I've started in on my 5th book "Compass Course". I don't write with an outline or even a plan - I do the opening chapter and the last and then fill in the middle. I can't complain - I've had two books hit #1 on Amazon and the other two in the top ten and have won 3 literary awards. All the proceeds have gone to animal rescue and no one ever asks for my autograph, but the thanks from readers who have loved it have lifted my heart through some hard times of family loss.
I posted the first chapter of Compass Course a few months ago - then took a long break as Dad's house had to be sold and cleaned out and work was crazy. But I have 3 weeks of leave and I'm using it to write full time. I haven't had a real vacation in 28 years so why start now :-) Here is the last chapter (unedited).
I had the blinds and all curtains closed against the cold, this new construction rental about as tight from the elements as gauze. 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 40's, 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.
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.
It's not the pain that bothered me, I've dealt with pain. It wasn't not being able to run, to jump to MOVE, quickly and without effort. It was crutches, then a cane. 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 dodge ball, 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 that 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.
It's not just the knee - it's my heart. It still gets enough blood pumping to get me out of bed every morning but it's cantankerous to the point I can't hold a pilot's medical any longer. Sure, you can get a sports pilots license with a driver's license but not with a pre-existing condition that's been documented by your AME. I have my scars but I have no regrets. But it's tough getting old.
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 past and it's simply gone, razed and replaced by a shabbily built storefront that won't withstand a good wind.
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 my husband smiled down at me, his having been with me without fail since I got hurt, 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!
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 craft on a piece of hard ground as small as my fear.
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.
Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Saturday, February 16, 2019
Dad tried to grow a mustache once. It was in the early 70's, and was less than successful. Dad had fine, dark red hair that resulted in a mustache that came in thin and sparse. I remember my Mom looking at the final outcome and trying her darnedest not to giggle and failing. Dad looked at with a wry smile and shrugged and went back to the bathroom and shaved it off. Mom wasn't trying to belittle his efforts, her love fluttered over all of us like small wings, whisking away tears, and brushing aside fears. She treated Dad the same way, but oh dear Lord, was that a sorry looking mustache and even Dad, realized it.
I remember my Dad's ritual which remains to this day. After he does his morning work-out (which he has done six days a week for 80 years), he'd go shave. He never uses an electric razor or any of the shave creams in a can. No, Dad always has a mug of fine soap, a high-quality brush and a regular razor, with a straight razor when he wanted an extra close shave for a special occasion.
I remember vividly those winter mornings, all of us dressing quickly, not so much that the house was cold but hearts and blood and minds weren't quite awake yet and movement was with willful purpose until such time as the chocolate milk or the caffeine kicked in. Dad would come through the kitchen from where he worked out, giving my Mom a kiss, the morning sun highlighting the freckles on her face, then a kiss for each of us, still in our pajamas, our faces innocent of either guile or water.
When he was done, he'd finish as he started, with a clean washcloth doused in extra hot water, laid on his face to steam it. Then he'd finish with a splash of aftershave. There were only a few that he would wear.
Then there was the Hai Karate. My Dad had some of that and was supremely disappointed and used to tease my Mom that his bottle must have been a dud as he didn't have to fend of any supermodels with karate chops like on the commercials. I don't remember what it smelled like but I don't think he ever had to fend off Mom wearing it, though, come to think of it, once, when he put on too much, she drove a golf ball from the back yard through the back kitchen window with a Five Iron.
Dad gave that up for Old Spice which he has worn ever since, though once in a while he'd put on "Stetson" and give Mom this look and she'd giggle and we'd go stay with our beloved Aunt and Uncle for a couple of days.
Now, there's not just aftershave, there is cologne, shampoo, body washes, shampoo/body washes (and the difference is?)
Most advertise themselves to smell like "fresh glacier extinguishing a giant forest fire full of deer in heat" or such things. I think the perfect man natural scent would be some sort of mysterious combination of gun cleaning fluid, coffee, bacon, woodsmoke, and dark beer (with a slight undertone of 20-year-old British Motor Car Wheel Bearing Grease.) But I love Dad's Old Spice and the sandalwood scent my husband wears.
