Sunday, December 29, 2019

New Years Reflections - Falling Up

As kids it seems we tumbled to the ground on a regular basis, the knees on our jeans mended with these iron-on patches that never quite matched the denim. Such repairs weren't a sign that our parents were thrifty and wouldn't buy us new pants, it was an unspoken badge of courage that we could wear out our pants faster than our Mom could take us to the store. Score one for the team!

We grow up and seem determined never to fall again. But we do

I was walking along, heading back to the truck from a farm field where we'd all been scouting out a spot to put up a  deer blind for bow season. I don't hunt for sport. I hunt for food, the venison donated to those in the community who need meat and provisions, taking older deer that probably won't survive the winter, given the overpopulation of deer in parts of the upper Midwest, leaving the younger ones to learn and grow.

We were moving pretty quickly and I was rambling on about something or other and the last thing I remember seeing was a crack of the yellow sky and I went down. I hit the ground, inhaling the scent of Tinks and dirt, the sky falling away."Are you OK?" from our friend Mark, leaning over me in concern. I'd managed to catch my foot on a piece of corn infrastructure and went down, face first, not even time to put my arms out. Think farmland mammogram.

"No problem", I said as I got back up, not wanting to let on that it was all I could do not to cry. I laughed and brushed the dirt off my nose and continued on as if I'd meant to do that.

What else do you do? Falling is never easy. Sometimes you have to practice. Like learning to ride a bike.The wobbly start on training wheels, then finally free form freedom, and the inevitable resultant crash.

When I was in my 20's falling got a little more serious. I liked to head up tall mountains on my time off. Understand now, I played no part in any overly difficult assents, anything requiring any serious mountaineering skill. Technical hikes at best. I did my excursions with a ragtag bunch of hikers and outdoors people rounded up from the local airport where I flight instructed. We were young, and we were fearless still, for some reason drawn to each other and drawn upward. The treks were amateur, but we looked on them as daringly anarchistic ripostes to the militaristic expeditions we'd all read about. Fueled with youth and trusting the God that hopefully looks after children and idiots, we simply roped ourselves together and headed uphill.

In some sense, all things wish to ascend, evolution to a higher form, people of God, towards a higher spirit. Ancient civilizations honored the high places because they sensed they were the homes of the Gods. For us, it was just an awareness of a promise, of something we couldn't explain, a chance if just for a few hours to be above all the decisions we were facing, poised on the edge of adulthood. So we hiked and if we found a steep face of rock in our way to the next trail, we climbed, and in rising up to the home of the ancient spirits, there was more than a metaphor; there was a means of discovery.

It was on of these climbs that we met an older gentleman, an ordained minister, one who shared his faith more by deed than by the spoken word and who joined us for a day or two. Frank believed that all things came from grace. But grace comes from hard work as well as trust, and trust is learned on the mountains. One morning at 8,000 feet on the side of Mt. Rainier he produced a Bible and a small flask of whiskey. Cutting off a chuck of week-old bread with a vintage hunting knife he conducted the most moving Mass I ever expect to attend. He left behind the knife and a memory of what articulate grace in the face of stone-hard reality really means, an important picture for a group of young adults.

We all went our separate ways after that trip, though we still talked regularly. But as we got older it seemed we bragged more of successes and shared less the stories of failed adventure. Was it because we were just loathed to admit it, or was it we were trying less, settling down into quiet suburban lives of mowing the lawn every week and doing what made others happy, not what made us happy. If we mentioned climbing or going up and hanging upsidedown in an airplane, G forces be damned, the spouses would say, no, that's dangerous, stay home and cut the lawn. So we did, we mowed, we carpooled and we gave up on those days when the distance between security and death was only a measure of feet.

I was no different, ending up on a small farm, married. I'd watch the cattle be born, and then we'd feed them, watching them live their lives in tame oppression, never roaming far. Sometimes after a strong storm, a whole section of fence would go down. but the cattle would stay in, content to be where it was familiar and food was plentiful. We'd watch them grow fatter and softer and tamer until one day it came time to cull. And we'd judge and point and with a dispassionate nod of the head, some of them would head off in the truck, never to return.

