Friday, June 24, 2016

The Small Things

The small house stood on an even smaller lot, among a cluster of homes that went up when the War ended and so many young men came home to settle down. There were dozens just like it, neat and ordered, awaiting those that survived to light their rooms with freedom. The house stood there, some 60 years later, most of its kind gone. The small, aging homes sold as generations moved away. It was now surrounded by tall , narrow townhouses, stark white between bland homeowner association approved blues and greys that loomed over it like Easter Island statues. The small white house stood defiantly among them, the owner refusing to sell or move when the Californians moved north and took over the neighborhood.

It was my Aunt's house, my Dad's oldest sister, where I had spent many wonderful days during vacation exploring the tiny yard and garden while the adults sat in the tiny living room, sipping cold tea and listening to music from another era. But the voices in that house were stilled, the house with a pending sale looming upon the death of my Aunt many months ago.

Friends had urged her to sell when my Uncle passed away years ago. Because of its location, the tiny spot of land she was on was worth an incredible amount of money, enough to get a really nice condo anywhere she wanted, leaving money for travel and luxuries.

Change your life, they'd say. Get out from under your house and get a condo, forget your garden and your flowers, you'll have more freedom, you'll have more money. Change is good.

She'd have no part of it. She continued living in that house, with the same furniture she'd had as a young bride, photos and books from their trips around the world, a perk that only slightly dulled the pain of not being able to have children of their own. To we kids, the furniture looked old, shabby, but as an adult I really noticed what she had. Finely made pieces of wood, created with real craftsmanship, rugs intricately woven and meticulous clean. Glass pieces as clear and flawless in vision as I've seen in my generation. Things of quality. Things worth saving.

The house was sold, soon to be scraped to the ground, to make way for yet another narrow town home, dwellings that had yet to acquire either character or memory. I visited it one last time before the keys were turned over, the house quiet, the hardwood floors bare, the flitting shadows on the wall like birds. From beyond the window was the water, smelt and heard but not seen, there in the darkness.
It was hard to say goodbye to that house. As kids we'd visited often and had many happy memories there. But they were both gone, it was time to go. As I headed for the airport, I glimpsed the ferries on Puget Sound, seeing their wake rippling outwards. Watched the wake that moved towards where I watched from a distance, the movement bringing up a smell of the water that was part of my growing uyp. The ferry's shadow moved away as well, towards a bank of fog, disappearing as if it had never been.

To keep it in my minds eye I had to draw upon memory and the echo of it's passing. And that's when I realized, that all all we really have left of anything is the knowledge of what remains, even if you can't see or touch it, those traces of that which has value.You can lose everything, a house, family or a loved one and it's still there with you, reflecting your future, shaping your decisions, defining fury and grace, as you hold on to that which made you strong. Holding on, even as ruthless men corrupt that which made us strong, into something self serving, beyond our intent and our knowing, beating our freedoms into smaller and smaller pieces, into an attenuation
of lost ideals, scattered like small stones.

My Aunt knew this, not living in the past because she wasn't strong enough to move on, to change her life, but taking from the past that which had value and using those things to validate the code by which she lived her life. Well traveled, well read, having lived over 90 years, she understood that which went before us, events and words, action and men.

Whether we are rich or have a single possession to our name, we still have those best parts of our past. It's a voice on the phone, stories muttered by brave men, it's words on pages, ideals passed on from one generation to the next. I have the stories of my father and my Uncle from WW II, told to me on their knee two generations after the War ended. I have my Dad's wings, I have a small, crude cross my Uncle pounded out from a nickel on a long march that broke most men. I have the history, the words of my nation, and those men that founded and defended it.

"The Constitution of most of our states (and of the United States) assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed and that they are entitled to freedom of person, freedom of religion, freedom of property, and freedom of press." -Thomas Jefferson

Those are words that need no change. Thanks to people like my parents and my Aunt and Uncle, I did not grow up with the notion that what was important was being given your self esteem. Trophies were earned, not given to every child for participating. What was important was self respect and what we had of it was earned.
My Aunt did not grow up with promises of free health care, a roof over their head or a steady paycheck. Her generation grew up with simply the freedom to live, to make mistakes and grow. I am sure there were nights in her life that she went to bed hungry. I'm sure there were nights when she went to bed lonely and fearful of what the next week might bring.

But she had something often lost in the panacea of change that's being promoted now. She had the quintessential freedom to make of her life what she wanted of it, large or small. She had the freedom to find her path. She had the freedom to lose her way. She knew to her dying day that freedom would always be the fundamental requirement of any sound man's mind and she would embrace it always. Embrace it, even if in her last year she was increasing dismayed by decisions made simply for changes sake. Decisions made by hands that knew no blood or callus but only the swipe of a pen, spending millions that others had fought for, hands that had not learned through suffering that there is a profound difference between liberty and license.
But to the end, in her 90's, she had her life, on her terms and to the end she retained a clear mind and the ability to pass on what was important. Teaching us to value the old, respect what works and work hard. Like my father before me and my brothers, I raised my hand and took an oath to protect and serve my country, and I ask for little in return. For I have learned that survival is the individuals responsibility, all I ask of my government is the freedom to think, to defend, to act, while being free of the interference of those who don't. Freedom based on a Bill of Rights, which includes the right to fail.

