Wednesday, May 27, 2015

If John Wayne Were Here Today

Today is John Wayne's Birthday.  If he were still living he would be 108.  So much of the world moved on and changed in the years he was with us. So many things have changed since he left.  I wonder today, how he would view the world, if he were here today, to view it through our eyes.

Some years back, I lived in an area that wasn't quite rural, and wasn't quite subdivision either.   I  had a big fenced yard for Barkley but also had former neighbors that did not fence their property and had two small dogs, both wearing those little collars that would warn them of their property lines, lest they get a small shock.  My regular readers will remember my telling of this little story of  that lack of fence and those two dogs, but it holds true so true, especially in the context of what is on my mind this morning. 

The lots our houses sat on ran from a third of an acre up to an acre but the smaller places were normally fenced. The neighborhood backed up against a broad expense of woods on one side, the bare bones of the trees, stark there in this particularly cold winter.  One evening after work, I went over to the neighbor with the two appetizer sized dogs and no fence to warn her that the coyotes had been emboldened by the cold and were coming right up to the houses, my having found one in my driveway that morning. She looked at me (she of the coexist bumper sticker) and said "It's OK, we have an invisible fence". I couldn't' even BEGIN to explain that reasoning to her. The world is not a safe and happy place, something some people find when they least expect it.

In the dark recesses of the world, under the cover of jungle, underwater, are cities, cultures and beings that vanished for no known reason. The dinosaurs, creatures so large that it seems only plausible that they would only have died out by something as major as an asteroid, gone, only to be brushed from the earth by those that study the bones.
There are Mayan cities that emptied overnight, the way a chrysalis of a butterfly is left behind, empty, stark in it's primitive beauty. So much still there, the monuments, and granaries, terraces and temples, structures of empiric power and small dwellings formed by families united by generations. Emptied with no anthropological clue as to riot, invasion or deadly disease carried in on silent winds.

Then there are the ghost towns of the West. Small towns that once bustled with the collective energy of a burgeoning nation. Times were tough, and life was often cheap, but the land was the draw that brought them in, and the duplicity of the land itself what siphoned them off.

If you have children or grandchildren, they ask you the questions. Where did they go? What happened to that way of life? The words go pale and waxen in your mouth as you try and answer. Who wants to tell a child that our hold onto civilization is only as strong as our history. How to you explain birds that no longer fly and great horned creatures that walked the earth of their ancestors only to disappear completely.
Look back into history, cities disappear, countries realign. Whole societies grind to a hand, the precise cause of death uncertain. The stars somehow aligned overhead by political alliance, high priests of nuclear ability, climate, and promise. All running like fault lines underneath what appears to be placid landscape. Disturbances ignored by the media as larger things erupt and spew black, cumulative movements unseen. The sheep graze placidly while Tectonic plates of divergent cultures and religion, rub, shifting, jockeying for power until one day something will give way. A city will vanish, perhaps an entire way of life, lost as easily as a set of car keys. Ghost towns tumbling in the wind, withered and white like buffalo bone, turning quietly to dust, the roar of their numbers only an echo.

We believe that because we've always been the dominant political and economic power on this planet that it will always be so. Legions nod in affirmation to change and power shifts, believing that because it always has been, it always will be. We live as a nation on credit, buying with plastic, borrowing on faith. My folks paid cash for everything, not expecting their government or their neighbor to bail them out, and as such they survived the great Depression. If it was broke they fixed it, if they worked hard to earn it, they took care of it. 
My family owned their own land and measured everything by soil and water and sweat, not stopping and whining if the tractor broke or the mule died. They went to war, leaving their legacy to a generation of strong women who would tend to it until their return. To their children they passed on something you could hold in your hand, not press into an ATM machine.

I was one of that baby boomer generation, growing up in the late sixties and seventies on Patriotism and old Westerns. Do you think any of us as little kids would have watched Gun Smoke if Marshall Dillon, when confronted by evil, started a petition drive? Do you think we would have looked up to John Wayne if he'd been a "Community Organizer?"  No. Our heroes were people like Matt Dillon and the Cartrights, the Rifleman, and for my older brother, the Lone Ranger. The shows themselves all had a elemental core of justice, fair play, truth, sportsmanship. Firearms were common and shown in a positive light, as means to obtain food for the family, as instruments of protecting the weak, weapons to defeat evil.
As a kid I loved the old John Wayne movies. I could never forget the climatic moment in one film where the grizzled old marshal confronts the four villains and calls out: "I mean to kill you or see you hanged at Judge Parker's convenience. Which will it be?" "Bold talk for a one-eyed fat man," their leader sneers. Then Duke cries, "Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!" and, reins in his courage, rushing at them while firing both guns. Those four outlaws did not provide a threat at the next sunset.

