Wednesday, June 23, 2021

In Memory

Dad passed away a few days ago after a wonderful celebration of his 101st birthday, time with friend,s and time for him and I to say goodbye one last time.  Today's post something I wrote a couple of years ago that brings back a lot of memories. If you have family around - don't forget to hug them and tell them you love them.
Dad's home of 60+ years sold earlier this year.  Last fall he made the decision to go into assisted living. He swore he would live out his days in his big old house, but he needed 24 hour looking after and with ice and winter storms his nurse's aids couldn't always make it safely to his home and at one point he just said: "I'm ready." He did NOT want to live with family, he wanted his own space.  I get that.  So my cousin Liz did some checking around and found him a really nice assisted living place.  It's very new and not in the town I grew up in, but it's a short drive away, so his friends can still visit and it's only an hour away from where Liz's partner Keith's family lives so they can visit often after they helped him move in.

Still, it was really hard seeing everything from the home that's been "home" to me for 60 years, leave, to be sold or donated to charity so the funds could pay for the care I'd been providing since my brother died in 2014. When I saw that the last of the house's contents were gone, I could only stand silently, as something like the wind, chill and solitary, blew through me.  So many memories within those walls.  Dad took it better than I did, I think, feeling at first a bit miscast but then accepting his new surroundings as a safe shelter.  He has grown to love his new place with a view of the woods, and someone there all the time if he needs help. He has made friends with other Veterans, and they spend many an hour sitting out in the garden area exchanging stories and bad jokes, their rapport not like that of siblings, but as people who had breathed and endured wartime, the internal scars of which they all still bore with honor.

I visited him just a few weeks ago, and one of the drives we made was down the street of the old house.  It looked to be occupied by a family, there were a couple of kids bikes out front and new flowers had been planted and the trim around the windows had been repainted. Dad was happy to see it went to someone who would care for it as he did with the laughter of children within those walls no longer only an echo.
On Veterans Day today, I thought back to one last flight before the house was sold when an Honor Flight Group was at the airport as I arrived.   How wonderful to see the crowds of people who stood up and clapped as these brave Veterans were wheeled past, and the line of officers that shook their hands and thanked them for their service. I had brought a tiny little point and shoot out on this trip and got one discreet picture, even as a tear ran down my cheek.

Good people honor their Veterans as we are taught to honor our parents. Dad bought his house 10 years after his service in WWII when he left the military for good.  He did everything he could to make sure we lived in a safe world, even before we were born. That is why my "vacations" the last 30 years have been back and forth to Dad's house to care for him and my stepmom when she had Alzheimer's and later just my Dad. My big brother, a retired Navy Submariner who worked for Electric Boat, made sure the house stayed in good condition, with both of us making sure there was enough money in his bank account to handle its upkeep (you can't see it from this angle but my brother and I got him one of those recliners that lifted him up to a standing position). I handled cooking and cleaning, canning and freezing, so meals when I was gone, were easy. Clothes were mended and the gutters were cleaned. After my stepmom died and Dad was recuperating from a minor stroke, my brother moved in with Dad so we didn't have to pay for in-home care, which he was needing more of.

When my brother died I realized just how much he had been doing for my Dad that was now up to me so more frequent trips were made and nursing care was arranged so Dad could stay in his home as long as he wanted to.
When I came home that last time before the house sold, he did something that my brother always did for me, leave a couple of balloons tied to one of my stuffed animals (yes, they were still in my room) on the bed.

My bedroom looked just the same as when I was a teen, with the rainbows painted when I was 14 out of the horrid colored 70's leftover paint (I do NOT want to remember which room the aqua one was, but I remember the awful salmon color as my childhood bedroom paint scheme).  The rest of the house had been repainted prior to sale, my room, being the last to be "updated". I think my Dad knew that seeing those rainbows painted over, as tacky as they were, would break my heart.
Being in that house that last day brought back so many memories. The houses on our block were all were erected in the 50's, sprawling across what used to be farm fields, rich soil that lay at the foothills of the mountains, small squares of cedar and brick, laying in the shadows of tall unaxed trees and the log train that serenaded a little girl to sleep.
The neighborhood back then was different than the dynamics of a neighborhood now.  Families moved in and didn't move out. There weren't foreclosures popping up every few houses, and kids tended to live in the same home from the time they came home from the hospital until they went off to the lumber mills or college. It was a small mill town, most of the kids ended up there, drawn by the lure of a log mill wage at 18 that seemed like a fortune until you saw the brutal tax on your bones and your spirit after 40 years of it. Only a few of us made our way out beyond those snow-capped mountains.

