Monday, August 22, 2016

On Building Things

We've got a lot done on the Range this year, most of it improvements you won't notice, and only a couple big projects requiring permits, but it was a steady bit of restoration, organization and clean up, especially after we had a basement flood.

It meant there was little time to work on book #3 this year, as it's pretty hard to concentrate with the noise, even on the days I can't really help.  My work days are also  much longer now with the commute and  there are no more "bachelor pad" nights, where after talking to my husband on the phone, I had several hours to work. I am so blessed to be home full time, but those extra hours allowed me to write a lot more.

Today, I have only a lunch break to jot down some chapter ideas, while at home my husband looks at a pile of stringers, as a man does when confronted by a creature that may sting or bite, and he cares for neither.  He'll get it done, even if it takes a couple more weekends, because we want it done right, not quick, a concept foreign to many people.
But I do a little bit each week on the book, half a chapter or so, if it takes me another year just to get it ready for the editing, I'm OK with that.  For if becomes "work", something I have to do, or am expected to do, I'll just walk away, because that is not why I write.

Seeing the house unfold, as two homes were combined, has been a pleasure, though I'm sure burglars will look through the front window, see all of the antiques, the sconces on the wall, NO TV or sound equipment and will walk away, thinking a couple 90 year old's live here. Though the kitchen cabinets were completely rebuilt, the walls re-plastered and painted, it still looks like a 40's kitchen, the only decorative bits my Mom's Swedish horses and a jar of marbles I found in my brother's childhood bedroom, the ones we played with for years as children, crouched down like small gargoyles perched on the edge of the earth.
For my brother and I were quietly and fiercely competitive, and a game of marbles, like any game, was approached like an act of war, with the only fire being friendly.  I can still recall his pale hands gently grasping the larger marble, poised for movement, while I watched like a hawk, to see if I could discern by draw of breath, by pace of breath, by the dart of an eye, his intention. There were times he was so intent on the task, it seemed as if he ceased to breathe, only the sun glinting on the marble in his hand, letting me know that time had not stopped.

The sun still glints on those marbles as you walk through the kitchen into the living room. Looking around,  the time could be 2016 or it could be 1935.  I like that sense of timelessness as I spend my work day dealing with the machining of lives and law.  By the time I get home, the drive sometimes taking as long as an hour and a half, I'm breathing slow and labored, like a man with a hundred pound weight on his chest.  I walk into this house, make some tea or pour a finger of scotch, put on some Classical music, and light a lamp, and the air goes out of my chest in a gentle whoosh.  In that instant, I care nothing for politics, for work, or what is outside, only the slow dance of my evening with my best friend, spouse, and Abby's stuffed animal surgeon.
In thinking back in this quiet place, I'm surprised by how much my brother was the same way.  It was only recently that I found out, that though adopted together we weren't biological siblings, only bonded ones. Our parents refused to discuss our origins, we were family was all they felt we needed to know, and perhaps they didn't know themselves.  But with his red hair and height, like myself, no one ever said in school "are you adopted?" I had always thought we were biological siblings or at least half siblings and when I found out we weren't when our birth certificates were unsealed I was a little disappointed until I realized it never mattered

For we were family and I loved him as deeply as he loved and defended me.

But as his home was readied for sale and his things  were organized at my Dad's where he lived the last year of his life, while his son took care of the home he no longer could afford, I saw a familiar pattern.

His home had no home computer and no TV.  The furniture was old and much of it was hand restored.  The house was in need of updating, but he preferred to do that himself, on his own schedule, rather than pay someone with the fruits of his labor for tasks he could easily learn how to do himself. There, beneath a stopped clock, responsive now only to the last stroke of eternity, sat some tools for yet another project he'd never be able to wield them for to finish.
But despite the lack of modern conveniences, there was one large 80's tape player and a stereo, with both vinyl and tapes to go with it.  In the last year of his life he played music almost all day, everything from big band to 70's rock. He left much of what he owned at the home for his son and daughter in law to use when they moved to keep the place up and pay the taxes until it could be sold. But he brought his music and his books to my Dads, of which there were many, his clothes, his firearms and his tools. Much of his submarine stuff went on the walls where it will remain until Dad is gone.  But there were boxes and boxes to be sorted through after he was gone.  Some of it made me cry, some of it made me smile, and the first thing I am going to ask him when I see him in Heaven is why he had a live flare gun in his nightstand.

