Friday, July 20, 2018

Gathering Around the Table

As I wrote about earlier I spent a couple of days over the 4th with an author friend I met online, through our mutual longtime friend author John Moore.  Katie lives just a couple of hours from me and after a number of internet chats we met for lunch in person in the Western Suburbs of Chicago with her husband and mine joining us.

Katie writes about it

and I was touched by how she captured our connection and how vulnerable we can make ourselves as we offer a hand to someone new.

I'm not a very social person, outside of blogging. I tend to hole up and write in my spare time, my hobbies are singular.  I'm perfectly happy being by myself for days on end.  But it's always interesting when you meet someone in person that you'd only known online. I met my husband after he'd been my closest friend on the internet which then switched to lots of long phone calls over a period of several years. On the day I met him in person, although I would have never with my scientist's brain said "love at first sight", as I waved to him under the fierce August sun it was as if the earth had released some secret store of its fiery heart, and I felt more alive than I had in 20 years.  Two years later we were married.
But there is always that bit of uncertainty when you meet someone for the first time in person.  On rare occasion you find you really don't have much in common, and part on a kind note, knowing you likely won't see each other again.  Still, there's some sadness there, as you wanted a connection yet in meeting them felt they had such wonderful things on their heart to say, but you weren't able to decipher the words.

Then sometimes you meet someone that bears so many similar stories to your own, someone whose absolute presence was literally brand new to you, someone so near, yet still almost a stranger, and you find, to your delight, that  with them you a greater sense of your view of the world than you had known when alone.
You find yourself talking, late into the night, like school kids, as the field grows quieter, the moon glow seeps like liquid into the stars, and the spreading crowns of the trees outside the window slowly withdraw into the night. It was after midnight before we realized the time, the sky full of one bright reddish star as if it were one lone expelled spark of the night's fireworks display.

My husband and I aren't really set up for visitors.  We have just one bedroom, the master bedroom having been turned into my office for writing my books and a den to watch old movies at night on the large computer monitor.  But we regularly have people over for meals, widows, and widowers, and the elderly from the church, people that went to university with my husband and friends I had before I met him.
Moments with longtime friends like that are good, the room rumbling with sounds of comfortable enchantment as we laugh as a family does about our weeks.  Then there's sometimes just silly banter of shared experiences, things that would mean nothing to others.  In one certain bunch just deadpan "cat . . . on. . . . fire" and someone will be snorting wine out their nose (and no, the long-haired cat suffered no injury in that little Christmas debacle). Sometimes we will share things of a deeply personal nature, for support, for prayer, the words almost a vibration in the air as if a violin string were gently plucked. Then two minutes later the room is erupting with laughter again as glasses are raised, and good food is shared.
Then there can those moments that are simply viewing the last vestiges of light on a country horizon with someone who opened their home to you.  You really don't need to talk, just enjoying the companionship of a friend, the sky at the horizon so crystal clear it is as if the descending sun in nothing more than a golden ball that will shatter the horizon like glass.

Such moments, whether with old friends or new, enrich us in the same way.  As people who have lived life fully, sometimes recklessly, sometimes isolated by our own accord, we have all had our hearts broken at one time, sometimes more than once. In that brokenness, so many things can enter our hearts - fear, shame, betrayal, anger, hope, faith.  But when gathered around a table, holding hands and saying the blessing, there is only acceptance of those bits of those elements of light and dark that find a home in a human heart.  That is our blessing at our own table, just as it's our forgiveness at the Lord's.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Posts from the Road - Beauty and Strength

As my regular readers and friends know, I travel a lot in my work. Sometimes I stay in places where I can go out and explore, and sometimes I'm in cities and countries where I can go out and about, but only unarmed. For such places, I stay in after dark, not spending my money at local businesses, hesitant to venture out as a female alone, after sunset in an unfamiliar area, armed only with a pack of breath mints.

Such evenings aren't always so bad. I'll perhaps have a simple dinner of cheese, crackers, an apple and a glass of wine. Then later, with tea and crime scene yellow jammies, I'll write a couple of posts to save up for days when I'm too busy for thoughts outside the tape.

There was an evening like that not long ago when settling in and unpacking I found a surprise. Although some of the crackers I packed in my computer bag were crumbs, in the bottom, unharmed, was a small bowl made from the shell of a moon snail. It's delicate, yet it survived the flight. I'd forgotten it was in there, placed when I recently moved and found it after the boxes were already packed.

