Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday Night Wisdom

                             "The problem with quotes on the Internet is that

it is often difficult to verify their authenticity."
                                                                - Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Story for Lexi

There are some of you that visit here, that know why this blog started. There are others, dog lovers like us, that probably wonder how "The Book of Barkley" came to being.  But this post is for my friend Amy, the Mom of the incredible  

My big brother, an ex-submariner, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Esophageal cancer in 2013.  He and I were adopted together as small children and were closer than a lot of siblings, though our careers often kept us thousands of miles apart.  We weren't biological siblings, but both with tall frames and red hair, few knew that.

He finished with chemo and radiation, dropping 120 pounds on his six foot two frame.  He moved in with our widowed Dad, so they could support one another, and to get out of his house, as he couldn't hold on to it,  having lost his job as a Navy Contractor.  I lived 1500 miles away and had a job that had me living out of the suitcase too often, but I visited them as often as I could, during all of my vacation, and on every long weekend.
He held his own, even if  towards the end, everything he ate got smashed in a blender.  Pretty much all he could get down was some protein shakes. (I thought he was joking when he said he'd put my leftover cheese omelet I brought back from a restaurant with some leftovers, in there with the juice, fruit and ice cream but he said it was tasty except "I don't think the hash browns were such a good idea".

But  we had some time, to do some grieving, for the loss of some older family members, including our Step Mom who stepped to the plate after our Mom died  fairly young from cancer.  We also had some time to do some laughing, especially as now he could share all the embarrassing childhood stories with my new husband who met him for the first time.  But we also  had a lot of time alone, up late, talking about our Dad, about growing up (or our inherent refusal to),  He told me more than once "you're a good writer, you need to put this down in a book" and I'd just laugh and say, "maybe after I retire".  He said " we don't always get to retire, do it now".
At that point I realized that the one  thing I am glad I did not hear from him in his end days  was , "I wish I'd. . ."

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

You can't count on anything. For out of the blue, fate can come calling. Barkley was in fine spirits at my wedding, weeks later limping; a few weeks after that--gone. He was only 11 years old. In a flash, life robbed even of the power to grieve for what is ending. I think back to when my beloved big brother and I were kids, going down a turbulent little river with little more than an inner tube and youth, risking rocks and rapids and earth, just to see what was around the bend of that forest we'd already mapped out like Lewis and Clark. The water was black and silver, fading swirls of deep current rising to the surface like a slap, fleeting and gravely significant, as if something stirred beneath, unhappy to be disturbed from its slumber, making its presence known.  A fish, perhaps or simply fate. 

I was in the paint section of a hardware store the other weekend, looking for a brick colored paint to paint a backdrop in the kitchen. I noticed the yellows, a color I painted my room as a teen. I noticed the greens, so many of them, some resembling the green of my parent's house in the sixties and seventies, yet not being exactly the same color. The original was one that you'd not see in a landscape, only in a kitchen with avocado appliances, while my Mom sang as she made cookies. I remember my brother and I racing through the house, one of us soldier, one of us spy, friends forever, stopping only long enough for some of those cookies, still warm. Holding that funky green paint sample I can see it as if it were yesterday.  Memories only hinted at, held there in small squares of color.
What is it about things from the past that evoke such responses? A favorite photo, for some, a piece of clothing worn to a special event, a particular meal, things that carry with them the sheer impossible quality of perfection that has not been achieved since. Things that somehow trigger in us a response, of wanting to go back to that time and place when you were safe and all was well. But even as you try and recapture it, it eludes you, caught in a point in your mind between immobility and motion, the taste of empty air, the color of wind

Today is a memory that months from now, could be one of those times.  You may look back and see this day, the person you were with, the smile on your face, the simple household tasks you were doing together. Things, so basic in their form, as to, at this time, be simply another chore, cleaning, painting, another ordinary day, while the kids played outside and the dog barked merrily along with them. It might be a day in which you didn't even capture it on film, no small squares of color left to retain what you felt there as you worked and laughed together, in those small strokes of color, those small brushes of longing.

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

You touch the mirror, touch your face and wish you'd laughed more, cared less of what others thought, dove into those feelings that lapped at the safe little edges of your life, leaped into the astonishing uncertainty.

My brother spent years running silent and deep under the ocean, visiting places I can only guess at as he will not speak of it, a code about certain things I share with him.   But I knew the name.  Operation Ivy Bells.  He understands testing the boundaries of might and the deep, cold deep depths to which we travel in search of ourselves.

