Saturday, June 30, 2018

Smoke on the Water

They showed up on the lake one night, visible in the morning, silent in the mist, their shapes nothing at all like what we'd seen before on this small body of water.  A few miles away was a large and swiftly flowing river, bringing with it goods from afar.  But this little lake was what we, as children, knew.  The water had seen canoes, and the occasional raft kids made out of a sheet of plywood and inner tubes, but these little paddle wheel boats were something new.

Dad, of course, wants to go for a ride on one, there at that park at the end of our block where he ran three miles every day after work. I didn’t want to go but I loved my Dad.  He and Mom adopted my brother and me late in life and he went out of his way to make life normal, now that Mom had cancer.

So I went with him, like most teenagers, secretly hoping that invisibility was an option but it was not to be. It was Fall, wood smoke from burning leaves drifts out over the little man-made lake in the city park, as people took advantage of the day to be out on the bike paths and walking trails. To make matters worse, he was waving at EVERYONE including other kids my age (invisibility now!) I pretended to be looking up at the birds in the trees, hoping the kids wouldn't notice me, but they did and pointed (forget invisibility, let's go for obliterating lightning bolt).  The ride couldn't end soon enough for me.
Had I been acting less like a teenager I would have noticed the stillness of the water before us, our legs propelling us forward as if in flight. I would have noticed how people reacted to my father, the love, and respect he got even as he gave it out.  I would have noticed  how he looked with an owners eye upon the water passing behind us like spent memory, the peace of the water ahead, at the simple of joy of muscle and motion powering past those things that weighed us down, disappearing in the joy of a simple evening with his child, like smoke on the water.

We were both quiet on the walk home, me because I wanted to be anywhere else, Dad for reasons I didn't understand quite yet. When we got back to the house, Mom was in bed, tears on her face.  I'd not seen her cry before and I don't think she expected me to, our arriving home early.  The tears encompassed more than pity or pain but rather that inarticulate recognition and despair of that cancer that blazed onto her inescapable earth, its fire, her ashes. I closed the door as he sat down next to her, the whisper of my bare feet on the floor, the only sound I could make

Years passed; the paddle boats disappeared as quietly as they came, with no mention of their passing.
Now, a lifetime later, I am the only family member remaining. As I leave to run an errand I realize that little has changed, but for me. Dad is the same man he was when I was a teen and so embarrassed to hang out with him, just as his home is the same, but for the ghosts that remain.

But I have changed, as I realize that his wishing to watch closely and guide, was not based on control.  Rather, it was his realizing that I was still light in the burden of the years, not yet possessing the weight of the wisdom that keeps one surefooted on an inescapable path.  It was pushing me past the mundane and the limiting, if only briefly, out of that shelter we make for ourselves in times of self-doubt or danger, hiding underneath it as if it's some armor we don without knowing the full extent of what it's protecting us from.

It was his simply wanting me to know joy, while he spent more time with me, even as time ticked its final moments for his first great love.
As I enter the house and he wakes, I ask him if he wants to go for a drive.  He does, but we don't go our usual route.  We drive on down to the lake where the paddle boats were docked long ago, walking carefully, he with his cane, down to a bench where we can see the water.

I look at him and say, “do you remember those paddle boats?” and he hugs me and we laugh.  From the trees the chirps of birds erupt into music, the steady staccato of their sound ticking down the hours of one more precious evening with Dad.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

But I'm a Community Organizer!

My husband is in Texas on business.  I'm enjoying a glass of wine and the doorbell rings. It's a couple hours after dinner.  I peek out.  It's a 20-something male with long greasy blond hair, wearing what looks like a romper with a large liberal button and holding a clipboard. Obviously, his vocabulary didn't include the words on the door "no solicitations."

But he's a kid.  So I smile through the glass and say "Sorry, I don't open this door to strangers, you are welcome to leave a brochure on the porch chair!"

He looks and says "I'm not a stranger! I'm a community organizer!"

He holds up his e-tablet thing and a clipboard.  His hand is shaking, probably coming down off of this afternoon's dope or drug of choice.

 I say, "anyone can buy a clipboard,  That's how home invasions happen every week in Chicago".  He shook his head like he didn't understand.

I repeat myself though in a firm but pleasant tone.  "I'm not opening my door to some guy I don't know, sorry!" 
Abby is barking furiously while he just stands there with an H.R. Puffinstuff expression on his face that's shoved up against the glass in the door. 

He's totally obvious to the fact that he has a pissed off redhead and an 80-pound bundle of teeth on the other side of the door.  There was something about this guy she did NOT like, as normally she only barks at the UPS truck. I sensed zero hostility,  Honestly, I thought he was just still a bit high.

He looks totally puzzled and finally just leaves.  When he is away from the porch  I open the door and say "Son, there ARE no "safe spaces" and shut the door.

I probably made him cry.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The M & P 9 - Practical Tactical


The Smith and Wesson M+P.   For a female shooter, or anyone considering something a little smaller to carry concealed, it's a nice alternative to the G-22 and has less recoil due to a low bore axis. Like the G-22 it will stay tight and accurate, always a fine trait in any firearm, but even more so, necessary if you're using it for self-defense. (the one pictured above is the M+P9c)

The  M&P  stands for Military and Police and it's a polymer (fancy name for plastic) framed, short recoil operated, locked breech, semi-auto which was introduced in 2005 by an American company, Smith and Wesson.  While targeted at law enforcement agencies, the M&P is also readily available, new and used, on the commercial market, still a quality firearm made in America by Americans.

