Saturday, January 25, 2014

If You're Not Hungry And Love to Waste Money - Do Not Read this Post!

 There are some things you can't get by whacking a tube on the side of the
counter while some guy made out of dough giggles.

Actually,  I shouldn't poke fun at the Pillsbury guy. At Halloween, when Partner in Grime went to a party as a World War I "Doughboy" (with authentic gear). . .

World War I Bacon Ration Tin

I WENT AS A DOUGHBOY AS WELL.

But as I prepared breakfast this morning, I thought about something I saw on the news the other night, where they were interviewing folks wanting $15 an hour for an unskilled minimum wage job. One young woman (single with children and living in a family member's home) stated "I can only afford to eat fast food, and can't even buy breakfast some days".

That just hit me, not the struggle to survive on minimum wage, as that would be a struggle for a single adult with children. What bothered me was the statement about only being able to afford fast food.
Home on the Range Dollar Value Menu Burger

You can make a really good lunch or meal at home, per person, for less than the $5 -8 average fast food meal. Not convenience food and not prime meats.  But real food with real ingredients is not so hard you have to be a slave to the kitchen or a Martha Stewart.  I don't know how many times I've been behind someone  in line at the discount food store, and their cart is FULL of frozen pizzas, waffles, breakfast sandwiches and bagged, frozen meals, chips and pop and precooked, prepackaged cooked meat, canned and packaged biscuits and bread. The cost of their food was 3 times what I was paying for things to prepare food from scratch and eat really well, not just beans and rice every meal, and at the crash pad, where I don't have much storage or a big freezer.
Case in point, Last Saturday's Dinner

4 large chicken leg/thighs - on sale at a grocery with a butcher, a special at  $3
1/2  bag of frozen store brand veggies and half an onion $1.50
biscuits  from scratch  (about 10 cents a piece)
spices and a little dab of  Aldi Italian salad dressing.. Less than 50 cents, assuming you season food regularly and buy them when they're on sale.

Total  for food used  - About  $5
It made enough to feed two with leftover chicken for another meal, the remaining biscuits frozen for a quick biscuit and gravy or breakfast sandwich meal some other time. And it was really, really good. the chicken especially flavorful and incredibly juicy from the brazing process which also is great on inexpensive and tougher cuts of meat.

Cast Iron Braised Chicken

Early the next morning  .  What's in the fridge?  I have a 3 slices of deli lunch meat left from sandwiches for work, a couple thick slices of Swiss, a dab of mayo left in the jar, hot sauce and the sad and lonely remnants of a loaf of homemade bread.   I don't waste anything.  Add some hot sauce to the remaining dab of mayo, assemble and lightly butter the bread. Throw it in the George Foreman style grill I got for $5 at a yard sale (who needs an expensive panini maker) and you have breakfast for two with about $2 worth of leftovers.
Lunch the next day, the leftover braised chicken, shredded on salad with a bit of that Italian dressing. With Aldi Romaine and Garlic Bread made from the remnants of "make lunch for work" Italian sub rolls bought on sale at the grocery, and iced tea, a meal for two for about $3.

Afternoon snack was an apple,  less than a buck  from the Aldi bagged ones.
With not a lot of prep, you've fed two people, per person, basic meals for a whole day (24 hours in this case) for the cost of  two value priced fast food meals.  This takes budget minded shopping and making it a point not to throw anything out (unless it got shoved to the back of the fridge and turned into a science experiment).