The bottom of the mug can be filled with hot water, so that the suds above stay warm, which makes a straight razor more effective. As yes, my engineer husband often uses one, so it's a closer shave.
He shaves at night after I've had my bubble bath, and as I curl up on the sofa with a splash of Scotch. he'll begin that ritual. He's shaved in hundreds of hotels, in countries all over the world, the ritual much the same yet, there's something almost peaceful about the act performed in one's own bathroom, in one's own home, small rituals of sameness.
When he is done, he'll join me on the couch in his bathrobe, his measure of Scotch already poured, the house quiet but for hundred-year-old sconces on the walls that lend the room an aura of timelessness. We won't talk much but of family, of things in our home that need repair, or simply our day as we sit and stroke the flanks of an old black dog that lies beside us. Such rituals are as fine as a blade, as comforting as stone. Shared, they are as bright and uplifting as the flash of sparks as dulled blade and stone meet.
Soon, I will leave my husband again, to make another trip to see my Dad in Assisted Living, my childhood home now only a memory. I dread the changes I will see in his physicality and changes in his world. But in going home, when my frail Dad takes me in his arms in a big bear hug, he still smells like Old Spice, and I'm six years old again.
Friday, February 15, 2019
I did get my husband a couple of things to celebrate the day though. His French Press for coffee at work had broken so there was a replacement. It was just a Tardis one.
But he surprised me with something he put together for me with an online find and some hobby paint.
My very own redheaded Kung Fu Bobblehead with a homemade card.
He got the belt color right (Shao Lin Twin Broad Swords - Get Off my Lawn!)
I was smiling all evening.
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Dad's house is sold after TOO many months. And 70 years of cherished accumulation that have been sold, auctioned, donated to charity or sent to the trash.
I don't want to tell you how much work that was. And how hard it was to see it totally empty of memory as it was signed over to the new owner. But it gives us at least 3 years of Assisted Living expenses that won't be out of our pocket. After that, he can get Medicaid.
I am taking 3 weeks off to recoup and write the remainder of book #5. I may have a recipe or two up and maybe a shooty post or two but for the most part, I will be off the blog. I hope you stick around for the final product.
Tuesday, February 12, 2019
I went in this week for a hair cut and some "natural highlights" which involve a transfer of cash similar to ransom, and an hour and a half with enough foil on my head to attract a number of conspiracy theory admirers.
I also went in without lunch or dinner due to the day I had at work. I figured that I could grab some takeout on the way home as my husband was out of town and I hadn't planned on cooking, Abby Lab was being walked a couple of times and fed by my dogwalker due to the long day (legal hearing) so she was taken care of.
As my stylist did the trim, I had a ladies magazine on my lap, with my reading glasses off, as the beautiful genius that does my hair finished up the cut and blow dry.
Did I mention that when I hit 50 I had to get "reading glasses" and anything just a foot away is a bit blurry? First, it was the pages at Bible study, then mailboxes, and soon I was looking through the rack for "readers" with all the other grandmothers.
The magazine I was reading at the salon had a colorful picture of a bowl of soup in it. I started to get really hungry It looked SO good and that bagel and apple and coffee at 6 a.m.were distant history. I think I drooled on the page. The lady in the next chair over mentioned that, looking quite perplexed when I said: "I SO want a bowl of that." I couldn't wait until I was free of sculpting gel and a dryer to stop at the gourmet grocers for some of that, the broth, the succulent chicken, perhaps some shrimp, while I curled up with a glass of expensive white wine and Bach.
Then I put my glasses on.
I'd been drooling over cat food. Friskies Fancy Feast no less.
After that, I stopped McDonald's for a Filet O Fish and the liquor store for a bottle of white wine, just grabbing one from their "pick of the week" display as I was tired. When I got home and tried to open it with the wine opener and I couldn't puncture the top I realized it was a twist off cap.
Filet O'Fish and McWine.
Maybe I should have just gone for the cat food.
