Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bringing Some Memories Home

Business took me to San Francisco recently for a geeky gathering and a colleague and I went out for dinner and had the BEST meal at a little place hidden a way after exploring the city a bit. The dish was simply called "sauteed shrimp" but it was huge shrimp covered in a creamy sauce with a touch of wine and fresh herbs. I couldn't talk them out of the recipe so I tried hard to recreate it. I think I came pretty darn close.

Due to the evening light, and shadows as not all the lamps are set up, the photo is not all that great (normally I take all my food photos in daylight by the window) but did it ever taste great. Jumbo shrimp with a white wine Dijon cream sauce seasoned with fresh tarragon. This would be awesome over pasta but was perfect on it's own paired with a salad for a lighter supper.

1 pound medium or extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed Kosher salt and freshly white pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup J Vineyards and Winery, California Pinot Gris (or your favorite Chardonnay)
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 to 2 sprigs fresh tarragon
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Pat the shrimp dry, put them on a plate, and sprinkle lightly with salt and white pepper to taste. Heat a large, heavy saute pan over medium-high heat. As soon as the pan feels hot when you hold your hand an inch or two above its surface, add the oil. When the oil is hot enough to swirl easily in the pan, carefully add the shrimp, placing them evenly in the pan. Without disturbing them, cook the shrimp for 2 minutes on one side. With a fork or a small spatula, flip the shrimp over and cook them until they are uniformly pink and beginning to curl, about 2 minutes more. Transfer the shrimp from the pan to a platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep them warm. Raise the heat under the pan to high. Add the wine and with a wooden spoon, stir and scrape to dissolve the pan deposits. Let the liquid simmer until it has reduced in volume by half (4 to 7 minutes). Reduce the heat and stir in the cream. Reduce slightly and stir in the Dijon and continue simmering until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes more. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Add the shrimp and crushed tarragon to the sauce and simmer briefly to heat up the shrimp.

Sprinkle with some of the tarragon you reserved from the ingredient amount for this purpose or parsley if desired.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Squirrel Has Landed

It's starting to get dark, the lamp is needed, there on my desk in my new home office. With the help of Mr. B. and Midwest Chick we were able to get all of the kitchen and basic supplies loaded up. 15 boxes in all, as well as knick knacks that mean probably only something to me, carefully wrapped and tended. I got up at 5 am and made a couple trips with all the artwork, small pieces of furniture and plants. My recliner and area rugs were moved with their help and tomorrow, just a large mower and some bigger pieces of furniture. After that, on Tuesday after work, a good clean up inside and out, and the door will shut on part of my life, even as the best parts of it remain unchanged. I bought the place from an older couple in fading health, moving into assisted living. With six kids, they'd kept the place up with repairs and such, but the landscaping and garden was overrun, it was a lot of work to get back in shape, it was a lot of work to keep looking nice. When I moved in I was more concerned about the renovations inside, so I did little more than basic maintenance. That's about all I had time for with work, travel, family, caring for my Dad after he had a stroke 3 years ago, Barkley, friends and learning to prepare for a future in a way that is more responsibility than fear. Little did I know that just a few short years latter, I would be happily selling this place, moving further out and much smaller, trying to prepare for a future that is full of change. Then, when news of a interested buyer came in a few weeks ago, I got to work pulling out more of the dead brush and ivy. But in doing so I got to really notice the beautiful plants and such they so lovingly put in when they built the place decades ago. Little things I noticed when I looked at the place, small treasures hidden underneath a few afternoons of hard work. I found some things, an old rusted lock, a penny, and some flowers and plants I didn't even know I had. Also, along the side of the house where I have a bird feeder now, I can see from the breakfast dining room the remains of a tomato vine lattice, with strings of fish line where the owner had helped to tie the vines up.

That made me pause, as my Mom and Dad always had a garden with many things, but always tomatoes. What is it about certain things in life, the simplest of things, a flower, a smell, the feel of a piece of wood or tool in your hand that evokes a place, a voice, that makes you feel like a small child walking on a path of life that got suddenly big. And like a child, you deeply sense how it makes you feel, but the words you know to explain it are so very limited, so you just sit, and look, and breathe it in. So as I sat and held that decaying lattice in my hand, I had to stop and sort my words, as memories came unbidden, color, movement shape. My Mom bending over the garden, helping my Dad weed, a young woman over whom death has already cast its shadow as surely as the apple tree shading her that day. Standing here in my flowerbed today, I can smell her perfume on the air, and the remembrance of the fluid movements of her hands in the soil is as real to me as a tide. Steady, gentle, certain. Tomatoes bring back more than a memory, but a laugh, for one time we were tasked with tending a neighbors garden while they were away and in that is a memory that will always stay with me. The neighbors had some cherry tomatoes and they just weren't coming along at all, dying on the vine, raisins looking abundant in compare. The day they were due back, Mom and Dad went to the store and bought the biggest, juiciest beefsteak tomatoes they could find and TIED them to their vines with tiny wires. When J. and L. came home they exclaimed. "Wow. . Look at our tomatoes!!!!. . . . . hey. . . these are TIED on here!", and we all joined in the laughter.

