Monday, May 30, 2016

Last Thing - Some Words for Memorial Day

The last thing I saw was the a disk of golden sun through a haze of smoke. In the few months I've been here, the sun and duty's risk are the only constants.

The last thing I heard was the report of fire.  Just one last wild spurring of colors made sound, shaping the hot blind earth into darkness.

The last thing I felt was an intake of breath, air drawing in deep. It lays warm in me, then stills. I thought nothing could reach me.

I never felt what hit me. 
I think that was close, surrounded by the savage heat that no longer burns, the fecund odor of sand and earth that reaches not my nostrils, the incredible silence. Oh God, why is it so quiet?

I look down on my form from above, whole but without body, thinking I must have a concussion, as this vision could not be real.

I close my eyes and recite the steps to field strip my AR.  Bolt fully forward, remove the bolt carrier and the charging handle, and will unblinking eyes to clear my sight.

 But the vision didn't change.
They knock on my front door, with words that my wife's ears and heart will have to accept without proof, but for their sound.

They watch her search their words for anything that can hold sanity together, with language that is within her understanding.  But with the words she hears, she crumbles like fragile paper.

They gather up my things for her, a comb, a ring, a broken blade, a wallet photo of my Mom and Dad, their hair singed with ashen grey, where none before existed.

They send me home in a box, draped with a flag, in clothing I had never worn.
My body is buried in the late summer, the corn in fervent zeal, bowing before behemoth combines that will pull it into an oblivious end.

My name is spoken reverently, soft force that drowns out the protesters.  It takes everything my Father has in him, not to confront. They  know not what courage and duty really mean, their nothings as irremediable as my everything.

My wife says my name silently over and over, until it takes shape and form, then falls into a sob as taps are played.  The sounds drifts up to echo in heaven.

But sometimes an echo is heard
My gravestone sits as if listening and waiting, the cemetery vacant. The trees have long since turned gold.

My wife sits with my last letter, worn from the many times she's read it, sun slanting through  trees, quiet light upon the dying leaves. She reads of the restless moments of every last memory, taking what comfort she can from my words.

My words to her, of my love, of my fears, of the child she carries. The more she reads, the less she sees, as the writing becomes fainter, words wet with tears, until the paper itself crumbles away.

The paper is as fragile as she has become strong.
The cemetery is old now, my grave now surrounded by others, so many others. My eyes live on in a child I never met. My name lives on, on a stone in a place forever solemn, in a picture, in a flag.

I am everywhere, in memorial. I am here, in a tombstone, in the flag I hope you salute more than once a year.  I am part of  the earth beneath you, of the wild, strong blood that formed this land, of all that lived, and should live, in freedom.

I am dust in the wind, the hard roots of the past, the sound of earth as it falls on a pine box, the broken body of the past, the invisible footprints of  patriots.

I am your father, your son, your daughter, your mother.  
I gave my life in service to my country. I am a memory that begins and ends with what is left, stakes in the hard ground on which to peg our history.

When the last thing you see is that disk of golden sun in the sky, remember me. Remember my sacrifice.

For I am everywhere, in the trees, in the wind, under your feet in a land that's still free.

 You never knew me but remember me always.

LB Johnson - author

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Satuday Eats - A Special Supper Before Mom Leaves to Visit Her Dad

Abby T. Lab says "Click to Enlarge - I double dog dare ya!"

This is a fairly easy dinner to put together for a special family meal (I'm leaving my husband at home next weekend, to celebrate my dad's 96th birthday the following week, too long of a visit to leave Abby with dog sitters)  I made a reduced fat version of my normal "Red Lobster Ripoff Recipe" Cheddar Garlic Biscuits and posted on the healthy eating blog, but it was too good not to share here as well.

You will need: four pork chops or uncooked meat substitute such as firm Tofu or Tempeh
Balsamic Vinegar
a cup of cheese
An onion or veggie of your choice to roast
and baking mix, flour and herbs and spices.