On my desk are the shells of moon snails, this one of which was cut in half to form a dish. The Greek philosopher Aristotle, while still a young man, first scientifically chronicled this strange little mollusk when he came upon it little during a 2-year sojourn on the island of Lesbos. In classifying this tiny creature, he wrote in De Partibus Animilium, "In all of nature there is something of the marvelous, even the tiny, legless sea urchin."

I agree with Aristotle in this, for in examining the shell, the empty remnant of this ungainly and indelicate creature. There is surprising power and beauty in such small things. I see a delicate brush of blue sky, grayish tones that bleed into fragile whites. If I was in the mood to paint, especially if I was painting water, I'd capture it with items flung down by its force. Alone on a windswept landscape, I'd reference my subjects with pieces of wood, position them in delicate frames of dying leaves. Here, held captive as well by of those who have left, in my mind's eye I paint evidence of those departures . . . prints in the sand, ghost feet of little creatures, searching, the rushing feet of playful lovers, the footprints dissipating with the surge of water. There, seen at the water's edge, the soft clawed paths of a predator looking for prey, following the single footprints of a lone woman who followed the wandering path a moon snail might have left behind.

Strength is not always in a form that is familiar. Beauty is composed of more than you think. Both are built of more than meets the eye. It has as much to do with strength inward as strength outward. Though what we see before us holds allure, still in the evidence of what has been lost, is even greater beauty, greater courage. In even the smallest of things. In even those small remembrances of that which has gone, is the delicate moon snail's whorls of light and gray, the colors of the heavens. Tints of purity and substance. A strength that survived security screening, being stuffed into a too-small space aloft and 4 hours of technical meetings. Small, strong colors to be captured while I continue on my own meandering journey.

There is beauty without strength, but there is seldom strength without its own beauty, a resolution of being that pervades the air with the scent and echo of the force of a life. As the invisible cloak of my duty slips from my form and I sit down in the chair by the window I see it. Not simply a city where I can not walk in safety under the moon, but my reflection in the glass, water streaming down, a city's tears for the defenseless.

Strength is not always where you expect it. Sometimes even in a city, you can see it, in the eyes of a woman looking out at the night sky, unarmed but not willing to give up the fight. Look past the delicacy and the fragile form, there you will see it, the purity of will, the strength that will surprise you.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Magic is in the Air

"All you need is trust and a little bit of pixie dust."
- Peter Pan

"Or even better, some of that magic .223 dust."
 - Brigid

Friday, July 13, 2018

Cowboy Action Friday - The Ruger Bisley

I grew up watching old Westerns. Most were reruns from the 50's that play to this day on some channels, though I remember Gunsmoke from when I was little. I loved those old shows - Rifleman, Wanted Dead or Alive, Palladin, anything with John Wayne. The good guys were known, the bad guys obvious. The heroes rode a landscape of the lever action and the revolver, the name of their firearm more than a forgotten name, their duty and honor more than a shout of defiance but an honor scratched into every weapon they held. The weapons would show the marks of their courage, etched into the very wood and steel of what they carried, not casually, but with the hurt and pride and grief with which men long since unremembered had died for.

A number of readers have asked me about the gun that's on my blog sidebar next to the dinner plate. It's a Ruger Bisley, with custom made birds-eye maple grips. It belonged to a friend but thanks to my Father in Law, gunblogger True Blue Sam, we now have one in the household. It doesn't get out to the gun range every time friends go shooting, but when it does, it's the star of the gunfight. The Ruger Bisley Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum. Handgun hunters, long range competitors and fans of the single action are going to find this one of their favorites, ideal for slow, deliberate shooting. They're very popular with cowboy shooters and I've seen several that could be this gun's twin on those ranges. I can't help but look at the firearm and think of those old TV Westerns.

The TV Western. Where did it go? As a kid, I'd rather take a bullet rather than watch the last years of Brady Bunch and the Partridge family, I didn't watch a whole lot of TV, we played outside every chance we could get. But I remember Bonanza, the Big Valley, Gunsmoke and of course the reruns. The TV Western reigned supreme in the Fifties and Sixties. But by the time I was actively watching TV, they were disappearing, to be enjoyed mostly in reruns. I like them though, still do. Unlike the post-war world in which they flourished, you could tell the good guys from the bad and none of the guns were fully automatic.