My original major was Criminal Justice with a minor in Forensic Anthropology.  I was the weird kid in school that did my "career day with the Forensic Pathologists, looking at people parts in jars.  Now, when I'm called to the witness stand as Dr. Johnson, I look around for that person, feeling like a little kid playing in a grown up's body.  But in my work, my first assignment was the week of 9-11 and I have seen things that have seared my soul.

It is on such days where I stood outside on a pale crescent of beaten earth and breathed deep of the cold.   On those days I felt every ache in my muscles, I felt my skin, hot under the sun, the savage, fecund smell of loss in the air, laying heavy in the loud silence. Somewhere in the distance would come a soft clap of thunder, overhead clouds strayed deliberately across the earth, disconnected from mechanical time. I'd rather be elsewhere; the smell simply that of kitchen and comfort, the sounds; only that of laughter. But I knew how lucky I was to simply be, in that moment and alive.  I also knew, how blessed I was that after such days, I came home to my furry, four-legged best friend Barkley, who was my Black Knight in somewhat shedding armor, the soft coated Kleenex when I needed to cry.
Photo of me by my friend, Just People

You can't control fate, but you can make choices. You can continue your day and do nothing, standing in brooding and irretrievable calculation as if casting in a game already lost. Or you can seize the moment, the days, wringing every last drop from them. Tell the ones you love that you love them. Hug your family, forgive an enemy (but remember the bastards name), salute your flag, and always, give the dog an extra biscuit. Then step outside into the sharp and unbending import of Spring, a dying Winter flaring up like fading flame, one last taste, one last memory, never knowing how long it will remain.
I said goodbye to my brother that last time, neither of us were certain as to what the future would hold. Had I known that just a week later, my beloved black Lab Barkley would be gone to an aggressive bone cancer, followed just weeks later by my brother, I might have held him longer, but I wouldn't have played the days out any differently.   For one thing we both agreed on, today is that memory, go out and make everything you can of it.

The Book of Barkley is that memory--for Barkley, for my brother, for all of us who have lost beloved pets or family members.  It's,for all the laughter we've wrapped around each other in the end days, to be carried on forward like held breath, in the airless days ahead.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Abby's trying terribly hard tonight to break the "cute" scale while I write.

Thanks for all the nice comments on the new book.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Good News!

Guess which one is Mom's ride?

Abby Lab here:
Mom's  Third Book "Small Town Roads", has been picked up by a very large and well-known Christian Publishing House. She still has some polishing work to do with her editor but she has met her account rep, book sales rep, and marketing lady, and the final manuscript should be to them soon. She had to do some homework on the small town police thing as she's a Fed in a huge city but with her experience having a Mom that was a Deputy sheriff she had a lot of fun with it.
Unlike her first two books, printed through a small publisher with no placement in brick and mortar book stores due to the publishing cost, it's going to get a lot more attention, marketing and such, being available to 71,000 bookstores and libraries and not just online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and it will be featured at a number of large Christian trade shows.
Having two books that both went to #1 at Amazon, with The Book of Barkley being a featured Indie author in Kirkus Review Magazine as well as winning a major International Literary award, was a big help in pitching it to them. Mom says she can't automatically expect this one will do that well, lightning may not strike thrice, but I hope that her friends will enjoy the story, and the message. (And she really hopes the Chicago library folks that had her over for a big book club event with lots of wine will ask her back!)  But when she finished it, she said the practice of the first two really helped her make this one deeper and richer, while still including the zany humor that adds humanity to a deep rooted message.
Storyline: Rachel Raines is orphaned after putting off college to care for ailing parents. Finally she's off to a major city university and the fun loving, young party girl has better things to do then go to church, even if a good student. She inherits her only relative's tiny home in a small town in the middle of nowhere a few months after graduation. She wants to stay in the city, but that house is the only place she has any memories of her family, her childhood home sold to pay for medical bills, burials, and her continued education.
Armed with a Criminal Justice degree and top grades from a prestigious university that should have taken her to the FBI, she finds her self as a rookie patrol officer in a town that has no coffee baristas, no single men her age and the only local restaurant has a giant plastic cow on the roof and scrapple is probably the "soup of the day". Well, there was one single man, but he broke their date after she arrested him.
But small town doesn't always mean safe and she's caught up in a unexpected meth lab bust, and in one moment of violence, her whole life changes, as does her look at her future and her faith.
It will be different then my previous books, fiction and obviously, a Christian theme. a hopeful and gentle  one, stressing the values of self reliance, working together as neighbors, and commitment to family and faith as we were raised. The main characters have firearms, faults, and the Constitution on their wall, and I hope the ride won't be too dull.
Lord willing, it should be published before Christmas.
Mom's dad, at 96 is not doing real well, so she's going to print a copy and put it in a binder and send it to him next week but he was very proud at the news.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Black and White Gone to Color

To sit in the shade on a fine day and  look
upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment.
Jane Austen

And now for some much needed color in our world going into the work week.

