Sunday, February 7, 2016

Band of Brothers (and da' Sisters)

It had been far too long since we'd all met up at one place.  With elderly parent care issues, some of which got beyond complex in the last couple of years, with some of us unexpectedly ending up as mostly sole caretakers, jobs, children, animals etc, it had been well over a year, since we'd all gotten together.  I was finding it hard to just juggle writing and marketing my books,  Dad's care and expenses and a demanding new job, having to greatly reduce contact with a lot of bloggers, barely having time for even close friends. Fortunately the majority of them understood and let me step back and breathe for a while, as I did them.

Sure, my closest friends and I had all seen each other singularly, sometimes out and about, a quick coffee or lunch or pizza with a few of us and there were always phone calls.   But it just seemed that time slipped away, and as Midwest Chick put it so well- it's time to get the band back together!~

We came wearing our finest (casual) wear.

And for the ladies needing the right jewelry. Midwest Chick had a Leatherman tread. so you always have your allen and box wrenches and screwdrivers on hand.

We met at our favorite meeting place -  the usual gang from the North, Og and Mrs. O., Og's Best Friend since childhood, M, the original named Partner in Grime (seriously I get to hear ALL the stories about Og growing up) known as M. to MY Partner and I, Mr. B.and  Midwest Chick, M's little brother Rich couldn't join us from Southern Indiana but he will soon. (And yes, I AM going to call you "Grandpa".)

We meet at a restaurant that's about not  super close but is an equal drive from all of our houses, the perfect point in the middle of friends scattered across two states.

The Warsaw Inn. in Lynnwood IL.  My husband's cell phone camera doesn't do it justice but I was not going to risk losing a perogi or being rude and holding up the line trying to balance the big Cannon camera so it stayed home.
 It's all you can eat Polish Food.
You start with the homemade (and I mean like your Mom made, not a bread machine) bread and honey butter and soups, then move down the line of pastries and salads.
 The hot bar has several varieties of perogies in butter, blintzes, cabbage rolls, potato pancakes
Just when you think you've got everything you need, there's the stuffing, real mashed potatoes and gravy, beans, fried chicken and sausages. It's spotlessly clean, and they keep the food filled up so it's hot and fresh.
And at the end (not pictured as that plate was FULL and the camera needed to get stowed), the owner, a beautiful woman who runs this place while a well oiled machine, is there to carve some roasted beef or ham off the bone.

The  friendly and attentive waitress kept the coffee and drinks coming and most everyone made two trips, a little last bit of a favorite item and some of the wonderful pastries, cakes and cookies (frosted brownies, I HAD to have two)
It was good to just be together and share stories - at one time there was a conversation going about M. being in the bathroom with a stripper, while Mr. B. was telling a tale about disrobing in public with one hand, while with the other he got the mouse out of his pants, and of course there's the story of Harold, who has to live out in the barn because he doesn't get along with the rest of the family. But none of the blue haired ladies around us gasped as these were true stories of simple country household misadventures and all of those silly everyday things that when shared with friends, take on another level of humor, given this group.

Too soon it was time to share hugs all around and head home. We made sure our waitress got a very generous cash tip, as we'd stayed a while with many cups of coffee and seconds on dessert and we gathered our coats, But first, since I'd not seen her during the holidays and had to mail her her Christmas gifts, some things from Midwest Chick - best friend, confident, and fellow blaster of bowling pins. Moving up here was bittersweet because it was far away from two people who mean a lot to me, Roberta, always a source of wisdom and wonder and Tam who has been my dear friend since long before this blog came to be, but getting closer to these friends - made it all worthwhile.

The first gift made me smile - my favorite hot sauce from a favorite band. Scoville Brothers of Valporaiso IN, making great music and hot sauce for several years.  This is the only brand of hot sauce I'll use in Range cooking.