There are many good things about that life. There was steadiness to it, living each day on an even flat plane of daily chores. But there was something to be said for those repeated motions that reminded us of what our fathers toiled for. Nature was the biggest unknown. There were years we cut hay between squalls. There were floods and drought, illness and blood. There were days of cold desolation, miles from the nearest convenience, and other days where Cardinals flew around me, hovering in the air about my shoulders like a colorful sweater as I worked in the garden

But my life now has more balance. I've shed the cattle but not the love of the farm or the land, for a subdivision life lost it's appeal pretty quickly. I still occasionally get to rappel in somewhere where I can bring home knee scrapes that would make the neighbor kids proud. I have fields when I need them, and friends who are never hesitant to pick up a firearm and head out with me for the adventure that will always live in us.

Sometimes you will fall. But don't let it stop you. Dust yourself off and climb up that mountain and wake to dawn scented with promise, the stars immortal in the sky. What is ahead is unknown, you can treat it with fear, dreading that feeling as the ground falls away, the tiny rocks clammering down like the first throw of dirt on a pine box. Or you can treat it as a perceived feast, like a wafer on the tongue. A leap of faith for all you believe in, a willful jump into a place free of time and regret, where all the names and the faces of those you love surround you, as below you, the wild things that call to you, run on ahead of soundless guns.

It's your choice. Stay in the safety of the jeep or get out and wrestle the giant Anaconda. There are no guarantees. Just as in climbing, the negligible distance between your hand and the wall may be inches. Those are inches that seem like miles as your eyes look at the chasm and sense the impending slide down into despair or death if you give up. But there are other sorts of distances, other sorts of helplessness that lead to worse things than death.

I'm not sure why I thought of all of these things. Perhaps its the work of the last few weeks. Perhaps it was the thought of the placid cattle wandering off to their own doom, as I lined myself up with other bovines to board a plane to see my 99-year-old Dad before Christmas.  I don't always know when I will return, and always, if I will return. I have many answers about how life ends, but my own will be a mystery. When I last view that yellow sliver of sky, I expect it to be a complete surprise.

In the meantime, I'll listen and I learn, following the compass of the heart's hard turning, and the brain's slow learning, what paths to take and why. And I'll watch out for that ninja corn.

Friday, December 27, 2019

I'll take my Squirrels Decaffeinated Please

With temps in Chicago that hit 60 yesterday, I think every squirrel in the nearby Metropark was running around the neighborhood chasing each other like it was Spring.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas!

It's hard to believe but this is the 9th Christmas my husband and I have had as a couple.  The first was memorable.  I had a tumble on ice while walking Barkley and tore my meniscus.  After two days on his recliner with frozen peas on my knee while he cooked for me he drove Barkley and me all the way back to Indy and stayed with me for the surgery to remove what they could (it was NOT fixable). 
Being whacked out on pain pills I probably wasn't much of a Christmas date, but he stayed with me til I could get around by myself to physical therapy.  At that point I thought, OK, he's a keeper.  Two years later we were married.

As much as we can both travel for work we always spend Christmas together.  Each post of the day brings me back fun memories, as we make more.

Typically there is something for me from "Santa" that's made in his workshop that also serves as our walk out basement. Santa, in turn, gets homemade biscuits and bacon gravy.

Inside of this antique phone, my husband installed a walkie talkie.  When I dial any number on the dial, HIS walkie talkie in his shop will chirp letting him know I'm calling.  Then I can press the button on the receiver and talk to him.  It also charges with a USB.  This will work much better in letting him know I need help with something in the house than the usual method called "I can't find my phone, I'll just yell his name until he hears me. . ."

We both get stockings. . .
Mine is a tactical one.  This year, among its contents, was a flashlight and a tactical spork   SCORE.

There is the usual candy for us both (I think Santa gets kickbacks from my periodontist)

And maybe a little journal or two.
Captains Log Day 43 - Vacuumed more dog hair
Captains Log Day 52 - Still more Dog Hair

And general silliness.

Everyone needs another thumb drive.
Or a Darth Vadar magnet (caution choking hazard)

Of course, there are the yearly slippers and PJ's and a bottle of my husband's favorite Bourbon but the rest of the wrapped gifts were things we both wanted. 

I asked for a purse with lots of pockets inside filled with cash.

My husband came through.  It is handmade, a custom order with tons of pockets inside and out as well as a light to find stuff.  From bestsellerleather at Etsy.
 And it had bags of cash

One can never have too many T-shirts.



Or steak knives.

