Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Roads Traveled

At the start of my trip West, I had a bit of a drive. The truck was running smoothly, I had water and supplies on board, one travel mug with coffee, one with Scooby Snacks. No GPS. I drive the truck with simply pilotage and signs, finding the GPS voice a nagging I didn't want and the directions sometimes less then accurate (recalculate this!)  Certainly, I get off course once in a great while, but sometimes those are the adventures we remember.

I was in South Florida on a layover with a copilot years back. We'd heard there was a boat show, so with an old, borrowed airport car, we headed out to find it. What we found were miles and miles of small neighborhoods in which NO ONE spoke English and boats were somewhat scarce. My Spanish is limited, just enough to get myself more thoroughly lost. I finally told my partner that the next business I see, I AM stopping for directions, no matter what.

There, on the next corner was a small used car lot. But not just any used cars, they had all, for lack of a more politically correct term, been "pimped out".  Low riders, enough pink and glitter and chrome to take out an eye quicker than a laser. I couldn't imagine anyone driving one of these in daylight with a straight face.  The name of the place? "Get Down Motors".

I said I was stopping, and I did, garnering a little attention as I did so, there not being a plethora of natural redheads around. The sales manager couldn't have been nicer, drawing me a map as to where I was going, chatting for a bit about a couple classic cars, that in their prior life might have inhabited the garage of our parents (minus the fur covered dashboard).

Roads traveled.

I thought of this on the long drive to start vacation and smiled, one that did not last long as up ahead,  in the opposite direction, a sudden flash of emergency vehicles.  Fire trucks. All lanes Southbound were stopped and as I slowed and got over to the right lane, I could see the burned out shell of an SUV. There was nothing left but a charred husk, the fire so intense it started a grass fire on the side of the road 30 feet away.

There was no other vehicle, it had not been hit, and it was in the right lane, not pulled off to the side.  Something happened fast and the vehicle was abandoned where it could be stopped. There was no ambulance or wrecker, I'd have seen it continuing South as I headed North.  I could only imagine - engine fire? Fuel leak? Spare can of gas in the back, (why people do that is beyond comprehension), windows up tight against the heat, fumes building and then poof? Spontaneous human combustion after a life of pork rinds and Big Macs? Many scenarios, none ending as planned.

After Mom died, I spent time at Dad's going through drawers and cupboards.  In part it was to help my Dad give to charity those things he did not need, but also to gather photos and mementos in one place, for such a time where he could look at them with joy, not anguish.

As any child does, we always picture our parents as being "old", as a picture of staid authority and wisdom. Looking at the photos of my parents, growing up together, falling in love, I remember that, although they invested an incredible energy in raising a family, they also invested an incredible energy in the things that made the two of them happy, outside of that which was expected of them. What were they like, those two, before we came along? What dreams did they have that were denied, what dreams did they have that were unspoken?

Their lives certainly didn't travel as planned, a war interrupting their wedding plans for 5 years, the loss of a child followed by 11 childless years, then adoption. Then those children all traveling the world, family gatherings at best 2 or 3 times a year, Mom's health failing and Dad losing her so young.  It was likely not the life he planned on. Yet he kept on going, believing what he needed to believe, or rather, what was intolerable for him not to believe. He believed he would be happy again, and he was.

The traffic was moving along again but at a pace of three toed sloth, not a sprint car. Up ahead, another slow up, it looked like someone rear ended someone, a minor accident, given the speeds, but worth getting off the freeway to get around on side roads.

I known people through the years that have had every aspect of their lives planned out, mapped out. The journey from birth to death laid out like perfect roadway. Life, being something that refuses to cooperate with plans and possessing no map, usually throws them off on a different road, often without warning. It's how they respond to such detours that make the difference between someone who simply survives, and someone who sheds tears for the change but embraces the journey, finding happiness along the way.

I think back to more than one hunting trip, laying there on the cold ground, aching and sleepless under goose down as heavy as a lead apron as my companions slept around me.  I think back to those dreams that didn't go as planned. There, in the wilderness, where such senses are heightened, I pictured life, fate or whatever you call it, looming above like the dark canvas of tent,  musing downward on this small cluster of fragile human dreams.  I laid there thinking of all the times I hunted and came home empty handed, nothing to show for my exertions but unmarked solitude. Then I would think about all the times fate smiled on me, all the days the deer had fallen beneath my guns and how the fierce sunlight of Fall renewed me, even if I came home with nothing to show for my weariness but  blisters and virgin ammo.

