Sunday, November 29, 2015

Kansas Audio-Reader Network -A Barkley Memory

The holiday weekend is drawing to a close.  It was a quiet one, spent at home.  Dad spends Thanksgiving with my cousin, who is like a daughter to him, her losing her own Dad at a young age.   So he will get some good food and company until I can go out to see him closer to Christmas and New Years.

I'm fighting a cold/flu bug with a bit of fever so today sort of dragged.  But there was one bit of awesome news.

There is an organization in Kansas called  the Kansas Audio-Reader Network at the University of Kansas.  They are a reading and information service for blind, visually impaired and print disabled individuals in Kansas and Western Missouri.  According to their website "We read daily newspapers, magazines, and best-selling books on the air and on the Internet, 24 hours a day and we offer automated newspaper readings by telephone."

This  non-profit service has brought a lot of joy to those in the area that are blind, or otherwise have physical limitations that prevent them from enjoying books and printed material.  The readers are all volunteers and they have great support of not just the university they are part of, but Kansas and Missouri Lions Club.

So why am I sharing this?

The Book of Barkley was selected as one of the best sellers they would be reading for the visually impaired.  I will be receiving a copy of the reading as well, which I can't wait to hear.

Their website is:

It's a wonderful thing they are doing, not for profit, but simply to help their community. I think Barkley would be very happy to be part of that.
Well I CAN'T lay on my bed,  someone stepped all over it with their paws and it's not poofy any more.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Carne Diem

Not feeling the love for turkey on day two or three?

Carne Asada Tacos

3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup lime juice
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 brown sugar
1 teaspoon finely chopped canned chipotle pepper
3 Tablespoons Penzey's Chili 9000 (or 3 tablespoons of a mixture of chili powder, cumin, paprika and oregano, but seriously get some of the Chili 9000, it's very complex)
2 teaspoons cracked black pepper

Mix and whisk in 1/2 cup olive oil. Pound a large flank steak between sheets of waxed paper with a meat mallet until 1/4 to 1/3  inch thick.  Poke a number of holes in it with a fork then marinade for 24 hours.
Reserve 1/2 cup marinade and heat to a simmer on the stove while you grill the meat (liquid will reduced to about 1/4 to 1/3 cup, stirring occassionally)  Grill the meat until you have a nice sear on the outside then finely dice the meat and toss with the remaining simmered marinade.

Serve on homemade corn tortillas (double wrap them to hold the juice) in the traditional style  with onions and cilantro or Americanized with Mexican cheese and lettuce (my preference but I don't like tomatoes) with your favorite hot sauce.

Now - you can use store bought tortillas (making sure you heat them up on a slightly oiled grill).  My favorites are the Trader Joe's THIN corn tortillas (they make a thicker one that's not as good) or Maria and Ricardo’s Handmade Style Soft Corn Tortillas,Yellow.  (Note the "handmade", they also have a NON handmade one in similar packaging that's not as good).

But seriously think about making your own.  Instructions are here:

A nice thing with the good tortillas - you don't want to waste any.  If you've got a couple left (flour OR corn) -cut into small strips or triangles, and soften in a little oil in a pan with a bit of onion and or peppers then add eggs to make "migas" -  scrambled eggs with tortillas.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Black Dogs Black Friday

For Barkley as well as those dogs that belonged to our friends, Schmoo, Max, Angus Fala, Nugget the Wonder Beagle™, Henry, Stanzie, Cody, Cinderella, Bart, Mya, Beau, Dietzman Long, Bailey, Oceana, Ming, Phantom. We miss you always but especially at the holidays when your presence near the table warmed your family's hearts.  On this Black Friday - we raise a toast to you with a little poem.

May you be free from anything but joy until we meet again, and may your humans find comfort in your memory.

Shadows fall in their swift and silent passage
echoing the last word of our common fate 
The sorrow of the world surrounds us
carried upon chill air like smoke 
Let us pour a dram of scotch
as our solitude  descends
We drink the smoke in 
so sorrow may sleep


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Strays - A Story of Giving Thanks

From Saving Grace - A Story of Adoption by LB Johnson

I have some very close friends that have a half dozen cats at their country home, all of which I believe, were dumped out there by the unfeeling .  All were found cold and extremely hungry. It's good to see them now, well fed, happy and cared for as indoor cats in a spacious country home with a huge basement for them to explore. I remember evenings with my old black lab Barkley up on the couch, surrounded by the original four cats, their purr of content as they lay on top of the couch or next to him, drawing on the warmth of his big furry body, suffering the occasional snoot with a clawless and gentle swat to his nose.

