Monday, June 30, 2014

Tending To A Garden

On the drive into the city I passed a sign that said "community garden" there on a spot that once held a small and very ancient drive in theater. The area itself tends towards the lower income, even a fast food restaurant in the area, going out of business. Houses are small, and lots are smaller, few would have space for a garden in their own yard. The houses crowd along the curve of a busy street, paint faded into dark shadows of brown and grey, that cut in and out of shadows, porches sagging just feet from a street that if widened further will be at their front door.

From a distance they look less like homes and more like a ghostly herd of creatures reaching their heads down to drink from a ghostly stream. A garden, a bit of life in this place, a bit of color, neighbors coming together to work and grow. This will be a good thing, I think as I pass yet another failed business, another shuttered home, driving down a road as silent and as black as Styx.
My parents property was not large, it edged up against mountains but the actual property their house was on, was probably a quarter of an acre. As kids we'd hang out at my Uncle's ranch, acres and acres from which to roam. But "home" was more post 1950's subdivision than sprawling rural playground.

Still, Dad always had a garden, even if it was only about 12 x 12 feet in size. Every year he'd till till the soil, and we'd help him plant the seeds. I was expected to help with the watering and the weeding, but I got a quarter for every bucket of weeds I'd pull, as this duty was above and beyond the other many chores I had, for which there was no allowance given, only a roof, food and love.. I didn't particularly enjoy the task, but Dad wanted us to learn, early on, that nothing is given to you and money is earned.
It was pretty much the same veggies each year.  First would be planted the swiss chard, which my Dad loved, cooked and sprinkled with flavored vinegars my Mom would make.  Then there would be carrots, cabbage, lots of tomatoes, and green beans.  Each year, he'd also plant two rows of corn.  The corn never did well, but he never gave up on it.

The neighbors had gardens as well, and when someone was on vacation we'd water and tend to their garden, as they did ours. Seeing the sign for the community garden, I thought of that. I thought of it again, as the front flowerbeds at the Range were cleared of weeds. For a hundred years flowers have bloomed here, plants shooting up the lattice as the children in the home themselves, sprouted, grew strong, and then left.

Along the side of the house, I remove a piece of trash that had blown into the lattice work and it takes me back. What is it about certain things, 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 suddenly got so 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.

As I secured the lattice I had to stop and sort my words, as memories came unbidden, color, movement, shape. My mom bending over the garden, helping my Dad week, a young woman over whom death had already casts its shadow as surely as the apple tree sharing her that day. In this garden here today, I can smell the perfume of her beloved roses and the remembrance of the fluid movements of her hands in the soil as real to me as a tide. She worked in the same way as she watched over us. Steady, gentle, certain.
There were times I'm sure Mom and Dad didn't want to work out there, Dad with a full time job, a home to maintain and care for, as well as the paper recycling the Lions Club did to put money into the community and his work as a deacon in our church. Mom had rambunctious red-headed children, dogs, chores and health that was precarious for so many years, but never so much she failed to volunteer at the hospital. But they did the work as it was more than a hobby, it was food for the table.

Mom enjoyed convenience as much as anyone, but they made a conscious decision for her to stay home to be a full time Mom. She'd been a Deputy Sheriff for 18 years, a career she was proud of, but she was more proud to simply say her job was "Mom" when they adopted us late in life.  But that meant the budget didn't allow for expensive prepared foods from the grocers but for the occasional treat and baking supplies. We ate well, we just ate within our means. We grew, we fished, we bought a steer and raised it with a neighbor who had more land, butchering it to feed two hungry families each year. Mom and my grandmother who lived with us, baked bread and canned, not just food from the garden but the fruit off of the trees, the yard having a large and hardy, apple tree.

It wasn't always a success. We had the occasional two inch mutant carrots, small tomatoes, or no corn at all. Dad had a fence tall enough to keep deer out. Small critters were still an issue and the fact that he caught my Mom putting scraps out for the possum he'd been trying to hunt down and kill  to keep it from eating his produce didn't help. But he didn't get angry at her. He never did, accepting her quirks as she did his, with a bemused smile and tenderness that always hovered about like the beating of small wings.

When my parents were tired, when they were worn with work and worry, they simply held on, to their dream, to each other even if all that we witnessed of the effort was Dad picking up her trowel so she could rest, with a touch of hand on her cheek that left a smudge of dark earthy soil/ Such moments, such movements, were a glimpse of a profound intimacy we weren't yet old enough to grasp, but which stayed with me like a small glimpse of some sustaining truth.