I realize there are times you need something you can just pop in the oven to heat or microwave, especially if you are a household with multiple jobs and/or kids. I also realize, not everyone has, or can afford, the freezer space to buy and store in bulk.  But these recipes didn't require that.  I'll admit, I have more than one Home Run Pizza in my freezer, just because I like the ones with sausage and jalapenos and Partner in Grime and I eat out at an ethnic restaurant, someplace family owned,  inexpensive but fun, once or twice a month, like this place we found when we were checking out a location for an upcoming  model train event. 
Baba Ghanoush and fresh made pitas at Falafelji Mediterranean Cuisine.
 The lunch Steak Shawerma platter with tahini sauce with grilled veggies and salad.
The combo platter, steak, chicken and spiced kafta made with minced lamb and 
beef and spices with garlic mayo, tahini and jalapeno garlic sauces 

With leftovers boxed up (there was no way we could finish all this, even as delicious as it was) and put in the travel cooler in the truck, we had lunch material with some extra pitas for two more days. Your Mom may have told you to clean your plate, but if you do that with the size of some restaurant portions Greenpeace will soon be showing up to roll you back into the water.  Don't be embarrassed to ask for a "to go" bag, and use it all up.  I've done that in the finest of restaurants and not had the Wine Sommelier come over and taunt me in French.

Still, I try and cook from scratch most of the time.  Sometimes schedules and travel are such, it's just the weekends, something in the crockpot and the oven going to package up for the fridge or freezer for future meals. I've started making my own yogurt now that Greek Yogurt has gone popular (and hence, pricey). But it's worth trying, even a day or two a week to start.  For you can save a lot of money, with not a lot of time, if you just learn the basic skills to make things from scratch.

If you don't know how to cook this way, there are a ton of blogs out there on the subject and books you can get at Half Priced Books to learn. Sometimes you do so to  simply survive with a full stomach, sometimes it's the satisfaction of something hand crafted as you tuck those dollars away for when times get tough as they can for even the most prepared of people.  But it's a skill, I so wish the younger generation would recognize as one necessary to survive in today's tough economy.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lab Work

The Vet said to keep him from jumping on any sofa til his muscle strain healed.   He likes the "Soon to go to Amvets" Ikea couch frame (with home made dog friendly cushions), as there are lots of windows for solar lab heating. The old cushions, blanket and lamp shades make good sofa blocks, right?

No.  We just snoot them off and out of the way so we don't miss our really good afternoon sun spot.
Hey!  You're interrupting my tanning session!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Drop a Bomb on Me Baby - Cupcake Wars Winner

I couldn't resist a giant nuclear cloud of frosting.

Since chocolate was the overwhelming winner  in our poll earlier in the week (over something with bacon, check for pigs flying next) the recipe is here tonight as promised.

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes With Buttercream and Salted Caramel


Cake for celebrations or for cheer is a tradition that dates back as far as the Romans, with the idea for the candle on top being attributed to both early Greeks and later, Germans. The origins notwithstanding, the cakes vary from region to region and even among families. Everyone has their own favorite cake for celebrations.

The first one I remember, was not a birthday cake, but an Easter one.  I can still recall that ranch house, the apple trees I was almost big enough to climb, Mom's rose garden that  she painstakingly kept up, that after her death, still bloomed without help or hindrance from any of us.  I can picture that moment as she brought out the cake like it was yesterday.  For at Easter every year, Mom would make a  two layer cake, then cut it in half, adding a nose, ears and tail to make a  bunny cake for each of us. Mine was yellow with chocolate frosting, and little marshmallow eyes and teeth with licorice whiskers.

 Betty Crocker Easy Bunny Cakes

We'd eat it at the very end of the day, after church, after thanks, after dinner.  There is an extremely faded  photo in a drawer here somewhere of them that always brings me a smile.


There were other cakes over the years, some plain, some fancy. Another family member  made me a cake one year that, well, was completely burned on the outside and raw in the middle (using that bachelor cooking time conversion  method of doubling the temperature and cutting the cook time in half). We still laugh about that.

Celebration cakes come in all sizes and flavors.  Everyone had a favorite, though mine has been, since the very first cake that I can remember, yellow with chocolate buttercream.

