Thursday, November 26, 2015

Strays - A Story of Giving Thanks

From Saving Grace - A Story of Adoption by LB Johnson

I have some very close friends that have a half dozen cats at their country home, all of which I believe, were dumped out there by the unfeeling .  All were found cold and extremely hungry. It's good to see them now, well fed, happy and cared for as indoor cats in a spacious country home with a huge basement for them to explore. I remember evenings with my old black lab Barkley up on the couch, surrounded by the original four cats, their purr of content as they lay on top of the couch or next to him, drawing on the warmth of his big furry body, suffering the occasional snoot with a clawless and gentle swat to his nose.

These cats are family, but still, I am a dog person, even as I have a soft spot for any animal that is homeless or mistreated.  Walking through my neighborhood with Abby, our new rescue dog, yesterday, I saw a cat, arrested within the eyes of that dog, pulled up high in the apostrophe of fear as he held poised for fight or flight.  I pulled Abby gently away, as she had cats at her foster Mom's house and we weren't in for a rumble. But I didn't want Abby to get a clawed nose for her curiosity.  The cat's coat was in good condition as far as I could tell,  but it was a thin, likely a stray. I was going to see where it went, where it might have a home, but  it was gone in a flash before I could check on its well being. I'd seen her before, always hanging around the same spot in the fence, where she likely had found a safe place to sleep.
We see them on the streets, in shelters, the fortunate ones collected by rescue groups, the unfortunate--the look in their eyes, heartrending.

But animals aren't the only "strays" we see, people fall into that same category.  I'm not talking homeless, necessarily, but those people that by circumstance or transplant find themselves in a new city, for a new job, or a fresh start, where they don't know anyone, or are stranded somewhere while traveling for a day or days, due to weather and fate.

I found myself in that circumstance the first year I was in Indiana.  I'd only been on the job a few weeks, not enough time to make any friends. I'd  moved here from back east, too far to visit any old friends after the cost of the move. My parents were in San Diego at my Step Aunt's condo, where they spent every Thanksgiving and Christmas after my Mom died and my dad remarried two years later, to a widow with three adult kids.  I wasn't invited-- the place not being big enough for the whole blended family.  Dad felt badly I'd be alone, but he wanted his wife to be happy, her time with her sister, growing short, the rest of her siblings gone. I understood that, and would visit them for a belated Christmas at home on their return, but it still made the holiday lonely.
I remember walking out to my little VW Jetta from my workplace the night before Thanksgiving that first year there, as the sky spat cold rain, and felt a tear on my face. I'm not sure why, as a professional pilot in my younger days, I'd spent many a holiday alone, on call or in a hotel.  Years, later, holidays were busy times at work.  But that night it sort of got to me-- I really had no place to go but home to Barkley and a sandwich, my kitchen torn up for remodeling. I was hoping someone would remember that I had no family near, and would turn around, pulling back into the parking lot to ask me to join them for dinner the next day. As I walked to the car, I got a gleam out of the corner of my eye in the darkness, a movement and I smiled thinking someone remembered me and was turning back with an invitation. But it was nothing more than an illusion, that faint glimpse of reflection imagined there as you gaze into the depths of a wishing well, only to find cold stillness.

There was no car, just a flash of light reflected off a nearby rode, and  it brought back every moment as a child, those moments we have all had, when we feared we just didn't fit in, that we didn't belong..
I was always the one inviting the new kid to play with us, befriending the nerdy and the odd.  Perhaps it was because I viewed myself that way. So when  I was a very young flight instructor, living out of a suitcase with no roots, I decided to continue that tradition and  share my table with others like me. With most of us on call to give an "introductory flight" to a prospective student, hoping to earn some dollars to pay next quarters tuition, or too broke to fly home commercially, many of us had no place to go on Thanksgiving day. So I hung a flier up on the instructors bulletin board at my airport, for any errant corporate pilot in the area or my coworkers. An invite to come over to my little place for Thanksgiving dinner.
I'd not say I was "friends" with all these guys from the perspective that we would continue to hang out together when we finished college, going off to fly for the military or the airlines.  These were simply people I'd spent hours in the cockpit with getting my various instructor ratings occasionally getting the &*#@ scared out of us, absorbing the wonderful colors and shapes and shadows of the sky, making temporary homes in a series of small apartments with multiple roommates, cramming as much as possible into the rare 24 hours we actually were off.  So yes, we were family, if only related by adventure and empty pockets. And for that, I could think of no better reason than to peel thirty pounds of potatoes, bake five pies, and to to bat my big green eyes at the butcher to talk him out of that extra ham at half off.

