Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sunday Black and White - Moving Days

A Chapter From The Book of Barkley  (Outskirts Press, Available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble online)

CHAPTER 15 – Moving Days

The car was packed, and the moving truck was already on its way.  I’d been selected for a position in a Midwest city, one with the potential for promotion over time.  The house here was selling, at a huge loss given the market, but at least it had a buyer.

Things are changing; my Stepmom’s diagnosis of cancer, Dad's talk of moving in with me after she's gone, something he swore he'd never do.  I found a little ranch house in that Midwestern city I am moving to, bigger than I would have bought for myself, but a lot less fancy and still much smaller than this house. It will provide him with his own rooms, and bath, with an entrance without steps for him.

The house stands empty. Only a few folks have been inside, a few neighbors, my parents, a couple of friends and a few dates, none of whom seemed to like dogs, which was becoming more important. We're better off moving on, even alone, I tell Barkley, there’s a big world out there with lots of things to do and people to meet.

He's only three years old.  I wonder if he will miss this place.

Barkley and I made one last trek around the neighborhood and the woods behind before we left for the first leg of our journey. The moving truck had another stop to make so we would have time to travel and catch up. So many trips we'd made around these blocks.  Barkley sniffed everything, pointing to the occasional piece of trash or blowing leaf, as I steered him toward the common area to do his business, rather than on someone's lawn.  He, of course, would only lift his leg, and then continue on, for Barkley was always looking for something, a bright picture window, a family seated in front of it at the dining room, enjoying dinner. He'd then dash over to their lawn and squat to do the rest of his business, all right in front of their dinner.  Kids squealed and giggled, adults, shot me looks that were daggers, as I would wave an apology.  Then, I'd go clean up the pile, scolding him yet again, as we walked off, my cheeks blazing with embarrassment, his head held up proudly with a "that was the biggest one yet!"

We took one last walk out into the openly wooded area that runs for a half mile behind this new development, back to a little pond where he first learned to swim.  Tonight, I stood at the crest of the rise of sand and dirt that made up the lip of this water-filled bowl.  Man-made or nature made; it was hard to tell, for the perfect shape of the pond.  But given the location, it was probably man-made. The moon cleaved the pale waste that was the sky, the sun having left like low tide, leaving this place in the shadow, just the form of a red-haired woman and the dark grieving of the earth.

I looked down and saw it, the pale abandoned nest of a Canadian goose; the goslings long having been hatched if the eggs survived both rising waters and predators. I pictured the water moving, like slow waves, but it was as still as I.  We both seemingly waited for something, an act of fate, of destiny, the irrevocable sentence of time that's passed or perhaps, an invitation.

I wondered if I came back in ten years if this place would still be here? Or would it be plowed into yet another row of Monopoly houses, another neighborhood of lives and love, fights and frustration and unborn children who can't wait to grow up so they can leave this place, then wish desperately that they could return?
They say you cannot go home again, and perhaps as far as a childhood home, that is true. But what of the memories of other places we hold firm in our mind's eye? Some of them we have a name for, our elementary school, the river where we dove as far out as we could into the dark water, a place where church bells rang. In the Book of Genesis, all were drawn out of the waters of chaos by its name, "God called the dry land Earth." Sometimes, the incredibly complex can be summed up in one word.  I read in a story that the Inuit Indians have one such word to bring to conceivable life the fear and the awe that possesses them when they see across the ice, the approach of a polar bear.  Some things have no words at all, their form remembered only in the etchings of tears.

But of those places, both named and unnamed, there are places you are drawn back to, years later, praying they are not changed, and knowing it will not be so.

I hope in ten years Barkley and I can come back here, if only to wave at the house in which I raised him to adulthood, as to an old friend.

Friday, December 28, 2018

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

Grocery shopping in a  pending winter storm before New Years 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.

100 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.

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 before they move.
I  once lost my Step Mom in the store.  I was 53.  They gave me a balloon and paged her.

I do not object to telling the millennial who has 87 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 make it home for a cold one.

