Sunday, January 25, 2015

Lab Assistants

I know I'm not supposed to be up on the mattress when Mom washes the sheets.  But if I hide my head in the blanket she can't see me!

And yes, that's duct tape.  Abby decided to de-squeak her favorite toy and sulked for an hour after I put it in the trash.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Blinding You with Science

This is a Micro crack in steel as seen through an electron microscope. (Though it appears Partner in Grime photo shopped the saved photo.)  I've vacationed at places that looked like this!

Of course the folks on NCIS wouldn't need an electron microscope. Gibbs would just squint and go "ahh yup - micro-crack", before Abby could even consider micro-cracks at the surface of metals detected and imaged by near-field microwave techniques from the crack-induced variations of the resonance frequency and of the resonant circuit quality factor. I mean really, you have to get this thing solved in an hour WITH commercials.

Fire up the welder Festus, we're off to Ferrous Canyon! You all be safe out there, I headed back to Indy a day early to beat the winter storm barreling down from Canada so I'm not late for work.

Friday, January 23, 2015

On Words and Dreams

Finishing a project.

Why does it seem that when we set out to do something, the actuality of it seems forever away, and when we're finished, we look back wondering how we did it at all.

Everything we touch, hold and use---was once just an idea. Had the person  who first envisioned that item thought too keenly as to his or her chance of success, the item might never have been created.

My writing started with blogging, It was a way to unwind, a way to work through things that were painful, it was a way to view my life and actions as a third party, which sometimes is painful in its revealing of the past and past actions that weren't good choices.

People said "you need to write a book" and I put it off with the inevitable excuse of "after retirement".  Part of it was (insert Dr. McCoy voice here "Dammit Jim - I'm a doctor, not a writer!") But honestly, the thought of actually writing an entire book was beyond daunting; it was flat out frightening.  Not just that people wouldn't like it, but whether I could actually DO it.

I pictured it in one of those $5 bins at the book store, spent brass of the heart that no one wants to pick up. I pictured the sound of the critics crickets, or worse---their scorn.
But I sat down and wrote it. Not because "all the cool kids are doing it", but because it was in me, and if I didn't let it out, it would wither and die, as would some of the memories it bore.

But this post isn't about the book, specifically,  it's about dreams.

My parents fell in love as teenagers. World War II interrupted their  wedding plans but they wed on his return from England, so many years later. A lot of the airmen overseas and the women left behind, took up with others, the relationship not withstanding the time and distance.  Dad certainly had a score of beautiful women present opportunities to him, from what my uncles who served with him said.

He himself, tells few stories of those times. All I have of those lost years is a stack of letters, carefully held together with a ribbon.

I wrote of that in Book Two:  Saving Grace

" There underneath the photos lies a stack of letters. Mom and Dad wrote to one another for four years while he was overseas, not returning Stateside once during that entire time. Reading them feels a little like eavesdropping, as you can almost hear the words as they formed---heartfelt, intimate. I opened one; it was just one single page, and I thought of the way their day stopped at the brink of it. In these letters bridging the time and distance they had to be apart, there was talk of how much they missed one another; of how their families were faring; of good coffee and how Dad missed vegetables from the farm; of burning heat and a cold on the field that would murmur to your very bones. There was playful affection, there was unstated passion and stated promise. Some was in Mom's flowery script, the rest in Dad's meticulous, indomitable hand. "Is everyone there well?" Mom would ask, and Dad would reply that they were (though some were now only well beyond Lamentations.)"
Dad never imagined that he would not come back, he never told himself that they would not be married, would not have children, would not make a life.  Even in times of great battle he held the final  prize in his hand, never doubting that it would come to be.

He watched over that dream as our Father in heaven watches over us,his creation shaped out of the primal absolute that contained nothing and all, knowing we are equally as capable of being ruined and being saved, but believing we will be saved, as to believe anything else is to perish.

We all have our dreams, just as we all have our fears.  Partner was, and is, a gifted musician, a prodigy as a youngster. He performed with  a symphony orchestra in Austria before he was 18, offered a scholarship to study music.

He wanted to be an engineer.

He still plays, well enough to make me cry.  But his passion is creating---inventing things out of form and void, and steel and noise, things that touch his brain and his heart---for what the heart holds becomes our only truth.

I talk to my father every night, there in his dwindling days.  He has done a lot to be proud of: Golden Glove Boxer, retired Air Force Colonel, manager in a large industrial company, past Secretary and President of the Lion's Club,  a Freemason and father.  I asked him if he had any regrets, things he wished he had done.  I asked, not to remind him of regrets, but to see what in his mind's eye is important, looking back almost 100 years.