A year later I again drove past that community garden to find it barren, overgrown and parched. Why did it fail? Were there water source issues, ownership issues, or was it just something new and unknown, of which we all may fear, but for the ignorant can seem perpetually vast? Or was it simply that people didn't realize that there isn't just effort to it, it's a sustained effort. You just don't drop a seed into the soil, walk away and come back weeks later to take your bounty; you don't watch others do all the work and then show up with your hands out. There might have been another reason, but I'm afraid the "work ethic" in much of our nation is becoming indistinguishable from the commonest form of robbery.
Pretty soon this will be plowed under, paved over, what is left only an illusion; that which is not wishful thinking, but a remote unattainable truth some people will only see dimly, or not at all.

I didn't particularly like gardening; I still don't. But it was, and is, a good lesson in life. Sometimes you do the work, putting months, even years into something and it doesn't work out. The best of intentions can't always sway mother nature or the yearning of the human heart. here comes a time, when you are left to reach into the tangled remains, through the tumbled underbrush, the barren patches, where all seems to be dead, but something is left for you, if only a goodbye. Perhaps there is one last piece of fruit on that vine. Perhaps you can pluck one last bit of nourishment before it is gone, the bittersweet against your tongue, one final taste of the reason you started it in the first place.
I imagine for at least one of the residents in that neighborhood, the one that put the work in, that walked those blocks in the hot temperatures, who braved the sun, who believed, it was hard to walk away, to realize they alone could not save it. For all of it, the sweat and tears, the friendship, the love, that either blossoms under harsh sun, or withers away, all of those things that make you its master, also makes you its captive.

Dad can not keep up his garden, even with assistance, he could not bend to pull from the soil, that which he desired. He only bends down now to lay down upon a grave in a military cemetery, the flowers he has slain in honor of his love, watered by his tears, upon a hilltop where the soil holds fast to what's left of honor. I will watch him there from a distance, giving him time alone, watching him as he likely used to watch me.  We'll stay until the shadows deepen and the river darkens, the inevitable task of the night, falling down upon our presence, darkness fading the very outlines of stone, burying the outlines of this place, this day, like the soft and steady fall of ash. It is only then, that he will leave.

Dad's garden is fallow, but on the deck, within a few feet of the door to the family room are two elevated barrels and a trellis on which grow just a few tomatoes.  He can water without bending, and pull them from the vine without effort, to enjoy, if only briefly, that gift, until nothing remains of it but memory, a shadow in the light.
Today in my own flowerbeds, pulling yet another weed among the flowers, I find a small penny, dated a lifetime ago and pluck it from the soil like some forlorn magician.  I wonder where it came from; who dropped it here and when.  I wash it with the hose, revealing a gleam that still exists even if  what it represents won't buy a single thing, in and of itself.

I'm tired, but there is still much to do, as I look around this place that is now my heart's home.  The grass devours the sunshine, the flowers nibbling at the crumbs.  I drink from the hose, let the water trickle down the back of my neck as I look to the east. There beyond a crowded urban sprawl I have little time or attention for, is a large body of water, that's been here before this land was tended, and will be there longer after we are dust.  The haze rises off of it, the sunshine catching its surface, lending to it the form of a mirror in which the city is only an illusion.
I look back to my work, tucking the penny deep into my pocket.That's what my Dad would do.  Everything worth having is worth working for, something we realized there in those days of watching and learning from Mom and Dad toil in the garden, those days where we were but the echo to their sound.

I put my hands down into the soil, drawing air deep into my lungs, fueling my thoughts, my hands, my regrets. In the now silent sky hovers a bird, it's wings fluttering down over me, as if it were watching.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Periodic Fun - A Day out with Friends

Sunday was just going to be the usual day of reflection and relaxing (and some baking). No plans.  Then the phone rang.  It was Midwest Chick

 "Mr. B and I are going to the huge flea market in Alsip, Illinois?  Do you want to go?"

We're in!

The driving distance is about the same for us both so we just met there.  It's one of the bigger, if not the biggest flea markets, in Chicagoland, with up to 900 booths at the location we went to.

Swap O-Rama!

I didn't take my camera, but they had everything there.  Furniture, tools (new and used) knives, toys, pet supplies, household products, perfume, jewelry and home deocrative items.

Plus there was all sorts of clothing that was both serviceable and some you woulnd't be caught dead in.

Midwest Chick - "How about that spiderweb sheer body stocking"

Me:  "Well, I do have those fake plastic flies from the laboratory practical joke box".

Midwest Chick - "well, then, there's the Rainbow Rasta Bob Marley handbag. . "

On the more expensive items, it is expected that you will haggle, and towards the end of the day, some bargains can be had.

Part of it was inside, part outside.  It was hot and humid and being very fair redhead, I had to excuse myself from the group to seek shelter a couple of times from the sun.