And frozen fish sticks - as I was tired out from all the shopping.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

For "The Man" At Phod's House

CHAPTER 7 – Getting Skunked Is Not Just For Cribbage (The From Book of Barkley - Love and Life Through the Eyes of a Labrador Retriever by L.B. Johnson)

We’d finally moved to the newly constructed house. It was located only a block or so from where my rental unit was so Barkley and I walked over to it and around it a couple of times a day.  I hoped that would make the transition to living there an easy one for a young dog. I was looking forward to it.  It had lots of space for me, not needed really, but I was up and coming in my field of work, with an associated pay raise, and it seemed everyone was buying homes out in the fancier subdivisions, so I figured it was time for that move.  Besides, Barkley needed a yard. The yard was a lot smaller than I expected given the cost of the home, but there were about thirty acres of woods behind (future subdivision) with an assortment of gentle critters that made for a nice view.

We’d been in it a couple of months when one night, Barkley begins growling and barking at the door. I figure it is his arch-enemy, the squirrel, so I let him out to the newly fenced yard and he went running out back towards end edge of the woods, barking fiercely. This wasn't a squirrel, which he barks at almost with laughter, but something bigger and unknown to him. Something he perceived as a real threat.

He could have stayed in the house; he could have barked a warning and come on in. But there was something out there that was nothing he'd seen before and he was going to go after it, to find out that it just takes two to postulate the certainties of being outgunned.

He charged at the darkness with no fear, and no quarter, only to get sprayed by our equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction, a big skunk.

Fortunately, his enemy's aim was off and he didn't get it in the face, but Barkley was still seriously stinky.  Enough to make us both tear up. I called a friend who raises hunting dogs to see what I should do. I'd heard that using tomato juice will get rid of the smell. After his wife quit laughing, they told me NOT to use tomato juice to get rid of the smell but to use something that works much better.  Well, there's just no politically correct way to say this but they suggested I use feminine hygiene douche. Apparently, I guess it works really well on . . . well you get my drift.

So I put Barkley in the bathroom and make the dash to CVS about nine in the evening to buy about twenty boxes of the stuff, enough to add to a little water to give him a bath in the tub. The girl at the counter is looking at all the boxes, then at me, and a strange puzzled look comes on her face.  She says "oh - my, you're certainly buying a lot of this tonight?” Of course, by way of explanation, I say quite cheerily. . . . ."Oh, it's for my dog”.

She couldn't get me out of the store fast enough.

Barkley took his "bath" and almost smelled, well, "springtime fresh". Almost. But not enough where I wanted him on his bed in my room, so I put him in the basement, in a bigger crate I’d purchased for him, on a nest of an old, comfy, washable bedspread. I then went up two flights of stairs, got a shower and fell into bed. After about fifteen minutes of lights out, I heard the gentle whine coming up through the heating ducts, that death-like moan of loneliness. So despite a smell that could only be described as "Eau de French Brothel", I let Barkley upstairs.   He was damp and still a bit in shock, but he promptly settled down on the carpeting, where he could guard the bedroom door in case the skunk had learned to pick a lock.  
I didn’t mind.  After all, he took the blast from the skunk simply trying to protect me and his home from an intruder. Frankly, he would have gone up against a Grizzly to protect me, without hesitating about it, weighing the options or thinking "what's in this for me?" If need be, he would have written with his life his own time's final footnote while I sat inside reading dusty chronicles of the past, unaware of his sacrifice.  All he asked in return was love, and my company, all that he needed to assuage his heart's thirst.

The next evening as  I sit at my computer, a mug of tea sit nearby as I get ready to go on duty at midnight, and it really sinks in.

Those that truly love us, do so like we are, without expectations or demands. They forgive human frailty; they embrace our joys and they share the sorrows. I have had friends like that. I have had a dog like that.   Dogs are simple, give them your loyalty and affection and they will give you theirs. Sometimes it takes nothing more than a round with Pepe' Le Pew to remind me of all that they do for us and how lucky we are to have them.

