Wednesday, June 26, 2019

French Onion Soup

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus softened butter, for spreading
3 large onions (about 2 pounds), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
Sea salt
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 quart Rich Beef Stock (I make a day ahead of time or you can use bone broth)
Freshly ground pepper
Four 1/2-inch-thick slices sourdough bread, cut into 4-inch rounds
1 bouquet garni, made with 1 bay leaf, 1 thyme sprig, 2 juniper berries and 2 flat-leaf parsley sprigs, tied in cheesecloth
2 cups shredded Gruyère cheese (about 6 ounces)

 Melt the butter in a large enameled cast-iron casserole. Add the onions and a pinch of salt, cover and cook over moderate heat, stirring once or twice, until the onions soften, about 10 minutes. Uncover and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until the onions are lightly browned, about 40 minutes.

Stir in the sherry. Add the stock and bouquet garni and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until the soup has a deep flavor, about 30 minutes. Discard the bouquet garni and season the soup with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter the bread on both sides and place on a baking sheet. Toast the bread for 15 minutes, turning the slices halfway through, until golden and crisp but not dried out. Raise the oven temperature to 425°.
Bring the soup to a simmer, ladle it into 4 deep ovenproof bowls and sprinkle with half of the cheese. Place a crouton in each bowl and sprinkle on the remaining cheese. Bake the bowls of soup on a baking sheet in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling. Serve hot.

Rich Beef Stock
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
5 pounds meaty beef shanks, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 large carrots, cut into 2-inch lengths
2 celery ribs, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 large onion, quartered
4 quarts water
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 450°. Heat the oil in a large roasting pan set over 2 burners. Add the beef shanks and cook over moderate heat until sizzling and lightly browned on 1 side, about 5 minutes. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 45 minutes, or until the meat and bones are browned. Add the carrots, celery and onion and roast for about 30 minutes longer, or until the vegetables are lightly browned.

Scrape the meat, bones and vegetables into a stockpot. Set the roasting pan over high heat and add 1 cup of the water. Cook, scraping up the browned bits, until the pan is clean. Pour the pan juices into the stockpot along with the remaining 3 cups and 3 quarts of water and simmer over moderately high heat for 30 minutes, skimming occasionally. Reduce the heat to moderately low, cover partially and simmer until the stock is richly flavored and reduced to 2 quarts, about 4 hours. Season with salt.
Strain the stock through a fine sieve set over a heatproof bowl. Refrigerate until cold, scrape off the fat and discard. Before using, boil the stock until reduced to 6 cups.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Memory Held

"It has been said that crowds are stupid, but mostly they are simply confused since as an eyewitness the average person is as reliable as a meringue lifejacket." -Terry Pratchett - Unseen Academicals

If I personally were to have a choice of witnesses to a tragedy to talk to, give me the child. Their view is simply what they have seen, normally unclouded by judgment, history, politics, and expectations. Certainly, intelligence bears into it and the developmental differences of the child. The child also needs to be of an age where they can remember and describe events, understanding the difference between the truth and a lie. But they often pick up on things that the adults miss even if, in and of itself, it might not be admissible in a legal setting. Sure the technical detail is not there and children can often mix reality with fantasy, but often the heart of what they experienced is ascertainable, containing details often lost to others.

Those that piece together such places, unfortunately, have had to use such recollections before. You can watch all the TV shows you want, but unless you are a first responder or LEO you don't really realize what it is like. Air laden with smells of fuel perhaps and smoke, stale sweat and the dense coppery smell of death close up. The frantic sounds, shouts and fluid movements of water or people, trickling down to a slow drip as the EMS vehicles move away. Sometimes in a hurry, too often not, the sound expanding away from the hollow rumbles of voices left behind to gleen the concrete fields of evidence, searching for words and actions that explain.

Sometimes there is a crowd, sometimes in that crowd is a youngster, looking around, taking it all in, while the adult's eyes are frantically forming words in their head while look for a TV camera, or swaying in shock, zombie-like, eyes closed in almost drugged immobility.

A child's recollection is simple, not so many words, but sounds, smell, movement, direction, things others might have missed. With a parents hands hovering near, those movements we all know of protection, it will be asked if the child could give their remembrance, just as was done with any adults that were present, letting them make a statement of what they remember, to define the things already known. Sometimes their statements, made with simple words and hands, are startling in their detail; details that confirm the tangibles that are known at that time. Tangibles that can become evidence. With that, the search for truth continues.

For some adults do not do so well in recollection. An event to one person is seen in a totally different way than another. Both believe they are totally accurate and it's often hard to derive the reality from their truths. I've read accounts in the newspaper of events I actively participated in, only to shake my head in wonder at how very inaccurately it was portrayed, the words written for sensation and effect, not for accountability. I've seen it in a courtroom, a place where even in the scrubbed emptiness, the smell of spent violence, lust, graft, and vengeance are discernible. Where even in the quiet you feel the reverberations of badgering and bitterness, sinners and saints, actors in a role, while we the public hope for that one legal expert that can see through all of that to do what is right based on reality, not motivation.