I'd then sleep and wake up renewed, walking out into the fields, the land flattened and calm, dissolving away under a cold rain like the rivers themselves dissolve away, and though I knew that however the day ended, I was here, alive. Over the years, the ground may get harder and the blankets a little rougher and thinner, but I was free to carry my shotgun, on land I could own; I was loved without expectation and I was loved deeply. Those are gifts for which I am quite grateful.

As the wheels of my truck hummed along with the music and the traffic thinned out, I took the time to really look around me, here on this side road I never expected to take. The landscape was warped and wrung in the heat into geometrical squares of wilted hope. The grass was dead, the trees bent down, limbs pulled against trunks, as if hoping the sun would not notice them, the skeleton stalks of corn seeming to serve as warning to next years plantings.  The creeks were dry, the rivers thick and slow, almost without current. Yet, in only months, they would run wild again, spreading out over this land, drowning the fertile soil and subsiding again, leaving it richer, even if it does not remain.

The trips to see my Dad are good ones.  The airfare back and forth eats a chunk out of my wallet, and almost all of my vacation, but it's money and time spent gladly. Each time I go though, I'm more and more aware that this could be the last visit, and I know Dad is as well. Yet it doesn't change how he looks at it. There are outings planned and board games dusted off, beer chilled and windows opened to the wind as if these summer days will go on forever.

He is just happy to have me home. He doesn't bemoan the fact I'm not showing up with husband and kids in tow, that I carry a bag with a "bodily fluid clean up kit" instead of diapers.  He doesn't judge that I often sit up late in the night, alone, reflecting back on roads taken, and how living this life, as opposed to one with someone for whom there was no affinity for me as an individual, only as a possession, is so much less lonely.

On such nights, he  doesn't expect conversation or explanations, he simply brings me a mug of tea, kisses me on the forehead and heads off to bed to dream those dreams that still are so alive to him.  I will sit up until I know he's resting comfortably, happy to hear the sound of his gentle snores, as he strides, as if young, through the fields of his youth, chasing immortal game that bounds ahead of soundless guns.

Before sleep, I make the rounds of the house, inside and out.  Out in the drive I place my hand on the hood of the truck, feeling the residual warmth there under the rain's whisper, happy for the journey, however it took me to get here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Have Dog Bed Will Travel

Barkley, the one on the floor is for you.  The futon is for guests there isn't a bedroom for.

I know not of this "dog bed" of which you speak.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Dust and Mud - A Trip out West

I'm headed West before Fall. I have posts written to come up most every day and hopefully I can get to a coffee shop with wi fi to say hello to you all, for the original Home on the Range has no Internet.  I hope though, to bring back some stories  for those long Fall nights, to share with those who remember such days.

There will be chores to be done for Dad, probably quite a few days of hard work, food to be prepped and canned for his winter larder, soups and stews to be made and frozen for him.  Then, time with the big brothers, as we sit at the edge of a body of water as it gathers of the remainder of the light, and then returns it to us. There we will simply sit, the only sound the small clink of ice in a  glass, the occassional rumble of laughter and the gentle whine of mosquitoes.

I have no desire to move back there, as much as I love them.  My life is in the Midwest, my heart is here, but still, it doesn't take but a sound, a smell, a sight from those places to take me back to my childhood. . . .

I'm looking at nothing but a line of denim clad rear ends.

No, I'm not at some Cougar watering hole, I'm at a rodeo, and I'm five years old. I can't see what's going on ahead with all the people perched upon the rails, the sweated hats, the boots, bodies dense around the arena,  no one talking very much, just looking inscrutably ahead at wonders I couldn't see because frankly, I'm too short!

With my Mom and Dad growing up around the Flathead Lake area, vacations and family events, often took place in the state where they grew up. Sure, we had the occasional trek to my Aunt and Uncle's ranch in the foothills of California and trips to the coast where we'd rent a little cottage. But luxurious vacations involving many miles and lots of dollars were not in our budget.

I remember just bits and pieces of those trips, traveling to small towns to meet up with friends from their youth. I remember blowing up gopher holes with big firecrackers outside of a hotel room in the high desert. I remember racing down the side of a hill in a formation of bikes with a war cry, one hand on the bars, the other pumping the air faster than a pulse, as we conquered yet another bit of land unclaimed by summer. I remember rushing out of the house after dinner into a vacuum of crickets, to see if it was true you could catch a bat with a sock and a small stone.   I remember sitting on the back of a horse the size of a Star Wars ATAT. And I remember the rodeo.

But all I could see were the butts.