 She got me two of the Singing Smoke, the one I use the most and was lowest on (I still have some awesome Heavy Metal Heat Ghost Pepper sauce left) and a NEW one.  Cowboy Crooner which I can't wait to try (after I listen to their new song with my free download).
 Then a mug that matches my favorite hat.   Cunning!
 What's this?   It's an antique book - Robin Hood to be exact.
 But it has been MODIFIED!
 It's a purse!  With hardware to open and close and a fabric center that matches the cool antique look of the book.
Midwest Chick made me a paracord strap for it so I can carry it as a strap purse in addition to a clutch purse! It's reflective to, so if I'm carrying it in poor light, I'm easier to see.
And as they say on TV - and there's MORE!  Some awesome handcrafted shampoo and conditioner from Toadstool Soaps on Etsy.  Sweet Orange Chili Pepper  - this smells AWESOME.

And of course - the gift that says I love you my friend - a big package of Amish bacon from Beef Mart.

Which for years, many of you thought was a euphemism.

Some things, and some people are worth going out of your way for.  Thank you, my friends. We'll not let it get that long between gatherings again.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Wheels Turning - A Morning Commute

I am still  getting used to a commute into the city for work.  I was spoiled at the crash pad in Indy; on the freeway in 3 minutes, to my office in no more than 10.  Now, my drive is a minimum of40 minutes (if I leave around 5 a.m.) to an hour and a half (each way) to go about 20 miles if I pick the wrong time and three hours if if there is a storm.

It's less stressful now that I've realized that
(1) all cars in the turn lane, up to six, will turn after the light turns red.
(2) stopping for the yellow light 3 cars ahead of you increases your danger of being the victim of road rage
(3) if there is a space in front of you big enough for a car, someone will dart into  it without signalling even if their lane is wide open
(4). if all of the houses have bars on the doors and windows it is NOT decorative and get back on the damn freeway.
(5) eye contact is NOT your friend
(6) IDOT creates large deep potholes around the city which are never repaired as they are there simply to test your reflexes.

But we live where my husband can be fairly close to his work and given his duties and hours, that is good. I'm NOT a fan of driving in the dark, never was. but I'm doing it now, so I can beat the afternoon rush hour. Beginning the fist of my commutes when winter hit, was not the best of timings, leaving at an hour and temperature that denied not only sanity, but breath. The city itself seemed almost ominous on those initial drives, taunting me with "drive here if you like, but I've already arrived, being here before you were born and standing, long after you are dust. I am the city and you will have  no destination but that which I allow you and it will be nothing but cold and dark until have you have return again so why even try?"

But over time, as I became familiar with the safest and least busy streets to travel, I've actually learned to enjoy it a bit  as with the radio off, and fewer cars on the road, it gave me time to think, to reflect back upon those "might have beens" which are more true than truth,  Outside there's not much you would call beautiful - miles and miles of old neighborhoods and darkened buildings, interspersed with areas of renewal where the facades of homes have been reclaimed.  But you notice the light - not from the sun, as it's an hour or more from tipping its hand, but from the streetlights, as they shine and reflect on window and form.  You see bits of light in other cars, the glow of a cigarette, a dome light that comes on, then off again as someone changes the radio channel then goes back into hiding as quick as a trap door spider.
As I drive, words flow though my head, some which will someday splay across a keyboard, others that though gleaming like lit from a candle within, will only burn in the darkness of my own thoughts.  I am careful to sip on some cold water, so that I don't actually fall asleep, but I find myself lulled into a cadence where I'm remembering while aware, moving the truck around a known chunk missing in that street, as a hand in a body still dreaming, flicks away from a cold candle, with the heated remembrance of pain..

I see how the light flicks off the glasses-adorned face of someone waiting for the bus in the dark.  The form is tired and stooped, their head down as if with grief, with eyes that have forgotten how to weep, but remember well the tracks those tears left on their skin. I draw my coat around myself, thankful for the blessing of a warm ride, even if it is old.

More often than not, the forms waiting for the bus are female, going into the city to work, often the only one working in that household.  They wait for the bus as if waiting for light, not for the glare of victory but only that which they need to see to endure.
As a child, I never would have pictured myself here, always swearing to live my whole life in the country, where the land was open as the eternal springtime of a young woman's heart.  But with life comes change - some full of wonder, some that are nothing more then the forceps cold tearing free of that which is familiar.  This place, this big cold city, is my home because strangely enough, it is here that I found the quiet healing warmth that is a familiar heart.