But getting to the heart of the matter is difficult. Look at the media, at some of the written chronicles on the Internet of recent tragedies, and the variances in discussing the same person or event, the same bit of history. Some are honestly detailed yet succinct, while others, especially when they feel they or their cause have been wronged, are so outside the realm of what happened that they do nothing but provoke incredulity.

Tragedies bear their own truth and it is usually NOT what is in much of the mainstream media.

Life is never easy, and finding out why things happen as they do remains something that haunts the edges of not just a crime scene, but our very lives. We want to know, desire it. Yet, unless we look at events with the clear eyes of a child, unmotivated by greed, political leanings or prejudice, we may find that the words we read, the blames being made, are no more sweet deceptions.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Driving Miss Abby

The photo is Miss Madeline Car, a restored Triumph that sits in my garage longing for warmer days and solitary country roads. In the city,  where traffic is heavy and the red signal light appears to be only a suggestion,  I drive a very large, full size, extended cab 4 x 4. It's helpful for visibility in this and other cities where everyone drives like they are in Nascar.  But it is really not maneuverable enough for  Chicago, the home of high-speed slalom driving thanks to potholes which are cleverly laid out in key locations to test driver's reflexes and keep them on their toes.

Still, I feel safer in it than most vehicles I've owned and since it's paid for I'll just stay on my toes.

Work-wise - over the years I've had an assortment of cars to use while on official business, all that came with strict rules as to who and how they were used.  If I'm in the work vehicle, I obey the speed limit and slow ever further down if I see a Patrol car, because nothing will make you the object of jokes more than getting a ticket while in the Squirrelmobile.
Some years back before I was with the Secret Squirrel agency, I worked for another such outfit that we will simply refer to as International Sneaky Service, different work, but like any job, with its own set of rules. As always, I was the only woman and commonly I was the team leader.  Several of us were out on a mission when, at the place we stopped on our drive, to eat lunch, the local animal shelter was having a "adopt a pet" for the locals in the parking lot next door. One of my work team wandered over to pat a pooch. He came back and said "there's a really cool Lab I want to adopt, he's older, no one wants him, I have to give him a home".

I'm in command here, he's looking at me for the OK. He's got no one, a couple years from retirement, his girl leaving him after a long tour away. I haven't seen this look on his face for far too long.

I look at the rest of the group, one of them a combat vet who got shot down, his legs burned badly, he's missing some toes, but not his heart. Another was a former Marine, as tough as they come, but whom I've seen shed tears when a dog was lost in duty. The probie with us was quiet. I nod my head.

Twenty minutes later, he has custody of one very happy, well behaved and older, male Labrador retriever. But how to get the dog home? We'll just put him in the official Sneaky Service vehicle and bring him back to headquarters where he can get transferred to his new owners truck stealthily in the parking lot out back as he was off duty when he got back.  But probie says "we can't' take anyone on official business in the Sneaky car, we'll be up on charges".

I said, "that's people, no "civilians" allowed,  contractors/ employees only, we know that but there's nothing in the rules about a dog, he can't sue our boss if we have a fender bender" So off we go, all the while, probie stewing and fretting in the back seat, treating the dog like a bomb getting ready to blow. Finally as we near our destination, he just loses it, his voice rising up an octave as he exclaims, "A dog in the Sneaky car, a DOG in the Sneaky CAR!! We might as well have a KILO of COCAINE in here!!"
The dog was obtained during our meal break, and these guys were my responsibility. If anyone was going to get chewed out for giving Fido a lift it would only be me, NOT the probie. Fortunately, we had arrived. As we covertly left the vehicle for another team to soon use, and got ready to move Fido, we discovered the reason said dog may have needed a new home. From the back seat came a cloud of doggie gas that would gag a maggot. Retreat! We quickly got him out and closed the doors, moving him to the waiting truck of his new Dad. As we went inside the building, not even noticing we were back, we couldn't help but see the new guys open the door of the car we'd just evacuated with "WT . . . *)#(@. . .What's that SMELL! OMG!!!!"

That's been quite a few years ago. His remaining short years were good ones, happy and well loved, with his adopted Dad, who apparently had no sense of smell. Hopefully, now, he is in doggie heaven, where everything smells like bacon.

Barkley Memories - Alway Up to Something

Then there are the long trips by myself. I'm not sure why I enjoy car trips. I guess the wandering spirit runs in my blood, passed on my from Air Force father to me. Seems like ever since I got a control yoke in my hand I've been wandering across miles of land . . . across rivers and towns. My Mom would have preferred I marry a hometown boy and stay in the tiny town in which I was raised, but once I tasted adventure, I was born into that gypsy life and have never really known another.