That last night as we gathered up his things, I realized, that as different as we were in many ways, he being the fellow that always had a hundred friends, me being the one that only allowed a handful in close, he terrified of flying, myself terrified of small enclosed places.  Yet, we were so alike, strong willed and sometimes stubborn.  I could almost smell the white smoke of the cigarettes he refused to quit smoking, even as the cancer ate at him, smelling it burning in the ash tray by his fingers, the smoke trailing out the window into the tattered, tumbling midnight.
Both of us spent the majority of our adult life in service to our country, even if at times, we greatly disagreed with its leadership,  Both of us were quiet in our public opinions on such matters, but in private, with one another, we could discuss with great passion those fails and omissions of those we as a country put in power, as well as our staunch support of those rights that would keep us from forced servitude. For we both knew that with enough power, this carefully built world, still contains within it the command to be seized, and we'd make sure we did all we could to lawfully keep that from happening.

Our cars bore an emblem of the US flag, and our shelves the Bible, and we refused to apologize for either. For many years, we turned down promotions to higher command, both realizing that although command was sometimes magic, it often contained an atmosphere of officialdom that seemed to staunch human endeavor and we were happier out in the field, preferring out hands bloodied or dirtied to the false supremacy of paper and ink.
If was only when retirement was on the horizon that I donned the suit to work at headquarters, and my brother took on greater responsibilities, both wanting those that worked under us to realize they were more than ghosts to us, ignored in the darkness of our pursuit for our own personal power, as we looked through them with falsely perceived inferiority. We might not make a difference, but we were going to go out with the dignity of at least trying.

He'd still laugh if he saw me in a suit though.

I'm glad I have these days and these memories -  for my brother left an imprint of his life behind, one that's so similar to mine -  that in the recognition of, I sometimes feel closer to him in death than our deep bond in life.

As the tools are put down as darkness was upon us, I looked up at the skies. What captures my gaze are the unsteady stars, that if blown upon would tumble like large marbles in the sky, then brighten to small specks of light in a wet sheen, that I realized was the view through my tears.

With each small thing of his that are now part of my house, I realize that for all of us, midnight will come. But I'm not going to let midnight be flung down upon me, I'm going to drag midnight along with me for the ride, as hammers are swung and boards are bent and free will is our only salvation. In the end it may not be done, but it will be started, and that, with the rest and the little death of sleep will be my escape and my reward.  Then, when my body is finally free of sweat, and the house is quiet, I'll sleep. It will be a sleep without regret, in a slightly worse for wear home in which my heart sleeps next to me and my defender lays quietly in the drawer, a round in the chamber.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

No Step

We have successfully ripped out the back steps (the first floor sits on top of a walk out basement) and will be assembling the new ones, so blogging will be light until tomorrow night or Tuesday. The old steps (which were no longer structurally sound) went straight down to the drive which made putting them inside a fence impossible, given the layout of the drive, yard and garage.  The new ones will go back 90 degrees into the yard (with a landing) so the fence can go in that allows doggie direct access to the yard in bad weather.

It's been a learning experience.  I've learned Partner in Grime is pretty darn good at construction. And I learned that I'm pretty good at making sandwiches.  See you all later!

Friday, August 19, 2016

DIY Dinner

On the basics -

"The gunsmith should, and probably will, be quite content to master the task of screwing in a brass front sight on a shotgun without having the sight look as if it had been mashed between two moving gears."
- Professional Gunsmithing by Robert J. Howe (1946)

On the Shotgun -

"During the course of a year there is probably no other type of weapon that will cross the gunsmith's counter in such quantity and variety as the shotgun - from the engraved expensive British and German double barrel custom made jobs to the single shot eight dollar price of a boy.  And like a mother chick with her brood, the gunsmith must learn to know and love them all, for woe betide the gun craftsman who publicly refers to some customers pet scatter gun as being inferior to another type."
 - Profesional Gunsmithing by Robert J. Hower (1946)

There's all sorts of ways to do things, but sometimes just the basics can be as good as all the new found gadgets.  The books these quotes are from is an excellent one for a basic understanding of Gunsmithing.  The skills are timeless, only the technology and tools have changed (if you don't have the skills all the technology in the world is useless).  It also has some info on how to use old Atlas Lathes and Mills.

You have to understanding the basics.  Such it is with gunsmithing, such it is with another craft - foodsmithing.

With a kitchen full of expensive gadgets, mixes and packaged food, most people can put dinner on the table. But truly understanding how basic foods are cooked and why flavors turn out as they do is the difference between an "OK" cook and a "why is there a line on my porch?" cook.

What do we have to work with? There's  a few hamburger buns left from the cookout, a few canned goods.  A cheap chunk of roast beast was picked up, one that will be best prepared by slow cooking as  that will soften the connective tissue without toughening the muscle.  Still, it will need something to bring out the flavor.

It's DIY dinner time.

First you need to sear the meat the get the flavors that come only from the Maillard Reaction.

 No, not Mallard! It's MAILLARD.

