Wednesday, August 29, 2018

With a 9/11 Anniversary Coming Up - A Must Read from a Ground Zero Chaplain

If you are a proud American, read this book.

If you are a Christian, read this book

If you are a first responder, paramedic, fireman, or police officer, read this book

If you are too young to truly remember 9/11 read this book.

If you ever wondered whether God abandons us during times of deep loss read and evil this book.

Written by a former Chicago firefighter, rescue diver and chaplain who volunteered (5 tours)at Ground Zero this is the most amazing story of courage, faith, and humanity as I have ever read. I stayed up well into the night finishing it, even though I had to be at work early. I ended it with tears on my face and a renewed trust in God and the humanity of His children. Chaplain Bob Ossler and Janice Hall Heck have crafted and edited a book deserving of its accolades

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A Winter's Dying Flare

I got word last night through a family member that a long time dear friend of mine, one of our blogging community, lost his battle with cancer.  It was like a punch in the gut. Only 7 days prior he'd been given at least two years to live.  Difficult to accept, but two years is still time. When he and I  talked last Thursday,  he was complaining that the facility he was getting care in had him on a low salt diet because his blood pressure was a little high.

He joked, "Great - on my tombstone - here lies ____,  salt-free, but still dead".  So, at his request, I smuggled him in some cheddar bacon popcorn due to a very kind gourmet popcorn shop in his southwest town that offered to deliver it to him.  I used to hit his tip jar every few months with enough cash for a really nice bottle of Scotch.  Thereafter he called me the Scotch Fairy.

He didn't get a chance to try the popcorn.  He wrote that he was NPO (no food by mouth) for at least the weekend.

I expected a phone call Monday - since we didn't talk Friday as originally planned.  Our phone calls were fun  - we'd talk investigative stuff, crime, books, scotch, you name it.  Over the years and especially after I lost my older brother he became like family.  Honestly, he was family even if we're not related.

My husband provided what comfort he could but I cried throughout the day yesterday.

I don't have the permission of his family to announce his passing so please don't speculate who it is in the comments.   If that changes I'll update you.

I hope these words provide some comfort for any of you who have lost a friend or a family member recently.

An Excerpt From Saving Grace - A Story of Adoption 
I've heard so many people say: "I'll do that when I'm older, when I lose 20 pounds, when I'm retired." We go through life saying, "I would, but it probably wouldn't work out," or, " I'd like to but. . ." We too often base our actions on an artificial future, painting a life picture based on an expectancy that time is more than sweat, tears, heat, and mirage.

You can't count on anything. For out of the blue fate can come calling. My husband and I had recently lost our beloved black Lab Barkley after a brief but valiant battle against bone cancer and a weekend of pain we couldn't keep at bay for him. In a flash, life robbed even of the power to grieve for what is ending. I think back to when my brother Allen and I were kids: going down a turbulent little river with little more than an inner tube and youth, risking rocks and rapids and earth just to see what was around the bend of that forest we'd already mapped out like Lewis and Clark. The water was black and silver, fading swirls of deep current rising to the surface like a slap, fleeting and gravely significant---as if something stirred beneath, unhappy to be disturbed from its slumber, making its presence known. A fish, perhaps; or simply fate.

I think of the true story of the woman whose parachute didn't open on her first jump and she fell more than a mile and lived---to change her whole life to pursue her dreams. Did she sense something as she boarded that plane, looking into the sky at a danger that she could not articulate, that she could not see? Or was she unaware until that moment when she pulled the cord and nothing happened, as her life rushed up to her with a deep groaning sound? What was it like in that moment, that perception of her final minutes, what taste, what color, what sound defined her soul as it prepared to leave? 

I was in the paint section of a hardware store the other weekend, looking for a brick-colored paint to spruce up a backdrop in the crash pad’s kitchen. I noticed the yellows, a color I had painted my room as a teen. I noticed the greens, so many of them---some resembling the green of my parents’ house in the sixties and seventies, yet not being exactly the same color. The original was one that you'd not see in a landscape, only in a kitchen with avocado appliances while my Mom sang as she made cookies. I remember Allen and I racing through the house, one of us soldier, the other spy, friends forever; stopping only long enough for some of those cookies, still warm. Holding that funky green paint sample I can see it as if it were yesterday. Memories only hinted at held there in small squares of color.