Birthday cakes range from "Oh, that's so sweet!" to a roar of laughter as Partner in Grime explained that he couldn't fit (mumble mumble) candles on the little cake he made from scratch so he just gave me one giant plumbers candle. I had tears in my eyes as I was laughing so hard.
He has a birthday coming ups shortly. Not sure how I can top the candle, but red velvet and cream cheese frosting might be a start.

Then there are wedding cakes. Cakes at weddings are often  intense elaborate affairs that can cost hundreds of dollars (seriously, do you know how much .223  and cast iron you could buy for that five tiered, looks like a swan thing?)

What were once traditional white cakes and frosting with the bride and groom toppers are now  as individual as the couples involved. 
But todays post is about my favorite- cupcakes.

The first mention of the cupcake can be traced as far back as 1796, when a recipe notation of "a cake to be baked in small cups" was written in American Cooker by Amelia Simmons. They're more than a dressed up muffin. They're fun, they're easy to prepare and share, and if they turn out too dry and overdone they make dandy replacements for sporting clays (pull!).  For lunch OR launching in a trebuchet, they're dandy little things
What kind?  Honestly, the simplest things are the best, and with a little work you can make a cupcake as good as any cupcake shop.  I hope you like todays recipe. This is a cupcake for grown ups, but even the kids will enjoy it and the vanilla butter cream, is good on about ANY cupcake.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Light and Dark, Good and Evil - Cupcake Wars

There is an endless battle between light and dark, goodness and evil, those that prefer vanilla or chocolate.

I couldn't make up my mind, but wanted Partner in Grime to have a sweet treat with leftovers for when I leave to go back on duty  (as well as for me to take to work tomorrow) so he gets both.

And if there's any doubt, you can never have too much ammo or too much frosting. (Especially with a huge piping bag and the Wilton Extra Large  Round Decorating Tip)
Light:

Vanilla  cupcake with maple-vanilla buttercream and candied bacon.
Dark:

Darkest Chocolate with vanilla buttercream and salted caramel.

Let me know your favorite and I'll post a recipe this Wednesday  for the one most people would prefer.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Rescue Me



Held back
You can't
You shouldn't
Held back
Shame and rules
Held back
Afraid to love

Held back
Afraid to love
more than you could lose

Let it run
You can
Held back no longer.
For it's your life
your rules
No longer afraid

Let it out
even if it hurts
Don't be afraid
you've nothing left to lose
- Brigid

Mom is busy working, so for you all, a story from the past - Barkley

A few years back, in another life, another employer, one night late, I got a phone call. The caller was LEO, female, a friend. We chit chatted regularly but a call this late was not good news and I was afraid it was professional in nature. She said "B., I need you to help me rescue a dog."

Apparently, the deadbeats who'd been living in an old rental house down the road from their farm booked out in the middle of the night. She saw the vehicles loading up and leaving, good riddance, she thought. Then, late at night she heard, carried on the wind, the pitiful cry.

A coyote? A dog? The neighbors are gone, it must be someone else, she thought. The next night she didn't hear it over the cold wind, the third night she did, a high pitched whine of a soul's abandonment. The house remained dark, the utter stillness, utter silence, a testament to the tears outside.

Her husband away on business, she crept over, no sign that the residents were anything but gone, house empty of belongings, yard covered in trash. It was a pup, a retriever, purebred from the looks, left chained up in the backyard with a bowl filled with rain water and no food. Left to die when they vacated in a hurry. She called - "I need back up." Off the clock, just civilians, I knew what she meant. So off I headed, no purse, just a  personal weapon, my  ID, some cash and dog treats in my pocket. I got there; the house definitely vacant, no meth heads coming back and surprising us.

As we approached her, even in the dark, we could see the  poor animal was starving and cold, temps reaching down in the 40's. Tonight was grey and  even more cold, with a forecast of rain or freezing rain, but still the sky held in the moisture, refusing to release it.  But  it was supposed to go below freezing; she wouldn't have survived the night, it's only companion, the smell of water and blood.

Blood?  Why do I smell blood?