Up ahead, comes flashing lights, an early morning commuter train.  I don't know how many times I've watched someone drive around the gates, risking all just to gain three minutes of time making that dash as a distracted night bird does as it dives into the fatal glow of a window. Ahead the empty school bus will stop, waiting with the quiet patience that only something that is surrounded by children can truly understand.  On the drive home, I'll see that familiar yellow form, young girls inside waving their curls and their cell phones, taking selfies as young men hover nearby, sensing that thinning of that barrier we called virginity, waiting for those moments when a girl's heart senses something more than self.

"Don't grow up too fast", I say to the empty bus because it's too easy to lie in bed while someone who doesn't know the word, tells you what love is.
As the school bus turns and moves away, more and more lights dot the road ahead, as restaurants open their doors, and more cars enter the roadway.  The movements and the light triggers more memories, the light being the substance of memory itself, the sight, sense and self that the brain recalls long after the muscle memories of the moments is stilled.

I think that about now my husband will be leaving, the house, quiet but for the kitchen light, the dog waiting for the dog walker that will stop in throughout the day to take her out, making sure the house is secure. I think of the light of the moon shining down on the fedora I know he'll have on and I'll smile, as I flash my lights to someone on a side street, slowing so they can get into a line of cars that's looking less like a scattering of child's toys than a long metal Caterpillar, turning and twisting past the trees that line the river. The drive home will be this same route, but I'll have the anticipation of home to guide me, the warmth of two arms, the clink of two glasses.
My stomach gently growls as I take another sip of water, not from glass, but from an can so cold I need gloves.  I chose not to eat in the vehicle, not due any aversion to crumbs but not wanting to too a self Heimlich on the steering wheel if I take a bite of donut at the same time I see another completely mis-aligned bumper sticker for someone that should be in jail, not office.

During this short stretch I can almost imagine myself away from the city, away from politics, office and otherwise, from meetings and schedules and fast food, as the sun smolders sulkily there on the horizon, no more anxious to lift itself upward, than I am go to be here.. Along the water, are low clouds, distant white masses, almost coiled in the convolutions, not appearing to move, yet someone changing, their journey as much of a slow discovery as mine. But for at least five more years, this will be my trip.

Only a few more miles and I will be there - to don that mantle of adulthood for a few hours, as outside the city awakens. Til then, the lights that flash, allowing one vehicle on the expressway at a time, a color that strikes as if sound, the deliberate hammer blow that you think will be the last, but are simply repeated and resumed, long after the last vehicle is past hearing.
Each and every set of headlights holds a life, one no different than mine but for it's past and it's future, Each of us on a journey, as we stir and murmur on this moving watch that is a morning commute. Some are listening to music, some are simply looking at the world around them with a profound yet distracted listening. Yet each and every one of us makes this trip, takes with us our own burdens and our fears. We make no eye contact, even as we all are touched by one another,that touch that abrogates, cuts sharp and straight across color and age, and gender, that touch that enemies as well as lovers well know because it exposes something in each of us, raw and longing that we carry with us on the journey.

On my way home tonight, I'll listen to those silent hammers of light as I wait in the line to fight.  But they will not be warnings -  but simply a thump thump along to my heart, as I wait and long go home tonight.

We each take away something different on this daily trip, in darkness and in sunshine, in tirelessness and in yawning stupor as up above, the sun and the stars hover dispassionately around the imposture of our daily lives.

But I'm still going to watch closely for those IDOT potholes.

Eating on the"Sout" Side - Italian Beef

Created on the Sout Side of Chicago (that's right  -no "h" used in South), in the Italian enclaves around the now defunct Stockyards, the classic Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich (pronounced sangwitch) is a delicious, drippy, variation on the French Dip.

You will find it at hundred if restaurants and food stands all over  Chicagoland and at most hot dog stands.  The exact origins are a subject of debate, but it became popular  in the early 1900s as more families moved out of poverty and beef roast replaced cheaper bits of ground meat.  Nobody knows for sure the inventor, but the recipe was popularized by Pasquale Scala, a South Side butcher and sausage maker. During the Depression, in the late 1920s, when food was scarce, Scala's thinly sliced roast beef on a bun with gravy and fried peppers was a huge hit.
Like the famous Gene and Jude red hots (a must stop if you're around O'Hare, and be prepared for a line - they are THAT popular) there's just something about the Italian beef sandwich that is unique to the area, and if you ever visit family or friends in the area, you need to try it.