What he said was his regret was.  "that time in my 20's I spent $5 on hair tonic to grow hair from the bald barber", and he chuckled.

What he said he was most happy for surprised me, until I understood what it mean.

Dad had a wonderful marriage with my step-mom in his later years.  We all thought the world of her, and he genuinely loved her. But as he nears his end days, it's the photos of my Mom that have come out of drawers and sit on the table by his bed. So I was at first taken aback when he said "I'm glad I loved and lost Gracie."

But it was not because he  was the one that physically remained after she died, but because he was glad that he had followed his heart, not his good sense. Because if he had not, she would not have become the one he had to grieve over, because he chose to abandon the idea of them.

So as you look around your life this Friday- think to things you'd like to hold onto, picture flesh and blood, wood or glass, paper or plastic.  Do not think about all you will risk to get it. Do not think about how long it might take, or even if it will be what you expected. Do not ask if others will like it--- but only that you will like it.

I look at a photo of my parents on their wedding day.  Dad in uniform, my Mom wearing a beautiful dark suit.  They both innocent and immortal, even as they look slightly amazed to be saying those vows.

On the table is a violin, worth ten's of thousands of dollars.  I carefully put it away, for in a couple of hours my husband will be home and that table will be littered with all manner of tooling bits and mechanical drawing and plans. They will lie next to a small pile of books to be autographed and mailed and printed pages with editor notes ready to be approved.  All are objects that print the often silent mold of our dreams and desires, as easy to be ignored as small fairy feet, when they are magic indeed.

Close your eyes and dream your dream---then make it real.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

When Danger Is in Sight

Knowing when to stop, knowing when to press on, seems like such such simple tasks. But such decisions that aren't just daily ones, but the ones on which your life may some day depend.

During the declining part of the year, when I was still a teen, I walked along a forest trail high up in the mountains. Smelling the wind that carried on it the brisk deceit of Fall, promising moments of golden warmth, yet often delivering six inches of snow that no one had planned on. I was only a teen, learning the rules, learning myself, eager to get away from parental guidance and the smog of civilization.

Even as sunlight flirted with my face, I looked up into clouds amassing in conference, heard the rumbling that is the portent of plummeting expectations. I wasn't sure whether I should continue to climb up, into darkening foliage or head back down to my my house. There are times, with experience, you can derive the truth out of the complex and troubled heart of the wilderness. Times when you know with your own heart, already bruised, that it's time to listen to your instincts.

Historical worries stirs in our bloodstream. Despite modern medicine and a lifestyle that allows most of us to live well into our 80's, take away the PDA, the phone, the trappings of modern life, and something ancient can stir in dark hours. Not that we feel helpless, but there is a subliminal awareness of some thing. Something lurking and dark, that lies quiet and low, pulling itself up by sharp claws to the edge of your world, looking at you as simply prey.

But on that particular day, I was only a young girl, eighteen years old, naive as to the wild and to the ways of the world. I stopped, as did my dog with me, who whined, and nudged me back towards the way we came. He was likely just afraid of the approaching thunderstorm, but I trusted his instincts and noted the trembling of he haunches as he looked up into the shadows. I had no weapon with me, abrogating all the ancient balances of hunter and hunted. I had a small pack with lunch and the most basic of survival equipment, a canteen and a small knife. Not enough if I met up with a really bad storm or something crankier than I. We headed back down the trail to light and safety. We were better for our choice, many aren't.

How old is fear? How acquired? And when do we start listening to it? Somethings running through me that defies predation. Coyotes gather, rabbits run away, and from my land I stared at one coyote who stopped to glance at me, eyes as flat as dried blood. It's disconcerting to stare into the eyes of a predator, to discover yourself in the vision of someone to whom you are simply sport. In the eyes of a cluster of teeth and claw it's unsettling, and upsets my normal feeling of human arrogance and confidence. In that cold gaze I knew my limits, I am something but I am not everything, I am strong but I am still flesh and blood. He would not harm me this night but there were always others that would. I have a healthy respect for animals in the wild. But I can think like an animal and defend against them, with the right tools. It is the two legged predator that we need to watch out for.