After 35 years I can still hear the sound of my childish voice joining in, feel the breeze on my face, and the the soil under my fingers, dark and rich, shaded by the apple tree that survived the big blow we had in 1962. The tree is gone now but I can still picture the branches from which my brother and I often hung upside down like little monkeys. I don't know the name of all the flowers that were in that abundant gardent that Mom grew, but I know the ones I likeed. Daffodils and Forsythias being my favourite. Yellow flowers. When I was recovering from surgery in January someone sent me a big bouquet of yellow flowers. It was more than flowers, it was recognition that all those stories I told over phone lines late at night, across continents, had meant something, I meant something. On that day long ago, as my Mom and I clear out a patch of land behind the house, a large open field, we find a patch of wild rhubarb, with strong and spiny looking leaves and thick tart stalks. I go to tear it up, thinking as many did, that it was just a huge weed, and my Mom stops me. She said that will make a wonderful treat later, my Dad's favourite, rhubarb pie.

Perhaps we had a few cherries to throw in with the fruit, and she promised to sprinkle some sugar on the crust, right as it came out of the oven, to crystallize and crackle under our tongues and offset the sheer tartness of the fruit. Rhubarb, a taste of childhood that has a magic all its own, that doesn't need words to carry it forward out of that garden of memory. The sweet taste of life in my Mom's beloved garden. Today I worked 12 hours moving the rest of my belongings to a new smaller home, sorting out what I can donate to Amvets, what I will take. Every muscle in my body hurts, the foot, still in a walking boot from the Japanese Ninja accident a couple of weeks ago, so swollen I had trouble walking on it by the end of the day. (oh, look! A place to elevate my foot right next to this pub bar). Yet with me, were not my parents, but two wonderful friends working alongside me, laughing uproariously even as we toiled, (really that's a flashlight. . . . CANOE. . . he's an astronaut you know) creating something new out of chaos. Among those things taken from the freezer and transported to the new home. Some rhubarb. Once the papers are signed and I've had time to catch up with the one person I've not had much time for this last couple of weeks, patiently supportive, I'm going to make a pie. Memories of those we love then and now, the shared laughter, the smell of a home made pie, the simplest things, yet they bring peace. Even something as simple as a pie made with love. Beautiful and strong, like the wild rhubarb itself, working its magic beneath the cold, dark soil.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Moving Weekend

The Range is sold and I'm packing up all kinds of stuff and moving it into my new digs. I'm going to rent for a while. I think the market could well tank further before it rebounds, so I didn't want to rush into buying another property. I have a nice little place that will suit me for now.

Midwest Chick and Mr. B. are showing up this weekend to help move all the shop and excess stuff into storage. Neighbors are collecting the cover charge to watch me ride my big riding mower up a ramp into the back of the truck (though I passed on jumping over 3 derelict Piper Tomahawks with it first). Several other local friends offered to help (thanks guys and gals!) but most of it is done already and I have Two Men and a Truck to move the remaining heavy stuff. One of the Indy gunblogger group is watching Barkley until I'm all situated so the move for him is less stressful with his bed and toys and familiar smells already in place before he shows up. I think things are moving right along.
But I WILL have to check out the new bath before I hang pictures or do anything except sleep for about 11 hours. The large tub is calling my name.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Faces of the Land

The land in polished by clouds, no mountains exist to block the efficient sweeping of soil with the ragged, torn wet edges of a huge cold front.

Still even scrubbed clean by yet another thunderstorm, the land shows every scratch, each dent, gouge and rut born by tractors that run in the same lanes where years ago, pioneers crossed here.

The midwest is a land shaped by the storms, the boarded up storefronts, behind whose doors leaves huddled sidewalks no longer tended, heaved and broken, grass growing through the cracks like crabgrass on a forgotten grave. Windows of closed businesses turning their bright shiny faces to the sun, only to darken with approaching clouds, for the sun is a ways off.

But the storm here is not the design of mother nature, but the state of living here where the land is rooted in the hard work, of which little is available.

Unemployment is up at almost 10% here. If you add in the number of people who have jobs, but their hours have been cut drastically, the number of people affected is over 20%. Others say that statisticians quit counting people after theyhave been on unemployment for one year, as they assume "they're happy that way". The Vice President stated after the stimulus, after billions of the hard working taxpayers money has been spent, "I guess we underestimated the economy."

Last year, I drove out West to visit family, rather than fly. I expected to see some signs of the economy, but was absolutely amazed by how many businesses along the former bustling interstate were closed. Mom and Pop restaurants that had been open for years, gas stations, even hotels. Places I remembered seeing for years, shuttered. All I could think was, "I don't think the media is telling the whole truth"

In my travels this last few months, I spent some time in a city in Northeast Florida, a former thriving area when I'd been three years ago. Many of the places I once shopped or dined at were vacant. I ran into a lady at the library there who remembered me from the last trip through, and she asked about my family, and I hers. She said, in her home town county, north of Daytona, unemployment was up at over 20%.