Tuesday, February 5, 2019
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
• 2-1/4 cups granulated sugar
• 3 large eggs
• 1 cup buttermilk (to make your own replace 2 and 1/2 teaspoons of milk in your cup of milk with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar and let sit out at room temp for 5 minutes).
• 2 Tablespoons grated lemon zest, packed (4-5 lemons)
• 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
FOR THE SYRUP
• 1/3 cup water
• 1/3 cup granulated sugar
• 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice (yes, this is in addition to the 2 tablespoons in the batter)
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F and set an oven rack in the middle position. Spray a 10-inch bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray and dust with additional flour.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or beaters), cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again.
4. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, lemon zest and lemon juice.
5. With the mixer on low speed, beat in one-quarter of the flour mixture, then one-third of the buttermilk mixture. Beat in another quarter of the flour, then another third of the milk mixture. Repeat with another quarter of the flour and the remaining milk mixture. Finally, beat in the remaining flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and give a quick mix to make sure all of the ingredients are well incorporated.
6. Spoon the thick batter into the prepared bundt pan and smooth with a rubber spatula. Bake for 1 hour and 5 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean.
7. Cool the cake in the pan for ten minutes on a rack.
8. Meanwhile, make the syrup. Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice.
9. Invert the warm cake onto a rack. Slip a large piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil under the rack to catch all the drips from the syrup and glaze. Gradually brush the hot syrup over the cake, letting it soak in (a little syrup will drip off, but try not to rush so that most of it is absorbed). Allow the cake to cool completely, about one hour.
• When the cake is cool, slip two large metal spatulas under the cake and carefully transfer to a serving platter. When cool sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.
Sunday, February 3, 2019
Homemade Cinnamon Swirl Bread French Toast.
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 1 cup warm water
• 2 1/2 teaspoons yeast
• 2 1/2 cups King Arthur Bread Flour (it’s higher gluten than regular flour so you don’t get so many gaps in your cinnamon bread)
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 tablespoons cinnamon
• 1/2 cup white sugar
1. Mix the 2 tablespoons sugar with the warm water in a very large bowl. Add the yeast and do not stir. Let it sit for five minutes. Add the oil, salt, and flour. Mix by hand, adding more flour as necessary until the dough forms a large, soft, ball. Flour a table or work surface and knead the bread for 5-10 minutes.
2. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and brush the top with a little extra olive oil. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour. It should be very puffy. Divide the dough in half and punch it down.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll each half into a large rectangle. For more tight rolls in the bread, roll the dough thinner. For thicker softer rolls in the bread, roll thicker. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl and sprinkle over each loaf. Roll up the loaves tightly and let rest for a few minutes before putting in the oven.
4. Bake on a cookie sheet or baking stone for 30 minutes, or until it sounds hollow. When in doubt, overbake this one. It might look brown on the outside, but that’s okay because the inside really needs to bake all the way to get the layers filled out. Cool before slicing.
Friday, February 1, 2019
Those of you who have read The Book of Barkley will recall this chapter but I found the photos I took of Barkley back then, and thought I'd share them on this day that Abby Lab was able to go roll in the snow safely after the minus 50 windchills of the last few days. - Brigid
From The Book of Barkley - Outskirts Press, all rights reserved.
Outside the snow starts, the door painting a path out into the white, only one lone dog brave enough to take it tonight. His paw prints leave a trail like bread crumbs, delicate and soft, disappearing even as I look for them as the snow falls down.
The cold and white is going to skirt the edge of my world tonight. I am glad to be in safe and warm, for I remember too many nights out working in the elements as winter shook its fist at the forecast. Tonight, the roads will be mostly empty, nothing else braving the space around us but some poor, cold creatures trying to seek shelter as best they could, a couple of forlorn horses of a distant neighbor, waiting to be brought back into the glow of light in the stable. If I looked out onto the snow, beyond the bounds of grass and the water and horizon, it appears to come down ever so frantic and furious. A life, these years, can seem to hurry past that way if you let the vision of it trick you, a glimpse of white, of black, then gone, when you may least expect it.
