Monday, September 17, 2018

Ask Not. . .

I got a new front door mat. It's a little small so I laid it on top of the bigger mat which is in good condition, I just couldn't resist getting this.

 It made my mailman laugh out loud.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Wabbit Tracks

We have a yard rabbit, Mr. Bun, that lives under a big evergreen bush in our yard.  He's so used to my husband and I coming and going he doesn't run away when we leave the house if he's out munching grass in the side yard or the fenced yard.  Abby is another matter.  She will chase him if he's out when she's let out into the fenced portion of the yard and it's been close a couple of times when he didn't notice Abby approaching.

Mr. B. does seem to understand that in the evening, Abby is on a leash and when my husband and Abby come down the back steps, he just hops a few feet out of reach and continues to munch grass.

But earlier I have to make sure he's not basking in the yard, so I do a 'Rabbit Sweep" and shoo him through the fence into the side yard before "releasing the hound".

Abby is not too happy her hunting has been limited due to the Wabbit Warning System.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Eye on the Prize

Barkley lies on my dresser so I can say goodbye to him as I leave for work in the morning.  I put his all-time favorite toy on top of the box.  Mr. Squeeky was an infuriatingly loud toy but Barkley carried it everywhere. His doggie day camp had a purple one and they had a cam in the yard so we could see the dogs at play on their website and he ALWAYS had that toy so I found him one after searching about 87 different pet stores in Indiana.

So when I found this photo of him, I just had to place it here so he can keep an eye on Mr. Squeeky.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Compass Course

Here is chapter two of my 5th book - I'm not going to post each chapter as otherwise there is no incentive to buy a copy but just to give you a sense of what it is about, Chapter Two of "Compass Course" out in early Spring of 2019.  Two of my books were #1 bestsellers at Amazon,   Two were in the top ten at Amazon, and three of them won major literary awards, so I'm pleased that 100% of the writing proceeds can continue to go to animal rescue non-profits and Search Dog Foundation.
When I was growing up in the 60's Dad got me this toy that was a toy aircraft that could be flown from inside the car with a closed window.  With your control stick, you could make it climb and dive and shoot it's "machine guns".  The little control panel in front of you had airspeed, turn and bank, oil, and fuel information.  To me, it was the closest thing to flying I'd experienced except for one flight on Pan Am when I was six to go to my aunt and uncle's while Mom and Dad when to Hawaii for their 25th anniversary.

We did a long road trip every year to my and uncle's ranch in California (they raised almonds) to visit my two cousins and them. On that long, often hot, two-day drive, that toy was my freedom from "Mom, he's on MY side of the seat" as my older brother tried to pester me.  I'd get my hand on that little control stick and I felt relieved at once of a perceptible weight, well, as much weight as a 7-year-old could bear.

For my mother had cancer, she was diagnosed with it when I was only four and she was still fighting it, the first remission come and gone.  As a child, she and my Dad did their best to protect us from it, but she couldn't hide the ravages of chemo in a small house with one full bathroom.  We simply learned to cope.

In some ways, it was like something I learned later in life.  War.  It's something, whether you are living in the middle of it, or simply have someone you love away fighting in it, you learn to live with it.  Actually, you don't live WITH it, you live underneath it, as if it is a dark sky from which the air is so dark and thick it's hard to draw breath.  It's a tornado siren, it's a tsunami warning, it's imminent death from which there is no shelter, no safe place, and even if you survive it, it will touch you with cold fingers, discharging perhaps the physical fear, but marking you forever as one who had fought and paid a high price for the battle.

So Mom did what she could and even with a limited budget, there was money for a toy for my brother and this wonderous airplane.

I'd swoop and dive and bank it for what seemed like hours, no sound in the vehicle but my Mom's quiet breath and the soft rustle of the scarf that covered her head. The silence in the vehicle, merged with the silence of the sky, becoming one infinite boundlessness control by two small hands.

I found a similar freedom on my bicycle.  I grew up in those years where no one wore helmets, hills were not off limits, and we would take our bikes out as high and far as our legs would carry us.  It was usually up to the top of the hill high above a mint farm where you could get some serious speed going downhill.  A wipeout was going to mean a broken arm, but that didn't stop us, we'd sail down that slope in formation flight, the scenery a blur of green and blue.  One summer I broke my arm twice.  It's no wonder when I came home from high school and said "I want to be a pilot," Dad just put his head down into his hands.

I took a second job on the weekends in addition to the one I had after school, and I started lessons when I was 17.  I soloed in the bright surf of a September sky, stamping the runway like a rubber stamp with my little Cessna 150 on my third and final landing.