Yes, thirty pounds of potatoes, for although I expected RSVP's from about six people, I ended up with twenty-seven people, pilots I worked with, a couple of our mechanics, and a few corporate pilots that used our facility and stayed at the local hotel while their passengers enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and they got free Cable. They arrived with drinks and chips and  thankfully, some extra rolls and a couple of  pies from the Safeway store.

It was a wonderful evening, with massive quantities of food eaten, countless stories told and much laughter, eating until we couldn't eat any more. There was something starry in the kitchen that night, where I learned as much about my ability to organize and create as I did about the essential bond that a meal around the table creates, even if it's a bunch of card tables shoved together with white bleached sheets over them.
Did it mean that we all got along perfectly after that night? No, for there were still those days that intruded darkly on hours normally full of light. Those long close quartered days where we plowed through thick dark clouds to reach ice covered firmament, cursing the weather and long lines for takeoff. Days where the alarm clock snatched us violently out of wrung out sleep, sweeping us all back into the thrall, impotent for days against returning to home, knowing that instead of getting a nap afterwards, most of most of us would be heading off to night classes.  As much fun as flying could be, after a few months of such a schedule, even the best of us got a little self absorbed. Add  in constant travel, books and study hall, and it was a life of scattered adrenalin, little sleep and scant time for real relationships. Just like life for many of us now, with families and jobs and pets and demands.

But that night, if only for a few hours, we had that bond of family and food, warmth and safety. It was that moment when chance aligns with time, whose only foe is death, and together, death's darkness seems so very far away.
You see them at any airport, that frazzled traveler that just missed the last flight, that young person sleeping on the floor after their flight cancelled, without  the means to secure a hotel room. I've offered a hot coffee and a sandwich with a smile to more than one soldier or college student I saw stranded at the airport. Because I have been that young person with rumbling stomach, surrounded by strangers, wanting only to be home.

I had a flight between two Midwest cities a few years back after I'd picked up a couple of days work as a contract corporate pilot  The city whee I was flying wasn't home but it was near where I was spending Thanksgiving with friends when I got the call to cover for a pilot out sick, for a company I'd done some contract work before.  Easy money and the holiday was about over anyway.

The sky was cold and cloudy as I waited for my return light, to be followed by a long drive home, but there was no precipitation  All of a sudden, our flight was cancelled, with no reason given, but we were only told we'd be on another flight real soon. I didn't see any mechanics at the plane, and the flight crew was all there, so I called Flight Service, for the aviation weather, giving them the N number of the plane I'd just flown in, the previous night.  There was severe icing aloft, unusual to be so widespread, but deadly. No one, big or small,  was going to be flying out of that airport, and likely for the rest of the day.
At this point, we were standing in line to be re-booked, the word not having gotten to the gate that he airport would essentially be shutting down flights.  There was a well dressed gentlemen behind me.. We had chatted a bit and it turned out his wife worked at the same bank one of the folks I had spent the holiday with worked at.. I quietly told him about the weather and explained that NO ONE was going to be flying, and I was going to get a rental car now, as the flight was just a "hop" and getting home back to where my car was parked was just a three and a half hour drive. A couple other people overheard.  I said "do you want to go with me?"  With a quiet nod, four of us snuck out of the line.  For it only takes word that the last flights are cancelling to start a disturbed hum in the customer service line, like bees, before they move in an agitated swarm to the rental car counters, with stinging glances to the Priority Customers, the worker bees hoping for one solitary KIA to be left.  I wanted to get out before THAT happened.

The weather out of the clouds was great, just a little snow and we made the trip in four hours, everyone calling their spouses or friends that they would be a bit late, and whether they needed a ride from the airport.. On the drive, we were strangers and we weren't.  We talked of holiday plans, and kids and vacations when it got warm.  There were bad puns, and WAY too many references to the "Trains Planes and Automobiles" movie--something only folks that saw that movie would appreciate. "You're Going the Wrong Way!" one of us exclaimed and the whole car erupted in laughter like we were a bunch of grade school kids, the cool kid--"Those Aren't Pillows!"-- as we laughed again, just having fun, with no fears of rejection or hurt or loss.
With a stop for sandwiches at one of the toll plazas, we soon made it, only to find the terminal pretty much deserted, most of the flights coming from north or east also cancelled inbound.  They thanked me for making that call and offering to pay for the rental car. I had let them pay for gas, and that's all I wanted.