These cats are family, but still, I am a dog person, even as I have a soft spot for any animal that is homeless or mistreated.  Walking through my neighborhood with Abby, our new rescue dog, yesterday, I saw a cat, arrested within the eyes of that dog, pulled up high in the apostrophe of fear as he held poised for fight or flight.  I pulled Abby gently away, as she had cats at her foster Mom's house and we weren't in for a rumble. But I didn't want Abby to get a clawed nose for her curiosity.  The cat's coat was in good condition as far as I could tell,  but it was a thin, likely a stray. I was going to see where it went, where it might have a home, but  it was gone in a flash before I could check on its well being. I'd seen her before, always hanging around the same spot in the fence, where she likely had found a safe place to sleep.
We see them on the streets, in shelters, the fortunate ones collected by rescue groups, the unfortunate--the look in their eyes, heartrending.

But animals aren't the only "strays" we see, people fall into that same category.  I'm not talking homeless, necessarily, but those people that by circumstance or transplant find themselves in a new city, for a new job, or a fresh start, where they don't know anyone, or are stranded somewhere while traveling for a day or days, due to weather and fate.

I found myself in that circumstance the first year I was in Indiana.  I'd only been on the job a few weeks, not enough time to make any friends. I'd  moved here from back east, too far to visit any old friends after the cost of the move. My parents were in San Diego at my Step Aunt's condo, where they spent every Thanksgiving and Christmas after my Mom died and my dad remarried two years later, to a widow with three adult kids.  I wasn't invited-- the place not being big enough for the whole blended family.  Dad felt badly I'd be alone, but he wanted his wife to be happy, her time with her sister, growing short, the rest of her siblings gone. I understood that, and would visit them for a belated Christmas at home on their return, but it still made the holiday lonely.
I remember walking out to my little VW Jetta from my workplace the night before Thanksgiving that first year there, as the sky spat cold rain, and felt a tear on my face. I'm not sure why, as a professional pilot in my younger days, I'd spent many a holiday alone, on call or in a hotel.  Years, later, holidays were busy times at work.  But that night it sort of got to me-- I really had no place to go but home to Barkley and a sandwich, my kitchen torn up for remodeling. I was hoping someone would remember that I had no family near, and would turn around, pulling back into the parking lot to ask me to join them for dinner the next day. As I walked to the car, I got a gleam out of the corner of my eye in the darkness, a movement and I smiled thinking someone remembered me and was turning back with an invitation. But it was nothing more than an illusion, that faint glimpse of reflection imagined there as you gaze into the depths of a wishing well, only to find cold stillness.

There was no car, just a flash of light reflected off a nearby rode, and  it brought back every moment as a child, those moments we have all had, when we feared we just didn't fit in, that we didn't belong..
I was always the one inviting the new kid to play with us, befriending the nerdy and the odd.  Perhaps it was because I viewed myself that way. So when  I was a very young flight instructor, living out of a suitcase with no roots, I decided to continue that tradition and  share my table with others like me. With most of us on call to give an "introductory flight" to a prospective student, hoping to earn some dollars to pay next quarters tuition, or too broke to fly home commercially, many of us had no place to go on Thanksgiving day. So I hung a flier up on the instructors bulletin board at my airport, for any errant corporate pilot in the area or my coworkers. An invite to come over to my little place for Thanksgiving dinner.
I'd not say I was "friends" with all these guys from the perspective that we would continue to hang out together when we finished college, going off to fly for the military or the airlines.  These were simply people I'd spent hours in the cockpit with getting my various instructor ratings occasionally getting the &*#@ scared out of us, absorbing the wonderful colors and shapes and shadows of the sky, making temporary homes in a series of small apartments with multiple roommates, cramming as much as possible into the rare 24 hours we actually were off.  So yes, we were family, if only related by adventure and empty pockets. And for that, I could think of no better reason than to peel thirty pounds of potatoes, bake five pies, and to to bat my big green eyes at the butcher to talk him out of that extra ham at half off.

Yes, thirty pounds of potatoes, for although I expected RSVP's from about six people, I ended up with twenty-seven people, pilots I worked with, a couple of our mechanics, and a few corporate pilots that used our facility and stayed at the local hotel while their passengers enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and they got free Cable. They arrived with drinks and chips and  thankfully, some extra rolls and a couple of  pies from the Safeway store.