My friend, crouched down over it as I stood watch, pointed at something, hard nosed law officer that she was, with tears in her eyes. The dog had outgrown her collar, and it was actually was cutting deep into the flesh, leaving bloody tracks in would have been the soft fur of contentment. She had to be in terrible pain, but she only licked our hands and tried to snuggle up. My friend said "can you get it out?" I always have some first aid/medical type implements in my bag but I had to say "I've never cut on anything still breathing". I expected the dog to bite me as I worked, gently, with small tools to free it. She just continued to nuzzle our hands, even though in my attempt to remove this tiny round torture device, I had to be causing her more pain.

I looked up to the sky, thinking for a moment the clouds had finally given up their rain, when I realized, what was on my tongue was the taste of salt as I worked away.

When finally we stood, the dog in her arms, the remnants of that collar laying on the ground like a broken mirror, we heard the crunch of tires, both of us putting our hands near our weapons There was the flash of red and blue, of a bright flashlight, the glint of a shield, as we smiled, thankful for assistance and she was recognized with a "What are you ladies doing out here?!" My friend called out "hey D.!" He replied, calling her by her LEO title ". . . . What ARE you doing out here? I was keeping an eye on this place in case they were back and up to no good."

She said, "I'm just stealing this dog Sir" He looked at the dog , a puppy really, and looked at me (I was not a local) and said "who's this?". She told him who I was, his eyes widened a bit in recognition and he chuckled and said "and what are YOU doing out here?" I said "HELPING her to steal this dog, SIR!"

He just laughed. Calling the local animal officer was suggested, but we told him, given this rural area, that might take an hour or more, the pup was in bad shape and had lost blood, she could die if we didn't do something. My friend told him we'd take him to the vet, pay the bill ourselves and get her a good home. The dog clearly was a "stray" in the eyes of the law, abandoned to die. The Sheriff just said "Dog? What dog? I didn't see any dog", and tucked $30 in our hands to help towards the vet bill before he helped us load up and drove off.

The dog was cleaned up at the vets, an after hour emergency call, the wound not causing any permanent damage, but serious. In a few hours, that gentle little retriever was bandaged up and home at my friends, after an amber toast in crystal goblets, recognition among tired friends, as she curled up to sleep near the fire, joining a household that already had two spoiled, well loved dogs.

I hadn't thought of that in years, until the day some time back, another time, another city.  A friend told me of a couple of stray dogs spotted by her office building, a place I often drive past on my way into work. The dogs were obviously dumped, she said, skin and bones, and she couldn't lure them close to her. A couple others had tried, with no luck. She was almost in tears as she told me, having a soft spot for strays (though we agreed stray cows do make tasty cheeseburgers). Animal control was called, then, and later, but the dogs ran off into some extended woods behind an old building nearby.

A few days later, driving by her office on my way back into the city, I saw, along the side of the road, a young woman pulled over, petting the form of the dog laying on the grass next to the curb. I pulled in behind her, and put on my emergency flashers, my work I.D. hanging around my neck as I approached, saying "can I help?"

 It had to be one of the dogs my friend described. At first I thought that perhaps she'd accidentally struck the dog with her vehicle, but I could see as I approached that the dog was just too weak to move.  It was emaciated, probably less than a year old, a bulldog/perhaps a little pit bull/mystery dog mix with a too small blocky face and low slung, long body.   It was hard to tell, the dog so malnourished, the coat so worn away and mangy to not even be recognized as fur.
She said "another woman from that office there (pointing) was by, she got food for the dogs and is fetching a car to transport him, someone else has already taken the other dog to the humane society, this one is in bad shape."

The lady who had brought the food was my friend, another employee in a nearby building taking the other dog to the dog shelter. The dog remaining had eaten the half dozen or so burgers that my friend had brought and a lot of water, and just lay there, panting, as this young women stroked him and talked soothingly. Yet he had an expression, as bad off as he was, as if he knew no one was going to hurt him ever again. I called my office to let them know I'd be late returning and would do a leave slip for payroll when I got back.