We said our goodbyes and walked away towards home. The sun, who's brilliant form dwarfs us all into the smallest of particles upon the earth as we are held within it's glare, was hidden behind the steeled gray of cloud cover. With it's brightness now captured behind a stratified door, the night fell upon us as we walked to our cars, it was as if we were all just shadows, covered with a fine, soft scattering of night, falling like ash.

I never saw any of them again.
Thanksgiving for me that year was one of those "sandwich days", not for lack of an invite with friends, but personal and work related.  Still, it gave me time to think and reflect, something that is as important as giving thanks.  The human heart is is large enough to contain the entire world, and it's small enough to be felled by just one being, yet it is valiant enough to to bear all burdens, when you realize you are not alone.

As the phone rang with the cherished voice of my husband, letting me know he had reached his destination safely,  I realized I had much to be thankful for. Even in an empty house there was a gentle doggie snore of an adopted friend until the clock struck the duty hour and I gathered a black bag and gear in case the phone rang in the middle of the night. But before that occurred, there was something I needed to do.  With a quick warm  hand pressed for a moment on top of a cold square box in which my furry best friend lay, I left the house and walked to a little store a block away, a can opener and a little plastic bowl in my pocket. I got some cat food, and put it out in a bowl along a solitary fence.

For everyone, at one time, is a stray.

Saving Grace can be ordered today from Amazon at the following address and the Kindle is just 99 cents for the holidays - all proceeds go to Animal Rescue

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Great Balls of . . . . . Pancake Batter?

There's nothing that says "easy dinner before I wrestle the giant turkey while Jim waits in the safety of the jeep" like balls of dough covered in lingonberry jam and powdered sugar. I had a really long day with work,  Chicago traffic and roads closed with protests.  So it's going to be a short night, of just getting the dishes done, an episode of Top Gear and to bed. . . but for your evening's drooling pleasure, I leave you with  Aebleskiver .  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Flight Plans

Flight Plans - A Chapter From Saving Grace - A Story of Adoption (Outskirts Press May 2015)

In aviation, pilots often file what is known as a “fight plan.” A flight plan is the route one is going to fly and at what altitude, how much fuel you have, how many people are on board, expected time of arrival (so someone can look for you if you are late), etc.

One item that goes on the flight plan if the weather is forecast to absolute crud (that's a precise meteorological term you usually don't hear on the weather channel), is an alternate airport. Because in flying, like anything in life, things often don’t go as planned.

It was going to be one of those days. I was supposed to fly out on an airline and visit my daughter Rebecca and her husband, when a winter storm closed down her airport. I had the time off and the tickets, but now I was stuck at home on my days off. The weather out in the Rockies was fickle, the late spring wedding they had earlier in the year starting with ten inches of snow.

If you really think about it, most things go that way. 

How many times have you planned a flight, a vacation, or a night out, and someone gets sick, the weather turns bad, or you made the mistake of using a cut-rate travel site and your luxury beach romp for $199 per person turned into the Alabama Chain Gang Holiday? How many times did you get that cranky crew chief that didn't like either pilots or prolonged eye contact? (If you do, don't blink, don't ever blink.)

How many times did life sometimes mark you, pulling away bits of flesh or even a heart without a suture to mark it closed so it will heal, nothing left but the fading whisper of guns and the descending of flags?

Some folks can't handle change, expecting that life will go a certain way, and by God, it had better---and they don't really do well when it doesn’t. I was in a CVS and witnessed a guy chew out the clerk as he bought his four pizzas, three boxes of cigarettes, and half gallon of Tequila with an almost hysterical "By God, you don't have any more of the breakfast sandwiches with sausage, and what the hell am I going to eat?!”
My dad is not that type, instead letting things roll off of him like water---perhaps why he survived adopting and raising two redheads when he was already middle-aged. 

Dad has always been active in the community and the church, as well as his local Chapter of the Lions Club. One thing he was particularly proud of was the Chapter’s newspaper recycling fund-raising program. It provided income for community and scholarship programs---but not without a lot of hard volunteer work. The shining marker of that program was a newspaper recycling facility  built to further expand on that community project. The members constructed it themselves: husbands and fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers, laboring in cold and rain, heat and sun, often at the expense of their own sleep. In November 2000, newly constructed, vandals burned it to the ground.

There was nothing left but a few support timbers, lined up in stark order like gravestones at a military service. The men, Dad included, simply stood there stunned as water dripped from the remains, strips of clouds like bayonets against the sky. A lot of work went into the recycling center, all done by volunteers and many of them WWII vets in their seventies. You would have expected my dad to storm and rage against a senseless act of destruction. But he didn't, though I was not so naive that I didn't miss the simmering outrage within which lives a betrayal too intense and inert to ever be articulated.