But don't think because of it's smaller size it's a "Girl's Gun"

I've run into people that said they'd never carry a gun, if accosted by rapper/mugger they'd reason with them. (Wait, that was rapist, not rapper, but I'd not want to be accosted by either, come to think of it.)

"Communication's the key" I've heard from non shooty acquaintances and anti gun commenters on the net. Communication does NOT work for many things.  For example. I picked up a phrase book in Africa years ago.  It was VERY old.  Old, as in most of the phrases were something like -

"Don't be alarmed, we are British soldiers".
or
"We will take everything you have and give you receipt".

It didn't come in handy.  Remember, a criminal doesn't necessarily speak "your language". (Not to mention that sometimes, what you need to communicate needs to be a little faster than words.)

I rarely venture out without some sort of personal protection, it comes in handy for self defense when aforesaid communication doesn't work.

Picture a taxicab somewhere in a foreign land far away -

Driver (I can't understand more than every 4th word but I'm guessing it goes something like this) "My village is so wonderful for small fee I show you look there is my cousin's place he can get you fine rug how many goats do you bring please ask your father."

B. - "Hurry Up!  Someone is shooting at us!!  Imshi!  Imshi!  Imshi! "

Driver:  (in perfect English, not hurrying up) "Have you gone to Pittsburgh?  I have a cousin in Pittsburgh."

Self-defense is something I learned to be serious about by experience, finding that a small laser dot on the center of someone's forehead IS the universal language for "NO".

But there are so many different handguns out there, and many folks, new to shooting, have asked me, on and off the blog, to recommend something for concealed but not necessarily for a first-time shooter.

I like the M & P. My first choice is always something in a larger caliber, but that is not always practical, based on weight and size and clothing choices for concealed.  The M &P is a good alternative to most "pocket pistols", in my opinion. The M&P is striker fired, which basically means the trigger system prevents the firearm from discharging unless the trigger is fully depressed, even if dropped.  An internal lock and/or magazine disconnect are available as options and an optional external thumb safety became available in 2009

There are a couple of features that make it worth a look at for someone looking for a nice concealed piece. Plus, there is something going for it that is gaining favor in law enforcement work. It has replaceable backstraps for the grip and comes with three different sizes. I have pretty big hands, though they're small boned, and the "small" is too small but would be perfect for the average sized female shooter. Get your dealer to let you try all three, see which one works best. If you found the smaller G22 backstrap did NOT fit your smaller hand, this one will.

These can be replaced in moments and chosen to suit the hand size and comfort of the shooter. Here it is with the backstrap removed to show you how easy it is. Twist and turn one part of the grip base, pull it down and pull off the backstrap and there you go.

Law Enforcement departments like this feature, as one model of pistol, can be tweaked to fit many hands, and female officers appreciate being able to change grip size to suit their sometimes smaller hands. The trigger guard, as well, is designed to accommodate gloves.

There's a lot of discussion on the net regarding M & P vs. Glock.  I'm not going to tout one firearm over the other but I can say, that for this shooter, M&P’s ergonomics just felt more natural to me, not just in grip comfort but in the speed I can acquire good sight alignment. In ergonomics it's flat-out superior to many firearms in its class and shooting left handed or right handed required no adjustment in handling.

Yes, the M & P is polymer, but unlike other firearms, it has a stainless steel chassis embedded in the frame to impart rigidity as well as provide a hard mount point. It also has an integrated Picatinny rail underneath the slide on the front of the frame for attaching tactical lights, lasers and other accessories (though if you accessorize it with anything with the name "Kardashian" on it, you lose ALL range and street cred).

The weapon is easy to clean as well. The sear must be released before the slide can be taken off. S + W built the M + P so the sear could be deactivated by moving a lever in the magazine well. Other guns of such similar action types including the trusty Glock require you pull the trigger for disassembly. I probably need not remind my readers, that the most basic step before disassembling a gun is to ensure it is completely unloaded INCLUDING A CHAMBER CHECK.

In any event, the M+P9c can be disassembled without pulling the trigger, a nice feature. S + W also went ahead and built in a tool to do this, the lock rod for the replaceable backstrap is just right to reach in and move the sear deactivation lever. Release the slide, and it comes right off the frame. Easy as can be.

Like all firearms, the M+P should be cleaned before its first use. Like all auto pistols, it benefits greatly from an initial cleaning and lubrication. Since much of the trigger mechanism is exposed by a simple field stripping, its a great time to apply a light lubricant.

The compact pistol comes in 9mm, .40, and .357 sig (a fairly hot round).In either case, I would suggest the 9mm version for the lighter recoil and less expensive practice if this isn't going to be your sole source for concealed carry.

The trigger is quite workable, cupping the finger nicely, with a manageable 6.5 pounds of trigger pull. Out of the box, the trigger isn't perfect, slightly better than the Glock, but like the Glock, smoothing out even more after about 250 rounds through it.

Like a Glock,  the S+W M+P  (at least the early ones) has no external safeties (except some of the full size .45 models).

The concept is simple - if there is a round in the chamber and the trigger is deliberately pulled, it will fire.

Don't want it to go off? Don't pull the trigger.

