Wednesday, November 22, 2017

On Thanks

I'm getting things ready for tomorrow.  Just a fairly simple meal with my husband as after both of us being gone a good part of the month we didn't wish to travel.  My husband will likely get the SUV serviced for a trip to southern Illinois to visit his parents next weekend but this weekend we're staying home and safe. I just saw my Dad a couple of weeks ago, so I won't be flying out there for Thanksgiving with him and he has an invite to join a family nearby.

It wouldn't be the same with both Mom and my brother gone.  But thinking of that got me to smile with a memory from a Thanksgiving long ago. Mom had read somewhere that cooking the turkey in a bag would render the turkey very juicy. Except she missed the part about low temperature and the type of bag. So Mr. Turkey went into the oven in a Safeway paper shopping bag,  pop-out timer side down.

 As he roasted, the juice and grease pooled in the bottom of the bag. When the timer popped, "turkey's done" it popped THROUGH the bag, releasing all the hot grease onto the burner.

WHOOSH!

Big Bro calmly said "Mom, the turkey blew up!"
It was the first and only time I heard my Mom say a four-letter cuss word. Dad admonished her to leave the door closed as she turned the heat off.  He simply stood in the corner of the kitchen, muttering "Oh, the Humanity", tears rolling down his face as he was laughing so hard. We had KFC that year as the remains were removed in a bucket.

After Mom took ill, there were other events. A time at the vacation cabin where Dad cooked pancakes. I'm not sure how he did it, but you could hardly cut through them. He gave one to our wiener dog Pepper, who took it outside and buried it in the sand along the shore. Big Bro threw another one in the fire. It didn't burn.

I can picture that as if it were happening now, the splash of sunlight on cedar, the memory, of the smell of wet dog and the taste of laughter, of where people have lived and will always.
Hygge.  The word comes to mind, especially at Thanksgiving.  It's a Danish word that roughly means eating and drinking and being together with friends, a feeling or mood that comes from taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary everyday things simply extraordinary. We don't have any such word in the English language, and life today seems to rarely accommodate such a ritual.

I can be insular, and driven. At work I take no quarter and am not intimidated by blood, death or bad hair days.. Yet at home, I am a caregiver, as my Mom was with us. Even when she was tired, she would make us homemade cookies and pastries to have after school or with our lunch. Shortening scrapped from its can, dough formed and rounded, rolled flat, and rolled up, carefully studded with fragrant spices and baked golden.
When at school, I'd open up my lunch box, and find every given day, a peanut butter sandwich, an apple, coins for milk and an ice cream and a small tinfoil packet I'd unfold with great care. Inside, the scraps of her making, dusted with cinnamon and sugar, soft and whole. I do not share. I scrape the foil clean.

Dinner at the big table wasn't just on Thanksgiving. It was every night but TV Tray in the Family Room Night. But on those dinners around the big table, I can't recall so much of what we talked about or who said what, but I do remember the gathering, the smells of beef and fresh vegetables, of laughter, of stories from school, from work, a discarding of weighty thought and the simple gathering of those you love, for nourishment of the soul. I can't recreate the exact moments through what I cook, or who I serve it to, but I still can remember how those simple meals made me feel, the redemptive power of the communion of those who love one another.

Dad is clearing stuff out of the house, as his days grow shorter.  Having just downsized and gotten rid of so much, the only things I wished from it were small; things of worth, but perhaps not value. A couple are tattered cookbooks in which are written Mom's notes of when she made something new and if we liked it. One was a folder in which Mom placed handwritten menu plans for family gatherings and holidays. Some were planned dishes, some were instructions for the meal itself. Piece after piece of small lined paper, on which her handwriting lay.
So many scraps of paper, so many meals, some dated 1962 when she and Dad were still new in the house.  It was the house she lived in the remainder of her life and to which they brought me and Big Bro home as small, scared children, to heal with them, then to belong, as family.

I hold those pieces of paper and feel the warmth, a woman preparing food for her family, for her friends, small hieroglyphs that tell me nothing but that someone loved us, scribbled messages that would not make sense to everyone but will never fail to be understood.

At that family table we learned many things.  We learned patience (I tell you young lady, you are going to sit here until you eat that squash!) We learned aerodynamics (spoon at 45 degrees, wind from the SE at two mph, PEAS, initiate launch sequence!)  We learned thanks, and not just at Thanksgiving. We learned comfort and safety.