Today, beef "sangwitches" are a staple at gatherings, both family and business, all over the city.  I work in the city - it's a bit of a commute for me, so I have lots of time to see all the many restaurants and little ma and pa places that advertise this specialty and it's not uncommon for a large order of from Al's showing up delivered to the security area in the front of my building for several employees who make a group order. (Why yes, I'll be carrying these sandwiches through the metal detector for you , and I just MIGHT stop at my office first).
It's traditionally made by slow roasting a lean cut of beef on a rack above a pan filled with seasoned beef stock.  Some folks up here call that "gravy", others just call it au jus ("juice" for short), although it is often made with bouillon, and that is not technically au juice, which normally refers to natural cooking juice  Pasquale Scala's  Italian Beef is made by slowly roasting lean beef on a rack above a pan filled with seasoned beef-based stock.

The meat which is normally cooked with a dry rub, is cut thin and served with some hot peppers mix on fluffy Italian bread loves.  You need some sturdy but fluffy white bread, because whether you call it "gravy" or "juice" you need bread that will soak it up without totally falling apart. Italian rolls are the way to go.
I wanted to make some for Partner in Grime, a native of Illinois (but from farm country down south), but it was a work day and I needed something I could do in a crock pot.  So HOTR "Italian Beef" was born.  It's not "classic" and the purists may take issue with it, but it was the best damn sandwich either of us have had at home in a long time.  He ate it three meals in a row, rather than putting some away for leftovers to freeze like we do everything else.
 Give me some of that beef or I'm calling my boyz

The HOTR version of the beef sandwich starts with a jar of hot peppers known as "giardiniera".  In the Chicago area, where I picked some up at a store, they're commonly made "hot" with sport peppers or "mild" without, along with a (varied) assortment of bell peppers, celery, carrots, cauliflower, serrano peppers, gherkins and sometimes crushed red pepper flakes and banana peppers, steeped in a brine, then packed in an oil blend.

To make this I also needed a can of beer  (why look, I have beer!  WHAT a surprise!) and a small packet of dry Italian salad dressing mix.
And a roast.  A nice firm rump roast.  The roast goes into a crockpot, then the peppers (with liquid) are poured over all. The pepper jar is then fill almost to the top with a good beer (light ale style) and the Italian dressing seasoning is added and shaken, then poured over the meat and peppers.  Crock pot it on low 5-8 hours and serve on good bread with the "juice" placed in little bowls to dip your sandwich in.

The meat was so tender, I cut it extra thick to give the sandwich a nice "bite".  The "juice" has some heat from the peppers as well as a little sweet tang from the dressing mix and was the best part of the sandwich.  It may be a break from tradition, but it was a recipe I'm going to make again and again, if Partner in Grime has his say. It made six medium sized sandwiches with a nice little slice left to cut up and put in some leftover vegetable soup.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Sound of Water

My Dad's little brother was simply known as "Kid", born last, a gap of several years between he and my Dad.  Grandma had made a point to give all four children names to which, she stated, a nickname would not be derived. Yet, every single one of them had a nickname that they would wear til death, "Sis", "Drake", "Bud" and "Kid", all redheads.

Of those children, there were many stories, the most notable was when the three of them put Kid in a washtub of some sort to play "boat" and ended up accidentally floating him down the Flathead River. The results of that could have been dire, and how he escaped drowning was a mystery, the river just pushing him to where they could retrieve him. How close it was, burned on all their memory.

Dad and his baby brother were especially close and as they had children of about the same age, summer was usually a long trek to California to visit. There, my Uncle had a small ranch on which he raised, over the years, various citrus fruits, and later, further north, in the hot, dry central valley, almonds, when he wasn't working as a lineman for the telephone company.
I think my earliest memory of those trips was one when I was about 5 and I got to ride on the back of my Uncle's little motorcycle (more of a scooter, as far as size and power) that he'd use just to travel on his property. I remember the ride, reinforced by a photo of me on the back, arms around his waist laughing into the breeze. I couldn't have been happier to be with Uncle Kid, the handsome, shiny guardian and guide on our summer adventures. We wore no helmets.  Now, kids wear helmets to run through a sprinkler it seems; then, we were bareheaded and free-spirited as we covered every inch of his property. The world was our playground, the garden hose was our bottled water and blood would be drawn and yet we all survived to adulthood, though sometimes we wonder how.