Thank you to all of you in Blogville that put this together. I'm late to the party but so happy to remember our dear friend Lexi.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Saturday Eats

Abby is out for a long walk with her Dad while I get a few things done around the house.

Today - while I dive back into the book (goal to have it to my editor complete by next weekend). is two of my favorite bundt cake recipes to take to church or work. The first one is VERY easy.  It's moist enough to eat without frosting but you can drizzle it with chocolate syrup with whipped cream for a more decadant dessert.

Dark Chocolate Pistachio Pudding Cake

1 bundt pan
1 box Duncan Hines Butter Recipe cake mix
1/2 cup orange juice (no pulp)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup cooking oil
1/3 teaspoon Penzey's Mexican Vanilla (you can use vanilla extract but the Penzey's is amazing)
1 three ounce box jello pistachio instant pudding
4 extra large eggs

Mix ingredients in large bowl with hand mixer on low until blended (about 30 seconds). 
Beat on medium to medium/high for 2 and 1/2 minutes, scraping bowl frequently.
Pour about 2/3 of the batter into a bundt pan sprayed generously with non stick coating mix.
Into remaining batter, mix with a spoon until blended-
1/2 cup MINI dark chocolate chips (the larger ones will sink into the batter)
3/4 cup plus 1 1/2 Tablespoons Hershey's Special Dark chocolate syrup.
Pour onto the batter in pan. You do NOT need to marble this with a spoon.
Bake at 350 for 55 minutes (check at 50 minutes, a thin knife inserted into the cake near the middle should come out clean).

Drizzle with a bit more syrup or eat plain.

The second cake is a "blast from the past" if you grew up in the 70's. I remember my Mom making this and recently found the recipe printed out on a little card in Dad's kitchen. It takes longer to make than the cake above but it's worth it.

I hadn't had it since I was a kid when I ran across the recipe again, adding a bit of lemon zest and mellowing out the  "pucker up" tart glaze a bit with milk and lemon extract instead of straight sugar and lemon juice.  It was a nice change, yet still a very familiar taste, just as good as I remembered.

It's an incredibly moist, tender crumb, and the outside gets this nice little crunchy bite around the edges from long slow baking at a lower temperature.  

7 Up Cake

3 sticks salted butter
3 cups sugar
5  extra large eggs (at room temperature)
2 Tablespoons lemon extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 cups of all purpose flower
3/4 cup 7-Up
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp milk
2 tsp lemon extract
a splash of 7-Up  (until you get the consistency you want, start with 1/2 tsp. and go from there)

Preheat oven to 325 F.  In a large bowl, cream butter for about 3 minutes with a hand or stand mixer on medium high to high. Add in the sugar (about 1/4 of the total at a time) and beat for additional 17 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as it mixes. (Yes, you heard me, 20 minutes total). Add eggs, one at a time, beating a minute after each one (the mixture will look VERY fluffy). Add lemon extract, lemon zest and the flour, one cup at a time, mixing on low or by hand just enough to combine (don't over beat once the flour is added). 

Gently fold in the 7-Up and pour into a greased 12 cup Bundt cake pan and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes  to 1 hour and 15 minutes (or until a thin knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.  (check at 50-60 minutes, this cake is easy to over bake).

Cool and glaze.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

For today, while I make a pot of coffee and hunker down to write a few more chapters, including this one -- a tale of exposed windswept places and hearts that withstand the cold.  The chapter is written from the viewpoint of the book's main character, a young woman, orphaned in her early 20's, that post college graduation takes a job as a police officer in a very small town,living in a tiny old house her Aunt left to her when she too passed, instead of living off her inheritance, having fun in the big city. Along the way, she finds herself, danger, and God.

You all be safe now.

Chapter 11 -  from Small Town Roads (Xulon Publishing Company, early 2017)

You could see the air mass coming on down from Canada.  I couldn't 'help but think of this one day some years ago wherein the local TV news channel had to substitute a regular reporter for their meteorologist.  She was obviously very pretty but of weather knowledge-- there was none.  But she tried.  What made me snort tea, was in her stress in relaying what was on the radar, she blurted out on the air.  "From the north comes a Giant Green Blob!!" (that would be precipitation Miss)

Myself, I rely on Accu-Cow weather for the drive.  He's the cow that's perched on top of the diner. No, not a real cow, he's made out of some hard plastic. If Accu-cow is dry  it's nice out, if he's wet, it's raining. He's always there as I make my way to work or run errands.

