Monday, April 30, 2018

The Zen of a Deer Stand

It rose above me, much higher than I remembered, certainly higher than I'd seen it in the summer. Perhaps it was the light, but I'd bet it had simply grown with the tree, the structure impervious to the laws of metallurgy, but not imagination.  I stood below, unmoving, making no sound, inert on the forest floor, out of some reserve of  the summers idleness, or simply that virtue of caution. All I remember is looking up at it, feeling the weight of what was in my hand, and wondering, for just a moment, if it was too late to go back to bed.

It was my first deer stand.  I'd hunted from the ground but never from a tree. I was surprisingly nervous, not about the cold, as I'm part polar bear, or about the firearm. It was an old Belgium Browning 20 gauge semi auto - we'd spent many mornings together and were comfortable together, hard steel against warm flesh. I was comfortable with the area. I'd walked carefully into the woods, trying to mimic a deer as much as I could in my walking, walk a few steps, listen, and then walking a few more and stopping. I didn't step onto the deer trails or walk down them, taking advantage of some shelter belts and low spots so hopefully the deer didn't see me, setting up where I would hunt prior to the rut.

I'd learned much from my friends, and a few things for myself (don't, repeat, don't breath deeply of that bottle of Tinks wondering "hey I wonder what this smells like"). Safety had been drilled into me, I was in great physical shape (i.e. I had adequate padding built into my frame in case I fell down). They all thought I was ready. I wasn't so sure. I was sure about the darkness, the solitude, the firearm and my fears.  I wasn't so sure about climbing a ladder carrying all of that with me.

Climbing it in the dark, in what would likely be continued snow squalls, holding a fairly hefty firearm, was about as settling to the spirit as riding the Raptor at Cedar Point after a chili dog. We left the house early, the two of us branching off, hunting different areas of the many acres we were on. I got to my stand alone, the moon glinting off the metal of its frame, that part that wasn't coated with shards of ice, and I felt something I hadn't felt in a while. Adrenalin fueled by fear.

If you could see adrenalin you could see it here, trickling down the rosy, soft cheek of a novice hunter.   I stood at the foot of it looking up. It's only a tree blind. I'm not afraid of heights. I'm a pilot, I've hiked high up in the back country. Why does this silly tree stand make me nervous? It has neither teeth or "easy to use instructions", how difficult can it be?

I look up again, calculate the distance. There is bounce potential here. If I fall I could break my neck. Sure I'd fallen before, a  painful spill off of a ladder before fueling  an aircraft. The tarmacs harder than the forest floor but that ladder wasn't near this high.  Get back on the horse.  Plato called it a horse, as he comprehended how blind emotion could overtake reason , and if we are going to conquer our fear we must pull in the reigns on emotion and keep that horse under control. I just never expected the horse to be so, well . . . . tall and, well, frosty.  I looked at the ground near my feet, subconsciously, not sure if I was expecting to see the tracks of a horse or the bones of those the tree stand had slain.

Here I am, the kid that jumped off a garage with a blanket parachute, stopped dead in my tracks by something as simple as a series of steps up into a tree. My Norwegian Grandmother could have climbed this.  She'd be at the top already saying "look I have coffee!" It's just a ladder. Really. It's amazing the things our mind tells us that prompts that hesitation for something we so desperately want.

It's a tree, not a mountain, impassable, and it's not my destiny to climb it, it's simply my desire, it only remains for me to follow. I looked up at it, and up and said "Lord. . ?" But He did not answer, perhaps because He gives men time; time that can be afforded to them, as He has eternity and is eternally unchanging. I took that silence from above as my call to take what was within me and just make up my own mind. For although my Faith is deep, I know as well I'm made up of equal parts of Free Will and Win.

There is a Korean martial art called Kum Do, which involves some very sharp swords and in its original form, a fight to the death. Now, in our kinder and gentler day, bamboo sticks are used, (no really, that's blood, it just looks like chocolaty fingerprints). But many of the moves that survived the ensuing centuries were developed to shake blood off the blade so that the coagulating blood didn't dull the edge. Kum Du teaches students to avoid what is known as the four poisons of the mind "fear, confusion, hesitation and surprise". The constant tendency of men to anticipate and predict an event is a disadvantage, for in Kum Do if you let your natural inclination of prediction run loose, you could get a surprise, leading to confusion and then death (or a really sharp whack with that damn bamboo pole).

