Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Realm of Hungry Ghosts

In Buddism hell doesn't exist as a "place" - it's created by an individuals, actions, thoughts, and words---a consequence of life for which each individual is accountable.

Other faith based believes notwithstanding---that is also true here on earth, not of the "hell" as depicted in scripture but those places we find ourselves where we don't want to be.

I was at lunch at a chain Italian restaurant with a group of ladies from a volunteer group.   One of them was NOT having a good day, and when our very young waiter came by and asked how we were doing she said, quite boisterously  "We're all going to hell and I'm driving the bus!"  She meant it as a joke but we didn't see bread sticks for the next 30 minutes.

But honestly, looking back on life, many of the times I found ourselves in, of hurt and injury and loneliness - were my own doing.  Sure Mom said I wasn't ready for the training wheels to come off.  I looked good in that arm cast anywhere.  Sure the posted speed limit is 65, but I didn't buy a twenty year old 66 Plymouth Barracuda to do the speed limit. After that, a hundred Geckos couldn't have saved me money on my car insurance.  That guy that stood me up for the prom?  Fourteen years later he's staring  across from me, wearing a uniform, realizing that I held his job in my hands.
You all know what I'm talking about.  Fortunately, most of us are lucky to walk away from such things.  But unfortunately, human nature is such that there are things that drive us---pain and anguish, or simply those unquenchable desires that in Buddhism is known as "the realm of hungry ghosts". It's the sort of thought process that result in someone trying the same type of behavior again and again and again, even though each time it results in epic "Fail"--with fractured relationships or physical harm, while still thinking next time will be different.

In looking at the world around me, one that grows increasingly dark from a nation of collective "look at me" while ignoring what's happening right around us, I grow increasingly concerned. I can only shake my head at those that continue to say. "Oh, things are better".  "We are winning the war on terror", or "The economy is improving!" (because we quit counting people who have been out of work for ages or have given up)

I won't speak further of the camouflage that is politics; but I can speak of readiness. There is more to being prepared than buying a few weeks of  freeze-dried food on Amazon and having Google handy in case of a terror attack or natural disaster while Big Brother is out playing or your mom and dad are out of the house. There is more to awareness than seeing who is saying what about us in media.  I'm speaking of this, not just as individuals, but as a collective nation--- as we seem to be more interested in what a Kardashian is wearing than a growing darkness that's spreading from parts of the Middle East to the entire globe.

Perhaps I'm unique in this view coming out of an environment where everything was earned, and sometimes in blood.  While friends were comfy in their parents basements, tuition paid for, playing Pac Man; I  was working two jobs, one of them in a funeral home and one of them as a flight instructor. Being a CFI is a  wondrous exchange of frequent days that are either mother nature trying to kill you or the student. And smiling while doing it. Because the student hadn't yet learned that just because you weren't yelling at him didn't mean you hadn't just avoided bent metal by nano seconds. That would come after solo.

Now, I wasn't an aviation major, interested in science and criminal justice, but it was a lot better way to make tuition than "would you like large fries with that". I remember some of the students vaguely. I remember some vividly, the imprint of their panic stricken Steve Urkel "Did I do THAT" expression burned into my brain. There was one fellow to whom I was demonstrating how to recover from a stall, the event where the angle between the chord line of the wing and the relative wind is such that airflow is disrupted and the wing stops flying. The nose drops, you level the wings and you add power. Piece of cake. Except in this case the student took my words "just gently lower the nose" to mean shoving the control yoke full forward with 180 pounds of push. I didn't know it would go that far forward. Forward, straight into the ground, coming up at 100 miles an hour.

For a moment, the woods below rushed up to greet us with a deathly slap, air rushing past with the speed of infallibility, mocking the effort of lift, the effort of life. But, for altitude and instincts born of hours of repetitive movements, that might have been our last flight. But it wasn't, and with a tussle of controls and the movement of the throttle we were climbing back up, with the power of an engine and the unrending breath of youth. Inhaling life from death, not realizing just how close it was until it was over. In that moment I was reminded that nature did not care if we were young and high up on the food chain. The sky, with it's solitude and freedoms, creates a perfect stage for exultation or loss and we are very small actors in the arena.

I spent my 30's and 40's as an avid outdoors woman and a hunter, bow and firearm. I no longer hunt -finding myself not wishing to take the life, even as I know I could if needed.  But back then, I felt as comfortable in the woods as I was in the sky. I loved getting up early, getting into the camo and sneaking through the woods like I was on some sort of covert mission. Climbing up a tall tree stand trying to hold a heavy 20 gauge Belgium Browning semi-auto in one hand was interesting to say the least. I know the pilots I hunted with, more than once, took bets to see if I'd make it into a particularly tricky stand without yelling for help. It might have taken me 15 minutes but I got into my stand solo and the view was incredible.
I remember my last firearm hunt out West. It started snowing early and it was -6 degrees. I had on long johns and two pairs of coveralls and I still had to clench and unclench my muscles to generate warmth as the day wore on. Finally, my friends went back to the house, out on 500 acres in the middle of desolate land. They'd teased me about being a wimpy girl, so I ate my peanut butter sandwich and stayed out in the blind until almost dark. I'd seen some does and some youngsters but I would only take a full grown buck, venison to get us through the long winter.

Right as the last of the days light leeched out of the sky, a big buck came, moving along the tree line in the distance. I sucked in a breath and fired, one shot, at near dark, as he ran for the thick of the forest. As the shot cracked into the frigid air, the buck leaped into the woods, as I stared, still, amazed at how a living thing like that will keep going, and how far, when it is already dead from that single shot through the heart. But the snow was heavy and darkness was on me and by the time I got down, out of the blind, tracking him was difficult.

