Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Years

To start the new Year a picture that just makes me smile.

My husband, Partner in Grime, on the left, with my Grandmother-in-Law front and center efficiently blasting the heck out of a target.

Life has its twists and turns and unexpected sorrow and joys. I didn't expect to have to take the blog private, but I didn't expect one of my friends to throw this blog under the liberal bus. It happened, not intentioned, but it happened and coming right when my new book came out, was the worst possible timing. I went from 30-60,000 visitors a week to perhaps 40.

The new book has had great critical reviews, including a retired Hollywood director, and was picked by NPR to be a featured winter read and they interviewed me after Rocker Patti Smith to promote in February.

After selling 51 copies.

For those of you who bought it, mentioned it, or reviewed it, my biggest thanks. I don't know if there will be another book in my future, If I don't break even at least I'm done, I spent several thousand on marketing here and in the UK where my publicist is and where my last two books were #1 best sellers. I already have two expensive hobbies (shooting, flying) and I can't justify a third to my family. I will write for my friends remaining here and see where the years take me.

Life doesn't always turn out the way we expect, but whatever the changes, look at them for how they shape you and embrace that.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Abby Normal the Lab - Click Bait Dog

You're all seen the ads off on the sidebar of a popular news site, with a eye-catching picture or headline. I'll admit the ones with the rescued puppies have always drawn me in, until I realized I had to scroll through incredibly S-L-O-W loading pages, one at a time, filled with more ads and usually give up before reaching the end of the story.  Many have pictures that aren't even in the stream (celebrities you didn't know had died - well because they hadn't).  Arghhhhh.  Rev. Paul had a hilarious Biblical version of it this week which got me thinking about it.

 Click Bait

Clickbait is a pejorative term describing web content that is aimed at generating online advertising revenue, especially at the expense of quality or accuracy, relying on sensationalist headlines or eye-catching thumbnail pictures to attract click-throughs and to encourage forwarding of the material over online social media.

But since it's Friday and visits are few I'm going to offer Abby Lab Clickbait - (no actual links just for grins on my lunch break). Cheers!
Abby Lab Can't Hide from the Rumors
Final Photos Taken Seconds Before Disaster Struck
Left at the Shelter Because She was Old- Her Revenge Makeover Will Astonish You.
Why Did this Dog Order a Huge Box of Treats From Chewy? The Reason will Shock You!
What this Dog Did in the Backyard Will Make You Question Everything.
Top 10 Reasons a Dog Barks.  #7 Will Blow Your Mind.
She is 7.  Looks 4.  Learn the Truth Now!
Dog Spots the Treat.  Can you Believe What She Does?
5 Insane Plans for Getting Extra Food You Won't Believe Are Real.
Avoid Baths With this One Weird Trick.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

I Knew I Shouldn't Have Worn the Red Shirt

This morning, the everything outside was covered with frost, with temps down in the 20's and a moist air mass stalking the area. Not a good way to start the day. But the day, thankfully, is ending with home and a good meal, even if it was not what I'd planned on.

I'm home early, due to a headcold set to stun, someone else taking over my work for a couple of days. I knew I shouldn't have worn the red shirt. (For those of you who grew up on a deserted island and never watched Star Trek, the Red Shirt is the
characterphase-cannon fodder taken out quickly in the plot line to alert viewers to danger.)

It began with just the sniffles and by the end of the day I was part of landing party Kirk, Spock, Dr. McCoy and the Dead Guy, better known as Ensign Ricky in the red shirt. I started out thinking I was going to save the planet and I ended up as the smoking boots behind the giant paper mache boulder.

By the afternoon I was pretty much useless. I felt bad, but making everyone else sick is not a way to keep your team happy. So they sent me home. All I want to do is make a pot of tea and something easy, but warm and comforting for dinner.

Aebleskiver (click on link for recipe.)

click to enlarge photos

No, those aren't donut holes.

The aebleskiver (also spelled ableskiver) are a Danish pastry similar to pancakes with a soft texture inside similar to a popover. They are traditionally served before Christmas with Gløgg, topped with butter (sometimes) and jam (always) and dusted with powdered sugar (they aren't sweet by themselves). To start, you will need a aebleskiver pan, usually made of cast iron, as those conduct the heat the best. The traditional pans can be found in a number of Scandinavian specialty stores or catalogs or you purchase one of the new style ones here.