But today Accu-cow is almost moving in the stiff wind, a wind that is VERY cold.

The icy wind blows down from Canada, mother nature pulling the chill deep out of the ground and throwing it in your face, daring you to fight back. It is a frigid mass of air we've not seen in my lifetime.

Looking out across a flat horizon I wonder why this view looks so different than when I lived in the city.. Certainly I can put on the scientist hat and say it was the glaciers that moved down from the north in the Cenozoic era, or the giant dust storms that followed that carried the soil away, then replaced by layers of volcanic ash from the West, creating a vista of fertility. But the difference is more how I live in it, as opposed to it's geological origins.

There is something about being able to see so near and so far. Some people feel exposed out in the open land, I don't. I walk the fields, and patrol the streets, nothing more than a moving lightning rod for those things that might wish to strike me, but they don't. I feel a lot out here in the open heartland, my my dog Clyde my side, and it is not fear, it's comfort. It follows me as I walk, the sound of my breath, the whisper of God there in the corn, the vista of open miles of ground in which I perceive the absolute truth about the past, a truth beyond the buildings and billboards of illusion.

Trees throughout much of the northern plains are few, taken down so that the soil may be tilled, only a few remaining as protection against the marauding wind that cuts through the land late at night like a Viking horde. The cold presses down, pressing deep, into layers of topsoil, and the bones of ancient buffalo, who bury themselves further down to get out of the wind, strataform of bones and life and death, forming the coal that drives much of this area.

Tonight, this close to the window, I can almost smell the cold, the odor of a whetted knife, carving shadows into the night. My body responds in a way as ancient as these lands, and I pull my black sweater across my chest, tight and warm, and turn away from the glass.

"You ought to move south", my friends from college would say. "How about California or Florida?" I enjoyed as a youth, like anyone, days snorkeling, blue water dreams and tropical sun. But that is not where I want to live year round. I am not at home in such places all of the time, preferring these months of quiet cold, time to think, to write, to dream broad dreams, icy fingers down my neck making me shiver, the fire, melting marshmallow against my skin, melting me.

The lamplight dances along the walls, my shadow following. Clyde is asleep on the rug, feet in the air, exposing warm fur to a remembered sun of August, feet chasing dusk colored rabbits within a dream. I think back to tales of my ancestors on my Mom's side, who came to the United States settling in Minnesota. Of great grandpa, new to the country, moving a household across miles of land, risking all he had to form a new life out where winters are raw, beating miles of ocean and illness and pain, only to lose most of his money, belongings and food as wind swept fire roared through where he lay sleeping one night. But he got out, accessed the damage, and gathered those small coins he had left to him, and moved on to safer ground.

The wind sings its siren song against the eaves, daring me to leave, to admit that staying in the Midwest, the land of my ancestors, where I had no family other than my Aunt was not a good idea.. But I won't. The price that was exacted for learning my way alone out here left my heart an almost empty purse, with just a few scattered coins tinkling in the bottom. Yet I know it was a journey I had to make. You make decisions with what is in the heart at the time, and when the chill wind blows, you take stock of your life and your decisions and seek shelter elsewhere or you stand and fight for your life and heart, and what fuels it. To do otherwise is to wither and die. Out here, the price of innocence is high.

Outside, the wind howls, mute in its anger, with no breath now but a sigh. Clyde the Lab and I  flee inside with drumming hearts and warm hands and hoist a challenge to the cold as the fire ignites the night. Here and there faint windows glow, while the trees outside lay their shadows across my shirt like scraps of black velvet. I close the curtain and pour the wine and listen to my heart.

They say the Rockies are God's country, but so is this, a small juncture of trees and grass and an old easy chair inside a warm house. A small point in space among a great expanse of glory, where the Trinity is intact because it had never been otherwise, simply tested by the fragility of youth and the passion of yearning. God lost and then found, postulated here in the open miles of our faith and need.

I think I understand why my grandparents settled here and I find, more and more, that I am like them. I belong to this cold landscape, surviving like the small creatures outside, by wit and heart and faith in my Lord. As I turn back towards the fire, I listen to the wind, tapping the glass with the resonant sound of a few small coins that are left in my heart, ready to be spent. I know that I'm where I need to be, as snow brushes the window like a kiss and I wait for the knock of wind at my door.
 - L.B. Johnson

Food Recalls and You

Abby Lab here - look at the cool sign my Mom got for her office.   She's a PEE H Dee not a medical doctor but she said she has taken more organic chemistry than should be allowed by law so she can be a specialist in deaded things.