On the flip side, I remember Mom's funeral.  I was pretty young, not a child but still wet behind the ears, and I was trying to help Dad as much as I could. He realized before the service that he needed a haircut, his not having paid any attention to that sort of thing the last few months of her life. I offered to help. I got out the clippers, turned them on and made my first path through his hair (though bald on top, he had some fine red hair on the sides). Uh-oh. Apparently you're supposed to put a guard on there to get it the right length. I'd shaved him clear down to the scalp.
Other than shaving his favorite football team’s name on his head, there was nothing to do but shave it all. He went to Mom's service looking like Mr. Clean. No one dared say anything. But you know, Dad hugged me, made some great jokes about it, and held his head up high as he said goodbye to his first great love.

It made it easier a few years later when, in support of a girlfriend diagnosed with breast cancer, a couple of us shaved our heads in support. Only she ended up with a lumpectomy and just radiation, kept her hair, and we looked like Goth biker chicks for several months.

But I was OK, because I learned from Dad that whatever bad things may happen to us, there is only one thing that allows them to permanently damage our core self---and that is continued belief in them. You may cry, you may make that sound that is simple agony; but it is not the sound of relinquishment or acceptance, even if to the ear they are the same.
It's your choice. You can go through your days with intractable and unceasing conviction of the inherent instinctive duplicity of all men, including yourself. Or you can give folks around you the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise. That doesn't mean you assume man is never evil, for indeed he can be; and you may find that out in a moment that's like the false dawn between dark and light, when only God's winged and four-legged creatures know and sound the alarm which you may not hear.  For those moments you are prepared.

But in your day-to-day activities with friends, colleagues, and neighbors, practice patience and trust. When things don't go as planned or someone does something with the best of intentions you'd rather they didn't, simply smile and help them fix it---or ignore it and move on. When someone betrays you, forgive (but never forget the bastard's name).
It's simply a matter of perspective. When you have a fight, a failure, or a Charlie Foxtrot on our hands---as you may when human will, machinery, or Mother Nature are involved---you can shake your fist and cry your tears until you drown in them. Or you can dry your eyes, pick up the pieces, and make something of value with what's left. You may even find that what you thought you wanted was not what you needed, finding a happiness you never expected by the loss of what you did. For what some people think will make them happy---no challenges, no bends in the road, only expected behaviors and outcomes---is for others something else. For those such people, the predicable and easy is but an old, flat habituation for which no effort is made to move beyond it; until they are so used to that life that they fail to smell and taste it.

My day did not go as planned; my weekend did not go as planned; the chance to travel to see my child now gone. I could simply say that I shoveled a boatload of snow and slept alone. And that would be true, but it is not---because my time was what I made of it, not what was taken from it.
It was warm sheets going on smooth and taut with the remembered motion of hands. It was pastry formed and rolled and layered with fresh butter and remembered motion. It was playtime with a puppy. It was time to remember, to say thanks as I looked down upon the creeping ridge of snow and ice before my shovel. NOT with anger but with astonishment for the divine snowy brightness that for just this moment forgave an imperfect landscape its transgressions.

It was one phone call that made me look at the whole world a bit differently. Because for the first time since Allen and I had bonded as children, on this day when I heard a voice that sounded exactly like mine, I felt like I belonged.

There would be other phone calls from her, plans to meet sometime in the coming year. Outside the birds twittered with happiness, having found the bird seed strewn out across the dry, clear ground. The snow had ended, the light growing bright, graduating from gray to rose to the sky's ultimate sapphire. I wrapped a warm blanket of gold about me, looking out onto the mist of frozen water as I savored the myriad waking sounds of life.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

After a Storm

The first winter storm of the season.

It comes with a lofty and powerful sigh. Like death and taxes, you are not exempt.  Depending on where you live, it may or may not include snow, but winter WILL arrive, not with a whimper, but a howl.

It's usually preceded by a trumpet of doom from the weather channels.  Is it just me -  or does it seem like the last couple of years the online Weather Channel is a constant heralding of disaster that half the time are not near as bad as what they portent -  interspersed by lots of articles and photos of big scary bugs and sharks?  I have to hunt to find an actual usable weather map on there, laid in among all the videos of "You Can't Believe She Did THIS".
Give me an old fashioned weather map, with more isobars and less arachnids please.  Sometimes the weather is boring - and dressing it up with doom and gloom might be good for the ratings.  But it does the unwary no good when an unreality is made a possibility, a probability, then a matter of fact, for no other reason than fear becoming words.