St. Expurey said, "he who would travel happily must travel light". And this adventurer did travel light, based across the US, with a short stint as a contractor overseas. I remember those early years, I remember not just the travel, the airplanes themselves, but the feel of the starched uniform shirt I wore, the smell of a crewman's aftershave (which thank heavens wasn't Brut). It seems as if all my early years were reflected in the window of those moving airplanes. I see my reflection, my past, through bug sprayed glass that tints the world bright.

The airplane, the destination and the years changed, as did the landscape of my career, but some things never changed. Days in an airplane traveling far. Miles and hours spent watching the landscape, silver grain elevators, red-winged birds, mountains formed of ice and fluid need, and rivers without borders, all blending into a bright diorama of life racing past. The world looks different from above, clouds massive and dark, looming up like a target in a gun sight, looking twice the size of an ordinary man.

I have spent half of my life it seems on the way somewhere. I have watched a hundred cumulus clouds erupt, the mass assassination of mayflies and the disappearance of a slice of cherry pie at a tiny airport diner and the journey was only beginning.

Along with me came the music, classical, jazz, and music from the Swing Era f there was a CD player in the vehicle. There are parts of the earth you can hear music of all types, there are areas where all you will find is country Western. Some of it is good, it certainly taught me a few things. .

(1) No matter where you are in the plains states, somewhere, on some station, someone is playing "Bad Bad Leroy Brown".

(2) If the singer is going on about taking you for a ride on his "big tractor", he's NOT talking about farm equipment.
3) there will be areas where all you can find is rap or Hispanic music. If that happens make up your own country songs - "If he hadn't been so good lookin I might have seen the train".
And finally, after many hours straight of broke down, done wrong, sad tears kind of songs I realized that -

4) At the gas station of love, sometimes it's self service and no fresh coffee.
Finally, though, I'm home where, fortunately, I have someone of the four-legged variety waiting eagerly for me, (with the two-legged kind arriving home soon) Life is good, worth singing about, even if my knee has gone to sleep.

Til then, I have Abby. She's good company, at home or in the truck. She's a heartbeat at my feet on those nights I'm alone in the house when my husband is on the road and a draft of lonely wind taps at my soul. Like Barkley, she's the uncomplicated creature I could be if I knew better. She challenges any threat with honor; to bark at the UPS man is the utmost of patriotism for her, and she quietly offers me an affection ignorant of my faults. She sleeps deeply yet watchfully and for her cunning seems to have no knowledge of death, and relies on me to do her worrying about that for her.

When she goes on a trip with me, she gently lets me put the driving harness on her, so she stays secure, then quietly lays down and goes to sleep until we have arrived. I will miss Barkley until the day I die.  But getting an older dog from Rescue was one of the best decisions I ever made along the way. Since the day she showed up at the door with her Foster Mom, she's been a warm, brave and loving companion that has made the continued journey worth taking.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Out of Office

I'm off work this week starting a book tour for True Course.  Be back this weekend!!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

For Father's Day - On Broken Glass

"One day some people came to the master and asked 'How can you be happy in a world of such impermanence, where you cannot protect your loved ones from harm, illness, and death?' The master held up a glass and said 'Someone gave me this glass, and I really like this glass. It holds my water admirably and it glistens in the sunlight. I touch it and it rings! One day the wind may blow it off the shelf, or my elbow may knock it from the table. I know this glass is already broken, so I enjoy it incredibly.'" - Achaan Chah Subato - Theravadan meditation master

 As children, we view the world as if it will always be as it is that day. Mom and Dad will always be there; the dog will live forever. There is little that cannot be fixed by glue, a bandage and Mom's chocolate chip cookies. As we get older, those perceptions sometimes still remain, that we will live happily ever after; we will have children, who will have children, who will have children, the family living forever, in defined order of aging and passing. We go into adulthood believing what is useful for us to believe, or rather what is intolerable for us not to believe.

 After the death of Barkley, we went out to see my Dad, to laugh and remember, much more than the life of a dog. While I was there, I took Dad and my new husband one day up to the cemetery on top of a hill, where we could watch our shadows upon two small graves. Big Bro did not go; still weary from both chemo and radiation, but helping us prepare flowers to take to those graves. I remember standing there, shafts of sun hitting that small stone, listening to the short song of a bird hidden, who sang four short notes then ceased, as from a distance came the incurious, calm sound of bells.

 As my Dad did, I realized long ago, that one must sometimes don that shirt of flame, which we do not have the power to remove but only to bear, without being devoured by the blaze. There is no perfect order, there is no guarantee, but there still is, and always will be beauty. If we didn't learn that, we'd only move without living and grieve without weeping, neither worth the toll they take on that which remains. For myself, I chose now to weep, and, with that, remember. I think again to those beliefs peculiar to childhood, namely those things we believe, simply because we are yet too young not to believe.