As they cook on the stove top, thin crusts will form on bottoms of balls (centers will still be wet). This is where the fun begins. You get a slender wood skewer (I use a clean knitting needle) and pierce the crust with one and gently pull shell to rotate the pancake ball until about half the cooked portion is above the cup rim and uncooked batter flows down into cup. You then cook until the crust on bottom of ball is again firm enough to pierce, about another minute, then rotate ball with skewer until the ridge formed as the pancake first cooked is on top. Then you complete cooking, rotating your balls until done. (Don't go there, I have a sharp skewer in my hand).

Have some of your favorite jam ready (Lingonberry!) and powdered sugar. If you want to make filled ones, add a half a teaspoon of jam to the batter just before you make your first turn.

Warning: the first time you make these you might warn anyone around you to stand far away while you work with the pointed needles. There is a chance you might be waving them around and cursing in Norwegian by the time you are done, these do take a batch or two to get the process perfected.

So make a batch and enjoy. But I'll warn you, they won't last any longer than Ensign Ricky.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

What was left after an afternoon at the range, it's been too long.

And yes, believe it or not, there are 2 nice new gun ranges, within 5 miles of my Cook Country Chicago house.

Times - they are a changin'.

And for those of you who read the news, the many hundreds of people shot in Chicago each year, are NOT folks like me. I live within 20 miles of downtown.  There has only been one shooting in my village in its history, and it was a gang member that shot an LEO who had just testified against him on something that went down in the city.

With rare exception, the shootings are all black on black, or black/latino under age 30 gang shootings which of course the "Black Lives Matter" people totally ignore. Just like they were totally silent on the A-student grade school boy burnt alive because he wouldn't join a gang, or the 9-year-old  fatally shot in the face in retaliation for his gangbanger father's activities, or the young black female college student shot in the head in crossfire in a black gang shootout as she came home late-night from her full-time job after classes.

Total crickets on the BLM groups on these innocent young souls while they protest an LEO who shoots someone filmed on TV news aiming a gun at their head and those of the citizens around them in a busy shopping area after a road rage incident (something they had felony charges against them  for in another state, and oh, the firearm was illegal).

Stay safe out there.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Fire and the Dove

Upon the straw and the dirt
from which we came
and which we will end
amidst blood and travail 
a cleansing birth
no hero, no knight, but a baby
born not of gods, but man
the great receipt of grace
born to them, without question 

Above them a star
a crowned knot of fire
brighter than flame of branch
men bringing their gifts
restored by the sight
despite their sins, he smiles

Only a baby, but so aware
of the souls fragility
of all that they've done and been
the bitter tastelessness
of the night's fruit
the worth of the soul's prayer

Upon the straw and the dirt,
from which we came
and which we will end
a dove bears witness
to bended, humble knee.
on the ground of their beseeching 
a baby bears witness
to a hearts revealing
as the fire and dove are one
 - Brigid

Saturday, December 24, 2016


Sometimes the waiting for something is the best part.

Christmas was like that as a child, the build up to the big day, shaking the presents under the tree, many which had been rigged with marbles or rocks inside to throw us off. Mom would make a couple of different types of cookies every few days, something new to taste and try with a plate set aside with a sample of everything to eat after the Christmas meal.

It's not just Christmas - there are many events in our lives we anxiously await. The birth of a baby, a holiday, a wedding, awaited with great longing, then suddenly over, vanished as if an illusion.
But Christmas Eve, as children, was the best.  We weren't allowed to open any gifts until Christmas morning.  We'd be up before the marked light of dawn, seeing the unwrapped gifts that Santa had left for us on the mantle around the fireplace, Mom and Dad trailing down the hall stifling yawns.

I spent Christmas Eve and day some years back with neighbors who let the kids open the gifts on Christmas Eve.  They didn't go to church so Christmas Day was simply watching sports while the kids played non stop video games.  I appreciated the invite but it felt no more like Christmas than the 4th of July.
No, waiting for the morning was anticipated glory.  I'd sleep in a little trundle bed next to my brothers, trying to stay awake to hear Santa. Mom would come in and lay the sunset colored afghan she had crocheted on top of me for warmth.  Outside, the big, fat 1960's Christmas lights would shine through a a window, curtains swept aside so we could see.   Overhead, an aircraft went on its way, solitary and swift like a shooting star.  We'd  speak in low tones, as if in church, as outside the door, our wiener dog Pepper's toenails click clacked on the hardwood floor as she patrolled her domain.