But one does need to stay forewarned.  On Friday, while teleworking, I made a lunch trip to the grocers for perishables found the aisles clogged, not by the young, but by the middle aged and seniors, buying extra bread and milk and water, perhaps some firewood.  I don't think it was so much they were retired and off work, but they've seen a city come to a halt in a fierce storm, when having the latest Apple toy and an awesome haircut is not going to keep you safe or warm.

As I drove towards home, I could read all the markers in the sky, too many years as a pilot to be unaware of the changes in the atmosphere even as the sun still shines.  How many days have I spent in a cockpit looking at a sky that's coming at me at 400 mph, held under its spell, rooted in mute attention, waiting for the wind to drive a wedge between me and where I wanted to be.
Some storms you just stayed the heck away from. Others rose without forecast, especially across the Atlantic. You might get a heads up in a monotone voice on the radio that warns of "intense precipitation" in a tone that could just as easily be saying "We're going to have to break that bone again".  Other times it was simply "surprise!" as the sky became an angry mob of clouds.

In those moments, the heavens could go from clear to a seemingly instant towering outburst of fury, as if all of the air had turned on you in confrontation, the tenuousness earth only a memory behind you.  In what seemed like just minutes, your craft would go from  a powerful machine - a defender against the elements -  to a living being thrown to an angry crowd, struck by blows, flung down, pummeled and kicked.  As we scrambled out from under the melee with a pilot's instinct that is thought, intent and training - there was more than once I thought "I could have been a CPA!"

Yet, putting the engine covers on, the ground firmly beneath my feet, feeling as though I'd been in a paint shaker, the world around me took on a view I'd not see if I was in an office all day.  Every sense heightened, there is this gnawing sense of oneness with the world, of order, of peace.
So I still look at the sky with a pilot's eyes, even if all I have to worry about is getting stuck waiting on a train between the store and home.  As the signals come down, there is no worry, no time schedule, only the wind that hits the truck broadside, rocking it ever so gently, as if a child's cradle. Now and then the sun peaks out, glinting beyond things in swooping shafts that set fire to the tracks before being doused in cold shadow again.

At home, the house is readied.  There's deicing salt by the back steps in a large bucket, shovels for both front and back porch. The flashlights are set out in easy reach, the beeswax candles available in each room, an extra blanket out for the bed, should the power go out. Then, lastly, the truck is moved to be just outside the back door.  It will end up covered in snow, but the garage is far behind the house, an ocean of cold darkness I don't wish to tread in the dark, out of sight and sound of any neighbor, should I fall.  My husband is on the road this night, it's just the dog and I, as we wait until the wind taps at the door like an unwanted peddler.
As night descends and the snow begins to fall, the sounds around me change. I can't hear it within the house, but from the porch, as I let Abby down the steps for a last pit stop, a busy street a block away goes almost silent. What few cars are still out, are enveloped by the  snow, the screech of engine and tires muted to a few ponderous thumps as they drive over and past some construction areas.

The whole landscape, now covered in the first couple inches of flakes, has a patina to it, like an old wall that has been plastered by hand.  The trees are bare but for a brace of foliage that's clinging on with a death grip, screaming into the wind without words, plucked with a cold hand that tosses their cries to the ground like colorful scraps of paper.

I look up before bringing Abby back in. The sky is bright, as if illuminated from beyond, another light seen through this starry night, a night of wonders and far away mysteries revealed for just a moment as the clouds break, a low crevice in the glittering ice cold that is space - a place where the earth is just one tiny fallen leaf whose cries only God can hear.
I can't help but think that I'm in some sort of cosmic snow globe and as the porch shudders slightly in the wind, I wonder if  heaven has tilted the earth just a little to watch the flakes swirl around the lone form of one of its humble creations.  I wonder if my brother can look down through that tiny fissure in heaven and see me down here, wearing his coat, pulling it around me for warmth that is beyond fabric or insulation.

I squeeze the salt out of my eyes as the light disappears. For just a moment, there is no snow, no wind at all.  A lull has come, the holding of a stormy breath, and I knew I had better get in the house now, the door a begger's prayer against the incoming cold and wind.

Back inside, stomping snow off my boots onto the entryway rug, the warmth wraps around me even as the wind outside begins to howl.  I hear a voice outside the window. neighbors arriving home, the bark of a dog as it's released, then the shouts as it's called back in from the yard, shreds and remnants of tattered shouting, snatched past the ear - then silence.