When I finally got to where he lay, the white tail a small sign in the deepening pool of blackness, I stood, hairs rising up along my forearms, my breath hot in my chest, despite the snow and the cold. I wasn't alone. Something instinctual kicked in and I stopped in my tracks. There, crouching over the remains of that magnificent 12 point buck was a dark shadow, merged onto my kill, hunched over the ribcage, dark on darkness, where I couldn't tell where one shadow began and another ended. Something uttered a low throat-ed growl at me; it wasn't some body's pet and it was certainly not some cuddly woodland creature from a PETA ad. The stink of something primordial was in the air, more than blood, less than my own fear and I knew that I was moving downward quickly on the food chain.
Shooting at it in near total darkness would only have pissed it off, so I slowly backed away and let whichever scavenger or predator had found my buck have it's due. I'd taken something that, in the realm of the wild, wasn't mine to take, and something more powerful was going to take it from me.  It looked at me as I imperceptibly rocked from one foot to another, as if the ground was on fire, my uneasiness making it impossible for me to stand still, even if I know that was the safest ground.

I carefully made my long way back to the safety of the house, the fear seeping out of me like the deer's blood onto the snow.  "Don't let it see your fear" I whispered to myself, as snatches of the flow from words drifted behind me into the wind.

We think, as humans, we have dominion over the wild and especially when we are young, we think we are immortal. But when we are in those places, be it the forest or the skies, we are on the edge, and living is accomplished on an edge that is neither a humanitarian or lenient. The slow, the infirm, the careless . . . perish. And there will be blood. I am reminded of that daily. With each scene, each violent stoppage of that which is life, I develop a deeper appreciation of just being here, breathing, living flesh and bone. For it was in that cold wood on that dark night as I stared into the glowing eyes of something toothed and fanged, that I realized that this seemingly sturdy body, that serves me subtlety and so well, is only so much meat, and my thoughts and life history would only be a night's sustenance to some creature of the woods. . . or to fate.

So for today - turn off Facebook, turn off your laptop and look deep into your own capabilities; not as how others view them, but as you see them. Enjoy each day for the gift that is is, realizing that it is just that. . . a gift. You are not owed a good one, or even another one. I look out to a late winter landscape, the white light of the snow shimmering along side of the primordial blue of the sky, waiting for the first refraction of darkness as the clouds move back in again. Here hovers only my God and myself, as I divide man's intent from his actions, even as He divided the light from the darkness.
We can't as a faith and a nation, continue to look at the world the same way. Kumbaya world views is simply a deliberate avoidance of the problem of evil disguised in the garb of a religious tolerance. Sure we all want to be happy, carefree and prosperous. But if we do so by failing to grapple with the other half the human experience, evil, darkness and death--our story will never have a happy ending.

Noted Jewish Scholar Gershom Scholem said "To the intellect the problem [of evil] is no real problem at all.  All that is needed is to understand evil is relative more that it does not really exist. . [but] the POWER of evil is real and the mind which is conscious of this fact refuses to content itself with intellectual tours de force however brilliant which try to explain away the existing of things it knows to be there."

As I came out of the woods that night; having acquiesced the food for my table to something stronger of tooth and claw than I---it was driven home. I had backed away from my kill, quietly, maintaining eye contact, until I disappeared into the brush, hand poised to defend if need be. I looked up into sulfur yellow clouds drifting past a full moon, my tall form an exclamation point on the rise of land, until sliding on down the slope until only a flutter of red hair waved goodbye as I disappeared from view. I am just one person, but I am a wiser one, for I have looked into the face of darkness, and know that even with the shield of my God and my service - I am NOT invincible, for I know the power that is evil, and will not knowingly turn my back on it again.

As a Christian of recently discovered Jewish blood, what is happening out there frightens me and that is their intent. But even further, it strengthens my resolve to be wary and watchful, especially of those that remove our rights and defenses as they placate those who wish us harm.  For such acts can lead to actions that go against, not just the Constitution, but both sense and judgement, laying the foundation for increased danger to a nation and a people, which are then inherited by succeeding generations as obvious truth. Such actions frighten me as much as any terror group.  In pretending that everything is fine while refusing to name our enemy---we simply show that hell is our only home.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Beers, Bores and Bokeh - Girls Day Out

Girls Day Out was moved to Saturday with the impending forecast and my brief number of hours off. I stayed in Indy as with the schedule and weather it would have been a long drive, 12 hours with my husband and then turn around and come back in a bad storm.

I'm playing "bachelorette" and Partner in Grime is tearing out the kitchen floor (I think I got the better of the two deals, even if I miss him). It was an emotionally brutal week with some long work days so I needed to just put my "goofball" hat on and hang around with someone that knew me years before this whole blogging thing and understands that.

Broad Ripple Brew Pub - where on any given weekend you can see a blond and a redhead standing around in sub zero temperatures taking pictures of things while muttering such artistic comments as "damn it's cold!"

To the Pub!  Lots of goodies on the menu but after a week of salad and low fat wraps I wanted something to make my cholesterol levels wake up.

But first - a little transaction following the exchange of the secret code.

"The Quick Brown Fox Jumped Over the Lazy Dog"

The package was handed over  A beer mysteriously arrived.

Yes, frozen croissant dough - I'm the local croissant dealer it appears after making 3 dozen  of them from scratch a few weekends ago.  After a night of rising in the oven with the light on, then baking, all you really need to add is bacon.
But morning is a long way off.  It's time to peruse the pub menu and specials.  We ordered two half orders of nachos,one plain and one with beans, a half order of onion rings and a order of Mexican white wings (chicken breast wrapped around a jalapeno, wrapped again in bacon, deep fried and dipped in spicy barbecue sauce.)

Of course there was beer. It is un-American to eat this much fried food without a pint to wash it down.We caught up on what we'd read lately, the state of the world, and local news, including someone arrested locally for less than super secret deals to send some of the family butter and egg money to an extremist group  They couldn't have been less obvious if they'd had an ISIS Go Fund Me Page with a kitten on it, and thankfully, ended up in the slammer.