We would always fall asleep too soon, and wake before the sun rose with that flaming stare of quiet curiosity.
But Christmas isn't the only thing we look forward to.  It may be graduating from college.  It may be retirement.  I think of those people that have a countdown calendar to the day they can walk out the door.  Some come back to the workplace by to say hello, as if tethered to that place they spent so many, many years. Some we never see again, that place nothing more than a coat they have now flung off in warmer lands.
You think what you wait for will take forever to get here.  Then, when it is behind you, those days seemed as they raced past, brilliant and quick, nothing more than a flash of light in the distance, the nights as short as fragmented dreams. Too soon, what you waited for is memory, never to be reclaimed but in thought.

Dad does not wish to celebrate Christmas as anything more than the quiet communion in his home with the minister in celebration of Christ's birth. By his choice, there has not been a tree for a traditional Christmas celebration since my Mom died over 30 years ago. The aluminum tree and color wheel were packed away, never to be seen again. In the years before he remarried, there was neither light nor breath in that house for my Dad and he just wanted Christmas to be over with, once my brother and I were out of the house.
When Dad did remarry, to a widow who had herself lost a beloved spouse- they usually spent Christmas at his sister in law's condo in San Diego - enjoying the warmth.  Dad did not wish to spend Christmas day in a house in which my Mom's laughter had gone silent.   I understood, spending Christmas with friends, later volunteering for extra flight duty, so those with children could have the day off.  I understand it even more after losing my brother.
Today, I look up at the flash of a light, here in the fading light.  It is is an airplane, the tiny blink of its passing no different than the ones we viewed as children. I know  too well, the feeling of that crew, anxious to get to their destination, hoping they won't have weather or a mechanical issue that precludes their making it home in time for Christmas.  I know the sense of relief of the last flight of the night, launching into a sky, that like man, in one embrace can assume and appease, even as it can not forgive.

Many a night I flew on Christmas Eve, eliciting a chuckle from the crew chief when he glanced up at the Cockpit and saw my Santa hat as we prepared to depart.  We were only anxious as to the day and time until we were aloft, then like seaman have probably felt since time began, we settled down, finding the true Peace of God and Earth somewhere over 35,000 feet, finding the storms and turbulence not as some heavenly punishment for our selfishness in wanting to be home but rather a gentle rebuke to curb an impatient heart.
At altitude we'd talk of Christmas past and the hope for Christmas future, perhaps one with a family, our voices quiet, no louder than expelled breath, as the miles ticked under us.  Those in the back of the airplane were subdued, anxious to get home, looking down on cities that twinkled like Christmas lights, clouds bunched over some of them, like warm flannel blankets. Some nights the wind would be so strong aloft we felt like we'd stopped, going forward not with will or strategy but simply that groved habit to endure,

The recorded weather data that we'd confirm receipt of, instead of Delta and Echo and other letters of the phonetic alphabet were Dancer and Prancer and such.  On more than one Christmas Eve, my copilot would confirm Information "Santa" received and we'd made our final descent, not to a city where loved ones awaited, but simply a hotel room with all the ambiance of a dental lab, it's emptiness bringing that quick sharp sting that I could taste in my mouth as I opened the door.

There, I would sleep like a soldier in the field without shelter but for stiff, cotton sheets, waiting to wake up to the fight and the firing.
Tonight I look up and outside. There will be no Christmas light at the Range, too many commitments of work and family to get them up this year. But there will be a 1960's aluminum tree with an antique color wheel, found at a garage sale, repaired and set up by my husband.  There will be the click clack of Abby's toenails on the hardwood floors as she patrols her domain. In the kitchen there will be cookies and a pot of tea set to boil  And on the shelf there will be found a framed picture of a little auburn haired boy and girl sitting in their Dad's lap, Christmas decorations in the background, as he reads them a story.

It was a story of a baby, one not born of passion or pleasure but one born so that more than a Mother's suffering in his birth would be eased til the end of days.  It was a story of forgiveness we often can't receive from man, but that is His promise in eternity.
This Christmas season, I'm grateful for the anticipation of days.  Christmas will too soon be here and gone. Those that I spent the Christmas of my youth with are  gone, but for Dad, his own days drawing to a close. What is left now may just be a fleeting illusion, but illusions, like memory, are as true as flesh, bone and blood.