As I went out on my own, even when I didn't have a family of my own, there was a gathering, even if I just invited over my bachelor colleagues, put together a ham and some homemade mashed potatoes and the trimmings while we listened to music and actually talked about something other than our jobs. For it was the sharing and the care that was important, not necessarily what we ate.
Hygge, it's something I learned from my Mom as I watched her growing up. Even as Dad bought her the latest appliances to ease her burden as she grew sicker, she continued to make things as her Mom and generations past had done, stirring by hand, shaping and crafting, only forming a brief and sullen armistice with the food processor when chemo was winning.
She made meals in health and she made meals in sickness, those last days where there was a look on her face as if having seen something which she knows existed even as she refused to believe in it. She'd pause, blink as if the sun was in her eyes, then go back to peeling the carrots for one of perhaps thousands of relish trays she made in her life. Then she'd set it upon that old dining room table with the captains chairs that looked like something taken off an old schooner, a table that looked out of place among all the 70's orange and yellow shag carpeting, but was as timeless as that moment.

She carried more than meals to the table, she carried us, with broken dreams and broken hearts, holding us together, even as she left us.

 "You did good Mom" I say to an empty kitchen, the curtains in the window moving with the opening of a door as if breath. Then the curtains fall still, the room quiet as if this hushed little space is isolated in space, without time or dimension, hollowed whisperings of love and safety amidst the turmoil and fury of time. There is no light in the room now, but for one small kitchen candle, the flame standing sentient over the wick as I wait for the sound of steps on the porch.

My Dad's table will not ever be graced by all of us again, but it will be the inheritance of those who remain, few of them family by blood, but all of them family by acceptance. I hope that one day, long after I am gone, a small child will sit at it and say "tell us the story about when Great Grandma Grace's turkey blew up". . . .

. . and laughter will ring out again.
-LBJ

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Christmas Letter to my Blogville Friends

Mom helped me get my Christmas Cards addressed today (thank you Kismet for making up the list!).

You know how some people put a letter in their Christmas card, telling others all that they did during the past year.

I was going to go that, but then I figured that would use a LOT Of paper, so I'm just going to put my letter to you all here - you know, so you know all of my activities and accomplishments in 2017.

So here goes:

Dear Blogville friend:

This year I played, left pee-mail and yard land mines, ate, slept, barked at the mailman, UPS man, Fed Ex Man and squirrels, had treats, squeaked my stuffies, begged for bacon, went on walkies, took a nap, rolled in the grass. attended Blogville activities,  played, left pee-mail and yard land mines, ate, slept, barked at the mailman, UPS man, Fed Ex Man and squirrels, had treats, squeaked my stuffies, begged for bacon, went on walkies, took a nap, rolled in the grass. attended Blogville activities, played, left pee-mail and yard land mines, ate, slept, barked at the mailman, UPS man, Fed Ex Man and squirrels, had treats, squeaked my stuffies, begged for bacon, went on walkies, took a nap, rolled in the grass. attended Blogville activities, played, left pee-mail and yard land mines, ate, slept, barked at the mailman, UPS man, Fed Ex Man and squirrels, had treats, squeaked my stuffies, begged for bacon, went on walkies, took a nap, rolled in the grass. attended Blogville activities, played, left pee-mail and yard land mines, ate, slept, barked at the mailman, UPS man, Fed Ex Man and squirrels, had treats, squeaked my stuffies, begged for bacon, went on walkies, took a nap, rolled in the grass. attended Blogville activities, played, left pee-mail and yard land mines, ate, slept, barked at the mailman, UPS man, Fed Ex Man and squirrels, had treats, squeaked my stuffies, begged for bacon, went on walkies, took a nap, rolled in the grass. attended Blogville activities, played, left pee-mail and yard land mines, ate, slept, barked at the mailman, UPS man, Fed Ex Man and squirrels, had treats, squeaked my stuffies, begged for bacon, went on walkies, took a nap, rolled in the grass. attended Blogville activities, played, left pee-mail and yard land mines, ate, slept, barked at the mailman, UPS man, Fed Ex Man and squirrels, had treats, squeaked my stuffies, begged for bacon, went on walkies, took a nap, rolled in the grass. attended Blogville activities, played, left pee-mail and yard land mines, ate, slept, barked at the mailman, UPS man, Fed Ex Man and squirrels, had treats, squeaked my stuffies, begged for bacon, went on walkies, took a nap, rolled in the grass. attended Blogville activities, played, left pee-mail and yard land mines, ate, slept, barked at the mailman, UPS man, Fed Ex Man and squirrels, had treats, squeaked my stuffies, begged for bacon, went on walkies, took a nap, rolled in the grass. attended Blogville activities, played, left pee-mail and yard land mines, ate, slept, barked at the mailman, UPS man, Fed Ex Man and squirrels, had treats, squeaked my stuffies, begged for bacon, went on walkies, took a nap, rolled in the grass. attended Blogville activities. played, left pee-mail and yard land mines, ate, slept, barked at the mailman, UPS man, Fed Ex Man and squirrels, had treats, squeaked my stuffies, begged for bacon, went on walkies, took a nap, rolled in the grass. attended Blogville activities,played, left pee-mail and yard land mines, ate, slept, barked at the mailman, UPS man, Fed Ex Man and squirrels, had treats, squeaked my stuffies, begged for bacon, went on walkies, took a nap, rolled in the grass. attended Blogville activities, played, left pee-mail and yard land mines, ate, slept, barked at the mailman, UPS man, Fed Ex Man and squirrels, had treats, squeaked my stuffies, begged for bacon, went on walkies, took a nap, rolled in the grass. attended Blogville activities, played, left pee-mail and yard land mines, ate, slept, barked at the mailman, UPS man, Fed Ex Man and squirrels, had treats, squeaked my stuffies, begged for bacon, went on walkies, took a nap, rolled in the grass. attended Blogville activities, and so on and so on and so on.