For human predators are usually more dangerous, with much better disguises. Ted Bundy had a face of an angel. The kindest soul I ever met in my life, had a countenance that would frighten small children. You can't tell by looks. We sort and score our world in many forms - sound, smell, look, feel, appearance and word. It's perception that comes from pain, wrong decisions about places, patterns and people. There is a reason the victims we see on the front page of the paper are, more often than not, young and lovely. Is it not so much that they are the more desirable prey in their flawless purity, but they do not, as yet, have the small scars, visible only in the quiet night, that tell us when to run.

Just as many of us in adulthood have learned the heart of the wild, we have learned the hearts of men, truth comprehended through the complexity of passion and lust and hate and fear that drives men's heart. As I learned in that moment as a teen, what drove my dog to head me towards home, that tasting in my own mouth, the dense coppery smell of fear, and acting on it. I too now, listen to my instincts, guarding my heart and my form, carrying in my holster my means of arming myself with tooth and claw.

I don't carry open carry, preferring not give away an advantage or let the bad guy know who and what I am until I decide. That's my choice, perhaps not yours, but I do carry and when I do I walk differently, strong and tall, moving with purpose, not distracted by electronics. I make eye contact. There have been times I have met eyes in a beautiful face, eyes flat and lifeless, a baneful glare so lorn and bleak that the spirit of them was not even human. And I quickly moved towards others, towards light and crowd. A smile is a smile, but have you not ever seen that smile, as disconsolate as that of the Spinx, laughter as brittle as frost. A mouth waiting to consume you without remorse, til all that is left is tears and bone. That is the smile of a predator and you'd best move away quickly, armed or not.

Man, his other traits notwithstanding, biologically considered, is simply the most formidable of all the beasts of prey. A thug or a professional criminal has disassociated himself from humanity and views us simply as a hawk views a sparrow. We are prey. A woman, with her smaller size and perceived timidity, is considered easy prey, to both animal and man.

That is why, both in the woods and in the city, I am armed. I am not so naive as to believe that a gun is a charm that will magically keep the criminals away, and I know you can't bluff your way out of a dangerous situation with a gun you are hesitant to use to kill, either technically or morally. Criminals can sense fear and hesitation like any wild animal can. A gun will only protect you if you are honestly and demonstrably prepared to use it for its purpose when flight away from danger is not an option. Without hesitation.

Would we live in a world that was safe, where woodland creatures didn't consider us dinner, where humans actually acted with the words that came from their lips or the promise in their eyes. But the world is not a campfire sing-a-long. Danger hovers around, drifting across the floating mist that comes off of the wilderness into the city, isolating the safe areas, and chilling those memories of unmolested sleep. I can not change the world. But I can move through it with cunning that grew while walking among predators, both man and beast. I can carry on with instincts that evolved as the primordial beast that was within me found it's voice and roared back to the shadows. Roared with the poise of an adult and a little help from John Moses Browning and others that followed him.

Take your steps cautiously, thinking long and hard at each beginning of what could be the end. It's the difference between predator and prey.

- Brigid

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Night Off - With Ending and UPDATE

I finished Saving Grace after a 10 hour writing marathon yesterday.  It was written half at my crash pad (above) and half at my old house, both places sparking memories.

At 56 Chapters and about 70,000 words-I'm pretty tired and will be working with Gigi, my very talented new editor over the next month on my "free range commas" and such-- so posting and comments will  continue to be light with some old posts coming up for the new readers. Thanks for supporting me through this and for your support of the Book of Barkley-- #7 in sales for genre at Amazon right now.

UPDATE:  Got written notice today that The Book of Barkley is a Finalist at the 2015  International Prize Writer Competition in "Biography and Memoir". The  Final Winner will be determined by popular vote so I'll put that info up when voting starts Feb. 1.  There's some serious prize money (which will be donated to dog rescue) but even better--the winners names and books are televised on World Book Day 5th March 2015.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ireland in Black and White

Just some photos taken  with the point and shoot on a side trip on an overseas assignment I didn't post "live", due to the nature of the trip.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

On Memories - Bull Art

Memories of Big Bro -  Something I wrote last Spring . I just wanted to share again as I look out my window at a wind chime as I  finish the last 10-12 chapters of the second book, of which my brother is an integral part.

When I arrived at Dad's for one of my trips out there early last Spring.   Big Bro took me out to Dad's porch, where there was the melodious tinkling of a wind chime, something Dad and I both love.   But this wasn't the usual cutesy "picked up at a beach gift shop" wind chime.  This was something Big Bro made while he was going through chemo.  He had chemo and radiation at the same time.  With the cancer at Stage Four, it was pretty aggressive. Needless to say, he didn't feel exactly perky.