Fortunately, Dad spotted my predicament and lifted me up on his shoulders so I could see. I leaned forward into the wind to get as close to the action as I could. Finally, I could see over every one's head and the smile couldn't get any bigger. There I was, snow cone dribbled on my shirt, barbecue sauce at the corner of my mouth, grit in my teeth, the smell of blood in my nose and I was on my Dad shoulders seeing an actual cowboy on a wild eyed horse that looked like it wished to render both fence posts and rider into kindling. Yee Haw!

The rodeo has been a part of the American landscape for many generations. It's abhorred and revered, but you have to remember from where it came, a time when we subjugated the land and it's animals, using them as tools of work, courage and faith to settle a land and provide for future generations. The rodeo arose from working practices of cattle herding in many nations, not just the United States, based on the skills required of the cowboys. These skills go back as far as man and horse joined, in the Spanish traditions of the vaquero.

Early rodeo-like affairs of the 1820s and 1830s were informal events in the western United States and northern Mexico, with cowboys and vaqueros testing their work skills against one another. Later in the century, with the expansion of the trains and the introduction of barbed wife (yes that was a typo, that's supposed to be wire!) long cattle drives were fewer and many cowboys took jobs with the Wild West shows such as those organized by Buffalo Bill Cody, which featured riding and shooting and roping skills galore.

As a child at my first rodeo, what clings to my memory is sight, sound and smell. The clouds moved past so quickly, so fast that a young girl on a fast horse can almost catch up. Barrel racing. Six legs, three barrels, two hearts and one mind. As a youngster I was never much into horses, the plastic horse I was given for Barbi ended up as a pack mule for GI Joe and had a little accident back in enemy territory and had to be shot.

But as a young adult, I took a different look at the animal and around my home are the many traces of them. I had a girlfriend who lived in the foothills in Nevada. I'd visit during college and after and remember waking up to wild horses in their front drive every morning. There, right outside their kitchen window, no more odd in their apparition there than a Robin or a Sparrow would be,  wild horses. They simply shifted in and out of sight, there in the fog of the high desert, moving silently like breath traveling across a mirror, then disappearing before I was awake enough to know if I had truly seen them or not.

The rodeo that day long ago was one diorama of action after another. After the barrel racing, there was the tie down roping, a blur of motion and hoof, a strong cowboy wrestling with a stark white calf the color of Christmas morning. Even as a child, I was at home there in the dust, the noise, the smells of hay, manure and hard work. I still am. Cows, horses and men, women, all were squinting into the glare of the sun and the wind, their hearts beating with the adrenalin rush of the buzzer, as overhead a raptor rides the updrafts. Coyotes watch from afar, making their living as gypsies that follow those that follow the trail.

As always, there were the rodeo clowns. As a kid I hated clowns, still do. But not these. For they weren't mere clowns, the buffoons of childhood parties and nightmares. These were amusing athletes, distracting the bulls or a bucking horse when a rider was down, exposing themselves to the greatest of dangers while protecting the cowboy, yet entertaining the crowd. As a kid I just thought they were "clowns that were actually cool". As an adult, I look at these bullfighters, for the word clown is not used much, and stand in awe of a skill and level of courage that's under appreciated by those outside those arenas.

Of course there was the rodeo food. There's not too many places on earth where you can experience every kind of critter known to man, barbecued, deep fried, roasted, seared and dusted with chili powder on bun, bread, plate or stick. It's a combination of the best of road trip food, fair food, and farmhouse table cuisine. As a kid it was food euphoria, as an adult biting into a seared sausage on a bun, homemade lemonade in hand, I knew indeed what the seventh deadly sin tastes like. But first I bowed my head as my parents taught, without embarrassment or hesitation, to notify God that I was about to eat and thank Him for the privilege.

The bull riding was a crowd favorite, as we watched a superhero in a hat climb about a heaving, breathing beast in a chute. You never knew what to expect from a bull. They were capable of anything. Of any height or twisting moment, only to be remembered in dazed incomprehension in the aftermath of the taming, eight seconds of heaven that so quickly could turn into hell. The bulls never stood down, never disappointed. They were man's subject, but they were also God's creation, set alive and in motion, capable of all things, for He had created them out of the hot breath of the desert and the wild wind of the Plains.

It wouldn't have been a rodeo without the saddle bronc riding. This is one of the "classics" of the rodeo, and grew naturally out of ranch cowboys breaking wild broncos to use as working cow horses. Like bull riding, it's a short event, to keep intact the spirit and health of the horse, but it's powerful, the cowboy attaining power over an animal that refuses to sacrifice grace. A communion of man and animal under the blessed sky.