What is it about things from the past that evoke such responses? For some, it’s a favorite photo; a piece of clothing worn to a special event; a particular meal. Things that carry with them the sheer impossible quality of perfection that has not been achieved since. Things that somehow trigger in us a response of wanting to go back to that time and place when you were safe and all was well. But even as you try and recapture the memory it eludes you, caught in a point in your mind between immobility and motion, the taste of empty air, the color of wind.

One morning while out in a hangar checking out a pilot friend’s home-built project, I had one of those moments. It was an old turboprop lumbering down the taxiway with all the grace of a water buffalo. It wasn't the aircraft that caught my eye, it being one of those planes that carry neither speed nor sleek beauty but rather serves as the embodiment of inertia overcome by sufficient horsepower. No, it was the smell of jet fuel that took me back---to years of pushing the limits, not really caring if I came home, only that the work was done without my breaking beyond re-use something I was trusted with.

Until one day, while my heart was beating despite being broken unseen beneath starched white cotton, my aircraft made a decided effort to kill me. It was not the "Well, I'll make a weird sound and flash some red lights at you and see what you do," an aircraft's equivalent of the Wicked Witch of the North cackling: "Care for a little FIRE, scarecrow?" No, it was a severe vibration that shook the yoke right out of my hand as we accelerated through 180 knots on the initial climb, as unknown to me, a small piece of metal on the aircraft's tail had come loose and was flapping in the breeze.

In that moment, as I heard the silent groaning of the earth below, I thought "I do not wish to die," and I fought back---in that moment of slow and quiet amazement that can come at the edge of sound, finding in myself a renewed desire to live, recognizing the extent and depth of that desire to draw another breath and share that soft warm breath with another.

Today is a memory that months from now could be one of those memories---not of fear but of triumph. You may look back and see this day, the friends you were with, the smile on your face, the simple tasks you were doing together. Things, so basic in their form to at this time simply be another chore: cleaning, fixing, an ordinary day while children played with a paper plane fueled by laughter and the hangar cat drowsed in the sunlight. It might be a day you didn't even capture on film---no small squares of color left to retain what you felt as you worked and laughed together, there in those small strokes of color, those small brushes of hope as you wait for your best friend to join you.

Twenty years from now you may look at yourself in the mirror, at the wrinkles formed from dust, time, and tears around your eyes, at the gray in your hair; and you will think back to this day, the trivial things that contain the sublime. On that day, so far beyond here, you may look around you, that person you were waiting for no longer present, and you want it all back. Want it as bad as the yearning for a color that is not found in nature, in the taste of something for which you search and ache, acting on the delusion that you can recreate it, those things that haunt the borders of almost knowing.

You touch the mirror, touch your face and wish you'd laughed more, cared less of what others thought, dove into those feelings that lapped at the safe little edges of your life, leaped into the astonishing uncertainty.
Allen spent years running silent and deep under the ocean, visiting places I can only guess at as he will not speak of it, a code about certain things I share with him. But I knew the name. Operation Ivy Bells. He understood testing the boundaries of might and the deep, cold depths to which we travel in search of ourselves.

On his last nights, Allen and I talked, but not of that, being aware of grave matters of honor but not speaking of them, not even with each other. I'd sit as he talked about Dad and how he hoped Dad would live to be a hundred; how he hoped he would be there to take care of him, even as I watched 120 pounds leave Allen’s frame as he went through that second round of chemo and radiation.

He talked until his eyes closed, only his labored breath letting me know he was still with me; the rise and fall of his chest as if he were trying to push up from the waters of the sea, unfathomed flesh still so buoyant if only in spirit as the cold water lapped against him.

I too have had more than one day where I stood outside on a pale crescent of beaten earth and breathed deeply of that cold. On those days I felt every ache in my muscles; my skin hot under the sun; the savage, fecund smell of loss in the air, lying heavily in the loud silence. Somewhere in the distance would come a soft clap of thunder; overhead clouds strayed deliberately across the earth, disconnected from mechanical time. I'd rather be elsewhere; the smell simply that of kitchen and comfort: the sounds only that of laughter. But I knew how lucky I was to simply be, in that moment, and alive.

