Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Tuesday Smiles

 It's been sort of crazy in the Johnson household. My husband's company is closing their Illinois operation, giving ALL employees their notice, so he's been looking for work while I've been working extra hours.  (He has an offer as an engineer for the R and D department of a large manufacturer so that is good though it will require more travel).

So for today, just some smiles. 












Sunday, March 28, 2021

Forget Lab Safety - I Want Super Powers

I had to get geek glasses, being in my late 50's now, putting them on mostly for close-up work or when I'm really tired.  The glasses do tend to wander away, and it seems I'm forever cleaning all the smudges off of them.  I'm not sure how it happens, I clean them until they're pristine and 15 minutes later, they're totally smudged. (and this is work mode picture which you would not have seen post going private, if you want to see the hair down makeup on, me, you'll have to buy one of my earlier books as there are actually full-fledged photos on the cover (shameless book plug done).
Picture a morning in the kitchen while preparing breakfast

Partner in Grime:  I think I know how your glasses get so smudged.
MeHow?
Partner in Grime:  I just found them lens side down in the butter.

That might explain it.

So get out your glasses for a Monday morning recipe, sure to keep everyone nearby.
French Toast with Maple Bourbon Butter

For the french toast

Whisk two extra-large eggs in a shallow dish or pan with 1/4 cup milk. Add in one capful (half teaspoon perhaps) of good quality pure Vanilla (or any good quality non-imitation vanilla) 3 dashes of good quality Cinnamon, and a couple of pinches of sugar (perhaps 1/2 teaspoon). Slice day-old bread in 7-8 thick pieces and place in egg mixture, turning to let a little soak into it on both sides (but only for a few seconds, so it doesn't get soggy). Cook in a lightly greased frypan over medium heat until lightly browned on both sides.

Serve with maple bourbon butter and bacon Maple bourbon butter 

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup good-quality bourbon (avoid anything called "Monster Mash" and costing $7.99 for a gallon)
Pinch of salt

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat on the stove until just bubbling, stir in bourbon, maple syrup, and salt and bring to a full simmer, whisking constantly until golden colored and thick. About 5-6 minutes.

Serve over french toast, biscuits or pancakes. Excellent drizzled over any breakfast meat that goes with those.
There would be pictures of the bacon, but it seems to have disappeared.

Friday, March 19, 2021

The History of Existing Things


Those hallowed and pure motions of the sense
Which seem, in their simplicity, to own
An intellectual charm; that calm delight
Which, if I err not, surely must belong
To those first-born affinities that fit
Our new existence to existing things

-William Wordsworth

In a carved wooden box, on a shelf are things that would mean little to most  There are a couple of neatly posted pieces of newspaper, on which the date was manually stamped, a date of a clear Autumn Day.  There is my Mom's Badge from the Sheriff's Department, to lie along side my own badge each night.  There is a small yet deadly knife and a delicate Ceramic skunk on which my Mom's initials lie.  It occupied Dad's shop bathroom until Big Bro and I remodeled it, to make it elderly-friendly, and Mr. Skunk came with me to live. All of them small things, by themselves, just objects, together a collage of joy and pain, things without consequence but for their history.

Most of us get the little things around us, from simple to sublime, some posting them cursively on paper, others capturing them in photos, some just cataloging them away in the brain for quiet afternoons of reflective thought. Some walk through life with a remote in their hand and blinders on, not realizing what they missed until all they hear is the final shut of a door.

Others look only ahead, paying no attention to the past, the remembrances of brave men, the battles and freedoms we have fought for. My flag was at half staff not long back and I bet half the neighbors did not know why, seeing only what's going on in this moment, however useless, with no intention of availing themselves of the lessons of history that rattle around in our pockets like rare coins.

Not I. For me, I'll take the slow path, the closer look, the unseen poetry in a drop of melting snow, the land and soul that thirst, the blood and the tears that united a nation.

I've never been one to collect things, thimbles, figurines, little knick knacks that will require dusting long after I am dust. I've moved too many times over the years to even think about it. I have some cookbooks, I have some of my Mom's glassware and Swedish horse collection, I have a well loved violin that follows me around, annoying the neighbors.