 The first was Santa Claus. I had my doubts that first year I sat on Santa's lap at the hardware store and he had on black geek glasses. Santa should look like Santa, not a 30-year-old CPA. Still, I kept it quiet, buying Mom's explanation that he was just Santa's stunt double, Santa being busy that day. Certainly, Santa was real, he had to be real. Then there was the Tooth Fairy. Dad still has this little note, written in my handwriting, an affidavit to the Tooth Fairy attesting that indeed I did lose my tooth, but I swallowed it with the piece of apple that pried it loose. It's wrapped around a little plastic box filled with baby teeth. Big Bro was a little less subtle. One night, long after I was asleep, Dad was alerted from the bathroom where he was preparing for bed with a "Dad, I caught the Tooth Fairy," and he had Mom by the arm and was tickling her and they were both laughing.
The Easter bunny had just a slight role at Easter, being a tradition to bring sweets to celebrate the gift and the Sacrifice of Jesus, rather than being the reason for the whole holiday. Still, before church, we loved to find the little baskets outside the door, with candy eggs and a chocolate bunny. Until one day, when we got up, and there was no basket. Mom and Dad announced we were too old for the Easter Bunny. Instead, they were taking us on an outing tomorrow! To the State Capital! Yes, children getting to visit a government building instead of a basket of candy! You can only imagine our excitement. On the drive there, we whispered intricate conspiracies from the back seat to get out of this, to no avail, not wanting to hurt our Mom's feelings. So we learned what a rotunda was. Dad finagled a tour at a local brewery on the way back, likely needing a drink after watching our tax dollars in action. Watching the cans getting processed was a whole lot more fun than politicians in suits, and as we drove home, Mom did stop and get us some ice cream, realizing the day hadn't gone as she'd hoped but appreciating that we at least tried.

 I think deep down we had known for some time the Easter Bunny was our Mom and Dad. But we were not yet openly willing to admit to another fractured fairy tale. Still, though, our parents let us hold on to the perception that the world was unbroken as long as they could. Some things, though, could not wait until adulthood. One was finding out we were adopted. So many people, then, and even now, ask me about biological parents, and I have no answers for them. But for the reason of the severing of that tie, which is not the concern of the world, neither of us sought to find them, outside the scope of our hurt or their harm, even if we refused to pass judgment for the reasons we ended up where we did. Or perhaps we did pass judgment but were simply unwilling to pronounce sentence.
All I can truly say is my brother and I came into the best possible family. Disciplined, loving, hard-working people that came from nothing by way of material means or privilege and still crafted a life of learning and beauty. Our clothes were handed down, or handmade, our food from the garden, pasture or forest behind the house, our bikes used. But we had everything that was truly important, and that was a deep appreciation for every day, even those marked with illness or imperfection, easily forgotten when we were greeted upon returning home by our Mother's smile and the joyous bark of a dog.

This was the beauty of family, simultaneously fragmented and undefeated, emboldened and afraid, yet still seeing the good in the world around us. So we carry on, my brother and I, as we tell our stories. "Remember when Dad was told to give me the ‘birds and the bees, boys, and girls are different talk’ because Mom was sick? It consisted of a photo of a boy from the Sears catalog in his underwear, a finger pointed to a critical area and the admonishment ‘Don't kick your brother there!’" He would then laugh and remind me of something silly I had done in school, memories that shone in the sunlight on the telling, his laughter still ringing like a touch on glass.
In our stories, we are children and our favorite dog is always with us. We are not just immortal; we are invincible. We will run and run until our bones turn to water, and we fall in a puddle of arms and legs and barking dog, forever joyful. On the wall of the family room is a family tree that my aunt drew out with careful calligraphy, giving us each a copy. I note many branches, some ending abruptly as some died young, some were widowed, some childless, a lifelong bachelor or spinster among them. Now on a branch, which had ended abruptly, is a name, next to mine, something I owe in part to a dog named Barkley.

For Barkley was indeed my family, his story, joining these others, each entwined into a family history of black sheep, white knights, the victors, the vanquished, each carrying with them loves and burdens and more than one four-legged companion with which they shared the journey. Each name, name by name and page by page, will be laid down until inevitably, only one name will remain, for that glass is indeed, inevitably broken. That person will, I hope, capture the names, and whisper the stories that haunt the winds, even if no one is left to hear, but ghosts on the page, with no earthly house in which they wait for us. As I start to weep my brother touches my face, in benediction, in blessing. That is the true beauty which sustains us; that His sacrifice through which the world was saved is re-enacted here in this world every day, in the saving grace of a small imperfect family and the memory of a dog.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

No More Hammers!

The new roof is officially on the Range - 11 hours after the first pounding.  I felt sorry for the roofers the previous ones did an exceptionally crappy job in the 90's and they had to make some repairs.  There was hot homemade banana pecan bread and water for all on their lunch break though.