It was a wonderful evening, with massive quantities of food eaten, countless stories told and much laughter, eating until we couldn't eat any more. There was something starry in the kitchen that night, where I learned as much about my ability to organize and create as I did about the essential bond that a meal around the table creates, even if it's a bunch of card tables shoved together with white bleached sheets over them.
Did it mean that we all got along perfectly after that night? No, for there were still those days that intruded darkly on hours normally full of light. Those long close quartered days where we plowed through thick dark clouds to reach ice covered firmament, cursing the weather and long lines for takeoff. Days where the alarm clock snatched us violently out of wrung out sleep, sweeping us all back into the thrall, impotent for days against returning to home, knowing that instead of getting a nap afterwards, most of most of us would be heading off to night classes.  As much fun as flying could be, after a few months of such a schedule, even the best of us got a little self absorbed. Add  in constant travel, books and study hall, and it was a life of scattered adrenalin, little sleep and scant time for real relationships. Just like life for many of us now, with families and jobs and pets and demands.

But that night, if only for a few hours, we had that bond of family and food, warmth and safety. It was that moment when chance aligns with time, whose only foe is death, and together, death's darkness seems so very far away.
You see them at any airport, that frazzled traveler that just missed the last flight, that young person sleeping on the floor after their flight cancelled, without  the means to secure a hotel room. I've offered a hot coffee and a sandwich with a smile to more than one soldier or college student I saw stranded at the airport. Because I have been that young person with rumbling stomach, surrounded by strangers, wanting only to be home.

I had a flight between two Midwest cities a few years back after I'd picked up a couple of days work as a contract corporate pilot  The city whee I was flying wasn't home but it was near where I was spending Thanksgiving with friends when I got the call to cover for a pilot out sick, for a company I'd done some contract work before.  Easy money and the holiday was about over anyway.

The sky was cold and cloudy as I waited for my return light, to be followed by a long drive home, but there was no precipitation  All of a sudden, our flight was cancelled, with no reason given, but we were only told we'd be on another flight real soon. I didn't see any mechanics at the plane, and the flight crew was all there, so I called Flight Service, for the aviation weather, giving them the N number of the plane I'd just flown in, the previous night.  There was severe icing aloft, unusual to be so widespread, but deadly. No one, big or small,  was going to be flying out of that airport, and likely for the rest of the day.
At this point, we were standing in line to be re-booked, the word not having gotten to the gate that he airport would essentially be shutting down flights.  There was a well dressed gentlemen behind me.. We had chatted a bit and it turned out his wife worked at the same bank one of the folks I had spent the holiday with worked at.. I quietly told him about the weather and explained that NO ONE was going to be flying, and I was going to get a rental car now, as the flight was just a "hop" and getting home back to where my car was parked was just a three and a half hour drive. A couple other people overheard.  I said "do you want to go with me?"  With a quiet nod, four of us snuck out of the line.  For it only takes word that the last flights are cancelling to start a disturbed hum in the customer service line, like bees, before they move in an agitated swarm to the rental car counters, with stinging glances to the Priority Customers, the worker bees hoping for one solitary KIA to be left.  I wanted to get out before THAT happened.

The weather out of the clouds was great, just a little snow and we made the trip in four hours, everyone calling their spouses or friends that they would be a bit late, and whether they needed a ride from the airport.. On the drive, we were strangers and we weren't.  We talked of holiday plans, and kids and vacations when it got warm.  There were bad puns, and WAY too many references to the "Trains Planes and Automobiles" movie--something only folks that saw that movie would appreciate. "You're Going the Wrong Way!" one of us exclaimed and the whole car erupted in laughter like we were a bunch of grade school kids, the cool kid--"Those Aren't Pillows!"-- as we laughed again, just having fun, with no fears of rejection or hurt or loss.
With a stop for sandwiches at one of the toll plazas, we soon made it, only to find the terminal pretty much deserted, most of the flights coming from north or east also cancelled inbound.  They thanked me for making that call and offering to pay for the rental car. I had let them pay for gas, and that's all I wanted.

We said our goodbyes and walked away towards home. The sun, who's brilliant form dwarfs us all into the smallest of particles upon the earth as we are held within it's glare, was hidden behind the steeled gray of cloud cover. With it's brightness now captured behind a stratified door, the night fell upon us as we walked to our cars, it was as if we were all just shadows, covered with a fine, soft scattering of night, falling like ash.

I never saw any of them again.
Thanksgiving for me that year was one of those "sandwich days", not for lack of an invite with friends, but personal and work related.  Still, it gave me time to think and reflect, something that is as important as giving thanks.  The human heart is is large enough to contain the entire world, and it's small enough to be felled by just one being, yet it is valiant enough to to bear all burdens, when you realize you are not alone.