She still had a job, though many of her coworkers had been laid off. But things were tough, as she was helping her adult children, college educated, smart, hard working people who could find no work in the area.

There will always be those that do not wish to work. Those, sound of limb and health, that would rather stand with their hand out, expecting those that do work to pay their share to them, simply because they occupy space here. I will fight tooth and nail to keep my hard earned dollars from going to the lazy and the greedy, something that's happening much too much recently. But what about those people like my friends, my neighbors, who have worked all their lives , want to work, and work HARD, and there's nothing for them

In my state, the Elkhart-based Indiana National Guard's 1538th Transportation Company returned from Iraq last year to cheers and tears of pride as their family members greeted them as they marched, these 182 citizen-soldiers marked, in formation, into a hangar at Indiana's Stout Field.

I know none of them personally, though myself and a friend sent a number of care packages over that way when they were overseas. We are proud of our soldiers, for stepping up. We were happy to see them come home unharmed, for the 1538th sustained no casualties during almost 10 months in Iraq, providing security and ferrying numerous supplies for U.S. military convoys. Perhaps as they said, it's because their unofficial motto is,“Drive it like you stole it.” Perhaps it's because these men and women know how to work safe, and work smart in the worst of environments. Certainly someone I would want to have on my team, or my payroll.

For ten months they put their lives on the line, crossing landscapes distant and impenetrable, with little in the way of daily comforts, things we take for granted at home or at work. There was no comfort from the blazing desert sun other than a small wind that might come from nowhere to thin the smoke and the heat, wind that might carry on its back, enemy fire without warning. In the far distance, gunfire flicked across the hard, unforgiving land, like hail on a metal roof. But the distant sound didn't stop them. They moved and worked, bringing needed things to others who served. Hours across landscapes fought with dangers, clinging stubbornly to hope as they crossed the churned soil, among scraps of burnt out life and remnants of liberty. Fueled by hope, that soon they would be home. Back to their jobs, their families and their lives, things that when they left, were whole and sustainable. Sometimes those thoughts were all that may have gotten them through the days and nights.

But in a area which has been devastated by the economy, they come home to find their jobs were gone, many of them receiving the termination letters not too long after Christmas. The employers had honored their military commitment, their civilian jobs protected by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, but that is no help when massive layoffs occur in the the total work force. The local economy was as flat as a penny placed on a train track. The RV industry, a prime employer in the area along with other key manufacturing sectors, had limped to the side of the road, it's tires flattened by soft sales, high gas prices and the reining in of spending by anyone with common sense.

Elkhart-Goshen's unemployment was up at 17.5 percent this time last year. It's higher now.

When interviewed, the soldiers spoke matter of factly, not looking for handouts, simply looking at options, for they are fighters, some having to move back in with parents, some likely having to delay much awaited plans for marriage and children. Not all of them were young, some were in my age group, serving our country later in live, coming back to jobs they'd held for a lifetime already, only to find the doors shuttered, weeds growing up around once profitable local businesses.

The face of the poor and the homeless used to be a stereotype of laziness and poor choices. That has changed. We as a nation have changed. The face of the unemployed is more than the lazy or the uneducated or the young. It's the educated and the motivated. It's our friends and neighbors. But for timing, a choice or two and luck, it's you and I.

In the past few years I've volunteered at both a woman's violence shelter and a shelter for the homeless. Not always the most pleasant of tasks, dealing with the homeless, the battered. Many people would meet these people on the street and instantly turn away, a pivoting of one's whole self back towards the sanctity of their safe little world. I can't say they were all pleasant, or thankful, or people I'd want as a friend. Yet, who was I to judge them on first appearance, or their lack of things we all take for granted, a job, food on the table, the ability to get up each day and pay our own way, supporting ourselves and our family.

One night I was there when we had a severe storm and the power went out. It was in early spring when winter had not yet given up its hold and ice pellets rattled the roof. The old building got cold quickly. With the wind still howling, it wasn't safe to drive home yet, so we sat together in the kitchen area, with blankets, trying to keep warm til the power came back on. I was sitting near one of the homeless women who was staying there after living in her car after losing her job and running out of benefits. She had just found some work at minimum wage, but still did not have enough to rent an apartment. Coming here was a last resort during the cold remnants of a Midwest winter. She sat off by herself with a warm fleece blanket, locked into her own healing place. I sat on a chair, shivering, as there were not enough blankets for all of us.

After a time, the woman came over, soundlessly, and put her blanket around me, wrapping it around our legs as she sat next to me, to help keep me warm. Her clothes were worn but meticulously clean, her too thin arms still showing the muscle definition of someone who worked strong, her fingernails clean and short. On the surface, someone that some people might dismiss, but when I looked in her eyes I could see it, someone who has battled life and survived with determination and pride.

