Monday, January 28, 2019

Teaching My Fingers to Fight

Blessed be the Lord, my strength, who teaches my hands to war, 
and my fingers to fight.
 - Psalms 1:44

For the family of Leonard Zickler. . .

On my last trip home, before his death, I took my big brother to breakfast one morning while Dad was at the doctor. Not feeling so good after chemo, he went only to please his little sister. Before we dug into our plates we prayed. As we bowed our heads, the entrance door opened with a waft of cold air and the murmur of pouring rain. I looked up and noticed the people at the next table were not looking at the door, but rather, at our table, as if our actions were unknown to them

My brother and I were adopted and although not related by blood my family shaped me in ways I'd not have known otherwise.  We grew up in a small logging town, a community both inside, and outside of the church.  I was raised with the values of my parents, meals taken as a whole family, said around the table, with Grace always being spoken before we began.

When I go back to my hometown now, we still eat at that table; we still sit in the same pew in church. There's comfort there in that community of saints and sinners. As we pray, I glance at my Dad, who has lived a life of total love, service, and honor, sensing how his heart will soon fail him. It's a strong heart, a good heart, but it is failing him more each day. He sees me looking at him and puts his hand on mine as we bow our head in the silence that is not silence but is innumerable.

Is that fair? Yet, he's had almost seven decades more than his first daughter, born in extraordinary perfection, simply too early and too small, the awful perfect prayer of his firstborn, who breathed only days, my mom rendered barren from the travail of the birth. Yet from that death came life, adopting children no one wanted, and soon the table was filled, with small hands, small hearts and much laughter. 

Had my parents closed off their hearts in that original loss, that table would have been silent. Although I’ve already lost my Mom, who died when I was in college, my Stepmom of 28 years, my brother, a baby of my own, and soon Dad, they leave me with love and forgiveness, just as my heavenly Father does.

I've certainly had to ask for that forgiveness in my talks with God. For I talk to Him regularly, in the woods, when the light has a weary quality to it, like a backwater pool of light lying low, winter's light is crisp, clean, illuminating everything so clearly.  The words are less than wishes and more than regrets, and even if I didn't state them out loud, I could hear them with my breathing as they gathered within the intent of breath and came forth in a rush of cold air, invisible words going up to an invisible God.

Sometimes He and I talk as I'm standing in the middle of a scene of dark desolation and crime scene tape, black bag in my hand, red smeared on my boots, as bold as if painted on a door frame, a sign, that for tonight, I was to be spared.  Perhaps this one time I did not save His sparrow which He perhaps neglected to mark, but I am here to reconcile the remains. It's just talking, but it's still a prayer; prayer being more than the order of words, the conscious calling of the mind that is speaking, or the sound of the voice praying. I do not expect to hear anything back, the communication between us tongued with fire beyond the blaze that is dying next to me. But it's comforting, words spoken into the void, penitence, and belief, as all around hope is falling into embers. He may not respond, but He is there, Never and Always.

So I do not care if someone looks at me oddly if I bow my head. I only smile when someone says, how can you do that with all that you've seen, the pain and harm that man can inflict on one another?

But I can, for I have come to realize that the same God that seemed to sit silently while hearts ceased beating, also blew life into everyone else around me that I love deeply, now shaping their strong hands and putting the spark in their vision. So it is, I don't clench my hands in anger in all that I've witnessed, have borne, but simply give thanks. God writes death on all our hearts, just as he writes life, our story penned as much by our actions as His creation, our heart a journal that only we keep, its entries scribed by both man and God, it's ending as much as a mystery as we are.

I, for one, am thankful for the words.

This year will be five years since my brother passed, the few precious things he left me, on the shelves with other treasured things where I can see them when I wake up each morning.  Small, simple things - powerful things

With my morning meal, I will say a prayer, of thanks for that and many things. For my brother and his brave heart. For those that prayed for me over the years, even when I didn't deserve it. For forgiveness of sin, for the blessing of the one that loves me, even in my imperfections.

Bless us oh Lord for these thy gifts. . . .