I'd go home on such nights and pour a drink, prepare a small meal. I'd eat it slowly, letting the sweet and salt stay upon my tongue. For me there would be no quick microwaved meal eaten with all the detachment of someone at a bar, tossing back a handful of stale nuts with their beer. No, I wished to taste and savor the day, the warm layers of it, this day that had been someone's last.
You can't control fate but you can make choices. You can continue your day and do nothing, standing in brooding and irretrievable calculation as if casting in a game already lost. Or you can seize the moment, the days, wringing every last drop from them. Tell the ones you love that you love them. Hug your family; call an old friend you've not spoken to for months; forgive an enemy; salute your flag---and always, always give the dog an extra biscuit. Then step outside into the sharp and unbending import of spring, a dying winter flaring up like fading flame, one last taste, one last memory, never knowing how long it will remain. 
 - B.

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Places of Our Happiest Memories

Folks - After a little more than a year off from serious writing, I've started book number 3 (4 if you count the Novella with Old NFO's anthology).  It's going to be a look back on my flying days, not specifics of my career just the mindset and philosophy of flight in its varried forms and some of the both scary and esoteric experiences I had aloft.

Chapter 1 - The Places of Our Happiest Memories From "Compass Course" by L.B. Johnson

That Monday morning began with a distant rumble of thunder.  My husband was already up for work, I had a day off and just snuggled down under the covers while Abby snoozed on the futon  As the sky darkened I heard the click click click of her toenails on the hardwood floor.  She was headed into the narrow but deep closet where she hides when it storms.  I gathered myself up to go watch the sky, sharing something with the nature of that rumbling.  Such storms have accompanied me on so many nights out in the field, their power lighting the sky, laying bare all risks and renunciations, as I work in the echo of someones last whisper.

The storm rolled through fairly quickly and with more than a little rain. This has been quite the year for rain, setting a fifty-some year record.  The damage on the drives home each weekend was explicit - whole farm fields submerged, others dotted with large pages of dead vegetation that succumbed to days and days of standing water, The flat land was ridged and rutted with the marks of the centuries, the land passed over with wagons and guns, tears and tribulations.
That Monday I rose with the day and the sound of the rain and stepped out onto the porch to looked at the sky. The sun had come up in the east, the horizon gleaming as if lit by a candle within, my form only a solitary sentry who forever challenges it.

It was only a few years ago, we had a drought, the corn dying across the landscape. There is no pattern to it, no predictability beyond a farmer's almanac and the scattering of bones across the ground. I remember one hot day in that summer - a small farmhouse - an interview to be conducted. The woman that answered the door knew why I was there, even as she looked past me as if hoping I'd disappear. I'm supposed to say "I'm sorry for your loss". But I could not. I simply stood there as she grabbed onto me as if a lifeline, breaking into tears. She couldn't have been much more than 100 pounds and felt like a bundle of sticks against my muscled form as she cried - sticks that had weathered so much, for so many years, only to be tossed onto a fire, for which I could offer no healing rain.
For some reason, I think of that on that Monday morning, as the rain dripped down eaves that have wept the tears from above for well over a hundred years. The village itself was old, all but a handful of the homes a hundred years old or more, trees covering my shadow that had existed long before I did. It's a quiet place, a safe area to walk. Each morning my husband or I would take Abby out for her walk, passing a Pub, the Catholic Church, down past the school to my house. As I went that day to get her leash, a flock of Canadian geese flew overhead, causing me to look up to a gunmetal sky as I looked out across the neighborhood.

The wooden steps listed ever so slightly, as if tired, a project when the kitchen is done.  Branches of age-old trees moved in the wind, a flutter of birds released as they bow down upon the altar of a porch, The air within was still with invisible memories of the several generations who have lived in this home.

I wondered if I could instantly take myself to this spot 50 years in the future if it would be the same, if it would even be here. That's something I will never likely know, as the future, like beauty itself, floats fleeting, undefined, half hidden in the silent, still air, to be recognized only when we are ready.

As we returned from a short trip out to the grass, then a dash back to the house, I took my boots off, gliding quietly over polished floors, throwing my raincoat on the fragmentary curve of the chair.  The house empty now, I went down to the basement, ducking my head in stooped courtesy to the low ceiling, where I would take up a tool and hammer grief into a piece of wood.