I notice the hands, muscles corded, ropes digging into flesh. If you work around horses, you learn about rope. It's heft, it's feel, lying across your hands, burning into it. You learn that rope has it's own life, a feel and responsiveness that connects you to something. A bale of hay, a horse. It's a transference, from the guile of your mind and the laughter of your heart, through a rope, onto a horse's flesh, a subtle wordless tool that communicates your intent just as sure as if you had spoken. I watch another barrel racer, a mane of hair flying, rider and ridden, connected by a tether of purpose, the horse flying with joy, happy to be connected again.

The air is rife with sound, of man, of animals, hands muscles, sweat and breath of both man and beast coming out in puffs of sweet air. Too soon, it was time to leave, sunburned and tired parents ready to take us back home. Home, rooted in dust and leather, denim and rope, a hundred years of memories in those men and women, hoofs and horses, the cowboy's way as steady and strong as history.

There was another thing I took home on that day. A lesson in not giving up. Some of the falls were brutal and had to be exquisitely painful. Some could be fatal. But I never saw anyone get up, throw a temper tantrum and walk out of the arena.  They calmed their frustration, looked their adversary clearly in the eye and got back to the actuality of rodeo, not the dream of it.

I'd remember that as I took a deep spill on my bike, coming off yet another hill,  and again, years later in life, when hurt and loss tapped me way too early in life, as it is prone to do.  And I'd dust myself off with a laugh, the sound tickling my throat and I'd look off into the trees, the light slanting through the them like slats in a fence, knowing others were watching, perched there in the shadows, murmuring voices of encouragement and hope, counting on me to get up off the ground.  I'd think of bulls and blood and dust and mud and I knew I needed to laugh, or I'd be crying. And I'd get back on the damn horse, for that is what anyone of them would do.

The cowboy and cowgirl know not of quitting. They know of smooth muscled flanks and leather. Something you could see, touch and conquer.  It's a small moment in time, a small space, a traveling island of determination,  a symphony of testosterone, adrenalin and nerves. It's courage that cleaves the air like a bucking horse, displacing it and then filling the soul.

Like the patriot, they didn't give up, they didn't apologise for what they believed, what they had done, or what they stood for. They moved past their fear, back into that relationship with the one thing that let them be part of something greater than themselves. Sure, there had to be fear, you could smell the dense coppery taste of it in the air. But it's only momentary.

Like the first American cowboys, they had the supreme confidence in their destiny, even if momentarily airborne. That unruffled belief in their own abilities and their knowledge of those creatures that God gave us dominion over. That unruffled commitment to a way of life that launches them out of the chute, off the back of a horse and out into the wild open blue. It's a place where the American Spirit of the West still lives, flowing on in the veins in the cowboys and cowgirls of today

If I get a chance when I'm out West to go to one, I will. It's like the tractor shows and steam fests I love,  something about such pieces of history that no words can describe, whether you are young or old. The rodeo will always be something something of my history, the landscape of the West that continues on, dependable and wild, like a horse that wanders down from the hills on the morning dew. Movement, motion and courage sounding out as prairie dust flies up with the stomp of a hoof, the sound of a buzzer breaking the lie of inertia.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kitchen MacGyver

Egg whites are good for a lot of things -
lemon meringue pie, angel food cake, and clogging up radiators.
- MacGyver

I will only concur on the pie and Angel Food Cake.   I'm sure you've all had angel food cake from the grocery.  Most of it tastes like Styrofoam.  Making one from scratch isn't the easiest thing to make, but  if you wear your special MacGyver pants for cooking,  it helps, as do detailed instructions. 

That being said, some baked items can take a little practice.  Should your spouse or friend be kind enough to attempt this recipe, remember, like with handymen, there are certain things one should NOT say while your loved ones attempts such things. 

Phrases to avoid saying to either a handyman OR chef.

Is this all you've done all day?
What exactly IS that?
Isn't the top supposed to be level?
How much did you spend on THIS?
I'll get the broom and the dustbin.
Am I holding it the right way?
What's that little thing sticking out of the top.
Maybe we should check our homeowners policy before we try it

And the worst?

Insert an ex's name here 's never looked like that!

Even a lopsided angel food cake is good (but remember the part about not greasing the pan so the batter can climb up the sides and cook evenly).  If it's not perfect (or even if it is) it makes a dandy dessert for special guests.

Top some cubes of this cake fresh from the oven with ripe strawberries, a little vanilla bean ice cream and a drizzle of honey and serve in a Champagne glasses.  Your guests won't care about how long it took, the mess you made of the counter or whether there is flour all over the seat of your MacGyver britches.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Captain's Log

A friend of the family asked me about starting a blog.  What advice I could give her? She said "you get 20 or 30,000 readers a week!"  I said.  " That's as surprising to me as anyone, but it takes time."   I could offer her this advice, though.