There will be no further sounds from outside tonight, but for the swoosh of a snowplow, the mournful cry of an ambulance far away.  From inside, only the tick of a clock.  Silence is natural to me, in warmth and in deep cold.  I will sit with a small glass of amber liquid, the dog curled up in her bed, waiting for the phone to ring, for that voice that is not noise, not a distraction - but rather the penetrating effect of quietness in the enormous din of noises, a small bit of peace beyond the dark ruins of the squall.

The first winter storm.  By morning, the temperatures will be down in the single digits, the back steps cleared again, then subdued with salt.  The breath catches in my throat as I take that first deep gulp before letting Abby out in the back yard at first light.   Like after a big rain, what I breathe in is fresh, that metallic crisp taste of brittle air, the crust where the snow has frozen whispering to me with the slow respiration of our movement, a faint crackle like something coming to life.

I call out to Abby, to come back in the house, my voice simply coiling out of the cold with a sharp recoil that hangs in the cold like an echo.
Sound is returning to the village - the hum of a snow blower, the scrape of a blade against a window, the excited shouts of children a few doors down. The shadows on the snow appear as if laid there by a stencil,  the trees draping over them with their burden of white. From a distance the bells calling the faithful to mass, a long pull of sound dying away behind the trees, as if it were echoing through another morning, another season, where part of you will always linger.

Last night in emails I had the gentle comments from friends down south, teasing me as to their warm temperatures, their lack of snow.  But looking out at the Sunday morning landscape, washed clean in white, the joyful shouts of the innocent in the air, I would not trade this for any spot of warm beach. Here in this thin, eager air, after the storm has passed, every breath is felt, every touch of warmth is savored.  I understand, even in the cold, how lucky I am to be alive today, as I turn towards the bells, walking towards Grace under a gentle shawl of snow.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Fixin's

I teleworked today, and adjusted my lunch to run some errands before the sun went away and the snow hit (I can take up to an hour and a half lunch, I just have to add the extra work time so I get in a full 8 hours.)  I stopped at a Polish deli and butcher that's only a village or so away, got the truck cleaned up, then headed on back towards home.
With the sun out, a storm pending and Thanksgiving coming up it was crazy out there.  I was tempted to just park the bat truck and "assume the position".

But no, I needed to hurry on home so I could . . . . wait for another train.
It wasn't long until the clouds were bunching up and the temperature had dropped to the low 40's.  It's a good night for comfort food. 

This is a little different than the ultra creamy mac and cheese many of you know and love.  Made with either a warm or cold custard (I've done it both ways) with eggs, and made with a mild mixture of American and Cheddar, it bakes into a creamy casserole you cut into squares. The traditional southern Mac and Cheese is made with Velveeta, but we prefer ours  with American, sliced fresh at my grocers deli.  It's very good hot or cold and reminds me of meals from childhood.
Of course, the ones from childhood weren't covered in bacon, but hey, it's my kitchen.

And there WILL be dessert.

Mini pistachio cream pies

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Fighting Irish - A Review of the Kahr PM40

There are few times I don't carry (I'll take my chances in the shower, I could always clobber them with the Irish Spring if the CIA knife doesn't cut it ). But then again, some might say a part polymer gun belongs in the shower.  Gun on a Rope?

But I carry most anywhere else. Certainly there are weapons I carry when where I'm going warrants some heavy iron, and then there are the "back up gun" days. Days I'm comfortable with something smaller, lighter, that will conceal a little easier. A gun that's reliable, accurate and will preferably chamber a duty-caliber round. I love my Sig and Smith and Wessons but I was wanting something a little bigger in caliber than the .380, while still remaining decently concealable. Something for the "Fighting Irish" in me that's also made in the USA.

Enter the Kahr PM40. It's ultra-compact without being wimpy, double action only (DAO), chambered in .40 S&W. For a long time my BUG was a S&W J Frame, (Speer GDHP 135gr +p) but when one of my range buddies brought one to the conservation club,  I had to try it, and liked it well enough to add to the "want to buy" list, though the S & W will always have first place in my heart. At the Gun Show this weekend I saw one for sale at an excellent price and picked it up.