She's had a busy evening working on book #3 as she's trying to get that last 12 chapters written while taking some days off to do so.  So tonight she asked me to share this -

Mom has added a little widget on her right sidebar  - the yellow box that's down a few inches that lists recent pet food and treat recalls.  If you click on the brand name a drop down box opens that gives you the specific information. Thank you PawDiet blog for the link.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

HBO Words - Opening Windows

Abby Lab here. Mom spent the whole day uploading a new Version of Windows.  Dad got her a laptop for personal use and blogging on the road which had Windows 8. To say she hated Windows 8 it, was an understatement.  Using it as she did to capture and sort photos for the blog was about as user friendly as the U.S. Tax Code. Her old laptop which she deaded had Windows 7 which she just loved.

The intent for Windows 8 I guess, was to meld together the desktop and mobile platforms to try for a single operating system that would work on the desktop, notebooks and tablets.  What Mom got was a system that just screamed for flaming torches and pitchforks.  The tutorial was no help at all, simply telling her to move her mouse to any corner. . and then. . WHAT? What is it supposed to do. to be? And all she could think of was.

It just leaves off right there and apparently Mom was supposed to just cognitively know that although most scroll wheels go up and down, Windows 8 wants you to scroll sideways.

Look - Mom is not high tech outside of professionally related things. When her adoption records were unsealed she found out she was related to Bill Gates.  She's not going to tell him, he'd see her flip phone and immediately get a restraining order.  Mom's just technology challenged outside of the forensic stuff she plays with and airplanes.  I mean, she has a Victrola in the living room and the first Windows wallpaper was tweaked to add a historical battle
So when she had the first problems with it she thought about taking it to the Microsoft Store. However, she figured once I got there, she would find a nice shiny glass building, with all sort s of MicroNerds inside, waving and welcome me to come in. But there would be no door.  Somehow she was supposed to know that se was to select one corner of the store, hover at least 2 inches up for 2 seconds and then a glass panel would magically open.  Being redhead and a little less than patient with such things, she decided to forgo the trip.

So she muddled through, scrolling though screen after screen of run on photos, only to find the one she wanted to add to the blog, only to have something go "zap" like Samantha of Bewitched was in the room and the next thing you knew the  picture was missing and there was a pony in the room.

Then there were the error codes:

Windows 8 Error:  Multitasking attempted.  System is confused.

Windows 8 Error:  Unexplained error.  Please explain what you did wrong.

Windows 8 Error:  This will end your Windows Session. You are now locked out.

Windows 8 Error:  Erroneous Error.  Just seeing if you are paying attention.

Windows 8 Error:  System Pricing Error. Inadequate money spent on hardware.

Windows 8 Error:   Wrong Information Specified. Where did you learn to type?

Windows 8 Error: Invalid property assignment. Promotional literature overflow.  Deleted stored documents to maintain recycle bin contents.

Windows 8 Error:  Invalid Entry. Try that again and see what happens.

Windows 8 Error:  Mouse Not Found - A mouse driver has not been installed. Please left click your mouse to continue.

So fortunately, Microsoft realized they (quote)  Put a cognitive burden on the user (unquote) and gave us a new one. That's like saying your first marriage from hell was a "cognitive burden".  You are NOT just going to kiss and make up from that, you are going to view any  future relationship with a Microsoft system as something that wants to take every dollar from your wallet as it steals your soul, before it dumps you, taking most of the stuff you've kept as important.

But Miocrosoft 10 is now installed - it took a little while, so long that there were actually teaser screens telling me how much Mom would like it, so she wouldn't run screaming, followed by a screen that tells her not to turn off her computer (because she is having SO much fun staring at the blue screen when she'd rather be drinking Chardonnay.) Mom said it was much easier.

So, it's working, and for now, at least until the next click of a mouse  her pictures are easy to find and sort, nothing went missing and all is well in the world.