But there's enough politics and bad news out there, let's talk about important things, bows, bores, and bokeh as well as a discussion on adult beverages we love, and don't.

"I wouldn't drink that if I could lap it out of Hugh Jackman's navel!"

You know, typical dainty, feminine conversation.

Then the cameras came out again.  There were more lenses on the table than a good day at Lenscrafter.  But it was fun to talk about something other than work, or shop, or firearms, for friendships are bound in many things, most of them unspoken and formed over time.

It was actually kind of neat being in Broad Ripple on a Saturday - a LOT more cars but Rene's Bakery was open. . . which meant.

Yup - Rene's giant chocolate chewy cookie (with extras for Partner). I may start making noises like Chewbacca in the truck and explode on the drive home, but it might be worth it.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Brother in Arms

As I said before - since someone here (not a regular just a "insert adjective here" saw fit to post online where my family burial site is in the comments through Find a Grave -  when Dad passes, there will be no notification.  Give us that bit of privacy please.)

But tonight---on the week of the first anniversary of Barkley's passing and my brother's birthday, one of the last photos I have of he and my 93 year old Dad, outside of praying at the dinner table on one of our last trips.  It was a drive to our favorite breakfast diner where my brother could always talk the waitress out of a giant mug of coffee "to go" for free,  because even to the end, he was a charmer.  And a punster - so I can only imagine the quip he had just stated when I got this photo of him starting to crack up.
My brother was once six foot strong, a muscled 260 pounds, red hair, a sailor's stance. His nickname was "Bull" for a reason.  Looking at this it would be easy to see sadness in his frail frame.  But I just see how he was taking every last drop  of joy with his family in the days he had left.

He's still my hero - even as he's gone to tend to us from above, a Submariner always on watch.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Brazen Cooking Secrets

After a day in the field or in the bat truck, and spending way too much on keeping it going, I was ready for a tasty but not wallet busting dinner.  With gas  starting to creep back up again, plus the cost of upkeep, transportation costs are taking a larger bite out of every one's monthly budget.  Add to that all the maintenance items you have to buy, especially if there's a British car in the garage - Heimlich valves, muffler bearings, lunar wain shafts, flux capacitors, clutch belts, blinker fluid, bottom tire air (the tops of the tire never needs it) and the list goes on and on.

So when my Partner in Grime offered to cook me dinner the other night, I was not going to say no.  He had some chicken, some veggies, a big cast iron skillet with lid and some herbs.  Plus the man knew how to braise.

Braising is a good way to prepare a  cheap cut of meat and often the one people are the least experienced with.  Braising is a cooking technique in which the main ingredient is seared, or browned in fat, and then simmered in liquid on low heat in a covered pot. The best equipment to use would be a  pressure cooker or heavy Dutch oven,  or, in many kitchens, simply big cast iron pan with a heavy metal lid that may not seal tightly, but  it covers.

The basic steps involve seasoning, sauteing the meat lightly in a bit of oil or butter until brown, deglazing the pan with broth, stock or juice, stirring up the browned bits, adding cooking liquid and then finishing in the oven until it's completely tender (for large cuts of meat, such as cheaper cuts of roast this can range from 1 to several hours).

For braising chicken, the best cuts of chicken are the legs and thighs, preferably on the bone with skin on so you get the connective tissue and fat that will make the dish really savory. There's no need to braise boneless, skinless breasts, they will do much better grilled or just sauteed.

Braising is a good way to use up cheaper cuts of meat. If you have a local butcher, see about leftover pieces from a specialty cut or the dismantling of a whole bird to give another shopper some chicken breasts.  They often will have some and sell to you at a reduced cost if there's not enough to make up a big "family pack". Also check the "reduced" section. Such items, if cooked right away are still quite good and often heavily discounted.

 You've all seen those prepacked dinners that can be made quickly. Most are full of artificial ingredients and tons of sodium, and run up to $10.00 or more. You can make something 10 times more tasty for less than half of that, if you shop carefully, and get veggies and other staples in family packs or bulk. Even better, put your best Semaphore Code "tablecloth", some candles and place mats and enjoy a meal that's not eaten in your car or in front of the TV.

Tonight's posted recipe is a slight adaption of the traditional method, using bacon fat in addition to the oil to sear the meat and using less liquid, so that the veggies maintain a bit of crispness as the meat cooks off til it's fall off the bone tender

Start with chicken pieces. It was going to be a light supper so a thigh and a leg per person.  Before prep, the pieces should be rinsed and patted dry. 

A sweet onion was cut into reasonably thin chunks and then the thighs were deboned by hand to keep a bit of the connective tissue but make them thinner so they cooked equally with the smaller legs.  Prep the veggies THEN work on the chicken to keep the work area as clean as possible.

Brown 2-3 large pieces of double smoked bacon in a cast iron skillet. Remove and set aside. The bacon  fat from that is just the perfect amount for the pan with a  splash of good quality olive oil.  Add the oil to the bacon fat, stirring up the brown bacon bits.  Add chicken pieces with the heat on medium high. Cook skin side down for 5-6 minutes (more if really big pieces) until lightly brown, flip and remove and keep warm. In the same pan add the onion, Cook, stirring in the drippings until softened but not caramelized (you want a bit of bite to it still). Add to that was a good splash or three of balsamic vineger (Artesano's 18 year old, incredible stuff) and some chopped thyme.

Stir it around and return chicken pieces to pan, skin side UP and place about 2 tablespoons of water in and around the chicken and cover again with a heavy lid.  As it finishes in the oven the top of the chicken will crisp up just slightly.

This is different than traditional braising that fully simmers the bigger cuts of meat in a lot of broth.  For this recipe, you don't need to as it keeps the onions perfectly cooked with a texture and taste that's more roasted than boiled.  Place in preheated hot (roughly 400 F.) oven for 20 minutes, until no pink remains in the meat.  Throw in a a couple nice baked potatoes, partially cooked in the microwave (4-6 minutes depending on size) and then wrapped in foil and placed in with the covered pan to finish cooking with the chicken..