I called my friend, back over at her office on the phone trying to find a vet. She said "if I take him to the humane society as bad as he is, they'll just put him down". She had called several vets, no one could get him in right away. She said she then called one animal hospital, not super close, but within driving distance. They could see him. It was Barkley's vet, not just one of the many vets there, but HIS vet, the pretty little blond he adores.

She came back with a coworker, while the young woman that had been there on my arrival went back to work. We rounded up a blanket and a box from our vehicle supplies and the dog was loaded into the back of an SUV, one person driving, one person, continuing to pet it, off to the vet.  The exam was done and the dog admitted. A few hundred dollars were left for vet bills, my friend securing any additional payments with her credit card, which likely will be more. The dog had fleas, ticks and numerous bloody scrapes in a coat that was badly in need of care, the fur almost gone. They'd have to check for heart worm and Lyme. One eye had an injury but it was fairly clear. An IV was set up and my friend stayed with him while they got him settled in for a night or two stay. My friend was widowed and recently had to put down the very elderly dog they'd bought together. I remember too well when she told me that, everything leaving her eyes but the loss and her statement that she was not going to get another one, she was done with loss. That day, again she said she absolutely did NOT need another dog but wasn't going to let him die alone and in pain along the side of a road. She was NOT going to get attached to him.

She said "I wanted a lab, a healthy, pretty dog". I looked at her and said "Sometimes God doesn't give us what we think we want, sometimes He gives us what we need" and just waved as I drove off. We've all learned love, we've all learned loss, sometimes we have to learn hope.

Now, years later, that dog is firmly part of a home, sleeping peacefully, breathing slow into the darkness, leaving their touch upon a heart.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Bar Scheeze Mac and Cheese

If you've not tried Win Schulers Cheese in a Crock, do yourself a favor.  It's available at stores in the upper Midwest, Florida and Virginia and is available by mail elsewhere.

The first time I had it was a few years back from Beef Mart, When Midwest Chick and Mr. B introduced me to it and  it became a house favorite. My favorite is the original cheddar, the original secret recipe made famous at Win Schuler's Restaurants in Michigan. The Cheese spread production was sold to Campbell's a while back, who wisely did not "improve" the recipe.  Schuler's restaurant is in its fourth generation of fine food and great service. That's pretty impressive as according to the Family Firm Institute (FFI), nearly 70% of family-owned businesses fail before reaching the second generation, 88% fail by the third, and only about 3% survive to the fourth.

Visit the restaurant (Schuler's Restaurant & Pub) if you get up to Marshall Michigan (hint, try the barbecued meatballs) but definitely look for their famed cheese spread which will make another well known specialty store's "Pub Cheese" hide in the closet in shame.  The unique blend of cheddar cheese and spices   is wonderful with crackers, breads and veggies.  It's cheddar with a kick and became known in the beginning to the many patrons of his restaurant who got a complimentary small cheese crock as they waited for their meal as "Bar Scheeze".

 I had some left from a little dinner party.   Hmmmm. Time to do something a little different with it.

Bar Scheeze Mac and Cheese. I didn't have any bread crumbs or crackers for the topping, and just put a little bit of the cheese on the top after assembling, with no crumbs, but it was a hit.  I used some really good quality cracked pepper from Penzey's, real, unsalted butter, and whole milk and it was a hit.