Yours truly,
Abby Lab

Monday, November 20, 2017

Monday Dog Haiku

Oh New Stuffie Toy
I Will Love You Forever
Unless Squeaking Stops

Saturday, November 18, 2017

In Dog Beers I've Had Just One - Holiday Shopping

Grocery shopping in a snowstorm the weekend before Thanksgiving is never fun.  But with my husband being in charge of spiders, dead possums in the yard, and home repairs the grocery shopping is my weekly chore.  I HAVE learned some things, however.

500 carts in the store and I will get the one with the front wheel that pirouettes like a ballerina on crack.

I always make a list.  Sometimes I remember to bring it with me.

Always eat something before shopping.  I once went on an empty stomach and came home as the proud owner of Aisle 5.

You can go to the store for "just" milk, and spend $125.
Pork chop in homemade fig molasses with grist mill cornbread.  Forget the Kraft Dinner.

You know you need "me" time when a stroll down the detergent aisle feels like a spa day.

My husband once asked me to pick up some oil  There were like 87 different kinds.  I now know what men feel like in the tampon aisle.

If someone is standing directly in front of the item I need I will pretend to look for something else until they move.

I once lost my Mom in the store.  I was 51.  They gave me a balloon and paged her.

I do not object to telling the millennial who has 37 items in the Express Aisle "that I know all the lyrics to FROZEN and I am NOT afraid to use them".

I have, on more than one occasion of many years, turned the Betty Crocker Upside Down Cake box in the aisle - upside down.

I realize that I get excited that I can now buy the unhealthy cereal my Mom usually didn't let us have.

Someday they will say about me "she died doing what she loved, carrying 87 plastic bags of groceries from the car to the house, rather than make 2 trips.".

That being said - happy to have survived and made it home for a cold one.

And a frozen pizza - as I was tired out from all the shopping.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Time to Make the Fastnachts

This week, the holiday baking started. First cinnamon rolls, made with a secret ingredient (a cooked and riced potato) which makes them extra fluffy (and even though the frosting melted when I reheated one in the microwave today, SOOO good).

Then lefse, which is a thin Scandinavian soft flatbread also made with flour potato and finally, a typical Lenton dish that we enjoy during the winter holiday season (because they are just SO good on a cold day with a mug of coffee).

First some history. . .
In Pamplona, there is the Running of the Bulls, but in England there is the slightly less lethal Running with the Stack.

This Running with the Stack (actually known as Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day)dates from medieval times, originally celebrated by coveys of apron-clad women racing each other through the streets flipping flapjacks high in the air at least three times as they head for the finish line at the church door.

The vicar decided the winner and awarded the prize, a prayer book. The church bell then signaled the start of this Shrove Tuesday festival, which originated to use up all the butter and eggs before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, with itts look inward and abstinence from meat and other rich foods  It was a fitting end to cold dreary February, a month so dull the Romans only gave it 28 days
One popular pre Lenten dish of Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is the Beignet.  It's good, but in my household during BOTH Lenten and Christmas holidays the pastry of choice is the Fastnacht.

The recipes and spelling of the dish may vary slightly but you do NOT want to call them donuts in Pennsylvania  Deitsch country. They may or may not have a hole or a slit in the center, but I add one, so my slightly larger sized ones cook completely in the center. But in holding with tradition, they are cut into squares, to represent the four gospels in the Bible.
You can sometimes find these at bake sales around Lenthh in Pennsylvania Dutch country but the rest of the year you are out of luck, unless you are brave enough to make your own.  Which I did.

However,  I avoided running, as a English/Scot/Swedish /Jewish (you think Abby Lab's pedigree is unusual?) Shieldmaiden with a plateful of hot fried Fastnachts is not a sight for amateurs.
Pennsylvania  Fastnachts

1 cup sugar
1 cup mashed potato (don't add anything to it, just the potatoes)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup lard
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp nutmeg
a pinch of Cardamom  (Optional)
2 packs yeast
1/2 cup warm water (use the warm potato water) plus 1/2 cup milk
5 cups flour

Cook 2-3 peeled chunked potatoes in water until soft.  Set aside potato water. Lightly mash potato and measure out 1 cup, reserving any leftover for another use.