My Aunt maintained her freedom to the end, despite the urging of her more liberal neighbors, people who for whom accepting had taken the place of knowing and believing. She lived her life on her own terms up until her last breath, surrounded by that which reinforced her freedom and offered her comfort in the dark hours. A Bible, books of learned men and of history and one dog eared page from a book by D.H. Lawrence.

Men fight for liberty and win it with hard knocks. Their children, brought up easy, let it slip away again, poor fools. And their grandchildren are once more slaves. ~D.H. Lawrence, Classical American Literature

The other day a friend  asked why I switched from engineering to study the science of bones, my fascination with them. I didn't answer him at the time, but I will now. I have studied bones untouched by anything but time. I have studied bones in fragments, co mingled with hundreds of others, burned and broken and laid bare to the elements. Still, I am always fascinated by the strength of that which is unfleshed. They are what lies at the center of us, not the heart, but that part of us that is the last thing to ever be dissolved, even if cut or disassembled or burned. It is the hardest, strongest most unwavering part of us, that which supports us, the last piece of us that remains of this earth, when everything else is lost. It's the surviving remnant of all that was dear to us.

Such are our values and if we are lucky, we hold on to them until we too are simply bone.

As I left her home city for the last time, I watched the ferry move away, its whistle absorbed by the pensive water, soon to be gone from sight. I was amazed by how quickly it had disappeared from view, gone with that swift and cursive ease in which things of value can be lost.

She is gone, but her family remains, a generation of children who were raised to fight for liberty, not let it slip away. Like her, I've spent many nights alone, often in a hotel in a strange land. I've come home with images a person should never see, playing in my head like a bad film, until sleep comes fitfully. Yet I come home with purpose. I analyze what is left, carefully, gently and with reverence, cataloging the bare bones of all that is truly important, so that further loss stays distant. That's what I was raised to do. That's all any of us can do.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Getting Rid of Bambi - Keeping Deer Out of Your Garden

Something ate the new plants.  But it wasn't Abby Lab~

Common culprits with low lying vegetation around town is usually rabbits.  But you'd be surprised where deer wander.  Perhaps not in the heart of a city, but in communities where there are parks and cornfields at hand, deer will travel far and wide, looking for a tasty, easy snack behind or near a low fence, or in an open yard. Our Chicago area village is surrounded on two sides by an enormous stretch of woods and the deer will happily wander across a busy street onto yours if you have tastier plants than in their own home.

Those people think deer and envision Bambi. But having lived out in the country and in the Northwest I see deer and think large wood rat with a rack. Deer are beautiful, in form and function but they are also incredibly destructive.

We lost a few of our newly planted spruce to the rabbits this winter, and I'm going to try my best to keep the deer from eating the rest of them (deer aren't particular fond of spruce but if starving will eat about anything green).
How do you know it's a deer that's been nibbling on your landscaping? "Have a Nice Day" spelled out in deer poop near your depleted maples might be a good way, but it's not always that obvious.  There are ways to tell however.  Deer lack upper incisors, so browsed twigs and stems show a rough, shredded surface. Rabbit damage has more of a neat, sharp 45-degree cut. Rodents leave narrow teeth marks when feeding on branches. Deer strip the bark and leave no teeth marks. Hungry deer will find just about any plant tasty, going at it like a Weed-eater on crack.
There really is no "deer proof" plant. There are species however that they find less appetizing if given a choice (you know, like turkey bacon). These include purple coneflower (4th photo from the bottom which is ALSO pet safe), thyme, grape Hyacinth, daffodil's, juniper, hawthorn, pinion pine and Douglas fir. For your flowerbeds specifically, they usually won't eat Lady's Mantle, Butterfly Weed, Foxglove, St. John's Wort, Lavender, Daffodil, Poppy and most pungent herbs. Favorites are apple, maple and plum trees, geraniums and tulips.

What I know doesn't work. No Deer Allowed signs. That works about as well as "no guns allowed" in gun free zones.

Things that make noise, like sheets of foil (they get used to it). Dogs, (effective in the day but if the dog is in the house at night sleeping, the deer simply wait until dark. Deer voodoo dolls. Spotlights (they get used to them).
Chemical vs. Natural: Some folks recommend chemical repellents to deter deer. I've used both chemically based, and naturally based but ONLY used the chemically based when the only pet was an indoor cat. Some I've tried with some success, Deer Away (good product, lousy dispenser) and Deer Off . Chemicals that don't work well in testing include denatonium benzoate, so check the label. The best "over the counter" product I've tried with success was Plantskydd, which like the Deer Away is a "fear inducing" repellent. However, it's not a product for the aroma sensitive or those whose bedroom window is directly downwind, for Plantskydd's effective ingredient is pig's blood in a veggie oil binder that helps to keep the product from being washed away too quickly. Ewwww!  The pigs' blood works by emitting an odor that animals associate with predator activity and stimulates a fear-based response which will have deer and other mammals looking for somewhere else to dine lest they be the next woodland creature slaughtered.

In short, it smells REALLY bad and will last for a while on any clothing you get it on.. Just be careful, when and where you spray, but typically the odor fades to the human nose after a day.. It can also discolor leaves, so spray it around the soil at the base of the plants. Of all the "non green" things I've tried, hands down, it worked the best but I was NOT a fan of the smell at all on day one.
There are also taste repellents. some of which you can make at home, naturally and some which you can buy, such as Tree e Guard®, or the McDonald's Big Mac.