I have to admit I was pretty nervous, doing the world's longest engine check, hesitant to release my feet from the brakes.  Then the sky in my windshield as I stared at it coalesced into not just vision, but scent, the smell of the open air, filling that tiny hot cockpit with a whisper that I could only describe as freedom. I announced my intentions on Unicom and took the runway.

Only minutes later, I couldn't get the grin off of my face as sunspots kissed my face as if a radar blip from the heavens as I cleared the runway for the day. From the taxiway, my instructor, a father of 7 boys that had nerves of steel, watched silently. There will be more stories of that time, but in thinking of that toy airplane today, I couldn't help but think of that little Cessna that was the same color as the toy one and just as much fun to play with.

Such simple things, such simple pleasures. Just simply to fly, to be aloft in the air, the very substance by which I live and with its absence, I would cease to breathe.  Years later,  when Mom was long gone, I would sit in the cockpit of a jet at altitude, and just the feel of the yoke in my hand would take me back to those road trips with my little aircraft, wondering what happened to that little toy plane.

But then, of course, something brings me now back to today, a cockpit sound, the movement of a gauge, for an airplane at altitude has a way of bringing the irrational into every emotion, every fear.  I looked down, seeing what airports were near if indeed an engine ever quit, even if I'd flown years without having that experience. It's not being paranoid, it's those long moments of quiet, especially at night or over vast bodies of water where your imagination takes you to places you don't want to be.  The engines know this and will make those weird noises only in such places and times, a bluff, a lie, planned by the gods of maintenance and foiled by the steadfastness of the crew

Power and fuel adjusted, I took the plane off of autopilot, and put my hands on the yoke, a child again, trusting in my craft, and savoring the freedom that it brought.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

A First Responder's View of Disaster Recovery

With everything happening with Hurrican Florence a post about being a post-disaster first responder from my third book, First Place winner of the Readers Favorite International Book Award for Fiction - Religious Theme.

A Chapter From Small Town Roads 

We don’t have to speak for our intentions to be read.

Speech seems like a simple thing, a coordination of muscle and bone, nerves and tongue, something within us, just as the ability to control and guide both weapon and machine lay slumbering within the wrists and hands. We can stay silent, but the words are still there.

Man experiences things of great magnitude and cannot speak of them at all. An artist or craftsman creates something that was part of them, honed into art or machine. On completion, they say no words, they call no one, and they simply put down their tool, their brush, and stare at their vision, incarnate.

Veterans come home from battle empty of all words, bound together by only that identical experience which they can never forget and dare not speak of, lest by speaking of darkness, they are wrapped in its chains. First responders and law enforcement officers often relate as they too see so much death that never again, as long as they breathe, will they ever truly go to sleep alone.

Man experiences the mundane, the meaningless, tweeting and texting of it feverishly. It is as if, by doing so, inconsequential acts become more than the passing of time by the imminently bored. The words can uplift but they can also sting like so many insects, their incessant noise, finally dimming to a hum.

We speak in different languages, and even when speaking the same language, we often don’t communicate, and when we do, we often don’t truly mean what we say. Promises can be nothing more than words and oaths empty air, especially when election times near, wherein contests of fierce and empty oratory are somehow, retroactively, supposed to make us believe, any more than they can make us forget.

We speak in the language of the past, chants unchanged in generations hanging in the air as God is placed into a golden cup, there underneath the eyes of angels. We speak in the language of silent prayer, calling upon God and our reserves, saying prayers without words, as we draw near our weapon as we enter what could be hell on earth.

Words can support, they can heal, with gentle utterance after a nightmare in the still of the night, the soothing voice that smoothes the frayed edges of a day with nothing more than the touch of supple prose. Words can injure, cutting like a knife, discharging like a spark of electricity, those words, from someone we love, marking us always with their wounding.

Words, a movement of lips and tongue that can cause laughter or pain; that can divide or conquer. Even in a nation where English is the official language, in parts of our country, there are whole neighborhoods where you won’t hear it spoken.

Sometimes one doesn’t need to speak at all.

On any given day, tragedy and the earth collide, flood, tornado, the plunging of a mighty machine into a peaceful neighborhood. The details differ, but the response is always the same. When disaster strikes, the land itself turns mute and those that remain, stand simply as silent instruments unable to make a sound.

I didn’t fully understand that until the tornado came through our town last night, leveling several homes a mile or so north, leaving others, like mine and most of my neighbors, miraculously standing.  We were lucky, in that there were no deaths, the majority of the homes having basements and a good tornado warning system. But as we came up from our basement, our house untouched but for a tree that took out the front porch, it was as if what I viewed was a completely different town.