But I learned early to note and catalog things, starting with plants in my first botany class, then working on up to so many small bones. It's why I always liked science museums, having an ingrained curiosity since childhood as to what made things tick. But it wasn't just plants and animals, machines as well needed to be understood. It's why in high school, while the girls were gossiping and buying clothes, I was learning how to rebuild a carburetor.

Certainly now, with the Internet, much of the mystery is gone, the average person being able to learn how to do just about anything on a home computer. Even with graphics, computer animations and YouTube, there are still some ways we learn that are best learned hands on.

But with the Internet, you miss those integral steps, that human interaction that provides a corporate experience. It's physical interaction with emotional understanding that you are not going to get with a 57 inch TV. Comparing a TV show on a subject to hands on looking, touching and watching what it's made of, is like seeing a picture of fresh pie, and tasting it on your tongue. The subject area may be the same, but the experiences are light years apart.

For I like to learn hands on, be it in the field or in a museum, taking a close look at it, holding it close (it's not ticking is it?), feeling the heft of weight in my hand, the form of it under my fingers. All the senses involved. I'd read everything there was about dinosaurs in books as a kid, fascinated with both the size and the structure, but the first time I lay my hand on a dinosaur bone, I was awestruck. I remember it to this day, loitering there in a blaze of sunlight, hand outreached, besieged by the huge strangeness of what I was seeing, the unfamiliar feeling of comprehending for the first time, how old the world really was, and how ALIVE I was. It wasn't just a dinosaur, it was seeing the world as it was, not fairy tales or fables, but true, as that unfamiliarity divided into rivers of wondering that I would follow for years. Including that moment in the theater when I yelled out, "Jurassic Park? Those things with big teeth are from the Cretaceous era!"


But the wandering adventure never ended. Even as a pilot, it continued. I'd look through the window of the aircraft as if it was a doorway to another dimension, wild, tremendous landscape stretching farther than even the eagle could see, blue-green mountains reaching up from the vermilion shores of the high plains. I would dash out into the sky, like a kid released from school, dodging cloudbursts raining down unnamed canyons, looking down with a god's eyes onto the desert homes of the cliff dwellers, hundreds of houses built into stone before you were even born, abandoned thousands of years ago, seemingly close enough to touch.

There were always the museums, including the space museums. Actual vehicles that had returned from space. No story or animation can give you the feeling of seeing up close something that HAD "been there, done that". Some of the early models looked like Frank Genry designs on crack. Or something my brother and I would have attempted to build with our erector sets, giant tinker toy constructions, resembling bulky 1960's foil Christmas trees more than modern spacecraft, topped with antennas that could have been placed on top by someones Norwegian Uncle after too much Glogg.

Yet, in all their dated technology, I paused in wonder, seeing it all and thinking that all of the things I built as a child and a teen, the weather radio, the rockets, could have become something like that, with no more imagination, but simply more education. Museums are like that for me, a humanness of history that brushes my skin as I pass each display, clinging to me even as I leave with the genius, fixations and wonder of humanity waiting outside the door.
Like all things mechanical, all things living, what we look at is much more than a sum of its parts. Those early space ships, the eroded surfaces speaking of the intense heat of reentry, the thin outer skin belying the courage of the man that it cradled, just waiting to be blasted into the unknown. A Mercury wonder of heat and design and engineering unheard of in its day. Compare it with the Soviet ships, odd instruments with Cyrillic labels, foreign yet familiar. An animation can never give you that little surge of awe I got on seeing that warning stenciled on a Soyuz reentry module: “Man inside! Help!” -- words that are dense testimony to both the dangers of a landing and the human ignorance that may exacerbate it.

The best way to figure out how something works is to take it apart.My brother and I started with the TV at age 12. The only reason I am not STILL grounded is that we got it back together before we were busted. Somethings are easy, radios, artichokes, a Cuisinart, easy pickings for the inquisitive geek. Hearing about or watching a TV show about taking something apart is one thing. But seeing it, laying your hands on it, hearing it, smelling it, is another.