The only time I've rushed multiple targets with my firearm, one was a paper terrorist and the other two adversaries were a prairie dog and a squirrel (we were a bit low on targets that day). But I pray that I never become so jaded by life that I can not summon that same risk spirit to protect my country or the life I hold dear.
Men like that from TV days gone by have been replaced by guys who let their well muscled wives boss them around, and serve as jokes for their inept associates, trying to look cool while messing up everything they touch. The sad thing is, that's not always a Sitcom but those on the news that we, as a nation, elected.

Our country is changing. The West I grew up in is now more socialized and urban, more of the citizens pining for things they can not afford while looking to others to fix their problems. Where I grew up, gardens were tended and food canned, and when threatened by others we circled the wagons and cared for ourselves, providing for our own, from the land and our hard work.

I came to the southern Plains as a young bride, and I learned fast. I've written of it here before, as it was a lesson I will carry with me to the grave. Spring snowstorms thawing into mucky puddles into which new life came. Calving season. In the cold I learned about impending birth, in the heat of a barn I learned about death. I've pulled more than one calf from a womb when I was all alone, arm rubbed with Betadyne and lube, the contractions almost breaking my arm. I learned to cut a recalcitrant Longhorn calf from a herd of very pointy parents to tend to an injury with a shot of cortisone. Nights ran into days and days to nights with only the wet of birth water and burnt coffee to keep us going after a day spent already outdoors. It's a life that's prepared me for the one I live now.
Nothing is so very entwined with life as birth and watching the new ones come into the world with last century technology and only ourselves to assist, was a lesson that many old timers would understand. That little calf whom I assisted that last night, took every bit of strength we had to free her. But Mama had been in labor four hours, the calf was stuck, and something had to be done or lose both of them. Yet, with work and grit he was born, soon suckling my finger as Mama tried simply to breathe, resting uncaring against the wood slicked with fluid and red. I hold him up to check and weigh him, and she hears, stumbles over to lick him. Mothers love. Wonder. They'll both be OK. Their barn this night will be filled with light.

It was not an easy life, especially when I was left to do it all myself. I had to rally myself up early to tend to the place, at the rooster's crow at first light, rising early as poets do. Lighting a fire from antique ashes, assembling my spirit from wounds and balm, from water pump to barn stall. Time beginning with measured intent, and from seeds and the dry bones of the land, I grew, I tended. Whatever the hand of circumstance had brought, it was my duty, to be there on time. To reconcile hot and cold, dark and bright, richly expanding a much bruised heart, to nourish the land or the trusting beast in the stall.

To do otherwise would have left the place in ashes, abandoned, another failed dream. Duty and honor weren't archaic promises, they were words I was raised to live on, no matter how bad things got.
For I am the daughter and grand daughter of that first great Depression. Learning from those who learned the hard way about delusional promises of those who failed to study the battles that they had never fought. Leaders happy to inherit the plunder they had not even begun to earn. Borrow it, spend it, we're the nation's greatest storehouse of treasure. We're too big to fail.

But we're not. You don't have to be an economist to see it, a strategist the likes of Clausewitz, or a CEO of a dwindling corporation. You see it in the eyes at the feed store, you see it in the determined step of those buying supplies and learning the use them. You feel it in the collective murmurings of concern as you chat with people at the gas station, or the grocers. You see it in the questions of the many who now will ask questions before voting. People that are beginning to understand that we have a right to those answers.

Because we're NOT too big to fail.

I think of the movie War of the World's wherein the monolithic war machines of Mars were felled by something as simple as a sneeze.
The world has not changed from my grandfather's day to mine in many ways.  We still have job losses and hardship; we have nations that openly condemn us for the God we worship, but now they have more than boxcars to round up their delusions, they have growing nuclear capability.

But what is changing is our response to such threats. We continue to live on spent dreams, growing collectively soft while we attempt to play camp counselor. We negotiate with terror and bow to our enemies, while something tremendous, primeval looms from a distance, striking in small gnat stings, testing our mettle, patiently waiting as we apologize for being.  For we're more worried about how we're portrayed then standing up for what is right, protecting the weak while serving from an example of superior firepower. 

Our country still has strength in her, even if in labor.  I have taken an oath to defend her and I will. With the birthing of heifers sometimes there were losses. But I never cursed the poor things as they lay dying, nor threw their bodies into the truck with more force than was needed. The past is past. You can cry and rant and rave, but that won't change what's ceased to breathe. We can only fight for what we have. What we still have.
I'm intensely proud of being an American. The being and cadence of a life of freedom, to work, to arm myself, to defend and expand that which I've worked for. Influenced by a bygone era of good guys and bad guys, it is part of who I am, defining both fury and faith. It influences my passions, and resonates always in the sound of a gunshot across land that I have owned, gathering food for my cupboard, gathering strength.