When done, rub the potatoes with a tiny bit of olive oil and course sea salt and serve with fresh butter and the chopped bacon as well as some steamed veggies to which you added only white pepper. I've had more photogenic meals but few that were as tasty for a "budget" minded chef.

From start to finish, one person cooking, one person "back seat braising", it was only about 30 minutes from start to table. With some bargain chicken pieces from a small town, non chain, butcher and some bulk veggies, less than $4.00 for the entire meal for two.

That leaves enough money for a replacement 710 Cap.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

For "Bull" - Happy Birthday as you Look Down Upon Me

For my brothers's birthday tomorrow - a story from Saving Grace  - just as I use my middle name here, I use his in the book, but it's a good name, my Dad's middle name. This is from the pre-edit manuscript as the edited one is on my home computer - but I hope you enjoy.

Chapter 3 - Homecomings

Thinking of my brother comes naturally whenever I’m driving. Because the story of Allen and me began with a car ride, the first with our mom and dad.

Mom and Dad grew up in Montana, playing together as children, marrying as soon as Dad got home from serving in the 8th Air Force, stationed in Great Britain. The only reminders of that relationship I have left are letters and pictures, carefully packed in a trunk that lay in the attic until my brother and I liberated it.

There are so many photos of an 8th Air Force Liberator flying among flak as thick as snowflakes, soaring desolate above land whorled with unrest, the craft solitary above the destruction that it would rain. There underneath the photos lies a stack of letters. Mom and Dad wrote to one another for four years while he was overseas, not returning Stateside once during that entire time. Reading them feels a little like eavesdropping, as you can almost hear the words as they formed---heartfelt, intimate. I opened one; it was just one single page, and I thought of the way their day stopped at the brink of it.

In these letters bridging the time and distance they had to be apart, there was talk of how much they missed one another; of how their families were faring; of good coffee and how Dad missed vegetables from the farm; of burning heat and a cold on the field that would murmur to your very bones. There was playful affection, there was unstated passion and stated promise. Some was in Mom's flowery script, the rest in Dad's meticulous, indomitable hand. "Is everyone there well?" Mom would ask, and Dad would reply that they were (though some were now only well beyond Lamentations). "How is the homestead?” Dad would ask, and Mom would reply, "Fine," not telling him that they were occasionally going hungry.

They spoke of the future, of their past. They did not speak of the aircraft that limped back to England only to crash on approach, their violent end felt through the ground like a vibration rather than heard. They did not speak of her working two jobs after her dad's death while logging, to support two younger brothers and her mom. So much spoken and unspoken, like two mourning doves calling back and forth across an endless summer---all now just held together by a blue silk ribbon.
Not all missives that went back and forth over the seas were good news. Just up the road from Mom's, the week after Pearl Harbor a neighbor stood by the mailbox with a piece of paper not even big enough to start a fire with, the envelope fallen to the ground as bland words exploded one by one and that family’s grieving began. There was only the notice, there was nothing to bury---though you don't need a wooden box to capture the form of courage and sacrifice.

I wonder how many millions of messages like that went out in old wars, not taking long to read, as there was no real time in it; not in that demarcation between the hope that someone lived, and that place where you knew that was no longer true,  when you wished that this moment existed only outside of time. There were only moments in which a written word hung in the air as if hopeful silence had been so long undisturbed that it had forgotten its purpose.

I look again at those letters Dad kept. The actual forming of the characters is uniform, flowing, like words pent up too long. The letters are sixty-some years old, powdery and delicate in my hand. But sixty years were just a moment ago for my dad, something as fierce and encompassing as war always standing out in his memory, no matter how many years distanced him from battle.

So he returned to her, they married, and my mom immediately became pregnant, only to go into labor many weeks too early. Their daughter lived only days, while Mom battled an infection that would leave her barren.

They were together, their dream for years. But although it was an abundant life---Mom working as a Deputy Sheriff, Dad getting his CPA license and finding a job with one of the big timber mills---their home was missing the sound of children.

So the long, sometimes painfully long process of adoption was begun. When it didn't happen immediately, they applied to be foster parents---however they could get a child in their home, just to hear a child's laughter. I don't have all the details, but Allen and I came into their lives when we were very young.

Mom and Dad had intended on getting just one child, but having completed the paperwork, when they heard there were two of us there was no real discussion, only logistics. For they only had a child seat for one, for the three hour drive home. My brother Allen, being the oldest, got the seat. They put me in a box.

Well, it was a large box, carefully padded with coats and a pillow, and lashed in tight to the back of the seat with a seat belt.
Still, years later I can hear my brother lean over with a grin on the re-telling of that story with "They liked me better!" and how we would laugh.

We came home to a post-war subdivision, houses popping up starting in the late ‘40s, with new streets like ours hubbing off them in the 1960's as the town prospered and people expanded their families in a time of peace and abundance.

Dad still lives there all these years later. Going home now to visit him as an adult I'm surprised how quiet it is outside; the kids all inside the local school, neighborhood moms and dads both working much of the time these days. Off in the distance, the wail of a police siren. The ground is hard and knotted, the houses stare silently forward, not acknowledging anything that exists in their peripheral vision. The morning light falls down upon their steps in silence. That lack of sound does not seem odd, it is simply winter.

Dad slumbering in the back room, tiring easily at age 94, I sit in the chair by the picture window and look out at the same homes I saw as a child; and I think back to those glory days when Mom and Dad brought us home, how this whole neighborhood came alive. Mom's been gone many years; Dad outlived both her and my stepmom in this house. And although the family dynamic is different, the sounds of this home remain.