Abby and our rescue Yellow Lab of three weeks are happy.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches

I think if I had added bacon my head would have exploded but these were excellent. Served with Schwan's oven-baked steak fries and a cold "Belt and Suspenders" beer from our favorite brewery in Chicagoland BuckleDown Brewing (now sold at our village grocers).

3 hamburger buns

1 cup coleslaw mix
6 tablespoons ranch dressing

1 to 2 jalapeno peppers de-seeded and chopped.

Fried Buffalo Chicken Ingredients:

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon of sea salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 cup bread crumbs
3 chicken breasts – cut into bite-sized pieces (these were smaller pieces, if really large, just use 2)

1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil

Buffalo wing sauce:

1 and 1/3 cup Frank's Red Hot hot pepper sauce
1 cup unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce.

Mix in saucepan and cook until bubbling, remove from heat until ready to assemble the sandwich.  Double if you want extra sauce (great as a meatloaf topper another day, especially if you stuff the meatloaf with chopped and sauteed celery & matchstick carrots, and add in some blue cheese crumbles).

Directions for chicken:

1.         Pour flour and seasonings into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine eggs and milk, whisking until combined. Put bread crumbs in a seperate bowl.

2.        Coat chicken breast pieces in flour, shaking off excess. Dip next in egg and milk mixture, then in breadcrumb mixture.

3.         Heat butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook chicken breasts until golden brown on each side and 165  F. degrees internal temperature  (approximately 3 minutes per side).

4.         Pour buffalo wing sauce into a medium mixing bowl. Dip each breaded chicken breast into the sauce, making sure it is well coated. Remove and set aside.

Assemble sandwich, bun, chicken, 1/3 of the coleslaw mix and some of the sliced jalapenos (in place of peppers you can use crumbled blue cheese but we liked them this way.).

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

On Travel

Little Prince lived alone on a tiny planet no larger than a house.. . .

The suitcase is empty, but it is not. There in the bottom, a small piece of paper with some writing on it.  I read it and I smile.

The bag's opened up, some toiletries spread around the hotel bathroom.  Another day on the road.  I guess the wandering spirit runs in my blood, passed on my from Air Force father to me. Seems like ever since I got a control yoke in my hand I've been wandering across miles of land, across rivers and towns in whatever way I can, be it dromedary-like transport plane, raggedly land rover or swayback mule.

I have an anchor, over time it's been a large house, a small house, it's been simply a suitcase and someone I love.  But when I'm there, I am thoroughly happy, for that anchor, instead of being confinement, is simply the base from which I move, a fulcrum that amplifies the effects of my motion, the beat of my heart.

St. Expurey said, "he who would travel happily must travel light". And so I did, the earliest memories little more than the remembered feel of the starched uniform shirt I wore, the dense oily smell of jet fuel lingering on the tongue like smoke. It seems as if all my early years were reflected in the window of those moving airplanes. I see my reflection, my past, through bug splayed glass that tinted the world bright.

The airplane, the destination and the years changed, as did the landscape of my career, but some things never changed. Days in an airplane traveling far. Miles and hours spent watching the landscape, silver grain elevators, red-winged birds, mountains formed of ice and fluid need, and rivers without borders, all blending into a bright diorama of life racing past. The world looks different from above, clouds massive and dark, looming up like a target in a gun sight, looking twice the size of an ordinary man.

I have spent half of my life it seems, on the way to somewhere. I have watched a hundred cumulus clouds erupt, the mass assassination of mayflies and the disappearance of a slice of cherry pie at a tiny airport diner and the journey was only beginning.

In each day comes another opportunity for adventure. The ride to the hotel was something to remember, in and of itself. A shuttle service, stopping at several hotels on the way. The driver, sullen and demonstrating why driving was his second language. You know how when most people drive, certainly professional drivers, they brake using an increase in pressure on the brake pedal so as to come to a smooth stop. Not Mr. Shuttle. The only brake technique he used was to stomp on the brake, let up, let the car roll, stomp again. It would take four or five of these stomps to equal one normal braking action. No traffic, heavy traffic, it made no difference.

I started to feel like a bobble head doll and the 25 dollars I saved over a taxi was starting to look like one of those small decisions that had great, oversized repercussions. But perhaps I should have been more patient. I guess it was hard to concentrate on braking when one is texting while driving in heavy traffic.

I simply made sure my seatbelt was fastened and then bent down as if into a stiff wind, horns of the impatient exploding into the rain-split asphalt that opened and closed with opportunity. Like all traffic in big cities, we carried on, sharp with speed, and then trickling to a standstill, the road dipping into the fog, like a hand cleaving water, the headlights showing the grey bulk of streams of cars coming down the hill like rain.