There are so many things that are great about this country. But we can not relay on the past, its losses OR successes. As John Wayne said so eloquently, tomorrow is the most important thing. It comes in to us at midnight very clean, it's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. The hands may end up stained with blood and sweat but they are the hands of hard work. The hands of hope. The hands of a proud, law-abiding American.  I hope those hands are strong enough for the tasks that lie ahead.

Because in coming days I am afraid we will find what we are made of.
  - Brigid

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Canine Wisdom

Inside every old dog lives the soul of a pup.
 - Brigid

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Dog Day Afternoons

Just a lazy day at home. Found out this last week my position at work is being eliminated due to restructuring and some economics of business plans--lots of merging of teams, and my team lead position won't be filled as my folks are going to another unit that has a leader.  I obviously can't discuss details, but I have no idea what I'm going to end up doing, and will have a job but my team is being split up and I'll be a minion for now. There's a slight chance that another team may have an opening for their own Gibbs but no guarantee I'll get it.  It's not news I needed right now as my team is family to me and we've been together 7 years.

I wish I'd known before I'd moved and leased another place for a year, (transferring up to where the Range is an option but what is available would be wear a suit every day and go to lots of meetings or a job with non-stop travel and more suits and meetings). Partner wants whatever makes me happy, in that I am very blessed.
But if the dog can mope a little bit, so can I.  Pizza helps.
Thin crust with homemade sauce, tiny sage sausage balls and lots of sweet onion.

Beer will help as well. Yes, that ice cube tray makes little ice .223 bullets.
I did a big push for the new book, spending some $$$$ in marketing online for several internet promotions and not a single kindle copy sold this weekend.  Frontlines author Marko is even matching each dollar as the funds for May sales go to a local rescue (Waldo's Muttley Crew) and it's pretty much the sound of crickets this week, though it's only fallen to #4. My Dad loved it, and it raised several  hundred  dollars for Kevlar for K9's last month so I'm very happy with how it was received by family, good friends, and critics.

It's not for everyone, no book is, as I've found.  But I'd rather have a book I'm proud for my Dad to read that doesn't get a lot of press than a million naughty dinosaur book sales (don't ask). But those of you that were kind enough to read it, who have supported it and me with little notes or emails - THANK YOU.

So, with the race blacked out in Indy  (seriously folks?) we went to plan B for someone that wanted just a little comfort and a little comfort food

Dark Chocolate cake like brownies - from scratch with lots of butter and 4 eggs and baked an hour at a low temp, they were awesome even if I didn't frost them as directed. I'll put the recipe in comments if anyone wants it.

No Abby - you don't get any - you're not a Chocolate Lab.
Then after a game of Mexican train it was time to settle in for the NCIS marathon.

 It's been a good run Gibbs - lots of good memories.
Yeah - that's sort of how I felt when I heard.
Abby - we can just wait and watch.

Life doesn't always go as planned, but it's still darn good. Especially with dark chocolate and beer.

Valiant Men in the Dust

In the Battle of Maldon, a few Englishmen have been attacked by a fierce army of Viking invaders. Although the Vikings are between two branches of the river and thus separated from launching their full strength at the Anglo-Saxon army, Beortnoth nobly allows them free passage to do battle on equal terms. Vastly outnumbered, Beortnoth and his brave men are slain until only a small, unflinching band of warriors remain:

“Byorthwold spoke; he grasped his shield; he was an old companion; he shook his ash spear; full boldly he exhorted the warriors: 'Thought shall be the harder, heart the keener, courage the greater, as our might lessens. Here lies our leader all hewn down, the valiant man in the dust; may he lament for ever who thinks now to turn from this war-play. I am old in age; I will not hence, but I purpose to lie by the side of my lord. . ."

In these few words, a better description of heroism, of unwavering dedication and loyalty I've not read in a while. The lines “Thought shall be the harder, heart the keener, courage the greater, as our might lessens" are a thousand years old, a pre Christian heroic spirit which author J.R. Tolkien, a crafter of worlds where chivalry roared, himself called "Northernness".
I look at photos from a great war, a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline that was stormed early one summer morning by more than 160,000 Allied troops, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy.  Over 9,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded.  Europe was full of brave American men that day, many who died, some who lived, both on that beach and in the skies over England or Germany. One of those men was my Father.

My Dad is a peaceable men, and I would imagine that the majority of men who lived and died on that piece of ground on this day seventy years ago would have said the same thing about themselves.  They looked at battle as I do, more than the desire to pursue and kill but endurance,  the conviction and longing to endure beyond all imaginable limits of the flesh to protect and preserve.

There was a difference between aggression and self defense, a difference between being devoted to justice and being a school yard bully. It is a self-awareness and self-restraint and differs as night and day from apathy, the concept of which Christians might refer to as meekness, a trait often associated with Christ, and clearly as misunderstood.
Dad and Mom were separated for the entire War.  High school sweethearts, they weren't formally engaged but they had an understanding that on his return they would marry.  He considered marrying her before he left but he didn't wish to leave her alone, possibly with a baby.  Mom had just completed college, and was going to work to help put her two young brothers through school as well as support her mother, widowed very young.