So I stood there in the companionable science of the trees, with the answer that bubbled up from inside, an answer born of time and training . My heart beat faster and faster and I knew that with that first step up, when I married that unutterable vision of desire to my perishable breath and mind,  like the first time I picked up a firearm and put a hole through the target where I wanted it to go,  my fear would not  take over and I could do this.

The snow has abated, the sky, for a moment, was clear and there was a short span of calm in the trees as the wind had died down, waiting patiently for the next squall. I'd spent years learning about hunting and tracking and this old Browning. All the acts, conditions and decisions of a lifetime had brought me here to this day, this little spot in time.  It was time to simply get off my butt and climb.

I affixed a temporary orange blaze band on the trunk so others would know I was in this area, this tree, and up I went.  The tingling excitement for me that is the change of summer to fall or the anticipation of a touch, was there, but there was something beneath. Stubbornness, yes, but also a sense of that feeling you have as a kid when you ride your first bike without training wheels. Small moments in life, never forgotten. I'm glad no one was filming the ascent, but I made it.

There, settled in, I could see through breaks in the branches to two open corn fields, set among the forest. Moving shadows stalked the edges, one could well be a big buck, they like the tree lines. A hunter, I am in my element, the smell impending winter brushing my face, the scent of woodsmoke and leaves that I love so much carried on a wind that's as unpredictable as the future. I couldn't  predict how this day would end. I could only breathe deep the incredible view and hold onto this moment, this breath, the only thing I know I have for sure.

My trusty Browning lay across my lap, as my fingers clenched and unclenched, keeping the blood moving through them in the bitter morning cold.  I stayed in the blind all day, the snow coming and going in a brief tango with the sun that tried to add some heat to the dance, seeing a couple of button bucks, with years to their life I was not ready to take, and several chattering squirrels.

I knew there were some nice bucks around, I'd seen the scrapes, but with the wind, they were not to be seen.  For now I could only sit, hand firm on the Browning, to watch and listen, as I imagined unseen deer bounding their shadows into the ground, just beyond the realm of my sight, the limit of my hearing.

I looked around, across the small field.  Not more than a mile or two, a house, soon another house.  In a couple years, there'd be a subdivision, the land was pristine but its doom was its beauty and soon it will be dotted with dwellings as the deer moved further out.

But not for a while yet, the fox and the whitetail and the chattering birds, by measure tranquil and garrulous, sharing this quiet spot. From the darkness behind me, the grunt of a buck, hiding in shadows.The forest was the same as it was a hundred years ago, the scene flat and introspective under the cover of snow, set against a window background of space and November and an afternoon filled with steady search of its corners for the movement of a whitetail.

A sudden sound brought me to the present, a shot ringing out from far away, a sound that even after a hundred years, surprises the forest.   The woods grew silent, birds took to the air as if propelled by a cannon, the whitetail fled, shattering the virgin air with a leap through the brush at that first loud volley of time and doom that was another year of the hunt.

There were  no more deer seen nor heard that day.

As the sun began to drop in the horizon, I was amazed in the lapse of time, the evening approaching, seeming like a mere moment.  I'm likely not alone in thinking that time spent in the woods is not subtracted from our life, but is simply added over and above our usual allowance. The same Oriental philosophers that fueled my study of the martial arts talked about contemplation and the forsaking of work, and I realized out here, what that means.

Out in a tree stand I didn't care how the hours sway, the day advanced as light came into it' it's dawn, and now it's evening and nothing more memorable was done than taking a chance at putting dinner on the table for the winter months. My day was not a day of work, minced into deadlines of a ticking clock.   The morning was still, the afternoon passed in a slow and steady scout of the surrounding area, seeking game, seeking sustenance, and if the day was wasted, as some might say, coming home empty handed to a four legged black dog, as nature sang in my ear, what was the harm?

As the sun wept into the tree line, I walked from the woods, towards the house, waiting, humming with light out into the darkness, small footsteps into damp earth only a small noise under looming stars. Looking back, I could see the tree stand, not seeming nearly as tall as it was this morning. It waited silently, there, where tomorrow, if I was lucky, I could climb it again and breath deep the incomparable liquor of wonder that is the woods from above.