Midwest Chick:  "It's tough being a vampire isn't it?"


 "at least you're not sparkly."

No, I was more Kabuki Theater with the SPF 50 non-chemical sunscreen.

Most of the tools were either very old or brand new Harbor Freight (likely bought with the coupons from the mail, then marked up). Though I swear I saw one guy walking out the door with a chainsaw.
But we did  find an impact wrench for $5 for the Range before we started talking about food.

Partner suggested a local steakhouse he had eaten at before when in the area on business.  Mr. B. looked up at  the "Snack O-Rama"  sign and said - "But they have Churro's. . . "

Jenny's  Pub and Steakhouse in Chicago Ridge.  The meal was excellent (ask for the vampire-approved homemade house garlic salad dressing).  An assortment of cow was consumed, with homemade bread and some aerodynamic Bruschetta spread/dip (don't ask) and with all the usual cow accessories to go with our steaks. And for dessert - chocolate eclair cake for MC and I to split and a rootbeer float for Partner.  Mr. B. had this ginormous Italian Beef sandwich with handmade potato chips and passed on dessert (probably still pining for the churro).

Almost too full to move, we said our goodbyes before the drive back home. Thanks my friends that was a great outing.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Lions and Tigers and Bears - Care and Cleaning of your Firearm

Knowing your firearm is clean and in good working order is something most of us think about.  I think about it even more hiking around in bear country where I have family.

The edge of the wilderness is not a fixed line of boundary, but a waving flag, of welcome or challenge. The sound you hear is not just the wind but the breathing in and out of the land itself and all it contains. It's the breath of the rivers and the ghosts of those that walked these lands, those that named the hallowed places before the white man ever saw them. It's the sound of life and death, playing to an orchestrated cycle that is as old as time, all sung to the tune of the skies unceasing and manipulative caress.

And in its breathy voice, I hear my name.

Just as there are those that have never left home, there are those who have never slept in the wild. They may find it fascinating, from their armchair wildlife shows, looking out onto pristine snow for the chipmunk or listening carefully for the hoot owl in the night. But then they shut the window tightly, draw the shades, and turn back to a room that has all the coziness of a dental lab, stark, pristine and safe. Their view of the wild is that benign cloak of nature that hides the terrible evidence of the realities of life, for both human and animal, as they begin and end. I see people like that every day. They don't look afraid, they don't look tired or old. They just look like they sleep in silent rooms with dust covered dreams.
I don't wish to live like that. Life outdoors is neither safe or neat. Neither is my kitchen. But I can't imagine denying myself the obscure and difficult trail, the deep peace of a stand of ancient pine trees, for the discontent bred by living in a habitrail of cement and noise. You can spend your whole life safely indoors only to tumble down the stairs as you go to get the last can of spaghettio's out of the cellar.

But it's easy to get complacent in certain parts of the country.  Here in Indiana, cougars are easier to spot now thanks to yoga pants and Cosmopolitans, bears are non existent, and killer bees don't much like our winters (though I have come up against a pretty pissed off squirrel when hunting with Og). 

But out in the mountains of the West, there are all manner of critters that see man as simply lunch.  One has to be on guard, mountain lines are stealth predators, sneaking up on you from behind while you are taking photos and taking you down with one bite to the back of the neck before you get can say cheese.   Bears may ignore you, but if you get on their turf or near their young they'll knock even a full grown man around like they were flipping burgers. 

So I carry when I'm in the high country, in case I come up against a critter, meaner and faster than me. (And not something in .22 or  or .380 but something in a  21.5 grs H-110/325 gr Keith or LBT bullet recipe.)

But even if you only carry going to Kroger, you still need to make sure your weapon is in working order and clean. How clean your firearm is does affect its accuracy, and it's reliability.  I know several brand new shooters that were hesitate to properly clean their weapon after their lessons, believing they have to disassemble them to the last screw every single time or that it would take all sort of expensive supplies.  Neither is true.

UNLOAD the weapon and remove all ammo from the cleaning area. Remove clips or magazines and  open the action and take a good look to make sure it's unloaded. If you have an owners manual for it, read it.  

But you might have to wing it if you have some steampunked firearm for the Steampunked e-Postal Match

Targets and any photos are due by Monday folks.

Even if you think you know everything there is to know about it, you just might pick up a helpful hint or two which could spare you some headaches down the road. 

Rules and Tips exist because someone once did it the wrong way.  That is why we have tags on our hairdryers that say do not use in the shower and have learned such things as "Do Not Hug the Grizzly Bears" as well as ANYTHING involving a live Peregrine Falcon and a Nudist gathering is probably bad news

Safety Tips are there for a reason.  So for today, a few HOTR tips for cleaning your firearm.