I believe in having enough bath products for the zombie apocalypse.
As well as provisions for a proper tea. (From "Brits" store in Lawrence Kansas.  Their online service is wonderful, and we've bought from them for years - thanks to Vic MD who introduced us).
And from my inlaws - some winter clothing and a game for summer.   I can only imagine what's going to happen when we play this with two Labrador Retrievers around. :-)
All in all, before I sign off - I have to say it was a wonderful Christmas.  Merry Christmas to all my friends and family.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Here We Go A-Caroling

As I was singing Christmas Carols around the house as I straightened things up - Abby Lab informed me the proper lyrics are -

TINY tots with their eyes all aglow.

Sort of takes all the fun out of it.


Monday, December 16, 2019

Holiday Traditions

My traditions all revolve around Scandinavian foods. I was adopted and raised by a Swedish/Norwegian Mom (and after her death, a Norwegian StepMom). I strongly relate to Luther League, lutefisk (as a science experience), and the art of Norwegian seduction (yah, you have some nice snow tires, you betcha). I am also married to a Swedish/German husband.

I have also received the Christmas instruction in the art of making food that can be classified by the FDA as a sedative. Like lefse, an unleavened flatbread made out of mashed potatoes, cream and flour and cooked on a griddle. I eat mine a common way, adding butter to the lefse and rolling it up (lefse-klenning in the mother tongue). Other options include adding cinnamon or spreading jelly or lingonberries upon it. We'd also eat it for lunch pm Christmas day with thin sliced Danish ham and cheeses.

But most of Mom's Scandinavian Christmas dishes were of the cookie/dessert variety, mostly made at Christmas. One of those is Krumkaka which consists of a light sweet batter which is poured onto a hot mold and then quickly cooked and rolled into a cone shape while it is still warm. It's often served filled with real whipped cream or just munched plain, while crisp, buttery and warm.

click to enlarge photo

Then there are the Rosettes. Also a batter in which a hot iron mold attached to a handle is dipped and the results deep fried and dusted with sugar. The cookie is light and delicate, almost like puff pastry, if done right. It looks easy. It is not. I've had many slip off the iron into the hot oil because the batter is too thin or the wrong temperature, only to resemble floating, fried .40 casings, and others that looked OK maybe but would have ripped the dentures out of great grandma with their shriveled chewiness.
click to enlarge photo
But sometimes you get it right. Light, crunchy, perfection with just a hint of Cardamom.

Then there was fattigman, known as the "poor man's cookie", though our version was dressed up with a tablespoon of brandy to add to the heavy whipping cream, flour, and butter. Like all of these recipes, it did require a special tool, one that is passed down from mother to daughter.

All the recipes seemed to call for lots and lots of flour. Why? Probably because my family could go through these cookies like locust on a summer day. Hours of work gone in minutes. I never knew how much energy, how much time, effort and love Mom and Grandma wrapped up in all of those holiday treats until I tried to make them myself to share with coworkers and friends.

Only then did I truly appreciate the love that went into them.

These quiet times in the kitchen during the Christmas season are my way of regrouping after a long day or a long road trip. It's a time, wherein the faith I have, that can take a beating during the work week, is repaired, threads of hope and strength woven back into the areas that feel tattered as the leaves clinging stubbornly to the trees outside my window.
I love to cook for my friends and family. While they were alive I always spent at least one vacation week a year out West at my parents. There, I'd just give Mom, and after her death, my StepMom a vacation herself and cook them three big meals a day, clean the house and do some light outdoor chores and keep them company while they got to put their feet up. Not much of a "vacation" for me, rest-wise, but I loved how it made my parents smile and how good it was to hear them laugh.
This year there will just be some snacks for any friends that stop by including my Mom's recipe for hot onion and cheese dip which everyone asks for the recipe for.

2 cups chopped sweet onion
3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar
1 teaspoon Paprika
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce (I like Heavy Metal Heat from the Scoville Brothers)
1 cup mayo (do NOT use non-fat).
dash of cracked black pepper

Mix and top with 1/2 cup grated fresh parmesan and a dash more of paprika.
Bake at 350 F. for 30 minutes until bubbling around the edges.

Serve with crackers, Swedish flatbread, or lefse.