IMPORTANT: This blog post is intended for the use of the individual blog followers  named herein and may contain information that is of a sensitive top secret nature, or classified, or not in any way to be read by persons with no sense of humor, low pain thresholds or religious beliefs that involve aliens or large numbers of virgins (void in New Jersey). We take no responsibility for non-receipt of this blog post because you are still running Windows NT as everyone knows how well that worked out. If you read this blog post in error, even if it is your feed, forwarding or reposting is not authorized, (either explicitly or implicitly) and constitutes a possible breach of Al Gore Internet law or a disabling social blunder. Any sentences involving the name "Justin Bieber" were inserted in error and are to be ignored. No animals were harmed in the writing of this blog post although the neighbor that runs his leafblower at 7 am on Saturdays is on borrowed time. Be advised that there are no hidden codes or messages contained herein, however that contrail of Acme Airways Flight 102 that goes over your house at 2 PM each day is giving your neighbor the directions to the Mother Ship. Reading this blog post backwards will only give you a headache but if you listen to Abby Road backwards you will hear "Paul is Dead". So just ignore that warning box from SpySweeper. If if makes you feel better, pour a circle of salt around your chair, wave your hand over your computer and solemnly mutter "OMNI OMNI VOR" (Latin is allowed) and with that blessing, you should be safe from Malware.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Happy Birthday Weekend Military Pug Wife and Pug Life

Happy birthday to my friend

and Maddie the Pug who shared birthdays this weekend. In their honor we girded our loins (not sure what that entails, probably the Platex 3-G bra and duct tape) and decided what would be a proper way to celebrate with them.  How about an outing to a restaurant I know they would love.

Actually, being a very late day and already having been in the Chardonnay  I typed that as "Maddie the Pub".  If, on my Secret Squirrel retirement I decide to open a bar, that is what I will call it.

I hope they had a wonderful weekend and we so loved the flowers Julie sent and the incredible painting her Dad did.
Here is the restaurant - Stellas.

Address: 3042 North Broadway, Chicago, IL 60657

They have great food and cool Marvel Action stuff all over the restaurant.

That being said, here are the photos from their restaurant.  If any of you live in Chicagoland this is a great little breakfast and lunch place, and OH so fun to eat at, a favorite of the locals.
MMMM Banana nut Belgium waffle and pancakes with locally grown fresh strawberries and real maple.
Whether it's breakfast or lunch it's always time for dessert.
And your "doggie bag" is personalized.

While We Lay Sleeping - Thoughts on 9-11

I've always been an earlier riser.  Part of that is conditioning, years where I had to muster out from under my covers to launch into the wild blue while the sun was still AWOL. It's not always easy, there are days when one just wants to lay there in the quiet, then you realize that all wakefulness consists of getting up sooner or later until you have to lay down for good, sooner than you want to.

On days I work it is dark as I get up, 6 o'clock still far off, and as I sip coffee the world comes to me slowly, in small bits of sound as Abby explores the yard seeking the best place to pee as my husband puts breakfast together, as my blood pressure and IQ are still an hour away from awareness. As Abby and I explore the yard, here's the crunch of leaves, the whoosh of a light wind and that moment where the door closes behind us, the darkness yet to give up her secrets.

On days off, I tend to do the same, as that makes it so much easier to get up on work days. I remember well the 14 years I did field work, before moving into an office and a suit.

It would be dark when we crawled out of bed, myself from the cool warmth of a silk covered spread, Barkley from the warm, puffy Beignet of a dog bed in the corner.  I'm a very light sleeper unless coming off of an 18 hour stint, where I would fall into bed with that small death of exhaustion and didn't move for 10 hours, but for my feet twitching, running to the wreckage of a life, there in the dark.  Otherwise, I sometimes would awaken in the middle of the night as I heard sounds outside, the bark of a dog in the distance, a car door, my former neighbor the cop, coming home off a late shift.  He was quiet, so not to wake his family, but I would still wake up, recognizing the sound of his car before turning and going right back to sleep.

It would be still dark when my eyes would  open again, the flutter of an eyelid springing a dog from his bed, as if a switch had been moved.  He seemed to know the instant I was awake, perhaps a change in the sound of my breathing, perhaps just a schedule he was used to, but he would be waiting to go out.
I would  let him outside, as I sat on a small lawn chair on the back deck while he did his business. On some mornings I would see a young woman from down the road out walking, alone but for a small flashlight.  I've more than a flashlight in my pocket, not caring to venture out in the dark in an isolated area unarmed, even if within 20 feet of the shadow of a house.