Four years apart. In the big scheme of their lives, those years were only a blink, yet it colored everything about how they lived after that, like the war was a lens that they would forever look through. I look at all the pictures they sent to one another during that time and there are pictures of fun, and the laughter of just being 20-something years old; photos of Mom hamming it up with her friends, and photos of my Dad in his 44th Bomb Group uniform, on a rare afternoon free.

But if you can look real close, you can see the worry about their eyes, anxious nights and sleepless waiting, not for days. . or months. . . but for years. . . . . wondering if they would ever again see the bright clear eyes of the one they loved. There is no worse feeling, I can tell you that. But things were different then. There were no flights home, no leave back stateside to visit friends and family. Once Dad left on the Queen Mary to sail over, he did not return until the War had ended.
When he did come home, outwardly unharmed, unlike much of his squadron, he had changed. Changed with what he had seen and witnessed, and like most soldiers had developed his own survival ritual, his system of integrity and his concepts of what it meant to be worthy of the uniform he wore. With this, he and Mom married immediately and settled into a comfortable, steady, uneventful life that the youth of today would indeed consider dull. They didn't have a huge mortgage for a house that was too big, multiple cars, or exotic travel or trips.  They lived simply, creating a steadiness in their life, mowing the lawn, washing the Buick every Saturday, dancing in the living room to Big Band, a quiet sanctuary of quiet routine and sameness that embraced us as children when they adopted us so many years later.

As a kid, and especially as my teen years loomed, our small town life seemed rather uneventful and I wished that something big would happen. Something exciting. But it didn't. Something big had already happened to them, and only a few years back. Still vivid in their memory were B-24's limping home in pieces only to crash before their eyes; flag draped coffins of family and friends being sent home, losses beyond redemption. And then there was the waiting. There was no instant communication then, no emails or cell phones to keep in touch. Their memories were days of silence and snippets of news, of hunger and rations; survival in a nation at war, the fear greeting them each day at their meager breakfast plate as they prayed that maybe just once this month they would get a letter, some hope.
Maybe after all of that, Dad's goal was simply that nothing big happened again, nothing except safety, and the warm embrace of your family around you each night. In a world at peace because of the one big thing that you did.

One day, entering adulthood, I found their wartime letters to one another, packed in a trunk with his uniform.  It was a holiday. I read through one or two, then carefully put them back in the blue ribbon that held them, feeling as if I was spying on something so intimate, so precious, it was best left to the dark. But the emotion held within plain words that would pass any wartime censor was clear; the tenderly passionate tones, the sudden breathless pauses, and those spaces between words that opened up like white arms, reaching across an oceans water to hold the one they loved.

That night as the fireworks began, and we sat, a family absent my Mom who had passed on a few years prior, in the old wooden chairs they'd bought as newlyweds. As the rockets rained down, ones that exploded like living thunder, and the small lit ones that draped across the sky like a lei, flowerings of light floating slowly down to our safe little spot I glanced over at my Dad. As the last one, the showstopper, exploded in a blinding red and white of a thousand suns and a burst of sound that hurt the ears, I saw the tear on his rapt upturned face, his hand over his heart, as he remembered his comrades, as he remembered the beautiful girl who he had proudly fought for, there in the safe world they all made for us.
My Dad was one of the fortunate who was able to come home.  So many did not, givng their all for their country.  On this weekend, as always,  remember them -  all of them, that went before, that did not come home. They were warriors in battle; not as men of violence -  but men prepared to do battle for what they held dear.  

Those warriors taught us more than how to win a battle.  They taught us how to live not just in might and size and power, but often in the smallest places and quietest moments.  Look at the people who serve in hard times, hard areas, death a shadow on the wall, so the masses can be safe. But you don't have to be a member of the military, a protector of the weak, or a fighter of the worst nature can throw at you to embrace these concepts. Courage gives us something to strive for, something to hold up as an ideal and an understanding that throughout history there are those who have risen above the standards of the day to truly be called brave.
I look at my Dad; sleeping more now, under an attic where lay a bundle of letters that give off a whisper of old longing and forever hope, carried across the ocean to lie above the woman who wrote them. Dad grieves and give thanks, for the love that he fought for still exists, even as the bones of it have crumbled to dust, becoming one with the soil, the love remains intact, impervious, where they had lain, there in the rich earth of a brave man's heart.