If I had met this person on the street, poorly dressed, needing a decent haircut, I too might have have passed without caring, taking little notice. Yet on that night she shared one of the few things she called her own, with me, a stranger. I don't know what happened to her, but with these words I have to say to her. Thank you. I can't make up for the way people may look at you or treat you or save you from what has happened to you in your life. I can only blanket you with these few words to cover you with reassurance. Reassurance, that you are strong, you are a fighter, one worthy of the rest of us taking a deeper look at you and and what you can offer.

To the soldiers returning to no jobs. I can offer you a prayer that you will soon be able to apply those resources that helped you come home to our state whole and healthy, as you find work for someone else. We as your neighbors are behind you, we as your State are proud of you. Simply telling you "sorry, we underestimated the economy" is NOT a welcome home sign worthy of your service.

To those newly elected, look hard at the landscape. Listen to those who voted for you. Listen to those who labor, for not just ourselves, but for our country. For the economy is not just a landscape, it has a face. We are not statistics, we are not overpaid, underworked and lazy. We are the American people, we want to work strong and proud. But we can't do it with promises and outsourcing, bailouts to the greedy or self serving and financial admonisments to the hard working taxpayer.

We are the American worker. Don't forget that as you work for us.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Look Borepatch, Targets Can be Found Everywhere!

Even in Dublin

Keads over at Another Day is a certified firearms instructor and just finished up a concealed carry class of 11. This post is for the students, some of whom have become readers here. Congratulations on taking that important step ladies and gentlemen!

Remember that old saying if you're moving too slow, you're just a target.

I remember the very first time I pulled a trigger, 12 years old, under my LEO Mom's supervision, and after years of watching gun safety. I remember the target, a soda pop can. I remember the hesitant deliberation of the hand, the tightening of the muscles in my stance, knees slightly bent, leaning in, that seemed to convey twice the weight of what my childlike body held. And I squeezed and hit the top rim of the can, knocking it off its perch. It took ten minutes for the smile to leave my face.

We practiced with those soda cans in an old quarry, or out in the woods, using the center of the can as a little target area. The .410 bore was pretty light, but it would take small game out to 35 yards consistently. Difficult to use in wing shooting, but a fine starter gun, for garden pests or rogue soda cans. Like any first love, we couldn't get enough, and would work hard during the week, doing our chores and school work to earn another trip to a rustic range. Responsibility had to be earned. Trust had a price. In time we graduated to bigger guns, and more elaborate targets, but that smile of accomplishment remains unchanged, even if there were years where I didn't get to shoot at all.

Targets can be as elaborate or as simple as the weapon you own. Some of the more common types are:

Experienced hunters, law enforcement and tactical course shooters are familiar with silhouettes, targets that provide a realistic representation of what the shooter is likely to see in a self defense situation. Though I did have a squirrel threaten me in a tree blind once, I'm not expecting to be mugged by either a gopher or a red bullseye target.

These targets range in size and color, and some resemble real "bad guys", though this popular police qualification target reminds me of Matlock in his younger days.

I understand there are ranges that do not allow such targets, as shooting at something resembling a human is not politically correct. I'd take my business elsewhere if my range was that way. I prefer to shoot at a more realistic target once in a while, at least until the first woman is raped and strangled by a 8 x 10" ground hog. Hunters will use targets resembling the game that they will hunt. These targets will often have small bulls eyes on the prime areas for aiming to achieve a humane kill in a real life setting, better for hunter and hunted alike.

Not everyone that shoots, hunts. That's a deeply personal choice. You can be a vegetarian or buy your meat at the store, killed by someone other than yourself. You can shoot for self defense, or simply for sport.

When target shooting to improve your skills a bulls eye target is great. The bulls-eye ring(s) should be easy to see from a distance. Color doesn't matter, red green, black, orange, it just needs to stand out from the rest of the target.

In this target, shot at 40 feet, one can look at shot placement to see what worked and what didn't. A bullseye chart can't be beat for diagnosing Common Shooting Errors. In this case, the first shot was in the center. The next few were just barely to the right of that. But what about the higher shot? Shooting to the 9:30 to 12 o'clock position of the bullseye is usually recoil anticipation, in this case likely releasing the trigger too soon causing the front sight to rise to the left. The lower one? Also anticipating the recoil, and perhaps forcing the weapon down before the recoil actually happened Or I just "limp wristed" it (relaxing the wrist before the BANG).

Some shooters like the cross-hair type target where, in place of circular rings, you'll find a vertical and horizontal axis. Some sharpshooters may find they prefer this cross-hair type target.

Then there are the metal targets - These are silhouettes ranging from circular or other shapes to animal representations. Some twirl, some just clang. Though more expensive, these can be fun. Don't want to buy your own? Try a steel plate match at your your local fish and game.