People ask, do you carry  a firearm because of fear? No,  It's not fear, it's awareness, of what stirs in the dark, what quietly walks our streets.  Most people, certainly too many young women, are oblivious to it.  I was too, until I saw violence up close.  It was like someone opened the window, suddenly letting in sound.  It doesn't come in all at once, the dull whoosh of the wind, the cry of a hawk, the deep throated huff of an animal out in the dark.  Perhaps I'd been aware of the sound all along, but just never really listened to it, the sound being so far beyond my experience and naivety. On those mornings where I would watch Barkley run from the edge of the pond towards me, I realized I had been as obvious to that sound as a flea to the roar of the fur bearing tsunami on which it rides. 
There are times I wish I could go back to those days, when my innocence was intact, my trust of people solid and a night out meant thinking only about the enjoyment of my time with my friends. But 9/11  and the events that preceded it that made me change careers  midlife - changed that for me. So it shall be for those that experienced the terror that's ever increasing abroad and at home, those both innocent and those aware - as it will forever scar how they will view the world in their remaining days.

As individuals,  many of us have experienced it, that moment when evil swipes its paw at us, where even if you walk away unharmed, the slash marks form small scars that may not show, but can be felt with small tracings of fingers, there as you lay safe in your bed in your dark.  It brings back memories of that moment, when all you can think is "I don't wish to die" in that inaudible tone of quiet amazement  as if it were something that, until you heard the words in your head, you did not truly realize was a possibility, nor the extent or the depth of your desire to forestall it. Yet,

As a nation we felt that, in the wake of 9-11, when those that hate what we stand for struck in the high, fierce slumber of our superiority, when tiny flags flew on legions of automobiles as the nation wept.  Those that watched it on the TV felt it, those out in the field experienced it, faces steaming with sweat and blood, breath coming in profound gulps of hot air, not with exhaustion, but with that vehement rage that is terror's aftermath.
The nation wept, and then much of it went back to sleep.  Some of us never did.  There is nothing that would forever cleanse that picture from us  - not the rain, that sometimes poured down on us, driving in sheets, tasting both of clean water and of salt, nor the morning light - a gleam of moral support that only illuminated the carnage.

Safe in our own world, our nation easily forget the dangers that political correctness instructs us to ignore. We turn on the news and see news of an attack, another roadside bomb, another suicide bomber.  I recalled another attack, this one hitting close to home. It was the bombing massacre at the Radisson at Amman, Jordan, where I had just stayed just two days prior, my survival not a matter of my fundamental beliefs or willingness to fight back, but simply timing,
Yet I almost hate to turn on some channels to only see another single-,minded media representative refusing to truly name the threat that faces the world. I agree with James Pavitt "The terrorist organizations are penetrable. I want every one of those SOBs looking over their shoulder." Honor requires difficulty. Keeping this type of terror away from our own shores will be on ongoing battle requiring resources and physical courage that are not limited by our past conceptions of what defines war, nor the mindset that "we can just all get along".

I don't have a TV, but this morning's internet news is full yet another terror plot uncovered as photos from previous attacks play across the TV. As photos of adults carrying the dead from yet another site of collective human failure fill the screen, I am forced to confront a harsher truth - that of all God's creatures, man can be the cruelest. Only man, blessed with the ability to reason, is capable of reasoned hate. Will Durant, the great historian, once said that, "barbarism, like the jungle, does not die out but only retreats behind the barriers that civilization has thrown up against it and waits there always to reclaim that to which civilization has temporarily laid claim." As civilized people, we can think of no cause that justifies the deliberate taking of innocent lives. But as the year's pictures of attack after attack tell me - there are those that do.
There were so many pictures last night and this morning looking back to this fateful day fifteen years ago - a suddenly lowering of darkness onto the city normally brilliant with lights, a night that fell upon our vision, almost as something tangible. It was as if, as the first aircraft struck the towers, with something so formidable and swift, like the sudden smashing of a vial of hate, the lights of the entire world were turned down.

I turned away from the screen when I felt the tears well up, and quietly left my safe and warm room. I went out onto the porch, remote below the lightening sky, listening to the audible celestial stillness of stars drifting past. I sat perfectly still in the quiet, watching the ink seep from the sky overhead while in the east all is blood and fiery sky.
I see a hawk dive down black and clean as a shadow. It's wings cleaved the shimmering air and the rising air was the pristine lift that moves it forward, the perfect stream in which it swam, and dwindled and vanished, having killed not for hate or some warped ideology, but simply to eat, taking not any more than it needed. These are the days of doubts, of long dark nights, when even the devout wonder if we are keepers of more than this, if we will know safety and peace or simply inherit the wind and the dark.

As Abby the Lab, quietly leaves her mark on the grass, I sit and trace a scar on my upper ribcage, to the left of my heart. It looks like something took a small, deep bite out of me, and in a way it did.  It's a small reminder of how, if we don't watch carefully, the world may take a swipe at us.