But like me, he doesn't sit still well.  So, on the days he was well enough to get out, he'd pick up pieces of wood and what not, to add to his collection of things picked up from the beach.  And when he was too weak to walk, he made Bull Art. In the form of wind chimes, for family, for friends.
Bull is his nickname (as well as "the Right Reverand" for his buddies on one submarine).  He's not "artistic", playing normally with things nuclear.  But he still has his goofy side, as do I, signing notes with his little "smiley bull" symbol".
It shows up everywhere, even on a low carb snack he made for someone up at weird hours.

So I simply smiled when I saw his creations, the one pictured, a simple one he made for Dad for an anniversary of sorts. 
The sand dollar brought a knowing glance, as we picked up so many as children, when we'd vacation on the coast each year in a tiny little cabin Dad and Mom rented.  It's all condominiums now, but those were some great memories.  From the looks of this one, it's one we picked up 40 some years ago, that now lay in assorted bowls in all of our homes.
That's my bedroom window there on the left.  I laid awake at odd hours this week, due to the jet lag.  But as I lay quietly, the rest of the house asleep, I loved hearing the sound of that copper tubing, string and ancient wood. I loved seeing it, there on the deck where we could have coffee before Dad woke up.

You see a wind chime, made of rough materials.  I see a symbol; of finding beauty in the face of that which severs one abruptly from the life they knew and did not wish to discard, into a medium we are born to fear, where even our identity can be lost, as hair and flesh fall away. I hear the sound of that which will never be forgotten.  Memory. Family.  Hope.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday Night Barkley

As I get a long nap before the even longer drive home - some Barkley memories. I'm hoping to get more done on the new book this weekend- I'd like to finish it up before Dad is gone.  It's it meant to be it will be. Thanks to all of you for your support during a very trying 2014 and for sharing Barkley's story. Barkley's Book has helped sponsor over 20 dogs to find homes after necessary vet care, as well as general donations from $15 to $1500 to many other animal welfare and rescue organizations in their efforts. Helping with fundraising, contacting so many animal organizations (often without any feedback) and sending out letters, flyers, tweets and Facebook inquiries has been exhausting. But the animal groups are starting to hear about his story, and what it can mean for other unwanted or neglected animals and that is so worth it.

For tonight, I am very, very tired.  I miss Barkley and my brother so very much, but life, can still be good, and filled with purpose.
When I came home, he was always in the same spot. Waiting.  Sometimes he would be wagging his tail.  Sometimes I could come in stealthfully, with just a camera and catch him unawares, or even asleep

There is never a dull moment when you have a labrador retriever in the house.


And finally, a Barkley Haiku -

Have a wonderful night whatever you and yours are up to.
love - Brigid

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Amaretto Pecan Pie - When Writers Take a Break to be Bakers

Thirty chapters down - Twenty-something left to go, with my awesome editor, Gigi K,.already started on the first chapters.  But I'm just wore out, after a very long work day--of words or anything else.  So I will leave you with something made for Partner before I left for work.

Amaretto Pecan Pie

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter - melted
1 teaspoon vanilla 1/4 light corn syrup
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
2 Tablespoons Amaretto (almond flavored liquor)
3 eggs -beaten
1 3/4 cups pecan pieces
1 9 inch unbaked pie crust

Preheat oven to 375 (190 C)

Mix the sugars and butter together in a bowl. Stir in vanilla, Amaretto and beaten eggs, fold in the pecans and pour the mixture into the pie crust.

 Bake for 10 minutes and then reduce heat to 350  F.without opening oven door and bake an additional 30 minutes.

 Allow to cool completely before serving.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Pointed Thoughts

You know you have a good husband when he'll drive from the Scottish border to a Boots store a hundred miles or so away on the wrong side of the road to bring you home your favorite English bath products and good but cheap European skin creams. He knows he's got a good wife because you won't post the picture on a  lot of girly cosmetic review sites because you just realized that it has your bayonet collection in the background

Monday, January 12, 2015

First Chapters - New Starts

With a weekend of no commute - husband out of town, and a work week that was a mere 50 hours (woot!) I got quite a bit written on the next book, the first time I've been able to write much with the blogs to keep up and family and work commitments.  Thanks for your patience on the limited socializing online while I finish it.

 I originally had written the first chapter, only to find that it was more fitting as the last. Which left me with NO first chapter to start this story. This one has been hard to write - it covers 50 years not 10, and several families, captured in detail but without identifying information as some of it involves people whose privacy I will respect.