This is probably our last winter in this old ranch style house. I'd bought it with the intent of my Father living with me on the impending death of my stepmom, when he changed his mind, unable to leave the home in which he built his memories of her. It's a decent older home, better than the McMansion I'd given up a couple years prior in another city, especially with a huge fenced yard which Barkley loved. But I wanted to downsize more, not really needing the "mother in law" set up. The extra space, even if the house was modest in construction and price, with the piece of land it sat on, was still a lot to maintain as a single woman, one who really didn't have time for a young dog, let alone a house.
I did enjoy being able to watch him play though, even as today I am more happy to stay in the warmth of the house, my reflection in the mirror, flakes of snow in my hair from opening the door. How did winter get here so quickly, I think as I look in an old mirror, imagining the generations that have looked into that gleaming surface, asking themselves at least once, how did it all fly by so quickly, asking those questions across those years, time they hopefully learned didn't matter, as they savored every last remnant, there in the depths of something they had questioned too long.
I look at him, them look at the sky. Both he and I for this moment, becoming "pups" again.
As children, growing up where we did, "snow days" were infrequent. The world didn't stop for snow where snow was not uncommon. When we got one, we'd be outside the door before the breakfast dishes were even put away. Snow was not cold; it was not work or worry. It was a divine benediction which spread itself out onto the world where we waited with glee. Grabbing an inner tube to ride down the cleared foothills, shoving a couple Archway cookies in our pockets and heading out into the dazzling white, we'd heed the siren call. There I would simply wait my turn on the hill called "widowmaker", content to just sit and look up into the wonder as we waited our turn.
That tube was not my transport to the stars, it was a defiant gesture against the mortality that grew closer to the edge of our vision every year. It wasn't a simple inner tube. It was a defiant shout. It was my shield.
Then, face flushed with anticipation, I'd pat my pocket to make sure my cookie was secure and I'd trudge back up the slope again. As I peered down into the void I'd say, "I probably shouldn't do this ", as I launched myself off yet again into space, remorseless and laughing, flying down the slope, potent, strong, as free as an eagle, not knowing yet as a child, that even for the eagle, all space can still be a cage.
That's the snow I wish to remember. Looking up into the heavens trying to see where it originates, then the slow fall of it, parachutes of white dropping down, slower and slower. They fall, weightless, ethereal creations of magic and intermolecular forces, some felled by warmth, some turning to water against one's tongue, some slain by a sled. Yet tomorrow, next year, there would be another flake and yet another and another soul to hold it in the palm of their hand, if they are only there to reach out for it.
Barkley continues his play, forever a puppy, with no concept of another winter, only this one, everything just captured here now, running as hard as he can. Looking at a pile of work on the table to be completed tomorrow, I wish I could do that, could play in that slow, suspension of time and moisture, one where what you feel and seek and love builds upon itself in endless form, honed by the cold depths of the sky. You can't catch the snow, you can only watch it fall to you, grasping it briefly, stretching out your hands to clasp a wisp of air and hold it for a moment.
But I can't, I have obligations and chores and things to do that don't involve a dog. He barks with a "come follow me" note, but getting chilled just opening the door to check on him, I simply fling his favorite toy as hard and far out into space as I can before I shut the door and impatiently fetch a treat to get him back inside in a few minutes.
"The Toy". It's this bone length thing covered with yellow tennis ball material to which a thick plastic cord is attached so you can really wind it up and throw it. It's THE toy. He has a half dozen different balls and toys, but once this one showed up they were ignored. He knows the word "toy" as opposed to "Ball" or "Mr. Squeeky" or "The Ropers" and will fetch it from anywhere, digging through the snow if necessary to find it.
I went into the kitchen, leaving the family room glass outer door closed, but the curtains open. Dogs can get frostbite on their paws, ears, and tail if left out in freezing temperatures for lengths of time so I would keep an eye on him.
I saw this movement in my peripheral vision, a black form jumping up into the air like a kangaroo. What the. . . . .?