I hope this is the last house I live in, having moved too many times in my life due to circumstance, choice, or sometimes just the ingrained habit to endure.  So many homes though stand in my memory - so many of them now gone.

My Aunts house, where I sat in the tiny living room and listened to my favorite Uncle, the Engineer, ask questions that made me view the world in a whole new way. It's gone, the house raised to joint the tall colorful homes that rise towards the sky on those small lots. All that is left is some glassware of my Aunts, my Uncle's engineering books, passed to my brother, then to me. There in the closet is the carefully tended uniform of a great War, the cloth itself assuming the shape and form of those who are our heroes, looming tremendous against that backdrop of books and tools, and a small folded flag, that fills a sleeping house.
On a corner outside of my hometown, stands the funeral home where I worked as a teen. It's now a structure that has been empty for years, the economy taking a toll, the form of a place where the dead were once prepared and grieved not the sort of place one wants to buy and turn into a Chuck E. Cheese. It's as grey and desolate as a tomb, the faded Realtors sign in front the only sign that anyone had been here in years. There is nothing inside, no future, no life, nothing but the echoes of shades within, impervious to time or alteration by their very weightlessness, no bodies left to be buried, just the shapes of memory, recollections that lie as dust by those that drive past, unseeing.

There in a city further away is a rental house I lived in as I started University. I shared the top floor apartment with two girlfriends from high school, the main floor housing one of their brothers and a roommate, as did the basement. It was owned by one of my friend's parents,  We got cheap rent, but it was NOT free, the house having to pay for itself.   It was so very tiny, two of us sharing one bedroom, one former bedroom, now the "living room", the really small one, mine, just enough room for a twin mattress on the floor and some pictures of musical instruments on the wall. In the tiny bathroom, a single antique claw-footed tub, as deep as desire.  It was a sanctuary where I would soak for an hour with Vivaldi playing, not the usual Queen or Led Zeppelin when I actually had the place all to myself.
I wonder if I drove past that old neighborhood today, that house would still stand, or would it have been razed, the lot it was on, being worth more than the dwelling placed upon it.

I opened up the window, the air breathing in and out, lightning flashes and with the weight of the dark, my breath quickens - blood running warm and quiet.  So many places, now gone or changed to where what I remember of them is more recalling a piece of music I've heard,  but for which I played no part.
Though sometimes you are surprised.

When I was in grade school, on the long walk home, there was this giant shrub, actually several that had grown together, dying parts replaced by new shoots, all trimmed in a huge square shape. But underneath, in the tangle of their bases, you could crawl through, on your belly, like you were in some sort of secret fox hole tunnel. There were lots of open branches and space so it wasn't EXACTLY like a foxhole, but we could pretend. Of course, I'd arrive home, the dress my Mom had made for me all dirty and she had NO idea how I could get that way from a "walk home".

So imagine my surprise when I was first back in town after university and saw that sculptured shrub was still there, all new pieces perhaps, but still a growing living thing. I could no longer fit underneath its form but I could see that image still, looking up through the dense shrubbery, the branches, the arms that protect, the leaves, guarding not just my form but my urgent heart as I thought that surely heaven must be this color green, that forever grows and will never die.
I think of the walls of my crash pad near work, a place that was only a spot to lay my head when I was on duty, my true home far away.  But what of the memories made there, the dinners and laughter, Barkley's attempts to get the little plush Chewbacca that was attached to Tam's purse, friends stopping by to see both of us, innumerable waffles, toast and toasts and always, books. There were tools and brass and puzzles and a question asked that made me look at the world in a whole new way. There was a dog bed, by mine, now claimed by a senior rescue dog, who will twitch in her sleep as she guards that which remains. 

Then there were the nights alone there, waiting for the phone to go off, even as it didn't.  My eyelids lids would twitch as I tried to sleep, the movement in response to my own brains thoughts or perhaps merely the cyclical movement of the earth and all of her watchers. In that place, there were memories made, and a life, perhaps forever changed. I wonder if years from now, I will drive past, just to see if it's there.