The year could be 1944, it could 2015. A hand on a rough shovel, flinging the dirt with an effortless fury, the mound of soil rising of its own volition, not crafted by man but as if flung forth by the earth itself, until the grave is readied. A warrior has fallen, medals scribed on ore or heart, small things insignificant to the view, but mute with profound meaning. The earth waits but a moment. Shadows fall with the moon's curve, no sound but the labored breath of form of one who engaged without arms, this single combat. Laying a warrior to rest.  There is now but a shield to be picked up and carried on. So, man or woman, we never forget what was sacrificed for us all.
 - Brigid

Saturday, May 23, 2015

I Found my Thrill - On Bacon Blueberry Hill

Bacon Blueberry Cornbread.

It's the bomb.  Moist and both sweet and savory with a smoky/crunchy crust.
Preheat oven to 425 F.

Cook 6-7 pieces of bacon in a cast iron skillet.  Remove bacon and pour off 90% of the drippings, leaving a two or three teaspoons in the pan, swish it around and up the sides.

In a large bowl mix

1 and 1/2 cups corn meal
1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 Tablespoons baking powder
1/2 cup white sugar
two pinches of nutmeg
In another bowl whisk

2 large eggs
1 and 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon lard - melted

Mix wet ingredients into dry in the big bowl until moistened and pour into bacon greased pan.  Top with a pint of fresh blueberries and chopped bacon.

Bake for 25-30 minutes.  If not done - reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake another 5-10 minutes. Edges should be nicely brown and a knife stuck in the center should come out clean when it is done.

I served it with molasses/honey grilled chicken, fresh green beans, and ice cold beer.

And someone woke up from their nap when the pan went past.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday Night Quote

"A man's rights rest in three boxes: the ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box." - Frederick Douglass

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Moving On - A Chapter from Saving Grace

Chapter 47- Moving On

My husband and I had retrieved the rest of my things to be moved from my home to his. There was a box of dog toys on the porch which I couldn't bear to open. We had talked about getting another dog, looking at reputable breeders, checking ads; but I didn't think I was ready, waiting for a sign perhaps.

That night as we went to sleep I dreamed of my old dog Barkley, something I’d not done in several months.

* * *

In my dream life hadn't changed; my brother and Barkley were still with me and it was just a normal day of prayer and reflection.

On the wall is a crucifix, symbol of blood and wind, strength that follows me through my day.

As I enter the building the light shines on those small testaments of ritual, those things that bring peace and beauty to what could otherwise be chaos. A drape of white cloth upon which lies a cup; a candle there, unlit for now but soon to be anointed by flame.

I know he's waiting for me so that I can unburden myself. He's probably thinking as well, it's been so long since I've been back. I wait outside the door for just a moment, taking in the tranquil quiet, the peaceful shadow.

But first I will light the candle, for me, for souls unlit. For the ones I could save and those I could not, all merging now into one sustained breath that ignites this small candle into flame. The flame swirls up unto the heavens as the stars bow and draw backwards.

In my pocket are implements forgotten. I gently finger them like beads, uttering the words that came from my mouth as I worked with them, words that strung out like coronals of roses as I disturbed another’s solemn remains, bent and bowed to my duties. Forgive me. Forgive them.

I pull those tools of my day from my pocket and lay them upon the white cloth. In the candlelight they gleam like the nicked and scuffed chain mail armor of angels.

From behind the door I hear the murmur of movement as my arrival is sensed. I stand outside, as silent as I did not long before, tongues of ash and flakes of fire raining on down, anointing the bones of men. How I wish they would stir, awakening to the fire, but they sometimes do not. I make the sign of the cross, peace to their ashes.

I open the door but it is not the door to penance and confession, not at this hour, this place. But it is a door to one that still, with heart untouched by either sin or evil, will listen to me even if he cannot speak.

He will listen as liquid words flow from weary brain, symbols that are not of a periodical but of the elements of mystery, questions asked, and reasoning answered. He will listen without asking and he will forgive without penance, though he can be stirred to almost evangelical zeal by a small nugget of biscuit.

From the distance, a church bell---a sound that does more than note one more hour, one more increment of time and grief that's ticked since Genesis. It's the sound of hope and faith, one that cleaves the air with a sharp instrument of promise as a dog joyously barks.

For it is not a man of a cloth I was unburdening myself to, but my best friend Barkley the Labrador retriever.

When he has eaten first I will go out to sit at that cloth covered table. I will take the meat, the bread, and the wine and I will pause, bent with sin but saved by grace, there as I bow my head in thanks. It is thanks not just for the company of friends and the reminder of hope but for a small furred creature who blessed me with the wag of a tail.

* * *

I awoke with tears on my face and the comfort of words in my head.

I think it is time to add another dog to this home. This time it's going to be a rescue, a dog who needs a home as much as we need him.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Wild Blue Wander

The air didn't stir, not even the steady inhalation of the crew disturbing it.

Outside as the wind rushed past at 400 and some miles an hour, the clouds go by the window like a blur. Passengers don't get this view, and if you're lucky and have a cruise altitude right on top of the cloud deck, where you are going in and out of the whitecaps of clouds, it's a breathtaking display of speed.