Rather than wish that Christmas was here, I'm going to wish it would wait, that I can savor this time of quiet peace, the smell of  warmth, the laughter of my husband, and the hearkening of a family of angels who calm this impatient heart with a touch as soft as a caress.

 - Brigid

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Brady Bunch - And NOT the cutesy TV show

The Brady Campaign has a list of each state's gun laws on their website with their interpretation of said law. Check your state out and compare it against the truth. For the state I was raised, where I'm the most familiar with the laws,  I'm going to cover the laws that pertain to the areas that, pardon me, "chap my hide" the most.

ASSAULT WEAPONS - Are there limitations on assault weapons? No - BRADY: No state restriction on the sale or possession of military-style semiautomatic assault weapons. Assault weapons are as easy to buy as hunting rifles.

TRUTH: Why should there be? They are almost rarely used in crimes, but are used by citizens legally every day. This is a simple play on the image uninformed people have on rifles that 'look dangerous'. The facts say otherwise. More people were killed by mules in my home state than by assault weapons in the last 10 years. This is now coming back into play in Heller Part 2 - a District ban on semi automatic pistols in DC.

CHILD ACCESS PREVENTION - BRADY: "Are gun owners held accountable for leaving guns accessible to kids?" Partial in my home state making it a felony for anyone to "knowingly, intentionally or recklessly" provide a firearm to a juvenile under 18 years of age, with exceptions for sporting use. Unless I missed something in the media, more young children have been killed by parade floats these last two weeks then from non gang-related guns.

CHILD-SAFETY LOCKS Must locking devices be sold with guns? No. BRADY: "No state requirement that guns be sold with child-safety locks that could prevent a tragic accident. Child-safety locks cost as little as $10 and could save lives if sold with firearms." CHILDPROOF HANDGUNS - Are only authorized users able to operate handguns? No BRADY: "There is no state law mandating that all new handguns be sold with 'personalized' handgun technology that would only allow the authorized user to operate the firearm. Childproof handguns play an important role in helping to prevent unintentional shootings among children and to deter suicides among minors. "

TRUTH/TRUTH/TRUTH: This is where I'm going to get on my soap box. Guns were commonplace in the area in which I grew up. So I was taught respect for a gun as soon as I could stand up. I knew the difference between toy and real, and learned to shoot only when I was old enough to discharge one safely. You can't legislate responsible parenting. But the answer to most 'accidents' with kids and firearms is training, not ineffective locks. Most kids know where the keys are. And no, I would NOT leave a young child in the house with an accessible gun. I wouldn't leave a young child alone in the house, gun or no gun, without a responsible teen or adult who knew how to protect them. I know money's tight, but if you ask a 10-year-old to babysit your 3-year-old, you're just asking for trouble.

Call me old fashioned, but I believe that requiring it, by law, in every city and situation, to keep guns locked up, ammo free and separate, is akin to looking up the life preservers on the Titanic. The Brady folks and their allies at Packard Foundation are determined to make it illegal for you to do anything else. "If they choose to keep a gun in the home, it must be stored, locked, unloaded and separate from the ammunition," the groups opine. Considering the documented and increasing number of home invasions, this amounts to advocacy for the total surrender of your safety, and that of your family. At my desk this instant - there are two handguns, both skillfully hidden, locked and ready to be grabbed if someone kicks in my front door that's 14 feet from me.

Case in point - Jessica Lynne Carpenter was 14 years old on Aug. 23, 2000, the morning 27-year-old Jonathan David Bruce came calling at the Carpenter house in Merced, Calif. Jessica Lynne knew how to shoot -- her father had taught her guns AND firearm safety. And there were adequate firearms in the house to deal with what happened next. That Wednesday morning, Jessica was home with four of her siblings -- Anna, 13; Vanessa, 11; Ashley, 9; and John William, 7 -- in a quiet San Joaquin Valley farming community. Then enter, Bruce, an out-of-work telemarketer, likely high on drugs, stark naked and armed with a spade fork. It sounds like something out of a bad horror movie, but it was real. He cut the phone lines to the house, broke in, and began chasing down and stabbing the children in their bedrooms. Jessica Lynne tried to dial 911. The phone was dead. So she ran to the gun closet. Then she remembered the new "safe storage law" her parents had informed her had just been enacted in California. As required by law, her parents had left the gun closet locked so no one under 18 could have access. Jessica's only option was to climb out a window and run for help. By the time Merced County sheriff's deputies arrived, shooting Bruce who came at them with a bloody pitch fork, John William and Ashley were dead, Anna wounded and in shock. The children's great uncle, the Rev. John Hilton, told reporters: "If only (Jessica) had a gun available to her, she could have stopped the whole thing."