It's much like a revolver in this way, only easier to shoot well and holds 13 rounds of hot 9mm in its 9c compact form. I wouldn't promote this for a concealed choice for someone who had limited or no shooting experience. This is hardly a huge power tool or a bucking bronco but I wouldn't recommend it as concealed if you don't have basic shooting safety down cold. If you shoot often enough to develop really solid handling habits, the lack of external safeties and light pull double action should not deter you.

All guns you have access to, you need to be practiced with, but this piece requires enough practice to be ready to use it without hesitation. This is a handgun designed with a professional in mind but frankly, the trigger safety system on the M + P is great and less likely to have an accidental discharge than other smaller weapons you may have looked at.

I had a discussion with someone about the lack of safety and I brought up one point. I'm an expert in several aspects of forensics and human factors engineering, and I can tell you this. When all starts going to hell in a handbasket, the first thing to go is fine motor skills. The mental coding repetitive training offers is what keeps one alive.  Frankly, I DON'T want to be fumbling for a safety when being rushed by a home invader twice my size. I want to release my weapon aim and pull. Period.

Factory sights are good  (though there are a number of options for sight upgrades if you wish such as the Trijicon night sights, among others).  With a sight length of just less than 6 inches and the weapon unloaded weights are just mere 21.7 ounces, My little bag full of assorted flavored tactical lip gloss weighs more than that.

Holster options are comparable with Glocks, in other words - about anything goes! Personally I like the Dragon Leatherworks  DL Classic, but there are a lot of choices out there. Ladies, if you are looking for a concealment purse or bag, there are lots out there, many incredible overpriced. Make sure whatever bag you use for this gun, that it has an internal holster. I would never recommend this pistol for bag carry with a round in the chamber, otherwise. If there is a round in the chamber, the trigger needs to be covered for safety.

Shooting it is much more comfortable than another small pistol I own and have reviewed, the Kahr in 40 (though that's a fine, very accurate firearm).  This pistol has a very low slide profile which holds the barrel axis close to the shooter's hand.  That reduced muzzle rise, making it more comfortable to shoot and allows for faster aim recovery if you are doing rapid shooting drills.

It's rugged, not just pretty in pink. Stainless construction coupled with Melonite  (proprietary nitriding process that makes for a matte gray non-glare surface with increased surface hardness) should make for a rugged carry in the long run. Gunsmithing, if ever necessary, is readily available and spare parts are available from Brownells and others.

But there is one drawback to this fine piece, one that someone commented on the first time this weapon was discussed in the comments.

The magazine has been known to "drop out" when in use. Yes, you get good action going, things are tight and grouped well, and the magazine falls out. That really ruins the fun. This is NOT someplace you want to be. Preliminary research suggests somewhere over 15% of the older M + P compacts had this issue and Smith and Wesson redesigned it several times without any great joy until just a few years ago. The one I shoot has never done this, but it did drop out while in the holster. Not good for a law enforcement weapon. Not good for self-defense. Any semi-auto can have that happen, a good reason to always carry a spare magazine, but this particular magazine had it happen more than others.

The problem appeared to be threefold.
  • The catch has a very small engagement area with the magazine.
  • The metal of the magazine is harder than the catch, and it was a sharp edge that was being engaged.
  • The spring which holds the catch engaged is a torsion bar, and could be stronger.
Smith and Wesson's answer was to make the new catches with some kind of coating which resists wear. It seems to do the trick. I believe the new design catch has been standard for about 3-4 years and all M + P pistols come with it now, but if you are buying an older, used weapon, it's something to think about.

Don't let this put you off this fine American made firearm.  If you are buying a used one, and can't ascertain if it's been updated Smith and Wesson WILL provide a new magazine catch. (Or if you're really handy with tiny elfin type tools and Scottish with the "thrifty" gene as some of us are, you can also make a small nylon spacer tube to strengthen the torsion bar spring and increase tension on the magazine catch).

S + W Customer Support is good, even if they don't get well "too wordy" in their responses (don't take it personally, everyone gets that).  The fix for the weapon below was a thin coating of something dark and mysterious. It's pretty thin, the steel shows through. There doesn't seem to be any other change - engagement tension feels the same, release distance still measures about the same.

Hundreds of rounds later, there has been no evidence of any further problem and others I know who had the same fix, report the same. I would not let it scare you off this piece and frankly, it's one of the best concealed weapons out there for the price. If you are looking for a tight, designed for the pro's but simple enough for the average law-abiding citizen, weapon - this is it. People that own them, wouldn't trade them and more than one person I know has bought one used, and later on, added another one to the family gun safe.


Friday, June 22, 2018

Don't Trust Atoms - They Make Up Everything

 Abby the Lab here.  Look what Mom got for me.  A New Petriodic table!  And it's full of squeakers!

Look what it spells out

BaCoN
NaPS
SnAcK
BONe
 "It's flat it 's not big and fluffy-  are you sure I'll like it Dad?"
"Come on Abby - Science is our FRIEND".

My name is no longer Abby. 
 Please refer to me as Xenon - Warrior Princess.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A River Rogue


Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over
the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God
 was hovering over the waters. 
Genesis 1:2

It was a river wild, a river rogue. A summer day long ago, a day of rushing water, a summer on the edge of adulthood.