Those are the type of museums I like, boneyards of man and machine, unlikely mechanics in action, dismantled into their core components, laid out for us to wonder. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry had this heart the size of a small kitchen in which you could walk through. In it, you experienced each chamber of the heart, complete with sounds, and as a child there on holiday, I would sometimes just stand in it for the longest time, before I could bear to leave it to go stare at the wall of bees. I still have fun in the children's section of science museums where there are no "don't touch" signs and the world is one big laboratory.

In the Berlin Museum of Communications, there is a postal service stagecoach, dismantled into its components, hanging up. Most walk past it, eager to get to the computer modules. Some look at it as only as a dusty visage, long divorced from reality, decaying quietly as only a glimpse of something no longer needed. I see structure, form, load-bearing surfaces, joints and sinew of wood, made by people that perhaps could not read or write, but oh, they could build.

Give me cross-sections, give me actual animals, preserved and on display, don't show me computer videos of things I can watch at home on the discovery channel. Give me not just knowledge, but touch, for when I do it's a tiny chill, partly the warmth of recognition. Early science was imitation and magic but it was more than that. If you go into the caves of Lascaux, the innermost and highest paintings were done at such elevation that they would never have been visible with the light possessed in that age, to anyone other than the artist who painted them. For he was not painting for them, he was painting for something else, a vision that only he saw and wished to document for time.

Unfortunately, most of the technology and science museums today cater to the computer generation with entire floors dedicated to Genetics with wall displays of the codes GAG, GAT TAC ACT) and huge stylized double helices of plastic, all a high tech but impersonal submersion into something that to me, is the Rosetta stone of life. The genetic code is almost universal. The same codons are assigned to the same amino acids and to the same START and STOP signals in the vast majority of genes in animals, plants, and microorganisms. We are all more closely bound than we think.

I didn't want to see plastic models of DNA, I wanted to see the real thing. If you want to show me DNA, then show me DNA - in test tubes, or through an actual working electron microscope.

Which is why a chance to visit a museum in Dublin on the way back from an overseas speaking event a while back meant a lot to me. It's unchanged since Victorian days, the ground floor being dedicated to Irish animals, featuring giant deer skeletons and a variety of mammals, birds and fish. Among the locals it's known as the "Dead Zoo" and when I heard that I knew I was going to spend a day of personal leave there. The upper floors of the building were laid out in the 19th Century in a scientific arrangement showing animals by taxonomic group, an incredible diversity, the interrelations of species through the evolutionary tree.

And my favorite, the bones, the incredible biotechnology of the animal machine, the structure and dentition, the vertebrate body scheme working and adapting. Sure a plastic model of a skull will give you an idea, but it can't possibly show you the exquisite detail of a creature dead hundreds of years. Photos weren't allowed, but I looked and with sketchpad I drew, bone gleaming though splendors last decay, eyes nothing but two empty pools in which the stationary world lurked gravely in miniature.

Stop and look in a museum, stand in places where history stood still, the courtyard at Monte Alban in quiet sunlight you can almost feel the air shimmering with life, priests, victims, warriors, the ball court where to lose the game was to lose life. Those lives vibrate through you.

"those first firm affinities that fit, our new existence to existing things".

That which remains are all things, past, present, they make us what we are, everything the human mind has invented, everything the human heart has loved and grieved for, that bravery has sacrificed for. It may touch only a few, but it connects us all.


I've felt this way in the field, hours spent bending down, sorting out the smallest detail.  Glaring into the sightless night, which was broken only by the events that brought me here, I tune everything else out, but that sound that will never be annealed until I am done, even as I sleep, the events, the pieces, the history, the why, roaring down around me until they stiffen and set like cement and take form.  Small things, inconsequential things, that, when woven with a human decision and the vagrancies of fate, form something that remains, for lessons, for closure, even if no more tangible than shattered echoes.
Remember those who have gone before us.