Seventeen states now have these so-called safe storage laws. The problem is, you see no appreciable decline in either juvenile accidental gun deaths or suicides when such laws are enacted, but you DO see an increase in crime rates perpetrated against the newly disarmed victims.

Jessica Lynne Carpenter could have used a firearm to keep her two siblings from being pitchforked to death, but her parents had to follow the Lock Up Your Life Preserver law in Merced, California -- and were left with a loss that is beyond comprehension. While these gun prohibitionists pretend they stand for the safety of children, the truth is that they are using children as a shield to deflect attention from their true aims while getting as much gun control as possible passed. The technology for childproof handguns has been rejected by many law enforcement agencies as being dangerous and ineffective. The biggest advocates of it? The companies who make it, and finance the Brady's while they are at it.

 LARGE CAPACITY AMMUNITION MAGAZINES - Are there limitations on large capacity ammunition magazines? No. - There is no state law restricting the sale or possession of large capacity ammunition magazines that can fire 30, 50 or even 75 rounds without reloading. Ammunition magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds of ammunition are considered large capacity magazines.

TRUTH: As my home state's crime statistics read, this is NOT a crime issue, this is a CONTROL issue. As Yosemite Sam would say "Great Leaping Horny Toads - what a load of codswallop." To quote an unnamed Soviet general, "Is gun, is not safe!" The Brady's would have you believe it's about the type of guns. It's about ALL guns. The Brady bunch wants to ELIMINATE gun ownership by honest citizens. Period.

I own multiple guns of all varieties. I've been formally trained in their use, both practical and tactical. I was a CCW holder as soon as I was first able to be. I keep proficient. It's a responsibility as well as a right, one I take seriously. . But I don't keep them locked up when I'm home, they're handy where I can get to them, before they get to me. That's my right, one that the Brady's or any administration that supports them is going to take from me. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

TMI Time - Squirrel Antics

Picture it in your mind:

Big important gathering with Secret Squirrel stealth mission group.

I'm to deliver an important document.

I drink the Megaladon sized "brain freeze in a bucket" on the trip there as it was a long drive and I'm warm because I'm in an obligatory dark suit under my "minus 30 degree proof" coat.

So I have to pee before the meeting.

The bathroom has one of those soap dispensers by the sink that is "motion activated"

I leave my Secret Squirrel satchel on the edge of the sink after opening the side pocket to check on the document.

NOW. . .

Picture said meeting.

Picture me reaching into the side pocket of the satchel.

I pull out the folded up document and it's coated with several tablespoons of white slimy fluid, about ready to drip on the table. The soap dispenser apparently, set off by the proximity of the bag, had quietly pumped out liquid hand soap INTO the pocket while I took care of business.

I don't HAVE to tell you what that looks like.

Dead silence in the room.

What could I possibly say?

"Damn meetings with Bill Clinton".

I made one guy cry he was laughing so hard.

The election is finally over. Black Dogs and Bacon. It can only get better.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sunday Eats

Baby, it's cold outside. 

This was one of those days, that "indoors" seemed to be the order of the day.  But with Partner in Grime having to clear out vehicles and the driveway yet again, it was a good day for cooking and baking.

After breakfast of cornmeal pancakes (recipe at the dog blog) -
it was time for some homemade bread baking.

Wild Rice Bread.

This makes a really tasty, moist bread with a slightly nutty flavor that's great with soup on an Arctic cold day or even better - grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wild Rice Bread

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 packages(1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1 and 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon  honey
1 Tablespoon Molasses
3/4 cup cooked wild rice (cooled after cooking)

1. In a large bowl, combine the whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup of the all-purpose flour, yeast and salt. In a small saucepan, heat the water, milk, Molasses, butter and honey to 120-130 degrees F. Stir into dry ingredients beating until smooth.  Add in enough of the remaining all-purpose flour to form a stiff dough.

2. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6 minutes. Place in a bowl coated with cooking spray, turning once to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes.  My kitchen tends to be cold as it adjoins a sunroom that has no insulation (a project for next summer, once the front steps are rebuilt).  So I raise the bread on a heating pad set on low as my 70-year-old oven has no light. (putting bread in an oven with the light on is the perfect temperature to rise dough)
3. Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a loaf. Place in a 9-in. x 5-in. loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Cover with plastic wrap sprayed with not stick spray and let rise until doubled – 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on the warmth of your kitchen.
4. Bake at 375° F. for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool completely before wrapping in foil to refrigerate.