I remember it as an unusually hot day for the land we lived in. We were itching to cool off, to break away from the confines of starched clothing and rigid rules around the house, one last good swim before school started up again. Time to run off, to the water, to the ledges overlooking a mountain pool. This area had been a spot for years. We knew where the rocks were that would ruin your day with a good C 6 or 7 fracture. We knew where the current would gently propel you to the shore when you started to go numb with the cold that stole into the pale rigidity of the rest of your bones.

Even as a child, I found something magical in water.  I'd stand in it thigh deep, fishing,  I'd wade in it, as a child at camp, the small laps of waves from passing canoes pressing up against my back, coming and going, but always present. As children, rain crashing down, we'd rush to go out in it, seeing not cold, not wet, but drops of wonder on everything around us. We'd look at our shadows on the ground as the sun came back, wondering why the shadow was shaped like us, but nothing else, a mirror that is not a mirror. Wondering why when I looked straight into the sun, I saw a perfect pure circle of light. Hope personified.

Growing up out West, water was everywhere.  It was a land of blue streams tickled with trout, dying fall leaves flinging themselves into the water, flotillas of the lost, splattering the water with yellow light. It was still waters as green as the scent of rain, frogs moaning with boredom in hushed summer light. Soft pale air breathes on the skin, a lover's moist breath. Pine needles snap under my feet as I'm drawn to the water like a flame, a rush of steelhead scented water over stone, the communion of movement.

We didn't have a mall, so on that long ago summer day, we hung around the water.  We gathered near bridges that could be jumped off of, near streams in which you could paddle around like a pre-school kiddie pool. The older kids, the braver ones, would jump off the rocks or grab an inner tube and then propel down through some rushing water to a pool further down. Not I, for I was still too shy, too fearful of the rush of ice cold water, the rocks.

There was a boy there that I'd had a crush on since about 4th grade, one of my older brother's friends. He was friendly to me when he was at my family home but not so much around the popular kids. I was younger. I was a band geek. I had braces. It did not stop me from having the feelings that a person thinks only exist for the young.

I paddled around, hoping he'd notice me, hesitant to grab an inner tube and hit the faster water, cursed by my shyness, but emboldened by something I couldn't even name yet. I was the youngest person there. I was immensely out of my place yet in my element, outdoors. But I saw the other girls, they of the tight clothing and disdainful eyes, gathered around him. I figured it was now or never. With a deep breath of courage, I went up to him and asked. "Do you want to go to the dance with me?" It was one of those Sadie Hawkins things where the girls ask the boys.

He looked at me as the girls giggled, standing straight and rigid, the curiously formal angle of his arms gleaming in the sunlight, immaculate and empty but for my heart which he now held.

He looked at me and said "God no."


The words that struck were no louder than the striking of a flint against a stone, a short, sharp sound that spoke with profound finality. At that moment I truly saw him, not the romantic version I'd created in my girlish head, but the real person, there underneath, the eyes cold, the mouth hard and open like a dark, empty cave.

I retreated to the sound of the girl's laughter. Tears stung my eyes, but I wasn't going to let them see how deeply I was hurt. I turned and grabbed an inner tube, and head held high, dived right in. My tears mixed with the water as I rode the rushing flood of water that came sluicing down, the water moving fast, grabbing my baggy little kid's shorts and pulling me on, hurry, hurry. down and forward.


The water was not so deep and fast  as to be overly dangerous for a good swimmer, but enough, so that for this moment, this little band nerd was part of something wild, wet and unstoppable, something so much bigger than this single day in a life. As I came rushing down the sluiceway in that torrent of water, something as well spilled out of me, was released in me, and and I rode it until the water ran still.

We've all had that experience in one form or another, in deep water or clear sky. The one that scares the stuffing out of you or rips open a wound in a place that would know an endless capacity to hurt. Those moments, bringing out instincts ingrained in your breath, making you reticent to get back anywhere near what caused the situation in the first place. "Getting back on the horse" as they call it.

Sometimes it's a near-fatal accident, a misadventure, more often it's just a badly broken heart. You'll get through it, even as the reality of it clamps down hard with sharp weasel teeth that leave scars no one else can see. But eventually the teeth will pull free, perhaps taking small bits of flesh, exposing nerve endings to the cold, but you are alive and you're learned something. That in itself is something to be thankful for, even if your heart, as they say, won't "buff out".


Talk to people who've had a near-death experience on a mountain top or some other loss and some say I'm not going back.  Ever.  I'm not going to climb again.  I'm not going to get another dog.  I'm not going to need.  I'm not going to trust. Many don't.

The rest look at such events, not as a failure, a loss, but a measure of that which they know they can survive. The event may fade in time, but that which it brought to you can never be destroyed, it's the full measure of life and love, cataloged back in memory to be retrieved in later years, when it can and will, save you again. It's that moment when you know what you are made of, and what you are capable of, of surviving, of feeling.

Years later, I'm back, kayaking the same area with a couple of friends when we come across the same stretch of water, the pools milling around like restless teens, hoping to be left alone, while desperately wanting to be noticed. There's been some rain, just enough to raise up the water level to the level of our spirits. We grab our kayaks and go in, the water yanking at the edge of that last bit of fear, pulling us down, water fast and huge and furious. Once we picked up the paddle, there was no going back, we had to be there, to see if to the end or die trying, water in a place that's inside of us, water in a place that's somehow holy.