NO FOOD OR DRINK.  You are going to be working around chemicals you can't pronounce and substances not designed for human consumption (the firearm equivalent of a big Mac). Don't be snacking on chips, jerky or candy or sipping on a soda while you work. Save the beer for when you are done, you want to be as clear headed handling an unloaded weapon as you do a loaded one.

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE NO DISTRACTIONS.  Do not clean your guns while watching TV, minding the kids or talking on the phone about the great little Kimber you saw at the gun show.  If you can't give handling your firearm, loaded or unloaded, your complete and undivided attention, don't pick it up.  Do whatever it takes to do this.  Put a do not disturb sign on the back of your T-shirt. Give the sixteen year old the keys to the car (you won't see them until their first year of college). Tell your spouse you will be working in the garage for a while to get rid of that big nest of jumping spiders (you won't be bothered for hours).

HANDLE YOUR FIREARM as if you were going to shoot it.  I don't care if you're "just cleaning it", the rules of gun safety apply.  All of them.  Don't point the gun at anything you don't want to see  a big hole in, at any time during the cleaning process and keep your finger away from the trigger.

In 1995 a fellow by the name of Robert Overacker rode a jet ski purposely over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls to promote the plight of the homeless.  His not so cunning plan was to deploy a rocket propelled parachute strapped to his back, let the jet ski drop and float gently into a pool at the base of the falls.  The parachute did not open which ended up promoting not the homeless, but better parachutes.

Dont' end up promoting gun safety by accidentally shooting yourself while you clean your "unloaded" gun.

HAVE YOUR SUPPLIES HANDY ahead of time.You may use a brush and swabs or you may prefer a boresnake. Whatever you prefer have everything within reach before you start  You will need a pack of disposable gun swabs, little rectangular swatches you will use to scrub down your firearm with the aid of some solvent.  There are many solvents on the market.  None of them smell good to the non shooter, so if you have a partner that does not like firearms and you want to get kicked out of the house while she's watching "Toddlers and Tiaras" or some other crap on TV, simply get out the Hoppes and start cleaning away and she'll happily shoo you out to the shop and tell you to enjoy yourself.  Myself, I love the smell of it.  It's like the smell of machinery in the garage, humming away; there's just something soothing about it.

CLEAN IN THE NATURAL DIRECTION OF THE BULLET. When you fire your weapon, the powder resident and gunk are in the barrel, the chamber and receiver are still clean.  So what do you think happens if you run your patch or brush fro the muzzle end first?  Yes, you push all this gunk, dirt and moisture into the chamber and receiver and as you push or pull the brush back towards the chamber, the brush is going to cast off debris from the back back into the chamber and locking lugs.   In level actions and auto loading rifles and shotguns especially, this can cause problems. 

Take your time in CENTERING THE TIP AND THE ROD.  An experienced wood cutter can see, from a cross section of a tree, its health and its history, where there was damage or fire.  An experienced gunsmith or gun buyer can also see from a look down the barrel just  how much use the firearm had and how well it was maintained and cleaned. Many unnecessary marks inside a barrel are caused by folks who, in hurrying, let the tip or rod rub the inside of the barrel. A muzzle guard can be used to keep brushes and rods centered within the firearm bore.

DON'T GO BACK AND FORTH REVERSING YOUR BRUSH.  This bends the bristles, and like a wire you've bent back and forth, it will eventually break and probably not at a good moment. 

USE A CLEAN PATCH SURFACE each time you go down the barrel.  If you reuse a patch surface again, dirt can be deposited in the chamber and neck and the next bullet down your barrel can then pick up this dirt and erode the throat.  This can cause the same problems as cleaning in the wrong direction.

LESS IS MORE. You don't need gobs of solvent and lubricant. More solvent is NOT better and may cause more harm then good. Use only the amount the patch can absorb.  Don't dip the brush in the solvent. The solvent at the brush core will collect dirt and drop it into the receiver and chamber  (likewise, you don't want to run a bare brush in the barrel first ).  Too much solvent or oil can drip down into the trigger mechanism  (gummy bears are good, gummy triggers are not).

When REASSEMBLING YOUR FIREARM  make sure you wipe down any metal surfaces that you have come in contact with,.  Perspiration has a high acid content which isn't good for the surface. The finished firearm should be clean, oiled and free from sweat and fingerprints. Make sure the barrel is clear of any obstructions before storing your firearm for future use.

PROPERLY STORE YOUR SUPPLIES. When everything is done, put everything away - away from the kids, dogs, heat, hippies and moisture. Properly dispose of non reusable wipes and patches that are soiled. You may be fast, but you can't outrun even a small explosion.

A clean, cared for firearm offers the comfort of protection, wherever you are at.