The woods began to fade into darkness.  From above the birds again erupted into song, without wind now but with Pentecostal fire, singing out the remaining moments in a short life between melting and freezing, the souls sap flowing. Breathing, desiring, as the trees of the woods and the liquid tranquility of a rushing stream speak or a mere small red-winged songbird sings. A tiny bird who truly believes that in this moment, we're eternal, and for this instant, may very well be.

I  stopped and sat under a blue spruce where shadows and dreams forever lie,  pulled my Browning close to me and silently sang along.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Ball Peen Hammer Cooking

 Loose E!   You have some 'Splainin to Do!

 It just going to be one of those weeks.

Key issues with the blogging computer, a lot of squirrels on leave or out with a Spring "bug" that's going around. Plus, by the end of the day I was seriously coming down with it as well.  At least the day started better.  For when everyone is a little down, bring in some goodies for the skeleton crew that is working.

Scooby Snacks.

Butterfinger cake. 

This lower sugar(185 grams less) Range adaption of a very popular "all over the internet recipe", doesn't get much easier.  Bake your favorite devils food cake recipe or mix that will fix a 13 x 9 pan.  Poke holes in the top a couple inches apart with the end of a wooden spoon when still warm and pour a small jar of Smuckers butterscotch ice cream topping (thinned with 1 and 1/2  Tablespoons of cream so it's more pourable) over the top, spreading with a spatula so it fills up the holes. Whip up a pint of real whipped cream with a small box of sugar-free instant French vanilla pudding and 3 to 4 Tablespoons of milk to get the thickness you want and top with 3 regular sized butterfingers which you've whacked in their wrapper with a ball peen hammer, the remains scattered over the frosting.
It didn't last long. 

I think everyone was feeling better afterwards.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The History of Things

In the declining season of the year, I'll make a stop at some of the local thrift and antique shops, looking for various tools and things that might be useful in the coming winter, or just perusing items that people have discarded as part of a big Spring and Summer clean.

There's often some junk, valuable only to the person that originally purchased it, for reasons unknown. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder they say, and for every Popeil Pocket Chainsaw (with Cap Snaffler), there's someone that would buy one. There are also treasures, marked up accordingly, there are small things, that only a certain individual will be drawn to.  There are things that were once worn, things that once graced a home, things in small jars, the buyer peering into them, as if inspecting some curious small life form preserved in alcohol.

In my kitchen are a number of things from such places, a bread box, a scale, glasses and some dishes.  In the shop, even more so, things that previous generations used as they cleared and planted the pitiless earth, crafting what they needed to survive out of the materials at hand, doing so as they endured, the tools, straight, yet nicked and worn, much like the men the held them, twins of the same travail.
So much of what's left in my kitchen, and likely yours, is new, shiny, useful perhaps, but NEW.  It likely will not work as long as the appliances I have, like grandmas stand mixer at Dad's house, still working after 60 years.  When I downsized, I donated a ton of stuff to AmVets but not everyone does.  A lot of people simply "pitch it.  Looking at the many little things that remain, I wonder, fifty years from now, when I'm gone, will it grace another home, or will it be discarded in piles of trash and forgotten?

I came back from a short trip a lifetime ago to find a housecleaning had occurred, during my absence, not of the dust bunny round up, but the purging of "things", of which there really weren't very many in a young couple's home.  But things of value were suddenly missing, or in the process of being hauled away, including a baby grand piano that I bought before we'd even met with a small annuity I got when my Mom died.  It was being hauled off on a farmer's old truck with other things..  Things that would bring money that would pay off the debts of one who gambled, not just  with dice or cards, but with generous nature of man or machine, taking risks that could prove costly, and typically losing.  The $5000 piano sold for $500.
I watched quietly as the doors to the moving truck opened up, filling the air with the smell of cold and impending snow, the piano itself sitting there, as if rooted to the ground, in the grip of some dreadful inertia.  Or maybe that was me. 