The fear of my youth was gone, replaced by a world much bigger than a small cliquish school. My heart was strong, built up by being broken down, bad choices and healed wounds, one defining moment of sacrifice as a teen that became my biggest act of courage. The water lifted us, and we were part of it, strong, fast, so much bigger than ourselves. Water flew up around me and licked my skin, turning parts of me hard, and parts of me liquid, water rushing on, rushing in.

That first step is always the hardest, whether it's walking away with your head held high, or embracing something you've yearned for with a longing you didn't know was in you. Tiny leaps upward propelled by desire and only held back by the gravity of restraint. Why do we hesitate? It's the hesitation born of fear. Fear is not conceived in one quick fumbling in the dark, but repeated sweaty couplings in the arms of that which raises your heart rate and the hairs on your arms. But you also know you can handle the fear. You have learned life's lessons, lost on the youth. You have the capabilities.

It's only fear of the what you don't know that holds you back, while upward a huge unknown, your future, beckons. Awaits in a rush of roaring water, awaits in a still pool in the evening, where past hurt is left lying upon a drifting and imponderable shore, washed clean in the yellow afternoon.

Water leaves it marks. Gouges from rivulets in the calloused summer soil, as if scraped by hard nails. Marks that will not fade until the water flow again, but it does, like a cleansing rain, washing the landscape clean.


At the end of the run, as we got the kayaks to shore, I saw a man in jeans with dark hair, a man who resembled someone at this very spot so very many years ago. It wasn't of course, but for just a moment I hoped it was so he could see what he'd passed up and I could validate why things can make us stronger if we only dare.

For now, it's time to head on down the river to the cars and soon a place to camp. Time for a warm fire and the laughter of friends, releasing our day with the stories we tell. We paddle gently down into a calm pool, floating down streams, like veins, that let the forest bleed.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day 2018

I got back not too long back from a trip long trip out West to check on Dad and spend time with him. Although at 98, his health and his heart are failing, he seemed to be holding it together mentally at least, eating well and doing all he could do, as a man, to defend the remote from those that would wish to watch “chick flicks” between beating me at multiple games of Cribbage.  He does have a nurse's aid 24/7 now as he is physically much weaker, but still mentally quick.. They also keep the house clean and prepare his meals, including a hot supper each day, laughing I'm sure at some of the "as seen on TV", things Dad has added to his "bachelor kitchen" since my Step Mom passed.
I met the young women working with him now and they are giving him the best of care, as they stayed even though I was there, my knee with the missing meniscus not able to pull him up from his bed or from the low slung car seat from those daily car rides he likes to take without further injury.   It was obvious from the cadence of their routines, and the spotlessness of the house, that they have his habits and the needs of he and his house down to a drill and with their medical training I'm more at ease than if he just had a "companion". That care, obviously, is not cheap, but hey were quite attentive and hard working and it was obvious he genuinely enjoys their company.  For the option - to leave a home of 60 some years to live with family thousands of miles away or go into local assisted living, would break his heart.  As long as I have a job, he'll stay where he can be happy, my ensuring the bills get paid, knowing he is welcome to live with us or my cousin L. in her mountain cabin, and knowing he never will.
But he's fallen a couple of times and his judgment for things physical is not the best (we had to hide the ladder and the portable heater). He said he's fine, but his grief is still there under the surface, sometimes clouding his thoughts, and perhaps his judgment. Having been there, I know that he keeps it in, simply, with surface tension, like a cup filled too full. Memories of the two wives and a son and daughter he outlived (the daughter died as an infant before they adopted me) come to him more often now.  I saw him tear up again, rising from a nap with moisture in his eyes and the words. "H. and I were having a time" and he just smiled, not elaborating.

Dreams. They come to us unbidden, some frightful, some bringing a joy that is only a glimpse of what is to become. Some are such that as soon as they touch us, we wish to pull out of them quickly. Such dreams are better faced awake, armed with reason and courage, then in the leaden movements of the night, where things will pull you down into the depths of fear and pain, while your legs struggle to move, caught in a quicksand of time and tide.

But for every occasional nightmare over those years (usually after late night Pepperoni pizza) there were those dreams that would wake us up with a smile on our face; a look, a face, a touch, unknown to us in the day, but yearning for us in the night. Those were such thoughts that follow us into our days as the sun warmed our face.
In school, I was an attentive student, not prone to wandering thoughts, though I did get sent to the Principals office for getting caught reading a car magazine behind my history book in 9th grade. (Look, I already knew about Lewis and Clark, I wanted to know how to put headers on my car, as soon as I could buy one).

There were also few expectations in a small mill town other than you try and finish high school, only a few going to the local two-year college. From high school, most get a job in the timber plant, get married young and work hard. The green chain of a lumber mill might be a place to earn $20 bucks an hour, big bucks at 18, but for me, it was a place where dreams would go quietly to die. Dad understood and gave permission for me to opt out of most of my high school courses and start my studies at our local college at age 14.

Three years later, with Dad's blessing, I left for the big city, disillusioned by the indifference to the song of a destiny in a factory town displayed by my classmates, afraid of a fate that herded its own through a shortcut from school to an oft early grave, with sometimes dangerous and back-breaking work. Higher education was my only way out, and as much as I loved my family and some of my friends, I had to go. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, there was no money for college, with Mom's long battle with cancer, but I knew that with the hard work ethic of those I grew up with, I could put myself through, as both my parents did.
So I watched those familiar mountains grow distant, my dreams about the only thing I had to consume in that first year on my own, which in the Chinese Calendar would have been the “Year of the Ramen noodle” as I sometimes worked up to 3 part-time jobs to pay for tuition and a room to rent in a big house near campus.