Be safe out there -

Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday Night Fire - The Range Kitchen Does Thai

I love most southeast Asian dishes, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean.  But finding the ingredients can be a little daunting in some areas. This Range take on Pad Prik which normally uses a specialty curry paste and kaffir lime leaves (not easy to find in small town Hoosierville) turned out pretty  good.  Good old Srirachi Thai Chili sauce is the secret.  (the most common brand seen in stores, made by Hoy Fung foods is made in the USA, including the bottles). Oh, and there's something called "fish sauce".

Don't turn up your nose at "fish sauce".  Outside of fresh caught salmon (and I mean Big Bro caught it that morning and grilled it, stuffed with lemon and onion wrapped in bacon and drizzled with teriyaki) and occasional beer battered Irish Pub fish and chips, I'm not a fish fan. (Team BACON!)  But I use fish sauce a lot in southeast Asian and Chinese dishes.  There's a reason it's a staple in Southeast Asian cultures. If you love Caesar salad, you've eaten one of the main ingredients in the dressing.  Anchovies.  For fish sauce, anchovies  caught from clear waters and  with salt, are fermented in wooden barrels and then VERY slowly pressed to product this savory liquid  Like Tinks, I'd not recommend putting your nose to the bottle for a big whiff, but just a small  amount can add a deep richness and depth  to a dish (with no "fishy" taste).
If you can, look for Red Boat Fish sauce on the internet, (just google it)  because most of the ones in the grocery are full of additives, wheat protein, chemicals and MSG.  Red Boat Fish sauce is paleo friendly and gluten free and is  really tasty.
For the marinade
2 TBS fish sauce
2 TBS light oil peanut or vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon honey (or light brown sugar)
1 Tablspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons ground coriander  (you might try ginger if you can't find coriander)
1/2  tsp white pepper
For the stir fry sauce
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons  fish sauce
1/4  cup plus 2 Tablespoons cup rice vinegar
1/4  plus 2 Tablespoons water
3 TBS  light brown sugar or honey
3 TBS  Sriracha
 For the stir-fry
1 and 1/2 pounds pork
4 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 Tablespoons of  peanut or vegetable oil
2 Thai, serrano, or red  jalapeño peppers, minced
1 red bell pepper thinly sliced
3 cups green beans
1/2 cup basil finely chopped only slightly.
1 lime- cut into quarters
1 Tablespoons chive chopped for rice garnish (photo op optional)
Mix the marinade ingredients together  and mix with meat that you've cut into fairly small, thinner pieces in a gallon zip lock bag, and let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Mince the garlic and mix it with 1 tsp of oil.  Set it aside.

Halve the peppers, scraping the seeds out for mild to medium thai hot (Midwest Chick will be leaving her seeds in and raising me a thai pepper).  Slice the red bell pepper into long, fairly  thin strips. 

Clean the green beans and place in a bowl with the finely diced chilis and your red pepper.
Heat up your skillet or wok in which you've drizzled a couple of teaspoons of vegetable or peanut oil.  Plan on cooking your meat in three batches after you've removed it from the marinade (which is discarded).  This ensures it stays nice and brown instead of getting pale and limp from overcrowding, which teams to end up steaming the meat, not stir frying it (something I learned from Mr. B. )

When the oil is shimmering and a drop of water sizzles on it and evaporates, you're ready to cook your meat.   The meat will cook very quickly and don't be tempted to constantly maneuver it around with your spatula.  Put the pieces in there, and let cook two minutes to sear them on one side, then move them around the pan stir fry fashion until they're cooked through (about another minute)

Remove the meat to a bowl when cooked through and cook the remaining batches.

Do NOT be tempted to cook it all at once.  It takes just as long and your meat will not be nearly as good.

Add 2 tsp. more oil to the skillet and when shimmering, add the green beans and chilis/bell pepper  Cook for 2-3 minutes stirring constantly.  Clear out a little space in the center and add the garlic/oil mixture, pressing down for 10-15 seconds, then stir it in with the veggies and add the sauce.
Increase heat to high and cook for about a half a minute, until it thickens slightly (but not too long so you have some liquid left)  Add your meat, stir in the basil and remove the pan from the heat. 

Serve with steamed rice if you are so inclined and a wedge of lime. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

It Could Have Least Sounded Like a Train - Indy Tornado Update

I was about a mile from the crash pad, finishing my day early when my cell phone started squawking at me.  I looked down and saw this. I'd been in meetings or away from the internet most of the day and hadn't checked the weather. But we've been having thunderstorms across the Midwest both at the Crash Pad and at home for the last week and none were serious, just noisy.