Especially during summer the neighborhood took on another depth of sound. There was the bright, disorderly cry of lawnmowers firing up; the small tidy yards of an older neighborhood not taking all day to mow, but the precision of their care reflecting the owners’ pride in their homes. There were no homeowners association rules. One neighbor's bright purple door stood out at attention, but with the colorful flowers that normally adorned the front and the deep rosy hue of the brick, the color suited the house. There were a couple of kids on bikes, zooming up and down the sidewalks as off in the distance their dog barked for their return. Far away the sound of church bells, there in the month of white lace and showers of rice, paced faithfully and serenely; like shafts of light among the soft green leaves, yellow butterflies dancing on the grass like flecks of sun.

The sounds would continue into evening: a summer shower off the lake releasing the scent of flowers into the damp air; crickets sawing away in the grass with an intensity you could almost feel as a tickle on the skin. There was the wave of a neighbor as he brought in the paper; the clink of a couple of glasses of Kool-Aid, sweet like nectar on the porch.

There was no formal neighborhood watch here, but we did look out for one another. Our parents noticed when the newspapers piled up at someone’s house and would check to make sure they were OK.  They paid attention to a strange car parked on the street, a teenage boy just stopping to visit with the pretty teenage girl down the road.

They would know who had a new child by the toys that sprouted in the yard like colorful flowers. Our moms would trade recipes and gossip over a fence, finding out who had been ill, who might need help with a new baby. For this wasn't just a neighborhood, this was a community---neighbor helping neighbor, the kids welcome at pretty much any home, stopping in on someone's mom if we needed a drink or the use of the bathroom.
Now, a lifetime later, the houses are the same but the neighborhood is not. I note the silent homes, a sign gone up for a quick sale, the owner having passed away; time consuming not just courage but muscle and bone until nothing is left but a frail form draped in a white sheet, like a piece of furniture unused. We don't notice the exact time of leaving but can't help but speak of the remains. I note one house in disrepair, empty, likely a foreclosure; the factory's shutting down taking with it not just jobs but a lot of hope.

Ours was a good house to come home to, though; a place of refuge for two lost little birds.

As I sit in the quiet, a small sparrow blows onto the sill like a bright scrap of paper, his heart pumping in his throat faster than any pulse. He looks into the house, then away, then into the glass again as if listening, only to dart away as the clock chimes on the hour, then ceases. The chime fills the whole house. Perhaps it's just sound---or perhaps it's all time, grievance, and grief manifesting as sound for just one instant as planets and gears align. It's a moment wherein time seems to stop, the sparrow frozen on the sill. Only when that sound stops does time come to life, and by then the bird is gone.

The only sound now is that of breath and the tick of the old clock. I don't deliberately listen to it, the ticks seemingly beyond the realm of hearing; then in a moment, with that one tick your ears respond to, you are acutely aware of the long diminishing train of time you did not hear. How many ticks in this house in 50 years? How many after I am long gone? Yet I feel the presence of others that have lived here, for they perhaps aren't truly dead but simply were worn down by the minute clicking of small gears. The echo of those who sat in this room do not disturb me; they are part of this house. Just like the sound of wood, its creak one of murmuring bones; and the air that taps on ancient glass speaks of deep winds that witnessed more than time.
Dad resting quietly, I take a quick walk before making his dinner, after which we will call Allen to catch up before seeing him on the weekend. As the neighborhood ticks a slow and steady beat outside, there comes the rumbling of the trains, the tracks a half mile away carrying a sound on the air that is as comforting as childhood. I watch the movement that is static serenity and labored exhaust, a rhythmic click-click as it moves away through eternal trees, faded to thick sky, the train displacing air.

Shadows lengthening, I hurry back to the house. The tick of my watch and the sound of the train dissolve away as if running through another place, someplace far from where this life ended up. I approach the house I grew up in, the porch glistening with a sheen of ice, its empty lattice the front guard of circumstance waiting for summer flowerings.
I think of the inordinate ticks of chance it took to bring my brother and me to this home, through which we were so blessed to be here. In the air scented with trees I ascend the steps, clutching the old key to the back door, there on a little ring with a train etched on it. In the growing dark I don't really see it, but I feel it in my hand, clutching that little anchor to a life lived here long ago---a life unexpected but as welcoming as home. 

The house sighs as I open the door. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, moving away from its reflection into the warmth, my form darting out of sight; the sound, tick-tock-tick-tock, a wisp of air that breathes life back into this home.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

RIP Barkley 2-24-2014

February 24, 2014.

It's the day we lost Barkley.  It's a hard day, for sure.  Some of it was good.  I got to write a check to an animal rescue group in the four figures from sales to help them and I'll have another one soon in the same amount to another group in Texas.   I got to spend time with coworkers I hadn't seen in a couple of weeks as I was dealing with issues with my Dad, who is terminally ill with an inoperable mass in his colon.

Then I got to come home to the first and only 1 star review of TBOB, after being on the cover of Kirkus Reviews, an Amazon #1 in the kindle store, thousands given to dog, cat and horse rescue around the country in memory of Barkley and my brother.

"Not worth the read". 

Yes, I know Marko says "don't read the reviews".  But there it was, as glaring as a spotlight. Today, the day of all of their tiny handful of  reviews.  A troll with bad timing - or just someone who lives to hurt.

I won't ever know for sure.

But Barkley does.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Charmed Lives

Charms That Save Lives.     This rescue based business was was founded by two college students with the promise to create jewelry that uniquely expresses the beauty and courage of homeless pets, and raises money to protect them until they can be fostered or adopted.

In communicating with different rescue groups to find the best places to send sales proceeds from The Book of Barkley to help rescue dogs, I found Dog Saving Dogs and  ordered one of the beautiful charm sets, which would came with two, one for me, and one for Miss Abby-- happily noting they had set up their business and marketing in beautiful South Bend Indiana. Being a "Hoosier" for many, many years, that made me smile. And so I contacted one of them and asked for their story, delighted to find this company was founded by two young men  more concerned with others, than themselves. In this day of many young people asking for the world handed to them without effort it was so refreshing to meet someone committed to hard work, entrepreneurship, even as they help others.
Keith and Maya

The Story began when Texas college student  Keith W. visited an animal shelter within walking distance of his apartment to take a photo for Facebook of a dog needing a home that he could share even if he couldn't adopt himself.  While he was there one of the volunteers brought out Maya, a  1.5 year old Staffordshire Terrier. She had been at the shelter for 6 months and had no visitors or adoption requests. He said she was the sweetest dog in the world. She knew how to sit, stay, shake, and just loved to be petted. In so many ways, she reminded him of another beloved pet, just in a Staffordshire Terrier body. He wanted to take her home, but as a full time student with no permanent home for a dog, he knew could not--he could only try and find her a home on his own.