Harry, my elderly friend from across the street, was on the sidewalk, Evelyn holding on to him, shaken but unhurt. Ezekiel and Miriam waved from down the block, his shop roof damaged but the structure intact. But just down from Harry’s home, Betty, the widow that lives there stood in front of what remained of her house of 60 years. It was one set further back from the road than the others, the back portion of the house completely missing its roof and some walls, not even a photo of her failed dreams, left where the wind rushed through those rooms. She cried silently, in the faded robe she fled in, as one of the neighbors came over and put her arms around her. Behind all of the homes across the street from us, there were so many trees downed, limbs flung through windows, shattering them as if they were thrown like a lance.

A young woman, her face growing older by the minute, stumbled from the walkout basement of the home that had sold when I moved in, a solitary figure, clutching only a stuffed animal, making a path towards what is known. Her brother, off in military service, was letting her live there to care for the place while she attended a community college in a town not too far east of us. We beckoned her to come over to us, and though I am probably only ten years older than she, like Evelyn does with me, I hold her in a mother’s protective embrace.

The older couple from the corner of the block lost a brand new outbuilding they had painstakingly constructed behind their house. They now could only look at the work of their sweat and tears strewn about for miles by the force of nature, the wind thick and warm, like blood spilled, pooling around what little remains. A lone tree stood among so many that were downed, torn out by the roots, its nervous branches bent down as if hoping not to be noticed.

The first responders arrived, standing for just a moment, still and mute, hands unmoving beneath the invisible stain of what was, always, needless blood. For just a moment they stopped, as if by whispered breath or the movement of disturbed air, what little remains, would crumble.

They gathered, moving in and around, the firefighters, emergency medical personnel, law enforcement officers, wearing blue and black and yellow. Such garments, solemnly worn, exchanged for lives that used to be ordinary, worn as they shape something from chaos, coercing that terrible blood wind to give up a sound, the forlorn echo of someone who might have survived underneath the carnage. I waved at an officer I worked with, seeing the relief in his eyes that I was unhurt, feeling like I should be doing something more to help. I realized that I was still in shock as I held my neighbor to me to comfort as beneath my bathrobe my precious child lay safe.

It’s surprising how much noise there was in the silence, of hope, of grief, of disbelief. It was a sound which one could almost, but not quite, capture, receding like dwindling song until there were only the shadows and the quiet. And then a small voice, “Can anyone help me?” low and faint as the Vespers of sleep. It came from a home that didn’t have a walkout basement, and a tree had gone through the sunroom. I had been there, and that would have blocked the basement stairs. Hopefully, the person is fine and can get out once the tree was moved.

Survivors and saviors, moved without sound, sending a message as loudly to the heavens as if they were one voice. People were helped from the rubble, the injured accessed, the grief-stricken comforted as best as one could, if only by a touch that resonated straight to the heart, bypassing a brain that could not accept its fate. There were no Teleprompters, there were no cue cards, and there were no words for boundless grief and regret. There was no language for this, no word, no sound; it’s defiant and imminent life, holding on.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A Day Framed in History

In the frame, taken from a box in the closet, was a small photo.  It's a  group of men, two women, all eyes are up front, shirts pressed. I'd pulled it out of a box today, thinking back how long it had been. The men were all in ties, myself, wearing an outfit that, for me, was as comfortable as plywood and about as flattering. Smile! Cheese!

We were graduating from training, we look like we are intent on saving the world. But we are not even close to being who we expected to be seventeen years from then.

Expectations. That of a teen mother, who has read too many ladies magazines and envisioned a picture perfect world of happy baby, a responsible man, and sleep, when in reality all she wants to do is eat potato chips and cry, alone again while her child slumbers peacefully.

A young girl in her twenties at a grave, holding a carefully folded flag. While others were around she maintained her composure, til now, alone, holding all that was left, she wept, a meaningful and sustained sound no woman of 20 years should utter. The sound falls from the sky, like the cry of a solitary goose in the wild darkness of a September afternoon, and then is gone.

A couple in their early thirties, the young woman with a  deliberate smile and a hairdo that hasn't changed since college.  She'll hold that smile on her face for 10 years before she has the strength to walk out the door,  bruises hidden under her sleeves.

A man and a woman, leaving a nice restaurant in a big city after dark, as tall shadows appear behind them in the isolated parking lot.  Anyone else, certainly the police,  are far away.  He has nothing to defend against the utter fear in her eyes because the law in this city doesn't honor the rights he has everywhere else.

Expectations. Of what life owes us, or what life promises. Perhaps it's the age of TV where there is almost always a happy ending, the bad guy gets his due, the good guy gets the girl. Life isn't like that always, though there are moments in there that would put any movie to shame.