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Calgon - Take Me Away

I've tried to not drive much post-holiday with the Arctic cold temps but ended up taking the truck into the dealer after an issue. The truck had a shimmy from the right front tire/brake area as if it was hung up. I'd been driving through snow and slush and it was about 10 degrees when the truck sat for a couple of hours, so I wondered if something stuck in there and then froze. Just to be on the safe side, I stopped by a small Chevy dealer on the way home. I explained the problem and they said they'd check the tire and brake and the brake lines and such. They said they usually charge about $85 for simple diagnostic work but that should be about it unless there was a problem with the brakes requiring repair.

I waited for an hour while they went over it thoroughly. The shop supervisor said they found nothing wrong and like me, figured it was packed snow or ice. When I got out my credit card, he quickly said "Oh Miss, no charge, no charge at all.", shooing me out the door with a fresh cup of hot coffee. I was really pleased.

Then after I got home I noticed, that having come from a hunt  a few weeks ago and a field dressing with no rain in the interim.  the truck bed was covered in blood stains. No wonder they didn't charge me. :-) They either figured me for a fellow hunter or an ax murderer.

But I'm home, my black lab happy to see her"Mom" and I'm ready to unwind. Tomorrow, a bit more "home improvement" to be done. to the tune of a big pot of Guinness beef stew and fresh bread. Later, some time to write a real post.

Tonight, a long, hot bubble bath.
Uh. . . . Or maybe not.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Canine Caper or Criminal Intent - YOU Be the Judge

Hi - Abby the Labrador here.  Mom made aebleskivers - little Danish pancakes, eaten regularly at around the winter holidays

Whether you refer to them as aebleskiver or ebelskiver (same pronunciation, different spelling), the actual word in Danish is Æbleskiver and it means “apple slices” because traditionally these were made by putting a small slice of apple in the center while cooking them.  That's not as common anymore, and people are now making them year round so they aren't just a Christmas treat anymore.

The cook pan she got from Santa Paws one year looks like this. . .
Even though they are light and fluffy, aebleskiver aren’t hollow in the center like you might think. You use a knitting needle or wooden skewer to turn them as they cook to form the round shape.

As they cook on the stove top, thin crusts will form on bottoms of balls (centers will still be wet).This is where the fun begins. You get a slender wood skewer (I use a clean knitting needle) and pierce the crust with one and gently pull shell to rotate the pancake ball until about half the cooked portion is above the cup rim and uncooked batter flows down into cup. You then cook until the crust on bottom of ball is again firm enough to pierce, about another minute, then rotate ball with skewer until the ridge formed as the pancake first cooked is on top. Then you complete cooking, rotating your balls until done. Don't go there, I have a sharp skewer in my hand. The first time you make these you might warn anyone around you to stand far away while you work with the pointed needles. There is a chance you might be waving them around and cursing in Norwegian by the time you are done, these do take a batch or two to get the process perfected.

They're scented with vanilla and cardamom and they are like little soft, fluffy balls of goodness, sort of a cross between a donut and a pancake traditionally served with powdered sugar, lingonberry jam or honey.  Here's Mom's recipe

Makes 24-26, serving 2-4.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon of Penzey's Vanilla
1 large egg
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter

In a bowl, mix flour with sugar, baking powder, cardamom, and salt. In a small bowl, beat egg to blend with milk, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons butter. Add liquids to dry ingredients and stir JUST until evenly moistened. (there may be some small lumps in the batter

In about 1 and  1/2 minutes, thin crusts will form on bottoms of balls (centers will still be wet); pierce the crust with a slender wood skewer (knitting needles work great) and gently pull shell to rotate the pancake ball until about half of the cooked portion is above the cup rim and uncooked batter flows down into cup. Cook until crust on the bottom of ball is again firm enough to pierce, about another minute, then rotate ball with a skewer until the ridge formed as the pancake first cooked is on top. Cook, turning occasionally with skewer, until balls are evenly browned and no longer moist in the center, another 2-3 minute (depending on the type of pan, such as Teflon, it make take a couple extra minutes but with well-seasoned cast iron the total cooking time for each batch should be about 4-5 minutes

Check by piercing center of last pancake ball added to the pan with a skewer--it should come out clean--or by breaking the ball open slightly; if balls start to get too brown, turn heat to low until they are cooked in the center. Lift cooked balls from pan and serve hot.