As the phone rang with the cherished voice of my husband, letting me know he had reached his destination safely,  I realized I had much to be thankful for. Even in an empty house there was a gentle doggie snore of an adopted friend until the clock struck the duty hour and I gathered a black bag and gear in case the phone rang in the middle of the night. But before that occurred, there was something I needed to do.  With a quick warm  hand pressed for a moment on top of a cold square box in which my furry best friend lay, I left the house and walked to a little store a block away, a can opener and a little plastic bowl in my pocket. I got some cat food, and put it out in a bowl along a solitary fence.

For everyone, at one time, is a stray.

Saving Grace can be ordered today from Amazon at the following address and the Kindle is just 99 cents for the holidays - all proceeds go to Animal Rescue

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Great Balls of . . . . . Pancake Batter?

There's nothing that says "easy dinner before I wrestle the giant turkey while Jim waits in the safety of the jeep" like balls of dough covered in lingonberry jam and powdered sugar. I had a really long day with work,  Chicago traffic and roads closed with protests.  So it's going to be a short night, of just getting the dishes done, an episode of Top Gear and to bed. . . but for your evening's drooling pleasure, I leave you with  Aebleskiver .  

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Fixin's

I teleworked today, and adjusted my lunch to run some errands before the sun went away and the snow hit (I can take up to an hour and a half lunch, I just have to add the extra work time so I get in a full 8 hours.)  I stopped at a Polish deli and butcher that's only a village or so away, got the truck cleaned up, then headed on back towards home.
With the sun out, a storm pending and Thanksgiving coming up it was crazy out there.  I was tempted to just park the bat truck and "assume the position".

But no, I needed to hurry on home so I could . . . . wait for another train.
It wasn't long until the clouds were bunching up and the temperature had dropped to the low 40's.  It's a good night for comfort food. 

This is a little different than the ultra creamy mac and cheese many of you know and love.  Made with either a warm or cold custard (I've done it both ways) with eggs, and made with a mild mixture of American and Cheddar, it bakes into a creamy casserole you cut into squares. The traditional southern Mac and Cheese is made with Velveeta, but we prefer ours  with American, sliced fresh at my grocers deli.  It's very good hot or cold and reminds me of meals from childhood.
Of course, the ones from childhood weren't covered in bacon, but hey, it's my kitchen.

And there WILL be dessert.

Mini pistachio cream pies

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Fighting Irish - A Review of the Kahr PM40

There are few times I don't carry (I'll take my chances in the shower, I could always clobber them with the Irish Spring if the CIA knife doesn't cut it ). But then again, some might say a part polymer gun belongs in the shower.  Gun on a Rope?

But I carry most anywhere else. Certainly there are weapons I carry when where I'm going warrants some heavy iron, and then there are the "back up gun" days. Days I'm comfortable with something smaller, lighter, that will conceal a little easier. A gun that's reliable, accurate and will preferably chamber a duty-caliber round. I love my Sig and Smith and Wessons but I was wanting something a little bigger in caliber than the .380, while still remaining decently concealable. Something for the "Fighting Irish" in me that's also made in the USA.

Enter the Kahr PM40. It's ultra-compact without being wimpy, double action only (DAO), chambered in .40 S&W. For a long time my BUG was a S&W J Frame, (Speer GDHP 135gr +p) but when one of my range buddies brought one to the conservation club,  I had to try it, and liked it well enough to add to the "want to buy" list, though the S & W will always have first place in my heart. At the Gun Show this weekend I saw one for sale at an excellent price and picked it up.

When the first Kahr pistols appeared on the market in 1994 they were constructed entirely of carbon steel. The Kahr models such as the K9 were praised as being well-made and solidly constructed, but criticized for their excessive weight. Excess weight is a disadvantage in any weapon intended for concealed carry. Kahr took this in mind in refining the line, introducing pistols which were physically smaller, as well as a line of polymer framed models. The PM series combined both these approaches, introducing polymer framed pistols that were also the smallest Kahr models ever produced

They come finished in a blackened matte that almost borders on satin like the one above, (my buddy's piece) or like the one  I bought,  stainless and black polymer. Both are guns that aren't going to show up in an "ugly gun" blog post nor will you have to shoot them from a brown paper bag out of embarrassment.  With the many stainless components corrosion or pitting on warm, sweaty days won't be too much of a problem. It does sport a somewhat heavy spring so when you rack the slide you will need to grip it and rip it.

With an empty magazine it's only about 17 ounces and is less than an inch thick. It shoots a lot like a Glock 27 but it’s even smaller and thinner. I put a S&W 642 on top for a size comparison and the PM40 is smaller than the J frame, (and thinner when you take the cylinder and grips on the J frame into consideration).