Heat milk until scalded (just bubbling around the edges) and add cooled potato water (you want the mixture warm but not hot).

Add yeast to the warm liquid and stir until dissolved.

Cream the sugar, butter, and lard, and then beat that into the mashed potatoes on low, adding in eggs, salt, vanilla, and nutmeg. Beat in yeast mixture on medium until smooth and then, with a wooden spoon, beat in roughly 3 cups of the flour  Dump out onto a floured surface and knead in as much of the remaining flour as it takes (or not) so the dough is not sticky. Put in lightly greased bowl, cover with cloth and let rise until doubled.  Once doubled, roll out dough 1/2 inch thick, cut into squares and lay out on waxed paper about 2 inches apart and cover with a thin, clean towel.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about an hour)

Heat additional lard  (you want it about 4 inches deep) to 365 degrees F. and gently add the Fastnachts to the hot fat with a wire spoon, so they do not spatter. Fry until golden brown on both side, turning once. Drain on paper towel and brush with a glaze made of 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 Tbsp of milk and a small splash of vanilla.  When cool enough to handle, sprinkle with additional powdered sugar and serve. Makes a couple dozen large ones.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Freudian Slippers

One of the auction items I got at the Lab Rescue LRCP holiday auction was the cutest set of plush "Lab" slippers from www.bunnyslippers.com.

They are very warm and comfortable.  Little did I know the psychological effect on my dog.

For when I put them on last night, Abby Lab went bonkers thinking they were actual puppies.  She went into "play with me!" mode, prancing, then bowing down in front of them, showing her belly and wagging,then barking when they didn't "play" back.  If I walked towards her, it was even worse.

Finally, I took them off so she could see they were just slippers.  OK, but I got this look like "not real puppies, but they're stuffies and all the stuffies are MINE", right?"  At which point she grabbed one and ran off with it.

Finally, slippers rounded up, I let her sniff them and see they weren't  puppies or stuffies but slippers that smell like Mom's feet.

"I'm still not sure about these."

Today we have "slipper detente".  She has a new stuffie that's just hers but she has kept her paws off my slippers.
"Harumph  I'll just lay here with my boring stuffie turkey leg"

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

There Are Just Some Days.

There are just some days you need some comfort food to make it all better. For some it's "bath day" (Barkley was NEVER a fan) or for others it's a whole day of meetings which can sometimes be more tiring than being busy with having eight fires at once to put out.

So for tonight. . .

Easy Baked Mac and Cheese. I love the "just like Mom made" stuff with ham and onions and homemade roux, (and I have an incredibly good one if anyone wants it).. But some days you just need EASY. This one is. But is also delicious and unbelievably creamy. You can assemble it in 15 minutes, if you get out the ingredients ahead of time, while you get out of your work clothes and take the dog outside.

This recipe has been made for church potlucks many times and the dish is quickly scraped clean.
You start with some Cabot extra sharp cheddar (or Tillamock for those lucky folks that can find it out West) and (don't faint) a little bit of Velveeta to make it creamy and a can of Campbell's Cheese soup.

Toss in the rest (not pictured, some Penzey's Northwoods seasoning for the most subtle of bite).
Bake for 20 minutes. Sprinkle a little more cheddar on top and bake a bit more.
It's the perfect plate of comfort food.
click on photos for the full effect
4 cups macaroni (dry) cooked
1/4 cup real butter, melt onto drained pasta

Stir in a generous 2 cups shredded good qualityCheddar (about 8 ounces)
1 can cheddar cheese soup
8 ounces processed cheese spread
(all at room temperature)

Stir until mostly melted

Add in 3 eggs whisked into 1 can evaporated milk, 1/2 teaspoon Penzey's Northwoods seasoning (or seasoning salt of your choice) and 1/4 teaspoon white pepper.

Bake at 325 for 20 minutes covered with foil. Stir well and remove foil. Sprinkle on about 1/2 cup  cheddar cheese and bake another 15-20 minutes, uncovered, until cheese on top is melted and starting to brown on the edges of the pan.

If you wish to go crazy and add an extra five minutes to it, chopped bacon and/or jalapeno is awesome stirred into it before cooking, but it still shines, even plain.

Enjoy.
This is neither low fat or low sodium, and is  really is intended as a side dish for ham or pork or meatloaf.  But I have to say, I loaded up my plate and it was SO worth it.

Say CHEESE!!!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veteran's Day

To all of you who serve, who have served. . . . thank you.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Dad is Home! Dad is Home!

Dad has returned from two weeks in the UK for business.  I'm sure he is tired of pub food (especially from that one place that Mom refers to as the "Grease and Weasel") and wants a vegetable that's not "boiled potatoes" or "mutton".  (Mom is English, she's a Woodworth by birth, so she's allowed to make fun of her home country's cooking).