It's a form of nonenzymatic browning resulting from a chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar, normally with heat (and named after a French chemist who described it, not in the context of a French Dip but in attempt to reproduce biological protein synthesis). The reactive carbonyl group of the sugar reacts with the nucleophilic amino group of the amino acid, and forms a complex mixture of poorly characterized molecules responsible for a range of odors and flavors.
In the reaction, hundreds of different flavor compounds are created, that in turn break down, forming yet more new flavor compounds. The browning reactions that occur when meat is roasted or seared are complicated, but most  occur by Maillard browning with contributions from other chemical reactions, including the breakdown of the tetrapyrrole rings of the muscle protein myoblogin (you've all just been waiting for this, haven't you?)
This enhances the flavor of any food that contains proteins and sugars and there are some food whose flavor profiles owe a LOT to Dr. Maillard.  Grilled roasted meats, crusty bread, dark beer, roasted coffee, chocolate, toast, cookies. Any food that you are cooking at temps above 250 F are going to have some Maillard components giving it color/texture/aroma.  If you know that, and can take full advantage of it, your dinner guests will thank you, even if you experiment on them, like I do. 

So don't forget to sear.  It's a scientific chain reaction of "MMMMMM". 

Range Beef Dip

Into a crockpot went:

2 1/4 cups beef broth (with added water to bring total liquid up to 2 and 1/3 cups
1 cup Merlot
1 can cranberry sauce
1 package Knorr French Onion Soup Mix *
1 heaping teaspoon crushed garlic
a couple of grinds of fresh  tellecherry black pepper
3 1/2 to 4 pound rump roast

*homemade 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 package of soup mix. 

First, lightly and quickly sear roast in a smoking hot pan covered with a thick sheen of oil.  It's done properly when there is a light brown crust on each side and the smell is pleasant, not acrid.  Don't overdo!

Place roast fat side up in crock pot and cover with the remaining, ingredients which you  have blended in a bowl. Cover and set to lowest setting. Seven to eight  hours later, the meat will be falling apart tender and the au jus will be  fragrant and  incredibly good,.  The cranberry adds a delicious undertone, not a fruity taste.  I'd have preferred some crusty Ciabatta rolls to stand up to dipping the sandwich, but messy will work with a knife and fork.

Try it.  It may not be as great as your Mom's recipe, but, like a basic shotgun, it's still pretty darn good.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Driving Miss Brigid

We live in a 100+ year old Village in Chicagoland.  The streets are small, and most houses have tiny garages that exit to the alley. With a lot that has side yards with lots of space between we and neighbors plus a long driveway exiting to the street, we are a bit unusual (we think the original owner bought two lots for the space, then added the garage in the 50's or 60's).

The problem is, people don't consider that we have to get OUT of that driveway to a narrow street. After the giant four door 4 x 4 truck and I moved in after getting transferred to our office here, there were a couple of mornings I had to wait until the neighbors that park on the street left to get out. The house across and one down had been a  multi unit rental (basement, first floor, and second floor) after the previous single owner  retired and moved, putting it up for sale.  There were several parties living there with multiple vehicles. There's plenty of open space further down, but that entails driving further, even if it's not any further away from their door. I made sure everyone got homemade baked goods, an introduction to the bat truck and an explanation as to how much space I need to get out without whacking their vehicles.  Other than having to sometimes put out cones when someone had family member visiting on a weekend, everyone has been awesome.
But that house across and one door down has new owners - a family who is going to live in it with the exception of the tiny upstairs dormer rental, with multiple cars, including a new Ford truck that likely will NOT fit in their little garage.  With several cars there as their extended family helps get the house ready for final move in, some spending the night, it's been a bit crowded getting out.

Yesterday,  rather than consider the thought of going through THAT learning curve again and having to use leave because I am late to work - when I came home and the new owner and what looked like (from the resemblance) either adult sons or little brothers were standing outside waiting for a contractor (since it's been a rental, I'm sure there's a bit of work before it's move in ready) - I HAD A PLAN!
They spot cute redhead in big shiny black truck and all hold their stomachs in, smile and give a friendly "hello new neighbor" wave.  I waved back.

I normally back in - in one fluid movement, as it makes it easier to get out in the a.m. Having been a commercial pilot for many years, I can usually back that truck in very quickly and very efficiently, in one try (unlike the Reno airport in the snowy/icy winter where you just use differential power to SLIDE into the gate and hope you get it right).

Yesterday, while they all looked on, I deliberately took about 4 wide tries at it, less than gently stomping on the brakes, and on the last one deliberately taking the truck THROUGH the lawn (that will buff out) and intentionally almost hitting one of the spruce trees, before finally, getting the truck backed in with a screech of brakes.

Today, all the new neighbor's vehicles and those of their family were parked WELL down the street, away from my driveway.

My work here is done.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Elevator Music

In the last 8 years, the size of my home, was divided by half, then half again, not due to finances, but simply by choice.  I now have a 1200 square foot home, with a shop area almost as big.  It's not fancy, and I've smiled more here than in any giant McMansion I've owned.