And so, from experience, my expectations are someone weathered, as we can't always control what happens around us. Evil does not operate according to logic, and ignoring won't make it go away. But we can exercise our right and duty for free will and decision, in the hard intractable world we find ourselves in. We are not trapped by those fears, hopes, and expectations that man calls his heart, but fixed by them, to endure. To stand guard and protect.

I look at the picture from graduation. I look at the news, shattered buildings and memorials, flags and first responders, those walking symbols of American courage and indomitable commitment. I look at that old picture again, how young I look, and yet I look little different. One thing has not changed, we have a duty, a duty to be alive, to the terrible hurts, the red bitter blood that flows, to the honor we bear in the world's contempt. We endure so others can as well.

Seventeen Years. 2997 innocent victims.

I was wet behind the ears, living back East, not even unpacked from getting home from training on that sunny day in September. As we grabbed our things and planned "what's next", I could not get the picture out of my mind, that of the Pentagon in flames. For you see, my brother, a former Navy submarine, was often there on business. I thought about excusing myself from the team. I had no way to know if he was safe, I was beside myself with worry, but I did not. I geared up and headed out to do what was expected of me, what I was trained to do, what I'd taken an oath to do.

My first days "on the job" were not what I had expected. It's been seventeen years, but sometimes when I wake in the night, sweat on my skin, the ghost of smoke in my hair, time hasn't moved forward at all.

Seventeen years.

I look at the photos, so many photos, so many years. Years for reckless adventures, for daring launches into the blue, for growing old, yet never truly growing up. Time for finding yourself, finding the wild and ephemeral blush of love, that knows no age, innocent, fumbling and breathless. All too soon to be reduced to small, worn squares of color held in a shoebox, of fading faces and edgeless shapes that will someday inhabit the memory and not the flesh.

But still, though, a life lived. Something the victims of 9-11 were denied. A chance to live life fully, to laugh, cry, and leave their mark. The opportunity to die on their own terms, with dignity and surrounded by those they loved.

When my Mom died, I was filled with anger for her leaving us so quickly, but I was also filled with respect. Respect for her ability to chose her final days; to unplug the plugs and unhook the machines and even though in pain, to be with her family, cohesive, intact.

I put the graduation picture back in the box with some papers. Some were no more than scraps of history. Some had more personal memories, that seared into my soul, to return on late introspective nights. There are memories there and many photos. Of dust and disintegration, shattered lives intertwined with broken wreckage, of unseen footprints in the debris of the living, stepping from the ash on their way home, and the seen footprints of those that respond, tending those taken from us.

I'd not be honest if I said it doesn't sometimes follow me, as I knock on a door, tiptoe into a hospital room to ask questions I wish could be left unsaid; seeking answers, seeking closure. Because of it, I know what we once were, and where we all will be. Because of death, I know what I can be, what each moment that is the immortality of all that the flesh could desire and the mind is capable of, truly is. Every breath a gift, each moment, mine with God's grace, but MINE, to live as I choose, and as fully as possible, as only a wild heart can.

As a nation, we moved on, but many of us continue to remember.  Will Durant argued that "civilization is not imperishable. It must be relearned by every generation.' For that is the bleakest truth of all, the one truth we must never forget." That is the truth that sustains us. The truth that plays out in an image of a flame-haired woman holding her head in her hands, trying to keep it together amidst the images of tangled wreckage of metal and lives, an image of a flag, of an empty spot of ground where once stood thousands of dreams. Quiet truth that brings it back so that we never forget.

Seventeen years.

Today there will be only a moment of respect for those souls that were lost.  A moment in which I will look skyward, wishing them peace, as the light vanishes with a soft sigh, driving down for only a moment upon the musty smell of slain flowers, there in a vase. Flowers taken from gardens for so many reasons, for love, for loss, for the dead, now dying themselves.

As I look to an uncaring sky, I grieve for the way they left us, as much as the why.

We graduated that day, in the last days of summer 2001. It was not a life I would have expected but it was the only life I could live. On that day we charged out into the world, passionate, excited and only days later, damned forever of all peace. In what seemed to us like minutes, we stood with regret and anguish, the despair out of which the quietly mourning, enduring bones stand up that can bear anything.

Almost anything.

Cat 4

It may be a bit far, but if our friends Madi or Ranger, or any of you in Blogville that live in the Carolinas need shelter, our home in Chicago is open to you.  It is very small (one bed, one bath, and a futon in my office) but you are welcome here.  We do have a big fenced yard for doggies and Abby likes cats.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Hurricane Florence

Those of you in the path of hurricane Florence will be in our thoughts and prayers this week.  
 - The Johnson Family and Abby Lab

Friday, September 7, 2018

Love Birds

If like me, you came of age in the late 70's to the music of Queen, and love quirky romantic comedies that involve a duck, you will likely love this absolutely delightful New Zealand film I watched last night that I'm going to watch again.