Do it for you.  Not for your 15 minutes of fame, not for publicity, not for making money off internet ads.  Do it because you like to write or create or if putting the details of your day down, somehow helps you sort through it all and make sense of things.

Create something that is uniquely yours.  Don't find a  popular blog and copy it.  That's unimaginative (and some would say creepy).  Perhaps pick a style of someone you admire, but showcase your skills, be it photography, or wordsmithing, or hobbies. 

You will get trolls.  I've been lucky in that I've only had about three in four years time.  All, surprisingly, didn't live in the U.S.  Thanks to moderation, once they've made a nasty comment or two, their name and/or IP address is flagged and I never ever read another word they write here.  Poof, it just disappears before I see it. Feel sorry for them, don't argue with them.  It's likely that  they're highly intelligent people who just never learned how to work and play with other people and play out their life with taunts and jabs to the people that otherwise, would not tip their hat to them.

My recipes go back a couple of years but the first public post was in the Spring of 08. In these years since , a lot has changed, and yet it has not. Another evening in a quiet house, with a cup of coffee and the computer, and the need to simply write about my day, my thoughts, sharing with those who have become part of my daily life. Reaching out to like spirits, those of us that love the shooting sports and the outdoors, our indomitable desire and will to pursue and grasp beyond all limits of flesh, the great outdoors, teeming with life. To defend and protect and teach. To share a simple meal, the renewing power of family and a belief in a way of life that goes back to our forefathers.
Though many people have come and gone through this small space, the quiet has not changed. I'm often amazed how very quiet it is around my place here as I sit at the computer. Here I am, all said and done, after 50 years of roaming this planet, a wanderer, an adventurer, on this small piece of land , in a small state, finally stationary, easing into quiet.

The years have been one of change, of hard decisions, then happiness, seasons of astonishing rain, falling like coins onto parched earth. But even the rain grows quiet now, the earth soaking up only sun, the corn turning, dying slowly, the cool, solacing stalks spinning the last of golden radiance from a white hot sun. I  will arise early, the smell of biscuits baking, the land beginning to stir.
I wish I could sleep in, but too many years of living on a small cattle ranch broke me of that. A reader commented a while back that farmers are all basically on government welfare, the small family farm dead, and I looked down on calluses that remained after the work on that farm ceased, and didn't know whether to laugh at that or cry. Tears won out, splashing on hands whose last grasp of that family farm were as they lay on top of a coffin, a touch goodbye to one who in defending that way of life lost his very breath.Still, years later, on a much smaller piece of property, the sun draws me up, Barkley snoozing on the little futon in the office, after one soft bark at ducks still floating on dreams. The coffee has perked, and the world falls into still again as memories of youth come unbidden, stories I do not write about, but that stay with me.

The sounds of a flight to Ireland, a small fuel stop on the way further on. A cockpit is rarely quiet, but it's a symphony of familiar sounds. The voice of the air traffic controller, a reassuring sotto voice confirmation that two minds are in agreement, and all is well with the world. The clatter of a trim switch and the beep of an altitude alerter, sounds of warning that the earth is approaching. The ground. It's solid underneath you, and hard, and if you flared too high you'll break your aircraft against its incontrovertible passivity.
Aloft and level though, airplane sounds stabilize into a gentle song with just the occasional background chorus of the controllers, and you would have time to think and perhaps chat a little. We rarely talked about the mission, but like pilots everywhere we talked of everything else. We talk of the spiritual and we talk of the mundane. We talk about families and jobs, spouses, children, food, politics, food again and surprise, we talk about airplanes.
Then, with the remark about someone we knew, lost in combat, flying more dangerous work than we'd ever know, that familiar awe-filled sadness enveloped our little space and we grew silent, remembering him, sounds of mourning and respect. Airmen, like Patriots, are a small community of thousands, and we never forget our fallen.

The descent and the landing were at hand and the day was drawing towards sunset, or would if we could see it through the prevailing overcast of our world, so we paused. The sound of conversation ended there. We simply basked in the hum of the engines and the view out the window to our world, clouds disbanding with the disinterest of late day, and the contrail of another aircraft 1000 feet above, vanishing upward like smoke as we descend for landing.

For just a moment, I leaned my head against the side wall of the cockpit and felt the vibration rattle through my bones, breathing in and letting the surge of the engines push my thoughts inward and breathing out in unison with the straining metal of the airplane. The sounds of our craft and the exhale of our breath mingled with the voices of those guiding us. Talk of things past fell away, for we knew that for now, we all had a task to do. We were so alive in that moment, and thoughts of our own mortality disappeared behind us like vapor trail as the sounds of our aircraft drove us towards duty and home.