Living in the Midwest you sort of get used to the weather  When I first moved to the Midwest from the West Coast where I'd been based as a pilot, I'd never seen a tornado, only hearing that when they are bearing down on you, they sound like a freight train. One night home alone, I saw the portent of danger in a tornado warning on TV. Alone, and not sure of what county was which, having been in the area only days, I felt fear. I felt more than that when I heard, through the sound of the howling wind and thunder, the sound of a train. I took cover in the bathtub  with a twin mattress pulled off the guest bed, the family dog preferring to be sucked up like a giant fur ball in a vacuum cleaner than leave his warm spot by the fire, refusing to budge.  It passed, and unharmed I called my neighbor who couldn't stop laughing. For what I'd heard was not a tornado, as there wasn't one, just a good storm. It was the train that ran through the 20 acres behind my new home every night a little after 10.
But The "Extreme Alert" is something I've never seen before and I've been a Hoosier almost 10 years.  Ahead of me it was just grey, in the rearview mirror, ugly. Really ugly.  Crash Pad was closer to ugly than clear, but Abby was there all alone.  

I broke a couple local speed laws and got inside my garage as the rain hit and she and I shared a biscuit (mine was shaped like a cold beer) in the closet in the center of my little home.  I left the garage door open, likely to get a lot of wet inside but that way my neighbor the cop would know I was home if there was damage and would check on me.

We didn't hear much really but normal storm sounds, but came out when sounds of rain and sirens faded away.  I called Roberta X to make sure she was OK, and she was, though Random Numbers the Cat didn't like the basement much.

A big tree on the corner is split in half but other than that, no damage at my place, but there were several homes destroyed in the area.

Apparently, THIS is what was following me home and touched down about a quarter mile from the Crash Pad.
 Picture from the local news, and I totally recognized the building.

I got a call that there were no deaths, or serious injury, but a lot of property damage and many homes uninhabitable.   This one was in my little burb, the RV picked up from a neighbor's and dropped through a roof.
So tonight, while you're safe inside your home with your loved ones, say a prayer for those folks here in the Indy area that had homes lost or damaged. And also, remember beer isn't the best idea for a small closet with a wiggly dog that is afraid of thunder as I ended up wearing it. 

She is all happy, and I am all hoppy.

But we're safe.

I barked and scared it away.  I should get another biscuit.

Saving the World - With Some Help from ServiceMasters and a Chocolate Chip Cookie

For those of you that follow more than the adventures (OK, dog and wading pool, probably doesn't qualify as an "adventure") and recipes on the Range but what is going on with my family out West, here's an update.  If you don't, come back tomorrow, there will be a recipe involving pork.  It's that kind of blog.

The kitchen fire damage from Dad's home is all cleaned up. He had fired his home health nurse without telling me to "save some money" and got someone sweet, but not very bright that would just do his light housekeeping and such for cash.  She  started something cooking one day (melting chocolate actually) then walked outside for a while. The soot damage was incredible.

But seriously, if you ever have damage from fire, water, etc., call ServiceMaster's. Those people were amazing, and I was coordinating everything from 1500 miles away through most of it.  They had the entire house cleaned, (every single item in the house, including  stuff in the closets) and repainted but for my bedroom and Dads (doors were closed and they are in the far back of the house).  They worked around Dad, so he didn't have to move out and were very attentive to him and considerate of his age and recent losses.  He didn't stress out, though I took a little time off during the worst of it to help organize, and the place looks wonderful!  The team lead was a young woman,and she not only coordinated everything with military precision, she was mindful to my Dad's concerns while ensuring I got a call every day I couldn't be there to keep me up to date.

On another note - Big Bro's cemetery marker is up and the family took Dad to see it over Memorial Day. I have pictures that is now  my screensaver at work, just a daily reminder of what he was, and will always be to us.
Dad has had some really tough moments, his health declining now at 94, but still not wanting to leave his house where he's outlived two wives and two children. But we got him away for a bit, while one of the grand kids, who is between pipefitting jobs, stays and watches his place.

Besides my niece, there is another female in the family, my cousin L. She's very much like me in personality and we've always been not just cousins, but friends. She has worked in construction and ranching and currently does something involving making queen bees and shipping the queen and their subject bees all over the place (seriously L, how do you measure a pound of bees) while doing dog grooming off season, while she tends to her land and multiple dogs and horses.