To start:

Chop a large sweet onion (or other vegetable you'd prefer to roast) into one-two inch pieces while the oven preheats to 425 F.

Make seasoned flour (yes, you can use a premade kind but most of them have MSG, something my husband is very sensitive to),  Besides, this is tastier and WAY cheaper.

1 cup flour
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cracked black pepper
1 tsp. sweet  paprika
1 tsp. Penzey's Chili 9000 (or plain chili powder)
1 tsp. ground oregano
1 tsp. tsp. dried sage
1 tsp. tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried marjoram
1 teaspoon garlic powder (or substitute rosemary)

Make Biscuits: (these taste JUST like the yummy ones at Red Lobster restaurants)

In a blender or food processor pulse several times (until butter is the size of tiny peas)
2 and 1/2 cups  Heart Smart Reduced Fat Bisquick  baking mix
1 cup grated  Cabot reduced fat cheddar
1/4 stick cold butter (or you can cut in with a pastry blender, no food processor required)

Stir in 3/4 cup cold milk just until combined.

Drop by 1/4 cups on non stick cookie sheet and set aside.
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a 10 inch cast iron pan, and saute onions for about 4-5 minutes on medium, just until they are starting to soften and fall apart, then place them around the edges of a 13 x 9 pan. Put cast iron skillet back on stove and set pan with onions aside on the counter.
Whisk an egg in a bowl, dip 4 pork chops into it, shaking to remove excess, then roll pieces in seasoned flour., until lightly coated

Raise heat on pan to medium/high and sear the pork pieces in the remaining oil from the onions for 1 minute per side, then place in the 13 x 9 pan with the onion.

Do not wipe pan clean, and place back on stove, medium temp..

Set oven timer for 20 minutes.

After the pork has been in the oven a couple of minutes, put biscuits in oven (they'll cook about 1-18 minutes).

Deglaze pan on medium with about 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, reduce to low and stir for a couple of minutes, incorporating any drippings from the meat or veggies, then turn heat off.  A few minutes before pork is done, drizzle over the pork and onions, then return to oven.

Pork should be done at  145 degrees F. internal temperature, but let sit at least 3 minutes when out of the oven, as the temperature then will go up a few more degrees without the meat getting tough

Top biscuits with 3 Tablespoons of butter melted in a cup in the microwave with 1 T Parsley (optional, the peeps don't always like it) and 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (or other savory such as rosemary if you don't use garlic)

Sit back and enjoy!

You made a biscuit for me with the gluten free Biquick and NO Garlic or green stuffs? (garlic is very toxic for dogs)


Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Sense of Thrift

Hailey and Zaphod's Mom's over at her non-pet blog

has a wonderful post up today about how easy it is to forget all the conveniences and such we all enjoy in the countries we live in.

During a fair bit of  the last 20 years, I have been a  sponsor or volunteer at local shelters for the physically abused, many also homeless. People ask why I do it, as it is often depressing, and sometimes futile.

The women there who have been abused  present an image to the world that is often one of stone, hiding the pain, hiding the bruises, until eventually, one night, the stone is shattered by the fury of a long fall or a storm surge. Sometimes it's simply eroded away, what is unique, distinct, worn away over time, as if by water, drop by ceaseless drop. Perhaps with those who will listen and support, some of whom have been there, a little of what is left can be reclaimed, still capable of beauty.

Some of them will go back, the fear of the unknown overwhelming, the knowledge that someone, otherwise, will wish them, forever, anything but peace.  Peace is not often plentiful.  I could almost always guess which ones would go back, they wore that quality of outworn violence like perfume, drawn back to the evangelical zeal of their abuser, simply too tired to fight any longer. It was often a fatal mistake, realized too late, as they were borne beyond the hurt and harm of man, into the ground.