Caliber? It’s a 40 S&W! Of course, there will be lots of debate as to what is the best ammo for it, though the Federal HST in .40 is quite the potent round, solid in a compact gun.

Is this a fun gun to shoot? Well, it put holes where I wanted. That in and of itself is fun anytime, but I'd have to say it's not for use all afternoon long  as a target gun. Give me my Sig or the 1911 or some plinking fun with the Mark III for that, but it's fun enough to keep proficient  for "just in case".

There is no external safety, the gun relying rather on that long trigger pull (think revolver). In an adrenalin situation, like defense shooting or dating, the fine motor skills are the first thing to go. Simplified controls are a positive attribute in my opinion and contribute to a desirable package for concealment use.

The trigger pull, though long, is buttery smooth without being insubstantially light, but that's what you want in a DAO "No Safety" firearm. What about recoil?  A little more than I imagined but quite manageable, if you're not going to shoot 100 rounds at a time through it. It's a light pistol with a high pressure cartridge, you're going to have recoil.

But the Kahr ergonomics are excellent and it's quite controllable. I'd say it was closest to the .38 special J-frame with heavy +P loads. If you're going to fire off a whole box of ammo, the web of your hand is going to smart. But that's not why I have it. It's lightweight, it's powerful, and it's small. It is also a gun you will want to practice with. Like the .45 caliber variant it can have some gun handling challenges in rapid fire due to the heavier recoil and resulting muzzle rise, the same as about any small and light large bore pistol. Not an issue for an experienced shooter who practices.

Size Matters. About 5 and a half inches long and 4 inches high, it will fit under most of my shirts without obvious bulk. Kahr has done a bang up job in making a weapon that will fit perfectly in my delicate but "large for a female" hand. If you've got really large hands, this might not work, but this is for concealed right? Small concealed. If you have Shrek sized hands and want something that fits it perfectly you'd best look at a full-framed pistol. It's solid, and if you need to point it at someone, the look of it alone will get their attention more than that slim little Kel Tec.

The compact size of this piece makes it an excellent choice for carrying. It comes with two stainless magazines, one 5 rounder that is flush with the mag well (pictured above)and one 6 rounder that sticks out below the mag well with a place for your pinky to grip (the last picture on this post).

But if you try it and the grip just isn't going to work, even considering why you are carrying it, you might look elsewhere. This is not a gun you can mess around with your grip with. "Firm and relaxed" need not apply. You need to grip this gun like a snake with PMS. Hold On. After your first shot, when you realize that the recoil you expect is much more pleasant than something light weight in the .44 Magnum category (ow, ow ow) you might be inclined to smile and relax just a little. Don't. Hold on tight. You'll be surprised how well you can shoot right off the bat with a firm grip. It's also quite accurate, with a firm hand.

The first one I shot straight out of the box was the piece one of the guys at the club had. The target below was my first time with it, and my very first magazine at about 30 feet. I bent my support hand a little more on the next round, but I was pleased. My buddies didn't snicker at me either.

The only problem encountered was shooting one that was brand new. When a loaded mag was placed in the weapon and the slide was pulled manually back and let go, it did not go all the way into battery. The fix?  Go from slide locked back position and use the thumb release to chamber a round, and there you go. This may have been a one time, being new thing, as after a few rounds through it it worked great, no misfeeds, misfires or jams. The manufacturer states that the gun is not to be considered to be reliable (aka broken in) until at least 250 rounds have been run through it.  I'd likely agree.

The sights? Bar-dot like my Sig. Easier to pick up than 3 dot in my opinion.

My only complaint is that slide release. The pistol is so small, and the release so sharp, I ended up away with painful gouges on my shooting hand thumb until I adjusted my grip a bit away from the frame. I don't know if it's enough that I'd want to take a file to those edges though. There's no getting around it, the slide release lever is SHARP from the factory.  It would be nice if they came out with one that was dehorned, but apparently in keeping the cost down, that item was left as is.

As for price, well they are a tad expensive compared to some firearms in .380 and even .40, but still reasonable compared to other pieces of the same quality. They run between $660 and $700 for the full stainless one depending on where you get it and around $580 for the stainless/polymere one.That's a lot of cash in today's economy for a back up gun.  But you are paying for life long quality and although quite a few have been sold in the local gun stores you don't see them often among used guns.

All in all, it's a super small, light, high quality, big caliber pistol that you can depend on. There are other guns out there in that category but this is one that I like. An excellent piece. . . . to keep up the good fight..

Monday, November 16, 2015

Range Nuts

Monday's always crazy busy, so for night a very easy recipe to think about making for the holidays. 