For what is contained in that house, is only what is essential or  holds the most special of memories in it.  Some of such things are two violins, one very old, one fairly new.

Music is something I grew up with, playing piano and clarinet in both band and orchestra. As an adult there was a keyboard in the crash pad living room, a guitar often nearby, even if I didn't play often. But late in life, I decided I wanted to learn to play something new, what I wished I'd have learned instead of the clarinet.

I remember the trip to the music store 8 years ago, to look at violins, so many instruments of beauty, of power, love, lust, longing, faith, joy. So many ways to paint a picture on the silence of your life.  I didn't let the"oh, is this for your child?" deter me and I came home with my first violin in my 40's, the music from the store trailing like a contrail in the twilight.
It was harder than I expected, and I'd like to say I'm really good, but as a violinist, I'm a really good piano player.  Still, I have no regrets about giving it a try.

The first step is always the hardest. Trying something new. Embracing something long forgotten that at one time you loved. Embracing something you've never done but wanted to. I see it in people who take up a new hobby, a new career, late in life. I see it in friends who after years, or even decades of marriage, find themselves alone, as they fling themselves out into the dating pool again (which for most feels less like the pool at Holiday Inn and more like a scene from Jaws)
But we do it, in tiny leaps upward propelled by longing and only held back by the gravity of timidity.  It's not much different than learning to fly; the trepidation of the first solo. It's the fear of the what we don't know that holds us back, as a huge unknown beckons. The sky is almost human in its passions, almost spiritual in its quiet, and as likely to forgive as a scorned lover. But to certain people, it is the mystery that calls, until one morning, waking slowly upon this sleep-fast earth, they finally hear.

If I could have put some of my aerial adventures to music, what a song it would have been. Flying can be as mathematical precise as Bach, as fluid as Chopin and as restful as Brahms. I've had landings that were as lyrical as Vivaldi and I've had some that should have been set to the theme from Loony Tunes. There are flights that play in my head like a well worn record; there were flights that were less about moving towards a destination of physical place but more about moving toward a moment in time, a place in which fate and need became one. Had I listened to those that said "you can't do that" because of my age or gender or both, I'd have missed out on that grand adventure.
The only time you are too old to learn is when you cease to breathe. One is never too ingrained in their habits to take up the instrument that for them, will be the perfect blend of the joyous with the sublime, hands stroking a thing of beauty as it resonates with the sound of their dreams, the lingering notes of their need. So, be it an instrument, or putting hand to paper and crafting that book you always wanted to write, or crafting something else of your hands and brain, try it.  You have no guarantee of success but at least the music of your longings, that chorus that fills up those quiet spaces, will be heard, if only by you.

We'll never be 20 again. You can't make the years rewind like a tape. The Roman Poet Ovid said "All things change, nothing is extinguished, everything flows onward". Yet my music will pull me onward, pull me forward, calming me, soothing my mind, giving it peace, becoming the soundtrack of my life even as it propels me to explore my world.
What I listen to is diverse, at best, but good music for me may not be what's popular. Good music is a place where genres fuse; where concertos become operatic and arias symphonic; where glee and grief, the downtrodden and the sanctified, become one. A place where time is much too short, as with each note we are aware of our allotted span dwindling, time in which we not only have to find our true path, but derive some joy from the journey.

Though I enjoy many styles of music, I'm drawn the deepest into the classics. Many great composers have expressed the extremes of life: affirmation, despair, the sanctity of grace, the rush of sensual pleasure, fertile touch and barren void. But there are certain pieces of work in which all these emotions co-exist in the infinity of a short song, making it fuller, richer, touching a chord deep within. We play or listen to our music as we love, for different reasons, to redeem ourselves through the expression of it, to find forgiveness as well as reconciliation with what lives deep within.

Certain songs, certain sounds touch us like memory.  They can calm or uplift, they can bring us to cry, the quick, clear tears of a child for a lost toy or the long drawn out keen of  a love forever lost, salt on our face, salt in our wounds. When the tears stop, they can provide that beat in which we can place one painful footstep forward , muscle memory functioning in the desolation of grief.
Music is the landscape of the absolute, not as defined by black and white, but in those gray shores where beauty ebbs in and away, like the tide, where everything is contingent and nothing simple, and time is so very brief. A place where, as Henry James’s Madame Merle says, "an envelope of circumstances encloses every human life".

Music is as life is, it flows like wine and spills like wine, a communion with something as profound and rapturous as heaven. It is caressing whisper, it is epithet. It can touch you as if it were light, not decanted from heaven but as if  it was suspired from the heart itself.  It fills the room as scent does, leaving upon the senses the aftermath of invitation and  temporal promise, that secret affidavit, like scent itself.
Perhaps that is why I associate flying and music.  The two experiences are intertwined in my mind even if the only song playing in the cockpit was the hip hop beep of an aural warning system, the constant murmuring sound of the engines in still, serene air.