But I'll probably avoid that CVS for a while.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

A Blogville Christmas

It was another geeky Blogville Christmas here at the Johnson house. The silver 60's tree survived another year though we had to do some repair work to a few branches this year.  Fortunately, the weather in Chicagoland has been extra mild so we had an easy drive last night for the Christmas Candlelight service which is a few villages away.  My husband played the violin and sang a solo. We joined this church a little over a year ago and it's the first time he has performed.  As he started to play and sing, a  few jaws dropped - no one had heard him sing before and he's got quite the voice.  If I sing, cats gather on the porch so it's good he can cover for me during the hymns :-)

We got up extra early to open the packages before this mornings service. 
We could NOT find our stockings  - they went into a bin for safekeeping last winter.  We have so many bins in storage - always fun to look at new and old memories in them but we just weren't sure which one held the stockings (think of the last scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark).  So Santa had to improvise with the "stockings".

There were a couple of items that didn't get wrapped.  A bird bath for me, and a Bora edge guide for EJ. Actually, the thing in the center of the birdbath is the bottom of a plant stand.  If water is put in the feeder it will just freeze.  Mom can put one of the plant stand bottoms filled with water every morning in the feeder, and replace it with a fresh one the next day (Dad bought 3).  That way there's fresh water. 

Since he had asked for one, the 50 something inch box in the sun porch for the last month, didn't leave any mystery, though I was tempted to put a few marbles inside in case of shaking.
We had the stockings with candy and cookies and little tool things and our usual geeky gifts -
My best friend got me hooked on this chocolate. (Tcho).

Steampunk cufflinks (the steampunk watch was from last year.)

Vintage vest and handmade leather bowtie.

The Tactical Chef Apron - every Millenial should have one! (I married one that actually knows how to use a can opener and makes a mean Cream Brulee' with a propane torch).
Handmade fun handkerchiefs.  Its' an Etsy shop called Hankenstein - their handkerchiefs last for years and there's a ton of unique patterns.

I got an antique necklace and LOTS of Bend Goat Milk Soap and bulk milk bath (LOVE this stuff!).  They are a family run company out in Oregon and make the best soaps and lotions.

A new game to learn!

It's not Christmas without new books - the Steam Tractor Encylopedia came from my Father in Law and my Mother in Law for Partner.  The Kindle is the first one I've ever had.  I'm a big "dead tree" person but when I realized I spent $800 on books last year on Amazon it was time to do the Kindle.  Unlike the first Kindle's out - this one  (Generation 8) has a matte screen so it reads like real paper, without glare, even in direct sunlight. You can adjust the text to any size that's comfortable reading.  I love it!

My gift from them was super cool - a Dr. Who satchel with shoulder strap!  (It's Bigger on the Inside!)  The bag is from the very talented Kathleen at Sew Gaelic.
Of course, we both have to give each other new coffee cups (you know to add to the 87 we already have.)  Here's mine
With tea!
And his.

You know those little games at Cracker Barrel with pegs you have cross one another until there is only one left (if you are smart).  Partner surprised me with one (handmade out of wood) with something other than pegs.  (Unlike Barney Fife- Squirrel Headquarters allows me more than one bullet).

Abby got some gifts, including some really cool "unstuffed" stuffies from Miss Maizie (thank you SO much).  HER stocking we were able to find.

After playing with Miss Maize's pressies she made a beeline for the beehive filled with squeaky bees.

The afternoon was spent playing board games including a new Cribbage Board.
As the roast cooks and we settle in to watch The Incredibles II, I realize how lucky I am. Like most people, I have had losses, a Mom, a Stepmom, a baby, two siblings, and a dog that changed my life.  But I have a snug, warm home, a husband that loves me dearly, that shares my love of the unique things in our world and a Senior Lab Rescue that is happy and healthy.  Dad is still with us, at 98, each day with him a gift. Add to that my church family and all the friends we have made in Blogville I know I am truly blessed.  Merry Christmas to each and every one of you!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Abby's Favorite Christmas Songs

Bark the Herald Angels Sing

Silent Night – While I Quietly Ate your New Italian Pumps

O Come All Ye – Well Yes, you have a Ball!!

Toys to the World – The Stuffies Rain

Away in The Crate – Because I ate Mom’s Shoes

We Three Kongs

Shepard’s Pie Carol (Beef!)

Angels We Have Herd on High (for our Border Collie Friends)

O, Holey Night, (I Chewed Through Your New Slipper!)

I Saw Mommy Kissing The Cat!