Better than Beer Nuts. I make a big batch of these each holiday season to take with me to share with the team, everyone getting their own little baggie full.  It's a favorite of both the carnivores and herbivores and has a great blend of HOT and sweet.  The original recipe called for about 1/3 cup of butter.  To reduce the fat I left that out and they were still really good.

  • 2 organic egg whites
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup coconut or brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt (this really does add a unique flavor but you can use plain salt)
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 and 1/2 cups raw almonds (I toast them for a few minutes in the oven at 350 F for about 10 minutes, then cool, to make them extra crunchy)
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. and grease a large baking sheet with sides  with butter and set it aside. 

In a large mixing bowl whisk the eggs, water, and a pinch of the salt until foamy (just shy of where it starts peaking).

Mix remaining salt, sugar and cayenne in a small bowl.

Add the cooled almonds and stir until moistened.  Add the sugar and spice mixture and stir until all the almonds are coated.

Arrange in single layer on pan and bake for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes.  Set the baking pan on a wire rack to cool.  Keep in an airtight container. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Names - A Chapter

Something I posted today on The Book of Barkley blog but thought I'd share here - a chapter from my last book with some photos of Abby Normal the Labrador you've not seen.

Names  - From Saving Grace - A Story of Adoption by LB Johnson (Outskirts Press 2015)

As adults we name our pets to make them members of the family. God called life from the fluid chaos of creation by calling its name. We call home our own loved ones with a name, yelled across the back porch into seeping twilight. Time to come in, time to come home. We outlive them, then raise our toasts to them, the red hot Pentecostal peat that echoes from a shot glass, a wafer taste of smoke against the tongue, drops of amber liquid on the table like tears.

There are some living things that define classification, and thus defy being named. Protists—groups of living things comprising those living things which are neither animal, plant, nor fungi. Protists—the scientist’s way of saying “none of the above.” One of them is algae. Bones are affected under the earth by algae, fungi, and bacteria. Under a microscope the traces of damage due to fungi or algae appear as horizontal or vertical channels. These channels sometimes converge on one another to form large flat or tufted forms, causing the entire bone to disintegrate—in some rare cases destroying all one might have left to identify someone by name.
Sometimes all that is left to be buried are a few teeth, a piece of bone. But it is at least something to be placed in the ground with a name. Something for remembrance, for closure. On my long drive into the city I see the occasional cross by the road, with simply a name and perhaps a few flowers. How important these undistinguished little memorials. Every death is a memory that ends here, yet continues on. Enduring, for there is not one of us who can affirm that there must be a web of muscle and bone to hold the conformation of love. It’s there in dust and sky and new life. It’s there in the shadow of a half moon, quivering in the sky like a heel print in wet sand, a large piece of rock that man has named but few would walk. It’s there within us, in that place that resists narrative, deep within, waiting.
So what is in a name? It is memory; something that is not simply particular, it is also tutelary, foretelling. In the end it is as reliable as we are, as strong as our word. The names and facts of my life by themselves are insignificant. But what our names represent is history, a life. When I look at the name of someone I loved on a gravestone I do not see stone, I do not see letters. I see remembrance, and that is what we keep on living for. A simple name brings back memories, like a plunge underwater in a swift stream; an airplane baffled and bounced in a fierce  wind; a stillness and persistence of going forward alone.

I trace the outline of a name, and I know how that name made me feel. And that is not insignificant. I hear my name across hundreds of electronic miles of science, breathed into a phone late at night, and I know the warm rush of healing that comes with that one word.

For earth without form is void, but heaven without names is only blackness.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

It's Made of What? Range "McNuggets".

Ingredients in Chicken McNuggets

White boneless chicken, water, food starch-modified, salt, seasoning (autolyzed yeast extract, salt, wheat starch, natural flavoring (botanical source), safflower oil, dextrose, citric acid, rosemary), sodium phosphates, seasoning (canola oil, mono- and diglycerides, extractives of rosemary). Battered and breaded with: water, enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), yellow corn flour, food starch-modified, salt, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium lactate), spices, wheat starch, whey, corn starch. Prepared in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness). Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent.

MMMM - dimethylpolysiloxane, used in making Silly Putty, it's also a critical ingredient in Rain-X.  It's also found in Wendy's fries.  Or at least their  old "unimproved" fries, the new ones seemingly made out of shards of salt licks.

And what's TBHQ? That's tertiary butylhydroquinone, a butane based preservative, which among many other things, is used in the stabilization process of explosive compounds. One to four grams of TBHQ can cause some serious symptoms that will make the flu look like winning the lottery.  Five grams of TBHQ can kill you.

