Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sunday Quote - Some Things are Timeless

Barkley

Trust is not that which binds, 
but that which bonds.
Abby

Friday, August 26, 2016

Bacon Jam - Your New Addiction

After a long work day and no desire to make a five course meal,  a grilled cheese is easy.  But how about adding a leftover fried chicken thigh and homemade bacon jam made with your favorite hot sauce?

1 lb smoked bacon, sliced into small pieces (or use regular bacon and liquid smoke)
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium brown onion, sliced
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce - I used my favorite from

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (I use Braggs)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (not the additive laden cheap grocery store"maple like" syrup)
cracked black pepper (to taste)
Extra water (see directions)

Directions.
In a non stick pan, fry the bacon in batches until lightly browned and beginning to crisp. Fry the onion and garlic in the rendered bacon fat on medium heat until translucent. Transfer the bacon, onion and garlic into a heavy based cast iron pot and add the rest of the ingredients except for the water. Simmer for 2 hours adding 1/4 of a cup of water every 25-30 minutes or so and stirring. When ready, cool for about 15-20 minutes and then place in a food processor. Pulse for 2-3 seconds so that you leave some texture to the “jam”,

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Abby Lab - On the Constitution

Abby - do these white shorts make my butt look big?

Abby wisely, and silently, pleads the Fifth.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dock Dogs Quotes for the Day

 Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
- T. S. Eliot
 Jump, and you will find out how to unfold your wings as you fall.
- Ray Bradbury
 No need to teach an eagle to fly.
— Greek Proverb
 Time is flying never to return.
- Virgil
 I have not yet learned to keep still.
 Apollonius of Tyana
The backbone of surprise is fusing speed with secrecy. 
Carl von Clausewitz 
  You have freedom when you're easy in your harness.
- Robert Frost
 The knack of flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.
- Douglas Adams
 He who is brave is free.
- Lucius Annaeus Seneca
  Boldness be my friend.
- William Shakespeare
 No man is free who is not master of himself.
- Epictetus
 Courage is fear holding on a minute longer.
- George S. Patton
 Man is free at the moment he wishes to be.
- Voltaire
 The flame that burns Twice as bright burns half as long.
-  Lao Tzu, Te Tao Ching
 My soul is in the sky
— William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream
 It is even better to act quickly and err than to hesitate until the time of action is past.
- Carl von Clausewitz
 Courage is knowing what not to fear.
- Plato
A man with outward courage dares to die; a man with inner courage dares to live. 
― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
 Life must be lived as play.
- Plato

Monday, August 22, 2016

On Building Things

 
We've got a lot done on the Range this year, most of it improvements you won't notice, and only a couple big projects requiring permits, but it was a steady bit of restoration, organization and clean up, especially after we had a basement flood.

It meant there was little time to work on book #3 this year, as it's pretty hard to concentrate with the noise, even on the days I can't really help.  My work days are also  much longer now with the commute and  there are no more "bachelor pad" nights, where after talking to my husband on the phone, I had several hours to work. I am so blessed to be home full time, but those extra hours allowed me to write a lot more.

Today, I have only a lunch break to jot down some chapter ideas, while at home my husband looks at a pile of stringers, as a man does when confronted by a creature that may sting or bite, and he cares for neither.  He'll get it done, even if it takes a couple more weekends, because we want it done right, not quick, a concept foreign to many people.
But I do a little bit each week on the book, half a chapter or so, if it takes me another year just to get it ready for the editing, I'm OK with that.  For if becomes "work", something I have to do, or am expected to do, I'll just walk away, because that is not why I write.

Seeing the house unfold, as two homes were combined, has been a pleasure, though I'm sure burglars will look through the front window, see all of the antiques, the sconces on the wall, NO TV or sound equipment and will walk away, thinking a couple 90 year old's live here. Though the kitchen cabinets were completely rebuilt, the walls re-plastered and painted, it still looks like a 40's kitchen, the only decorative bits my Mom's Swedish horses and a jar of marbles I found in my brother's childhood bedroom, the ones we played with for years as children, crouched down like small gargoyles perched on the edge of the earth.
For my brother and I were quietly and fiercely competitive, and a game of marbles, like any game, was approached like an act of war, with the only fire being friendly.  I can still recall his pale hands gently grasping the larger marble, poised for movement, while I watched like a hawk, to see if I could discern by draw of breath, by pace of breath, by the dart of an eye, his intention. There were times he was so intent on the task, it seemed as if he ceased to breathe, only the sun glinting on the marble in his hand, letting me know that time had not stopped.

The sun still glints on those marbles as you walk through the kitchen into the living room. Looking around,  the time could be 2016 or it could be 1935.  I like that sense of timelessness as I spend my work day dealing with the machining of lives and law.  By the time I get home, the drive sometimes taking as long as an hour and a half, I'm breathing slow and labored, like a man with a hundred pound weight on his chest.  I walk into this house, make some tea or pour a finger of scotch, put on some Classical music, and light a lamp, and the air goes out of my chest in a gentle whoosh.  In that instant, I care nothing for politics, for work, or what is outside, only the slow dance of my evening with my best friend, spouse, and Abby's stuffed animal surgeon.
In thinking back in this quiet place, I'm surprised by how much my brother was the same way.  It was only recently that I found out, that though adopted together we weren't biological siblings, only bonded ones. Our parents refused to discuss our origins, we were family was all they felt we needed to know, and perhaps they didn't know themselves.  But with his red hair and height, like myself, no one ever said in school "are you adopted?" I had always thought we were biological siblings or at least half siblings and when I found out we weren't when our birth certificates were unsealed I was a little disappointed until I realized it never mattered

For we were family and I loved him as deeply as he loved and defended me.