Home, now, 15 years later, where the world is simpler, quiet, the only motored hum I hear that of a tractor or a small little Bellanca tailwheel plane. I still travel, my work takes me around the world, but it's done from business class, not the cockpit. But there are many more mornings tending the earth, afternoons tending to myself. Quiet gatherings of people I trust over for food, wine, stories and laughter.

Only one of them is a pilot, yet all are of the same cloth. Determined, strong, traveling great distances within themselves to find the life they wanted. Things are never the same, yet they are.

Home on the Range. Days of work and weekends of sharing bullets and beer with those who believe as I do. Late evenings spent in front of the computer, writing, a post, internet letters to my daughter, writing to you, as you chat back with me like the air traffic controllers of years ago, giving me guidance and encouragement, propelling me onward into this life that I lead.

I'll get out this Sunday morning, like most, and head out walking, passing gardens past their prime, and flowers still unfolding in lush morning dew in defiance of their season. I move quickly forward, gun on my hip, black lab by my side, watching life scuttle out of my path. Walking onward, out through a thick yellow lake of placid corn, unmoving and shallow in the great streaming light, out towards the trees. In those small woods a mile or so back from where I live, I look around my world, changed, yet unchanged, a scattered mosaic of leaves and cornstalk, the small bones of a broken bird laying among dried needles of pine, footprints of invisible deer. The hushed sound of my breathing, thoughts of a hand on a pine box, thoughts of another hand on my skin, tracing a scar that stands in stark relief to white skin, fingers kind, strong and forgiving.
Too soon it's time to get back in and start my day, the sound of the train forlorn in my ears, breath quickened but quiet after my morning absolution. I need these Sunday walks out in my surroundings, a place more quiet than church, in a place where my God lays his hand on me, a hand also kind and forgiving, giving me strength to go on. It's a different life, yet the same. Days of hard work, countless days marked with bitter cold and radiating warmth, monotonous wonderful days of work and friends that I love, of water, woods and sky. Countless days here retreating like fields of corn, leaving their mark on the landscape even when they are nothing more than dust.

On the porch,  used as vases for some fresh flowers, are old-fashioned glass milk bottles, from cows that live as well out in this beautiful countryside, in my world. I look at the clean lines of the rinsed glass, carefully washed and dried, stark, clear lines against a backdrop of country life, empty now, but soon to be filled with all that is beautiful from the earth. Things that were worth waiting for.

It is not the life of spoiled subsidy, it is not the life of a adventurer that I once led. It is my life, strong, quiet, true to myself. It can't truly be judged  by strangers who have never spent time with me. It can't be totally understood just from some words on a page.  It is simply my life.

It is stalking a deer in drowsing sunlight, wrestling life from the ground in a flaying of green, sore muscles, mending heart. It is soil and sweat; it is books and reports and hours spent looking at the smallest of life's tragedies through a microscope. It is a life of putting together the pieces of shattered lives, pieces of me. But it is that life that all those contrails led me to, and I thank those of you, who have showed nothing but kindness, for sharing it with me.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

DIY Dinnertime

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.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Lie of Safety - Gun Free Zones

I hate shopping for clothes.  Truly. I own more toys than shoes. Tools, books, books, music, home improvement stuff, hunting and reloading supplies, now those are things I'm happy to shop for. But shopping for the stuff some women seem to want to amass and collect bores me to tears. And I hate stores and crowds. Clauswitz would be proud. I have my list, I do a field study, the layout of the place. Then I dive in unexpectedly, averting near collision with someone spraying samples of perfume by going for a flank position. There they are. Boots. Brown. Size Small. I'm out the door with my spoils in five minutes. If I can buy them online, even better.

The Snowcaps?  They are for viewing movies at home.  Our local theater is now "gun free", which simply means that in addition to paying too much for popcorn, I'm a fish in a barrel for anyone that wants to walk in and harm me. The mall is also a "gun free zone". So I avoid it like the black plague and hit locally owned places, smaller stores that appreciate my business, concealed or not. Malls are scary enough as it is, sale racks of ugly ties, teenagers with credit cards wearing baggy pants a Kodiak bear could fit into, tacos at the food court. Go there without a means to protect myself.? No thank you.

Gun free. Think about it. Think about some famous gun free places.

