).  And she is scheduled for a biopsy this week at the horse-spittle because she flunked her mammogram.  She said she practiced closing the refrigerator door on the "Boobsie Twins" but she STILL flunked.  So she has to go to the hospital the day after her Dad is in the nursing care, (1500 miles away) and get that looked after further, all while my Dad is gone for the funeral.

So thoughts and prayers are appreciated.  If you want to send a box of donuts and a bottle of Single Malt Scotch (she is partial to the Pete-E kinds), she said that is also OK.

Abby Lab

Friday, July 20, 2018

Gathering Around the Table

As I wrote about earlier I spent a couple of days over the 4th with an author friend I met online, through a mutual longtime friend (also another author).  Katie lives just a couple of hours from me and after a number of internet chats we met for lunch in person in the Western Suburbs of Chicago with her husband and mine joining us.

Katie writes about it

and I was touched by how she captured our connection and how vulnerable we can make ourselves as we offer a hand to someone new.

I'm not a very social person, outside of blogging. I tend to hole up and write in my spare time, my hobbies are singular.  My husband calls me a "gregarious loner" and I think that sums it up pretty well.  But it's always interesting when you meet "in the furs" as we say in Blogville, with someone you'd only previously known online. I met my husband after he'd been my closest friend on the internet which later included lots of long phone calls over a period of several years. On the day I met him in person, although I would have never with my scientist's brain said "love at first sight", as I waved to him under the fierce August sun it was as if the earth had released some secret store of its fiery heart, and I felt more alive than I had in 20 years.  Two years later we were married.
But there is always that bit of uncertainty when you meet someone for the first time in person.  On rare occasion you find you really don't have much in common, and part on a wistfully kind note, knowing you likely won't see each other again.  Still, there's some sadness there, as you wanted a connection yet in meeting them felt they had such wonderful things on their heart to say, but you weren't able to decipher the words.

Then sometimes you meet someone that bears so many similar stories to your own, someone whose absolute presence was literally brand new to you, someone so near, yet still almost a stranger, and you find, to your delight, that with them you have a greater sense of your view of the world than you had known when alone.
You find yourself talking, late into the night, like school kids, as the field grows quieter, the moon glow seeps like liquid into the stars, and the spreading crowns of the trees outside the window slowly withdraw into the night. It was after midnight before you realized the time, the sky full of one bright reddish star as if it were one lone expelled spark of the night's fireworks display.

My husband and I aren't really set up for visitors.  We have just one bedroom, the master bedroom having been turned into my office for writing my books and a den to watch old movies at night on the large computer monitor.  But we regularly have people over for meals, widows, and widowers, and the elderly from the church, people that went to university with my husband and friends I had before I met him.
Moments with longtime friends like that are good, the room rumbling with sounds of comfortable enchantment as we laugh as a family does about our weeks.  Then there's sometimes just silly banter of shared experiences, things that would mean nothing to others.  In one certain bunch just deadpan "cat . . . on. . . . fire" and someone will be snorting wine out their nose (and no, the long-haired cat suffered no injury in that little Christmas debacle). Sometimes we will share things of a deeply personal nature, for support, for prayer, the words almost a vibration in the air as if a violin string were gently plucked. Then two minutes later the room is erupting with laughter again as glasses are raised, and good food is shared.
Then there can those moments that are simply viewing the last vestiges of light on a country horizon with someone who opened their home to you.  You really don't need to talk, just enjoying the companionship of a friend, the sky at the horizon so crystal clear it is as if the descending sun in nothing more than a golden ball that will shatter the horizon like glass.

Such moments, whether with old friends or new, enrich us in the same way.  As people who have lived life fully, sometimes recklessly, sometimes isolated by our own accord, we have all had our hearts broken at one time, sometimes more than once. In that brokenness, so many things can enter our hearts - fear, shame, betrayal, anger, hope, faith.  But when gathered around a table, holding hands and saying the blessing, there is only acceptance of those bits of those elements of light and dark that find a home in a human heart.  That is our blessing at our own table, just as it's our forgiveness at the Lord's.