Better they said, to go back, then live homeless. Some escape, but live for years with their scars.  Those scars are apparent to some, who try and offer a healing balm, but to others they are but a rattlers warning, a bite to those that don't understand their pain.
Many of us already live homeless. Not in our dwelling, but in the neighborhood of our true self. We spend years trying to change someone, only to realize the only thing that could change was ourselves. We spend so much time chasing after things, that we ignore what we have here now.

Some of the unhappiest people I know, have the most expansive and expensive of possessions. I sold or gave away most of mine several years ago, downsizing to a life much simpler.  I sometimes look at pictures of that home, the two story entryway, the three car garage, and have a twinge of regret, but not very often. I could stay in that house and my world would revolve around its upkeep while it's value just went down in a crashing marketplace.  Or I could pay off debt, learn to do the things to sustain, not just consume. I  could ensure Dad could stay in his home as his health declined. I could spend time with people who were important, not just labor for the upkeep of those walls.

I don't own a lot, but if the world falls to ruin tomorrow, I will still have food to eat, a modest roof over my head and the knowledge and means to know enough to protect it.
My parents always helped those that help themselves. Dad, getting his CPA after the military, did income taxes for free for the elderly. He was active in the church and in other organizations, living his life in a brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God, as he would say if you asked him. Mom, as well, volunteered at the church and at the local hospital.

There, she was the Tel-Med operator, where people could call and request recordings on medical topics from a published directory that had the topic by number. There was everything from child illnesses, cancer screening, nutrition and baby care to several on sexual issues and other embarrassing personal topics people might be too shy to ask the doctor about.  Dad would disguise his voice and call when she was there and request those "special" numbers just to hear her stammer "thank you" as she was turning red, then she'd exclaim "Bud, it's you isn't it!" and they'd both laugh. But I know he respected her for that volunteer work, even as she herself was battling cancer.
My early career days were such I couldn't volunteer but I did sponsor a child through one of the Christian children's charities, just enough to provide for some schooling and at least one hot, nourishing meal a day. Sponsors were allowed to give extra money, with the stipulation that it would meet a specific need, not to be squandered. So one time, when bills were light, I sent a few hundred dollars I had saved up, with a specific need in mind.

I got a letter back from the little girl I sponsored in Africa , Louise Marie, hand written, with colorful crayon drawings of a little house with a roof and a door, with little Crayola cartoon chickens and smiling children gathered round.  You see, before the gift, her family had been living on the ground, in a lean-to, her widowed mother's $50 a month income as a sustenance farmer not enough for real shelter. With the money, and the assistance of the charitable foundation, they built a house.  It wasn't a house like you and I expect to live in. But it was a grand house to them, with four walls to protect them from those that would rob or hurt, a floor and a real roof to keep the water and elements out.
Some folks would say I spend too much money on books and tools. I don't mind spending money for something that has a use, retains its value and can be passed down to generations. I have absolutely no issues with spending money on those things that can expand my mind or protect my home.  I have a hard time spending money on just "stuff". A woman I knew from a community organization, proudly showed off her $500 designer purse one day.  She has about 20 purses (I'm not kidding), but this one was special because, well. . . . it was $500!

I don't have a $500 purse. Until I was in my late 20's I didn't even have a $500 car.  But I have friends and colleagues that share my table that would take a bullet for me to keep me safe. I have the openness of the horizon, and the strength of my free will. I have freedom, I have balance and I have people that share my life that totally understand this. For this I am grateful and try to do what I can to give some of that back.
Hopefully, most of you won't ever get to the point where you have nothing left of yourself but the letters of your name and what you can shove in a suitcase. Most of you won't give away most of your stuff and totally change how you live, when you don't have to. But when you do pare down, by circumstance or by choice, it is quietly liberating, as you discover just what it is that was, still is, precious to you, what is worth your time and attention.