In 1953, Bill Ruger went against convention and resurrected the single-action sixgun. Colt had stopped manufacturing their Single Action Army in 1941 when they switched to wartime production. The machinery to make the SAA was getting old and tired at that point, and the demand for the old Colt had dropped off since WW, while everyone discovered Colt's other great handgun, the 1911 Government Model. So at the beginning of the TV Western's debut, there were few single actions guns available to the public. In 1953, the new firm of Sturm, Ruger and Company introduced the Ruger Single Six, a .22LR rimfire single-action revolver with full-sized grips and a downscaled cylinder and action to match the small .22 cartridge. It' popularity lead to the development of a full-sized centerfire version.
Ruger introduced the Blackhawk in 1955, chambered for the .357 Magnum, but the next year in 1956, the magical happened. Ruger was located near the firearms manufacturing of Bridgeport, Connecticut, where was located the Remington Arms Company.

According to legend, repeated even in the Ruger Company's own literature, a Ruger employee was in a scrap metal yard when he saw some unusual cartridge cases in a trash barrel. He astutely grabbed a few of them and took them to William B. Ruger. The cartridges were stamped with a designation nobody at the Ruger plant had encountered before: .44 Remington Magnum.

Now, Remington was already developing the .44 Magnum in partnership with Smith and Wesson, but thanks to the unintended security breach, the Ruger Blackhawk in .44 Magnum debuted at almost the same time as the S & W Model 29 and was available before the first S & W .44 Magnum made an appearance. It was a force to be reckoned with, top quality, albeit single action. It was an instant classic, "classic defined by Webster as a "standard of excellence". Much like its founder. Not since Sam Colt was there a gun maker who could tap into what American shooters and hunters were yearning for.
There have been adaptions over time, until 1986 when Ruger offered one of the finest single-action revolvers to be manufactured, available to the public. The Ruger Bisley. Based on the immensely popular Super Black frame, it does have some differences.

The grip is a typical western design that is both natural to the hand and naturally straight shooting. The wooden grips here conform to the original design while adding the beauty of wood. Custom made by a friend who does such things, they add beauty to an already classic weapon.

The grip frame of the Bisley owes it lines to the original Colt design with some changes. It doesn't come up as high behind the trigger guard as the original Colt, which increases it's controllability with heavy loads. The grip frame as well, are wider than the Colts, which spreads felt recoil even more. Ladies, if you shoot one of these, there is no "painful slap" associated with heavy loads. It's powerful but manageable.

The hammer spur is right where it was intended to be, low and swept back, with deep serrations for a firm purchase when cocking the revolver for firing. The trigger has more of a curve to it than a Colt Bisley's, which adds greatly to trigger control.
It's not a 'light" gun due to the steel in its frame, but at 48 ounces, a whole lot less heavy than my purse. Lots of steel is like a lot of words in a political speech, sounds great, but if they're not in the right place, then they mean nothing. The steel is placed well in the Bisley, taking the brunt of the pressure when a cartridge is fired, adding to the longevity of the weapon. This is no plastic throw away gun. This is a gun you can give to your granddaughter or grandson. An adjustable rear sight, makes competition shooting a pleasure.
With help from fate and a vision beyond most men, Ruger developed, in essence, the perfect six shooter- good looking with smooth classical lines, strong, dependable as well as highly functional. Like the hero of the 50's Western.

After I shot it the first time, it made me want to go home and see if I can find an old showing of
Bounty Hunter or Maverick. Better yet, an old John Wayne Western. Not for me the TV of today, with a bunch of actors and actresses who weigh less than my ammo can, sitting on their parent's wallets, whining about their lives.

How can that compare to that moment where John Wayne as a grizzled old marshal confronts four villains and calls out: "I mean to kill you or see you hanged at Judge Parker's convenience. Which will it be?" "Bold talk for a one-eyed fat man," their leader sneers. Then Duke cries, "Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!" and, reins in his courage, rushing at them while firing both guns.
"There's right and there's wrong," John Wayne said in The Alamo. "You gotta do one or the other. You do the one and you're living. You do the other and you may be walking around but in reality, you're dead.". The TV shows of today, like too much of society, don't have many of these types of Americans. People who have an honesty in living, and courage in the face of criticism. A person of honor, a defender of what they believe is right and true, and the force of America as a nation united, a nation crafted under a Constitution that is as right now as it was two hundred years ago.

So give me an old Western. Give me an old Western style sixshooter.
For when you mean business.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

How to Save $469

Don't buy a Super Buff Pro WorkoutX ButtBlaster Type Machine (implied nyphomaniac Swedish gymnast not included) -

click to enlarge

Simply try the HOTR ACPX Butt Buster Brass Workout.

Picking up your brass to bring home - the best of all workouts, squats and bends combined, hundreds of reps at a time! Sure the fancy workout equipment is well built, well reviewed and looks nifty in your workout space and their model probably has a doctorate in Nuclear Engineering. But think of all the powder and primers you can buy for $469.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Oriental Sirloin Steak

This weekend I was looking for an oriental style steak marinade but wanted one without the added sugars of many Asian cooking sauces.