 I will never forget one conversation with her after I had been on the phone with squirrel stuff while she was within listening range and she just looked up and said "gee here I am, playing with bees and dog butts while all over the world everything is imploding and you're trying to save it".   Well, not quite,  I usually just save the extra bacon.
She has a beautiful log home she built from the remnants of an old abandoned homestead on some acreage high up in the Sierras between California and Reno, backed up against National Forest (yes, we find bears in the yard).  My Dad has been a father to her, as her own Father, my Dad's baby brother, died too young in a fishing boat accident.  After my Mom and Step Mom died, he'd spend the whole Thanksgiving and Christmas season with her up there and he and Big Bro both, were frequent guests, taking the train up through the mountains.  I would reserve my vacation to take care of Dad at home when everyone else was busy and he was alone so I missed those holidays (just not enough days off to do both) but I shared via email, phone calls and photos, all of  the fun.

L. and I coordinated "Operation Dad Gets Out of Dodge for some R and R", starting a few weeks ago, with Big Bro's son-in-law (also a former  submariner)  driving him in a big vehicle he can get in and out of  to the halfway point for an overnight visit with family there.  L. and her boyfriend then picked up Dad up there, after a good night's rest and drove  him the rest of the way up to her place where he would stay for a few weeks.  I've got medical care lined up if he needs it at her place, extra catheter stuff and his meds ordered, organized and packed, and extra keys lined up for the house sitter.  And there is a major surprise party planned for his 94th birthday, with the friends he has made over the years in that little mountain town.
Then he can settle down and chill for a bit of summer, sitting out on a home built deck in cool air with a beer, watching the sun set over the wilderness while his house back home  is tended and the yard is mowed.   I am out of vacation and sick leave, tending to him and Big Bro this last year in addition to my Step Mom's last days with Alzheimer's.  But in a couple of months L. and I are going to take him to the Oregon Coast for a week with just the three of us, or perhaps one of her friends, before taking him back home.  Alcohol will be involved. And our friend Nurse Nancy's amazing chocolate chip cookies. And really bad cribbage. Which will involve more alcohol.
We say hello every night and he is having SUCH a great time.  He was as excited as a school kid that Friday night on the phone before he left.   L is cooking him three great meals a day while they play cribbage and reminisce and watch the wildness up close..  The days are pleasant and the nights are cool with the mountain air.  After that, a great trip to the beach, with his "two girls" before he comes home for what we hope, is another winter.

Our goal - to give him something to look forward to on each and every night from which he may not awaken.  There's some hope and joy in his voice after a long time without that. We know he won't be with us long, but we want him to go home to his Glory, to his two children and the two women he loved and married and outlived, with a smile on his face.  For that, it is worth all of the efforts, the time and the miles.  And I'll eat some of Nurse Nancy's cookies.  Just to be polite.

- Brigid
Since you're going to ask.  Here is the recipe.  I begged for it when I first tried the big bag of these she made for my Dad.  She chuckled and said "it's the recipe on the back of the bag of Costco Chocolate Chips."   I figured I'd better include it.
I changed the shortening in her recipe to bacon fat which gives them a nice depth (and NO transfat) and added an extra pinch of baking powder and a tiny pinch of cinnamon, then dusted the top with Vanilla Sugar from Penzey's.  Like hers, the texture was perfect, not too soft, not hard as nails after cooking,, like some cookies get. I also added a few more chocolate chips to the top before baking

I made a double batch so Partner had some to take to his coworkers as well as a plate to my crash pad neighbors, the young police officer who keeps an eye on my place while I am gone and has two little boys I knew would like a cookie.  They were a hit with everyone.

Recipe below makes about 20 cookies.

1 stick butter, left out at room temperature an hour (1/2 cup)
2 Tbsp. bacon grease
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp.  baking soda
a pinch of baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1-2/3 cup all-purpose flour (I use King Arthurs Flour)
small pinch cinnamon  (optional)
1 and 1/4  cup chocolate chips (1 cup for the mix and 1/4 cup to put on top of each dough ball)

Cream softened butter, bacon fat and sugars until creamy, with hand mixer.  Mix in salt, baking soda, the little pinch of baking powder, cinnamon and vanilla.  Stir in flour by hand until thoroughly mixed.  Stir in 3/4 cup chips. Save 1/4 cups to place on the tops.
Chill dough for an hour.  Form into 1 to 2 inch balls,  placing a few extra chips on the top of each one.  Slightly flatten the top with a glass or your hand
Bake on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet at least 3 inches apart at 350 F. for 9-12 minutes (golden around edges, center no longer looks wet).  Cool on wire rack and store in air tight container.  (if you do not use parchment paper and cook on non stick surface reduce cooking time by a minute as they may brown up quicker.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

I-65 - Always More Fun with Armored Vehicles

I have made many friends through this blog, but some of them cross paths with me off of it, personally and professionally. A few of them, I would literally take a bullet for.