 So here it is - Chapter one of "Saving Grace: A Story of Adoption

Chapter 1

She would not have noticed the town that first time, but for the speed trap.  It was a two lane shortcut to the interstate heading North, a sign that says 50 mph and then almost immediately after, one that says 35 mph, as the first building just seems to pop up from the flat landscape like a diorama.  It's not a route normally driven, but with an accident backing up the freeway around the city, this made for a good detour.

There were only a few buildings, a church, a small fire station, a half dozen very old homes, a couple kept in pristine condition, the rest having given up on curb appeal.  There's not much in the way of business, though at some point this was a tiny little hub of activity in this land that was more farm than subdivisions.  There's a pizza store and two antique/craft kind of places, colorful wares on display in the hopes that someone will make a stop.  Normally she would enjoy such places, enjoying the work of things made with one's own hands, the patina that is polished wood.  But one of those is now closed, replaced by a store that sells decorative yard things, all cheap and likely made in China, the other with a closed sign that only draws in the dust. Given the severe cold this winter, what little business they had has likely stayed indoors.

Today was no different. The air is cold. Clear. Sharp. Cutting as a knife to the landscape, flayed and laid bare to the eye under the surgical light of a winter morning. It's hard to believe that just 5 miles south is a bustling community of subdivisions and quickly constructed strip malls.  On this road, in the hesitation that is the slow passage through this community, it could easily be 75 years ago, the structures unchanged, only more weathered. Behind are fields that clutch onto the skeletons of crops that long ago died, miles of bare, windswept trees, and clusters of burrs that stick to everything with a tiny pinprick of pain. It's a once pretty place that is sticking to the landscape as hard as it can, soon to be pulled free with that final stab of cold hurt.

At 10 below wind chill and an obligation to keep, it's another day she does not stop.  It's not lost on her that it's yet another nail in the coffin of what is left of those businesses.

The cold restricts movement, as it propels it, pushing us towards something that will warm us.  The cold, like life, only accentuating that which we cannot sustain. You move forward or you will die.

Given the amount of traffic on this road and the widening of it further on, it's not hard to imagine that soon this town will be gone, the majority of the few buildings so close to the road, but for the church a couple homes with a large yard between house that road, that widening the road to four lanes will be their inevitable end. The for sale signs on the remaining well-kept houses is a literal sign, not just a physical one, the town not having a failure, but a mutiny. The few other houses look as if they are just waiting for someone to show up with a check and a bulldozer, if not abandoned already, sidewalks raised and broken, trash gathering in the cracks like autumn leaves, an old Ford with no engine, guarding the front lawn against postmen and tax collectors.

As she passes that last for sale sign, she can't imagine selling her home, knowing that it will be razed. Even harder is having to walk away from one, simply to save your life.

She had married too young into a Southern Family, who considered themselves as such, even though they lived in what the rest of the country called the Midwest.  I guess it depends on which direction you looked at things, she reckoned, our individual horizons incised in whetted contrast to the circumference of this flat, harsh landscape.

Weather wasn't the only thing that was new to her, coming here from California. But it is what she learned, and quickly.  She learned what was safe to stay out in, and what was not, learning early we are just serfs of the elements, severe weather usually arriving in the late night like a broken king, rushing in, ready to do battle with the sleeping.

The family had a few hardscrabble acres on which rocks were the preferred crop, as well as a growing herd of cattle. It was a small farm, one which wouldn't have sustained them had she not held other jobs. Friends would tell her how lucky she was to have the land and the freedom and she was.  But she realized that in actuality, it's like having two full time jobs, 7 days a week. Add to that family, dogs, cats, an old horse named Elmer and a husband on a medical discharge from the military battling his demons, she couldn't remember a day from that time where she just wasn't tired.

Twenty years in the future,  she'll hear the radio announcer comes on with a "remember this classic from the 80's?" She turns the dial up on the sound, to listen. And she doesn't. Remember. Those years to her were sweat and work, the smell of cow manure, weekend JP4, propane, and the salt of tears; moments of roses and moment of thorns being of equal duration, passing too quickly in recollection.  Looking in the mirror she sees the small lines that indicate her age but she doesn't feel it, it's as if that whole 10 years happened to someone else, endless, alternating days and nights like a vacuum in which no air would come.