For these are the places of our happiest memories. They are scraps of time, like scraps of a note where your name once lay, a bit of stiff paper that means little of itself, yet still you keep it, will not burn it or throw it away because it means something, something you can hold even if the marks upon it are faded to white, something that says what you were, what you felt, even as you still are.
Years from now, oh so many years you hope, year to dream, to grow, there will come another night, with eyes that twitch with the minds flooding, even if the body is failing, the organs requiring the care of a Swiss watch even as time ticks down. The eyes are full of everything save consciousness and others gather around, looking on with knowing and unbearable eyes. The places of your memory are likely long gone, all they have here is the pictures of them in that brain that still sparks like a match, unspoken stories mirrored in the eyes of those around you.

Those places are never truly lost, they simply lie in whatever peaceful trail, besides whatever placid and assuring pond of spent years remains; in the mirror of days in which the mind still contemplates older desires and everlasting hopes. They are there, always, quiet, musing, steadfast, the joy still triumphant even if the actual place is now cinder and dirt. In that brain, is one final vision, a place perhaps, a person, someone for whom that spark exists even if they were years gone. The breath slows, the body remembers, the eyes finally close even as they embrace all seeing.
Far away, on a hill guarded by a small battalion of floral sprays, stands a grave marker. It was erected long before the soul's shroud that lays beneath would have believed, a life cut short without pattern, or prediction.  The stone has seen both sun and rain.  It has witnessed the dry heave of grief coming deep from the chest and the splash of tears against stone.  It will be here as the landscape grows, withers, dies, and grows again, generation after generation, even as those that visit fade from drought to dust.  It will be here when the night sky calls our name and doesn't look back.

From outside the basement window, the rain ceased as a flock of geese flew overhead, in the trail of a small aircraft that was skirting the storm.  Their sounds rose towards an astonishing crescendo, beyond the compass of hearing, as they flew upwards into a bright green sky.


Thursday, August 23, 2018

You Had Me at Bacon

I  was wanting to make a snack the other day for my husband one day to tide us over to lunch.  I had some garlic and a can of chickpeas and was thinking of trying my hand at hummus because as it gets more popular, it seems to get more expensive!

I had to run an errand first,  so I figured I'd get some tahini (sesame paste) which is one of the key ingredients of hummus at the big grocery store or, striking out there, at the health store that's in the next village.

The big yuppie grocery didn't have it and the small mom and pop health food store was closed for inventory.

There was sesame oil at the grocery but that was $10. No thanks. Plus sesame is an ever-growing food allergy.   (If you have a bacon allergy, you really need to find another blog).

So I had to come up with plan B. I substituted some lemon and Braggs (real apple cider vinegar with the "mother") for the tahini with some spices that came to mind.  I offered Partner a spoonful for a taste -  "here, try this". It was good, but it needed something to add some savory to offset the ever so slight vinegary undertone.

Bacon and green onion.  Oh My!  It was the perfect combination of tart and savory. I sliced up a little baguette and we stood at the counter and literally cleaned the bowl here.  This WAS lunch.
Tahini-Free Hummus with Bacon
(c) Home on the Range
1 can chickpeas drained and rinsed.
3 teaspoons chopped garlic (from the jar).
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
a grind or two of fresh pepper
1 Tablespoon bacon grease
4 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (and if you get the urge to shout "EVOO" like Rachal Ray, please do so in the privacy of your own home).
5 pieces applewood smoked bacon, cooked,
3 heaping Tablespoons finely chopped green onion (green parts, not the bulb)

Serves 2-4.

Cook the bacon and set aside to cool. Retain at least one Tablespoon of the bacon grease.
In blender or food processor (preferred, the blender didn't make it that smooth) mix spices, lemon juice, fresh bacon grease and Braggs with the chickpeas until course. Drizzle in remaining olive oil, pulsating until you get the desired consistency (for me it was 4 Tablespoons). Stir in 1/2 of the bacon (chopped) and serve topped with remaining bacon and green onion.

Note - this used a can of chickpeas that needed to be used up.  Dried chickpeas are super cheap and easy to cook up.  Cook in some water with some garli  and add a fair bit of salt after they start getting soft (cooking time will be on the package). When cool and dry, freeze in small sandwich bags.  Great for snacks, salads or recipes, they will keep in the freezer for at least a month. 