I wanted to speak out, knowing I would only be met with the voice that had that quality at once, both dismissal and coldness, as though it had no interest in what you would say, or what the words even meant.  Speaking up meant consequence upon soft flesh, bruises hidden under stiff cloth and within a stiff heart. I kept quiet, breath simply taken in, a small gesture of self-preservation, but a part of me left that day on that truck, next to a garden that filled with darkness.
I don't have much now, by choice, but what I have means a lot to me.  Notes from grad school, the chronicles of the disintegration of the human body, what it can endure and what it reveals, the legacy of flesh, the hardness of bone.  Mom's cookbooks, some of Dad's books, on history, on warfare, this big rock with fossilized shells Big Bro found target shooting with Mom and I as kids, which he kept, kept for 40 years, then gave me not long ago.  It had been hidden in a little spot in Dad's workbench.  He knew I wanted it then, he knows I still was fascinated by such things, and I pretended it was allergies when he gave it to me 30 years later.

There are things I have that others would look at and simply scratch their head.  A Lollipop with a dried scorpion in it, an old beaker, a small stuffed Hedgehog, a blue uniform type shirt that hangs in the closet, a tiny ceramic skunk. An old violin, one that pales in comparison next to Partner's, one he played in a symphony orchestra in Austria when he was a young man.  It's like sitting a 1986 Saturn next to a Lamborghini.

Yet that cheap violin was the first one I played, albeit badly, and in the playing came healing, and I again braved a piano bench, an accompaniment of trust as the notes of a violin rose, crystal sounds of loss and hope that swelled up out of the frozen night.
Then, there is the gun safe, lies pieces of history, protectors of our future, blued and oiled and maintained with slow deliberate pride.  There are revolvers and semi-autos, an old Mauser or two, a Garand perhaps, pieces of the past, things taken up, when an individual rises out of their fear and passivity and takes hold of their future, one that is safer for that possession.

They are important to me, for reasons beyond the value of their form, the appreciation of their worth. Without them I am still strong of spirit, grown that way through time and adversity, yet against the evil of man, there in the dark, outweighed or outnumbered, I'm simply the flame of one small match and as weak, under a unforgiving moon.
Also there in the closet, various uniform pieces including the taupe colored ones known as "pinks",  Dads uniform of the 8th Air Force, as crisp and ready for donning, that the almost 70 years that have passed, are but a single note.  On the collar, the little wings with a propeller, still shiny, golden. How they must have glinted on that day he came home, bruises of body and heart hid underneath stiff cloth, the intake of breath as he saw my Mom for the first time in four and a half years, self-preservation giving way to hope, there in a garden that filled with light.

In your home, as well perhaps, as in mine, uniforms of those that went before, carefully maintained, to be passed down, to along to those who will remember.

Where these things are a hundred years from now is not so important as that their stories remain,  notes on night air as laughter again fills a home, the report of a rifle, cleaving the air with the same testament to freedom as when it was first fired.  It's small trinkets and toys that make a child's eyes light up, things that uphold and repair.
It may be fifty years from now, it may be a hundred or more, the land giving birth to new people, old faiths, the blessings and curses of each passing year, bitter winters and golden days unsullied by rain,  those ever-changing changeless days that look both at the past and the future.  Someone will pick up that object, just as you did, hefting it up to themselves as they quietly whisper,"I will live forever".

Next time you clean out your closet, your garage, that trunk in the attic, look carefully at what you have, what it might mean to someone.  If it has no emotional connection and is functional, there are many organizations that will cherish it, finding it a use among those that need it. There are students that need instruments, museums that would love the artifacts of war for those with no family remaining sheltering organizations that need household goods. But don't just throw it, out there in that moment when the match is lit and before it might be blown out, there is a small moment of history, one that someone may cherish.
 - Brigid

Friday, April 20, 2018

Getting Stunked Stinks

On my drive into work today, a little after 5:30 a.m. there's one stretch I go through that's two lanes each direction that goes through a large park area.

This morning I noted a late model VW bug that was apparently disabled and had pulled onto the grass edge of the road so not to block traffic.  It's quite dark and muddy after the recent snow melt out there, not the best place to break down.

There were two gentlemen bent down over the engine as I approached, working away.

In my headlights I saw two skunks lumbering quickly towards them, to see what the noise was about I guess.

The men would not see them coming, and I was not in a position to stop as I had someone on my bumper doing 40 mph.

Somehow I do NOT think that ended well.