We knew all of our neighbors, the other Mom's home during the day, welcoming in the noise and the occasional dirty footprint onto the linoleum.  We knew which Mom made the best chocolate chip cookie, and which one would be as stern a taskmaster as our own Mom when it came to playing quietly in the house.  (Look it's NOT a hallway, it's a Hot Wheels racetrack and I needed 6 extra kids as a pit crew).

The town's only grocery was across a two-lane 50 mph roadway that leads to the mountains. We were NOT allowed across it on our bikes on our own, even if there was a four-way traffic light at the intersection with the grocery and the gas station. There was no even THINKING of breaking that rule. We knew the consequences of being reckless, and it was not a slap on the wrist or a taxpayer-funded 'stimulus'. Outside of that, there were all kinds of places to roam, and in the summertime, we were pretty much outdoors from breakfast to supper, no helmets, no sunscreen if we could help it, no hand sanitizer, no shin guards.
We'd ride up and down the block, usually playing Man From Uncle (I always got to be Ilya Kuryakin whom I'm sure started out his Secret Agent stuff, as I did, with training wheels).  We'd play soldier and spy or cowboys and Indians in our back yard where Dad and my favorite Uncle, an engineer, built a cool A-frame playhouse for me.  I could usually squirrel away some of the Hostess products from the kitchen, inside its structure for the Indians to run raids on. I was ready, I had my cereal box Colt six-shooter and a BUS (back-up slingshot).

But, like the examples of our parents, and the lessons of TV, which did not yet involve drugs and spandex, we were careful with our weapons, even if they were plastic.   Besides, should those rules be broken, we knew who the Sheriff in town was, and it was Mom, even if she gave up her actual Deputy Sheriff badge and an 18 year career in Law Enforcement, when they adopted both of us.

Those were glorious days.  We'd drink from the hose or come in for KoolAid, and a hug, soda pop being something not in a budget of a single income family, reserved for a treat while on vacation to my Aunt and Uncle's ranch. We'd count marbles, candy money, and coup, and we'd roam as far as we could without crossing that highway.
Many of the houses had fences, many did not, but there was an alleyway of grass that ran behind our house where we could run covert missions into a neighbor's place. The ones without kids were off-limits, we were taught to respect others' property, but we did raid one retired couple's little decorative pond at the back corner of their place for the occasional frog which we'd use to scare some sissy kid, and then return it safely. (Seriously, if I ever give you a shoebox with holes in it with a big bow on top, don't open it).

On Saturdays, the cars came out to be washed and sometimes waxed. I could earn spending money for candy by washing the station wagon for Dad and gladly did so, learning early the correlation between labor and putting food on the table. Our Dads would mow, and our Moms would get groceries and bake cookies for the week.
In the late afternoon, Dad would curl up with some sports on TV for a couple of hours, his only break in a long week of work and family. Mom would go to her needlework or crafts while the neighborhood kids continued to play those glorious summer games that were relegated to single days off during the school year for us. For Sunday was a day of worship, of rest, reading, board games and music, not raids on a local fort or trying to blow something up in the garage.

Now, so much of the area has changed  I see houses down the street where there's no money to repair a roof, moss taking over, plants growing in the gutter, but there's a new fishing boat or a Hummer in the driveway of the very modest home. On others, there are bars on the front doors of the homes we'd run up to ring the doorbell on Halloween, without any adult in trail.
I love my Dad, as I think we all do our parents, even when we don't see eye to eye with them, both sides occasionally causing hurt even to someone they love dearly. Such is human nature.  But I also admire him even as I tease him a little that he has a picture of Ronald Reagan riding a horse on his desk.
So I did all I could to keep some continuity in his life as long as I could. Having buried two wives and two children, a daughter they lost in their late 20's and my brother, Dad needed that sense of stability, even if the martini making duties have been inherited by my husband.
The very last look at the house - it was completely empty, nothing at all left, but walls that held within them so much.