The BEST pet and child safe product is that I've tried and been very pleased with is called "Deer Scram" and it requires no special handling - just use the scoop and sprinkle it around your plants. A totally "green" mixture, formulated out of organic ingredients, Deer Scram forms a protective odor barrier around your plants and shrubs.  To humans it smells like a very mild fertilizer (which it is) but it's the "smell of death" to deer (and hungry bunnies don't like it either) and you only have to apply it every 45 days or so. (Normal rainfall actually enhances it's effectiveness).  

to order

Though not as effective as Deer Scram, a natural DIY repellents that does seem to work is a mixture of 20% eggs and 80% water. This may clog your sprayer so if you can remove the white membrane attached to the yoke before mixing, that will help. This will need to be reapplied every 30 days but it can be a less expensive alternative, especially if you have chickens handy.There are other "home remedy" methods to repel deer. Hot sauce has been said to repel (though it does not work on Cajun deer). Try 3 tsp per gallon of water and respray after rain, or watering. Others swear by coyote urine (100%). I've had a hard time getting the coyote to pee in the cup so I'll stick with either the egg mixture or Deer Scram

Home-remedy repellents can be questionable at best. Some call for scattering human hair or soap shavings around the plants, or hanging bars of soap and fine mesh bags of hair from the trees, Blair Witch style (replacing both soap and hair bags monthly). Deer have been reported to simply eat the soap bars, and frankly hanging bags of hair from your trees and plants is only going to repel the neighbors (who think you've gone crazy on them and if you've got the freshly slaughtered blood smell wafting from your soil as well from a spray of Playtskydd, you'll find kids won't even come to your house on Halloween any more.)

Materials that work in one area or for one person may not work at all in an area more highly frequented by deer, and there are differences in feeding habits that run state to state.
Netting and Tubing. Tubes of Vexar netting around individual seedlings are an effective method to reduce deer damage to small trees. The material degrades in sunlight and breaks down in three to five years. These tubes can protect just the growing terminals or can completely enclose small trees. Attach tubes to a support stake to keep them upright. Tubes may not protect the trunk from damage when the buck uses the trees to scrape the velvet off of the antlers. A buck in the mood is not going to be deterred by a tube. Another option is flexible, sunlight-degradable netting that expands to slip over seedlings.

Paper or Reemay budcaps. These are used to protect a trees terminal bud during dormant season. They may help reduce browse damage. Budcaps are rectangular pieces of material folded lengthwise and stapled around the terminal leader. These are used most commonly on conifers since deer normally munch on the conifer seedlings in the late fall and early spring when the caps can be installed without interfering with tree growth.
Fencing: Adequate fencing to exclude deer is the only sure way to control deer damage. But don't think the standard fence will do it. Driving down from the Northern part of the state into the city, I pass through a park that is fenced to keep deer out. I've seen a dozen cars hit deer there in the last couple years commuting that way. The deer just pop right over it. A standard deer-proof fence is 8 feet high and made of woven wire.

Some people have luck with tying white plastic shopping bags on the fence every couple of feet. The noise and movement of the plastic bags seems to scare deer and keep them away.

For small gardens and stands of trees (no more than 3 to 4 acres) you can use invisible polypropylene mesh barriers. These are 7 and a half to 8 feet high, UV treated with a high tensile strength that blends in. It comes in rolls 100 to 330 feet long and is attached with hog ring staples to high tension line. The bottom is either staked to the ground or attached to another high tension wire to keep the deer from limbo dancing underneath. Some people use a slanting type deer fence or fortify their electric fences by baiting with peanut butter. Baiting is NOT legal for hunting but it is for teaching a deer what Mr. Fence is all about. The peanut butter will draw them in to a fence/nose encounter (Choosy Mothers Choose . . . Son of a Bitch!) The deer will remember that and will associate the fence with stay the heck away.

If you are in the country and you and your neighbors HAVE NO OUTDOOR PETS- a last resort - the electric fence.  Electric fences also can be used if you are dead serious about it. . Electric fences should be of triple-galvanized, high-tensile, 13.5-gauge wire carrying a current of 35 milliamps .  Several configurations of electric fences are commonly used: vertical five-, seven-, or nine-wire; slanted seven-wire; single strand; and others.

There are restrictions in many areas as to the use of an electric fence and for good reason. If the fence is legal by local or state statute, there may be restrictions as to purpose, number of strands, size and type of charger (might have to be Less Than Lethal approved), must be inside the perimeter of a mechanical fence, setbacks from property lines and public access, etc. (If electric fences are outlawed only outlaws will have electric fences.) So you should check your local ordinances before purchasing and installing. In any event, when using a single strand electric fence you will want to mark the wire with reflective tape or a cloth strip, something to catch the deers eye. Otherwise they won't see it until they've gone right through it.
And remember, if all else fails.

Remind yourselves you don't live in Thailand where giant monitor lizards try and enter your home.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

RIP Ruger - Memories of a Dog

I don't know how many of you know
at God, Gals, Guns, Grub.  A university Educator  and firearms instructor of many years who now owns a school and protection consulting business in Ohio with his talented wife, Dann and his family have been friends of mine for years and their dog Ruger was a pal of Barkley.

It is with sadness that I have to share that Ruger lost his fight of a long time with some serious health issues.  He will be missed and I know how much his family is hurting.  For them, I share my thoughts and a few words. - Brigid


  • In rough wool socks, in a cooling room, I read from the books of the Old Testament, dipping my finger in a glass of whiskey, salvaging all I can from myth and truth, as reality comes through the window like a tossed brick.