But I still came back, if only for Dad. For his dreams, tattered as Fall leaves that waved like a brace of flags, were still real to him. He was, and is,  happy there, children close in spirit if not in miles, sharing in the memories of much happier times, stories of those he loved with great intensity.

I understand such things, for like my Dad, I am a closet romantic. I once had a talk with a friend about what would be the ideal relationship for me, not the pride of ownership with the ensuing need for control, but something else - “I want someone for which I’m necessary, not simply loved, but necessary", I said, trying to explain it as best I could. He said such things are the 'stuff of romantic fiction' but he did so kindly, not understanding.
Perhaps there are only a few like us to which that romantic readiness which is the extraordinary gift of hope is to be found, those with that heightened sensitivity to the promise of a smile; the rest of the world, staid, their hard and fast existence only dust, floating on the wake of their dreams, leaving behind the elation of hope in the practical drift that is life. But I would not settle for less, for there is no amount of dust or fire that can challenge what someone dreams of in their ghostly heart.

Dad understood, and over the years sure we'd have talks well into the unquiet evenings while I was there about my life and my heart, not to be nosy, or to bring up the pain of the distant past that he knows was still there, but to simply make sure I would be OK when he was gone. He knew how fortunate he was to love greatly, not once, but twice, two marriage, each lasting decades, the last a great one that pulls at his heart daily though in no way diminishing his first love.

When I brought Partner in Grime home, one of only two men I'd ever brought home to meet my family in the last 25 years, Dad was relieved to see I was finally happy, and my Big Brother took to Partner like he was already family, the two of them discussing engineering in the kitchen well into the wee hours, as even then, my brother knew his days were drawing to a close.  They both loved him and were happy that I was not just in love, but that I was "safe", something I'd not been with a spouse twenty years ago who used his fists as exclamation points.
Yet for all his romantic soul, Dad’s a practical man, raised in the depression, career military, living with Norwegians for which the utterance of profound despair may only be “ya, the coffee is getting cold” and possessing those fine set of brakes which can put a halt to any runaway emotion lest you lose control. And like my closest friends he is very much a "man's man" on the outside. He loves his sports and once glued to the TV, there’s not much conversation. I was cooking a large meal for him for dinner one night, and halfway through he came out in the kitchen and hugged me and said “I love you”. I looked at him, laughed and said “it’s halftime isn’t it”. And he just laughed.

But my Dad and I are just alike, even as, both redheads, we occasionally gently and humorously spar, out of stubbornness and concern for one another, as anything. Which is why I travel the long miles to see him as often as I do, spending time with him rather than going on trips with friends,or vacations with my husband, tending to Dad's large house, cooking him his favorite meals which will go into the freezer for later, getting his beloved garden in order, running his errands.
With my brother gone, keeping those memories of the family alive for him is even more important.  This visit -  my brother's best friend since early childhood and his beautiful wife stopped by to wish Dad a Happy Birthday and there were so many stories, so many memories, and that final question I AM going to ask my brother when I see him in Heaven -  "Why DID you have a live loaded flare gun in your nightstand??"

There’s not a lot for me to do there when Dad is sleeping, which is about 14 hours a day, the nearest town fairly small, the unemployment in that whole part of the state staggering. The town is coated with the smell of the pulp mills taking the form of grey houses and grey smoke and tired men and women who move slowly and seemingly without thought or dreams in and out of the vast machinery that keeps this little town alive. Their eyes dimmed by many hard days under rain and cloud, yet remaining here, for what tethers them to this land is as profound to them as what drove me away.
For though I go there because I am needed, I do not live there, I only watch. Watch the thin yellow sky, that bleeds into the smoke from the mills down the river, a smoke that offers a cloud of secrecy that is sensed rather than felt, by the casual watcher of the landscape. Whether we stayed or we left, we all have our secrets. Some are known, those that look at me in the grocery and whisper. And those secrets we don't speak of. We feel the words in our head and they are summoned to lips where in an intake of air they are almost spoken. But air alone is not enough to make them form, and they remain uncommunicated, except for the touch of fingers in our sleep.

So, for Dad, for his dream, I would stay, if only for that week. For this is what he needs now, for though his town is not the place he settled, so many moving away, it is is a memory of post-WWII life, setting up a home here with his first wife, my Mom, after years of separation while he was at War. It was a town full of music and dreams and tall hills covered with ceaseless timber, the rain, not a grey blanket but a sound, a rising and swelling with the gusts of emotion, and passion that was worth waiting for. That place is still alive for him, in an old covered bridge, in an old house near the water, in dreams of steelhead trout that never grow old, never tire.
I left this place to seek my dreams, and he says behind so he can live among his, in a home that contains those memories of what made him happy. Two china sets, two completely different women, both fragile and strong as steel, both beautiful. The marks of children raised here, a small playhouse out back, the marks on a door where we grew and grew. On the table in the dining room, a photo, of a pair of blue eyes in which his whole world achieved its value by the response he could draw from them. This was a woman who was completely necessary to him and will remain so even as her actual presence is but the touch of fabric left by a sewing machine, forever stilled.
After my visit there, I  go home to dreams rendered real, eyes kind and a face smiling, the countenance of St. John the Divine, made flesh. Someone to make me laugh, someone who would mourn my passing. My nights on the road might be lonely, yet in the wandering paths of my dreams both asleep and awake will come lips on my shoulder, fingers that hold my own, gently as if in sleep, silent shadows of faithfulness that communicate more profoundly than any words I could write here. And like my Dad knows, I am aware of how very fortunate I am, to have these remnants of family, strong and abiding still.
He and I both know this may well be the last Father's Day I get to say these words to him, but I know that when he does have to leave us, there will be more than shadows remaining.  There will be laughter and warmth reflected in invisible glass, seen from a distance by loving hearts that will always remember.