Doug has a small construction type company, 3 coworkers who are also good friends, lives in his late parent's rural house and has no urge to change his life.  Then his girlfriend of two years, whom he loves, dumps him because he "won't' change". (She wants the big city apartment and a BMW).  Doug is left broken-hearted with his 70's record collection and an empty house.

Then a duck is "winged" by a local hunter and crashlands on his roof, unable to fly.  The duck needs veterinary care and Doug needs a reason to risk his heart again. 

Instead of drinking beer and nursing his broken heart, Doug is soon inflating a kiddie pool for his new charge while the local avian specialist/Veterinarian from the Auckland Zoo, a widow with a young son, gives him advice, then friendship, that leads to a change on his view of life and love

Written with warmth and heart, it's a wonderful movie of love, loss, and friendship and Pierre the Duck will capture your heart.  Rhys Darby and Sally Hawkins both give incredibly emotional performances.

If you have an Amazon prime membership it's free to view.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Military Wife and Pug Life

Most of you will remember the blog "Military Wife and Pug Life" which suddenly closed down.  We all miss her writings, but I wanted to let Blogville know we've stayed in contact with S., who wanted to pursue some new activities outside of blogging.  She and her hubby have a new Pug named Tater Tot and life is good.

We miss them, but thankful they are well and happy.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Chili Weather is in the Forecast - a Tuesday Recipe Post

Chili mac is one of those winter comfort foods, but after some recent dental work where I had to eat soft foods while I had a temporary crown on I made a small batch while my husband was away.  It was slightly different than an earlier chili mac recipe because it used Mexican Oregon and Mexican Chili Powder.

Traditional oregano is common Italian cuisine, especially pizza, with its minty undertones from its membership in the mint plant family Lamiaceae.

Mexican oregano, on the other hand, is from a different plant family altogether, Verbenaceae.  You’ll also find Lemon Verbena in this family, so Mexican Oregano has similar citrus-like undertones.  It also might taste more grassy or earthy to you. But I find it works much better in Tex Mex style cooking than traditional oregano and in dried form can be found in many grocers in their Latin section or from Amazon. It’s great in this dish as well as a pinto bean soup recipe I will share in the near future.

Mexican chili powder is more readily available in the US, and though it’s slightly “hotter” than American style chili powder, both types will work in this recipe.

But seriously, use the Mexican Oregano.

Chili Mac - serves 4-5, easily doubles just use a 13 x 9 pan if you are going to bake it

o 1 teaspoon olive oil
o 1 medium onion small diced, about 1 and a half cups
o 1 jalapeno, stemmed and minced (optional)
o 1 and ¼ teaspoons salt or salt substitute (I like Mrs. Dash and Diamond Crystal Brand) plus more for pasta cooking water
o 1 pound extra lean ground beef, turkey or veggie “beef”
o 2 and ½  tablespoons Mexican chili powder
o dash of crushed red pepper
o 1 and ½ teaspoons Mexican oregano
o 1 tablespoons minced garlic
o 1 (14-16  ounce) can whole plum tomatoes, broken with your hands, with juices
o 1 can red beans, drained
o ½ pound gluten-free macaroni (I used Cadia brand brown rice macaroni)
o ¼ cup water
o 1/2 pound cheddar (optional)

Low Fat Sour cream for serving, if desired (I love Oberweis dairy products)

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a 6-quart soup pot. Add onion, jalapeno (if desired), and salt and cook until soft, 2 minutes. Add ground beef, chili powder, oregano, red pepper, and garlic and cook, breaking up any clumps of meat with a spoon, for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, beans, and 1/4 cup of water, stir, and bring chili to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until thickened to chili consistency, about 20 minutes. Taste and add more teaspoon salt, if needed.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

While the chili is simmering, cook macaroni according to package directions in boiling salted water, drain in a colander,

There are two ways to serve this

(1) add macaroni to prepared chili, heat through and serve with a spoonful of sour cream.  This is what I did today as I prepared this on my short lunch break.

(2) Preheat oven to 400 F.  Rinse cooked pasta under cool water and set aside.  Grate ½ pound regular or vegan cheddar and set aside. Place an 8 x 8 or other one and a half quart casserole dish on a baking sheet. Once chili has finished cooking, fold in the cooked macaroni and 1/3 of the cheddar cheese. Transfer chili-mac to the baking dish and top with remaining cheese. Bake until heated through and cheese is melted - about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes before serving.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Lather, Rinse, Don't Repeat

Monday.  It might be an actual Monday - or it can be any day of the week that you start back into work or a big house project.