Keith did all he could through social media to see if he could find her a home, with no response. Two weeks later, he went to the shelter again to visit her, only to find that Maya had been put down. One year from graduating he felt powerless to help her, having neither the money nor the means to help such dogs in the way they needed.

After moving back to Indiana, he knew donations were an option but he really wanted to see where the money went, and how it would help the dogs. That was the inspiration for Dogs Saving Dogs, but the specific idea (and the name!) came when he met Declan F. at a meeting for entrepreneurs.  Declan had been working with a friend on a new kind of surgery cone that would be a lot more comfortable for the dog. The two of them began talking and planning and Dogs Saving Dogs was officially started in November 2014.

Their mission, simply put, is to make animal rescue fashionable. In their own words - they want to give ordinary people the power to do something extraordinary, provide the necessary funds for an animal to be rescued from a shelter and brought to a pet rescue, where they will be fostered until they find a forever home. They are currently working two shelters in the South Bend area and a new one in New York, all operating as non-profits,

The charm set comes with two charms, one for you and one for your four legged best friend, so that the two of you become partners in rescue. The Charms are nickel-free, non tarnishing and American made, with locally sourced materials, keeping the communities hard earned money local, so local business can grow and prosper. Their  commitment to American-Made, quality jewelry comes from their desire to create lasting and timeless art that has a positive impact on everyone involved. They are really beautiful, and I can guarantee if you have a daughter or other lady in  your life that loves dogs--- she would love to have one, the "human" charm, coming with a matching chain to wear around your neck.

With every set, they provide a paper insert that tells you exactly where your donation went. The donation is currently 50% of profit, the best they can do as a initial start up, but the goal is 100% of the profits once, they get going
Bear - the dog my charm set is helping to save.

Their story made me misty-eyed, thinking of the months Abby Lab spent in a high kill shelter, thin and sick and scared. I was so happy to be able to rescue her with the help of like-minded people and now, like these wonderful young men, want to make sure I do all I can to help other dogs. Because if we save one, or a thousand, we will know that there are people in the world that care. As Keith says - "every name that we engrave into a charm set is one more dog that gets out of a shelter and that much closer to finding a home and a family that will love that dog for the rest of its life."

I love the one I purchased and received today in the pretty gift box with a note that said it went for toys for Bear and his buddies and Abby's is already on  her paracord collar. (yes, that's U of I-- not the Miami Dolphins -  Partner in Grime is a graduate)  The collar is from Pudin's Paw Paracord for Dogs. They are a wonderful family owned business (Pudin is their Lab) from my home State, that makes beautifully crafted, high quality paracord leashes and collars of many varieties, all custom made for size and color selection.  

Please go check out Dogs Saving Dogs, consider a set of charms or simply say thanks. I asked if I could share their story here, and Keith, coming from a rural family that tended and  hunted the land, said "yes, please!" 

Please share and support their mission in memory of all the dogs we have loved.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Shaken not stirred - The Beretta 3032 Tomcat

  • Roberta X has a post up earlier this weekend about a nifty "improper lady's gun" she picked up at the Tri State gun show - a .25 Beretta 418 which got me thinking about this little back up piece.

The .32acp was a standard police round in Europe for decades, and is still seen around in small, inexpensive pocket pistols in the US and elsewhere.  One of those is the Beretta 3032 Tomcat is a simple blowback pistol with a single and double action mechanism. Fitted with a frame mounted thumb safety, it's small but it's not crafted cheaply. The frame is aluminum alloy, and the slide and barrel are either carbon or stainless steel though the grip material is plastic. It is available in an "Inox" variant, with stainless steel barrel and slide and the frame anodized to look the same.

For a short time a titanium model was also available. It's been reported that only 1,500 of the titanium models were made, but I was not able to verify that.
There was also a Tomcat Tritium version with tritium night sights.

The 9 mm is often pointed to as the minimum caliber for serious defensive uses and for good reason. I'm one of many who consider that too small. For home defense, I have a .45 with hollowpoints. In concealed carry, unless clothing prevents otherwise, I carry a .45 while traveling in areas I might need it, and 9 mm otherwise. 9 mm, compared to the .45, is smallish and the .32 acp, in comparison, has about half the power of the 9 mm. It's a 70 grain slug at about 850 fps. Not man stopper. Perhap's not even a man-slower, if they are high on drugs.

On the other hand, it's a small hideout pistol, meant to be quite the little surprise when you pull it out of your pocket holster or small bag. Draw, fire until the bad guy is distracted or down, and run like hell. Perfect for slipping in your pocket if you're running to the corner store. Or for deep cover concealment when nothing else is available.

One feature on the Tomcat (which I believe was adopted by Taurus) is the 'tip up' barrel. (meaning the barrel can be released to pivot on a pin under the muzzle).This feature allows a round to be inserted into the chamber directly, without manipulation of the slide. Likewise, the chamber can be easily inspected for its load status. Ammunition companies have also improved on the .32 acp load, by making it in 60 grain hollow-point. CorBon is making some serious kick-butt defensive ammo for the .32 acp. It's not .45 or 9 mm but it's a step up.