Many of the store bought nuggets don't have those two particular ingredients, but they are still full of things like sodium phosphates, caramel color, methylcellulose, and " spice extractive", even if they come in little dinosaur shapes.

No thanks, I'll eat at home.  Happy Meal toy notwithstanding, I want my chicken with a beak, not a beaker.

Ingredients in a Range McNugget.

Fresh grain-fed chicken breast, grated fresh ginger, a squeeze of lemon juice, butter, flour, cayenne pepper, extra virgin olive oil, a cast iron skillet. 

Chop one extra large chicken breast into large nugget sized pieces.  If you have the patience to cut them into little dinosaur shapes have at it.  Mine are shaped like pieces of chicken.  I'm creative that way..

Dip each piece in a mixture of a few tablespoons of melted salted butter to which you've added about half a thumb sized  piece of fresh ginger, grated and a splash of lemon juice.  Dredge in a small cereal bowl of flour to which you've added a few pinches of cayenne pepper.

Cook in a medium/hot cast iron pan with just a little EVOO until lightly brown on both sides (turning with tongs), reduce heat, cover and cook until done.  Just a few minutes is all it takes and it turns out buttery, savory and oh so juicy.  Serves two for a light meal or snack.

Make it a HOTR Hoppy Meal with fresh sliced sourdough, some smoked Gouda and salad and a small glass of IPA.  You can add some fresh garlic mayo for little sandwiches or some dressing for the salad on the side, if you like. 

How you serve it is up to you, but remember,  if you get a Hoppy Meal at the Range, the toys are SO much better.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Gales of November

The wind in the wires made a tattletale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the Captain did, too,
T'was the witch of November come stealing.
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald - Gordon Lightfoot.

I've been fascinated by the old sailing ships for years, because of one that's been a part of my memory since childhood, one that fueled my fascination with the archaeology of disaster.. A hundred years come and gone, yet the skeletal remains of that beautiful seagoing vessel still linger in a shallow grave, attesting to the passing parade of time and the long ago era of the sailing ship.

The 3 a.m. hour of October 25, 1906 was like many an Oregon night, dark, windy and cold. The 278 foot long Liverpool sailing ship, fashioned of steel plates on an iron frame, was laboring toward the mouth of the Columbia River on its way to Portland, Oregon. But its 25 crew and 2 stowaways, who were likely seriously reconsidering their decision, weren't destined to make it there.

Thick mists obscured the beacons of the light houses and the Columbia River light ship. There, Captain H. Lawrence made the stalwart decision to stand, to await a Pilot. A heavy southwest wind was brewing into strength and the sail was shortened. Yet before the dawn flashed true from the east, the skipper found his ship caught in a churning mass of breakers and a fast rising northwest wind.

Crunching over the bottom of the Clatsop Spit, the shock sent the mizzen top hamper crashing to the deck. The good men of the Peter Iredale scattered like buckshot. The ocean again slapped them in rage. More sections of the masts, rigging, blocks and tackle, thundered to the deck. Men scrambled to save her, to save themselves, amidst the tangle of wreckage, but soon the fated ship had run aground, breaking off it's top spars, the heavy rain squalls and gale force winds from the west pushing them ashore. The Captain ordered them to abandon the ship and fired rockets into the air to summon help.

The lifesaving station at Point Adams responded, sending a team of men to rescue the crew. It was a dangerous task, but the lifesavers managed to bring them safety to shore and shelter at nearby Fort Stevens. The maritime inquiry absolved the master and his mates in any wrong action in the loss of the ship, and there were hopes for salvage. The hull was, for the most part, intact undamaged and there was thought as to towing the vessel, stern first, into deepening water.

For a few more weeks, the shipmaster stood hopefully by, praying that the Peter Iredale would be restored, a pilots sheer love of his ship, but salvage operations were soon abandoned. The ship, now listing starboard like a wounded bird, half embedded in the sands, was abandoned, paid off by the insurance underwriters and remaining simply a visage of loss on the landscape that claimed it. Nature being, as usual, the superior foe. Captain Lawrence was commended by the British Naval Court for his actions to save his men, and his ship and he was remembered as well for his toast to the once proud vessel as he left her. The red-bearded Captain smartly saluted, and hoisting a bottle of whisky said "May God Bless you, and may your bones bleach in the sands."

The wreck languished for years, though a popular site for out of state tourists, and didn't make the news again until World War II, when a Japanese submarine off the Oregon coast logged some enemy shells directly over her remains, landing in the empty fields behind. The very next day the Army strung rolls of barbed-wire from Point Adams south, to thwart a would-be enemy invasion, entwined through the wreck where they remained until the end of the War.