    Outside there was nothing, the world outside the window, only a long, steady dusting of snow, the dark and constant presence of winter’s scorn. Somewhere in the distance, a snowplow scrapes the day’s history from the streets as I pull a sweater around me, small comfort in this empty house.

    We find comfort in various ways. For some, it's food, human warmth and need or the acquisition of possessions.   For some, it's drugs or alcohol, a balm to the self we deceive ourselves into believing as being measurably containable.   We're not though; days come in which we're like a glass too full, barely preventing ourselves from spilling over through surface tension.

    Our comforts can be our healing, but if left unchecked, they can be our curse, carried in an empty bag, a broken bottle, harsh words that scatter like empty containers, the hiss of a snake as we toss it away.   They can also be our savior, keeping us from that isolating inward spiral, the soul’s needle that rips free the bindings, thus letting our wounds heal.

    For me, my comfort this night is the written Word of God, of man, or a mere mortal woman, the thoughts in a journal that spring from my own day.  Those words laid out unfolded, are my way of savoring what it means to be alive; and the most striking measure of life is the literal odds against it.  For every way that there is of being here, humanity and nature have derived an infinite number of ways of not being here. Calamities of man and nature can wipe out entire civilizations even as the smallest of things can render us completely and totally undone, a meteorite and a microbe carrying the same weight. Statistics belittles our very existence; thermodynamics prohibits us, and gravity usually wins.  That's if we're not taken out first by hurricane, flood, donkey accident, tainted food, terrorists or that offer of a ride home by that nice guy at the bar with an eye patch and a hook for a hand.

    I spent much of my early adulthood as a jet pilot, learning very quickly that, not only can't you always save the world, sometimes you cannot even save yourself.  But the effort is often worth it. If you're lucky, your brushes with life will only leave a few small physical scars. If I raise up my bangs, right at the hairline, there’s a tiny, faint scar from a tumble off my bike down a hill as a kid. There's a small ding in my forehead where the bungee cord of the J60-P-3 turbojet engine cover whacked me on the ramp at warp speed when I lost the wrestling contest with it.  But for most people, like me, the bigger scars are internal, and you only touch them softly, with trepidation, not remorse, in the late night hours of "what if’s."

    Pilots get that.  Adventurers get that.  So, usually, does anyone who has challenged their fears. There are times when it seems as if the world is going to pieces around you, a sense of this enormous elemental power beyond your reason or control.  You think "what am I doing; this is nuts!"  As you squeak past the reaper one more time, you say “well, that wasn’t as bad as I thought” already planning on when you will chase the experience again.  For you are called to the altar of the infinite, the bread of life on the tongue, tasting faintly of salt, the sweetness, just underneath.  It's reaching your hand out to receive glory even as your world cranks up to red line with the knowledge that if mistakes are made, there will be no saving grace; you may be lost.  But if are not, then the world will, for that instant, have one moment of equilibrium, of order, of peace.

    Those moments, perfect moments of transcendence, almost worthy of the reckoning.

    It's moments like this, like these here now, that are our way of saying that, in the face of the impossible, life is worth savoring.  It's acknowledging that when life lobs something our way like a grenade, shards of pain exploding across our world, that life still can be a gift, still a story to be told.

    It is a story, not one of science, one that may not be remembered past this one lifetime. It is the story of someone that did not know his destiny, but followed it with unfaltering step, bound to me, not by vows or paper, but in the name of the trust that was the best part of his nature. It is a story of the one that taught me to love even as he occasionally barfed on my carpet.  It is simply the tale of a black Labrador retriever named Barkley.
     It was the beginning I never anticipated--belief that there were no limits that made tragedy inevitable, a gentle nuzzle that made the walls fall away, and the pull of the leash into the day’s infinitude.

    It was an ending I did not expect; a leash laid across the chair, an empty bed, a glass tipped over, spilling the blood of wine.  The noise that empty rooms make is as clear as tears.

    In between, there are the stories of friends, of joy and dog hair, of a small pink ball with feet known as Mr. Squeaky, which became my mortal enemy at dawn, as I tried to sleep. There are tales of the great "bacon incident" and how I know more about how to clean carpet than should be allowed by law. There are words that twist and turn in the shade of an ancient tree, a sonnet to an old dog, who lies between the bones of poets, to be unearthed as he releases me to remember.

    A couch sits across from me, absent of a form that claimed it for ten years. Under the table, are a few favorite toys, sticks and stones that now break my bones, even as I cannot bear to part with them.  I sit, the solitary dreamer, pulled to the perimeters of memory that can’t yet be mapped.  I sit, a cowboy without his sidekick, my defense laid down on the bar, nursing the hurt with one part tears and two parts single malt. Barkley's things are stacked by the door, as ordered as rifle cartridges, a dog's length from the barrel of the bottle.  That bottle is a place I do not want to lose myself, I think as small sounds come from my chest, as the rumble of thunder infinitely remote, the vibration of grief down deep inside, tremulous and impartial and waiting.

    But grieving with memories is better than nothing without them and the only thing worse than not being alive, is not having anything to remember.