There were days when there was no sense of motion, my craft seeming to hang upon the high, clear sky in a tranquil paradox of time and motion, held on the air like a sustained note. There were days in which storms crashed around me, a kettle drum rumble of thunder warning me away, ice pellets striking the windshield with the ringing truth of a bell.  It would have been my loss had I not experienced both, but would have, had I listened to those that said "you shouldn't do that".
For both brought things to me that were worth every risk. Both induced in me a sense of the infinite and the contemplation of that which is unseen. Music and flying are both wonder, or can be. What is wonder to me may not be wonder to you, but you may understand it, the passion, the yearning for something that's only yet a taste, the visceral connection between the soul and what elevates it to the heavens. It is what strikes in you, that same chord, the same spark that is embedded in some hearts. Something that, in certain individuals, is simply part of our most basic and natural inability to live with the lonesome gravity of silence.

So when you wake up at dawn, listen carefully.  For there, within air that is loud with birds, you may hear it, that choral strophe that is your mystery and your wonder, laid out upon an altar of blue, waiting for you to answer.
- Brigid

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Packin' Heat - Sausage Omelette with Scoville Brothers Hot Sauce

I will never master the perfect restaurant omelette that looks like an Origami Master assembled it but I can make one that TASTES a whole lot better.

This is the basic omelette, enough to feed two.

8 ounces kielbasa, sliced and cooked
6 large eggs
2 Tablespoons milk
1/4  to 1/2 teaspoon Scoville Brothers Heavy Metal heat (to taste)
pinch of dry mustard
I added a couple tablespoons of chopped red pepper and a tiny bit of spinch which was leftover from salad last night - optional
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
a generous 1/3 cup smoked Gouda

Some tips:

Soak the eggs for 5 minutes in hot (not scalding) water.  This will help the omelette cook faster and the faster it cooks the more tender it will be.

Use butter instead of olive oil in the pan, letting the pan heat 2-3 minutes before adding  a teaspoon or two of butter per serving (this recipe serves two).  Use basting brush to even coat the bottom of your pan.

When you've mixed up the egg with milk so yolk and white are incorporated (without whipping them into froth) throw in some fresh herbs such as basil or chives, or some leftover spinach or peppers for a little color and flavor

Think outside the box as far as ingredients.  Instead of the standard ham and onion and cheddar I made this omelette with leftover cooked Kielbasa and smoked Gouda (1 to 2 ounce per two eggs).
My favorite tip.  Add a 1/4 teaspoon of hot sauce to the  beaten eggs, more if you like it extra spicy.  For Omelettes I love Heavy Metal Heat from
It's a Ghost Pepper Sauce and their hottest but it has a surprising depth that really makes the Range recipes sing. If you are a "chili head" you will LOVE this sauce.  For a milder taste, try the new Cowboy Crooner, we use that on our scrambled eggs with tortillas (migas) all the time.

Order it online or visit their Peck O'Peppers Gallery (for food, spices and work by local artists) at

702 Indiana Avenue. #9
Kouts, IN  46347

That's just south of Valporaiso, an easy drive from Illinois or Central Indiana.

It's located between the new Gauntlet Gun Shop and
Cross Saber Custom Gunsmithing
World's best hot sauce located between two nice gun businesses, if you need a sign you have to visit that is it!

Now for cooking your omelette - add eggs, stirring briskly with a silicone spatula for five seconds on on medium  to medium high heat.  As soon as the "curds" form so it's looking  a bit like scrambled eggs, lift the pan and tilt it around until the extra liquid pours off the top of the curds and into the pan. Use a spatula to shape the edge into a round and make sure the omelette doesn't stick. Sprinkle on any cheese you may use  Now walk away  You heard me. This tip is from Alton Brown and it works. Let your omelette sit unaccosted for 10 seconds to it can develop the proper outer crust.  If it needs a bit more time to cook though, depending on size, do so, but don't mess with it any more.

To finish, shake the pan gently to make sure the omelette is indeed free of the pan.  This is the part where you normally fold it over to get the perfect shape.  I usually fail at this so I just tip it all onto my plate.
Doesn't that look better than a bowl of Special K? 

Friday, August 12, 2016

One Voice, One Vote

The elections are a few weeks off and the TV is off, where it is likely to stay until late tomorrow night. There have been many words on the TV, words on the Web, some that make you wonder, some that just make you wonder if someone was hypoxic. Here at the Range, it is just Thursday morning.  I've a cup of coffee and a hour to write,  and just relax before my work day starts. There is no lamp light, only the glow of a keyboard and a candle lit, the match then snuffed like a dying planet in miniature, extinguished with just the rush of breath.