When the last guest got off and it was just me, he quit texting and had a series of increasingly heated exchanges in his mother tongue with his dispatcher about how he only got 47 US dollars in fares for this trip and he wanted to get a number one spot when he got back to the airport. (Actually, sir, you got 68 dollars in fares, one that you did not log and pocketed. I notice things like that.)

The arguing got more heated. I am not fluent in languages. I can simply listen and relate small things in a number of languages that come in handy, Russian, Chinese, Farsi, just enough to know when it's a good time to get out of Dodge or when happy hour is almost over. It comes in handy, the knowing, the looking, I think, as I catch quick glimpses of other drivers in the failing sunlight, faces fixed and grim as they fought to get upstream.

The van driver, still yelling into the phone while almost whacking several people on bicycles,  finally stopped in front of my hotel. I paid him the fare plus a 15 percent tip. He did NOT look happy, expecting much more from the American Redhead in nice clothes.

He muttered something under his breath about what he had to do to get a big tip, and I replied -

Вам надо научиться использовать торможения.

He was still standing there, mouth agape when I went up to my suite.

But I had arrived. The hotel bulked long and dark against the city sky, but inside was golden warmth, a bite of fresh apple, a much-needed bottle of water. Sitting still for a minute taking care of the aching neck and soon it was time to meet my partner for this assignment while we went over notes for tomorrow's business over a light meal.

After a short walk back to the hotel, my partner making sure I got to my room safely, I made a couple phone calls to loved ones, wanting to let them know I was in and safe. My Dad always worries when I travel, even when I don't tell him where I'm going.  So do friends, and I try and keep in touch. Then I took a long bath in a tub so deep you could hide a Mastodon in it and slept until it was 6:30 in the morning. Unfortunately, it was 6:30 in the morning where I wanted to be, not where I was at.

So I got up and made coffee and watched a stain of light snare itself between steel and rain, spreading until the stain grew light and the light became morning.

By choice or not, travel is part of my life.  But travel brings something to you that people who live in the insular world of their home town their whole lives may miss. It pushes your boundaries. When you travel, you can become invisible, if that is what you choose. I like that. I like to be the quiet observer. Walking alone along the edge of another ocean, as it stretches away into space with its illusion of freedom. Strolling through the celestial hush of a square that has seen generation after generation, the sun glinting off marble where the monotonous rain has washed it bright. What stories would that old building tell, what makes these people who they are?

You don't have to understand the language that is spoken, only the language of the streets, the scents, the stone. Without understanding a word around you the language becomes simply a musical background for watching the water flow onto the shore or a leaf blowing in the wind, calling nothing from you.

You may have work that takes much of your time, yet still, in this strange place, there are hours open to you.  You don't have a lawn to mow or bills to pay.  There is only life, as simple and inescapable as an empty hallway, where you can leave behind for a moment, the burdens that you freely assume and carry as bright and ambitiously as brass. For this moment you are simply a creature of choice, free to visit stately buildings, savor a cup of coffee or simply go watch the trains.  You're open, if only for this moment, as a child to receive all of the world, not just your own.

It is all there for the taking, multicolored flowers in bright density, the smell of fresh bread baking, laid out like fabric on the ground which you pick up and wrap around you, drawing in a breath through the scented cloth. This fabric, this essence of a place, that contains both the dead and the living, the blooms of lush flower, the decay of a building, the smells that are both the death and the birth of a city. You are a historian, you are a hunter free to explore and seek and find and then return home bringing memories to lay on your doorstep.

From the memories come words.  They may be only in your head, they may be on paper.  But they tell a story, one composed of past journeys on ancient rails washed clean by wind and rain and tempered by time, written to the mournful sound of a train whistle echoing through ancient memories and newfound dreams.  The words strung out like cars, beyond which wait the world and life, hope unrestrained and incontrovertible.  They recall the memory of it all, moving fast now, wind rushing past like flood, leaving you breathless.

The suitcase is open on a simple wooden stand. It is empty, but in it there is so much, the smell of crushed sage as I bounced across the desert in a jeep, the wood smoked burnt woods of autumn, the smell that is untouched ground after a rain, the rich earthy scent of something being lit that had for so long been cold.

 Love - Brigid

Saturday, June 8, 2019


Larelei, our new rescue lived five and a half years in a tiny cement pen with no bedding, or in a cage, having litter after litter of Lab puppies at a breeder.  (polite term for puppy mill)

She's still pretty hesitant physically, but today she did her first "zoomies" in the fenced yard.  It was a sight to behold.
Totally work safe link cut and pasted from The Book of Barkley Blog.

Books and Barkley

Well - Half Price Books IS on the drive home.

The end of a long week and some great surprises. And not just these little finds, the one below only $3.
I got everyone's books out that sent money for an autographed copy and to those of you on a limited budget that just kindly requested a book.