I'm Pooping in the House (Baby It's Cold Outside).

Sleigh Ride (Argghhhhh To the VET!)

Let It Snow (I've Shredded Your Couch Cushions!)

Do You Hear What I Hear? (No, You Can't Because Dogs Can Hear Four Times Better Than You).

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Saturday Eats - Gluten Free Low Carb Piza

Abby can't have grains - and I'm gluten sensitive as well. Plus I'm watching my carbs to drop the few pounds I gained at the beginning of the holiday season. But after I baked her up some of her pizza flavored dog safe biscuits, I had a serious craving for pizza. Solution?

Gluten Free Low Carb Pizza!~

Start to on the table in less than 45 minutes including cooking time. It's Paleo and Keto friendly and has almost half the calories of frozen pizza and 1/4 of the sodium and carbs.  The crust is slightly crunchy on the outside and has a nice crumb - it's not a duplicate for pizza dough made with yeast but it was SO easy (the dough took 5 minutes to prepare) and tasty.  My husband, who said he was going to have a sandwich, ended up trying a bite and then going for the full-on pizza lunch.

In a medium bowl mix:

2 cups superfine almond flour (I used Bob's Red Mill)  This makes a way better pizza crust than the more coursely ground almond flour/meal)
1 large egg 
2 tablespoons melted Ghee (clarified butter) or regular butter or coconut oil
2 pinches salt (I used a low sodium salt)

Form into a ball and place between two sheets of parchment paper.  Use your hands to flatten into a round.  I like a thicker crust so mine was about 1/3 of an inch - you can make it thinner if you like~

Do NOT try and use a pastry board for this dough - it sticks badly
Pastry Cloth - FAIL!
Use the parchment paper to transfer the pizza crust round to a pizza pan and prick the surface with a fork to make small holes so bubbles don't form as it bakes. Bake in a 350 F. preheated oven 15-20 minutes (Edges should just be turning golden brown)  If using a thinner dough bake for 12-15 minutes.

While it bakes:
In a small microwave-safe bowl mix 1/2 of a 15-ounce can sodium-free tomato sauce with:
1 toothpick swirl Young Living Vitality Thyme Essential Oil (or 1/4 tsp dried herb)
1 toothpick swirl Young Living Vitality Oregano (or 1/4 tsp dried herb)
1 toothpick swirl Young Living Vitality Rosemary (or 1/4 tsp. dried herb)
1 tsp. chopped garlic (optional)
Heat in microwave for 1 minute and 15 seconds to warm just before crust comes out of the oven.

Measure out 1 cup of Italian Cheese blend.

When baking time is up for the pizza, spread sauce on the crust top with cheese and bake an additional 10-12 minutes (Edges should be golden brown but not dark and cheese is melted.)

Cool three-four minutes, cut into 8 slices and then serve.  Almonds are hard for doggies to digest and may cause stomach upset so ignore the big sad eyes and give them a pizza flavored biscuit instead (recipe in the comments)

Per Slice:  220 Calories
                     12 Grams Protein
                   100 mg. Sodium
                       9 net Carbs
                       2 and 1/2 grams Saturated Fat

        Yay! I didn't get pizza as almonds aren't good for my stomach and garlic is toxic but Dad gave me one of Mom's cheese and pizza flavored homemade dog biscuits!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Wrapping up the Holiday Season

I sent out my husband out to the store to pick up something I forgot to get at the grocers since I'm working from home today and he's off.

I was told not to go into the basement while he was gone as he was still wrapping something.  I asked if he was having trouble with it and he said 

"The tail keeps getting in the way".

I just laughed and sent him on his way, with a list, as without it there's no telling what he will come home with.

Once, instead of getting me roses for one snowy Valentines day, as I said I don't really like them as they just die, he came home with some rolls of duct tape and disappeared in the basement. He made a dozen duct tape roses.

Being married to an engineer I have learned to never expect the expected and I've also learned, after spending some of my formative years with a widowed Dad and only men in the house, that men look at shopping and gifts a bit differently than my female friends.