To load the pistol, insert a loaded magazine. Then, you can chose to rack the slide OR push a lever and tip the rear of the barrel up, exposing the chamber. You drop in a loaded round, push the barrel back into place, and the weapon is loaded. The slide never need be operated, and the hammer need not be cocked as a result. Since it's a double action pistol (like my trusty Sig), the shooter can just squeeze the trigger to fire. Also easy for people with weak hand/arm strength to load.

So what about accuracy? Don't expect a
whole lot, it has a very short barrel and small, all matte sights - notch in the rear and a blade up front with no dots to line up. But then again, not a real issue, the piece is meant for close range work where there won't be a lot of opportunity for aiming. But it's quite accurate for it's size, even with the little sights.

Ladies, you may find the DA trigger a bit heavy, though I prefer it to the .32 Kel-Tec's trigger pull. SA is fine. With the blowback, recoil is snappy for it's size, but more than manageable. If you have small hands, this works well. People with large hands may only get a couple fingers around the grip, and if you have larger hands like I, there's a chance of slide-bite. You can add a stock with a large palm swell as an alternative.

Another drawback, other then the firing power, The pistol lacks an extractor, relying upon the expanding gasses to force the spent casing rearward. This means that racking the slide will not remove either unspent or defective cartridges. This can lead to complications in a self defense situation, but is often balanced out by the tip-up barrel. There have also been some design issues, with reported frame cracking and failure to feed. This gun has not experienced it, and has been nothing but reliable.

By American standards, underpowered, though I'm sure many of you can relay stories of how it was quite lethal. In my opinion though, in self defense I prefer the 9 mm and most definitely the .45.

For me, if there's an imminent threat to my life, the .32 is one step above "Look. . a Squirrel!"

Yet there are times this gun might come in handy. Certainly, if I was a criminal, I'd give pause if I was looking at this, as opposed to no gun.

There are better concealed options, but if you have you mind on one of these as an ultra small concealed option there are others you might look at as well. Kel-tec is one. Compared to it, the Beretta is a bit large and thick. But I didn't like the Kel-tec near as well, for feel in my hand and looks alone. It felt like a little plastic squirt gun to me though a partner at work loves his Kel-tecs. On the other hand, it's light, it's thinner and their customer support is really good. If you're buying, try out both. Look and feel and comfort are important in any gun that may, on a given day, be a concealed piece for you.

But, for tiny pocket pistols, I'd stick with the Tomcat. It's better than an unkind word, and almost as easy to carry. It's so small and light it would be easy to lose it in a purse (it's less than 1 pound) so make sure you have a purse with a built in holster for stability and easy access (perhaps my readers could suggest one).  It's also  good for clothing that's snug as well. Keep it clean (it doesn't like lint) and lightly lubed, feed it some nice Silvertips, Gold Dots and Federal HS JHP's, house it in a nice pocket holster and you'll have a another friend for life.

I miss you Barkley.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Iron Roads Running

To me there is something almost soothing about old tools, old machinery. The feeling of history simultaneously impossibly far away and yet tantalizingly close. The scent of past use, dulled by generations of oil lamps, of echoing footsteps, hushed voices, tarnished brass fittings, of wood precious as carved ivory. This is the scent of history; comforting us by saying, one hundred years may have passed but what you were is still remembered. What you gave is still useful.

That is why you will find such things around the Range. There is a feeling of innate security in tools that were made to last. Cast iron, machined bronze, Brazilian rosewood, forged high carbon steel. When I hold them, use them, I still seeing the original owners life stamped into the tool, which cost a weeks pay in their time. A time when things were made to last, for a people that had faith in the future and the destiny of our country.

When I was a kid, log trains coming off the mountains would cut shadows across our property, dark forms that would slide over the wall above my bed, over the model boats and planes and trains my brother and I had built. And with the shadow came one of the first sounds of memory, the mournful wail of a train. In daytime, we'd ride our bides along the tracks, searching for diesel smoke in the air, throbbing engines, hoping for quick glimpse. When we did, it was glory, racing our bikes as if we could keep up with it, trailing as fast as we could pedal in wake of smoke that smelled of adventures we could only dream of, crickets sawing away in accompaniment in the summer day of childhood, slowly dying.

If we thought we could go all that way before sunset, and without getting caught, we'd ride as far as the local timber mill, which had multiple tracks running in. We'd sit, breathless as two trains would come in together, praying against a collision, only to have one veer off and stop, while a quarter mile of cars passed. I think of the missing man formation, in which a squadron of fighter planes performs a low pass, one separating and flying off to the heavens. A howling ballet, it's performers mighty machines. Both sights bring a lump to my throat.

We'd look for the engineer up in the engine, indistinct yet mighty, and we wondered who he is and what's in his heart as he holds the power in, his steady foot balancing on an engine that knocks and rumbles. We're not supposed to be her , this close to the tracks, this far from home, and we're going to be late for supper. But we know enough, having learned early on, that for something you love, for the ineffable feeling of rightness, of being exactly where you want to be, in tune with nature and yourself, accompanied by a trains whistle, there will be a price to pay, and it will be worth it.

Now, I'm grown and I'm free to wander the plains and the rails.

The last train trip was a short one when business took me up to Central Ohio and I made a trip on the Cuyahoga Valley train. There were other tourist things to do, yet this was a good day, a trek with a packed sandwich, sitting in a car generations older than I, restored to meticulous polish, watching the trees, the water and even an eagle nookery slide past. The line is run by volunteers, the cars kept up by donations, people who love the rails keeping it alive in a time where speed is of the essence and the old is often replaced by the new, not due to necessity but for the misguided notion that new is always better, that young is always the most desirable.

The extensive park it travels through runs clear down into Central Ohio, with glimpses of simple frame houses, bought at Sears Roebuck, generations ago, for the workers cutting the valleys through which the train passed. The train made stops where we could get off and visit where the trains are restored and maintained, walls of tools, lit by old lamps. Old shops in ancient buildings, the smell of wood and cast iron forever in the air.