    So for tonight, I will simply pour a finger of warmth and put the bottle aside to sit, to wait for something I cannot name, but of which I can still remember.   I will remember the alone as a white shirt on the line, fluttering in the hot wind. I'll remember the together as the sound of a puppy's whimper.  I will remember it all as an open field under cloudless skies, as we learned to walk together, of fresh grass and soft ice cream, wood smoke and black powder, of black fur and white knights and love unexpected.  I'll remember it and write of it, as a renouncement of pain, as a leap into unknown air, a dog, a moment, so worthy of the price.

    Our wounds we wear like temporary garments until they are forgotten, but our stories, we don them as forever.
  •  - From The Book of Barkley - Outskirts Press 2014

Monday, June 20, 2016

Cloudy with a Chance of Cheeseburgers

Sunday was perfect weather for barbecuing, just enough cloud cover to cool the temperatures down a bit. We use an old barbecue - no fancy gas grill for us. We start with using a "chimney" which is often made from scrap in the basement or garage, open on both ends with small holes or vents to light off the newspaper.
Where scrapple comes from - explains the chewiness

Then stuff the bottom with newspaper, turn it over place it on the bottom grill grate and fill, Some lump charcoal will go next to the chimney the newspaper within is then lighted through a little vent made in the chimney.  If you're going to be cooking for a while (for a crowd, or a large tenderloin) consider using a mixture of lump charcoal and briquettes, the lump charcoal being placed on the grill, unlit, next to the chimney, then mixed with the briquettes when they're going strong.  Why does this work? The briquettes burn steadily for a long time and the lump charcoal burns very hot and adds flavor.

The chimney is so much better than the aroma of lighter fluid on the back of your tongue as you sip your pre-barbecue beer.

Once the charcoal catches fire, wait about 20 minutes for the flames to die down and the briquettes to be glowing hot and ashed over. Dump the briquettes onto the unlit lump charcoal and arrange them with your tongs or your HOTR Universal Pot Handle Tool ™
Put on the top grate and wait 10 minutes for the lump charcoal to catch fire before cooking (this set up should last about 45 minutes). If you're just doing a few burgers use the chimney and forget the lump charcoal.
First fry up some bacon (we had leftovers from breakfast). Amish bacon from Beef Mart in Valporaiso is pretty hard to beat, it cooks up thick with a deep red color and a wonderful smokey taste.
Be prepared for an audience as you put things together.

We'll start with the burger:

Note: Use ground chuck, not sirloin, you want a little fat in these., a mixture of 80/20 making for the juiciest burgers that won't fall apart.

Spread a pound of beef out flat in a pan.  Sprinkle with:

Several shakes of Worcestershire sauce
A teaspoon of Lipton onion soup mix or DIY Soup Mix*
Some cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon Penzey's roasted garlic (powdered).

Grab 5-6 ounces of meat, squeezing gently to distribute the spices and and lightly toss from hand to hand, forming a ball
Gently pat into patties that are as wide as the buns. (Yes we had two small sesame ones and a leftover homemade one) and 3/4 to one inch thick, handling the meat as little as possible.  Make sure the edges are round and put an indentation in the middle with your thumb (this keeps them from shrinking as much).
There were burgers here a minute ago - I can still smell them!

Cook over medium-high direct heat (food is directly over hot coals) 5 minutes, then flip and cook 3 minutes more for medium. A hint that it's ready to flip is that the burger will release from the grate without sticking. Whatever you do, resist the urge to flatten or squish your burgers with a spatula as they cook, you might as well pick them up and squeeze out the juice.  With the dent in them they're much less likely to puff up, but still, don't do it.

Partner usually cooks them six minutes near the coals, flipping once, then a minute and a half on indirect heat, covered.  Only flip once as as the meat cooks, the heat pushes the juices away from the heat source and you don't want to disrupt those juices any more than necessary.
There is a friendly debate on which heat and timing makes for the more juicy burger. I won the debate, not because my burger is better, but because I have red hair :-)

The last minute or so, lightly brush  your burger buns with olive oil and place on the grill to toast.

Served on sesame seed buns with white cheddar goat cheese, romaine, bacon slices and "secret sauce" (double sauce if serving more than 3-4 burgers)

No Longer Secret Sauce

1/4 cup mayo
3 Tablespoons tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon honey
3/4 teaspoon honey vinegar or sherry vinegar
1/4 tsp Sciracha (add a couple more drops to taste if you like it hotter)
1/4 teaspoon crushed garlic
salt and cracked black pepper

Blend in food processor or blender until smooth.

Serve with Sour Cream/Cheddar Macaroni Salad

1 box of macaroni (8 oz.)
1/4 cup finely diced red pepper
2 tablespoons finely diced green pepper OR celery
1 cup mayo
3/4 cup sour cream
1 Tablespoon white sugar
3 Tablespoons white vinegar
1/4 cup milk
1 and 1/4 cup finely cubed or shredded cheddar.

Cook macaroni until still firm to the bite, drain and allow to cool. Mix dressing ingredients and add to cooled pasta just before serving.

 Partner said it was the best burger all year and I have to agree.

*DIY Soup Mix  (no MSG)

3/4 cup dried onion
1/3 cup Penzey's beef soup base or bouillon powder
1/4 tsp celery seed
1 tsp parsley flakes
1 tsp turmeric,
1/4  tsp pepper. 

Store in air tight container and use 4 Tablespoons for most recipes that call for a  whole package of soup mix.  