Men don't buy the Cap Snaffler, anything by Popeil or the simple. Men are drawn not by "easy", and "quick to use" but terms like "industrial strength", "tested in non nuclear warfare" and "will withstand 4,000 foot-pounds of foot pressure!" because men contain some DNA within them that strives to be the best at every profession there is. A man isn't just a man, with the right equipment he's a fireman, paid assassin, grill chef, engineer, nuclear physicist, cowboy.

He doesn't make fun of you because you have a half dozen different lipsticks or lip glosses, and Abby has twelve almost identical stuffies so we don't say anything when he comes home with four almost identical pipe wrenches. One of them of course always has that special use that can't be done by the other three.
I've simply learned, especially during the holidays, that a man's idea of shopping is not the same as a woman's.

I admit it. I shop like a guy. I plan what I need to get, look at some reviews to see which is the best product and pick it. Then I walk into the store in a manner in which General Clausewitz would be proud, cleverly avoiding people trying to spray me with cologne so I don't end up in sporting goods smelling like a brothel. I see what I need, I grab it,  I pay for it, usually cash, and I quickly leave the scene of the crime.

So when you just surprise your mate with "honey would you go to the store and get eggs and milk" and he's sent into battle with no time for preparation, bombarded by countless displays that make no ergonomic sense and people shoving food and products at him with "want to try the new Kiwi Persimmon Pop Tart, now with antioxidants", he just wants to escape and as quickly as possible. Which is why he  is sent out for milk and eggs andsometimes comes home with a case of beer, a bottle of olives and a birch tree for the side yard.

Hardware stores are different. Send him to one of those for just one small item and he'll come home with a vehicle packed tighter than the Clampett's truck on Beverly Hillbillies.
And since it's Christmas - Men and gift wrap.

Most men do not like to wrap gifts. I think it was Dave Barry that said the first gifts given were the gifts to Baby Jesus. "Hence the term "wise men". Men don't understand the point in putting the carefully coordinated paper with oodles of expensive ribbon on a package just to rip it off. (lingerie though is a whole 'nother idea).

Give a woman a 15-inch scrap of decorative paper and she can gift wrap a helicopter in less than 10 minutes. I don't know about the men in your family, but Dad and my brother would carefully lay out the present, cut a swath of paper the size of Nebraska, and when they were done, there would be a gap in the back where you could see what the gift was. I realized in my anthropology courses, that the Pharaohs had to be wrapped after death by women.  Someone once said that otherwise the back of the mummy would be held together by a big piece of Scotch Tape.

So my Dad and brother would often give me a present in a Safeway grocery sack, stapled carefully shut so I couldn't peek. With a bow on it that they'd happily press on it to dress it up for me. This lasted until Dad bought the mother of all Christmas wrapping paper, a roll that was at least 2 feet thick. He still has it. You knew immediately which gifts were from Dad and my brother. Forty years later, the roll's diameter is only about 5 inches less.

But if you want someone to have some FUN with a gift in my family it's from the men. From childhood on I've had boxes that rattled that shouldn't have, been too large for the contents, as well as those with mysterious air holes bored in the side. The gifts often turned out to be something extraordinarily fun but not what we thought it was.

Mom - What's with the big lawn and leaf bag in the living room?

Dad - It's a gift. It's Christmas, remember!  Can't you tell? See there's a BOW!  Mom: (pulling it open and speaking in that tone that only women receiving appliances as gifts can actually utter with a straight face) It's a shop vac . . . .

Dad - But it has a six horsepower motor! And it comes with several small attachments!

Mom (laughing) - Is one of them a divorce attorney?

Dad - Oh, look there underneath (looks like a jewelry box)

Mom - It's those diamond earrings I admired!! (squeal, kiss, kiss)
Mom - when is Santa Paws going to get here?

So this Christmas, though I won't giggle at the funny wrapped packages, and one that I bet squeaks, There will likely be a decoy rattle in one of the presents as well, my husband keeping up the family traditions.
I'll simply be very thankful - that my Dad still has the roll of paper in the closet, that I have a husband kind enough to run to the store as I forget to get tortillas to make Migas for the day after Christmas breakfast and that I am loved by both two and four-legged family members.   I am also quite thankful that we both are fortunate enough to be able to provide these small things - items that don't make the holiday but certainly make the holiday special.

Happy Holidays everyone!