Other than the occasional Looney Tune or Yogi the Bear and Friends cartoon, we were always outside, coming into the coolness of the house only to eat or use the bathroom. Under the shade of those trees, we ran, biked, and explored, buzzing like bees that swarmed the blossoms, a sound like the wind getting up. The sun was a constant, there in that dry valley where water was holy, as we ran between trees shattered by light as eager as we were. If there was a brief cloud burst, we'd simply raise our heads to lick water from the sky, and resume playing, water in that hot dry place, a blessing.
When we were a little older we were allowed to swim down the irrigation ditch as the water was released. I remember that initial jump in, leaping into the air, our thin little bodies hanging there like an exclamation point written on the air. Then, that sudden chill of water, riding that unbroken spinning swirl of liquid unleashed, unleashing something within us. I may only have been a kid, but I was intensely aware in that moment of being alive, as the strong steady pull of water drew us downstream, until we just floated gently, like breath trailing across a mirror.

Town was about a couple of miles away and we'd walk some days, when we'd gathered up enough coins to buy a Cherry 7-Up, made fresh at a little soda fountain, watching to make sure they filled it up to the very top, for you can not have too much, you think, in those full round days of childhood that have only room left for curiosity. The first big sip made the walk that built up the thirst in the first place, all worth it. We then walked back, with the ice in the cup, jingling like coins in our pockets, passing fields of trees, small weathered houses, the spire of church, the finger of God pointing up to the sun.

I really don't know what the adults did all day, but when we got in, they'd be having a cold beer as they traded stories, laughter in the kitchen as the meal was prepared and Grace was more than my Mom's first name.
Then, after supper, we'd sometimes venture out again, within earshot of the house, where our Moms could call us in before bedtime.  Whatever we did was going to be more exciting than the folks watching Lawrence Welk on TV , the "A one and a two . . . ", as the bubbles were released, our signal to escape.

When it was dark, we'd throw a football in the air and watch the bats chase it to the ground, We even tried to catch one of them,, with a sock with a rock in it,  thrown up in the air.  They swooped at them, but we came home empty handed, no one being able to hold up a live bat to our Moms with a "It followed me home can we keep it?"  Probably for the best.

But those evenings were magic. We'd sit on the ground, the moon and a flashlight our only guide, telling scary stories of haunted orchards and brooding woods, where the improbable becomes possible, the unlikely becomes fact, the impossible is made incontrovertible, and  "it's right behind you going to touch your hair huge teeth!" arghhhh.
The trips continued, even with Mom's declining health, my cousin L. getting a horse or two, the sound of clattering hooves on an old wooden bridge soon joining the whine of that little motorbike while we chased each other around the place until it was too hot to continue. Then, I'd simply climb into the fork of one of the fruit trees, a bright yellow shirt suspended like the sun caught in its branches, a brief escape from the heat to flickering shade, as from a distance, the sound of hooves faded to memory.

But the water still drew us, the irrigation ditch abandoned for a lake when the boys got old enough to drive and take my Uncle's boat out. We'd water ski until our knees were wobbly and there wasn't enough Coppertone to keep us from burning, there as the summer of our youth refused to end. We didn't realize that these moments wouldn't last, no more able to retain them than the thorn of Spring, which comes and goes with the season, but can never be held.
Soon it was our last trip there, before Big Bro went off to the Navy, my older cousin D. off to get a degree and a job in the forest as "Ranger Smith". Somehow we always figured we'd all make it back there for one more summer, that things would remain unchanged, the rush of water down a sluice-way, a child's laughter in the dark, the spray of gravel from a little motorbike, the thunder of hooves.

On the last night there, I walked down to the irrigation ditch. I looked down where I could see almost to the bottom, the last rays of sunlight playing like orange fire on the surface. There on the surface, a leaf. After a long time in water, the tissues of the leaf decay, leaving only the fiber, swirling in the surface like soft bones, light from the last of the days sunlight playing on them like flame.