Let the American Foodables begin!  Fried chicken breast with Chicago Italian Pickled Pepper mix, salad, coleslaw, buttermilk biscuits and Mom's Slow Cooker Mac and cheese.

Abby T. Lab

Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese

2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1 can (10-3/4 ounces)  Campbell's condensed cheddar cheese soup, undiluted
1 cup 2% milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 teaspoon onion powder (f you don't eat onions a pinch of cumin is a good alternative.
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded fontina cheese
1 cup shredded provolone cheese
DIRECTIONS
Cook macaroni according to package directions 7-8 minutes so it is still a bit firm (it will soften further as it heats through) Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, combine soup, milk, sour cream, butter, and seasonings; cook and stir over medium-low heat until blended. Stir in cheeses until melted.

Drain macaroni; transfer to a greased 3-qt. slow cooker. Stir in cheese mixture. Cook, covered, on low 1-2 hours or until heated through. Yield: 8 servings. (freezes really well for single serve "Bachelor" meals).

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Piano Guys - A Video and Honor


I don't know how many of you have listened to "The Piano Guys" but their music is just awesome. This video is special as I was one of the several folks that got to be part of the production process. (My author name is in the credits).  The wife of Jon Schmidt, the piano player, read my third book "Small Town Roads" and sent me the most heart warming handwritten letter as to how those words, as the book had an underlying grief theme, helped them as they had just lost their 21-year-old daughter in a tragic hiking accident. That meant so much to me. Great family, great music, and a connection was formed. I was so honored to be part of the production of this video.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Unidentified Flying Objects

I thought I had seen it all on the internets today, but apparently, I almost missed the

I bet they found some eggtraterrestrials in there.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sunday Black and White

A dog is the soul that will wait for you when no one else will. - 

Friday, November 3, 2017

For Casey's Mom - At What Cost Love


I hope this brings some comfort to Casey's Mom through these last days.  A chapter from The Book of Barkley. . . .

What price love?
 
Today all told  - $811.46.  That's in addition to the $329.04 twelve days ago.

All to a tiny and pretty blond woman  in a white lab coat named Alice who talks to Barkley down on her knees, at his level, looking into his eyes, like he is a human.  I swear he talks back to her.

It was another trip to the vet.  The soreness and slight limping that was thought to be muscle strain or early arthritis, (pending x ray confirmation) did not respond to the drugs for that, even after a couple of weeks of very limited activity. Over only a couple of days, the slight limp went to full limp. Last night he refused food and wouldn't put his foot down, hopping on three legs.  This morning while squatting to poop in my neighbor the cop's yard (pooping in your own yard is for wimps!) he fell over, like cow tipping, without the moo. He was able to get up and slowly hop into the house with a "I meant to do that!" but with too much effort. The vet was called, then my team, who were expecting me for a load of fun today, that I had to trust the probies to handle themselves.

We were there by 10 for the x rays we'd discussed earlier.   Don't ask me how I got him into the bat truck since he can't jump, but being part Valkyrie really comes in handy.

The images on the x rays were such, a radiology specialist was consulted to look at a possibility we both are aware of, given his history, but weren't going to say yet.  Appendicula osteosarcoma.  A very aggressive bone cancer that manifests itself at the onset in lameness, the owner often trying other treatments until it's already spread to the lungs.  He's my 4th retriever so I know that lameness in a large-breed dog that does not promptly resolve with symptomatic therapy is a red flag we must check out.  So here we were, waiting, the silent ticking of his life in my ear.
While the images went to the radiologist, I went back to work, if only to the office, hiding in the Goat Closet (someone had to have fun with the placard) once to cry so no one would see.  When you're Gibbs, you can't get caught crying.

She called me with a sound in her voice that is some hope.  There was no visible tumor, and the specialist said the bone didn't have that (as best I can describe it to you) Swiss cheesy look you don't want to see.  It doesn't mean that cancer couldn't lurk, just not having manifested itself yet on x-ray but it gives us time to look at other things, minor infection, simple inflammation, he's faking it to get more treats.

I could have brought him home to the crash pad, but with a storm approaching, it was agreed they would keep him (he sometimes happily boards there when I'm working overnight) to monitor and run some more tests.  This will also help in keeping him quiet for a few days, while I go home for a night or two, a trip in the truck he would not want to make in pain, time to build a ramp so he can go out in the backyard without even those few stairs.  I brought his bed to which I added layers of foam underneath between the bedding and cover to keep him off the floor that could be cold, his toy, his treats.

I imagine I'll be writing a couple more checks later.

I don't mind.  We do a lot for love, we learn, we grow, we take chances, we hurt.  For one feisty blond woman I knew, finding out the guy who was calling her the "love of his life" was dating another woman at the same time, we show up at his stockholders meeting and light that brand new red Victoria's Secret number we bought for our anniversary, on fire and throw it on the table before storming out, head held high.