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day - On Dreams

I got back last week from a week long trip out to see Dad to celebrate his birthday as well as an early Father's Day. Although at 96, his health and his heart are failing, he seemed to be holding it together mentally at least, eating well and doing all he could do, as a man, to defend the remote from those that would wish to watch “chick flicks” between beating me at multiple games of Cribbage.  He does have a nurse's aid in two shifts, 8 hours a day to help with his meds and bathing and a catheter that's an outcome of his cancer treatment along with aging. They also keep the house clean and prepare his meals, including a hot supper each day, laughing I'm sure at some of the "as seen on TV", things Dad has added to his "bachelor kitchen" since my Step Mom passed.
I met the young women working with him now and they are giving him the best of care, as they stayed even though I was there, my knee now being strong enough to pull him up from his bed or from the low slung car seat from those daily car rides he likes to take.   It was obvious from the cadence of their routines, and the spotlessness of the house, that they have his habits and the needs of he and his house down to a drill and with their medical training I'm more at ease than if he just had a "companion". That care, obviously, is not cheap, but hey were quite attentive and hard working and it was obvious he genuinely enjoys their company.  For the option - to leave a home of 60 some years to live with family thousands of miles away or go into local assisted living, would break his heart.  As long as I have a job, he'll stay where he can be happy, my ensuring the bills get paid, knowing he is welcome to live with us or my cousin L. in her mountain cabin, and knowing he never will.
But he's fallen a couple of times and his judgment for things physical is not the best (we had to hide the ladder and the portable heater). He said he's fine, but his grief is still there under the surface, sometimes clouding his thoughts, and perhaps his judgment. Having been there, I know that he keeps it in, simply, with surface tension, like a cup filled too full. Memories of the two wives, and a son and daughter he outlived (the daughter died as an infant before they adopted me) come to him more often now.  I saw him tear up again, rising from a nap with moisture in his eyes and the words. "H. and I were having a time" and he just smiled, not elaborating.

Dreams. They come to us unbidden, some frightful, some bringing a joy that is only a glimpse of what is to become. Some are such that as soon as they touch us, we wish to pull out of them quickly. Such dreams are better faced awake, armed with reason and courage, then in the leaden movements of the night, where things will pull you down into the depths of fear and pain, while your legs struggle to move, caught in a quicksand of time and tide.

But for every occasional nightmare over those years (usually after late night Pepperoni pizza) there were those dreams that would  wake us up with a smile on our face; a look, a face, a touch, unknown to us in the day, but yearning for us in the night.Those were such thoughts that follow us into our days as the sun warmed our face.
In school, I was an attentive student, not prone to wandering thoughts, though I did get sent to the Principals office for getting caught reading a car magazine behind my history book in 9th grade. (Look, I already knew about Lewis and Clark, I wanted to know how to put headers on my car, as soon as I could buy one).

There were also few expectations in a small mill town other than you try and finish high school, only a few going to the local two year college. From high school, most get a job in the timber plant, get married young and work hard. The green chain of a lumber mill might be a place to earn $20 bucks an hour, big bucks at 18, but for me it was a place where dreams would go quietly to die. Dad understood and gave permission for me to opt out of most of my high school courses and start my studies at our local college at age 14.

Three years later, with Dad's blessing, I left for the big city, disillusioned by the indifference to the song of a destiny in a factory town displayed by my classmates, afraid of a fate that herded its own through a shortcut from school to an oft early grave, with sometimes dangerous and back breaking work. Higher education was my only way out, and as much as I loved my family and some of my friends, I had to go. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, there was no money for college, with Mom's long battle with cancer, but I knew that with the hard work ethic of those I grew up with, I could put myself through, as both my parents did.
So I watched those familiar mountains grow distant, my dreams about the only thing I had to consume in that first year on my own, which in the Chinese Calendar would have been the “Year of the Ramen noodle” as I sometimes worked up to 3 part time jobs to pay for tuition and a room to rent in a big house near campus.

But I still came back, if only for Dad. For his dreams, tattered as Fall leaves that waved like a brace of flags, were still real to him. He was, and is,  happy there, children close in spirit if not in miles, sharing in the memories of much happier times, stories of those he loved with great intensity.

I understand such things, for like my Dad, I am a closet romantic. I once had a talk with a friend about what would be the ideal relationship for me, not the pride of ownership with the ensuing need for control, but something else - “I want someone for which I’m necessary, not simply loved, but necessary", I said, trying to explain it as best I could. He said such things are the 'stuff of romantic fiction' but he did so kindly, not understanding.
Perhaps there are only a few like us to which that romantic readiness which is the extraordinary gift of hope is to be found, those with that heightened sensitivity to the promise of a smile; the rest of the world, staid, their hard and fast existence only dust, floating on the wake of their dreams, leaving behind the elation of hope in the practical drift that is life. But I would not settle for less, for there is no amount of dust or fire that can challenge what someone dreams of in their ghostly heart.

Dad understood, and over the years sure we'd have talks into the unquiet evenings while I was there about my life and my heart, not to be nosy, or to bring up the pain of the distant past that he knows was still there, but to simply make sure I would be OK when he was gone. He knew how fortunate he was to love greatly, not once, but twice, two marriage, each lasting decades, the last a great one that pulls at his heart daily though in no way diminishing his first love.