But what was really wonderful was all the handwritten notes in the requests, from a couple of people who comment that I know, and others that may or may not be bloggers, perhaps just readers.
The kind words and appreciation for my daily meanderings here moved me to tears. That my efforts here, these thoughts and pictures have meant so much to so many of you, and have become a daily part of your lives, as some of you said, means the world to me.  Your support online has brought me a great deal of joy and comfort in these years since I lost both my brother and Barkley.

It made me remember another request, from an earlier book, in a box, from a blog name I recognize.  It was not a request for a book, just simply a little gift, to brighten my world found at a thrift shop and mailed off to me. He lapped up the coins, but needed a little coaxing.  Inside, a planetary gearbox was found to have slipped off a shaft.  That was fixed and Whoa Nellie - that Barkly the Banker can eat some coins!

Barkly the Banker. 
(this is from youtube, as my own movie efforts didn't turn out so well).

You put coins in his dish and he gobbles them up as they disappear into the bank below.

It is still is making me laugh. Thank you U.!

Thursday, June 6, 2019


Sitting under a wing
under the night sky
as the engine cools in the night air
Just sitting after one last flight
as the scent of the sky
remains in my hair
the clouds cling to my soul
little beacons in the sky
mistaking them for stars
looking up
Stars and fireflies
Thinking about friends gone
looking at the shining sparks of light
in the night heaven
and the dark shape of airplanes
darker than the sky
for which they sit in wait
Thinking how much we miss them
telling their stories out loud
but with a quiet reverent hush
Those stories, those fearless days
their courage
saying their names
Whisper to them in the night sky
A pilots prayer
for those who went before
to light our sky
to guide us home



Sunday, June 2, 2019

Where the Trinity is Intact

The thing I noticed first upon settling here in the city was the lack of a clear sunset.

Living in the city you really don't notice the skyline. It's hard to believe I've lived here almost six years now,  time framing those days with a memory more focused than the days themselves.  It's noise, and tall buildings and people rushing about like worker ants, there in those evenings conjured by the time and tide of recollection.

I remember well the days of wide stretches of open land, remembering long drives across the desert on the way to visit my Dad's brother at his ranch. We had no air conditioning and on one such trip, I'd stealthily stowed my turtles along in their little turtle habitat into the trunk, not wanting to leave them for the lady that fed the dog and watered the plants. Halfway across the flats, my Dad went to get something out of the trunk. Turtle soup. I honestly don't remember the incident itself, hearing the story in family tales, but Dad said there was nothing more heartrending for him to watch the heat shimmer off the ground while his little girl cried her eyes out for something, that in its saving, she destroyed.
But later trips were fun. One Spring break instead of hitting the beaches, I bought a Greyhound Ameripass and rode all the way from Seattle to Maine and back, stopping every couple of days for sleep and showers in a cheap hotel, seeing a slice of Americana that included the Tall Corn Motel, thunderstorms gathering over the Black Hills, and horizons as broad as our future was.

But then I grew up, graduated, moving to a large urban area and the sunsets came and went without notice. I'd be working and the sun would be there, and the next thing you knew it was just dark as if God somehow had a clapper and with a movement of mighty hands decided it was bedtime. Perhaps they were there, and I just did not notice, caught up in life, noise and the narcissistic self-preservation of youth.

But when a midlife change in careers brought me to the midwest, I'd forgotten how FLAT it was. I could say, as the poets did, that the land "gently rolled" but that would be implying way too movement on the earth's part. Other than the occasional wooded downslope into some low creek and river land, it was flat. Plain and simple. It was so different than the tall peaks in the land where I grew up.  When I moved to the midwest I would drove for miles without seeing a Starbucks, and out of habit, I'd check the side of the roadway for elk, an action that even after years of less sky and more concrete, was still second nature for me. But there, the only large animals were in the corn, a multitude of unseen deer hiding like silent nuns from human contact and not likely to stray out in the roadway during the daylight hours. Everywhere I looked were the remnants of corn, sentient rows of former proud stalks, that stood fading in the early winter air, dead to silent hints of abundant summer past. Summers of green and hard work and plenty.
I noticed it hunting, I noticed it up on the vast farmland that belonged to a friend. I noticed it even more so on the yearly drive back to Colorado to visit Brigid Jr. The last time I went, I made the drive in two days, stopping only for barbecue outside of Kansas City and gas. The scenery's changes were so very small as I went west, that many would not notice, wrapped up in conversation or music. County after county of silos and sunflowers that fluttered like flags on the breeze until it begins, that slow dance of the sun into the Western sky. It became a ritual, that daily birth and little death of the sun, rising and ceasing like wind or fire. I simply watched, as lengthened shadows crept across the cab, laying themselves like a hand on my thigh, as the sun disappeared in shuddering breath.