Then there will be a large Christmas dinner that my husband will help me prepare - a large roast with sides of fruit and walnut salad, coleslaw with cinnamon, potato gratin, green beans, yeast rolls, lingonberry preserves and cookies for dessert.  It's a Scandinavian meal that will bring back memories of days when we had a family dinner table meal every night except the Saturday barbecue night. I can't recall so much of what we talked about or exactly what each meal was, memory being not just selective but discriminating, in the end only as reliable as we are. The dates and times and actual meals themselves are insignificant, but I remember the gathering, the smells of beef and fresh vegetables, of laughter, of stories from school, from work, a discarding of weighty thought and the simple gathering of those you love, for nourishment of the soul. I can't recreate that through what I cook, or who I serve it to, but I still can remember how those simple meals made me feel, the redemptive power of the communion of family.

For those of you who have that, treasure every moment.
The Johnson Family

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Solar Dogs

Lorelei spent her first 5 years having puppies in a small pen, sleeping on a cement floor with little light but a single light bulb overhead.  Now she loves to lay on the soft rug in the warm sun in the morning where she has some quiet time but can hear me working on the computer in the next room.  When the sun moves to another room, she follows it, only to retreat to her bed in our bedroom when the last of the sunlight is gone.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Ask For Not Whom the Dog Barks - He Barks For Thee

CHAPTER 17 - From The Book of Barkley

We had survived the winter in our new house, the snow here, not nearly as deep as in the last state we lived in, although I shoveled more than I had planned.  I loved having a fenced yard though, even a modest chain-link one.  I could let him in and out without leash, wind or cold.  He seemed to know, however, when I was not looking my best at which point he refused to come in from the depths of the yard until I came out on the deck in a fuzzy bathrobe, wild red hair, and slippers to call for him.

“Barkley, if you’re trying to help me meet a nice guy, this is not the way to do it.”

Sometimes I’d have to go out to get him to quit barking at the ducks, at the geese, at a leaf floating by on the surface of the pond.  I was trying to teach him not to bark at nothing, only at a real threat. I'm not sure if it was helping.  Sometimes he’d just stand by the front gate and selectively bark as if he had some form of Doggie Tourettes.

I was trying to teach him good from bad barking habits.  So if he barked at a tiny bunny I’d say “Barking BAD!" If he barked at stranger hanging around the front sidewalk, even if likely harmless, he heard “Barking GOOD!"  He then got a little treat.  That kept more than one door to door salesman away as his bark sounded like it was coming from a huge Mastiff. He wasted no time with the allowable barking, wanting that treat as soon as possible.
He also knew the word “company.”  You might bark at company, but "company" meant someone was coming over and that meant food and treats and people that might be suckered with big brown eyes into giving him goodies.  With that word, he would still bark, and loudly, but his tail would be wagging.

The whole backside of the house had windows that faced the pond that ran between two blocks of homes.  Barkley always assumed his position of protector on the little loveseat against the window, looking out across the back of it at his territory as it grew dark, a small form of courage, and a heart big enough to contain the world.

One evening we were relaxing to some quiet music, Barkley in his usual position on the love seat. The lights were dim; the outside lights not on yet.  The shrubs formed foreign, almost, ghostly shapes, the limb of the tree a black gash across the moon. 

I could hear music from a distance.  Across the water, it looked like the neighbors were having some party, windows open, adults in and out, smoke from the grill. It wasn’t overly noisy, I was just aware of it.

Then I noticed movement behind my chain link fence.  I looked out.  It was dark, but in the flash of a cigarette lighter, I could see it was the kids of that neighbor and their friends, probably sneaking out of the house during the boring parental entertainment.  They likely figured no one would see as they lit an illicit cigarette trying to look both older and cool, achieving neither.  They likely weren’t up to any mischief, but I didn’t want them sitting out against my fence, throwing their cigarette butts onto my property.

Barkley has a low growl in his throat.  I looked at him and said “company,” as the kids weren’t up to any harm, just teens being teens.  But I had no intention of this becoming a habit and picking cigarette butts out of my yard every Saturday morning.

I looked at Barkley, his tail now tail wagging, and pointed out toward the fence, and said “Barking Good!”

I then opened the door, the porch light off.  But for the light across the pond, it was pitch dark outside, Barkley fading like the intangible form of some dark, quiet shadow into the silent night.
I half expected him to launch into the bark immediately, but he did not.

Instead, he rushed at the fence in the darkness, invisible on the air, until he was six inches behind them, at which point he launched into a full-scale bark.


I heard the squeals and heard the rushing of movement, as the kids flew like a flock of pheasants away from those imagined teeth and that fence.  I’d be willing to bet at least one of them wet their pants.

I love my dog.