One of them is PA State Cop.   Retired from that profession, he's a mutual friend of several of us here in the Indy blog gang and someone that's taught me some neat things such as anything is amphibious if you can get it back out of the water. (don't ask how we know this).   Barkley had quite the collection of tactical dog toys as well from his "dogfather", his favorite of which was this giant slingshot thing that would lob a tennis ball at warp speed.
But lately life has been busy, and PA hadn't been in the area for a while to visit his friends, so I sent him the following "for sale" from Amazon with a little reminder that I had a birthday coming up in August.
.Look, shopping for armored vehicles for friends and family can be tough. Many of you have fallen trap to that "purchased the first tank you saw",  just wanting to get the Mrs. something for that special date and get out of the store as quickly as possible only to have her roll her eyes and tell you the insurgents are going to take that thing out with a home-made Mortar in 5 minutes, and  her friend Mary's husband spent three months salary and got her a bigger one. It pays to shop carefully. We'll see what PA has to say, but the Amazon reviews are hilarious.

And I got this back from him, in reply.

See you a Bedongbedonk and raise you a Sherman. Wanna goes halfs?
I love my friends. 

You all have a safe and sane commute in the morning. I just rolled into the crash pad to go on duty in a few hours, and I have to say, after four hours on I-65, I should have had a Badonkadonk. Bad gas mileage doesn't matter when everyone just gets out of your way. And it probably wouldn't have gotten as many looks as the guy on the large motorcycle with the huge medieval spikes sticking out of each side of his black helmet who was also wearing lavender shorts and what appeared to be a kiwi colored bowling shirt. (Probably not the look he was going for).

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Saturday Adventures. - Pancakes, 1911's and Abby the Land Locked Lab.

Saturday dawned to be a beautiful day after days of rain. It was good to be off duty for the day, that was for sure.
I've got a fresh batch of Kefir (fermented milk, tastes like a light effervescent yogurt, and a lot healthier for you).  If you want to purchase grains to make your own, I've had the best luck with the ones from

I used to spend about 7 bucks a week on store bought Kefir as I drink a cup or two every day. This is so much better and costs a fraction of that. This batch is ready. I'll strain the Kefir grains (which are live little guys, just like sourdough) then add them to fresh milk and start another batch for tomorrow.

But rather than drink it or make a smoothie out of it, it's going into the pancakes, instead of buttermilk.

Replacing the buttermilk with freshly made Kefir made them very light and incredibly tender with a delicate little crunch around the edges.  They were like pastry.  I just used my standard fluffy pancake recipe and replaced the buttermilk (or milk and lemon juice or ACV) with the freshly fermented kefir.

Then it was time for some chores. With travel  over the last three weeks and lots of rain lately, there was lots to do. Between mowing, weeding and trimming the bushes and trees, we didn't have time to go to the range.

This little pristine and antique find is going to be in the kitchen remodel.  It weighs about two hundred pounds.  It came up the stairs.
I think we earned lunch before finishing up the chores.

Beeffins.  Biscuit dough formed up inside of a muffin cup, then filled up with a dab of leftover meat sauce and cheddar. It's  a great little lunch with some carrots sticks and Ranch dressing.

Hey, that's not a beeffin!

The Range yard all spiffed up,a pork tenderloin put in the slow cooker with a splash of Balsamic, it was time to introduce Abby to the little wading pool to cool off.
She just walked in circles around it, not even putting in a toe.  Partner tried the ball but she just backed away.
Crickey!  Look at the bottom,  there's alligators in there!
Mom said I had to wait an hour after eating before going in the water.  Seriously.
Look, I don't know why you two weirdo's bought me the world's biggest water bowl but I like my little bowl better.
 Sure, it's just water.

 I'm not sure why but Mom put on shorts and is standing in my bowl. But she also  has a treat.
 Seriously Mom, you need some self tanner on those legs.
 Oh, a tasty treat, but someone's standing in the bowl with it.
 My treat!  It's like Ivory Soap, it floats!
Score!  And I didn't get my feet wet!
Back to my couch!
Well, it appears we have the world's first lab that doesn't like the water. Maybe in time, so much seems to be new to her as she was in a shelter for a while before Love of Labs Indianapolis  rescued her.  Til then, we'll enjoy her company and chill with a glass of Kombucha (fermented tea, mmmmm) while I put together dinner.
It got dark real quick, there's a big line of severe weather coming, I'd best go check on Abby as she's a little scared of thunder.
Mom, there's this huge ceramic pink water bowl in the little room off the hall . What is with you people.
It's time for dinner. Garlic and Rosemary infused  Salt Roasted Potatoes
No Abby, I'm not going to stand out in the pool holding a pork tenderloin.  

You people are a bit odd, but I love being part of your pack.  You gave me a home from the shelter and you smell like pork.  I love you.  - Abby