Be aware though, metal targets could deflect a bullet, so be sure that you are at a safe distance before attempting to use them. As with paper targets, the knock-down targets can be found at many online sites and traditional retailers.

There are small adhesive backed targets that can be placed on any target. They explode in a bright, fluorescent ring of color around each bullet hole. These will really show up from a distance, showing you placement on those 50-200 yard shots or even a 50 foot shot with a .22 round. I always have a few Birchwood Casey Shoot•N•C® Targets in my range bag. They aren't particularly cheap but I like them. With the current consumer in mind, they have a new "Dirty Bird" target that splatters white on impact and is a price comparable to paper, as well as working well for long distance shooting.

The Best Targets? the Free Ones!

When selecting a target, you don't have to leave the comfort of your little home office. There are many targets available for free downloading on the net. All you need is a printer and some paper. You can even make your own with simple paper, index cards, paper plates and a marker pen. I used to shoot next to a fellow that had an assortment of buck-toothed woodland creature targets all done with a large marker pen on stock paper. He was fairly gifted as an artist and some of the targets were almost too amusing to put holes in.

One day, after I had not shot in a while due to work, the range master at my former indoor range came up with this little number with pen and a piece of regular size copy paper. He ran it to distance, saying I probably couldn't hit the broad side of a barn after weeks away. Ha! Be it a hand drawn target, a paper plate with a dot, or a playing card, there's targets that are effective and cheap.

I enjoy the regulation targets, but as a beginner or recreational shooter, free is good. If you are set on a regulation one, there are a number of Internet businesses offering paper targets, affordable in bulk.Then there are the specialty targets to prepare you if you are attacked by zombies:


Or Barney:
Or want to register your that AARP card they started sending when you hit 40.

click to enlarge
Or for lack of a paper target OR Barney (as Bore Patch found): Teletubbies.

Paper targets are indispensable for reinforcing the finer points of accuracy. But for lack of paper, how about water balloons, bowling pins, bobbleheads, and anything involving Ronald McDonald. Just be careful when shooting things that shatter that you have proper eye protection and backdrop.

No matter what target you select there are basic fundamentals to ensure you hit where you want to and practice with the highest level of safety for yourself and those around you.

The proper stance affects nearly every aspect of target shooting, and there are as many stances as there are shooters. You need to find one that is comfortable for you, yet offers stability and range of motion. I thought my stance was just fine until Shooty Buddy, an NRA instructor, gave me some hints one day on bending my knees more. It made a difference in my stability.

Posture does not mean a Emily Post type of stance where one could place a book on their head and walk across the parlor. A correct posture for a shooter is one where lower and upper body are comfortable yet keep the body as a whole, and especially the hands, steady. The width of your stance can affect your target accuracy as much as to what degree you adjust your torso. More than any of the other fundamentals of shooting, personal preference is key in the posture you use. What works for one persons build, may not work for you. You are aiming for stability of platform and a steady hand.

Grip. You can't control your handgun if you can't grip it properly. When you give up control, you give up accuracy. Gun hand grip is simple: the thumb goes to one side of the grip, the other fingers to the other side and wrap around the handgun grip. Until you have identified your target and are ready to fire, the trigger finger should generally rest along or above the trigger guard. Never rest the trigger finger on the trigger. The only time a finger should be near the trigger is when you are going to fire and your target is clear. The support hand normally "cups" the gun hand from underneath.. The pressure from the supporting hand should be even and equal to that of the gun hand. Too little or too much pressure will result in poor results.

Sight Alignment and Sight Picture. The sight picture is what you will see when looking through the sights at your target, at your "ready" position, gun drawn and pointed at your selected target. Sight alignment is simply how the rear sight is “aligned” with the front sight, with the sights aligned along BOTH the vertical and horizontal axis. (the front sight, normally a single post exactly center between the rear sights with the top of it even with the top of the rear sights.)

Eye: To close or not to close. Opinions will vary on whether to close one eye during shooting. I'm cross eye dominant, meaning, though I am right handed, my left eye is dominant and I just do NOT shoot as accurately with the right eye open. However, I practice both ways, as in a defense situation, I may wish to keep my peripheral vision clear and still be able to hit center mass.

Trigger Pull.
Anticipation can help or hurt. A slow steady pull with the index finger pad (the middle of the index fingertip), on the trigger is your goal. Trying to anticipate the moment when the gun will go "bang" will result in shots that are off center or miss the target completely. For, in anticipating your shot, whether you know it or not, you can fling or jerk and it's goodbye bullseye. What helped me was "dry firing", practicing trigger pulls on a well lubed, broken in, unloaded weapon, exercising the same care with it as if it was loaded. It can't be said enough, treat ANY gun as if it were loaded, in however you handle it.