When I brought Partner in Grime home, one of only two men I'd ever brought home to meet my family in the last 25 years, Dad was relieved to see I was finally happy, and my Big Brother took to Partner like he was already family, the two of them discussing engineering in the kitchen well into the wee hours, as even then, my brother knew his days were drawing to a close.  They both loved him and were  happy that I was not just in love, but that I was "safe", something I'd not been with a spouse twenty years ago who used his fists as exclamation points.
Yet for all his romantic soul, Dad’s a practical man, raised in the depression, career military, living with Norwegians for which the utterance of profound despair may only be “ya, the coffee is getting cold then” and possessing those fine set of brakes which can put a halt to any runaway emotion lest you lose control. And like my closest friends he is very much a "man's man" on the outside. He loves his sports and once glued to the TV, there’s not much conversation. I was cooking a large meal for him for dinner one night, and half way through he came out in the kitchen and hugged me and said “I love you”. I looked at him, laughed and said “it’s half time isn’t it”. And he just laughed.

But my Dad and I are just alike, even as, both redheads, we occasionally gently and humorously spar, out of stubbornness and concern for one another, as anything. Which is why I travel the long miles to see him as often as I do, spending time with him rather than going on trips with friends,or vacations with my husband, tending to Dad's large house, cooking him his favorite meals which will go into the freezer for later, getting his beloved garden in order, running his errands.
With my brother gone, keeping those memories of family alive for him is even more important.  This visit -  my brother's best friend since early childhood and his beautiful wife stopped by to wish Dad a Happy Birthday and there were so many stories, so many memories, and that final question I AM going to ask my brother when I see him in Heaven -  "Why DID you have a live loaded flare gun in your nightstand??"

There’s not a lot for me to do there when Dad is sleeping, which is about 14 hours a day, the nearest town fairly small, the unemployment in that whole part of the state staggering. The town is coated with the smell of the pulp mills taking the form of grey houses and grey smoke and tired men and women who move slowly and seemingly without thought or dreams in and out of the vast machinery that keeps this little town alive. Their eyes dimmed by many hard days under rain and cloud, yet remaining here, for what tethers them to this land is as profound to them as what drove me away.
For though I go there because I am needed, I do not live there, I only watch. Watch the thin yellow sky, that bleeds into the smoke from the mills down the river, a smoke that offers a cloud of secrecy that is sensed rather than felt, by the casual watcher of the landscape. Whether we stayed or we left, we all have our secrets. Some are known, those that look at me in the grocery and whisper. And those secrets we don't speak of. We feel the words in our head and they are summoned to lips where in an intake of air they are almost spoken. But air alone is not enough to make them form, and they remain uncommunicated, except for the touch of fingers in our sleep.

So, for Dad, for his dream, I would stay, if only for that week. For this is what he needs now, for though his town is not the place he settled, so many moving away, it is is a memory of post WWII life, setting up a home here with his first wife, my Mom, after years of separation while he was at War. It was a town full of music and dreams and tall hills covered with ceaseless timber, the rain, not a grey blanket but a sound, a rising and swelling with the gusts of emotion, and passion that was worth waiting for. That place is still alive for him, in an old covered bridge, in an old house near the water, in dreams of steelhead trout that never grow old, never tire.
I left this place to seek my dreams, and he says behind so he can live among his, in a home that contains those memories of what made him happy. Two china sets, two completely different women, both fragile and strong as steel, both beautiful. The marks of children raised here, a small playhouse out back, the marks on a door where we grew and grew. On the table in the dining room, a photo, of a pair of blue eyes in which his whole world achieved its value by the response he could draw from them. This was a woman who was completely necessary to him, and will remain so even as her actual presence is but the touch of fabric left by a sewing machine, forever stilled.
After my visit there, I  go home to dreams rendered real, eyes kind and a face smiling, the countenance of St. John the Divine, made flesh. Someone to make me laugh, someone who would mourn my passing. My nights on the road might be lonely, yet in the wandering paths of my dreams both asleep and awake will come lips on my shoulder, fingers that hold my own, gently as if in sleep, silent shadows of faithfulness that communicate more profoundly than any words I could write here. And like my Dad knows, I am aware of how very fortunate I am, to have these remnants of family, strong and abiding still.
He and I both know this may well  be the last Father's Day I get to say these words to him, but I know that when he does have to leave us, there will be more than shadows remaining.  There will be laughter and warmth reflected in invisible glass, seen from a distance by loving hearts that will always remember.

 Happy Father's Day Dad.  I Love You.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Stone Angels

Barkley is ever watchful, be it in the yard with a treat filled dog toy or inside.

He diligently watches the front and back doors, especially if I'm in the shower or sleeping during the day after a long trek home. He does it when we're at a friend's house.

The first time the UPS guy showed up at this address, the bark was deep and ferocious, to the point the UPS guy STOPPED in his tracks on the walkway, hesitating.  I cracked open the window and said "black lab!"

He smiled and came on up.  I slid open the door and said "do you want to meet him?"  And he said, "sure" at which point Barkley came out in full "I can't handle my licker" mode and got lots of pets.  I figured after that; they'd be fast friends, but the next time the big brown truck showed up with a box of reloading supplies, Barkley sounded off as if he wished to personally eat the bearer of all things Amazon.

So he sits, and he watches like some great dark stone angel.

I think of the stone angels that stand above the broken flowers that are laid upon the ground at the cemetery.  On any particular day, there will be a dark river of vehicles, washed and polished fluid flowing onto the grounds, circling and stopping around that depression in the earth that neither time nor sufficient airspeed will prevent our passage into. The vehicles move, almost as one, giving a sense of speed when speed itself is absent, even as those that held fast the wheels, unite in that implacable knowledge that the speed is no longer necessary.