I'm really glad Mom didn't count the ones on the plate.

Not that I'd do anything like that.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Thankful Thursday

A good friend of mine, a US citizen from Ohio married to a Canadian and transplanted to Ontario works with troubled kids.  It's a stressful job.  So she will occasionally post on her blog, what she is thankful each day each month. I understand. During the current furlough, it's been stressful  (if on our own we'd be fine, but my Dad is in assisted living at $6000 a month and his house is NOT selling so no Medicare) but I wanted to concentrate on the good things I am blessed with.

1. Being married to my best friend
2. Abby the Rescue Lab
3. Our 102-year-old Bungalow
4.  Faith and forgiveness
5.  My church family
6.  Our pastor (having a pastor that can do a muppet impression during Bible Study is a find).
7.  Daily conversations with my 98-year-old Dad
8.  A daughter that grew up safe and happy with her adoptive parents
9.  Memories of cookouts with my late brother and Barkley (hey bro - where did the marshmallows go?)
10. Listening to my husband play the violin
11. Salt Water Taffy from Bruce's Candy Kitchen in Cannon Beach
12. A job that pays well with a nice boss (OK there is that whole furlough thing, but I have a great Christian boss).
13. Friends, both on and off the blog that love me just as I am.
14. My 2007 truck  that's reliable with no car payment
15. A big recliner to read in
16. Watching it snow
17. Homemade bread
18. The physical ability to workout every week, even when I don't want to
19. Single Malt Scotch
20. Pancakes, backgammon, and dominoes Saturdays
21. Macaroni and Cheese
22. My acupuncturist (who is treating me for free during the furlough in exchange for homemade Lefse - he's from El Salvador and loves this Scandinavian flatbread made out of potatoes, a little flour and cream).
23. A quiet neighborhood with nice neighbors
24. Having 4 bestsellers, which means book clubs with good Chardonnay and being able to donate thousands of dollars to animal rescue
25. A hot bath before bed
26. Our dog walkers, Jan, Lou, and Jane
27. Bible study mornings
28. The Piano Guys - Love their Music and being a guest producer on their videos (they are fans of my books)
29. Central air and heat (a lot of homes in the village do not have)
30. A husband that doesn't snore (he just occasionally dreams he's a tractor)

Sunday, January 20, 2019

What is Masculinity - What is Chivalry

This was a post I did 5 years ago, but in light of the whole Gillette "Toxic Masculinity Ad," I felt the need to repost.

If life is a battle, then my inner scars are medals for valor,
for swiftness, for courage, for passion.
Evil is the dark-haired brother of Good;
they walk hand in hand–always  .Calanthe - Wraeththu

Honor, Chivalry, words that seem old fashioned to todays generation, but words that previous generations literally died for.

What is Chivalry? A knight was expected to have not only the strength and skills to face combat in the violent Middle Ages but was also expected to temper this aggressive side of a fighter with a chivalrous side to his nature. There was not an authentic Knights Code of Chivalry as a prescribed document - it was a moral system which went beyond rules of combat and introduced the concept of Chivalrous conduct - qualities such as bravery, courtesy, honor, and gallantry toward women. Documented in 'The Song of Roland' in the Middle Ages Knights period of William the Conqueror who ruled England from 1066, it consisted of these tenents -
To fear God and maintain His Church
To serve the liege lord in valour and faith
To protect the weak and defenceless
To give succour to widows and orphans
To refrain from the wanton giving of offence
To live by honour and for glory
To despise pecuniary reward
To fight for the welfare of all
To obey those placed in authority
To guard the honour of fellow knights
To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit
To keep faith
At all times to speak the truth
To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun
To respect the honour of women
Never to refuse a challenge from an equal
Never to turn the back upon a foe
The "code" is written in slightly different form in different pieces of literature,  but it all has these things in common - courage, loyalty, respect, honor, finishing everything you start and never refusing a necessary battle regardless of the odds.