I missed my first 10 point bow kill because of bad breathing. Huffing and puffing like the little engine that could, I ended up shooting Mr. Buck in the behind. It was a glancing blow, and I tracked the tiny bit of blood spor and signs in the brush for an hour, trying to ensure he was down as humanely as possible after my blundered effort. The blood was minimal to say the least, and I didn't find him despite tracking til dark. The next day I saw him, he of the non typical rack, prancing around like nothing had happened. Though he looked up at my direction with disdain before scampering off after a doe. Uncontrolled breathing was a mistake I would try not make again. As with the other fundamentals, proper breathing is integral to accurate target shooting. Control is everything. If you breathe in and out during the trigger pull you'll have a shot that's likely off its mark. What works for me it to take a breath between trigger pulls. Breathe out. Trigger Pull . Breathe in. Some people do it breathing in, holding and breathing out. Whatever works for you, but control your breath during the trigger squeeze. Look at the target. Fire. Utter "son of a*(#&" under your breath, and try it again.

If you are a beginner, study the fundamentals, get some expert instruction and shoot where it is safe and supervised. For beginner and sharpshooters alike, whatever you shoot, you'll find as many ways to enjoy the experience as there are targets.

- Brigid

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Seasons to Live

Last nights moon was a super "perigee moon"--the biggest in almost 20 years. Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon's orbit. It was an ellipse with one side (perigee) about 50,000 km closer to Earth than the other (apogee) we typically see. Nearby perigee moons are about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than lesser moons that occur on the apogee side of the Moon's orbit. The full Moon of last night occurred less than one hour away from perigee--a near-perfect coincidence1 that happens only 18 years or so.

A perigee full Moon brings with it slightly higher"perigean tides," but is not, as claimed by many on the Internet, a portent of natural disasters, except for poetry.

Why should there be
a season to living

Find what you love
not in time's transaction
but in rich round fruit
tasting not of limits

The beauty of the earth
savored like the thought

of heaven
The souls sweet season
is within yourself
heat more sudden than June

Torrents of rain,
moods somber in snow
grievings alone
or unsubdued ecstasies
when the Spring water flows
drenching the warm earth

All desires and all losses
Gusty passions
on wet roads of Summer nights;
in the golden rush of Autumn,
and the blaze of Winter fire.
fueling the heart's heat.

- Brigid 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day - Treasure on a Plate

A box without hinges, key, or lid,
yet golden treasure inside is hid.

-J.R.R. Tolkien

I was in Dublin not all that long ago and had dinner in the Temple Bar district at a wonderful restaurant named Gallaghar's Boxty House. The boxy I ordered had a filling of creamed chicken with a hint of smoked bacon.

Never heard of a boxty? It's a potato pancake-like creation, usually associated with the north midlands, north Connacht (a favorite place of mine) and southern Ulster, but whose popularity has spread far and wide throughout Ireland.

There are many different recipes, some that include baking soda and buttermilk, some thinner, some thicker, but they all contain finely grated raw potato and do not have the chunkier texture of an Americanized potato pancake. The ones I saw were a finely grained, crepe-like creation filled with meat, veggies and various sauces.

The recipes I found on the web weren't quite what I was looking for so I decided to experiment in the kitchen and create my own recipe from top to bottom (this is what someone is usually shouting "Danger Will Robinson , Danger!" )

Boxty with Whiskey Cream Sauce (and pork tenderloin)

It started with roast pork tenderloin rubbed with tellicherry pepper, a dash of sugar, red pepper, paprika, sage, and nutmeg, roasted to medium rare, then cubed.

The filling for the boxty was a whisky cream sauce made with Jamesons Irish Whiskey, (which I always have in my survival kit), seasoned with mushrooms and caramelized onion.

The boxty? Mashed potatoes, shredded fresh potato, milk, flour, and a little pepper, whisked and cooked in a big pan, like a crepe. It's hard to cook something that thin without burning, let alone flip it over halfway. You just need to understand that the first one will be like a pawn in chess or the front line soldier in battle. Small, tough and likely to get die quickly. But by the second attempt you will be an expert, the result browned, thin and tender.

click on any of the photos to enlarge

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Thoughts of Japan

I wrote a short version of the story of this trip last year, but wished to expand on it and share, in light of the tragedy in Japan. The Japanese Garden pictures were taken at my Dad's, a place he finds great peace. Work has taken me to Japan on more than one occasion, including recently. It is a land and culture very different from ours, yet, in ever aspect I was treated with great kindness and respect. I hope those that I worked along side and met are safe. There are many organizations that are providing aid, one that I have volunteered with is

In our country, the damage is in millions and with great losses to fishing families and others out West. My prayers go out to them.

Arthur - Let's go somewhere.
Trillian - Definitely. Where'd you have in mind?
Ford - I know this great restaurant at the end of the universe.
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Traveling. It takes you away from yourself. Yet you bring back so much. Things that you would never experience in an 8 to 5 job in an office ten miles from your house. Things that make you deeper and richer and fuller for the experience. Things that make you more of what you would be without it. Those singular moments that make you savor the sheer fullness of life.