With no disrespect to the dead meant, I'm tempted, if the car is still there in the morning (as it was this evening), to make up two little crosses and tape a can of Febreze to each of them and stick them by the bumper.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Sun is Mirrored in a Coffee Spoon

We shall deal here with humble things, things not usually granted earnest consideration, or at least not valued for their historical import. But no more in history than in painting is it the impressiveness of the subject that matters. The sun is mirrored even in a coffee spoon. . . .modest things of daily life, they accumulate into forces acting upon whoever moves within the orbit of our civilization
.— Sigfried Giedion, Mechanization Takes Command (1948)

This winter, and even into spring saw storms that had the city and most of the surrounding small towns come to a grinding halt.  Wind chills in the minus 20's and heavy, drifting and blowing snow resulted in a suspension of travel within parts of the city except for emergency vehicles and those seeking shelter. Out in the small towns, there was little movement, but there are those hardy souls that won't let frostbite and politicians tell them what to do.

We have another round forecast today and I have the blinds and what curtains we have, closed against the cold. Since the house is atop a walkout basement with windows above the ground level,  the huge windows on the south side of the house that look out onto the Spruce trees only have some antique lace, making for a lovely view but not maintaining the home's warmth.  Even with the little heater next to the desk, the chill eddy of cold licks in at my skin, as I go to get a warmer sweater and some thicker wool socks.

One needs to be prepared for such things. A few days ago it was in the upper 50's, before plunging again, another sleight of hand from the greatest of magicians, Mother Nature; Machiavellians stroke on the part of that foe, a new battle towards which it channels ancient wounds, inflicting its grievance upon the land. It will likely arrive to do battle when you least expect it when the prolonged blow of the dark and ice sinks through the skull and lays its claim deep on the bones of the winter landscape. It will not be a day and night safe for man nor beast.
Other than the sound of my husband puttering in the basement as he took a vacation today to do some home repairs, it's intensely quiet. No birds, no clattering of cars starting up. Just the sound of  the incessant wind, a  long, broad hum, as if through wires. There is little noise or movement, but the whine of a piece of shop equipment, maybe a half block away, the sound sticking to the cold air as if snow on a branch. Then the sound of a bell, a wedding that was scheduled this day in the corner church.

It's funny, I'm perfectly fine holing up at home for days with nothing but books, a kitchen, and some tools.  But tell me I can't drive to the store or run to the library, and I suddenly get cabin fever, peering out the window every so often, like a bird from a cage that fidgets with feathered annoyance.
I also noticed something else, something a little nicer.  My knee does not hurt.  After the fall that tore out my meniscus and the resultant surgery and physical therapy, my knee hurt, even years later.  After six months, it was bearable but always there, a twinge,  much worse in cold weather.  Now, six years post-injury, after adopting a serious military-style weight/boxing/cardio program,  I sit here and realize, it doesn't hurt.

It's not the pain that bothered me, I've dealt with pain.  It was being unable to run, to jump, to MOVE, quickly and without effort. It was crutches, then a cane, then just walking with a bit of a limp when the air pressure dropped and it ached.  It was sliding back in time, back to when I wasn't confident in my physical abilities when I was just a skinny, quiet little kid who was picked last for dodgeball, because frankly, I'd rather be inside reading a book that the teacher would think was inappropriate for someone my age.

It wasn't the pain, it wasn't an injury hat in the grand scheme of things, wasn't very serious.  I realized at this point that what is dire profundity to the very young, is usually just "been there done that" to those of us in middle age, which is still preferable to the six-foot deep and eighteen-foot square reality that faces us all eventually.
No,  it wasn't torn and missing cartilaginous tissue and the wobbly feeling I had every time I tried to use that leg.  It was losing a foothold I'd stretched so far and so hard for. It was realizing that we treat our bodies with a sense of entitlement we may eschew in other things as if breath was some plaything given to us just for our own pleasure. I look down on the small scars as if speaking to them. You will let me run, you will let me climb, you will let me explore and make mistakes and play. Now I can't walk up a flight of stairs. When our body fails us, it's like a personal betrayal

It's much as if seeing a beloved old building each and every day, an old church perhaps, the stones so study that time had not displaced it, could not ever displace it, not all of time could have.  Then one day you drive on past and it's simply gone, razed and replaced by a shabbily built storefront that won't withstand a good wind.
I sat here in this spot, six years ago, during another storm, crutches up against the wall, the curtains drawn, as the pain in my body drove for an instant upon me, the thorns of slain flowers.  On that day, I wished to be anywhere but sitting in intense pain. The sky was spilling snow, the only light there was laying low to the ground as if held down by the wind itself, unable to rise and move away. It was a day in which I could only sit immobile as the wind howled, dreaming in an Arctic landscape of a sea that never freezes and a landscape that is forever green.