My Mom spent some time around the Portland and Oregon coastal area, before she married and we used to rent a little place there for holidays, on the beach south of the wreck of the Peter Iredale lay. As many times as we went back to visit, the wreck was as constant as the tide for me, each year, like my own life, presenting something new and undiscovered. In some years it was almost buried in the sand, and then the next, it would venture out boldly so that we could climb on its rusted hull and hunt for hermit crags in pools at its feet, digging among its remains for artifacts and buried treasure.
What about it fascinated me so? Still does. Archaeology, from Late Latin archaeologia (antiquarian lore) and the Greek archaiologia, as stated in the dictionary to be - " the scientific study of material remains (as fossil relics, artifacts, and monuments) of past human life and activities".

So for me this wreck is archaeology in the sense of touching, physically touching, past lives, past hardships. Yet its more than that, it's the wellspring of memories, of my generation and the one behind, and its lure comes from the comfort of continuity, the blending of the past with our future. For me it is the lure of a rust-hued countenance of a ghost ship. Lighthouses have been built and abandoned, wars won, battles lost, two generations have lived and died, yet the wreck of the Peter Iredale lives on. I've climbed around it, waiting for it to speak to me. Except it would tell us nothing but that someone was there, someone with courage and spirit and adventure in their soul. Someone who would risk all to tend to their ship, to their comrades. A message that we can not fail to understand, for it is our message, it is what we as pilots of the air or the ocean, as explorers of a nation, uncover each day.

There has been many a night when I'd been on a recreational sailing vessel on that same river, on that same coastline. I was not the master, simply one of the totally amateur mates, trying to learn my duties (which was keeping a running tally of how much beer we had left). Yet on those nights, when the others were sleeping and I was up late, on deck with a mug of hot tea, I'd think back to the crew of the Peter Iredale and what they were doing before nature picked them as its play toy.

They were likely gathered cheerily like we had been, eating and drinking, tending to their chores, sharing the resemblance of familiar duties. They were no different than the scholars turned sailors I was spending my weekend with. On the deck, holding a mug of hot tea, that knowledge came to me like the cool night breeze, yet it also brought to me the warmth, the comfort that I felt in my hands. When we look at the past, at people, events, when we study them, it is not so much that we wish to reconstruct their lives for the dead, but for the living. Our lives. This moment.

I still dig in the past, in the sun bleached remains of my day to day work or simply the earth. Digging in Dad's garden, getting out the last of the remaining carrots when, digging deep, I unearthed a tiny plastic soldier, and that tiny battered warrior, recreated a flood of memory of childhood days when my younger brother and I played for world dominion out in the back yard. The touch of its small battered form brings back the scent of the earth in our back yard, the shade of the apple tree that sheltered us, the warmth of the sun. Was this little figurine simply a forgotten toy or was he buried in some forgotten childhood military honor? Like anything long lost, he spoke to me of a demand for remembrance. Of recognition for the role he served.

We are all archaeologists of life. Coming back to my own home late the other night, when I'd only been away for a few days, I opened up the place, exploring its contents as if I was discovering it after a hundred years. For it is indeed the past. A receipt for dinner with a friend, a couple of stray kernels of popcorn that escaped the flame, rolling around on the floor like ball bearings, a homemade calendar on the refrigerator marking days of history of their own. Outside, some ancient wood, carved by hands long since stilled, a Japanese float, off of a net that floated three thousand miles to be tossed up by the Peter Iredale and snatched up by a little redheaded girl. It is my home and like any true home it always holds within its walls the artifacts of those it believes will return to it.

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
In the Maritime Sailors' Cathedral.

The church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times

For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

It makes us human, these artifacts of our past, these shifting layers of sand, shifting layers of history. We sort through the remains of our life, as we look, eyes squinting into the glare, west into a sunset that also glinted through the rusty hull of a shipwreck. Bit by bit, like us all, it imperceptibly succumbs to the ravages of time. It struggles to keep from being washed away and forgotten. Remember us. Remember me, in this place, time, a large and once tideless rock reduced to small grains trickling through my hands, from century to century, hours and minutes, miles and footsteps

When the divers finally managed to bring the bell of the Edmund Fitzgerand to the surface it  is said that it rang. The purest sounding bell you can think of, and immediately after a kaleidoscope of butterflies swarmed the ship and family members. This cloud of butterflies, miles from shore, when the bell broke the surface, one last gesture of the earth's absolution

From not so far away, here tonight,  I hear the faint tolling of a bell. From the bones of a sailing ship to my own life, the span of distance is small.