This particular story began with a long week.  I can't say I was a walking biohazard, but I definitely needed a shower after being out in the field and my water was turned off while I had some plumbing work done at my old house.

I'd stopped to pick up Barkley at a male work partners house where he was staying during the plumbing work (this was before I had met my husband and I didn't know a lot of people in the area). Barkley loved playing with his dog, and there was a fenced yard and doggie door so the two of them had a grand time when I needed a short notice dog sitter on the weekends and I made sure there were treats for EVERYONE when I returned.
On this particular day though, I was hot and tired, and it looked like water was not going to be in my future until the next day.  So I asked my friend if I could pop into his guest bath and get a shower.

I've been in the man's bathroom before, not as girlfriend material, but as his back up at work for many years. We were colleagues but we were also friends, helping each other out over the years through dogs, kids, bad dates and house repairs, so I didn't mind asking.  I can find what I need. I think. OK - shampoo. Everyone has shampoo, right?

Oh, there it is, in the shower stall.  It's utilitarian. It's efficient. The stuff you can soap, shower and clean an engine block with.  It smells like someone just cut down a tree - with nothing but testosterone, a pocket knife and some muscles. Unfortunately, it's the kind of shampoo made for guys that work really hard and have a military haircut. My hair is long, down my back and it's fine. There's a ton of it, but it's fine as frog's hair and shampoo like that will have it a snarled mess. Hmmm.

Maybe there's something else under the sink, left by a girlfriend or something. Ah AH. There under the sink. A big girly looking white bottle that said "extra conditioning shampoo". It smells all tropical. Yes! So I ignored the "Lava Soap For Your Head" shampoo in the shower stall, grabbed it and showered up. It smelled wonderful, and my hair was really soft after. I even used the blow drier to get all the curls out and make it all smooth.
I'm all dressed and my partner walks down the hall as I exit the bath, laughing as he looks into the bathroom.  "So", he says. Why did you use the dog shampoo???

Well - my hair looked great, but I had a sudden urge to go chase a squirrel.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Lights - Camera - Action!

Our house is only 1200 square feet (not including the partially finished basement) so floor space is at a premium.  It seems that wherever I want to take a path to get to the next room, Abby Lab is always lying right in the way.

She once said she should star in her own action show.

May I present.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Friday Night Eats - Mock Armadillo

My husband was on the road all week for work so I didn't want to do our traditional Friday night frozen pizza.  (It's actually from a bakery that makes them fresh and sells frozen, WAY better the ones at the grocery store).

Mock Armadillo (as my friends call it). 

Photos prior to baking as once baked - picture piranhas skeletonizing a cow. You take a mixture of half low sodium soy sauce and half real maple syrup. Fillet a pork tenderloin (one that lengthwise would fill a bread pan) or two and marinate all day in the mixture, enough to cover.
About 3 hours before dinner, slice some green onions and a carrot into tiny matchstick-sized slivers and saute in a little olive oil with a clove of garlic. Add a twist of ground pepper but do not add salt as the soy sauce has enough already. Veggies should be starting to soften but not limp.

Remove meat from marinade, unfold the meat, stuff with veggies (amount up to you, I use about 1/2 cup uncooked per tenderloin, "seasoning" as opposed to "filling"). \

Wrap in raw bacon and secure with toothpicks.

Pour some of the leftover marinade over the meat and bake, loosely covered with foil, in bread pans in a 200-degree oven for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours. (aim for 45 minutes per pound for each individual tenderloin adding 15 minutes to the total baking if you're baking two in the oven).
Serve over bread stuffing, or rice after pouring off remaining marinade. The recipe came from a good friend from Arnprior Canada who works for Canada's equivalent of DOD who shared when they visited my home.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

A Word About Dogs

click on the picture to enlarge

I got this wooden plaque covered with a chalkboard for my cousin's dog grooming business.  Now I just need to add some words.

Nouns -  gun safe, ball, friend, couch potato, shoe, wiener, pot-roast, beer, toy, hippie, pointer, mailman, playmate, shepherd, bone, doghouse, toy.

Adjectives:  floppy, miniature, hyper, happy, difficult, stinky, farting, smart, shedding, loyal, protective, hairy, short-haired, caffeinated, furry, playful, napping

Adverbs:  silently, loudly, cunningly, slowly, quietly, sleepily, cuddly, lazily, hysterically, hesitantly, quickly, skillfully, exuberantly.

Color:   black, white brown, red.