For the story of a great American family business and some more recipes go on over to Win Schulers
Macaroni and Cheese (recipe from Win Schuler)

6 Tbsp. butter or margarine
½ of a 1 lb. box elbow macaroni (2 cups uncooked)
5 Tbsp. flour
3 cups milk
Pepper to taste
16 oz. Win Schuler's Sharp or Original Cheese Spread
 ½ cup plain breadcrumbs or crushed buttery crackers

Preheat oven to 350°. Put a 2-quart baking dish  (I used a 11 x 7 pan) with 1 Tbsp. of the butter in the oven to melt. Remove and set aside. Cook the macaroni per package instructions and drain. Melt the remaining 5 Tbsp. butter in a large saucepan. Add the flour, stirring until blended. Using a whisk, add the milk until it becomes a little thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add pepper and 14 oz of the Win Schuler's Cheese Spread and stir. Add the macaroni to the cheese mixture and stir until blended. Pour into the 2-quart dish. In a separate bowl blend the breadcrumbs and remaining 2 oz of Win Schuler's Cheese Spread. Sprinkle evenly over the macaroni mixture. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes. Serves 4 - 6.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Weekend Adventures - Be It Ever So Crumbled. . .

. . . there's no place like home.

Day One.

This was the weekend of the plumbing project for the hallway bathroom, now that Snowmagedden was past and temps in the 40's had melted almost all of the snow.  I'm not sure if the plumbing here is original (almost 100 years old) or if it just looks like it (though I think the  first floor bathroom plumbing was redone when it went "pink" in the Sixties). There is always work in renovating an old house, but if you pay a professional to do it all, it also gets very expensive. But I wouldn't trade the charm of this place (and the shop) for the biggest of pre made McMansions.
The water was going to be off for the weekend, but there was plenty stored for all of us to clean up with and drink, including Barkley.

He was looking none too happy when I got in from work. He came up limping slightly Friday and went to the vet Sat. morning.  He was eating well, and didn't seem in too much discomfort but it was best to check it out as the Vet is closed on Sunday, had it gotten worse.

The paw and toenails were good, it was just some muscle strain on the shoulder, likely when he was skittering around on the ice rink that was the driveway (when it's that cold the salt does nothing).  The vet gave him some safe doggie equivalent of Ibuprofen and said to keep him quiet for a few days, minimal stairs and jumping up on furniture and he'd be fine.

He certainly sulked though when I refused to chase him around and throw toys in the air for him, urging him to his doggie bed, and putting a baby gate up on his favorite spot to snooze when no one is looking, the futon in the office where I write.
I'm not even going to play with the power tools you left me. 

OK, spaces in the walls are open where need be and things moved from a closet that will be used for access..

Where to put a nest of bow ties?  (The 11th Doctor has nothing on Partner in Grime)
To the basement!
It's not just a waterfowl, it's a warning.
Yes, another pink bathroom, just like the original Range.  But this one is in good shape, and the handrails the previous elderly owner left served me well after knee surgery to repair the meniscus, which unfortunately, would NOT buff out.  This will be the last room renovated, once the plumbing is updated so there's more than a little thin spray of hot water.
I know another tool I'll need.
Whenever things don't go so well
and you want to hit the wall and yell
Here's a little dammit doll
that you can't do without
Just grasp it firmly by the legs
and find a place to slam it
And as you whack the stuffing out
yell Dammit!  Dammit!  Dammit!
On the plus side Mom, this is greatly reducing my chances of having to take a late night bath.

Day Two
OK, there's a little more work to do, but there's homemade banana bread with Cardamom.

Road trip!

 Why yes, I have been in here before!

Day 3

The pipes are all shiny and new, there is hot and cold water, and Barkley is feeling his old self again.  And even with paperwork and supplies we probably saved one or two thousand bucks (plus the cost of replacing one Dammit Doll).

Thanks for visiting!  I'll be back with a gear review and more Range stories this week.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Frame and Fortune - Sunday Morning Cooking

I wear glasses, putting them on mostly for close up work or when I'm really tired.  The glasses do tend to wander away, and it seems I'm forever cleaning all the smudges off of them.  I'm not sure how it happens, I clean them until they're pristine and 15 minutes later, they're  totally smudged.

Picture a night in the kitchen while preparing dinner.