I can not tell you who to vote for, where or how. But think about it.  What seems to be monumental at this moment to the world is, for my world, for yours, just one vote, just one action. Actions, that when taken, can not be undone.

I've never had a tattoo. One of my  closest girlfriends has several, but they aren't really tattoos, they are works of art, incredibly detailed and delicate history etched into flesh. They are hidden by clothing so it was some time before I was even aware she had them, until changing clothes together for a formal occasion, they were revealed as her clothing fell to the floor like flower petals and I was struck by the beauty against alabaster flesh.
 But I always hesitated to get one. For starters I have a pretty low threshold of pain, which apparently is not uncommon among redheads. Then there is the whole "what would I get?" I have enough freckles that if someone were to connect the dots on my arms with an ink pen as a prank while I'm asleep, it might resemble a tattoo (don't ask how I know). But still, it's a big choice and a permanent one.

Some tattoos are crafted with months, even years, of thoughts and stories behind them. Others are done on the spur of the moment at the urging of friends who say "everyone has one, you need to have one too!" Both end in that moment when you unclench your hands from the pain, fingers filling again with blood and you realize that the rose, maple leaf, or big battleship with the words "Wanda Forever", or whatever it is that your heart clasped firmly on to, will be marked on your body for the rest of your life.

Such are those moments in early adulthood, when one is proving points as much as themselves. Two members of my family had died and the rest of us scattered in our grief, myself wandering the skies of a big world far from anything familiar. What I yearned for was the smell of fresh baked bread, sewing machine oil, fresh cut grass, the long ago sound of Mom laughing as Dad sang "Barnacle Bill the Sailor", chasing the little ones down the hall. I wanted family dinners around an old table, the sound of happy voices, the tender touch of hands that uphold and forgive. What I had what was life handed me, and no amount of wishing can bring back dreams that weren't yours to craft.

But I can remember those days as if it were today, the sounds, the throated roar of an engine, the whisper of wheels on the pavement, the oily smell of jet fuel and asphalt that lay heavy on my skin as I wandered. I had the tools to take care of myself, yet I unknowingly was looking for someone to anchor what had somehow been set adrift. Looking back now, I think "how naive !" But unfortunately, the future of individuals, indeed, a very nation, can lie in the actions of those so unaware of the true costs of things.

It's not long after, that I awoke one morning with a slight headache from jet lag, wondering, for a moment, where I am. I've awakened next to a stranger. Not really a stranger though, we had known each other a little less than a year and agreed on this venture, much to the delight of his family anyway. But now I just see a stranger, mouth shut in a firm line, no tenderness in it, a head tilted away from me, no longer listening. The cheap hotel a.c. blows over my legs like sweatshop silk, dust laden light glinting on a ring on my left hand, put there at some little "church" in a desert town where nothing seems permanent except loss.

I was not the girl he had wanted to marry but I did not know that at the time. That girl was not suitable, according to his parents. I was the girl they wanted him to marry, to come into the fold with, a big farm to inherit someday, a big future. Myself, I wanted that absolute of family, mine torn asunder. I was at that age of my 20's where every parent, every magazine, it seems, was urging one to marry.

I spent the next 10 years paying for the mistake of not being that girl, the hopes of laughter giving way to sounds no louder than a sigh but filled with such fury.
Actions. At the time we do things for reasons known only to us, and then looking back on those choices, years later, at the scars that only show when the cover of fabric falls away, do you wonder -What WAS I thinking?

So I don't make choices quickly any more. The people that share my life, my table now, are ones I've known for years. They know my strong choices and uphold them, they know my poor choices and forgive them.  As well, I accept them for what they are, not attempting to change them to fit something I need.
They are around me when it comes time to celebrate something. They are dinners, bad puns and zombie targets, tools and discovery, songs and music, too long dormant. They are there when the rain falls like knives, simply warming me, their flame drying me from the inside out.

There are some that might rightly say, that when all is said and done, just one action, just like one vote, will not change the course of the future. But it will let me sleep, knowing that for this moment, I made a choice. It's not the choice of a naive child in an adult's body, looking for someone to provide for me what I was capable of providing myself. It's the choice of one who has worked and lost and cried and fought, and will continue to do so as long as God gives me strength.
Yes, it's just a voting booth, just the motion of a hand, a moment in time. As the hand moves, so does that time, so much longing and loss, hopes dashed and restored, lies told out of the depth of our hearing and whispered softly in our ears, the clang of coins filling a pocket or scattering on the ground like tears. It's just a vote, it's just a simple action.

Or is it?