The span of that empty space is as wide as our grief.
As I left the house that last time, I looked up to the Heavens and told my brother told him I loved him, went to the car, climbed in and started the engine and gave my Dad a hug there as he waited for me. You can't NOT take the opportunity for a hug.  For it might well be the last one. Dad and I are not related by blood but we are, by a life lived, commitment honored and memories made. He touched my cheek, with work-weary, dry, thin hands, an old man's fingers, yet still, his hands, my Daddy's hands, touching my rosy cheek where the strength of his blood still flows within me, will flow, even after his long journey back to his reward.
I looked at the house as I left it that last time, my family pictures now adorning the walls of Dad's new place.  All of those memories seemed to condense in it, as if the house alone were the source of them, shining from it from that big picture window, glimpsed just for a second as my rental car pulls away, like that 10 point whitetail you see the split second after he sees you, when he's already gone, even as you yearn for him to return.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Finding the Right Words

The Secret Language of Pets - (c) thebookofbarkley.blogspot.com

Abby Lab here.  Mom says I know quite a few words already, but I know a LOT more than I let on, many that SHE doesn't know. 

Barkroom -that small dark closet I go to when it thunders
Ballderdash -  a mad chase across the dog park to fetch the ball.
Floordrobe - that pile of clean clothes that makes the best place to nap when pulled off the bed
Slowbber- lazy drooling
Peticure - getting my nails trimmed
Hairaphernalia - all the grooming stuffs Mom has to keep me looking nice
Napcident - accidentally falling asleep while watching for squirrels
Overtoyed - being SO excited from all the new things to play with
Foodiness - when I sulk because you haven't fed me yet
Vettlement - what Mom ends up paying the vet after the pet insurance settles the claim
Fooditarian - the ability to eat anything that's found on the kitchen floor
Infilthtrate - when I come in the house with muddy paws
Toppleganger - knocking something breakable off the table with my tail
Peeography - mapping out the neighborhood one bush at a time
Incendairy - that time I got diarrhea from eating too much cheese
Naptivating -  something that just makes you want to sleep
Carioki - when I howl to the radio on a drive
Intoxicat - when someone's had a little too much catnip
Petrofried - what happens to me when there's big storms
Meanderthal - people that walk me too slow
Shoeberries -  The little decorative bits that are all that's left of your new shoes
Bathroam - following my Mom wherever she goes
Sockrifice - eating just one sock out of a pair
Peeoccuppied - not paying attention to Mom when I'm doing my business
Cattitude - you know what I'm talking about
Carpolepsy - being all excited about a "drive" then immediately going asleep
Phonundrum - barking at the doorbell when it's really Dad's phone
Mytopia - when the walk to the dog park is longer than it looks
Chillenged - Not wanting to go out and potty when it's 10 degrees out
Fartunate - what you are when someone else in the room gets blamed
Bathing Snoot - putting your cold nose to your owners backside as they get in the shower
Puffalope - a square puffy creature that comes through the slot in the door that's so fun to kill
Petrol - checking every corner of the yard for squirrels
Blamestorming - making it look like the cat did it
Toilert - when I bark because you get up at night to pee
Suppervise - when I have to watch every bite that goes in your mouth
Catsnip - getting Mittins neutered
Shedlines - when Mom realizes she needs to vacuum up the hair today
Abdicat - when you renounce all claims to be head of your kingdom when you get a feline
Travelsty - having to commute to the veterinarian
Nocra- not liking vegetables as "treats"
Mouse Potato - the cat that just sleeps all day
Fartland - a great open expanse of couch that you suddenly have all to yourself.
Bonecall - something you just have to respond to
Askinine - when humans ask "do you want to go out?"
Stuffiecate- How you dispatch the plush squeaky toy before disemboweling it
Epoophany -  I will know the secret of life if you just let me out one more time
Interwet- when I knock Mom's coffee over on the keyboard with my nose
Treat and Great - saying hello to my pet sitter
Lawndry - pulling the clothes off the line is fun!
Reciprocat - taking the neighbor's "free kitten" because they took one of yours
Defence - what the neighbor put up to keep their dogs from getting lose
Affleasement - when I just have to give in to the urge to scratch
Furloin - if I keep licking myself there Mom will give me food to distract me
The Collar Store - where we go to get cheap pet toys
Toester - laying on Mom's feet to keep them warm
Catacombs - where the kitties go hide in the basement when it's time to go in the cat carrier

Friday, June 4, 2021

Breaking Bad


Lorelei Lab: "Dad, Mom's having a tasty sammich and she's not sharing!"

Dad:  "But Lorelei - it's one of her homemade dairy-free hippie veggie burgers* made out of sawdust and carrots.  You won't like it.  You HATE carrots."

*recipe in comments

Lorelei - "I knew the pitiful look would work, see, she's breaking me off a chunk of it to eat!  Yum!!" (I just know those orange bits in there are cow cheese!)