Widows and orphans were cared for. In days of old, the helpless were looked after, but you worked or you did not eat. There were three orders in society: oratores (those who pray), bellatores (those who fight), and laborares (those who work). Those that prayed, lived beyond simply, not riding around in limos in $1500 suits while telling their followers on national TV to "send more money". The welfare class, that's rapidly becoming a huge chunk of our "modern" society, didn't exist. If you were physically capable, you pulled your weight. Or you died. The knight did not fight for the lazy, but for those who by station, age, or gender were not able to fight for themselves.  There was faith in a higher power, but not so heavenly driven, that a man was useless on earth.
A sword was a tool, to defend and protect. Lesser weapons were considered dishonorable. The dagger was considered a weapon of a sneaky assassin and an arbalest (fired from a distance) was a brutal weapon used by the untrained. A knight's code of chivalry demanded that he face his enemy openly, honestly and with skill - it was a "let the best man win" situation. Battle was more than the desire to pursue and kill, but endurance, the conviction and longing to endure beyond all imaginable limits of the flesh to protect and preserve.

There was a difference between aggression and self defense, a difference between being devoted to justice and being a school yard bully. It is a self-awareness and self-restraint and differs as night and day from apathy, the concept of which Christians might refer to as meekness, a trait often associated with Christ, and clearly as misunderstood.

There was the ability to think before one speaks, to consider the gravity of words and actions; and even to know when inaction or silence is the best avenue. Such things, many, including myself, have failed at. Such things we can still strive for if we can recognize them.  For some are so bound by their ego or the expectation as to what society owes them that they are no more capable of shame, then they are of courage and honor. What they are left then is the emptiness of loss, of something they could almost touch but didn't know how to grasp.

For some they learn this early, taught by their fathers or mentors.  Others learn it simply the hard way.  For the dictates of chivalry are not some formal guide to etiquette. I hope I die before I see a "Chivalry for Dummies" book. It's not a checklist, it's an understanding of things for which a man needs no checklist. It's not bowing before your nation's enemy, it's never turning your backs on them. It's not holding the door open for a women because she's weak and lesser than you, but as a sign of courtesy  It's a way of thinking, not an era or a specific rule.

I've written on this blog more than once about the wimpification of the modern male. But being a strong man does not mean you are completely closed off to emotion, treating love like something that's common and a woman as a somewhat lesser accessory. The strongest man I know can convey in one look, one touch, what I mean to him. But one can understand where the mixed signals come from. The view from the media is one of abject consumerism, relationships that manipulate, duty as control and the worst "if there's a man involved, it's his fault". Our nation has more material comforts than the knights could ever imagine, but for many people, it's prosperity without purpose, it's passion without principles.

People espouse the Middle Ages as being little more than Pestilence, Black Death and no YouTube with the concepts of that day being outdated, or worse, by their own basis, misogynistic. What do we have now to replace it? Materialism without ethics or effort, and baby daddy's, greedy trophy wives, teen moms, and uncouth, plastic infused bimbos who get their own reality TV shows without any bit of skill or talent. This is our alternative to "the Dark Ages", a generation of people who fail to understand the difference between "can" and "should"?

Epictetus said it best "for it is better to die of hunger, exempt from fear and guilt, than to live in affluence with perturbation."

But the spirit of chivalry has not been entirely eradicated from the human heart, even in our pacifist, feminist, age. A chivalrous man today is a warrior with something to live for - and is willing to sacrifice his life either to protect or further it. Being a warrior does not not necessarily make him a man of war, but a man prepared to do battle for that which he loves. The battle can be one of ideology, not weapons, his life simply marked by preparation for something worthwhile, and thus is lived pursuing those ideals and interests which for him hold true value.

If this man is willing to die for something he loves, it is because he loves deeply and with great passion. Romantic love may well make the short list, but it's not the sole occupant of his soul, there are other causes and objects of a man's passion, that make him truly rounded.

Chivalry is not dead, it is simply dormant in many, for all things that are excellence can be as difficult as they are rare. In my writing I've referred to the knight as he, for it was a manly profession. Yet the ideas that define chivalry know no gender; it's a way of thinking expressed in form by both men and women who hold true these concepts of defense and accountability.
Some will call me hopefully old fashioned. Feminist and those more liberal-minded will decry it as a way of life that is simply bloodshed, war, and women seen as a possession. It's not. A chivalrous man, has no desire to control and direct a woman's thoughts, but to allow her to live without constraint, loved unconditionally, free from pesky dragons and telemarketers. He will not only arm himself with the tools he as to protect her, he will smile when she takes up her own. He will fight for her. He will fight with her.