Partner:  I think I know how your glasses get so smudged.
MeHow?
Partner:  I just found them lens side down in the butter.

That might explain it.

So get out your glasses for a Sunday morning recipe, sure to keep everyone close by.
French Toast with Bacon and Maple Bourbon Butter
There would be pictures of the bacon, but it seems to have disappeared.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Snowmagedden Is Officially Over

When the wind chill is -47 there just isn't enough coffee . . .

Duty called early this week though it was short lived.  I had  military arctic gear to wear, that makes me look like one of the guys that gets killed off first in "The Thing", but it's warm.  But when you're thinking kevlar more for the warming ability rather than ballistics, it's just a good day to stay home.

Hope you all survived the weather, whole and warm.  It hit 30 today and the parking lots are giant slushees, so I think it's officially over, or will be when Tam makes it back safely home to Broad Ripple.

As for me, I don't have duty for over 12 hours away and there is a dram of Glenlivet Nadurra with my name on it.

Brigid

Men of Letters

It seems as if no one is teaching cursive writing any more. I look at the letters my Dad sends to me.  The writing has gotten a little more shaky as he ages. Still, there is the unmistakable detail in the forming of each word, two "o's" that loop like little Slinkies, a "b" that is as bold as the word it forms. In failing to teach that, we will lose something, one more remnant of civilization, of creativity, scrapped in favor of a world of electronic messages.

I rarely text. Perhaps a simple "I'm in safe" if I don't wish to interrupt someone with a phone call at work or a short note in response to friends, followed up by a call. but that's pretty much it. When I eat out with friends, we may look up something on the magic elf box, or take a picture or two, but we mostly talk, simple and animated human interaction much missed when we're apart. I watch young people out dining together, and everyone has their heads down constantly texting or surfing the Internet with a look of bovine interest, no one looks at each other, no one talks. They're friends only in that they share a table, eating food they don't fully taste, as they type in words discarded with a press of a button.
In the attic at my parent's home, is a locker in which are Dad's WWII uniforms, photos and remembrances.  Big Bro and I were adopted when Mom and Dad were well into Middle Age. They had a history that went so far before us, yet it was one we wished to learn of as soon as we were old enough to comprehend.

So Big Bro and I carefully, and with Dad's permission, went through that locker.  There are so many photos of the Liberator, flying among flack as thick as snowflakes, flying desolate above land whorled with the unreasoned, the craft solitary about the destruction that it would rain. There, underneath of the photos, a stack of letters he and my Mom wrote to one another while he was gone for four years, not returning Stateside once in that time. Reading them is almost like eavesdropping, as you can almost hear the words as they formed, heartfelt, intimate. I open one, there is just that one single page, and the thought of the way the day stopped at the brink of it.
There was talk of how much they missed one another, how their families were faring, of good coffee and how Dad missed vegetables from the farm, of burning heat and a cold on the field that would murmur to your very bones. They had been inseparable since sixth grade.  There was playful affection, there was unstated passion and stated promise. Some was in Mom's flowery script, the rest in Dad's meticulous, indomitable hand. "Is everyone there well", Mom would ask, and Dad would reply they were (though some were now only well beyond Lamentations). "How is the homestead? he would ask, and Mom would reply "fine", not telling him that they were occasionally going hungry.

They speak of the future, of their past. They do not speak of the B29's that limped back to England only to crash on approach, their violent end felt through the ground like a vibration rather than heard. They do not speak of her working two jobs after her Dad's death while logging, to support two younger brothers and her Mom. So much spoken and unspoken, two mourning doves calling back and forth across an endless summer, all now just held together by a blue silk ribbon.