But outside right now there was only darkness and inside only those small sounds that survive each movement, the flick of a switch, the input of data, plotting course and heading, the key of a mic.

Dad asked me the other night if I missed it. not flying in general, the putting around the sky in a small craft, stopping for a landing and a hamburger somewhere, but the flying that I used to do. If someone walked up to me today and said "here's your jet and the credit card to pay for its gas", I'd be on my way to some far corner of the world in a heartbeat.  But the thought of getting up at 3:00 am to put in a 15 hour day, eating meals that might actually be good warm, and being away from loved ones for weeks on end lost its appeal somewhere around my 40th birthday. Flying over countries where there is occasionally small arms fire is even less appealing.
So I hesitated as part of me, snug in the warmth of my house, with hot coffee and biscuits in the oven, was thinking "no I don't miss it at all".

There are part I miss.  I missed the chirp of wheels on a very short strip that had likely  not seen a large transport before, and the crowd that came out to see this wonder.  I miss seeing the formation of weather from aloft, the ring of moisture laden air that dances around the calm of the center even as the air currents begin their uprising, forming into a sinister dark wall that should have a sign on it "there be dragons".
I miss the low moaning of the engines as the sun peeks up over the horizon as we head into the eastern sky, our ship laboring heavily in a sky of black water now lit by the gleam of a distant world. I miss looking up into the heavens, of the generation that still knew how to navigate by the stars, the stars themselves looking at us as if for the last time, the cluster of their brilliance, laying like a crown upon God's brow.

I miss the crews, even the not-so-nice one that liked to shove his seat back into the new engineer's knees on purpose.  It's surprising how warm the metal ends of a seatbelt can get when someone holds a lighter to them for a bit.  The sky holds its surprise  and its vengeance you think, as the flame diminishes to a burnt spark that vanishes with a click that's as sharp as metal against bone.

I miss some of the old birds, the ones that bear with them the weary air of a schooner that's been around the world.  I miss those even more than the new, shiny craft with a glass cockpit and all the personality of a microwave.  So few of them left, so many just languishing in the desert.  Some have bones that rattle at night in the hot desert air, the fight in them still strong, even as their form is aged. Others fold their winds up in rest, weary from their battles.
I miss that feeling I had when four bars went on my shoulder for the first time, and I wore with it, not just a pride but a responsibility I wasn't sure I was ready for, even as my crew looked at me for their first directions.  But I found out quickly, just how weighty is that role when there's a fire in #2 and an inch thick coating of ice on the wipers and in the simple whine of a master caution light is every sound of the sky, the deep, drumming  vibration of the air and the clang of metal, tumultuous in only your head and you expect at any moment to hear your own name in the clamor of the ship that only you hear because you are the one it's doing battle with and you'd best do it now or your men will be lost. But you can't let them see this, you simply give the commands and make the movements you've practice a hundred times that calm down the sounds in your head, as the engine is secured and you make way to the nearest port.  It is only later, much later, and alone, that you let the fear out.

There are other things, that lie in distant memory that come to mind as I lay in my bed, one that I can sleep in without it pitching and rolling over an ocean at night. There's a conception of wind and weather that can't be experienced in any classroom, those storms that penetrate the defenses of man, the awful pause that is the ship's hesitation as it breaches a front, and the curse and the prayers that can be awakened within the breast, when you realize that the weather forecast is nothing more than someone in a dark room casting bones across the ground and hoping for the best.
There are a million little ways to hurt yourself, not the obvious big, hole in the ground kinds--but bungee cord engine covers and small pieces of metal, the dinosaur exoskeleton of a craft that is more carnivore than herbivore, which likes to take the occasional nip out of you as you prepare it for it's day.  I look at the small scars on my hands, and for an imperceptible moment, feel my fingers close upon a switch to start the engine at the beginning of the mission, a symbol of every little habit we pilots have that bind us to our wings.  In my mind I release it--listening for the sound of returning wind.

So many nights spent away from my family and my bed, my spirits falling with the barometer, longing for lightning, something to spark me from another strange bed in a strange land, eager to get back in the air again. There is so much missed out on-- birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, faces and names and sheer human touch, even as we bonded, brothers in arms, with weariness and laughter..
But it draws us, like moth to flame, that sky, in our youth and in our trust, giving us an confidence that some might call ego but we simply saw as something that we held that made us a worthy opponent to the demand of the day.  We looked at it as a challenge as a man in a shirt of chain-mail would watch the sharp point rushing towards him, born on the forward motion of deep black and the rush of the wind.  We loved the boredom of it, we loved the abject challenge of it and when the sound of the engine ceased, hopefully on the ground, it seemed as if there was a pause in every sound of the world, but that of our own hearts.