When the first Kahr pistols appeared on the market in 1994 they were constructed entirely of carbon steel. The Kahr models such as the K9 were praised as being well-made and solidly constructed, but criticized for their excessive weight. Excess weight is a disadvantage in any weapon intended for concealed carry. Kahr took this in mind in refining the line, introducing pistols which were physically smaller, as well as a line of polymer framed models. The PM series combined both these approaches, introducing polymer framed pistols that were also the smallest Kahr models ever produced

They come finished in a blackened matte that almost borders on satin like the one above, (my buddy's piece) or like the one  I bought,  stainless and black polymer. Both are guns that aren't going to show up in an "ugly gun" blog post nor will you have to shoot them from a brown paper bag out of embarrassment.  With the many stainless components corrosion or pitting on warm, sweaty days won't be too much of a problem. It does sport a somewhat heavy spring so when you rack the slide you will need to grip it and rip it.

With an empty magazine it's only about 17 ounces and is less than an inch thick. It shoots a lot like a Glock 27 but it’s even smaller and thinner. I put a S&W 642 on top for a size comparison and the PM40 is smaller than the J frame, (and thinner when you take the cylinder and grips on the J frame into consideration).

Caliber? It’s a 40 S&W! Of course, there will be lots of debate as to what is the best ammo for it, though the Federal HST in .40 is quite the potent round, solid in a compact gun.

Is this a fun gun to shoot? Well, it put holes where I wanted. That in and of itself is fun anytime, but I'd have to say it's not for use all afternoon long  as a target gun. Give me my Sig or the 1911 or some plinking fun with the Mark III for that, but it's fun enough to keep proficient  for "just in case".

There is no external safety, the gun relying rather on that long trigger pull (think revolver). In an adrenalin situation, like defense shooting or dating, the fine motor skills are the first thing to go. Simplified controls are a positive attribute in my opinion and contribute to a desirable package for concealment use.

The trigger pull, though long, is buttery smooth without being insubstantially light, but that's what you want in a DAO "No Safety" firearm. What about recoil?  A little more than I imagined but quite manageable, if you're not going to shoot 100 rounds at a time through it. It's a light pistol with a high pressure cartridge, you're going to have recoil.

But the Kahr ergonomics are excellent and it's quite controllable. I'd say it was closest to the .38 special J-frame with heavy +P loads. If you're going to fire off a whole box of ammo, the web of your hand is going to smart. But that's not why I have it. It's lightweight, it's powerful, and it's small. It is also a gun you will want to practice with. Like the .45 caliber variant it can have some gun handling challenges in rapid fire due to the heavier recoil and resulting muzzle rise, the same as about any small and light large bore pistol. Not an issue for an experienced shooter who practices.

Size Matters. About 5 and a half inches long and 4 inches high, it will fit under most of my shirts without obvious bulk. Kahr has done a bang up job in making a weapon that will fit perfectly in my delicate but "large for a female" hand. If you've got really large hands, this might not work, but this is for concealed right? Small concealed. If you have Shrek sized hands and want something that fits it perfectly you'd best look at a full-framed pistol. It's solid, and if you need to point it at someone, the look of it alone will get their attention more than that slim little Kel Tec.

The compact size of this piece makes it an excellent choice for carrying. It comes with two stainless magazines, one 5 rounder that is flush with the mag well (pictured above)and one 6 rounder that sticks out below the mag well with a place for your pinky to grip (the last picture on this post).

But if you try it and the grip just isn't going to work, even considering why you are carrying it, you might look elsewhere. This is not a gun you can mess around with your grip with. "Firm and relaxed" need not apply. You need to grip this gun like a snake with PMS. Hold On. After your first shot, when you realize that the recoil you expect is much more pleasant than something light weight in the .44 Magnum category (ow, ow ow) you might be inclined to smile and relax just a little. Don't. Hold on tight. You'll be surprised how well you can shoot right off the bat with a firm grip. It's also quite accurate, with a firm hand.

The first one I shot straight out of the box was the piece one of the guys at the club had. The target below was my first time with it, and my very first magazine at about 30 feet. I bent my support hand a little more on the next round, but I was pleased. My buddies didn't snicker at me either.

The only problem encountered was shooting one that was brand new. When a loaded mag was placed in the weapon and the slide was pulled manually back and let go, it did not go all the way into battery. The fix?  Go from slide locked back position and use the thumb release to chamber a round, and there you go. This may have been a one time, being new thing, as after a few rounds through it it worked great, no misfeeds, misfires or jams. The manufacturer states that the gun is not to be considered to be reliable (aka broken in) until at least 250 rounds have been run through it.  I'd likely agree.

The sights? Bar-dot like my Sig. Easier to pick up than 3 dot in my opinion.