Number:  Not nearly enough     

There's no good word for this - Abby can sleep anywhere!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

With the 9/11 Anniversary Looming, This is a Must Read

I've really tried not to use this blog as a forum to promote my books (and I'm working on book #5 so I've not been posting much). So I don't.  But I read a book yesterday by one of the 9/11 Volunteer Ground Zero Chaplains  (A Chicago Firefighter) that extremely moved me.  Although it was written by a Christian Chaplain this book will resonate with anyone that had gone through tragedy or assumed the role of a soldier or first responder.

Highly recommended. . . L.B. Johnson

If you are a proud American, read this book.
If you are a Christian, read this book.
If you are a first responder, EMT, paramedic, fireman, or police officer, read this book.
If you are too young to truly remember 9/11 read this book.
If you've ever questioned where God was when you suffered some great loss, read this book.

Written by a former Chicago firefighter, rescue diver, and chaplain who volunteered (5 tours) at Ground Zero this is the most amazing story of courage, faith, and humanity as I have ever read. I stayed up well into the night finishing it, even though I had to be at work early. I ended it with tears on my face and a renewed trust in God and the humanity of my fellow man.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A Winter's Dying Flare

I got word last night through a family member that a long time dear friend of mine lost his battle with cancer.  It was like a punch in the gut. Only 7 days prior he'd been given two years to live.  Difficult to accept, but two years is still time. When he and I talked last Thursday,  he was complaining that the facility he was getting care in had him on a low salt diet because his blood pressure was a little high.

He joked, "Great - on my tombstone - here lies G. salt-free, but still dead".  So, at his request, I smuggled him in some cheddar bacon popcorn due to a very kind gourmet popcorn shop in his southwest town that offered to deliver it to him.  I used to hit his tip jar on his blog every few months with enough cash for a really nice bottle of Scotch (he was medically retired and was on disability).  Thereafter he called me the Scotch Fairy.

He didn't get a chance to try the popcorn.  He wrote that he was NPO (no food by mouth) for at least the weekend.

I expected a phone call Monday - since we didn't talk Friday as originally planned.  Our phone calls were fun.  We met about 10 years ago when he hung up his hat as a Private Investigator and we'd talk investigative stuff, crime, books, scotch, you name it.  Over the years and especially after I lost my older brother he became like family.  Honestly, G. was family even if we're not related.

My husband provided what comfort he could but I cried for a long time after I got the news.

I hope these words provide some comfort for any of you who have lost a friend or a family member recently.

An Excerpt From Saving Grace - A Story of Adoption 
I've heard so many people say: "I'll do that when I'm older, when I lose 20 pounds when I'm retired." We go through life saying, "I would, but it probably wouldn't work out," or, " I'd like to but. . ." We too often base our actions on an artificial future, painting a life picture based on an expectancy that time is more than sweat, tears, heat, and mirage.

You can't count on anything. For out of the blue fate can come calling. My husband and I had recently lost our beloved black Lab Barkley after a brief but valiant battle against bone cancer and a weekend of pain we couldn't keep at bay for him. In a flash, life robbed even of the power to grieve for what is ending. I think back to when my brother Allen and I were kids: going down a turbulent little river with little more than an inner tube and youth, risking rocks and rapids and earth just to see what was around the bend of that forest we'd already mapped out like Lewis and Clark. The water was black and silver, fading swirls of deep current rising to the surface like a slap, fleeting and gravely significant---as if something stirred beneath, unhappy to be disturbed from its slumber, making its presence known. A fish, perhaps; or simply fate.

I think of the true story of the woman whose parachute didn't open on her first jump and she fell more than a mile and lived---to change her whole life to pursue her dreams. Did she sense something as she boarded that plane, looking into the sky at a danger that she could not articulate, that she could not see? Or was she unaware until that moment when she pulled the cord and nothing happened, as her life rushed up to her with a deep groaning sound? What was it like in that moment, that perception of her final minutes, what taste, what color, what sound defined her soul as it prepared to leave? 

I was in the paint section of a hardware store the other weekend, looking for a brick-colored paint to spruce up a backdrop in the crash pad’s kitchen. I noticed the yellows, a color I had painted my room as a teen. I noticed the greens, so many of them---some resembling the green of my parents’ house in the sixties and seventies, yet not being exactly the same color. The original was one that you'd not see in a landscape, only in a kitchen with avocado appliances while my Mom sang as she made cookies. I remember Allen and I racing through the house, one of us soldier, the other spy, friends forever; stopping only long enough for some of those cookies, still warm. Holding that funky green paint sample I can see it as if it were yesterday. Memories only hinted at held there in small squares of color.

What is it about things from the past that evoke such responses? For some, it’s a favorite photo; a piece of clothing worn to a special event; a particular meal. Things that carry with them the sheer impossible quality of perfection that has not been achieved since. Things that somehow trigger in us a response of wanting to go back to that time and place when you were safe and all was well. But even as you try and recapture the memory it eludes you, caught in a point in your mind between immobility and motion, the taste of empty air, the color of wind.