It's easy to throw a pity party, and I was on the verge on that day I realized I was in a motorized scooter in WalMart, one place I swore I would never be.  But in that same moment, as Partner in Grime smiled down at me, his having been with me without fail since I got hurt, canceling his whole Christmas to get me home and tend to me, I realized all that I had. I also realized that putting the small end of the crutch out in front of me like a knight's lance, I could knock the Billy Bass out of the cart of the guy with no teeth.  Oh, sorry, accident, really. SCORE!
I am who I am through hurt and pain and failures and because of them.

Because of that, I know what is important. And that is all the endurance of which mind is capable, of which the flesh has an appetite for. That has kept me going on nights when all I could do was sit and hold a small faded photo, eyes, tightly shut, as if the light was diminished by its own grief, leaving only a lone huddled shadow upon the wall, pale and fading. That has kept me going when fate swiped a paw at me and I swiped back, harder, EPR's steady, left hand tight on the yoke, planting that aircraft on a piece of hard ground as small as my fear.
I get up from my chair and open the curtains up.  I'll have a higher heat bill, but for now, I want to look out, and up.  I look at the sun I've not seen in two days as the fierce wind hollowed the remaining light out of the sky, the light now holding a quality beyond heat and illumination.   In the distance the sound of a church bell, a deliberate note blowing free, like snow from a winter branch. Somewhere within, a priest lifts the Host in a series of shimmering gleams like warm rain that falls from the sky as vows are spoken, and what is broken is healed.
 - Brigid

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Review That Meant a Lot

A big thank-you to any of you who bought any of my books for gifts this Christmas and for supporting the Anthology that Old NFO put together, Calexit, that features my new Novella, "Freedoms Ride", which has had pretty good critical acclaim.

Unfortunately, having to shutter the blog right when my third book was published initially caused a huge "sound of crickets" but NPR (WNIJ, WNIU) picked it up one of four Spring "Must Read" books interviewing me on the air and it took off. Still, getting some reviews from my regular readers, like the one below, meant a lot and still does.

The photo above - the barn I would pass on the way to each Indy blog meet. I always wanted to take photos of it but didn't want to trespass until one day there was someone there I could ask, as they were putting up a sign to sell that piece of land and they welcomed me to take them. The rail spike on the cover from Small Town Roads was part of its door and I loved the photo.

L.B. Johnson's novel is about self-discovery in a small town. What really shines is less the storyline than the psychological exploration of the heroine. That exploration (and her lush writing style) makes the characters come to life. Indeed, it makes us consider our own lives - as someone who has a family member struggling with dementia, this bit about the heroine's mother and her struggle with Alzheimer's jumped at me:

"Initially, she had little moments of forgetfulness, like any person of her age, but she was such a bundle of energy, still active in church and volunteering, taking dance classes, working in the garden. Then one morning, out of the blue, she came into the kitchen and sat down, looking at me and I realized she did not have a clue as to who I was. What struck me was not that but the look on her face as she realized this, realized she should know."

Johnson's ability to make you stop reading and think about your own life is remarkable and is spread throughout the book. This about a rescue dog is one of a million similar gems:

 "On my couch is the form of a little black dog. I do not know why Clyde was a stray. He responds with great plaintiff urgency to the sound of small children laughing, looking around for them as to say "my kids, my kids" only to get this look of pure sadness when he sees they are strangers. The first time I witnessed it, I cried."

Johnson tells you a story not by telling it, but by showing you these scenes, one after another. I found it a slow book to read because I would suddenly snap back from where I had been mentally wandering, remembering a time when I too had had an experience like what was being described.

This book asks big questions: What is it to be human? What is it to live the Good Life? What is it to leave that Good Life?