This made some awesome grilled cheese sandwiches.

Buttery, crunchy, nutty, cheesy,

I think I have a stalker.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Snow Showers with a Chance of Bacon

I was able to telework all but a day this week, due to the extreme cold, snow and wind while my husband was on the road (he's back).  There was the usual mayhem, lawyers, and at least one Congressperson, but for the most part, I got a lot done, most of my team either traveling, being in a recurrent training class or on leave this week prior to Christmas and it was quiet.  But then there was "administrative" stuff to do, as we're in a new fiscal year.

One thing was my "personal contact and emergency" info which has to be updated each year.  There's now a box for  "special instructions".

Hmmm. Let's see - Special Instructions.

 "Should I permanently depart the fix, please contact Jim Curtis about coordinating a C-130 drop of 100 pounds of smoked bacon and a case or two of whisky into the Wake. Please make the drop from a safe altitude as my friends may have a range set up to do the bowling pin equivalent of a twelve gun salute.  By the way, if there is an emergency and you have to jettison the bacon early to decrease payload, please drop it on Iran.

But hopefully that day is a LONG way off and til then, we have other uses for bacon.

click to enlarge photo

What is better than succulent pork tenderloin, rubbed with cracked pepper and roasted?

That same tenderloin on top of mashed potatoes and smothered in Maple Bacon Gravy

Now gravy anything isn't exactly the stuff of blog photography goodness (why we don't see coffee table cookbooks on the Joy of Gravy).  But boy was it tasty.  With a  tenderloin (on sale $3.99), veggies bought in bulk, a bit of leftover bacon, with milk, soup stock and spices already on hand for other things, and mashed potatoes made from scratch, dinner was on the table in  less than an hour and at less than $3.00 a serving.

The gravy was awesome, with chicken stock, fresh milk, pure Maple syrup, Amish bacon, and a seasoning blend including smoked paprika, onion, garlic,dill, lemon peel, cardamon and allspice with a pinch of red pepper added in.  Every one agreed it would also be really good on biscuits, waffles, fried chicken, hash browns, you name it.

I posted this recipe once before and readers said it was the best thing they'd ever had, so on a really cold snowy weekend in most parts of Yankeeville, give it a try.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Lab vs. UPS Driver Is Resolved

Abby Normal the Rescue Lab with her "Frequently Barks Inside" cap has won.
    Packages were left on the porch, no  mayhem ensued. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

New Chapters

One chapter from my new book and then I'll quit talking about it  :-) The main character of the book is a young rookie police officer who has to move from Chicago, where she just graduated University, to a tiny rural town after her only living relative dies and leaves her a small home. With grades that would have taken her to the FBI, it's a big setback, in her eyes, but with her recently rescued dog Clyde and new friends, it's one that opens up a wonderful new life full of humor and hope. It's a Christian publisher, but as you can see, it's a story of a subtle, steady hope in a higher power, as opposed to a specific theology or creed.  Any of us who were raised by parents that came out of the depression or the two decades following will understand this way of thinking.

Chapter 16

Occasionally I have to drive into Oz, as I call the big city of Chicago, which rises out of the cornfields. I go less and less, surprisingly not missing large malls and nightclubs like I did when I arrived in this small town. I’m enjoying just working and coming home to relax in the house, to bake bread with new friends. I may be turning into a younger version of my aunt, and I don’t care.

As I made several stops before hitting the freeway home, there were some people panhandling. I have learned to recognize the signs of, “I’m just scamming for money,” $300 shoes, smoking cigarettes constantly between green lights (if you can afford a pack-a-day habit, you don’t need my cash). There was one young lady, dressed in torn and shabby clothing sporting a very recent and intricate hair highlighting job that I know costs close to $200 to get done, even though it looked like she washed her hair with vegetable oil. And look, a new smartphone! Then there was the young man that just looked hungry until you noted how small his pupils are, looking for his next high. Nice try, but they’re not getting anything from me. Sometimes I would see someone that had that slightly unhinged look in eyes or actions that made me make sure I avoided eye contact as I ensured my doors were locked, not wishing to put myself in the point blank range of mentally unstable rage.