 Happy Father's Day Dad.  I Love You.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

You Can't Climb Mountains on Ramen Noodles

I eat meat-free several meals a week, to add more healthy protein, fiber,  and veggies.  I tried doing the vegetarian thing when I was young but I've had anemia since I was a child and felt like )@(% on an all veggie diet, plus I'm allergic to soy. And of course, there is the whole BACON thing.

But a few meals a week is good. It saves me a lot of money on grocery bills and is healthy when the vegetarian meals are based on real food and not white flour pasta and neon colored cheese (though I do have my box mac and cheese fix every month or so).

Having a number of bean/grain dishes on hand that everyone likes is good for both the budget, not to mention being easy to store long term in emergency supplies.

The following dish may not be particularly photogenic but it's one of my favorites, and about 25 cents a serving if you buy your food and spices in bulk

Dal Bhat - a staple in the Nepalese diet, and something you will likely see for both lunch and dinner in that region if you are climbing  (or flying in climbers).  It's filling, high in protein and stays with you for hours. It's something I pack for lunch a couple of days a week as it's cheap, surprisingly delicious and very filling with rice or in a Pita or piece of Naan bread,  and I can eat it cold or hot depending on where I'm at.

Makes 6-8 servings

2 cups rice
4 cups water  (I make mine in my all-purpose steamer, 40 minutes and it's perfect.)
1 sweet onion chopped
1 and 1/2 Tablespoons minced garlic (or 3 cloves of fresh garlic)
1 cup dry lentils (any variety)
3 cups water
1 - 14 1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes with liquid
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (I used 1 teaspoon and it was wonderfully hot but not painfully so when paired with the rice)
1/2 teaspoon coriander (if you have it, I've made it with and without)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Start rice cooking.

In a Tablespoon of olive oil, saute onion and garlic in a large fry pan on medium heat for a couple of minutes (you want the onions soft). Add lentils and dry cook two minutes. Add water, cover and cook covered on medium for 15-20 minutes. Stir in spices and tomatoes. Cover and cook covered 20-25 minutes - until lentils are soft and the liquid has been absorbed (medium heat or just enough for a gentle simmer/steam).

Serve on rice with a squeeze of lime juice. It is often garnished with cilantro and chopped red pepper but I usually serve mine with just the lime juice to save time and $$.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A Dad's Life -

One thing I made sure was working properly on my last visit out was Dad's chair that lifts him up to the standing position, then, he can lean into it and gently have it sit him back down (and I have to say the DeBeers Diamond  "three months salary" marketing staff have nothing on the folks that sell furniture for older folks).

He loves it, one more thing to help him stay in his home. He recovered from his stroke a few years back better than anyone thought, but he now has a hard time standing and sitting without a little help.  Every morning, he gets up and gets settled in it and reads the daily message from "Our Daily Bread" and then the Bible.  That's something he's done every day since retirement after his morning work out (Dad was a Golden Glove Boxer and still has a very strict exercise regiment that included swimming and Nautilus at the Y with my Step Mom well into their 80's).  Then it's time to get dressed and get about enjoying the day. At 98, he's had some setbacks, and been hospitalized a couple times for infections, but he seems to bounce back pretty well.

But we had one scare, he woke in the middle of the night after dreaming of a home break-in (the house was secure) and called 911.  He then couldn't get out of bed due to a sudden dizzy spell and police broke the door down. They found him having a medical issue and got him an ambulance to the hospital. Bless them for their response and handling of him, as it was really scary for him.  He now has 24-hour care, still refusing to live with family who'd love to have him.

My favorite photo of Dad, taken when he was 92.

Actually, I checked the chair out when he was sleeping in one day, it's quite comfortable and seems to be built better than some of theexpensive yuppie furniture that I used to own.

But dang, I was hoping for an auto-launch feature that would get me airborne. 

Initiate Launch Sequence!  (that's it??)

The family room, where the chair is housed, has barely changed since I was in sixth grade.  My parents built it onto the house over what was most of our huge cement patio.  We took a vote as a family one year when I was in grade school. Vacation to Hawaii with the kids (the parents had already gone on their 25th anniversary alone) or add on a family room?  The kids decided it.  Family room!  We can play!  We can make noise.  We can spill stuff!  We can take the TV set completely apart with tools while they're at the grocery store (oh, dang, busted)

It has the previous living room carpeting down over the original harvest gold linoleum now and the drapes have been updated.  But much is unchanged. The 1970's fixtures for the fluorescent lights that Dad crafted by hand. Still there. That Mexican hat on the Wall?  A VERY embarrassing River dance gone South episode from some tap recital of mine.  The barre built into the wall where I did my ballet warm-ups was removed and replaced with paneling.  It was there under the kitchen window that Mom once took out with a golf ball from the backyard when that was the back window to the house. Fore! (hey, I didn't know Mom knew that other word!)