Given the choice, would she have taken that time back? Perhaps not, she thinks. We do not cease from the experiences, in the end of experience we arrive back where we started, seeing them as if for the first time, but at a nice safe distance, with wisdom otherwise not gained. It was a time to grow, to learn, to build. She learned how to fix a furnace, and pull a calf from her mother, how to make supper out of almost nothing, the household money squandered on chasing something no one could provide even as she pulled down her shirtsleeves to hide the bruises. She learned how to hold her head up high in a small town buzzing over the gossip that came with that. And she learned when to walk away when the demons finally won.

She recalls one of the last nights there, the Carhart coat and boots she wears today, no different than the ones she looked for that night as the glare of the headlights illuminated the room, It was a cattle truck coming at night so as to reach the stockyards in the morning. She had woken alone to the rattle coming up the road, trying to get a little nap before they arrive, springing like a bow from her bed, aware of her responsibilities. As she donned work clothes and boots, the orange running lights and diesel growl outside of the window reminded her of Martians landing searching the house for signs of human life and the first smile in a long time passed her lips.

All they would find is a lone woman, with boots, a shotgun she knew how to use, and a kitchen that once smelled of cinnamon.

The driver backs around, turning the trailer with a gentle sigh of air brakes, up to the wooden chute there at the barn. Within came the muffled grunt of the cattle that were being sold. Outside of the lumbering truck and its driver and the cattle, they were alone. No cars, no help, the earth hanging suspending in space, cooling, wearing only a thin veil of wood smoke. The wind cut her face, a blade that only stroked the skin, not cutting it, her hands aching as she stroked her thighs with them, trying to stir warmth back into dormant skin.
Oh, how she longed to just go back to bed, the rustle of cotton, the panting whisper of breath, the predation of the night assuming a hundred avatars of dreams. No cows, no work, simply the house, still and quiet, as if marooned in space by the dwindling of day. The truck long gone, the sounds outside fallen to a low fragmentary pitch. A coyote's howl at the indignation of clouds that cover the moon, no other sound made; prey gone into hiding, insects dead with cold, everything else assuming their own mantle of hibernation or hunt.

But there was work to be done.

Hooves rattled in the trailer as it rocked and swayed, cattle moving with the chaos of their own confusion. All that was left was one lone cow, a young one who would go to a neighbor's farm for breeding stock. She stood forlorn in the fog of her own shadow, form turning as insubstantial as mist. She gazed at her as if she knew what was happening, looking at me with that ample, benign abstruseness of cattle or of gods, before turning and vanishing into space.

It's hard to decide which ones to keep and which to let go. Love, life and longing, a helix viewed by eyes that see with hesitant, hungry fire. Decisions. We took from the land that which we needed to survive, giving something back, yet there is still in her that sense of loss, even as she knew it was inevitable, as are so many inevitable things.

The door on the cattle truck closes with a profound finality, isolating them, isolating her, as she watched it drive off. All that is left is to go back into an empty house to curl up in the guest room, the neatly made bed in the master bedroom a paradox within four walls redolent of long abandoned warmth.

The land went to his family, their little farmhouse to be sold, tools replaced by others which would draw their own blood as she learned to live again, amidst hard work, but work that was her calling.  She couldn't bear to watch as it was cleaned and made ready for sale, sun shining in on polished floors as undisturbed as frigid pools, underneath the overhanging branches of shrouded furniture. When she left, she took just one thing with her, to carry in her vehicle as a reminder.

She still works too often out in the cold, and there are still many nights where she only get only a few hours of sleep before going back on duty, watching the world come into a caffeine induced clarity that does not bode well for the sandman. Nights, where she's not woken by the sound of cattle trucks, but by a phone, a voice on the other end speaking with an impersonal dry cadence she knows is more protection than uncaring, and she must quickly pull herself from bed, gathering a black bag and some gear, limbs wooden with the regret of lost slumber.

Sometimes she comes home and simply drops her clothes at the door, too exhausted to put them in the laundry, pouring a finger of whiskey in a glass and flinging it back with a gesture that puts behind her all the suffering she had seen, tossing it back and away, leaving only the taste of smoke on her tongue, a scent that clings to her even after she sheds her clothes.
It's not always an easy life, but it's a good life, she thinks, as that dwindling town fades from her rear-view mirror, her vehicle moving  towards tenacious clusters of farms strung along a lonely river, old barns, listing and tumbling down, gone the way of the ancestors who built them long ago, going West, to dust. The clouds move so quickly she can't catch them with a fast car, grass laid flat in submission. Even the wind turbines seem to lean forward, waving their arms as if losing balance before a fall. A cold front has passed, the wind is howling, isobars dancing cheek to cheek as they move across the map to the northeast. Despite the cold she glances at her reflection in the mirror and sees a smile.  Endings are always beginnings, even as the wind blows.