 I cannot recommend this book more highly

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thursday Eats - Amish Chicken

Barkley was born in Amish country and there are parts of it I really enjoy visiting, especially for the food.  There are a few recipes I've made but this was one I hadn't made for my husband.  So, after getting a super deal at the local family owned grocers on chicken, I made this for dinner.
You can make it ahead and heat at 350 in a 13 x 9 pan for 30-40 minutes at 350 F., or like me, make it in the crockpot, adding the crispy, buttery crumbs as you serve it over Amish noodles (or potatoes, rice, or biscuits). I've also made this with cauliflower instead of chicken for a vegetarian friend and it was well liked.

Amish Poppy Seed Casserole (serves 6)

2 very large boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces (about 4 cups chicken).
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1 cup sour cream
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Mix and place in pan. Before baking (or after cooking in crockpot) top with:

1 sleeve Ritz crackers smashed and browned in 1/2 stick butter until golden and brown

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Kitchen Warning

Last fall, I looked outside to see two fire trucks. I first smiled as one of my closest friends on and off blog is gun blogger PA State Cop who has also worked as a firefighter in addition to his military career. He always teases me about showing up with a fire truck at my house as he restored an old antique one he bought and since he stays at the Range when he's in the area, it honestly wouldn't surprise me.

My husband looked out and grinned and said "so, is P.A. here?"

No, this was a new city truck.  It was a kitchen fire at a neighbor's - fortunately handled quickly with only some minor smoke damage as the homeowners had a small portable extinguisher to get a handle on it as the fire department was called.

But I remember it well.  I also remember a colleague's house that burned to the ground, killing his furry best friends, when a toaster that had refused to spit out the toast that morning was off but not unplugged when he left after his wife to go to work. An hour later, everything they owned and their four-legged family were gone.  Fire investigators said the defective toaster shorted out, igniting some flammables nearby.  In a country setting with no neighbors to see it and call for help, it was too late to save it or its animal occupants by the time the smoke was seen from a nearby road.

I often cook with a crock pot, the perfect thing for starting before work and have dinner ready when I get off work (I telework 90% of the time).  But lately, it had been acting up, the low setting not being low anymore but much warmer, almost as if it was the high setting as well.  I  simply adjusted my cook times, starting it when I got home from work at 3 and other than the heat, seemed to work fine.

Two days ago, I was getting ready to put some chicken in before leaving the house to run some errands and I just felt this little voice inside that said, "don't leave it on today ".  So I unplugged it and when I returned a few hours later, I just cooked the chicken on the stove
The next day, teleworking, I plugged it in as I went to assemble meatloaf.  I smelled a sudden electrical smell, ALL the crock pot lights were on, the low/high/4 hour/8 hour/warm/and off and my crockpot was suddenly almost smoking hot!

I quickly unplugged it and carried it out to the cement driveway with oven mitts and ordered a new crockpot from Amazon.
So folks - if you ever had a small appliance that suddenly does not work as expected - get RID of it.  I also recommend unplugging small appliances if you are gone for an extended time.

Some things aren't worth risking.

Monday, April 9, 2018

On Longing

Abby Normal's favorite thing is bacon, though she only gets a tiny little bite on the morning or two on the weekends we make big pancake breakfast or biscuits and gravy.   In watching her look at it, it made me think.

Bacon for a Dog is Like Anything We Long For.

It could be a companion or spouse for the single, divorced or widowed; a job or a better job; a safe, warm home in which we are forever cherished and loved. It could be good health and/or the end of daily pain.  So much in the heart we may long for,  and are too often disappointed by, along the way.  But if we are blessed, and have faith, we can usually find our path.

So from Abby, who after months in a shelter, heartworm positive, sick, lonely and scared, got her forever home, thanks to some Lab Rescue folks, some words of advice for those of you who still want.
Wishful longing  (I wish I had some bacon)
Anticipation (I know if I'm quiet and good, I'll get some bacon)
Happiness  (There's bacon on the counter, and it's for me!)
Wanting  (It's been so long since I've had bacon)
Reality  (The bacon is ignoring me and  is going somewhere other than my bowl.)
Let Down  (The bacon is gone!)
 Disbelief (I didn't even get a real  goodbye).
Sadness  (I miss bacon)
Loneliness  (Everyone in the world has bacon but me!)
Hope.  (Someday, there will be the perfect piece of bacon, and I will find it, if I just sit patiently by the counter).
OK, just a little piece, Abby.
You just had to be patient.  God had a plan, you just had to wait until He was finished making it.