Dad:  "I TOLD you, you wouldn't like it!"

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Saturday Sourdough

Sorry - it's been a long time since posting.  Dad's health is declining and we're looking into hospice options for him out West if it continues.  Not sure what to post as most of my comments lately seem to be "escorts" in India or Mumbai  (I have NO idea why I got a bunch of SPAM all of a sudden)  So I'll go for a simple  recipe - SOURDOUGH PANCAKES


The night before in a large bowl combine:
1 cup sourdough starter (King Arthur has a great starter kit if you don't want to do it DIY style)
1 cup milk
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour. Beat well. 

Cover and let stand overnight.  The next morning, sift together and set aside:

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder

Meanwhile, store into the sourdough sponge 

2 large eggs
1/4 cup oil or melted butter (slightly cooled).

Stir in the sifted ingredients and bake on a greased griddle, turning only once.  Makes 16 4 inch pancakes.


What the dogs did when I tried to serve them frozen store-bought pancakes. 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Rescuers



Held back
You can't
You shouldn't
Held back
Shame and rules
Held back
Afraid to love

Held back
Afraid to love
more than you could lose

Let it run
You can
Held back no longer.
For it's your life
your rules
No longer afraid

Let it out
even if it hurts
Don't be afraid
you've nothing left to lose
- LB Johnson


A few years back, in another life, another employer, one night late, I got a phone call. The caller was a law enforcement rookie, female, a friend. We chit chatted regularly but a call this late was not good news and I was afraid it was professional in nature. She said "LB., I need you to help me rescue a dog."

Apparently, the deadbeats who'd been living in an isolated old house down the road from her little place booked out in the middle of the night. She saw the vehicles loading up and leaving, good riddance, she thought. Then, late at night she heard, carried on the wind, the pitiful cry.

A coyote? A dog? The neighbors are gone, it must be someone else, she thought. The next night she didn't hear it over the chiilly wind, the third night she did, a high pitched whine of a soul's abandonment. The house remained dark, the utter stillness, utter silence, a testament to the tears outside.

She crept over, no sign that the residents were anything but gone, house empty of belongings, yard covered in trash. It was a pup, a retriever,mix, from the looks, left chained up in the backyard with a bowl filled with rain water and no food. Left to die when they vacated in a hurry. She called - "I need back up." Off the clock, just civilians, I knew what she meant. So off I headed, no purse, just a  personal weapon, my  ID, some cash and dog treats in my pocket. I got there; the house definitely vacant, no meth heads coming back and surprising us.

As we approached her, even in the dark, we could see the  poor animal was starving and cold, temps reaching down in the 40's. Tonight was grey and  even more cold, with a forecast of rain or freezing rain, but still the sky held in the moisture, refusing to release it.  But  it was supposed to go below freezing; she wouldn't have survived the night, it's only companion, the smell of water and blood.

Blood?  Why do I smell blood?

My friend, crouched down over it as I stood watch, pointed at something, hard nosed law officer that she was, with tears in her eyes. The dog had outgrown her collar, and it was actually was cutting deep into the flesh, leaving bloody tracks in would have been the soft fur of contentment. She had to be in terrible pain, but she only licked our hands and tried to snuggle up. My friend said "can you get it out?" I always have some first aid/medical type implements in my bag but I had to say "I've never cut on anything still breathing". I expected the dog to bite me as I worked, gently, with small tools to free it. She just continued to nuzzle our hands, even though in my attempt to remove this tiny round torture device, I had to be causing her more pain.

I looked up to the sky, thinking for a moment the clouds had finally given up their rain, when I realized, what was on my tongue was the taste of salt as I worked away.

When finally we stood, the dog in her arms, the remnants of that collar laying on the ground like a broken mirror, we heard the crunch of tires, both of us putting our hands near our weapons There was the flash of red and blue, of a bright flashlight, the glint of a shield, as we smiled, thankful for assistance and she was recognized with a "What are you ladies doing out here?!" My friend called out "hey D.!" He replied, recognizing her immediately". . . . What ARE you doing out here? I was keeping an eye on this place in case they were back and up to no good."

She said, "I'm just stealing this dog Sir" He looked at the dog , a puppy really, and looked at me (I was not a local) and said "who's this?". She told him who I was, his eyes widened a bit in recognition and he chuckled and said "and what are YOU doing out here Doc?" I said "HELPING her to steal this dog, SIR!"