Yet I'll be honest. I've experienced as much just in my hometown, laughter and discoveries shared with friends. Sights and smells and sounds that were around me all the time. Little shops of delight we would find off the beaten path. Yet there are certain foreign trips that just stuck with me, years after they were made. There is just something about certain nights across time zones and evenings in strange lands, sounds and smells tapping at your window like shy children, that stay with you .

Depending on the work involved, this time can simply be two or three days, sometimes several weeks, and before you know it, anxiously awaited or pulled from it like a lovers embrace, it's done. Time to leave. I remember launching one morning on a flight over the British Isles, the location of one of the world's most beautiful countries; where you'll fly over the Prime Meridian. The Prime Meridian is the common zero for longitude and time reckoning throughout the globe. The one place where we are all at one point, and the moment stands still, an absolute where for a second everything is perfectly in tune and time seizes the day. Where, with a slug of lousy airplane coffee, you'll synchronize your watch and attempt to capture that time, to somehow gather it to you and forget the confusion that jet lag and foreign soil has brought.

Different languages and sights, smells and sounds - a glass of Guinness in Dublin, the crisp sharpness of a Croft Cider apple, the soft sweetness of a Tuscany countryside, the noise of traffic on the Autobahn. At this point you're still at the Prime Meridian where there is preciseness and unity, and the deep aesthetic calm of sameness.

There is watching the sun rise and set in lands I've only dreamt of, gazing at descending pure light that dwindled slowly, as it reluctant to leave. It was as if for a moment, time had stopped for a while, my path heading on into the twilight, the light and the sense of movement seemingly stopped yet swift in its measure, like stolen moments with the hearts longing.

It's not home, and you're still dead tired, yet for a moment, looking out at the innate vastness that is a world so much bigger than you, you relive those captured moments in time. Times of awe and wonder at just being alive to see the sun come up over a distant land. A land at the edge of an ocean that will lead you back someday, but not now, for on the horizon are new lands.

A while back work took me to Japan. It wasn't a trip for anything other than serious, solemn business, but I wanted to explore it a bit if I had an afternoon somewhere free. My Uncle had traveled a lot there in his work for Boeing, and in my home I had beautiful pieces of lacquered wood, small decorative boxes, and pieces of ceramic and wood that he'd brought back for me. Even as a small child I understood the beauty of these pieces and didn't use them for Barbie furniture or play, they were simply displayed with reverence for what they were, touched gently to bring a memory of my favorite Uncle who gave them to me.

Thankfully I was able to do a day or two of sightseeing at the end the Japan trip, using some personal leave time, before flying home. Navigating the streets armed with some carefully organized directions and a bento box lunch, I commanded the Metro, taking in temples and galleries, savoring piles of sticky rice. sitting like royalty on a cushion. So many people, yet the city so clean, almost vibrating with movement and life.

The language I could only subtly grasp for it's hard to take one's thinking from romance language syntax (subject-verb-object) to the Japanese syntax (subject-object-verb). It's not that difficult to learn, but it's more difficult to understand. In Japan, a part of tatemae is speaking diplomatically, and what is not said may be more important than what is. As best I could, I simply watched and learned, and fortunately didn't hear too many times the phrase, Nihongo wa jouzu desu neh, or "Your Japanese is good". Seemingly a compliment, it's usually spoken with the most subtle of "Look Mom, the dog can do math problems" nuance -- slightly condecending but without the egocentric superiority I found in other cultures. I took no offense, finding my own humor in my attempt to navigate such a strange, wondrous country.

Tokyo was overcrowded and noisy. Tokyo was brilliant. I wandered amongst a river of people, more than I'd seen in any Western town I'd worked in, a tall foreign stick floating through masses of dark flowing crowds. I was fearful of the torrent yet felt so free in the rushing current. Yet when I got to my big city hotel, a small coffin like room with all the ambiance of a dental lab, I was even more aware I was alone. There was no one I could share these discoveries with, and the solitary quality of my life sent waves through my water like countenance.

But I experienced it, for what good is it that you deny yourself the experience of life because there is no one to share it with. So in the morning, rather than catch an earlier flight home, I charted down new waters, taking a train to Kyoto.

The bullet train, two hundred and twenty miles an hour of escape, with no turbulence or horrid little dried out peanuts. We rode in swift quiet, it being considered rude to use a cell phone on a bus or train. The world flowed past, the eyes around me alive and serene as earth and water flowed smoothly past from north to south, all in its ordered place. The Shinkansen, taking me past mist shrouded mountains and ridges rising in stratified layers of green, gray and blue, that were as delicate as a painting. Kyoto is a subliminally gentle and beautiful city, spared the bombings that Tokyo experienced, it was unchanged from war, full of graceful old buildings, delicate flowers surrounding shops, framed in an astonishment of design. Small winding paths scattered with tiny flower blossoms, like rice at a brides feet, took me from landscape to landscape. Bridges built with the strength of steel yet the delicacy of lace, crossing small still waters, arching high into space, there between silence and absence. I simply wandered, moving from cool solacing green, spun from white radiance of the hot sun, to shadowed canopies formed of ancient wood, I breathed deep. Breathed the lilting history of order and peace, and my loneliness left me. I returned to calmness, returned to that floating course of my trip.