Monday, August 20, 2018

A Basic for the Bug Out Bag

Having adequate light is a concern in any potential power outage situation or out in the elements after dark.  Candles can cause fires (and those little "tea light" candles have all the illumination of a Reese's peanut butter cup). Lighting sources can get wet and be unusable. Batteries can accidentally be left home.  There are water and wind. There are times you want enough light to find your way or find a certain item without being obvious to predator OR prey.

I got this nifty little item from a dear friend for my birthday. From uvPaqlite, it's a square piece of hard plastic-like material, quite bendable when warm to wrap around something, mountable on the wall, and easy to tote and carry.  It's their UVMatliteWhat does it do? With no batteries, no power source but light, no chemicals or radiation, it glows in the dark. And I mean GLOWS. It's bright enough to light your way out of a dark place, place a piece of paper over it for writing, or place near where you may need to find your way  in the dark of night when the power is out.
Of course, when I first opened it in sunlight I was tempted to stage it on my counter with my giant Ginsu knife and some sliced tomatoes and send a photo of it to M. with the note "Thanks for the cutting board" as a joke, as I recognized what it was.  But honestly, I don't think you could hurt this thing too badly even with a knife.  It seems to be pretty durable though I tried neither the .45 round or any lab test on it (here Barkley!)

It utilizes DILITHIUM Strontium Aluminate crystals blended with a rare earth called uropium (strontium is actually found in some toothpaste).  It doesn't produce heat, radiation or any known side effect toxic to human or pets.   The one pictured below had been inside a briefcase all day and still produced enough glow to take this photo.
It can use any source of light to "power up"  - sunlight, LED lights, Flashlights, halogen, fluorescent, blacklights, etc. and within minutes (about 10 in the sunlight) it will glow all night long giving you some light in a power failure, or to keep you from bumping into something.   For a natural disaster, it always works, even after the battery supply runs out. Unlike batteries, it won't expire, this should glow in 30 years like it glows today. Plus, it even works underwater (forensic hot tub findings are classified, however).  Try THAT with your decorative candle.

The uses around the home are many.  Open a safe to get out items you need to take out in the event of a natural disaster or Zombie Apocalypse. 
Find that one item for which someone would be totally lost.
Prevent panic.

What about hunting?  Put it up in your blind (photo from their website.)  Have it handy to find ammo in a moonless night before dawn without spooking the game with the spotlight or  "click!" of a flashlight.   I can see the size I was given easily working in a small tent. The Matlight is one size, but the less durable but just as effective Paqlites in the smallest size can be had for less than $4 and can be used as trail markers.
Even better, it's made in the USA.

My birthday Matlite is in my briefcase which goes with me to airplane and hotel.  Another one went on the dash of my vehicle when I leave it in airport parking (very helpful in finding the Bat Truck in the giant sea of long-term parking when I roll in on the red-eye) and then stored in the car emergency kit. There will be another one in the home emergency kit. It's not so bright as to keep you awake in your bedroom, but it will give you the light you need to be safe and aware.   Having such tools for emergencies is essential.  

I like this little addition.  On dark and stormy nights when predators abound, it will provide an illuminated platform for things I need close at hand when things go bump in the night. That's sleeping peacefully, in my book.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Life Aloft

What do you do to renew your spirit? For most of my female acquaintances, they shop. For me, mall shopping reminds me of the running of the bulls at Pamplona. Something I'd rather not participate in. If it wears out or breaks I can usually find a replacement at LL Bean. Online.

For myself, I often look upward to recharge. The heavens. The smell of aviation fuel is my perfume, and the roar of a Stearman's Lycoming 680-13 a symphony of wonder. There will be no flying anytime soon. I'm still physically not quite feeling up to it, and the forecast, clouds low, laden with rain. But today, I can retire to my library, happily clutching a book, and let the rest of the world become background noise for a little while. Sitting home when you'd rather be out is never fun, but grab a book, grab a dream.

Never experienced flight? Then sit and read with me. Ernest Gann, Gordon Baxter, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, were all my inspiration. All are masters at the art of weaving the aviation world into the fabric of your life. Our world awaits you. You don't have to be a pilot to experience those wondrous truths of life in the sky.