He just laughed. Calling the local animal officer was suggested, but we told him, given this rural area, that might take an hour or more, the pup was in bad shape and had lost blood, she could die if we didn't do something. My friend told him we'd take him to the vet, pay the bill ourselves and get her a good home. The dog clearly was a "stray" in the eyes of the law, abandoned to die. The Officer just said "Dog? What dog? I didn't see any dog", and tucked $30 in our hands to help towards the vet bill before he helped us load up and drove off.

The dog was cleaned up at the vets, an after hour emergency call, the wound not causing any permanent damage, but serious. In a few hours, that gentle little retriever was bandaged up and home at my friends, after an amber toast in crystal goblets, recognition among tired friends, as she curled up to sleep near the fire, joining a household that already had two spoiled, well loved dogs.

I hadn't thought of that in years, until the day some time back, another time, another city.  A friend told me of a couple of stray dogs spotted by her office building, a place I often drive past on my way into work. The dogs were obviously dumped, she said, skin and bones, and she couldn't lure them close to her. A couple others had tried, with no luck. She was almost in tears as she told me, having a soft spot for strays (though we agreed stray cows do make tasty cheeseburgers). Animal control was called, then, and later, but the dogs ran off into some extended woods behind an old building nearby.

A few days later, driving by her office on my way back into the city, I saw, along the side of the road, a young woman pulled over, petting the form of the dog laying on the grass next to the curb. I pulled in behind her, and put on my emergency flashers, my work I.D. hanging around my neck as I approached, saying "can I help?"

 It had to be one of the dogs my friend described. At first I thought that perhaps she'd accidentally struck the dog with her vehicle, but I could see as I approached that the dog was just too weak to move.  It was emaciated, probably less than a year old, a bulldog/perhaps a little pit bull/mystery dog mix with a too small blocky face and low slung, long body.   It was hard to tell, the dog so malnourished, the coat so worn away and mangy to not even be recognized as fur.
She said "another woman from that office there (pointing) was by, she got food for the dogs and is fetching a car to transport him, someone else has already taken the other dog to the humane society, this one is in bad shape."

The lady who had brought the food was my friend, another employee in a nearby building taking the other dog to the dog shelter. The dog remaining had eaten the half dozen or so burgers that my friend had brought and a lot of water, and just lay there, panting, as this young women stroked him and talked soothingly. Yet he had an expression, as bad off as he was, as if he knew no one was going to hurt him ever again. I called my office to let them know I'd be late returning and would do a leave slip for payroll when I got back.

I called my friend, back over at her office on the phone trying to find a vet. She said "if I take him to the humane society as bad as he is, they'll just put him down". She had called several vets, no one could get him in right away. She said she then called one animal hospital, not super close, but within driving distance. They could see him. It was Barkley's vet, not just one of the many vets there, but HIS vet, the pretty little blond he adores.

She came back with a coworker, while the young woman that had been there on my arrival went back to work. We rounded up a blanket and a box from our vehicle supplies and the dog was loaded into the back of an SUV, one person driving, one person, continuing to pet it, off to the vet.  The exam was done and the dog admitted. A few hundred dollars were left for vet bills, my friend securing any additional payments with her credit card, which likely will be more. The dog had fleas, ticks and numerous bloody scrapes in a coat that was badly in need of care, the fur almost gone. They'd have to check for heart worm and Lyme. One eye had an injury but it was fairly clear. An IV was set up and my friend stayed with him while they got him settled in for a night or two stay. My friend had recently had to put down the very elderly dog they'd bought together. I remember too well when she told me that, everything leaving her eyes but the loss and her statement that she was not going to get another one, she was done with loss. That day, again she said she absolutely did NOT need another dog but wasn't going to let him die alone and in pain along the side of a road. She was NOT going to get attached to him.

She said "I wanted a lab, a healthy, pretty dog". I looked at her and said "Sometimes God doesn't give us what we think we want, sometimes He gives us what we need" and just waved as I drove off. We've all learned love, we've all learned loss, sometimes we have to learn hope.

Now, years later, that dog is firmly part of a home, sleeping peacefully, breathing slow into the darkness, leaving their touch upon a heart.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Tuesday Smiles

 It's been sort of crazy in the Johnson household. My husband's company is closing their Illinois operation, giving ALL employees their notice, so he's been looking for work while I've been working extra hours.  (He has an offer as an engineer for the R and D department of a large manufacturer so that is good though it will require more travel).

So for today, just some smiles.