The sky, with it ability to tear up the earth, to uproot trees and to dash the small birds of the air to the ground, had simply challenged me in its path one day, and I stayed for the battle.  But the day came that I turned from her, not in submission but simply, with weariness.  It was on such a day that I looked at the visages of those that have gone before, those that climbed up to that line between earth and sky, that point in space where sometimes heaven does not release her crew back except as dust of this earth. And I knew I was ready to hang up my wings.
I enjoy what I do now, putting together the pieces of puzzles, the trinity of man, choice and fate that often ends badly but from which there can be reckoning.  Everything else is the past, one we can lean on and learn from, even as it remains in the past.  The whole great blue expanse of those memories for me now is simply a flicker, a small flame that blazes and then burns the fingers, as my future plucks me out of the noise and the wind that I had not been fully aware of, until I had passed beyond its hearing.

Like any airman that's done battle with the sky and lived to remember, I do miss it-- even as I leave it behind.
 - Brigid

Monday, May 18, 2015


I have been out of pocket  late working, doing a quick check on Dad out West, and doing a  final edit read of Old NFO's new Book on the Grey Man Series - Changes.  I'm NOT the beta reader you want for grammar but if you need to know how to correctly estimate the height of a headless body, apparently, I'm your gal.

Today - a single day off at home before going back to work. Not sure if I'll do anything. Yesterday started at 4 am. and I didn't get home until almost dark. You know you're tired when you're too knackered to microwave a chicken pot pie and dinner is 2 ounces with a splash of water.

For those waiting for Jim's book - it is SO worth the wait.  It was an incredibly riveting and detailed read, bringing back the characters we all loved, and introducing a few new ones.  (And I do NOT want to meet the guy known as "The Punisher" except over a friendly beer).

Til tomorrow folks.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Prepping Menu - Himilayan Style

Anyone that visits here regularly knows I do love my bacon.  But honestly, I eat meat-free meals  and snacks much of the time when I'm cooking during the work week.  It saves me a lot of money on grocery bills and is healthy when the vegetarian meals are based on real food and not pasta and neon colored cheese.

Having a number of bean/grain dishes on hand that everyone likes is good for both the budget, not to mention being easy to store long term in prepping supplies (you could easily replace the fresh onion and garlic with dried).

The following dish may not be particularly photogenic but it's one of my favorites, and about 25 cents a serving if you buy your food and spices in bulk.

Dal Bhat - a staple in the Nepalese diet, and something you will likely see for both lunch and dinner in that region, It's something I pack for lunch several days a week as it's cheap, surprisingly delicious and very filling, and I can eat it cold or hot depending on where I'm at.

Makes 6-8 servings

2 cups rice
4 cups water

I make mine in my all purpose steamer, 40 minutes and it's perfect.

1 sweet onion chopped
1 and 1/2 Tablespoons minced garlic (or 3 cloves of fresh garlic)
1 cup dry lentils (any variety)
3 cups water

1 -  14 1/2  ounce can diced tomatoes with liquid
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (I used 1 teaspoon and it was wonderfully hot but not painfully so when paired with the rice)
1/2 teaspoon coriander (if you have it, I've made it with and without)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Start rice cooking.

In a Tablespoon  of olive oil, saute onion and garlic in a large fry pan on medium heat until softened. Add lentils and dry cook two minutes.

Add water, cover and cook covered on medium for 15-20 minutes.

Stir in spices and tomatoes.  Cover and cook covered  20-25 minutes - until lentils are soft and the liquid has been absorbed (medium heat or just enough for a gentle simmer/steam).

Serve on rice with a squeeze of lime juice.  It is often  garnished with cilantro and chopped red pepper but I usually serve mine with just the lime juice to save time and $$.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Friday Night Quote

Growing Older is Mandatory---Growing Up is Optional.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Walther PP - The Simplicity of Firepower

The Wather PP (police pistol) was originally produced in 1929 at a factory at Zella-Melhis, which lies in what is now Eastern Germany.  Even being a bit late to the automatic pistol party, compared to such pistol manufacturers as Mauser, Luger and Colt, it was still considered a marvel in simplicity and accuracy.

The PP was one of the first commercially successful double action pistols, with an exposed hammer, a single column magazine and a fixed barrel, which acts as the guide rod for the recoil spring.  First issued to European Police and sport shooters, they became popular for both concealability and accuracy. During WWII, Walther produced many PP series pistols for the Wehrmacht (the uniformed armed forces of Germany during 1939 to 1945). It also became a popular sidearm for high ranking Nazi officers and party leaders (collectors will find some embellished and marked to denote the party or ministry and even the title of the person).
A model in simplicity and accuracy, they were one of the more copied pistols, with the exception of the venerable 1911, soon to be found all over the world, manufactured over the years in .22, .25, .32 and .380 calibers. The Walther PP, in any caliber, is straight blowback. More simply put, when the gun is fired,the barrel does not move rearward with the slide until chamber pressure diminishes. What retards the slide is simply its weight, the recoil spring and the main spring.