I did not swear an oath to my country because I was naive, but because I was, and am, ready to fight for her.  I do not carry a weapon because I am afraid.  I carry because I am ready, as well, to constitute and assert the irrevocable finality of my refusal to let another innocent be harmed.

Fifteen years.

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

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

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

Almost anything.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Saturday Eats - a French Canadian Favorite Around Here

The bumper sticker is from Penzey's spice store, a place I stop at, several  times of year.  On this visit, with some friends, O. spotted it and part of it was covered with a magazine on the counter so he thought it said "Love People.  Cook Them".  I remembered this story from that day as I found the sticker among some things.

I prefer to cook FOR my friends, and am always trying out new foods on them.  But sometimes I just want, for what to me is "comfort food".

If you are like me you probably have a collection of ground meat in the freezer, beef, veal, pork, venison. Moosellaneous? Easy to thaw and serve, but you can only do meatloaf so many times on these increasingly colder days. Veggie"beef" crumbles also works excellent for this dish on our "No Meat" days.

How about a walk on the Canadian side. Pâté chinois is a French Canadian dish similar to English Cottage Pie, Shepherds Pie or the French hachis Parmentier.  Something I learned to cook from a family member, as, there is a Montreal branch of my family  through marriage. I'd posted the recipe on the sidebar, and a quick link a while back, but not all of you may have seen it.

I can also teach you some common French Canadian sayings (which I picked up with the cooking and could be useful in both cooking AND in today's election)

Va pèter dans le trèfle.
‘go fart in the clover’.

Baise-moué l’ail
Kiss my garlic

Il lui manque des bardeaux.
'He’s missing a few tiles'.

Reçu comme un chien dans un jeu de quilles.
'Welcome as a dog in a bowling alley.’

La rondelle ne roule pas pour lui.
'The puck isn’t going his way'.

Grosse Corvette, p’tite quéquette
‘big car, little uh. . . (euphemism here)

Avoir mal aux cheveux
'To be so sodden with booze and hung-over on the morning after that you are having a ‘hair ache’.

J’ai vu neiger.
"I’m not just off the boat".

Ah, but back to the intent of this post. DINNER!

Pâté chinois

I make this several times a year, especially when I have quite a bit of leftover mashed potatoes. It's a wonderful, easy meal for a cold, rainy day.  On Abby's "Gotcha" Day she got a scaled down casserole of this without the salt, pepper and the onion and garlic (the two of those are highly toxic to dogs) with ketchup instead of the sriracha and a tiny bit of cheese on the top in place of paprika and she LOVED it.
Mom - the timer just dinged, my casserole is ready!

To make from scratch:  Boil chunks of 5-6 peeled potatoes and mash with a little butter and milk Just regular mashed potatoes, make your favorite recipe but you're looking for enough to serve about six people.

Next, chop and saute a sweet onion in a little olive oil until just starting to soften and caramelize. Add in a pound and a half of ground meat and three to four roasted and chopped cloves of garlic (or about 1 full Tablespoon of the jarred minced garlic) and cook. I used ground sirloin as I was out of venison. If you are using cheap cuts of beef, drain off any large amounts of extra fat.

In the last few minutes of cooking, add in 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon (yes, cinnamon), the same amount of black pepper, a dash of white pepper (if you have it), and a few shakes of salt and one small squirt of Srirachi (or Ketchup for the meek). Heat on low/medium for a few minutes as it finishes cooking. Spread the meat in a deep casserole or a pan that's 13 x 9, or the next size smaller. I had used salt in the potatoes so I didn't add any extra to the casserole, season yours to taste.

Then, spread over the top of the meat, about 3 cups of corn mixed together (I used 1 cup of creamed corn and 2 of regular corn). Spread on the meat. Cover with the mashed potatoes and sprinkle generously with Penzey's Hungarian Paprika. Bake at 375 F for 35-40 minutes, until bubbly.
I'm not sure how the name was coined as the French version of "Chinese pie", but one popular theory is that it was introduced to Chinese railway workers by Canadian cooks during the building of the North American railroads in the late 19th century. These cooks made it under instruction from the railway bosses (who were mostly of English descent) as a cheap and easy to make version of the popular cottage pie with the sauce in the tinned creamed-corn serving as a substitute for the gravy.

click on pictures to enlarge, if you dare.

Allegedly, The French Canadian railway workers became fond of it and brought the recipe back with them to their home communities

However the name was derived, it's good. It's often served with ketchup on the side and maybe some pickled beets and a maple cookie. Or just plain.
Either way, it's comfort on a plate.  And memories of the good kind of family, whether related by blood, marriage or simply by being a long time friend-- those people you just like and admire.