Thoreau once said "The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.". That  meant little to me when I first read it in English class. It would mean little to people who have had everything handed to them, with little effort,  the cost of their education, their sustenance, their lifestyle. After years of sweat, tears and hard work, I understood, having long ago severed ties with things, even people, who gave me only pain for my efforts, for in the end, such things, by their exchange, violated my sense of thrift.
As the rumble of thunder creeps in on the horizon, I look out towards the trees, to the chattering of birds as I step outside with a furry little Rescue dog.  On the ground two doves, who when Abby approaches them, run, don't fly away, their brain not sensing the danger.  Fortunately she shows no interest in their harm.  Above, two cardinals flutter like two tiny flags amongst the branches, then fly away, as if the wind dispersed them like small scraps of cloth.  On the railing, a small sparrow, looking a little worse for wear, looking at the empty feeder, watching me carefully, wondering if I will harm or help. On the air the echo of all of their cries, mournful and plaintive, barely heard above the wind.

I think of the Bible Verse "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"  I look at the fridge, as I enter my home, to a little picture, drawn with the colors of hope.

Today, I live so much more simply, surrounding myself with those with whom I share personal history as well as those possessions which I know serve a useful function.  On days where doubt raises its head, as to my worth, as to my place in the world, I simply look at that little picture and smile broadly, no longer hearing the echo of invisible bruises. Life is a risk, never a possession, live, and love, accordingly.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Abby Lab Reporting LIVE. . .

From the Closet

This is the 4th band of severe weather that's rolled through Chicagoland tonight. Mom was watching it  getting close and took an hour of leave to come home early and get me fed and walked before the thunderboomers started.  Then Dad took me out between cells for one last pee-mail call.

We'll see you tomorrow if a big tornado doesn't pick up our house and drop it in Oz.

Seriously Toto - we de-stuffie the scarecrow.  I'm game!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Dress Up for Whitley

Since today is Dress up for Whitley to honor our dear friend who went to the Bridge, I will do my part.

But Mom is NOT Miss Fashion  (I'd say her closet is Miss Stake) and most of her clothes look like something Sgt. Joe Friday would wear.

She's got NUTTIN fashionable in that closet, I swear.  Barkley's old leash is probably the newest thing in here.

I'll show you.  See? (I used the Auto-Cat programming to draw this).
So all I got is is a lousy ballcap that one of her friends left here. Mom says that stands for "Frequently Barks Inside".
As if I do that. . . .harumphhh
 had the prettiest Mama and she always had such beautiful things to wear.

 This is the best you can do Mom?  You don't even own a single pair of high heals I can chew up!

But we wanted to show Whitley we care, and we miss her, even if we're unfashionable. - Abby Lab

Dad !! Mom needs to go buy more pretty clothes 
- maybe when she's out buying treats again!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Secret Squirrel Powers

Abby Lab here - Mom had a very long (and unexpectedly long, day in Squirrel land) and is very tired from using her Secret Squirrel powers so we will check back with you tomorrow!.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

DIY Doggie

With the kitchen project and working -  blogging time is limited but here's an update on the remodel while the pizza cools a bit. It was great to have my stove unwrapped and usable and I will be SO happy when the landing party Red ceiling is plastered over.

Homemade Pizza Bones (no onion on half so Miss Abby can have a little nibble).
I am glad we had the cabinets custom made instead of trying to craft them ourselves - makes the whole remodel SO much easier on everyone (except all of the plaster work). This is all cosmetic, not structural but still takes some time.

Here is the original kitchen from back when the home was purchased by my husband  when he graduated from college and started his career (who couldn't include both the red ceiling and the red floor or the camera would explode.)  Yes, those are metal cabinets, they are also metal cabinets covered in SPARKLY CONTACT PAPER FROM THE 60'S

SHINY (and NOT in a good way)
When we met and made the decision to ditch my house and make this our home, he had upgraded the house with an bachelor Ikea sofa and a few great antiques but there was a lot to be done (hey, he was a bachelor in his 20's)  But as with any engineer "fixer upper" was like waving well, a red linoleum floor at a bull.