Chivalry is NOT dead.

Look at our military personnel, look at those people who responded after the terror attacks. Firemen, EMT's, the police. Nurses, doctors. A post-September 11 nation's no place for milquetoasts. We are living in a fallen world with entire societies that wish us harm, religions of "peace" that dictate to embrace them or die. This is not a time to sit home watching reality television when the dragons aren't just bigger, they're almost nuclear ready.

It's a time for heroes. Big Damn Heroes.

In the Battle of Maldon, a few Englishmen have been attacked by a fierce army of Viking invaders. Although the Vikings are between two branches of the river and thus separated from launching their full strength at the Anglo-Saxon army, Beortnoth nobly allows them free passage to do battle on equal terms. Vastly outnumbered, Beortnoth and his brave men are slain until only a small, unflinching band of warriors remain:

“Byorthwold spoke; he grasped his shield; he was an old companion; he shook his ash spear; full boldly he exhorted the warriors: 'Thought shall be the harder, heart the keener, courage the greater, as our might lessens. Here lies our leader all hewn down, the valiant man in the dust; may he lament for ever who thinks now to turn from this war-play. I am old in age; I will not hence, but I purpose to lie by the side of my lord. . ."

In these few words, a better description of heroism, of unwavering dedication and loyalty I've not read in a while. The lines “Thought shall be the harder, heart the keener, courage the greater, as our might lessens" are a thousand years old, a pre-Christian heroic spirit which author J.R. Tolkien, a crafter of worlds where chivalry roared, himself called "Northernness".

Chivalry exists, and heroism stands. Heroism and chivalry live not in might and size and power, but often in the smallest places and quietest moments.  Look at the people who serve in hard times, hard areas, death a shadow on the wall so the masses can be safe. But you don't have to be a member of the military, a protector of the weak, or a fighter of the worst nature can throw at you to embrace these concepts. Chivalry gives us something to strive for, something to hold up as an ideal and an understanding that throughout history there are those who have risen above the standards of the day to truly be called brave.

The year could be 1066, it could be 2001, it could be today. A hand on a rough shovel, flinging the dirt with an effortless fury, the mound of soil rising of its own volition, not crafted by man but as if flung forth by the earth itself, until the grave is readied. A warrior has fallen, medals scribed on ore or heart, small things insignificant to the view, but mute with profound meaning. The earth waits but a moment. Shadows fall with the moon's curve, no sound but the labored breath of form of one who engaged without arms, this single combat. Laying a warrior to rest.  There is now but a shield to be picked up and carried on. So, man or woman, we never forget.
- Brigid

Thursday, January 17, 2019

You Had Me At Bacon

I have survived the pre and post-holiday sales, the pre-Valentine's sales, not finding any "furlough sales".  But I have been busy, not writing, as the muse went south with my paycheck.  But I'm taking care of an elderly lady from our congregation several days a week.  She fell, not badly injuring herself, but leaving her bruised and a little wobbly.  Home health care is expensive, so she has a nurse for overnight, but needs some company during the day so myself and a couple other ladies from the Bell Choir volunteered to keep her company until she healed and felt stronger.

Tonight I'm home, another lady is covering and I really didn't want a supper I had to fuss over as Partner in Grime is working late.  I thought I'd make one of Barkley's favorite treats.  He didn't get maple syrup but sausage was usually involved.


I'm not sure how "French Toast" got its name as it's been around since the Middle Ages in a whole lot of places other than France (who call it "Pain Perdu").  Day old bread dipped in egg and milk and fried is something that translates to Yum" in any language.  In Norway, where my Grandfather  Gullikson is from, it is called  “Arme Riddere”. This translates to “Poor Knights” and it is often topped with a bit of sugar and cinnamon before frying and then topped with fresh jam. It's also sometimes made with savory ingredients, such as ham or cheese, whatever is on hand.  This makes it a dish the  Norwegians would refer to as “restemat”, Norwegian for ‘leftovers’.