Most of us have lost someone close to us in our lives. A parent, a spouse, a friend, a beloved pet. It does not matter what form love takes, it becomes part of us, and losing it is like peeling away that outer layer of skin, leaving nerve endings exposed to the cold that bites with weasel teeth.   We all know that every life must end, but when it ends much too young or abruptly, it is just so hard to accept. For the true majestic, incandescent blindness of love is its willful refusal to fully acknowledge that at some time death or even circumstance will take someone from our lives here.

I remember a moment at Dad's not long ago, walking inside, carrying groceries and seeing my Dad so still on the couch, it appeared he wasn't breathing. For just an instant, everything went into high relief, like a scene in a 3-D movie - the Safeway bag dead weight in my arm, the sun glinting off my old piano against the wall, Dad's slippers on the floor.My whole life suspended, bathed in bright June sunlight. In the short terrible space between that moment and the next, when he opened his eyes and smiled, I got a glimpse of grief as it would look in this new incarnation. And perhaps, for those of us who have had that glimpse, it is partly the encroaching darkness that makes the light so vivid.
Artists understand this so well. Think of the paintings you have seen in a museum, that life force depicted in paintings of old, a succulent pear, a fox so finely wrought that a single drop of blood can be seen along a thin whisker. In studies of faces that bloom in layers of ancient varnish, the curve of a a child's innocence revealed gradually, the glint of light on a warriors steel or the promising, secret gleam in a woman's eye that belie the fact that the persons in these visages are now only framed by the earth, hundreds of years gone. For that moment, in those paintings, they are still with us.

I look at pictures of myself and of my own daughter, wondering if decades from now, the upcoming generations of our women will remember the strength and love from which they were born. I look at words I penned even five years ago, words that don't exist now in the same world, even though they were placed in space with these same hands on this old computer, as the same old clock ticked above, time discarded by moving hands.

I look at my Dad, sleeping more now, under an attic where lay a bundle of letters that give off a whisper of old longing and forever hope, carried across an ocean to lie above the woman who wrote them. Dad grieves and he gives thanks, for love still exists, even as the bones of it have crumbled to dust, becoming one with the soil, the love remains intact, impervious, where they had lain, there in the rich earth of a man's heart.
I look at a photo of my Mom taken in the woods she loved, long before she began that fight for her life. A heavy smoker, cancer was diagnosed when she was in her 40's. I remember watching as a youngster, when Dad would come home to that same house, with shadowed corners and open windows, in the town where I grew up, and he'd collapse on the sofa from worry and exhaustion. Losing my mother seemed impossible; she was never so alive as in those last years when she fought so hard to stay that way.  Still, death came too soon for her age, and for mine.

Yet she is still with me daily. Whenever you've been touched by love, be it of a parent, child or friend, even after they're been taken from you, a heart-print lingers,so that you're always reminded of the feeling of being cared for, knowing that, to someone, you mattered. You do not need a photo to remember that.
I remembered that when my Step Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimers, a good and kind woman, lost in the shadows of her own mind, dancing to memories we couldn't see and crying out for those she didn't recognize.  I remembered it when both Dad and Big Bro were diagnosed with cancer, both still fighting even though they know who will eventually win.  I remember it every day I wake up and know, that even as my world dwindles, to someone, I am the form of love, one with bed-hair and waffle breath.

I so miss Barkley here this night and so I write. I hope you will join me in saying a little prayer for those that remain.  There are no guarantees, but we have today.  Every hour, every day is grace, even as I drive 7 hours round trip to make a ramp for a dog that will likely go out and buy a skateboard to play on it.

I am going to savor that, however.  For it's not what you've lost that counts, its what you do with what you have left, concentrating on the good things, so while we still are, we can still hope.
L.B. Johnson

For the Abandoned Labradors

Gemma - my friend Carol's Senior "Foster Failure"

Lab Rescue LRCP of Maryland, a group that The Book of Barkley has supported for some time, with wonderful volunteers who have become good friends, is having their online holiday auction. They have some amazing items due to their generous supporters. They've raised $22,000 but with the high number of dogs for whom they provide medical care and placement into loving furever homes, more bids are needed (until the 8th).

I can't speak highly enough of this group and The Book of Barkley has supported dozens of rescues thanks to those that have bought my books. Lab Rescue of the LRCP (Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac) is a volunteer-driven non-profit organization (Non-Profit Tax I.D. 52-1880024) that rescues, provides veterinary care for, fosters, and finds loving new homes for abandoned and neglected Labrador Retriever.