The land remained constant, trees that trembled and dropped their fruit, the wind that buzzed, then slept again when it got cold, the glitter of sunlight on water, but life was soon to change us.
The Call came in on Big Bro's wedding day, just before the ceremony. As a teen, I didn't think it could get any worse than the cruel fate of five yards of shiny aqua  fabric fashioned into a long bridesmaid dress with a turtleneck (seriously, I looked like Disco Princess Leia). I wished happiness for my brother but I was wanting nothing more than to be outside in blue jeans, tossing a football up for the bats, which there seemed to be a dearth of on this California submarine base.

It got worse with the ring of the phone.  My Uncle, who had gone fishing not far away, early that morning, was dead, found in the water, his boat nearby, under the broken spinning swirl of sky. The waters that had released him as a small child had finally called him home.

The minister standing by, the room grew quiet, silence increased between us, like water rising.  I remember nothing after that but Big Bro holding me, as if I were no bigger than a child.
My Aunt refused an autopsy, wanting only for it to be over. No one ever  knew exactly what happened, one minute, so alive, his red hair flaming in the sun, a candle blazing up for a moment, then snuffed between damp fingers, the cool eternal darkness of water.

I never did get back to the ranch.

My cousin L., the lone female of her family, like myself, visits Dad regularly up North. and I join her when we can. As I would catch my flight  L. would drive up from her log home in the mountains, horses tended to while she is away, cattle dogs trying to herd a couple of squeaky toys in the back seat as her little vehicle descends into the blue of distance. We'd make sure Dad had a good time during our stay and then make sure he was asleep and safe each night. He would usually drift off around 8 pm, even with company, worn beyond words by the days he carries on him.  Then, after Dad was asleep, we'd gather, like the adults did back then, trading stories, having a cold beer there on the deck, laughter popping like champagne bubbles in the air. Off in the distance, the trickle of water, faint and clear and invisible.
 - Brigid

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Barkley Memories - Dine and Dash Doggie

No, we're not going to the Vee-E-Tee.

Mom's got to go back to work.  I've got water and dog treats for you, a sandwich up here for me and we're all set.

I know it's a long drive, but I'll take you out when we get to the Rest Stop. 
Now, I've had my pit stop, it's time for yours.

Hey, where's my sandwich???

Folks - for those of you who loved Barkley, I've made a  
As other pictures pop up from an assortment of tablets and such, I'll add to it.

Thanks for all the love and care you gave the two of us and for supporting his story

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

On Politics

So glad the Iowa primary is over.  On to the next state!
 - Brigid

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Weather Outside is Frightful. . . .

Chicago was spared Snowzilla but it poured heavy cold rain all day (always fun to walk the dog in) and it's just dark and damp out.

A perfect night for biscuits and gravy (with egg and sausage) with a side of cheesy potatoes (to be followed by Single Malt Scotch chaser because it's warming, you know).

I'll be in my bunk.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Fun with Technology -

On the early morning drive home to work, leaving around 5:30 a.m. to beat the traffic (and Illinois DOT which like to leave unannounced major potholes around the city to test your reflexes) I notice a number of things. Good driving, bad cars, and advertising.  One billboard was for a Pet Cam which caught my attention with "What is YOUR pet doing during the day?"  

Most of us leave our pets at home as we work.  Some of us have dog walkers that come over, or there is a doggie door to a fenced yard so the dog can get outside. Like a baby monitor/cam, the Pet Cam can be set up with multiple cameras so can see your pet both inside and outside - with live feed  so you know they're safe.

I thought about getting one for Abby. I try and make sure there is plenty to drink and the home is pet safe, nothing toxic in reach, extra TP out of the way as Abby (like Barkley) loves to snag  the extra toilet paper roll.  But I wonder if I'd really see anything worthwhile if I got one of those "pet cams".

I'm off to work.  Let's see what the doggie cam has to say.

8 a.m.
10 a.m.
12 p.m.
2 p.m.
4 p.m.

truck pulling in driveway
I think I'm better off without the pet cam and just keeping the dog walker.  Sometimes it's better not knowing :-)