Columbine High School.
New York City pizza shop.
Pearl Mississippi High School.
Luby's Cafeteria.
The Amish school in Pennsylvania.
We can now add the horror that was an outing for friends and families in Aurora, Colorado to the list.  And the list goes on and on, especially if you add in the mass murders in other  "gun free" countries.

Heller is a step in the right direction but we still have a long ways to go, and we need to continue to educate and inform. Guns aren't the evil here, people are the evil.  Certainly the media didn't fault Ryder truck regulations or ammonia nitrate restrictions, or a "cult of agriculture fertilizer" following Timothy McVeigh's horrific crime in Oklahoma City. No one debated the essential dangers of hardware and kitchen appliances after Jeffery Dahmer mutilated and consumed his victims or metal bedposts when Ted Bundy brutally raped and murdered dozens of defenseless women. Ted Bundy never used a gun; unfortunately, neither did any of his victims.

I believe it was Albert Einstein who said- "The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

Nobel Economist Friedrich Hayek termed it a "fatal conceit" and some politicians have had a bad case of it, believing they can change the world with their God- like legal attestation as to what THEY think our rights are. But the fatal conceit is not metaphoric, it's literal. People die because social-control laws do not stop criminals but simply prevent law abiding citizens from protecting themselves and those under their care.

The crime records in cities that outlaw handguns to law abiding citizen speaks clearly. When I have been in Europe, where controls are strong, I. heard on the news of more than one break in urban areas involving a criminal and a weapon, including an illegal gun, the residents raped, robbed or beaten, no chance to defend themselves. The criminals have guns, that is a given, for laws do not change behavior in those that disregard all law, they only provide consequences.

So "gun control" only "controls" law abiding adults who don’t need to be controlled. Arguments for gun control build their basis on a lie. The National Coalition to Ban Handguns claims, "most murders are committed by previously law abiding citizens," and there are other articles asserting such falsehoods without any supporting references other than going back to their own earlier articles. University of Colorado criminologist Desmond Elliott summarized violent crime studies dating back to the 1800s: "the vast majority of persons involved in life-threatening violence have a long criminal record". Professor Elliott’s summary was written in he 1990s.

More recent recent criminological studies from the Hastings Law Journal (University of California at San Francisco): "Only 15% of Americans have criminal records. But more than 90 percent of murderers do. Murderers’ crime careers average six or more years’ length and including four major adult felonies, not counting their often extensive juvenile records".

In summary, guns or no guns, those that commit the more serious violent crimes are not the ordinary law abiding responsible adults. This is so invariably found by homicide studies that is is considered a "criminological axiom" that almost all that commit violent crimes are long term criminals or the criminally insane.

But people still wish that many public retail, worship or gathering places be gun free, saying "it's a better place without guns". How is a place better where the weak have no chance against predators? There are places like that, I've visited them throughout the world, places without guns for self defense for survival, where women and children huddle in the back bedrooms in terror, surviving only by submission to their degradation.

When only the peaceable people obey the gun laws, the law's protection is futilely limited. Compare Chicago and Indianapolis, both cities in which  I often work and live nearby. Chicago has 3 times the population of Indianapolis. But, so far in 2012,  it has 5 times the murder rate.  Both are Midwest cities, both have unemployment and gangs.  The difference ,as I see it? In Indianapolis you can carry a concealed weapon to defend yourself and the bad guys know it.  Compare that to Chicago, where concealed carry is not allowed. By every testament of the anti gun crowd, Chicago should be the safest city on the planet. Tell that to the 62 year old grandfather who was beaten to death by three teens last week while he was out collecting cans to help buy his wife a new dress to wear to their son's wedding. Tell that to the young female restaurant worker who was beaten with a claw hammer and left for dead.  Their only crime was not having any sort of legal weapon of defense.

Chicago, the city with the strictest gun laws in the nation.  On an average summer weekend we have more shooting deaths than any place in the country.  Murder is up 54% from last year. Rapes, stabbings, robberies and violent crime continue go up every year that the law abiding can not defend themselves.  My friends and I don't go into the city to spend our money, we don't go near the city to eat out, we avoid large gatherings of people. We conduct our business and we go straight to home.  It's the city I feel the least safe in, yet it's the one that's "gun free".

So until the next step is taken, I will not shop in gun free malls or gun free stores. I may be one lone woman, but I'm a lone consumer with a fair amount of discretionary income.  Add us all up, and that is some buying power.
. Businesses may not care for my views, but they DO care about my buying power. They may not care if they lose the business of one, but I am one of many. I won't take my money any place that has the audacity to demand unarmed helplessness. I won't spend my money for businesses that support, even if indirectly, those that would take those rights from us. Guns themselves in the malls aren't going to cause my demise, any more than Ryder trucks cause terrorism, water causes drowning and forks cause obesity. Guns in the malls, guns in a store, only make me a victim when I'm the one that doesn't have one. They're not "gun free" they are "good-guy gun free" zones.