We don't always plan on assuming the role of a guardian.  Defenders and protectors are often appointed (or what we refer to at work as Voluntold). Some are chosen by talent and bravery, some, simply because they are the only one available.

As a small child, I was asked by my best friend to take care of her "pet" frog while she was away for the weekend with her parents. I didn't want to do it, but felt like I had to. It wasn't a real frog, being made of some stretchy, green iridescent rubber, but she loved playing with it, dubbing it an "enchanted frog" able to lift any evil spell her brother could place on her princess dolls.

Unfortunately, Mr. Frog Prince was involved in an industrial accident involving an Erector Set and the laws of physics pertaining to stretchy rubber. He lost a couple of legs as an outcome.

I was heartsick for what I'd done, especially as it was never the intent, just another childhood experiment with tools and toys. I placed the remains gently in a piece of Kleenex and put them in a box and cried my eyes out. My Mom was less than pleased and visions of Lutheran hell (which likely involved Lutefisk and 1970's gym class wear) danced in my head as she made me write my apology. I delivered it with the ruined toy and a new, better toy to replace it, paid for with my allowance for the next month.

My friend forgave me, but I did not forgive me. Not for a while.

Years later, frogs fared no better in my care, but eventually I was entrusted with not just power tools, but hearts and lives. It is why I do what I do. On my head is a ball cap with the letters of my duty.  In my pocket is a piece of brass on which rests a number that will retire with me.  It is shown only with respect to access those places where the sanctity and story of what remains are inviolate. In my truck is a blue lunch box that looks like the Tardis. All are parts of me, the one who will be forever the child amazed by the unknown, and the other, the one who was entrusted with something precious, determined this time, not to break it.

In another place, far away, comes a river of vehicles, mostly trucks, still flowing in towards desecrated ground. It is a landscape of scarred ground, in which the rumble of thunder and the banshee scream of the wind still echoes. Those traveling within are unprepared for what they see, a hundred streets now a single vista, with missing corners and trees whose roots now seek their moisture directly from heaven, all broken by intervals of splintered lives and stolen plans.

Through the area, there is movement, those still looking for survivors or simply what was home, here in that interchangeable section of streets without form, without remembered names.  The vehicles silently pass by, in as much shock as respect. Though the vehicles bear souls inside, they also bear much more behind - water, food, diapers, wet naps, pet food, small things, even the smallest of which will fall as coins from the sky for those that have nothing.

There are  times that even the bravest can not protect, when the stoutest of hearts and the firmest of faiths can not defend from the wrath of mother nature or the evil intents of man. But this is a land where they still trust in God even as He watches as the sky smites the earth.  It is a place where they still trust in mankind's goodness, even as they know, how man can smite innocence as well as any natural disaster. This is a place where they know that people will band together with hands and hearts and sweat and prayer, to help. Some might term those that arrive to help as angels.  But they are not. They are simply flawed human beings who remember what it is like to hurt, from the pain they've received, for pain they've unwittingly caused.

The vehicles continue on to their destination, drivers pressing the foot to the gas even as they are mindful of the dangers. For on this day, speed is of the essence as there are so many waiting, and needing.  The vehicles try to stay together in some sense of orderly uproar, even as dust causes the eyes to weep, the remnants of bitten branches waving in a brightening sky as they pass.

They are not here specifically to protect or defend, or even, perhaps, to keep. Perhaps like Barkley, they are here, humbly and quietly, to leave some healing water for broken flowers, before heading back to home

 - excerpt from The Book of Barkley by LB Johnson  (Outskirts Press 2014)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Domo Kun Approved Brownies

Had the kind of day that leaves you craving a big brownie?

Sure you can make a gluten free, fat free, sugar free brownie. That would be known as "compost".

Or you can make the Domo kun of brownies - dense, chewy, able to hold up to a glass of milk, and seriously taking away any chocolate craving you had. These are dense and chewy and very rich - you'll never go back to boxed brownies again. For those of you who haven't been to Japan - Domo Kun is the official mascot of Japan's public broadcaster NHK, and you see him all around town. He's shaped like a giant brownie with teeth and legs.  I've several toy plushie Domo Kuns around the Range.

Dark Chocolate Brownies

1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons(78 grams) all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6  ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (my fav - Scharffen Berger Unsweetened Dark) 
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon very finely ground coffee
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon Penzey's Mexican vanilla 
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (I love the 365 brand from Whole Foods)

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Grease an 8 x 8 pan or drape parchment paper across it so you can just lift the brownies out when cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder and salt  together.

Put the chocolate, butter, and coffee in a large heat-proof bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Quickly whisk in the sugars in until combined, then remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

When cool, add 2 eggs to the chocolate/butter  mixture and whisk until combined. Add remaining egg and whisk. Add the vanilla extract and stir until combined. Mix ONLY until combined - too much mixing adds air bubbles into the egg mixture which makes for a cake like brownie - not our goal here.

Add the flour mixture and chips to the chocolate mixture and fold until just combined (you will likely see a few small streaks of flour still).

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread with a spatula until evenly distributed in pan.. Bake in the center of the oven for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time.  Stick with a toothpick at 20 minutes. Brownies are done with the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs attached to it, you don't want it to be a dry toothpick as in making cake.

Let the brownies cool completely before serving.