This is a sauce I normally make as a base for Mu Shu Chicken but after making it recently I realized that with a slight adjustment to reduce the sugar, so it wouldn't burn on the grill, it would make a great marinade for sirloin steaks.  Flipping the steaks a few times on the grill cooked them perfectly without the sauce charring too much. 

They had great flavor and Partner in Grime gave them two thumbs up.

Asian Steak Marinade

1/3 cup Hoisin sauce
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons Mirin (Japanese cooking wine)
1 and 1/2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon powdered garlic
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh ginger.
dash of cracked pepper

Mix together and marinate steaks in a gallon zip lock bag for 2-4 hours.  Drain and grill.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Catch and Release

My dad bought me my own little fishing pole when I was barely big enough to hold on to it and then would watch with loving patience up on the bank to make sure I didn't fall in. So last night, when I discovered a forgotten little cherry rod during a recent clean-up in the shed, I walked on down to the little lake that borders my property and sat on down for a spell.

I invite people I know through work or shooting who have grade-school-age kids to come fish here on the tiny little body of fresh water right behind my house or on nearby park waters. Many have taken me up on the opportunity. It's a safe, quiet place, where the kids can fish while the adults wait "safely in the jeep", as they used to say on the Wild Kingdom, with a cold ice tea or beer, listening to the laughter of kids used to city homes, tiny yards. It's a quiet spot away, for just a moment, from the exhaustive clamor of the city. It's appreciated and they often reciprocate by doing something to help me around my place. Though I appreciate the thanks, just the wide smile of a kid who has caught his first "big" fish is all the thanks any of us might need.

As I walked down to the water tonight, the sun was setting, leaving wisps of lavender ribbons across the sky; clouds moving up from the Plains, wispy strands through which I could glimpse was the phase of the moon. The bobber moved slightly, a fish, or the wind? I saw one huge fin slicing the water when I first moved in; it was either a giant carp or Nessie. I was tempted to jerk the line, to see what I had, but I waited. This is what patience is all about, being wholeheartedly engaged in the process that's unfolding, rather than yank up the line to see what's at the other end. Patience is what I needed. I've been going full tilt for so long that when it all pulled into one moment of pain, I realized I needed to take a break. That's why, as I sat, I prayed for some quiet, I prayed for acceptance and patience. Patience isn't stressed, it isn't unhappy, its a steady strength we apply to each experience we face, be it life showing it's fangs, or a quiet weekend in a simple household.

As I waited, the call of what sounded like a loon brought me back into the moment and I thought about all the things I needed to do at home. Iron clothes in prep for a couple days on the road while I'm a guest speaker at some conference, cook dinner, call Dad and Tam back. And I stopped. "Can you hear that?" I whispered to Barkley, sitting by my side, tail wagging, poised to strike in case I reeled in a slab of hickory smoked bacon. "That" being the sound of a small bass jumping on a small span of water on a planet spinning through space.This is what fishing is all about, not catching anything, not putting a meal on the table, but for me, like flying a little tailwheel airplane, simply a time with nature to be savored when the whole body is one sense with the water and delight imbibes through every pore with the gossamer cast of a line. I really don't care if I catch anything, frankly, I'm not that enamored with that part of it, I just enjoyed the communion of elemental waters.
The crickets began their chorus to usher in the night, and the note of the sparrow is borne on the wind from over the water. And from the water's edge, a salamander crawled out, that traveler of both the water and the land, equally at home in both. We're all born of water, as we emerge from the watery landscape of the womb, we discover we can breathe, and we leave behind the comforting water world of our mother's body, to become searchers of the land, seekers of adventure. What caused that first being to emerge from the womb, from the water of life? The pull of nature, or something more primal? There was a Disney movie of a redheaded mermaid, half human, half fish, who gave up the freedom of her watery home for the love of a man. What is that primal urge that drives us out and up, away from our comfortable origins to a land that can often be dry and barren? Perhaps we simply leave the water searching for that love.