One morning while out in a hangar checking out a pilot friend’s home-built project, I had one of those moments. It was an old turboprop lumbering down the taxiway with all the grace of a water buffalo. It wasn't the aircraft that caught my eye, it being one of those planes that carry neither speed nor sleek beauty but rather serves as the embodiment of inertia overcome by sufficient horsepower. No, it was the smell of jet fuel that took me back---to years of pushing the limits, not really caring if I came home, only that the work was done without my breaking beyond re-use something I was trusted with.

Until one day, while my heart was beating despite being broken unseen beneath starched white cotton, my aircraft made a decided effort to kill me. It was not the "Well, I'll make a weird sound and flash some red lights at you and see what you do," an aircraft's equivalent of the Wicked Witch of the North cackling: "Care for a little FIRE, scarecrow?" No, it was a severe vibration that shook the yoke right out of my hand as we accelerated through 180 knots on the initial climb, as unknown to me, a small piece of metal on the aircraft's tail had come loose and was flapping in the breeze.

In that moment, as I heard the silent groaning of the earth below, I thought "I do not wish to die," and I fought back---in that moment of slow and quiet amazement that can come at the edge of sound, finding in myself a renewed desire to live, recognizing the extent and depth of that desire to draw another breath and share that soft warm breath with another.

Today is a memory that months from now could be one of those memories---not of fear but of triumph. You may look back and see this day, the friends you were with, the smile on your face, the simple tasks you were doing together. Things, so basic in their form to at this time simply be another chore: cleaning, fixing, an ordinary day while children played with a paper plane fueled by laughter and the hangar cat drowsed in the sunlight. It might be a day you didn't even capture on film---no small squares of color left to retain what you felt as you worked and laughed together, there in those small strokes of color, those small brushes of hope as you wait for your best friend to join you.

Twenty years from now you may look at yourself in the mirror, at the wrinkles formed from dust, time, and tears around your eyes, at the gray in your hair; and you will think back to this day, the trivial things that contain the sublime. On that day, so far beyond here, you may look around you, that person you were waiting for no longer present, and you want it all back. Want it as bad as the yearning for a color that is not found in nature, in the taste of something for which you search and ache, acting on the delusion that you can recreate it, those things that haunt the borders of almost knowing.

You touch the mirror, touch your face and wish you'd laughed more, cared less of what others thought, dove into those feelings that lapped at the safe little edges of your life, leaped into the astonishing uncertainty.
Allen spent years running silent and deep under the ocean, visiting places I can only guess at as he will not speak of it, a code about certain things I share with him. But I knew the name. Operation Ivy Bells. He understood testing the boundaries of might and the deep, cold depths to which we travel in search of ourselves.

On his last nights, Allen and I talked, but not of that, being aware of grave matters of honor but not speaking of them, not even with each other. I'd sit as he talked about Dad and how he hoped Dad would live to be a hundred; how he hoped he would be there to take care of him, even as I watched 120 pounds leave Allen’s frame as he went through that second round of chemo and radiation.

He talked until his eyes closed, only his labored breath letting me know he was still with me; the rise and fall of his chest as if he were trying to push up from the waters of the sea, unfathomed flesh still so buoyant if only in spirit as the cold water lapped against him.

I too have had more than one day where I stood outside on a pale crescent of beaten earth and breathed deeply of that cold. On those days I felt every ache in my muscles; my skin hot under the sun; the savage, fecund smell of loss in the air, lying heavily in the loud silence. Somewhere in the distance would come a soft clap of thunder; overhead clouds strayed deliberately across the earth, disconnected from mechanical time. I'd rather be elsewhere; the smell simply that of kitchen and comfort: the sounds only that of laughter. But I knew how lucky I was to simply be, in that moment, and alive.

I'd go home on such nights and pour a drink, prepare a small meal. I'd eat it slowly, letting the sweet and salt stay upon my tongue. For me there would be no quick microwaved meal eaten with all the detachment of someone at a bar, tossing back a handful of stale nuts with their beer. No, I wished to taste and savor the day, the warm layers of it, this day that had been someone's last.
You can't control fate but you can make choices. You can continue your day and do nothing, standing in brooding and irretrievable calculation as if casting in a game already lost. Or you can seize the moment, the days, wringing every last drop from them. Tell the ones you love that you love them. Hug your family; call an old friend you've not spoken to for months; forgive an enemy; salute your flag---and always, always give the dog an extra biscuit. Then step outside into the sharp and unbending import of spring, a dying winter flaring up like fading flame, one last taste, one last memory, never knowing how long it will remain. 
 - B.