On the walls are funny tin signs and Montana art.  On another wall are numerous awards and mementos from the community and  Uncle Sam, every single member of our family - Mom, Dad, brothers, sister, serving in Defense, Local or Federal Law Enforcement or the Armed Forces, with the Air Force and Navy battling it out for the best space. And the picture of Jesus, which has witnessed slumber parties, ping pong games (we'd set the table up inside in the winter) Loony Tunes, and probably cursing during that 1983 Minnesota-Nebraska college game.

The couch is new, but the quilt is one my Mom crocheted in the 70's.  There is another one, but it sits in my linen closet at the Range, where I can occasionally hold it, smell the scent of Chanel No. 5 that only exists in my memory.  It's where I can remember her hands working away on it while we kids watched westerns on TV and tried to outshoot Marshall Dillon with our little cap guns under the watchful eye of our Lord.
We've made just a few changes in the house.  The main bathroom, tub and shower were outfitted with handles and bars and a shower chair for ease of bathing. The waterbed was replaced with a quality regular mattress that makes it easier for him to get out of bed, but with a heated mattress pad so it's warm through the night.

The small bath by the family room, though, was in dire need of help.  It was always the "utility" bathroom, old faded paint, bare window, no storage at all, and small and hard to get around in as there was nothing for him to hold onto if his balance or strength waned.  But it's the one he uses the most.

Before he died, Big Bro took care of the construction and I took care of the  paint and the decorating.
Still, with a full-time home health aide I arrange and lawn service that comes weekly I am happy he can stay in his home. He originally said he wanted to move in with me when my Step Mom was diagnosed with cancer and I bought an old money pit of a big house on some property with a view of a small lake, a single story, no steps, "mother in law set up" outside of town, the original "Range." I hoped he'd be happy there. But she went into remission, with great thanksgiving, but was then diagnosed with Alzhemers.

He cared for her in his home through that, until her death, years more than we expected, but not easy years for him.  But as she was his cross, she was also his salvation and he refused to put her in a nursing home, even when she acted out in anger against her children, not recognizing her own life, but somehow, always recognizing him.

But after she was gone, he changed his mind. His Mom was from Indy, and he enjoyed it there, but he didn't want to leave where he's lived all these years.  He wanted to stay where his memories are, good or bad, in his own church, in that old house.  I  understood and sold the place I had bought, at a loss, but one I gladly bore.

This is the home in which his memories reside, in every furnishing that's 30, 40, 60 years old.  There have been other houses, for summer vacations and the old family home in Montana, but this modest little place was always the center of the family.  Outside, is the bed of my Mom's rose garden, replanted with other flowers now, yet still containing for him, those pink and red and coral buds and blossoms, long after they've fallen to dust, no more dead to him than the hands that tended them, the drops of blood they sometimes drew.
In that family room, he sits in his recliner and watches his favorite sports, while around him are the artifacts of loves never lost,  triumphs and defeats, as well as the living laughter of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Not one of them are related to him by blood, but by the strongest bond - family.

My room at home is virtually unchanged and that was not by my request, but his will. Photos of family and family and extended family all around.  The rainbow I painted on my walls in junior high. Dad said I could, but I had to use leftover paint which is why my rainbow is every shade of totally tacky 1970's paint we had.  (yes, we had rooms painted those colors!)
There is no view. There used to be a view of beautiful mountains, but they are hidden from where we sit by tall, big box marts. He refused to sell when they literally bought up several blocks, RE-zoned residential and commercial, so we look out the windows to the vast walls of a commercial business, their parking lot lights illuminating the place like Attica Prison during a break. Curtains keep the light out at night, sort of.  Dad realizes the value of the home just went to zip, but he doesn't care. It's his home,  it's our home.  It's where we lived, and it's where he will pass, hopefully and quietly in his favorite chair, his Bible open and a can of cold beer waiting for when the game is called.

He knows his days are short, we all do. But he's very happy, lousy view and all. The pastor comes and gives him communion regularly.  His neighbor's have him over for meals and their children come and play board and card games with him.   I fly out as often as I can, becoming an expert on the cheap air fares (how many stops?)  My step brother and his wife drive three hours to take him to lunch. My cousin Liz drives up from California several times a year (her partner's family live an hour from Dad).  Liz and I oversee his bills and such, removing that responsibility after he sent thousands to shyters that prey on the elderly.

But he's happy. He has friends, good ones, but new ones, as all of his original group has passed on. He still works out each day, including an exercise bike and he eats very well with a hot meal daily from the sweet ladies that are his home health aides and the snacks and small meals I leave for him in little freezer containers between visits.
Around the house are small sayings, quotes that mean things to him, verses from the Bible.  "This is the Day the Lord hath Made, Let us Rejoice and Be Glad in It" is one that always makes me think of him. Each day is a gift from the Lord, he says, and I can't disagree.

I can't say what the future will bring, but one thing my brother and I both agreed on before he left us. Dad has outlived two beloved wives and two children (he and Mom lost a baby when they were first married) and I'm going to fight to make sure he does not experience any more loss of what he holds dear.

- Brigid