No dog is left behind, I personally know one volunteer that has taken in multiple "forever fosters" for dogs that due to age or health, won't be adopted, giving them a warm and loving home for their final months or days, paying for whatever care is needed to keep them comfortable, so they leave this earth surrounded by nothing but love and attention. (Bless you, Carol)

Check out the many generous donations - travel packages, professional sporting event tickets, gift cards from many restaurants and some beautiful dog-themed art and accessories for your home.

https://www.32auctions.com/2017LabRescueAuction

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Speeding Squirrels

Hmmmmm - I wonder WHO this was?  The newspaper said it was a "he", so I'm off the hook for the squirrel-cide.

Blogville Officer Abby.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

November Naps

After all the holiday treats it's a good day for just napping, don't you think? 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Howl-O-Ween!

Abby Lab here, rocking my Howl-O-Ween costume where I am trick or treating in the You-Pee-S guy's uniform.  Mom wouldn't give me a brown truck through, just a box to deliver.

You have to go see everyone's costumes for the Blogville Howl-O-WeenParade today at

Have a great day and enjoy the extra TREATS!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Halloween Memories

Trick or Treating was big in my house, even as it came with its own set of rules. It was on Halloween, not a Friday or Saturday or what was convenient or politically correct. School night or not, we were out and we were going to get our loot.

My earliest memory of it was early grade school and that Cat outfit mom bought.  She was recently out of the hospital following cancer surgery and didn't have a lot of energy to sew one (she made most of my clothes with her little Singer machine), so she splurged on a store-bought costume.  I still have a photo of me in it, the black pants and top with a big glittery cat on the front, my cheeks flushed with the cold, one front tooth missing and a smile that said: "Look at all the candy Mom!"  As we got older, she encouraged us to make our own costumes, to spark our creativity (note to self - wearing Superman Cape does not enable user to fly).

As an adult, I do the same, though it's a rare party I'll go to, preferring a home cooked meal with the company of just one or two people, or even myself, to a crowd.  But sometimes I will venture out if the people are those I really enjoy spending time with, showing up with a smile and something hot from the oven to add to the table.

One party at a doctors house, I wasn't sure I'd be off duty so didn't get a costume. A friend from work, (not boyfriend) also invited, was going and he was in the same predicament.  He was a pretty tall guy and ex-military, so I had an idea. I had him bring over a pair of fatigues. I wore the top half, which fit just down to mid-thigh, with flesh colored tights beneath. He wore the bottom half with combat boots and a flesh-colored T-shirt that I'd picked up with the tights at Wal-Mart.

We showed up and the guests, most of them as well, in the medical field said - "What ARE you two?"

Upper and Lower GI !

As adults, we can still laugh, even if it's sometimes just at ourselves.

Childhood Halloween traditions never varied. There was always Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin to watch.  For dinner, we'd have hot dogs with sides of orange jello and some carrot sticks and a glass of milk.  Then we'd suit up as quickly as firemen, eager to be out the door, out into the night where the cool Fall breeze shivered and stirred the grass where the leaves had long since fallen.

I paired off with a brother who was older. We were limited to where we could go but we had pillow cases that would hold a LOT of goodies.

There would be an occasional homemade caramel apple, popcorn ball or another such treat from a couple of older ladies up the street, but they put little commercial address labels on the wrapped treat with a note so our mom's knew immediately who sent it and that it would be good to eat.  But the occasional popcorn ball aside, what we were after was the commercial loot. Hershey's and Tootsie Rolls, Fruit Stripe gum, Sugar Daddies, Smartees, Milk Duds (still a favorite), Crows, Skybar, Nestle Crunch, Dots, Pixy Sticks, Big Hunk, Boston Baked Beans (those were given away, I still don't like them), Gobstoppers, SweetTarts (more, please), Charms, those little candy necklaces, Necco Wafers, Slo Pokes, Jolly Ranchers, Chic-o-Sticks, Bazooka gum.

The only thing Mom wouldn't let us keep was the Sugar Daddies. For some reason she thought those would just ruin our teeth and would hide them away with a plan for them to be rationed out one by one over time. Usually however, after a month, she'd forget about them. We'd run stealthy espionage missions into the kitchen until we found her hiding spot and would capture them and hide them in our secret fort to ruin our teeth at our own darn pace.

But the trick or treating wasn't just about the candy. It was being out, imaginations running free, flashlights shining into a future as exciting as we could imagine.

To each porch that had a light on we'd go, candy bag in hand. Trick or Treat, though with my front tooth missing, more like Twik or Tweat. Still that missing tooth got me extra candy (oh aren't you cute).

One house, always anticipated, had its owner dress like a witch, press on warts and all, and she'd have a steaming cauldron of dry ice and spooky music playing. That was the best part of that whole street. We'd approach the door, it would open with a haunting creak, the interior of the room blooming with light, a flutter of slender muscles in our arms as we held out our bags, trying to show we weren't really scared. That's just some kids Mom. . right? She really doesn't turn into a witch every Halloween? Then she would laugh, more of a honeyed laugh than a cackle, blue eyes, sparkling, holding us silent with her lifted hand from which would pour down sweet goodness, not toads or bats or other scary things.