Not all missives that went back and forth the seas were good news. Just up the road from Mom's, the week after Pearl Harbor, a neighbor stands by the mailbox with a piece of paper not even big enough to start a fire with, the envelop fallen to the ground as bland words exploded one by one, and that families grieving began. There was only the notice, there was nothing to bury, though you don't need a wooden box to capture the form of courage and sacrifice.
How many millions of messages like that went out in old wars, not taking long to read, as there was no real time in it, not in that demarcation between the hope that someone lived, and that place where you knew that was no longer true,  that you wished that this moment existed only outside of time. There were only moments in which a written word hung in the air as if hopeful silence had been so long undisturbed it had forgotten its purpose.

I look again at those letters my Dad kept. The actual forming of the letters is uniform, flowing, like words pent up too long,  The letters are Sixty some years old, powdery and delicate in my hand. But Sixty years was just a moment ago for my Dad, something so fierce and encompassing as war always standing out in his memory, no matter how many years distanced him from battle.
I still get letters from my Dad, less frequently now, perhaps one every couple of months. I've kept quite a few of them, some faded with time, a bit frayed around the edges, the words upon them written with clear, flowing script, the stamps carefully placed, the envelopes addressed with precision.

They began when I first moved away from home. No one really had computers then for personal use at college, the phone was the most common source of connection for family. But as computers became second nature, my father continued to write me letters, refusing to learn to use a computer for such purpose.
Simple letters, simple words.

The letters themselves are not full of particularly sage wisdom, or things that might be considered of great depth. They are simply the doings of his day and the memories of his heart. What he planted in the garden, where he went out for lunch after church. A bird he saw on a long drive, a story of that steelhead trout he finally caught under the covered bridge at Grey's River. He wrote to me after he buried someone he loved more than life, words flattened out on paper, like rain, but not lost like rain, streaming out to a valueless torrent of dissolution. His words, though heart rending, uplifted me, a love not lost though life's unravelings. When I held on to him at her grave, while taps played in the distance, his words were engraved on my heart.

They were words that didn't teach, or lecture or portend, but words, that on their reading, mattered. For they filled me with elation that in their capturing, those moments would never be lost, that even when my Dad was gone, there would be stories, of meals, of moments, of caring.
Is that a testament to the power of the word or simply the power of the habit of writing? That which, however mundane, comes to our mind each day. Small, succinct phrases of thought that capture the dots of our lives, connecting us, transcending time or moment. What was in the past is here in my hand now, as if it transcends time and for just a moment we are free of the confines of past tense.

He is here with me now, with his story of that fine day, that could have been seven years ago, or seventy, in words caught and released, a brilliant day, a fighting salmon. A trip to the store, or a small prayer over his breakfast, shared with me here, as if the paper had caught it in time. Our lives are in these moments, gone too quickly, rushing water over our days.
Each of us live in the present, yet we contain our past, and we can not put our future into words until it too, becomes our past. Time is an illusion and death is a transient bend in a long journey that will take its own time. Past, present, future, I'll retain my Dad's stories, his laughter splayed across a small white page, as if part of the paper. As I fold it up and place it carefully in my desk drawer, to perhaps be opened up one day again, a thought comes unbidden. I realize that what is here, be it thought, emotion or the trivial events of our day that we share, for someone, somewhere, will be the most precious of memory.

I take out an envelope and small piece of paper, and on it scribe some words. You are the best of men. I love you. I will not mail it now, but I put it in the envelope and seal it with a small kiss from my lips, the paper resting for a moment like a wafer on my tongue, confession, redemption,

When the generation of texters have departed the earth, who will there be to inherit all those messages, the loves and losses spelled out there in abbreviated script that aren't published for the world, intimate moments and messages that were simply sent and discarded?  Will anyone chronicle, the building up of hope or the cold dismissal of it, there upon a word. What remains of them, those words, short scratchings, almost depthless there against old, transparent glass? So many words, so many thoughts floating around the ether, impossible to capture with a faded blue silk ribbon.

How sad to me, that there will be no one to physically inherit those stories, and perhaps a story of that one great love, all those words gone silent as ghosts, vanished into a the chill emptiness of electronic space, like sparks of ice.

- Brigid