She is glad she came here to this place, so different from that first ramshackle country home and the large showpiece she bought later, after years of hardship, as if by adding things to your life, you can somehow make up for what was taken away. She'd sold that place at a loss and given away most of her possessions, understanding after the years alone, what made her happy, and it wasn't things, nor the type of people to which that mattered.

Before she gets to the freeway, she crosses what was once an old wagon trail, families heading from out East to further west to more open land and bigger homesteads. There's not much to mark those passages, but for perhaps a historical sign somewhere.  But underneath the soil, are the remains of all that did not finish the journey.   To lighten the load to get through the hills further west, the plains are dotted with the slumbering bones of cherished belongings, offloaded despite the tears of a woman, to ensure they would make their destination. Furniture crafted by sweat and time, an upright piano, left on a low rise by the trail, hopefully to be picked up by someone, before it was forever silent.

Elsewhere, there are the graves, a young woman who didn't survive childbirth on the trail, the very old or the very young, felled by a simple virus or bacteria that prey on those who go hungry too often.  Some of those graves are marked with only a cross, perhaps a young woman's name, a lock of her hair and  her wedding dress, the only thing that will see the Western sunset up close, the red sky curling up like shavings of wood that formed her grave marker.

There are dozens of graves like this on the wagon trails, in deep grass and in low open spaces of land. Nothing left but some stones, or for a few, a wooden cross, the gloss of light on its surface, and shapes of long forgotten shadows on its bark. And with them, those solitary crosses, those remains of household goods, bulky memories too big or too cumbersome to take the rest of the journey. Some pieces end up in a museum, not looking as battered as you expect, as others came and collected them. They appeared almost as if they knew their scheme in things and their place was just where they ended, their destiny meant to be left to wait patiently in the tracks of the wagon, until someone recognized their worth and laid claim to them.

On the way back from work that night, she stopped in that little town but the businesses are all closed, the places silent. From a tree comes the sound of a single mourning dove, the note falling like liquid, taking shape as it descends through the frigid air, only to shatter as it hits unyielding ground. As she walked back to her vehicle in the frozen silence, she had a feeling that come Spring, she would drive here to find the road closed, machinery already tearing up the earth, disturbing the burial site of many a memory. She hoped those that lived away from the road, could adjust to the noise, those that live where the road would lie, find a new path.

Sometimes you make the decision, sometimes it's made for you.  How you respond lies in what you need and the compromises with which you can live. You take what remains that brings you joy and you move forward, she thinks as she pulls her coat closer around her. The winds still blow from west on the prairies, wailing a hymn of our mortality. Our remoteness stands guard over a vulnerability heightened by solitude. Yet in this season between hope of rain and hard winter, comes peace, even as outside, the air stills, windless cold that only heightens her heart's heat.

As she turned back onto the two lane highway, she noticed that the trees branches were glazed with ice so that each branch shone with its own unique brightness, each branch its own work of art, unique and alone.  When people first settled this part of the country their homes were built from these old trees and what precious nails they could spare, doing what they could with what they had, to survive. Sometimes the very things that drew them here, drove them away.  Then they would move on, but not before burning their own homes, to reclaim the nails that would hold them together.

She drove away, a darkened and weathered nail hanging by slender cord from the radio dial and a well-worn picture of a baby, faded by the sun, stained by tears.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Girls Day Out -A Prince of a Day

The freezing rain  moving into the area - Girl's Day out was crammed into just a few hours.  Partner in Grime was away on business - so I stayed in Indy to hang out with my friends and work on a few more chapters for the next book. 
Broad Ripple Brew Pub with Tam.  I got there first so I sipped on some wine while the waiter chit chatted with me, the place pretty empty with the forecast. 

Tam arrived and there was much camera geekery going on with her Olympus OM -PC and my Canon.  She showed me how to do some neat things with one of the settings for the dark lighting in the pub now that I'm ready to venture past "ON" in the world of photography.
More drinks were ordered  These wines are really short, I think I can have another. Then the food.