As I drove across Kansas, I thought. Why is this land so different from where I grew up? Certainly I can put on the scientist hat and say it was the glaciers that moved down from the north in the Cnozoac era, or the giant dust storms that followed that carried the soil away, then replaced by layers of volcanic ash from the West, creating a vista of fertility. But the difference is more how I live in it, as opposed to its geological origins.
There is something about being able to see so near and so far. Some people feel exposed out in the open land, I never did.  I would walk the fields, gun in hand, nothing more than a moving lightning rod for those things that might wish to strike me, but they don't. I felt a lot out there in the open heartland, my hunting dog by my side, and it was not fear, it's comfort. It followed me as I walked, the sound of my breath, the whisper of God there in the corn, the vista of open miles of ground in which I perceived the absolute truth about the past, a truth beyond the buildings and billboards of illusion.

When I went home for my stepmom's funeral 10 years ago, my family again asked why I didn't move back west. I didn't have a husband or young children to hold me in place, they said. I wasn't quite sure what to say. I didn't have any promise to this place. But I liked it here in the Midwest, my heart was here, the miles of corn, the open prairie grasses to the West, the Great Lakes where the loon sings its song to its beloved. I'll not retire to the land that's become "new California". When I retire I'll get a little cabin out on some open land, if only for the weekends.

It will be my own little patch of earth, flat and rich with grass from the fertile soil with a view looking west. Just to the north, past the woods and the stream, will be cornfields, geometric and furrowed, planted in the Spring when the first dove calls to her lover. The land will spread out flat and pure as freshly spilled milk, clear out to where the sun is settling down for the night.

They say the Rockies are God's country but so will be that little place in my future, a small juncture of tree and grass and perhaps a simple lawn chair. A small point in space among a great expanse of glory, where the Trinity is intact because it had never been otherwise, simply tested by the fragility of youth and the passion of yearning. God lost and then found, postulated there in the open miles of our faith and need.
The afternoon breeze blows in from Lake Michigan, curtains gently moving inward and out, as if by the breath of summer itself. The grill is warmed up, the dog guarding against squirrels intent on stealing a Bratwurst. No, I don't think I'll move back west, content to stay where I put down roots. Especially on days like today, in which I have no demands on my time, other than to just sit and watch the sun go down while Partner in Grime stands watch over the grill. At the edge of the woods, the large nature preserve to which the neighborhood backs up, there are deer, silent and secretive, watching from the growing darkness. I point my finger at an unseen buck. Bang.

With a look to see how much light is left to organize dinner and a sip of lemonade, I take in memory of my last hunt from a blind. It was a day of bracing cold and little activity, the sky spitting snow, the deer hunkered down for warmth as I should have been.

At noon I came on down for a mashed peanut butter sandwich and a nature break. Then I went back up. The afternoon sky began to clear, sun glinting off the large cornfield that bisected the stands of trees where marks indicated that the deer had their own superhighway.
The deer weren't moving that day, too much wind, too much blowing snow, they'd likely stay down until morning. As I would soon. But I had no great desire to leave the stand just yet, captivated by the sunset that could be seen for miles.

There, in the western sky, it began. What struck me were the colors. How do you describe such color? First a gathering blue-grey like the whole of a Confederate army taking over that space between light and dark, leaving streaks of red upon the ground, blood leaching into the earth. That royal blue-red, that in centuries past would have been forbidden to be worn by the masses, on the threat of death. Then the sun lights up the horizon in one last encore before leaving, oranges and yellows, dripping like forgotten fruit into the horizon, their taste, and texture, fragrant and lush against the plate of the earth. Then, finally, darkness that hints of languid dreams as it pulls itself up over the form of the earth to cover it and keep it warm.

And so I sat, under sunless, moonless cover, my gun in my lap, the night a blanket over me. So dark. So quiet. I was left to trace in the early night with my eyes closed, all those variated colors that I held for an instant, all the colors that I cataloged in memory, alone in the darkness, the lost hues, and shades, sitting up in a tree watching the land as the eyes of day went dim.
Tonight I'm just in a lawn chair out in the driveway, but the colors are much the same albeit hidden a bit from view by the shapes and forms of the city.  For on yet another night, the sun makes it's scheduled and solitary goodbye. But if I keep my eyes closed, closed real tight, I can still see the sun, bursting across the back of my eyelids, in the frames of memory of other warm evenings. Color splashing across the blackness set loose in a sudden spray, a thought of those long ago days of open horizons in the back of my mind. A thought that feels as ticklish as electricity before the blackout. Thought of the color and the warmth of those fine days of open land and tilled earth, a sudden flash of light in this dark world. So I keep my eyes closed as long as I can, to hold the picture in. I've got the last light of thought in my soul, stored in a photograph engraved on my eyes, and it will keep me until the sight of another dwindled night brings the memory back to me.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Sidebar Update

Folks - I've updated the recipe sidebar, removing a few duplicate ones and adding some that were featured in posts but not included on the sidebar.

I hope you enjoy