As the only sound in the room is that of the turn of a page and the gentle snore of a black lab by my side, I think back to a flight I took while in my last home. I used to have a little country airstrip right behind the house. When life got too busy, too rushed, I could walk across the road and take out a little tailwheel airplane I named Otis II. Like the old drunk on Andy Griffith, Otis was bedraggled, a little unsteady in a strong wind, and had seen a few years. But to Otis, the world was still a friendly, warm place, where his presence brought a smile to all. A quick preflight, and with the last of the daylight leaking from the sky we quickly launched, leaping into the air with an enthusiastic laugh, hurtling into the mystery, and occasionally scaring the absolutely wadding out of yourself.

But the sky is darkening so I will have to head back to home, turning back towards the strip while some light remains, utter silence now other than the song of the engine. Wind in my face from the open window, I felt one with the air. It felt like all life, all my past, my future was contained in this sky and I'm not just flying through it but I'm a part of it. It's the most contented, calming time in space you can experience and as the wheels gently kissed the ground, my breath slowed to one of coherent peace.

These are life's shining moments. Small minutes of time you can carry inside of you while the chaos of life hurries past. So turn the page, peel away the tired layers of your life, the noise, the stress. The sky awaits you.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Update on Dad

Sorry for the lack of posts.  Those of you whom I know off blog who are on Facebook know this, but Dad finally went into assisted living (his call).  There was a lot of arrangements to be made to be him settled and get his house ready for sale as he is in the Pacific Northwest and I'm in Chicago. For starters, the king size waterbed with the bright red velvet bedspread had to go. "The Love Boat" as Big Bro and I named it, is but a fond memory and Dad has a comfy bed with a new mattress and a new bedspread and a newer chair that will lift him to a standing position. With some of Mom's things around and photos of family and he's right at home.

His mind is still pretty sharp (not enough to handle his finances as I think he probably spent $3000 to various shysters that weren't legitimate charities to get Obama impeached before the checkbook was confiscated, but enough he could enjoy beating me at a rousing game of cribbage on a regular basis and enjoy some lively conversations with neighbors and friends).  But his strength was declining quickly and one of the home health aides we were paying $20 an hour for 24-hour care for stealing his opioid pain medication and replacing it with OTC stuff that left Dad in a lot of pain.  That was the last straw for Dad.

My cousin Liz and her partner of many years (who has family an hour from Dad) was a huge help in the physical move but still so many little details to take care of. The Pastor we had as a child has a son that has, with his wife, been friends with my parents for years. I used to babysit his kids and his lovely wife works with the seniors in our church and was there with them for prayer time with both my Mom and Stepmom as they lay dying. He owns a large realty company and Dad will have him sell the family home, the money going into a trust for his care, and any residual to my late brother's children.

But Dad is safe, he's happy in the changed environment (better cooking he said and lots more to do) and there are three men from his church at the same facility that he can play cards with. He's got two rooms and a lovely view of a garden. Not in his hometown, but a much better facility than what he could get there and not too far of a drive for friends that want to visit.

I'll try and be back with a post this weekend.  Partner in Grime is on the road and there is a  lot to do both at home and at work.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A River Song

Frost on the window turned to fog as the heat kicks on.  It was a trip to my Dads, taken in the fall, the growl of the furnace waking from hibernation, waking me too early from the rapture of deep sleep, as I roll over and sigh with its loss.

Dad was still sleeping - going to bed around 7:30 pm waking about the same time in the morning. For myself, a cup of hot coffee and fresh baked bread, consumed at the table that's seen several generations pass.  A sip of liquid, the tear of bread, a communion with the morning, as I said a prayer of thanks.  Elsewhere, the world rushed ahead, gathering like seagulls at a fast food place, eating their microwaved food thrown at them out a window. Few wish to get up earlier just to have this quiet time, the language of yeast and oven and hands being a foreign tongue, a Mass for the dead, the generations gone, whispering from the walls around.  That morning, I sensed them, the history in this house, even as I knew they are not there, the words I spoke, head bowed, a whisper in the mist.
Each time I visit, weeks apart, I wonder if it will be my last, but for a funeral.  It's a thought that's never far from my mind as I arrived back home, the clock showing a new day has started, even as I exited the terminal from a delayed flight.  Cabs waited, hovering around the doors, like stray cats, seeking warmth and sustenance. I hailed one, my husband being told to not wait up when I realized I'd be landing just a few hours before he got up for work.  The driver was an older man, cordial and polite. After ensuring I was buckled in, and an obeisant glance at the cross on the rear-view mirror,  he takes off into the night, uttering a torrent of Greek into his hands-free phone, a cheerful animated conversation with a friend, by his tone.  Though he's totally attuned to the road, his words rush past with emotion, a smile, a gesture of futility, a pondering frown, and more smiles.  Of the rapidly flowing language, I only caught one phrase in English "walking dead" and I had to stifle my laughter.  We are a nation as bound by the old as we are the new.