I curl up with my coffee and my notepad, looking at the photos on my desk of those people in my life that taught me to love and trust again, smiles of shared moments, a touch that is like gold in the hand, firm and secure. I look at the shelves against the walls, so many books, some patches, some awards, merits of years given and service paid to something I still feel is more important than just being popular. There's a flag and a small cross, ceremonial shapes of mortality, reminders that some choices are everlasting. There's a tail from a whitetail, taken in a hunt, some spent brass that guarded a life, a piece of old uniform fabric, the scents of verbena and gunpowder and freedom that soak into my skin and bones like ink, to stay with me til the end of days.

It is just one small voice - but it is mine.
 - Brigi

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Emptiness and Form - A Trip to the Aircraft Boneyard

What is it about old places filled with the past that fascinate so?

The landscape of the desert. The feel of machinery against our shoulder. The smell of oil and might on the breeze. I had a chance to re-visit a resting place of old aircraft.

In the desert just outside of the city of Tucson is a a place where old airplanes go to die. Davis Monthan Air Base and it's resting grounds. A business trip had me down that way so I made the effort to go visit.  The"Boneyard" in the desert has been a fascination, a place where titans of the air rest before going on their way to the aviation afterlife.

The Air Force calls the desert facility "Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center" (AMARC), many visitors refer to it as "the boneyard". We are probably both right. Here the U.S. Air Force mothballs planes until they either need them again or it's time to salvage them for parts. Whenever the U.S. sells surplus planes to foreign governments part of the sales pitch is that there will always have a ready supply of spare parts. Some are turned into pilotless drones and used for missile target practice. Many, too many have all the earmarks of being skeletal.
There are only three ways to view the aircraft at the heart of the Davis-Monthan facility: fly over the place (tough unless you're riding in on an F-15); from a satellite; or by Bus from the PASM. Since I can't afford either an F-15 nor a KH-12 Spy Satellite, I rode with a couple dozen other tourists and took the bus tour.

There's enough information on the place on the web and numerous aviation blog posts, so I won't get too wordy here, but suffice to say there's about every military plane ever made here, including the leviathans of the site; 100 plus B-52s, all that remain of nearly 400, slowly being destroyed as part of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties, and the force reduction treaties. These bombers are chopped up using a 130 ton blade, then left for a week or more to allow the Russians to photograph and confirm their destruction. I have watched several airmen view a documentary of those aircraft being dismembered and I know, that had they been alone, they would have been crying, tears for the incredible creativity as well as the terrible destruction that man is capable of.

I could picture these craft in their prime, in the flight line each morning as each bird began its wandering life.  As men bustled about, shafts of light struck polished metal in thin lines of gold, bending and then twisting over the cowlings as if rendered molten by the touch.  The engines still slept, hushed by an absent hand and watched over by a gentle breeze.  As always, there would be one aircraft off on its own, having a heavy (maintenance) check, bearing the ground with the excitement of a disenchanted philosopher.

Today, all is still, their only remaining the shells of what was once thunderous with life.

Just beyond the remaining Buffs, where the bus turned to make its way back to the museum, are two parks of odd looking equipment. The equipment is the tooling and jigs for the B-1 and B-2 bomber production lines. One day those bombers will take up residence under the clear blue Arizona sky, and there might still be B-52s to keep them company.
It's an amazing, still place. The first time I went there, security was much freer and we were able to get up closer and look. Wander among the husks of aircraft. The aircraft, sharp and large against the backdrop of a desert sky, holding so many stories in the empty spaces they form and contain.

I can almost hear the echoes of the words shouted over the sound of the ramp. "Clear Two" is shouted out just before that first engine rumbles to life in that that strong confident tone that is used when heavens fall and justice is served, unheard words that now hang on the air as gentle as dew, as hard as molten lead.

It's mysterious, exciting, the kind of place where as a kid your dreams went. It's even more mysterious as night falls on the Sonora Desert. There, the aircraft stand like ghostly sentinels upon the hard earth, under unfathomed sky. They loom, over tiny scrabbles of cactus and the small desert creatures. They wait, on hard earth splayed with the tracks of tiny feet, and larger feet, making their own shadows of violent shade until the unrestrained stars come out at night. Their forms, so silent, yet with so much to tell.
When I was a student of the Martial Arts, my Sensei once said, that "emptiness is form and form is emptiness", a phrase I never really understood until that moment, staring at those cavernous behemoths of the sky. One moment they are simply an empty form, in another memory brings back to life the souls they contained, the might they rendered, the absolute force in which they sliced the sky as they dealt with life or death that oblidge no delay

Some of the airmen that flew many of these aircraft have died already, so many aircraft, so many souls on board. As I think about that, their empty bodies float in my mind, light, unfettered by gravity, I became aware of my own heartbeat in the setting sun, the labor of my lungs against my chest. Form is emptiness. Emptiness form, I say as with warm and eager breath I take in the landscape, as my mind grasps just how real, how tangible these husks of aircraft still are, even as some of their crews are but dust.
Overhead, desert thunderstorms loom and erupts, heavy drops of water hitting us as we scurry for the tour bus, threads of moisture hitting the packed earth like gunfire. The remains of the aircraft fall behind us, the forms of inevitable truth here in a world so often less than truthful.