When I met him the following year, he had done a bunch of landscaping with help from his Mom and the more urgent repairs but the kitchen still was decorated in "bachelor".
Some say we were crazy, my selling my four bedroom, three bath custom McMansion and giving away ten's of thousands of furnishings to Veteran groups (except for what I needed for a crash pad until I transferred) and my husband not getting one of those yuppie condos along the lake like the other successful members of his graduating class.  No - we have a hundred year old fixer upper Bungalow with just our most prized books and possessions, all kinds of charm and no giant mortgage. (and did I mention sparkly cupboards?)
It's within a hour of the heart of the city on a very deep lot, with a long driveway and big separate garage, unusual given the age of the neighborhood.  It has a tiny front and back yard, but has two nice side yards giving some distance from neighbors lined with full grown spruce, lending quiet and privacy to the place.

But it's been a lot of work, planting trees, complete new plumbing and rewiring, more plumbing, subfloors, wood restoration, removing stained wallpaper, plasterwork.  There's still a lot more to do, a main floor bath last redone in the late 60's, new steps front and back, a chimney that's coming out to make storage space in the back of the house and the "Green Acres" sunroom, that has a lot of potential..  I think I spent more on building permits than getting my hair done last year.

But it went from looking like this (big ugly window has to go)
to this

And this (dirty wallsand Liberace chandelier and too many doors).
to this

And the pink master bedroom. . .
was given some lace curtains and  a more golden glow.
We kept the same basic colors - just updated and cleaned up a bunch, rewiring but keeping the wall sconces. I brought just a few decorative pieces from my house, but all of the furniture added to what he had was antiques found on a curb or at an estate sale and completely restored.  The entire contents of my crash pad (which was really lovely modern everything with TV and stereo and lots of pictures and decorative pieces) went to a young couple (she was my hairdresser) who had lost everything in a disaster and were trying to establish a new home to adopt a baby (which happened two months after they moved out of her parents place where they were temporarily into their newly furnished home.)

Abby likes to lay in the hall and keep an eye on all the rooms at once.

All the heavy drapes came down and delicate sheers and lace from the thrift shop went up. Given how far above the street level the main floor sits (walk out basement) people can't look in, even if they came through the trees onto the property, though we're building canvas blinds for some of the windows.
And what once an ugly bedroom downstairs we didn't need, with a great view off the porch
Became a spot where two books were written.  The walk out basement is both man cafe, husbands office and drafting area, and craft area.
But even better it became the home in which we could bring Abby Lab, who knew only having puppies and being abandoned.
We did everything ourselves but when it came time to do the bathrooms and kitchen I called in back up.

Because I wasn't going to touch this even with C4.
Sometimes you need a professional.
And a really big duck.

But the kitchen - like the rest of the house -  with a lot of love and work, is coming together quickly.

Love the new hardware - it fits what is on the ancient stove.
Still a lot of plaster work to do, but it's getting there.  We're going to finish that up and paint after the back porch and fence are done.  Abby Lab needs a yard she can run free in.  Barkley had a big fenced yard in Indy but Abby's never had that luxury as I was in the crash pad during the work week  and was only able to just give her lots of walks on the leash.

The light fixture was found at a business going out of business in an old part of the city.
 Yes, there will be a skirt made for the sink, just like my Scandinavian Grandma had.
The antique appliances are staying - they just fit the place  When the plaster work is done, the ceiling will be white and the walls will be a rich buttery cream color.
It's going to be fun to get the colorful decorative stuff set up as well.
A few of Mom's Swedish horses (I have orange, black and white sets) will be on the top of the cupboards (the Dr. Who Tardis was on our wedding cake - my husband looks like the last actor who played The Doctor and I look like his companion Amy).

More memories to be made.
The homes we make for ourselves are the best ones to come home to.