And I have leftover bacon!
Arme Riddere (French Toast) Panini.  Using what little bits I had on hand in the fridge, I smeared some sourdough bakery bread that was getting dry, with a Tablespoon or two of low-fat Neufchatel Cheese (low-fat cream cheese) and then smeared with a thin layer of Golden Shred orange marmalade picked up in the UK. Then I topped that with some freshly cooked thick cut bacon. Perfect!  It was then dipped on each side in an egg whisked up with a little milk and then popped into the chicken grill/panini contraption and baked until it's golden and toasty.  Norway Meets Italy!!
I drizzled it with just a bit of maple syrup and ate it like a sandwich.  Sweet and savory, creamy inside with just the right bit of crunch outside, it was the perfect little supper.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Canine Snack Attack

It was a busy week.  Though I'm furloughed from my job, I'm doing some volunteer work and beta reading two books by other author friends so I didn't have a lot of time at home for chores. I did get the bedroom tidied up from the first laundry explosion after my husband came home from a trip with lots of dirty clothes, setting down a fresh set of earplugs on the nightstand next to our bed.  It's from all the years in hotels as a pilot - I can't sleep without earplugs even if our neighborhood is quiet as a mouse.

 BEEP!  The clothes drier is done! Off to the basement!

When I came back, one of them was missing

Uh, huh, I think I found it.
Yup, looks like Abby Lab snagged it and spit it out
It wasn't a Cheeto!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Friday Night Musings

Maybe I was just born a century too late (though flying the NA-265 was a blast) but I'm glad to live in a hundred-year-old home surrounded by things older than me, with a history that will quietly whisper to me as I sit in low light with a single malt scotch.

Goodnight all.  Enjoy your Friday evening.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

DIBS! - A Chicagoland

Yes, as a former farm dweller, Chicago was the last place I thought I would end up.  Until I married an Illinois native that got his dream job there (wherein he leaves me to fly to China and South Africa and Texas on business a good part of most months :-)  What we do for love.

But I've grown to love our life.  We live in a home built in 1915 that's been 90% restored to look like a home built in 1915 in an outlying village that has almost no crime other than the occasional garage break-in, a few small and quaint local businesses, and it's surrounded by park system on three sides, which is a great gang buffer (especially with rivers as most of them don't know how to swim in the dark).
That being said, as we ring in the New Year, a smile for your New Year. Here in Chicagoland, there is something known as "dibs" wherein after you spend an HOUR digging your car parked in front of your house out of multiple feet of snow, you block the spot so you have a parking space when you get back. It's also legal, some wordage to the effect in the city code. It's considered rude to do it unless there is a boatload of snow, it must be a spot in front of your house, and slashing the tires of someone who moved your blocks is considered rude, even in the worst of neighborhoods.It's like our hotdogs, pizza, and Cubs, there are some things you just don't mess with if you are a local. We are lucky in that the original owner of our 100+-year-old home bought two lots so we have a large side yard on one side of the house with a driveway, though we may clear a "dibs" spot for party guests for New Years.

Some of the "dibs" seen around the city still crack me up. Happy New Year everyone and thank you all for your growing friendships this last year.

If it looks like a 60's shower curtain, even more the better. 
 Want to bet that is electrified.
Santa's job in the offseason.
A little dose of guilt never hurts.
It's Chicago if they could tax it they would!
This pretty much sums it up.
 Unfortunately, now the chickens have gotten out.
 Zep isn't a poison unless you drink a gallon but I like how he thinks.
 If that's full, that IS going to get lifted in 5 minutes.
A Force to be reckoned with.
 My personal view on ironing.
When Harold bought this for their 25thAnniversary he never figured it would come in handy.
 Yes, Jesus Saves - the ORIGINAL Dibs
“Never refer to me as an item. I'm a bird.” — Big Bird
 Use Grandpa's Walker because being old in the winter isn't hard enough.
Sam's parking spot. 
 My kind of guy.
It's not like we vacuum or anything.
 That girl that dumped me after the State Fair won't care.
Just another day in the neighborhood.
 I made my child dig my car out.
 Don't' go out half dressed to free your car.
 My roommate doesn't think much of my musical talents.
And my PERSONAL favorite (because what's a gal to do with a Leonardo DiCaprio life-sized cardboard figure).