Each time I go home to see Dad, things change. Small businesses closed, a big box mart type store replacing a row of houses that used to line the small highway in a nearby town.  Dad's house itself is largely unchanged, but for fresh paint and a good roof, something my brother always took care of. The only thing that changes as I come in, is my Father, the man slowly and carefully coming to the door, still the man I remember chasing me down the street when those training wheels came off the bicycle and I realized how fast I could fly, unfettered. Yet, even as he's approaching a hundred years on this earth, his spirit is as strong as the staff in his hand, to be raised when one needs help to fight, to be leaned on when one is weary. Yet even as he has aged, he's remained a constant, and even as my own faith at times foundered, I saw his strengthen in his eyes.
On the table by his chair lay a well worn Bible, something to be read each day before his meal. On the wall, certificates and flags, photos of submarines and airplanes, markers of duty that stand above a table on which sit two children's toys, sturdy little vehicles a generation old, one commanded by a small, well-loved teddy bear. Dad has outlived two wives and two children in this house, an older sister, lost before I was adopted, and the reason this family became mine. As I sat each day and listened to him read, I was aware, dimly and without regret, of the silent sundering of this family, too soon, only one of us remaining.

But the words of the Book of Psalms call me back into the present  This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. And we will, taking every moment we can out of the time remaining, like the savoring of a fine meal, one flavor upon another, sweet diffusing the bitter, the spray of warmth against the tongue, the velvet of oil, that binds but does not subdue. We are not shy guests at the feast the world offers, breathing deep of the day. Like the freshly baked bread, the air is full of the breath of sweet warmth, comforting long after it has been consumed.
After the breakfast dishes were washed, we would make our way into town for gas and supplies, taking the ferry. It's a ritual journey that's been made a hundred times. Sure, one can take a small bridge to the other route, then a huge span of metal across the river some miles further, but it's not nearly as fun. Passing the Nordic Hall, we get to the ferry in time to be first on, where Dad can sit in the vehicle sensing the motion, and I can lean against the front barrier, the wind in my hair, stray raindrops on my face.

The river looked like steel, the wind coming from the mouth of the river, humming as if through wire. I remembered another ferry ride, the last one with my big brother, as he stepped off the boat back to land, to have that silent cigarette he thinks I don't know he'd smoke.  I watched him in the faded fabric of the shore, his form, a thin piece of steel unbending before the wind, the embers of his cigarette fraying away in fiery shreds, carried on that biting wind like sparks of ice.
That day, everyone now on board, we moved away from the dock. The ferry moved with the aged motion of service, the rituals of grace, the tending of the fires of an altar, burdens born secretly, yet even in its cumbersome age, moving towards the light on the horizon.

A ferry has been making this run for almost a hundred years, and will a hundred after we are all gone. The faint leap of my heart reminding me of how much I missed the water, the faintly metallic scent of the sea, evoking pale images of silent hopes, the fragrance of forgotten tears.  The other riders probably thought I'm was daft, standing out there in the cold and the wind, the throb of the engine a song within me, of history and a name which lies on the edge of memory beyond capturing, falling behind, left in the churning wake. The sound of a ship's horn brought me out of my pondering, cleaving the air like a star does the secrecy of night.  I turned and waved at my Dad, and went back in the vehicle to keep him company.

I would make this trip again, the intervals between, shorter and shorter, as is time. Even when the last trip is made, the ferry will continue to run. From island to shore, from the past to the future, the span of distance is small.
 - Brigid