I thought of that as I left the museum that day, I felt it as I trudged home tonight, wearily looking up at the flag. I felt the hush of the wind, a soft voice that says, remember me, in layer and layer of ash in water and stone, bones to be studied, new life to be born. There in a puddle at my feet; a small leaf, decaying in the water, the tissue gone, only the delicate fibrous remnants of that which was vein and bone left. Rocking in the water as if in the motion of sleep, they waved their translucent goodbye.
On the dresser at my home tonight, lies a simple crafted box in which contains the fired remembrance of pure love and loyalty.  Remember me, remember this, from God's intricate creations of blood and bone and sinew, to our own divined dust, the distance is small.
 -L.B. Johnson

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Baby It's Cold Outside

 



It's 5 degrees out (NOT considering wind chill).  Miss Schmoochieface Dog did NOT want to go for a walk.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

On Friendship

 

Chapter 22 - On Friendship (From True Course - Lessons From a Life Aloft, Outskirts Press 2019.

I think the friends we make in the aviation business are unique. There's something about sitting inside for a meal after a long day in the cockpit, watching the lights reflected in your beverage, a long day ended, that sometimes is the best part of the day. It was a chance to relax and share conversation with someone, who between 4:00 a.m. show times and approaches to minimums in heavy snow squalls and turbulence, became your friend.

It's the time you review the doings of the day, when you tell stories and bragged softly and the advertised glamour of being a pilot emerges long enough to make you believe it and forget for a moment the lack of sleep, lack of pay when you first started out, and too frequent lack of respect.

Growing up in a mostly male household and spending all of my early life in a male-dominated profession, I have no idea how most women choose their friends. But it seems that men have two kinds of friends. The first kind of friendship develops slowly, the friendship growing like an oak, thickening each year. My dad, in his ‘90s now, has that kind of friend. The kid with whom he played stickball is now the guy with whom he plays cards.


The second kind of friend is different. The bond is instant, forged under fire, molded in the heat of battle. For many that friendship is forged in the military or law enforcement. For me anyway, that kind of friendship was forged in the cockpit. I guess it's for this reason, rather than for any love of the thrill of working long days in decrepit aircraft for five hundred dollars a month, that I remember my first days as an airline pilot as being the best years of my life.

When I wasn't flying, I was hiking and climbing. It was more a technical hike than a true climb but we still loved it. My friends with whom I flew also joined me on such adventures.  Climbers, at least those who manage to do it without breaking something, learn early on that there is no adversary in climbing. You can't “conquer” a mountain. There are times when I got halfway up, and enveloped briefly in both cloud and the excess of testosterone in the air, stopped, afraid to move. Yet my friends were with me, encouraging and guiding as the sun came out again and, on those occasions, the mountain sometimes granted me the privilege of a successful summit.

I did most of this in the Pacific Northwest and Colorado and the friendships formed there warm me still. Understand now, we reached the summits of nothing more than a couple of 14,000-foot peaks, not anything requiring professional mountaineering skill. I did my excursions with a ragtag bunch of amateurs rounded up from the crew lounge.

Our hikes and climbs weren’t the stuff of today’s YouTube videos. Our efforts were simply free form days of testing our limits. Adventures fueled by caffeine, youth, and the unspoken octane of facing up to fear in something other than an airplane. We tackled such trips with fierce pride, in our unity, in our will, even as we prayed to God each night that we’d make it home safe, to that God that looks after new-hire copilots no doubt. With this faith, we simply put one foot in front of the other, until the journey was complete.

It was on one of these climbs that we met Frank. He was from the U.K., the robust sort of fellow who looked on life as an exercise for the heart to prepare it for encounters with the rest of the world. He was an ordained minister, and one morning on a trail on the side of Mt. Rainier he produced a Bible, a small metal flask of wine and some week-old bread and ministered a quiet communion to us.  As I held that little piece of bread in my mouth, looking out onto a landscape that was as pure and pristine as forgiveness, hearing the sounds of nature behind the words of sacrament, that simple act brought tears to my eyes.

The major airlines started hiring again, and most of us moved on, but stayed in touch, trading stories of our flights in the Army Reserve or the Air National Guard as well as pictures of our new and improved airplanes. We would try and get together each year, usually in Montana where a couple of us had family.  Frank even joined us a time or two, and we could sit around the fire after a day of fishing or just wandering the woods, proclaiming this an aviator’s true calling as from the white ash of a campfire, our old memories cooled as we made new ones.