My only complaint is that slide release. The pistol is so small, and the release so sharp, I ended up away with painful gouges on my shooting hand thumb until I adjusted my grip a bit away from the frame. I don't know if it's enough that I'd want to take a file to those edges though. There's no getting around it, the slide release lever is SHARP from the factory.  It would be nice if they came out with one that was dehorned, but apparently in keeping the cost down, that item was left as is.

As for price, well they are a tad expensive compared to some firearms in .380 and even .40, but still reasonable compared to other pieces of the same quality. They run between $660 and $700 for the full stainless one depending on where you get it and around $580 for the stainless/polymere one.That's a lot of cash in today's economy for a back up gun.  But you are paying for life long quality and although quite a few have been sold in the local gun stores you don't see them often among used guns.

All in all, it's a super small, light, high quality, big caliber pistol that you can depend on. There are other guns out there in that category but this is one that I like. An excellent piece. . . . to keep up the good fight..

Monday, November 16, 2015

Range Nuts

Monday's always crazy busy, so for night a very easy recipe to think about making for the holidays. 

Better than Beer Nuts. I make a big batch of these each holiday season to take with me to share with the team, everyone getting their own little baggie full.  It's a favorite of both the carnivores and herbivores and has a great blend of HOT and sweet.  The original recipe called for about 1/3 cup of butter.  To reduce the fat I left that out and they were still really good.

  • 2 organic egg whites
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup coconut or brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt (this really does add a unique flavor but you can use plain salt)
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 and 1/2 cups raw almonds (I toast them for a few minutes in the oven at 350 F for about 10 minutes, then cool, to make them extra crunchy)
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. and grease a large baking sheet with sides  with butter and set it aside. 

In a large mixing bowl whisk the eggs, water, and a pinch of the salt until foamy (just shy of where it starts peaking).

Mix remaining salt, sugar and cayenne in a small bowl.

Add the cooled almonds and stir until moistened.  Add the sugar and spice mixture and stir until all the almonds are coated.

Arrange in single layer on pan and bake for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes.  Set the baking pan on a wire rack to cool.  Keep in an airtight container. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Names - A Chapter

Something I posted today on The Book of Barkley blog but thought I'd share here - a chapter from my last book with some photos of Abby Normal the Labrador you've not seen.

Names  - From Saving Grace - A Story of Adoption by LB Johnson (Outskirts Press 2015)

As adults we name our pets to make them members of the family. God called life from the fluid chaos of creation by calling its name. We call home our own loved ones with a name, yelled across the back porch into seeping twilight. Time to come in, time to come home. We outlive them, then raise our toasts to them, the red hot Pentecostal peat that echoes from a shot glass, a wafer taste of smoke against the tongue, drops of amber liquid on the table like tears.

There are some living things that define classification, and thus defy being named. Protists—groups of living things comprising those living things which are neither animal, plant, nor fungi. Protists—the scientist’s way of saying “none of the above.” One of them is algae. Bones are affected under the earth by algae, fungi, and bacteria. Under a microscope the traces of damage due to fungi or algae appear as horizontal or vertical channels. These channels sometimes converge on one another to form large flat or tufted forms, causing the entire bone to disintegrate—in some rare cases destroying all one might have left to identify someone by name.
Sometimes all that is left to be buried are a few teeth, a piece of bone. But it is at least something to be placed in the ground with a name. Something for remembrance, for closure. On my long drive into the city I see the occasional cross by the road, with simply a name and perhaps a few flowers. How important these undistinguished little memorials. Every death is a memory that ends here, yet continues on. Enduring, for there is not one of us who can affirm that there must be a web of muscle and bone to hold the conformation of love. It’s there in dust and sky and new life. It’s there in the shadow of a half moon, quivering in the sky like a heel print in wet sand, a large piece of rock that man has named but few would walk. It’s there within us, in that place that resists narrative, deep within, waiting.
So what is in a name? It is memory; something that is not simply particular, it is also tutelary, foretelling. In the end it is as reliable as we are, as strong as our word. The names and facts of my life by themselves are insignificant. But what our names represent is history, a life. When I look at the name of someone I loved on a gravestone I do not see stone, I do not see letters. I see remembrance, and that is what we keep on living for. A simple name brings back memories, like a plunge underwater in a swift stream; an airplane baffled and bounced in a fierce  wind; a stillness and persistence of going forward alone.

I trace the outline of a name, and I know how that name made me feel. And that is not insignificant. I hear my name across hundreds of electronic miles of science, breathed into a phone late at night, and I know the warm rush of healing that comes with that one word.

For earth without form is void, but heaven without names is only blackness.