The sound of thunder echoes across the boneyard, nature's taps playing as the sky weeps for the dead with crystal purity.

These thoughts were broken by the chatter of some of the other tour members. For a moment I wanted to hush them, as this was a solemn place. To tell them to be quiet. . . . . or something. Something about interfering with the shuttered windows of these forms, the dark alleys of an airplane's final resting place and the sky's remembrance of such places, filled with the elemental silence of those who have flown away.

- Brigid

Monday, August 8, 2016

Thought for the Day

Equality is about giving everyone an equal chance,

NOT about giving everyone an equal result.
 - Unknown

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Bearish for a Burger

Got a trip planned to Chicago's  Brookfield Zoo?  It's a fun place to visit - we go a couple of times a year.  But what if you are hungry as a bear afterward?
Burger Colony on Ogden Avenue in Brookfield, IL.  Whether you're on the way to the zoo or heading up to O'Hare to pick up or drop off someone -  it's only a few miles East of the Wisconsin 294 tollway and worth a quick detour and stop if you are hungry.

Ogden is just just a couple blocks south of the zoo and is easy to access off of 55 running east and West and the Ogden exit off of 294 tollway.  If you are unfamiliar with Chicago, the Western suburbs are a safe place to take in one of the cities many parks or bike trails    You're more in danger of getting your bumper clipped by a soccer Mom in yoga pants with 45 bottles of Three Buck Chuck in the back of her SUV from the local Trader Joes, than see anything in the way of gang activity or graffiti.
Burger Colony is homed in the cozy former home of Chicago Burgerwurks which closed leaving many folks in the Western Burbs craving a good burger again. Burger Colony is a whole new business that opened in winter. having leased and totally renovated the Burgerwurks building. A short lived management change in March (with menu change to quicker and easier) resulted in a loss of business so the original manager came back with his special seasonings and hand cut fries and back and better than ever.  This project is "his baby" and he and his gourmet burger chef, Bilal Beniomar, are back in action.

part of the new menu from their Facebook page

Their specialties are burgers but they also have the famous Chicago dogs, prepared a number of ways, salad, homemade sloppy joes, chicken sandwiches and tenders and  two vegetarian offerings which the locals tell me are great. They have a counter with eats in front or you can eat outside on the picnic table. It's a small place,  look for the small bright yellow building on the south corner of Ogden across the street from Phoenix Liquor and Brookfield Eye Care.  They are also happy to serve up orders to go if you don't want to eat in.  

Everything is made fresh and to order with Manager Will Natsheh's (known as Will Nat to the regulars) special blended seasoning infusing each burger, which are then flame grilled by The master of the flame - Bilal. Both men have several years experience in food service, both in the US and abroad (Will is Israeli) and it shows. Each order, including the fries, is prepared to order and it's worth the wait.
Last time we stopped Partner in Grime had the Hawaiian burger with flame grilled pineapple rings, Swiss cheese and teriyaki sauce on an artisan bun.

The grilled pineapple on there looked good enough to eat all by itself.
Today he had the Cuban burger, a rift on a Cuban sandwich (which he loves).  It had smoked ham, lots of melty cheese, lettuce, onion, pickle and ranch dressing. The basket hides how tall this was, it was a very nice sized sandwich.

I had a special today, a double cheeseburger  I ended up bringing half of it home in a "to go" box but it was incredible, dressed simply with lots of cheese, fresh lettuce, a tomato (I declined onion and pickle) and "colony sauce" on the artisan buns (seriously if I could buy a bag of these buns somewhere I'd be happy - (maybe I can bribe Will with brownies to tell me where he gets them).
The fries are worth the trip, hand cut then flash fried, they are crispy on the outside, soft in the middle and don't taste like they lived their previous life in a freezer as most food chain fries taste like.  Plus they're not at all greasy like the tasty but messy Five Guys fries. I don't normally even LIKE fries but these are wonderful.

I'm not sure exactly what "colony sauce" is.  It's not a ketchup or thousand island clone and it's not mayo-like or sweet but it adds a hint of depth with spice and the barest hint of sweet that''s amazing on the burger. I bet their hand cut onion rings would be awesome dipped in some of that.

Even better - we had more food than we could finish, plus large drinks for about $10 per person, not bad for a meal cooked from scratch and not nuked and handed out a window to you.

We're going to find an excuse to come on back and eat on another weekend soon, these are by far the best burgers and fries I've had since moving to Illinois
Grrrrr, I wanted a Colony Burger!