But the trick or treating wasn't just about the candy. It was being out, after dark, by ourselves, just kids, with scores of other kids, flashlights in hand. Out in front of us, two whole blocks, dozens of houses, the darkness slung low with lights, the night blowing cool and full of promise.
One year I was a ghost. That year a lot of kids were ghosts, the lumber mill having laid off a bunch of men, and money for costumes was sorely lacking. An old sheet, a couple of holes cut for eyes and you were a ghost. Pity the poor kid who was the pink ghost, he was going to get flattened like a pancake next time the boys played dodgeball. Other years, the costumes were as wide as our imagination and bigger than all our fears.

In our garb, we hovered over places of play, breathing sugar-fueled dreams like air, ashen figures gliding through the night on silent feet. To each porch that had a light on we'd go, candy bag in hand.  The houses weren't decorated up the way they are now, but on the porch would often be a lone jack o lantern, eyes shining from a candle or some fake cobwebs along the porch (those aren't fake! ack ack ack, get it out of my hair!) We'd pass each other wondering just who was that superhero, who was that under the Casper mask? We scurried along, hands waving, quick steps in time to the chatter of chilled breath, the blocks of a post-war suburb stretching out, the dim lights of small-town America.

As ghosts, cowboys, baseball players and Superman, we covered ground, drawing in deep breaths of it all, unutterably aware of how brief this night would be. I think even as kids we know that too soon we'd have to put this other life, this other identify away, as we melted anonymously back into our regular life, with wistful longing and the taste of sweetness on our lips.
Even though we were told to just do two blocks, we always went ahead and did that third one, or as much of it as we could fit in before our little watches told us it was time to back. We advanced, trudging up the steps to that first house, looking over our shoulders as if we could already see our Mom scolding us. We hit about six more houses, with other kids from our street, before as a group we agreed to go back. We swear each other to secret, the words not spoken but carved into stone upon which lies a nameless and forgotten effigy, those secrets of childhood we bear with us always.

There up ahead, the lights of our house. Home! We cross the empty lot where a new house was going in, following a faint path were dozens of small feet had worn the rotting leaves down to the soil. We clicked off the flashlight, whispering there in the dark about Great Pumpkins and Ghosts, where overhead, Chestnut trees thinned against the skies.
The wind had blown the clouds away, leaving a bright starry night, imaginary bat wings beating in the trees, a black cat crossing the road under the silver echo of the stars. Smoke hangs on the air suspended, the ash of burnt leaves that once rattled on the ground like tin.  I stretch out my hand into the vast expanse of darkness as if to clutch a star, to save a sweet fragment of the night to tuck into the book of that day.

Too soon it would be time to go in, the night rushing past all too quickly, stolen moments of sweetness there in the dark. As children we live in the moment, we live in a sugary world where not all is a warning, where people are inherently good, and the goblins and witches and demons take off their costume and reveal a harmless smile. We know that in recollection, we see how quickly it all went past, and holding a sweet piece of time with blurred eyes, I realize we all have lost part of that, the innocence and the wonder, forever, even if memory remains.
When we got back to the house, Mom sorted through our candy, tossing anything not completely wrapped, being careful. But we appreciated that she let the two of us go without parental oversight those last few years; Big Bro being big enough to keep me safe in the street. There were so many other kids out, the streets full, an adult not in sight but for the ones with little tiny kids. She had to worry, it was dark after all, we were hardly isolated, but we were alone.

We probably didn't even look back as we ran out to start our night of fun. But if we had, we would have seen her standing there, evanescent and forlorn, even as she put a smile on her face and waved, so we'd venture forth with hope, not fear.
There weren't many more Halloweens with her there. Too soon we lost her. Too soon we were adults living on our own and learning that too much sugar can make you fat, and that roses often draw blood. Too soon we'd understand the night's promise of unease, the dangers that lurk in the shadows, finalities that go beyond a grave. But she let us live with our innocence as long as she could, while preparing us to be fighters and risk takers, teaching us to be not fixed, but flexible in the light, no darkness to flee through and knowing nothing we could not handle armed with faith and occasionally a firearm.
Tonight, the wind is silent and the house stirs, shadows gathering in the basement, a dark pine forever trying an ancient latch on the window of the room in which I sleep. I smile at a taste of sweetness on my lips, a stolen moment of childhood nibbled before bed. Around me are homes, some dark and cold, no pumpkins yet in the yard, the doors shuttered against laughter. There are always those that look at childhood dreams like viewing something through the glass, behind which is only vacuum, from which no sound emits and which, too soon, fades to where they simply live anchored, until they simply cease to exist.