Back on the train, the conductor gave us snippets of history over the loudspeakers; spoke of men cutting through the heavy hills of rock and the soil by hand with a brace of mules. (Abrasive Mules?) With the conductors words we could almost picture the mules and the men working, toiling in the cold and the heat and the abrupt change of seasons that is the Great Lakes, and it provided a frame to the landscape outside which was more suitable than the sleek, shiny cars we occasionally saw at the crossings. We could look out on the bare trees and picture those trees as new growth, leaves laid out like hands, gathering the rain and the wind that fueled their growth. We rolled past old buildings in which engine repairs had been made, are still made, the wind ripping the sound of our wheels onward and away, like scraps of paper on which history is written. That is history, the leavings and the shards, the remnants of people who toiled and dreamed and made something that for its day, rivaled any mode of transportation we have today.

One of the cars we saw dated back to 1918 and was used for carrying passengers in the time of WWI. What had it been like for those first people riding out on the trains that now rushed past us? I imagine myself as those people on the train, young men loading their simple gear and saying goodbye, heading towards a future that is ambiguous at best. I picture them boarding the train, in silence, commitment and perhaps fear, yet with a tremulous excitement for what they had accomplished to this day. What would have it been like for those first passengers, for those brave enough to make that first trip, for that moment of exultation when the cars pushed on up an incline constructed in sweat, blood and mud, the trains whistle throwing up an appeal, a defiant cry to the land, "I am this nations' future and I will be heard".

Today that rallying cry was but an echo so I leaned back my head against the seat, and closed my eyes, feeling the train through my bones, its song lulling me back to a day not long distant. I heard the tracks and the whistle, the sound of a eagles cry as it raced the wind behind. Then I didn't hear anything outside at all, only the rhythm of the wheels, rocking me gently, the scent of hard steel coming up out of the darkness, in the valley below, to quicken something in me as old as time.

The ride was over too soon, and time to head back. The long drive back home was mostly in silence, thinking of a simpler time, of sights and sounds of places we are blessed to know, of shiny trains buoyant in the sunlight, the whistle of the train winding through the misty valleys of our past.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Books and Big Mutts

As many of you already know, The Book of Barkley is the #1 Amazon Kindle Book in Pets and Family/Relationship genres and Number 8 in Paid Book sales. 

In the last 48 hours 8810 books were purchased or downloaded.

More books on order and I'm taking the night off to celebrate.

Thank all of you for your support, for his memory, for the many rescue groups we are helping with all of the sales proceeds.

If you've already read Barkley's book or want something a little more adventuresome -

  • Peter Grant's new book Stand Against the Storm, the 4th book in the Maxwell saga is out, I read it today and it's his best work yet.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Barkley Memories - When Computers Attack

Brigids Diary -Winter 2012

After living out of a suitcase the last few weeks both with and without Barkley, I was looking forward to a quiet weekend of sleep, making some French pastry and catching up with the blog world.

It felt good to be home, Barkley was more than ready for mischief (so much for the spare roll of T.P.)

Then I turned on my laptop.  It's been getting slower and slower the last few times I used it. So Friday night, when it kept knocking me off line, I took it over to the coffee shop and tried their wi fi. It worked great.  It's not the computer.

I called Brighthouse in the morning. I had been a customer of ComCast before I moved.  At ComCast the only way to get a real person to speak to was to select the menu option indicating you wanted to SUBSCRIBE to Comcast, not that you already had it, and you'd have someone on the line in seconds.  But for tech support, be prepared to hold for an hour or more.  IF you got someone, they were LESS than helpful.

Now I have Brighthouse.  I'll be honest, I didn't have high hopes.  I'd called them to pay the bill once, that works pretty well with a voice recognition help desk provided you don't get distracted.

"Thanks for calling Brighthouse Network."

"Are you calling from a phone associated with this account?"    "YES"

"In a few words tell me what you're calling about."    "MAKE A PAYMENT"

" What is the last four digits of your SSN?"  and more and more question, watch the clock tick, wishing your computer wasn't acting up.

"Do you wish to make the payment of. . . "     "Great Leaping Horny Toads Barkley, those are my NEW panties!"

"I don't understand what you are saying". 


"Thanks for calling Brighthouse Network."

So I didn't have high hopes for tech support. But someone answered! Within a couple of minutes.  A human who spoke with a Midwest Accent. I explained the issue and what I'd tried to troubleshoot.  They did some tests and sent out a well trained and polite technician within 2 hours. 

My modem was bad. I have the Internet now. Yes!!  I write, I surf, I comment, I bake layers of pastry with real butter, there's a shot of Jameson and a bubble bath and a big black dog happily asleep on my bed (OK, just for tonight)

Sunday dawns - No Internet.  I call again. They checked the signal, which was fine, and asked "do you have McAfee".  This doesn't sound good.  Apparently McAfee had a problem with a recent update.  It's not allowing Internet access.  Brighthouse was just notified.  "Here's their support number to call, they'll walk you through a uninstall and reinstall."

I call,  I'm on hold.  For an hour and 30 minutes.  Music is playing that I can only describe as Japanese Monster Film Musical Score.  Plus it's the same song as well, over and over and over. I start going through the give stages of Internet use.

Denial - I know that if I click on send really fast at least 37 more times it WILL work.

Anger -  If I see that little puke with the #%@# Geek Squad shirt that sold me this. . .

Depression -  Everyone else is on line but me (have big sad-eye stare down with black lab).

Bargaining - Lord - give me back my Internet access and I'll take back that prayer about a large meteorite and a certain member of Congress.

Acceptance  -   I'm beginning to LIKE this music. 

I don't need them. I can uninstall.  OK, I can uninstall after I call EJ to ask how to do it, bribing him with the mental image of baking croissants.

We're uninstalled, internet access is restored.

But I didn't reinstall.  Not McAfee anyway.

Instead I picked another anti virus program  a friend recommended and downloaded it.  I don't care that I already paid for McAfee, never hearing that music again will be worth it.

Now for that French Pastry.