Once in a while, I saw something in the clear eyes of one of them, noting hands calloused by years of hard work, and realized that whether they were truly homeless or not, they did need something more than cash, an uplifting of the spirit. So on those occasions, I would roll down the window and put out a couple of bucks, but most importantly, I would look them in the eye and treat them with the respect of a kind word and an accepting smile. I remember one of them with tears in his eyes, an older man with a straight back and hands curled by arthritis, simply because I give him a fairly large and crisp bill, called him Sir, and wished him God’s blessings for a comfortable night of rest.
 Sure, maybe I’m just being played, but I’d rather make the occasional attempt than leave them alone as they sifted through the ghosts of past riches, coming up with empty hands. I’ve been just one bad decision away from where I had only the clothes on my back and enough gas to make an escape. It can happen to any of us, though I’m thankful I had parents and an aunt and uncle that instilled in me the value of hard work and sweat, never being taught the world owed me something like so many of my peers.

In looking at them, I realize how very precious the smallest of things are, how the most ordinary of things, the simplest of possessions can contain the deep, profound integrity of a work of art. You also realize that you can’t hold onto something so hard, so afraid of losing it, that your efforts only fracture what once was whole. I look at some butterflies from Africa under glass that my aunt left in the house when she died. They have such frail and beautiful wings that almost look like they would flutter with life if I softly blew my breath on them. Yet it would only take one accidental drop off the table to destroy them forever, wings tearing from glass that cuts as cleanly as tears.
In our neighborhood, there is this very elderly gentleman, hunched over with pain, barely able to walk. His tidy home on the next block has a wheelchair ramp, for a deceased spouse or himself, I do not know. He walks with great difficulty as if the movement is foreign to him. Each day he takes out his little dog for a walk, likely his only companion as I’ve never seen him with any family member. Holding a leash in one hand and a cane in another, he passes by, indistinctly and quietly as a shadow, yet with movements that are precise with pain, as his little dog hovers with glee over invisible things in a carpet of grass. When we first passed, and I looked at his face, I expected his countenance to reflect the hampered efforts of a hampered body, pain in his eyes and defeat in his form. Instead, I got a happy glint and a smile as he gazed down at his furry best friend, delighting in just being outside in the warm sunshine with a creature he loved.
Our lives all begin in the same way, in the unleashing of pain as our mothers birth us, in that first deep cry as we take in the air around us. From there, the journeys are as different as our fingerprints, on various paths, some strange, some wonderful, some littered with stones that make us bleed. Some don’t survive the journey, others find at its end, they hold a single treasured thing, or nothing at all but their labored breathing. I’ve learned the hard way that each person, each moment is important.

As I drove into the city today, I saw a woman on a corner in designer business clothing, everything about her bright and shining, but for her eyes. On another was someone in the faded clothes of a working man, which had seen better days, holding a cardboard sign that said, “Need help. God bless.” She did everything she could to avoid looking at him, as I handed $5 out the window to him and received an honest and grateful thank-you. I think of what I saw in their eyes—in hers, fear; in his, truth.
Truth, however painful, like beauty, hovers around us, obscured in the still silent waters of a day, waiting for us to stretch out a hand and grab on to it. As I accelerated away, I saw their forms on the sidewalk, joined by others on their way to work, or simply finding their way, looking in the gleaming light like the slats of a fence, some straight, some bent and damaged, all simply trying to hold something together.

Tonight as I type, I look out on my old truck, at a strand of white that’s appeared in my strawberry blond hair when I’m barely even thirty, at a scar on my upper chest that marks the time I escaped that opening grave with gentle triumph when a skin cancer was detected early. Others might think it odd that I give money to strangers while driving a nine-year-old vehicle that’s seen better days. It has nothing to do with income and all to do with how I can live with myself. Like anyone, I’ve made mistakes, I’ve hurt others, and I’ve known too well those truths that are found in a field where nothing is left but crime scene tape and regret. In those truths is the understanding that none of us are immune from failure, lack of empathy, or fate, but we are still all capable of reaching out a hand to a good soul in need, as Christ did. To be ignored is to disappear, to vanish without provoking either mourning or curiosity, a death in and of itself.

The next time I go out for my walk, I’ll take some homemade cookies and share with the old man that walks his dog, I will learn his name, and I will remember it. For he understands too, what many of us know, that no matter how much or how little we have, we all want that same thing—to have a place where we are safe and valued, a place that even the most humble of us deserve to know.