It was a few years later, most of us scattered and gone, with new jobs, spouses, and all the trappings of adulthood when the call came.  Frank died while on a trip visiting his family.  There was going to be a funeral in his homeland.  But our flying schedules and budgets prohibited the majority of us from such a trip.  So we met someplace close.  We drank too much, we reminisced at length, and it was only when the words grew cold with the night air did we raise our glasses to the man in the empty chair.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Days of our Youth - Glasses Half Full


I met a friend for lunch recently and we got to discussing really crappy jobs we had when we were young. She's a bit older than I, but many of the jobs available to teens and college students didn't change much from when we were both young. Her most disastrous job was at was a popular fast food restaurant at $1.69 an hour. Turned out she was allergic to one of the food ingredients and not only bloated up terribly but ended up covered in little spots. I said "did you look like one of those sesame seed buns" and she started choking on her drink (she knows better than to tell me these stories when we're eating).

Me?

I worked as an elf.

And got fired.  Yes, that's on my author's bio for The Book of Barkley, but is not a tale I've told most of you.

You see, in college there was a company that hired students and homemakers looking for part time work to do "product demos". You know, those annoying smiling people who try and assault you with a spray of Calvin Klein "Narcissist" as you walk through the cosmetics section at Macy's. Or those friendly people with food at grocery stores. "Sure I'll try your hickory smoked bacon but be advised I'm shopping with my identical twin so she'll probably be by for some too."

The pay was much better than minimum wage so it was a popular job and not everyone got hired. I applied. The choices though, for my first job assignment weren't great. A Mr. Peanut Costume, handing out nuts (oh please please please dear god no), more of the perfume thing (I LIKE rejection) or wait, this is perfect! An elf at Santa's Workshop at the fancy department store! All I had to do was wear the elf costume and help keep the kiddies organized while they lined up to sit on Santa's lap for a photo. I got picked for one reason only. Flaming red hair and bright green eyes. Elf material if there ever was one. Plus it was double minimum wage. Woo Hoo!!

The problem was the costume. Scooped neck Elf Dress, Elf shoes, plastic Elf Ears. All too small, especially the dress. We found bigger shoes, probably boy elf ones, but I was stuck with the dress. They usually hired petite students to be the elves, but there were a sucker for the hair and eyes, overlooking the fact that I'm tall, with a generous bustline.  But I squeezed into it. Some parts didn't exactly squeeze into it well and were sort of on display and being tall, the skirt was rather short.

Don't picture a female Herbie the elf.

Picture a green hooters waitress with really pointy shoes.

Yup.

But I really needed the extra cash for college and flight lessons. So off I went, having fun with the kids, chatting with Santa (who was VERY jolly that day). It was all kinds of fun, and I collected enough money to pay for more education.

Until I got fired.

For you see, I was called to come in the next morning and canned as an elf, with an abject apology "It just wasn't suited for you, we've got an even BETTER position for the rest of the week, we're so sorry, here's your apron".

Apparently some of the Mom's complained that
(1) I was distracting Santa
(2) (and I quote) Elves do NOT have bosoms!!

So much for my elfin career.

The next day I was standing in a grocery store handing out hot dogs wearing an apron that said on it, in big letters "Have I Got a Wiener for YOU !"
Today, I have Dr. in front of my name and a paycheck that is more than my needs.  It took a lot of years, of sweat and blood to get there.  But when I'm out and about and see some kid dressed like
(1) The Statue of Liberty
(2) A Slice of Pizza or
(3) An Egg (yes, last weekend at a local new restaurant)

standing by a business in the cold, dancing or holding a sign. .

I give them a friendly wave, a kind word, or if I can, go inside and give that place my business, AFTER I tell them what a great job their employee was doing out there, wishing they were anything but a dancing egg, but while they had to be - they were going to be the best dancing egg on the planet.

Because that's what becoming an adult is all about, doing the job that needs to get done for you or your family.

Still, I wish I had the Weiner apron now.