The PP's were part of a series that included the Walter PP, PPK (appearing in 1931), PPK/S and later, PPK.E. The PPK, with it's shorter grip and barrel is much more well known to people who aren't necessarily firearm collectors, being the pistol (a 7.65mm/.32 ACP) that was James Bond's signature guns in many of the films based on novels of Ian Fleming, who created the fictional character. That choice of a weapon had an effect on not only its popularity, but its recognition

The newer series are manufactured in Germany or the US, but this pistol is of decided German origin, 1945, and chambered in .32, the original chamber of the piece. Before ending up in the safe at the Range, it belonged to a long retired Midwest Police Officer. How he ended up with it, I did not know, as his family had little history, but many Walthers were brought back as trophies by returning GI's after WWII.
It is what is known as "AC marked", denoting a late wartime pistol from the Walther factory with milled finish (high polished finishes not being a priority during war time).  The AC proofmark is found on the side of the slide, and many of these firearms had neither Walther inscription or trademark, though this one does. You will find some with (pressed) wood grips and some with cross hatched plastic. During late war production, about anything was used and finish become progressively more crude as conditions for the German's deteriorated, though functionality remained quite good. Even so, Wartime PP's are favorites of collectors and those in mint condition can command a very good price.  Post War finish of the PP's and PPK's is still among the finest found.

Handling.  It's pretty much the same as most conventional DA/SA semiautomatic pistols, with a slide-mounted decocking system that's been emulated on many other pistols. The only other firearm in the series I've handled is the .380, which is more common. I think the sights on the .32 are a little bit better regulated for point of aim equals point of impact than the .380 and the double action was a bit smoother. But outside of that and barrel length I didn't see much cosmetic difference.
Another  advantage of the PP (and later PPK/s) over the PPK is that it has a full steel backstrap. That will provide a grip surface even if you manage to drop the piece, breaking a grip, or have one go missing. (if you drop the PPK and break the grips, save it for breakfast because at this point, it's toast, as far as firing)

The .32 also was also a little less "snappy" which any of you who've fired smaller firearms know what I mean.

Sights - fixed, about as simple as it gets, plain black front sight with the "U" notch in the rear.
Field Stripping.  To remove the slide, after checking that the magazine is removed and there is no round in the chamber, you must first pull down on the trigger guard. This is where an extra hand would be handy. Some people will twist the trigger guard slightly to one side to hold it against the frame. Twisting  parts on something that old is not always a great idea (any of you over 40 who have done Yoga will attest).

After clearing your firearm, you can use a pencil between the trigger guard and the frame (the equivalent of a slide catch on a sig) which takes the block out of the way so the slide can then be moved forward ("Gunsmithing with the No. 2 Pencil"- Firearm Bestseller - FAIL).

Being a fixed barrel design you must pull the slide rearward, lift and then slide forward. Still, it's quite easy with a little help.

The grips come off easily to access the internals and overall cleaning is pretty standard.  If you've field stripped any other PP model or most Sig's it's very intuitive.

Concealed carry. It is small, the barrel a bit less than 4 inches and slender so it's easy to conceal.  That being said, I'd certainly want something more than .32 if meeting up with someone intent on my serious harm or death.  But in the pocket, while in the garage, it would make a nice back up gun, chambered in something such as PMC 71-gr FMJ or Hornady 60-gr XTP. The FMJ does have decent penetration but some folks prefer a more expanding bullet, which would result in a wider wound channel. Personally, I'd use the XTP. Even if it's not as aggressive in its expansion, it would likely give you better "bad guy penetration" than the FMJ and it's a load that's been reliable for me.
Biting the hand that feeds you. As I've said before, the DA trigger pull on the .32's are a bit smoother and lighter than the .380s. Perhaps Walther added an increased power mainspring in addition to the recoil spring, or something else. In any event, the double action on the .32 is NICE.

But don't be fooled by light and pretty. This gun has sharp pointy teeth. The slide is mounted low enough that it is VERY easy to get your shooty hand bitten by the edge of the slide. My hands, as far as palm size and finger length, are about the same as most guys my height. Once when the moon was full and I was bitten by the first of the small pocket pistols, I was cursed with continually getting my hands nipped, even adjusting the way I held on to it. The Walther PP is no exception.You may go unscathed, but if you have big hands, considered your self forewarned.  Keep off the moors, stick to the roads.
Still, I'm glad this one found its way home. Although it has seen some use and wear, it's still a very elegant little piece, quite aesthetically pleasing with the long barrel.  It has some history, including from times in our world that we hope are never repeated. Yet, whatever its journey, it ended up in the hands of a good man, where it defended and protected for many years before making its home here. I'll keep it fed and clean and hopefully, with the proper stance, set of the mouth and a gentle hand, it will domesticate well.