The toy is stuck high up in the branches of a tree, just inside his fenced area, I threw it too far out, and too high.
He jumped and he jumped as if he could somehow magically get that high and grab it. Come on, this next time, surely I'll get it! But he is totally silent, not a bark, so intent on the capture, he is bound and gagged by his obligation.
With a heavy sigh as I'd just gotten warm again, I get bundled up in coat and boots and go out. The snow shower had passed, and I could see him out at the edge of the yard, inside the fence that blocks him from the pond. When he saw me he ceased jumping but continued to stare up. It's just a toy, I think, but he looks at it as if stuck on the edge of a vast ambiguity, a lonely figure waiting by a hopeless ocean for time and tide to change course.
I've seen a lot of expressions on this dogs face, but this was the first time I could actually detect "worry". I didn't think dogs worried. They don't have taxes, cellulite, ex's or bills and facial hair as they get older is, well, normal. But they do know hurt, they just quietly just take it in, recording it complacently in their suffering, not wishing their person to worry about them.
But today, he looked with a stillness that dropped like stone to the depths of my being, a look on his face that would have stopped even the most involved soul. Dogs can do that, those looks, that put out of mind all of the follies of dog farts, the hair that covers every surface of the house, spent dollars and the chewed shoes. It's a look that made me want to comfort him, even as he does for me with no memory of my failures or the hints of my doubts.
Mom,. Mom, my toy, she's stuck, help!
If I fall out here, and break something I'm going to freeze to death. I've got stuff to do, this can wait til it's warmer. The ladder is in the garage and the sky is getting dark. All of those thoughts run though my head as he stares up, my form the only thing between him and that gaping ocean. It's my responsibility. He's my responsibility. But there's no way I'm going to try and drag the ladder out of the garage, around the house and through the little gate. I climbed trees as a kid, I only need to get up a few feet where I can grab it or swat the toy to the ground.
Those childhood trees were stouter trees, however, and I was smaller then, and soon I am half tangled in the young tree, it's trunk bending painfully in ways I haven't seen since my first Yoga class. I thought of a trebuchet, the laws of physics and how a flung redhead taking out the kitchen window might not be something the insurance agent wanted to hear.
I went and got the ladder. The conquest of worlds, the emancipation of those sold into bondage, the pride and power of freedom's forces, those are fit materials for a courageous tale. The rescue of a fuzzy toy would hardly be accountable but for the look of this dog, for whom the act was as all important, all-consuming, as well, bacon will be tomorrow morning. This dog had his needs, and I knew that whether I was simply "what's her name with a ladder" or his instrument of documented destiny, I had a role to play here.
Barkley 1. Tree 0.
And the world began revolving again and I could go back where it is warm, even if I am met with yet another pleading look. Play with me!
Sorry buddy, Mom's busy, I say, as I head back to the garage, leaving that pleading look behind. Overhead, a flock of geese, winging through an aberration of white, a mournful honk, black and white, braving the cold, pursuing the echo of sanctuary. I hear their cry as "come follow me" But I can't. Not quite yet. The snow blooms with the insistence of Spring, and I am earthbound with things to do. I turn away from him, flakes gathered at my feet, tumbled in the wind like rose petals blown aside in a lovers haste departure.
Then there is this goofy dog outside with a fuzzy yellow toy in his mouth, covered in snow like it's some sort of Popsicle. He's simply enjoying the day for what it is. I can't help but break out in a big grin when I think of that. Perhaps, I'm not as grown up as I think I am.
I go to him with a pat and a treat, to get him back to the house, to play with me inside in the warmth, while my work waits for another time. Our feet barely touch the ground as we run towards the house, towards the gilded blaze, our future, he and I, somewhere ahead in that diffused glow. Like those horses out in the neighbor's field, we move towards the light of the door, bright as tossed coins in a collection plate, a saving, golden Grace. Home. It is benediction and absolution, even if covered in dog hair.
There is a door, and we fall in, into the embrace of warmth, flakes of cold in dark hair.