Academically and professionally, I've studied the insanity of fate and the methodology of greed and evil. It has a plan and a preferred environment where its prey can not fight back. Embrace the facts and spread the word, take your business elsewhere. And tell them why.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Driving Mr. Barkley - Weekend Adventures

I had returned from my long journey and was set for the drive home, a few days off with Barkley and friends.

He has a harness that locks into a seat belt extension into the back seat (I've a four door truck).  From there, he can poke his nose up front, get a pat or a drink, but he can't go flying anywhere in the event of a sudden stop.  The seat belt attaches at the shoulder point of harness, as well, to prevent injury.

Normally he just lays on the seat and sleeps after I've picked him up, but since I'd been gone a lot, he spent the drive home next to me, occasionally stretching out as far as he could go to see out the front window.

Are we there yet?

I've got a couple things in my bag, gifts for friends.  Midwest Chick and Mr. B always pick me up something in their travels, and I try and do the same. Tam and Roberta X usually get silly T shirts and Partner in Grime and I try and get the tackiest souvenirs possible for one another (with the occasional really cool gift).  I had to look hard to get him something as good as this little gem he brought back from a recent trip.

Remember that old  retro Tootsie Pop Commercial. . how many licks does it . .

Try that with the. . .

How Many Licks Does it Take to Get to the Center of. . .  OW!   Son of a  &#^@! 

That's a REAL scorpion!

Phone calls  were made to let everyone know I was home, and  it was time for some chores - off the automotive variety. In Junior High I fought to get into auto shop.  They wouldn't let me take it.  Said I had to take "Home Ec".  I had been doing all the cooking and such since my Mom got cancer, I didn't want to learn how to cook and sew buttons. I KNEW that.  I wanted to learn some useful skills.  I was struck down. I was the kid that got sent to the principals office for reading muscle car magazines behind my history book in class, I was NOT the girl to get excited over sewing an apron.

To the Administrators at my Junior High. Learning how to make stewed prunes has never once kept me out of trouble, saved me money, or got me a date,  I'll have you know.

So this weekend, some chores, including new brake pads on the truck.  And a little note to the folks at Napa.  If a lady comes in with brake pads pre-ordered, tells you the supplies she needs (including speed bleeders) and whips out her Platinum card to pay for it and hands it to you. . .

(1)  don't suggest she needs separate speed bleeders for the front and the back lines and
(2) don't ring up the sale and hand her credit card to the only male at the counter and ask him to sign for it because certainly she couldn't be buying auto parts for a truck.

Most firearm retailers have gotten the right idea, now it's time for the automotive shops.

That taken care of,  it was time a little clean up around the place.

What Scrapple is Made From (explains the chewiness).

Tonight there will be friends over and there will be Guinness burgers.  The patties are shaped like little red blood cells, with a small dent in the middle, and the edges a little rounded.  That keeps the patties from turning into little footballs on the grill, all puffed up on the middle and shrunk around the edges and way smaller than the bun.

At least that's my theory.

The burgers were transported while the Guinness for basting and a ale for drinking was tucked under one arm, plate in one hand, implements in the other.  DO NOT FORGET THE LAWS OF PHYSICS.  If you bend over to set something down, beer will spill.

Dinner Guest - "What happened".
Me - "Immutable Laws of Physics"
Dinner Guest - "That's alcohol abuse you know."

We paused for a moment of silence.

The burgers- 1 and 1/4 pound ground choice  (you want a little fat to help hold these burgers together), 1/4 cup Heinz chili sauce, 1/2 tsp minced garlic plus a few small pieces of chopped roast garlic, a few shakes of black pepper, 1/4 cup Guinness, slightly less than 1/4 cup Knorr French Onion Soup Dry Mix (about half a packet)  and 1 generous CAPful of Scoville Brothers Hot Sauce (Singing Smoke variety). Mix and grill, basting with remaining Guinness as they cook.

They are incredibly tasty and juicy, good plain (my choice) or piled with tomato, lettuce, onion, smoked cheddar and a little garlic mayo, whatever toppings folks want.  There's tortellini and pesto pasta salad and little martini glasses full of ice cream, honey and strawberries if any one wants dessert.

But soon it's time to say goodnight to get to bed and get back on my own time zone.  I will go find my slippers and all will be right with the world.

Where  DID my slippers go??