As the last of the daylight seeped back into the sky, I thought back to what has been troubling me, but only briefly, for my mind now, like the lake, is rippled but not ruffled. These small ripples of water raised by the evening's wind are only a hint of turmoil in a slowly calming stream. As the day pulled out of the sky taking the wind with it, I cast back out into the now still center of the pond, the moment causing me to hold in my breath. There it was. Utter and complete stillness. I wanted to hold my breath, because even inhaling and exhaling was like a cacophony. The trees were absolutely quiet, the animals of day hunkering down for rest, and the night creatures not yet stirring. There was no breeze, no recognition of air even; it was the sound of nothing and everything. It felt like all life…and my future…and beyond was contained in one space, and I was not just casting into it, I was part of it. It's one of the most peaceful coherent moments I've experienced. A heavenly spot of time.
Poets talk about "spots of time," but its only been flying and on the water where I've experienced eternity compressed into a moment. A moment where in an instant you can see your whole life and make a choice. No one can even explain to you what this "spot of time" is until your whole horizon is a fish and then the fish is gone. I thought of one salmon off in the great North. I shall remember that fish when I'm an old lady. After fighting him until my arms groaned, I brought him up. For a moment, I saw the sun glinting off his 30-pound back, rainbow diamonds of light dazzling my eyes. I was so enamored of him I couldn't even take a breath and in that instant, before he was gone, the line snapped, it seemed as if time had stumbled. Then as the clock picked itself up again, I looked at the bare expanse of water while others patted me on the back, consoling me and urging me to try again. Only then did it hit me what it was that I had lost.
I thought back to fly fishing in Gunnison while I went back to Colorado to visit family, watching the fly fisherman standing, rod in hand, in the rushing water making the most beautiful movements, a ballet of line and wind and hook. A ritual of the chase, the cast like a tease to the unsuspecting trout, placid in their world, until he pulled them into his. As the trout took the bait, the man would smile, that quick knowing smile, and pull with a quick flick of his fingers and hands, like light strokes on a keyboard, and plant the hook. Then after reeling the trout in, he gently pulled the hook from the mouth, gently cradling the fish in his hand as a way of speaking his peace. Without a sound and a quick unemotional tickle of her belly, he said goodbye to her as she headed back downstream.
Catch and release.

With my house fading into shadow, darkness falling, I decided to head back. I didn't catch anything, my true catch was as intangible and indescribable as the twilight playing on the water. I think of what Thoreau said, "many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after". For to fish is to flirt, with dancing water and surging life, warm lips to cool water, we reach for a transparent kiss of the unknown. We willingly bite the secret barb, to be brought to shore barely breathing, gasping up into somewhere unknown, searching upward to catch a glimpse of who it was that wanted us.

Tonight I have no choice but to pull the hook of that fly out of my lips and swim away safely downstream.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Independence Day - Small Town Views

As you know from my previous post, I chickened out and left the city so I didn't have to listen to fireworks for 3 solid days. Fireworks are illegal in Chicago, just as guns used to be, not that it means anyone during the bans stopped using them illegally and constantly.
I was invited to visit my good friend, poet and published author Katie Andraski.  Katie is a retired professor and is married and has lots of animals around on their small farm in Northwest Illinois.
The chickens had to check out the new ride in the yard.
This horse is known in it's country of origin as the "Norwegian Tractor".  A Fjord horse they have been used for farming for generations. They just get spoiled and go for rides with the carriage here now though.
One of the chickens and I had a showdown.  I thought the bird was going to chase me but then it noticed the red hair and backed down.  Smart bird - I have a frying pan.
This is an old corn crib. It's not in use as the surrounding land is farmed by others, but it's a neat structure.
So it was REALLY quiet, just the birds in the trees for noise.
My cozy room upstairs.  The old house hs been totally restored and has central a.c. so I was quite comfy.
The view out my window.
One of two rescue cats in the house.
 OK, I had to do some  "artsy fartsy" photos.

Built Fjord Tough!
The Chicken House
Lots of shade to keep cool in the evening.
I wish we had traffic jams like this in Chicago.
A view from the Porch.
A porch swing and some Peach Iced tea, a nice way to spend the afternoon.
Birdie - one of two Aussie shepherds in the house.
And his little sister who was a rescue dog.
Time for the small town parade.  The anthem was sung.
The Veterans were honored.
I didn't get photos due to taking cover in the hot sun for a few minutes but there were also floats from local churches and even the local gun store.  NOT something you'd see in a parade in the city.
There were a ton of fire trucks old and new!
The high school band!
Cool 66 Mustang (I think) with a grandmother who was "citizen of the year".
The parade Queen and her court.  Grandpa was a Lion and was Secretary of his Branch for many years.
I loved the Shriner jets!
They were racing them around as well cherographed as the Blue Angels!
For my friend Andrea - a little young Boxer.
The next door neighbor's farm.
And the view from the backyard.
God is good, and America is our home, for which I am glad.

I'm' always happy to be home but it was a very enjoyable, restorative trip.