-From "The Book of Barkley"  (Outskirts Press 2014)

Friday, December 6, 2019

That TV Show Should Be a Crime

Mom!  Mom!  Animal Planet is on!

I watch very little TV, some Discovery Channel,  Mythbusters, Top Gear, Firefly, Castle, Dr. Who, Corner Gas, all on tape as I don't have a TV or cable (getting cheap tapes and watching on the big computer monitor is a lot cheaper than a flat screen and cable).  Mostly I'll join the rescue Labs on the couch and watch an action movie with my husband and have fun making fun of some of the technology-

Because I'm the second generation in a law enforcement field (my Mom was a Deputy Sheriff, the first woman in her county), the weapons in the shows ARE fair game and my husband just sits there quietly and chuckles as I pick apart the errors.

Picture the scene, a Sniper setting up on a hill to take out his target.

"The Gun is totally disassembled?"

"The scope is completely off of it, WT. . . ."

"No Free Floating Barrel?"

9 MM. " 9 MM?????"

Then, later on, towards the end.

"Why do all the bad guy guards have short barrelled AR15's? They're going to make so much noise that every cop in the county will be here to arrest all the now deaf people".

"Oh come on! M203 doesn't work that way!!"
There's probably a reason guys, including my husband, never took me to the theater while dating . I almost got thrown out at the last one when a gal friend took me to Twilight and every time the bad CGI werewolves in wolf form talked like humans I'd exclaim like the talking dog from the Bush Baked Bean commercial  "Roll that Beautiful Bean Footage!
But with the Ph.D., I also have to make fun of the science in the shows.  So once in a while I just can't resist and  I will watch some CSI type shows on tape when my husband is on the road.

It's more entertaining than most of the TV shows out there now, so removed from actual reality that they hardly bear watching. The original CSI Vegas though I actually liked, shelving most of the science and just watching the interactions between the characters which were well acted and crafted. But the spin offs were sometimes painful to watch..

Opening Scene -Young party girl in the New York subway has her face suddenly start to melt while vomiting blood.

In the distant city, Mac the steely eyed investigator, to his date: "sorry" (damn, my beeper went off at the opera. . . AGAIN).

Here comes the CSI Team, back from their night on the town, arriving in terribly expensive fashion wear, from their homes or dates, with all the traffic, in minutes.

Mac (entering the scene with no gloves, no mask, no eye protection, as he bends closely over someone that looks like a sleeping supermodel, except with lots of blood splashed on her and the melted face.

"Detective Angel, What have we got ?"

Detective Angel, (Victoria's Secret Model in tight pants and a skin tight low cut sparkly t-shirt under her suit jacket) "Looks like a Chemical or a Biological ! ! "

Female CSI assigned to the scene: "Oh Happy Birthday Mac!" (giggle, giggle, blush stare at ground, forget to work the scene)

Mac smiles and pokes closely at the body again, steely eyes glinting since he's not wearing any eye protection.

Mac: looking closely:" hmmm. . . doesn't look like small pox or anthrax"

(Time to look a little closer and poke in the blood spatter to make sure it's not something you can GET from exposure to blood spatter)
From XKCD - click to enlarge

Dr. H.: "No pruritic macular or papular rash" (Good thing, as that might be Ebola or Cutaneous Anthrax, which means you're standing in the minefield.)

Mac: "So no hemorrhagic fever!" ( Wow Mac, you diagnosed with just that steely glance. You didn't even have to isolate the virus from the patients blood and have acute serum samples inoculated into tissue cultures of mosquito cells or directly into live Toxorhynchites or Aedes mosquitoes or try a Immunodiagnostic method such as detection of anti-dengue IgM and IgG by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and detection of hemagglutination inhibition antibody. Good job Mac, you'll have this solved before the hour is up!)

Pretty girl in a $700 outfit playing with something that I swear is an Etch a Sketch: "It's OK now! This subway tested negative for all hazmat and biologicals!"

Mac: " great!"

Watching any more would have made me laugh so hard I'd spill my single malt. Besides they'll have their DNA evidence in oh, like 10 minutes.
Forensic Science Dog will hold the dead pose (for a treat) until you get the chalk outline drawn.

TV is fantasy, what remains of a life is seldom so pretty. If you don't suit up properly, to protect yourself from elements, the terrain, or a hoard of nasty biologicals, you will likely join them on the next table. But then again the TV scientists never discovered that if you have a linoleum floor, some chalk, and liquid nitrogen you can make little hovercraft. . .