I checked into my hotel, and went to the bathhouse to refresh myself. In a mini garden, verdant green plants tended lovingly by small women, the bathhouse had walls and floor of cedar slats, the smell of herbs wafting up from their seams. It was an experience unlike any hurried morning shower. The steam, the scrubbing, the intermingling caress of soft cloth and vigorous bristled brush, smooth soap gliding, washing away the smell of diesel and the city, the miles and miles it took me to get here.

The late afternoon was simply a walk, an exploration, the blossoms along the river inviting me, the scents, the color. I watched others even as they politely did not watch me, a young man about my height with tawny skin and strong arms, his form a sweetened condensed version of the overated American ideal of large and heavily muscled. A young woman with skin the color of porcelian, skin you just wnated to reach out and touch, bent over lovingly tending a tea garden. And the children, colorful garmets and smiles, clutching their mommy's hands as they went hurried past miniscule shops, their windows a wonder of design, glass and small delicicies, writing paper, and there in the hands of a little girl, a samurai kite. I tried not to stare, sharing that recognized need for privacy that can coexist with a life that is completly open to the world. There was a fascination with the watching though, that blending of childlike and paradoxical reliability that tends and protects that which it loves even if it is naive to the earth's subterfuge.

Dinner was at a small restaurant recommended by one of the locals, a tiny little place, embedded within a small building of wood and stone, as if it it had always been here, marked simply by a small piece of cloth. The food, fresh and sublime; I knelt on soft pillows as silent, beautiful women passed me tidbits of delicate, sweet and plump food, the table an array of color and form. Textures of firmness and soft, tastes of sweet, salty and hot.

With a Gochisosama deshita I reluctantly left to follow winding trails of paper lanterns, that followed the turn of the land, guiding me with small beacons of pink and peach. Smells sweet yet unfamiliar wafted up as my feet brushed virgin shoot into hard stone. A path to an even tinier tea house, where I savored green tea and roasted wrapped rice, a sticky sweet candy taste, a subtle delicacy that would put a rice crispy treat to shame. The tastes and smells were brought to me on a gentle night wind that assaulted my senses and the thought of fast food was as foreign to me at this moment as this moment would have been to me a week ago.

But it would be soon time to leave, my plane awaited, and I made my way back to my hotel, where I lay alone on a plush white futon, lying under soft earth-toned quilts, the sound of water trickling from a fountain, sending thoughts and desires tricking down my spine.

Floating between sleep and reality while the days restful blend of cultures and words, smells and sound, nipped gently at my wakefulness, I drifted into half sleep. I began a dream that I was not alone, that I was entwined with someone, infused with content. We would wake, the trickle of a fountain the only other sound, murmuring incoherently to one another, lips nuzzled against necks, bellies, breath, tears of rejoining, lapping at that salt lick of nourishment. Emotions flowing in waves past clenched teeth, I drifted further into sleep and my dream lover grew silent, not speaking of time future or past, everything existing in that moment. Outside a rumble of thunder, a lightning flash within the deep folds of night that strikes like the writing finger of God, creating life from barrenness.

But I did not hear it, continuing my floating journey in dream life. Sleeping deep dreams of colors and textures, visions of taste, sweet, salty, hot. Sleeping visions that would stay within me on my return, deep dreams that someone who had never left the confine of their small enclosed office, might not understand. Dreams I would not have had, had I stayed home 24 and 7.

Yet, I missed my friends, my own bed and my home, the small comforts of familiarity. Soon I would be back there again.

When I got home, I would gather up and breathe deep the clean scent of the green bedspread in the bedroom, the walls the color of verdant tea gardens, a large mirror with the streams of a Japanese river engraved on it in gold, reflecting the image of this wanderer of the sky and the earth. Unlike the rest of my house, which is decidedly Western in its design and decor, this room is a simple oasis for a traveler that stays, filled with things my Uncle brought back from Japan and a few little treasures that friends have bought for me in their own travels.

Outside now, where it is so familiar, yet so foreign to me, I look out to the curve of a small river beyond the dawn, morning light supine and placid upon the earth like broken pieces of glass. Beyond that, somewhere, the future, seen with hesitation but excitement, trembling and fragile, like small birds in the morning cold.

Small sounds, small feelings tricking through me like water. I think of all the new places my career has brought me to, the people that, for those moments in cities far away, those conversations at great distances, I would never have known. I rise from my bed with a smile, touching my hand to a small lacquered box in which contains a small stone whose twin is hundreds of miles away, there in another dream, in another land far away, still close to my heart.