I had Brewpub pizza with bacon, pineapple, garlic and olives for me (with leftovers for lunch tomorrow as I'm off work and likely not driving with the forecast) and the Mexican White Wings for Tam  - Baked chicken breast strips wrapped in apple wood smoked bacon with slices of fresh jalapeno, deep fried and tossed in BBQ wing sauce. Served with celery, blue cheese, and extra BBQ wing sauce.
We really had the whole room to ourselves but for the music and attentive waiter.  A third glass of wine (did I say they were short glasses, no stem so that's less wine right :-) and another beer were ordered, and the next thing you know Prince's "Kiss" Came on.

Do you know a tall blond and redhead can dance without standing up.  We were bopping around in our chairs to the song when someone popped in the room and smiled-- "Just getting our 80's on!" we said and finished the song. Earworm in the link - no additional charge.

There was the usual catching up to do, conversations on games, and toys and cameras, gladiator yard gnomes and feral deficient spending.  Then it was time to go - I felt sorry for the wait staff-- there was no one in the place - so we each tipped our awesome waiter and he came out and thanked us  profusely  for the double tip - but we were happy to.  Once the freezing rain hit, there would be no more customers before closing but for a couple of folks that might brave out on a giant tauntaun to get a growler of beer since it's a dry state.
After a couple of hours, full of food, it was safe to take a little walk to admire the local ice works, then drive home, the wine worn off, simply contented, happy and full.  The freezing rain had started so I made a beeline for the store to pick up a couple of items I needed to clear a clog in the bathtub - (red hair and lavender bath oil, never a good daily combination), then home to the crash pad.

By the time I rolled in.  Abby was frantic with worry (not).

Good times - ice and all.

Poppin' Fresh! Without the Annoying Dough Dude

It's Sunday morning, the phone rings, friends visiting your area are going to stop by for coffee and to say goodbye before hitting the road.

They will be here in a little more than an hour.  What to serve them?

Meals Ready to Eat with Mountain Dew?

A Slim fast and a a Slim Jim?

Cinnamon Rolls!

What, you say?  You can't make Cinnamon rolls in less than an hour without thawed bread dough or the Popping Fresh Guy?  I don't have time?! I don't have yeast?!

Try this, they bake up soft and pillowy and sweet without the yeast and can be in the oven in fifteen to twenty minutes. No, they won't replace your favorite yeasty, "take hours to have ready" recipe.  But for a quick treat for company or the little ones, they will be popular and they're much tastier and MUCH cheaper than those store bought or canned ones.

Makes 5 or 6 big rolls
Generously grease a 10 x 10 casserole, 11 x 17 pan or a couple cake or pie tins (my 8 x 8  was too small to get a nice round roll) 

Mix filling; (OK, I just eyeballed the filling, but these measurements should be close)

3/4 cup light brown sugar
3 Tablespoons Penzy's vanilla sugar (or sub regular sugar and 1 tsp of vanilla)
2 Tablespoons Melted butter
2 and 1/2 teaspoons Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Cardamon (or Nutmeg)

In a separate cup melt 3 tablespoons for brushing the dough before rolling, and during baking.


1 and 1/4 cup milk
1 and 1/2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 and 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus and additional 1/3 cup for working  and prepping the dough (I recommend White Lilly or other soft flour to get the most rise)
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 and 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon  salt

2 tbsp cream cheese softened
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Whisk with just enough milk to make an icing, until smooth

Preheat oven to 425 F.

(1)  Mix milk and lemon juice in cereal bowl, set aside.

(2)  Mix  sugar/spice filling in small bowl.

(3)  Mix  remaining dry ingredients in a large bowl and add milk mixture.  Stir until the dough is a shaggy looking ball (about 20 seconds).  Remove to a board floured with the extra 1/3 cup flour. Have additional flour handy, if needed, to add as you work it to keep it from sticking to the board and your hands (this is initially a sticky dough). Knead until the dough is starting to smooth, less than a minute, (do not overwork). Dust a little bit more flour on the board underneath the dough and pat out dough with floured hands to a 8 x 12 inch rectangle.

(4)  Brush dough with about a Tablespoon of the melted butter, setting the rest aside.

(5) Sprinkle sugar mixture over dough leaving a open area of about 1/3 inch around the edges.

(6)  Roll up from the narrow end and slice into 5 or 6 big pieces. These do not rise like yeast rolls, so make the slices thick.  Place in  the well buttered pan, barely touching one another but not squished together. Bake at 425 for 23-25 minutes, or until golden brown, brushing with remaining melted butter about halfway through baking.

(7)  Remove and promptly remove rolls from pan onto a plate with a big spatula, spooning any caramelized topping from the bottom of the pan onto the rolls.

(8)  When cool enough to glaze, do so and serve promptly.