But as his home was readied for sale and his things  were organized at my Dad's where he lived the last year of his life, while his son took care of the home he no longer could afford, I saw a familiar pattern.

His home had no home computer and no TV.  The furniture was old and much of it was hand restored.  The house was in need of updating, but he preferred to do that himself, on his own schedule, rather than pay someone with the fruits of his labor for tasks he could easily learn how to do himself. There, beneath a stopped clock, responsive now only to the last stroke of eternity, sat some tools for yet another project he'd never be able to wield them for to finish.
But despite the lack of modern conveniences, there was one large 80's tape player and a stereo, with both vinyl and tapes to go with it.  In the last year of his life he played music almost all day, everything from big band to 70's rock. He left much of what he owned at the home for his son and daughter in law to use when they moved to keep the place up and pay the taxes until it could be sold. But he brought his music and his books to my Dads, of which there were many, his clothes, his firearms and his tools. Much of his submarine stuff went on the walls where it will remain until Dad is gone.  But there were boxes and boxes to be sorted through after he was gone.  Some of it made me cry, some of it made me smile, and the first thing I am going to ask him when I see him in Heaven is why he had a live flare gun in his nightstand.

That last night as we gathered up his things, I realized, that as different as we were in many ways, he being the fellow that always had a hundred friends, me being the one that only allowed a handful in close, he terrified of flying, myself terrified of small enclosed places.  Yet, we were so alike, strong willed and sometimes stubborn.  I could almost smell the white smoke of the cigarettes he refused to quit smoking, even as the cancer ate at him, smelling it burning in the ash tray by his fingers, the smoke trailing out the window into the tattered, tumbling midnight.
Both of us spent the majority of our adult life in service to our country, even if at times, we greatly disagreed with its leadership,  Both of us were quiet in our public opinions on such matters, but in private, with one another, we could discuss with great passion those fails and omissions of those we as a country put in power, as well as our staunch support of those rights that would keep us from forced servitude. For we both knew that with enough power, this carefully built world, still contains within it the command to be seized, and we'd make sure we did all we could to lawfully keep that from happening.

Our cars bore an emblem of the US flag, and our shelves the Bible, and we refused to apologize for either. For many years, we turned down promotions to higher command, both realizing that although command was sometimes magic, it often contained an atmosphere of officialdom that seemed to staunch human endeavor and we were happier out in the field, preferring out hands bloodied or dirtied to the false supremacy of paper and ink.
If was only when retirement was on the horizon that I donned the suit to work at headquarters, and my brother took on greater responsibilities, both wanting those that worked under us to realize they were more than ghosts to us, ignored in the darkness of our pursuit for our own personal power, as we looked through them with falsely perceived inferiority. We might not make a difference, but we were going to go out with the dignity of at least trying.

He'd still laugh if he saw me in a suit though.

I'm glad I have these days and these memories -  for my brother left an imprint of his life behind, one that's so similar to mine -  that in the recognition of, I sometimes feel closer to him in death than our deep bond in life.

As the tools are put down as darkness was upon us, I looked up at the skies. What captures my gaze are the unsteady stars, that if blown upon would tumble like large marbles in the sky, then brighten to small specks of light in a wet sheen, that I realized was the view through my tears.

With each small thing of his that are now part of my house, I realize that for all of us, midnight will come. But I'm not going to let midnight be flung down upon me, I'm going to drag midnight along with me for the ride, as hammers are swung and boards are bent and free will is our only salvation. In the end it may not be done, but it will be started, and that, with the rest and the little death of sleep will be my escape and my reward.  Then, when my body is finally free of sweat, and the house is quiet, I'll sleep. It will be a sleep without regret, in a slightly worse for wear home in which my heart sleeps next to me and my defender lays quietly in the drawer, a round in the chamber.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

No Step

We have successfully ripped out the back steps (the first floor sits on top of a walk out basement) and will be assembling the new ones, so blogging will be light until tomorrow night or Tuesday. The old steps (which were no longer structurally sound) went straight down to the drive which made putting them inside a fence impossible, given the layout of the drive, yard and garage.  The new ones will go back 90 degrees into the yard (with a landing) so the fence can go in that allows doggie direct access to the yard in bad weather.


It's been a learning experience.  I've learned Partner in Grime is pretty darn good at construction. And I learned that I'm pretty good at making sandwiches.  See you all later!


Friday, August 19, 2016

DIY Dinner

On the basics -

"The gunsmith should, and probably will, be quite content to master the task of screwing in a brass front sight on a shotgun without having the sight look as if it had been mashed between two moving gears."
- Professional Gunsmithing by Robert J. Howe (1946)

On the Shotgun -

"During the course of a year there is probably no other type of weapon that will cross the gunsmith's counter in such quantity and variety as the shotgun - from the engraved expensive British and German double barrel custom made jobs to the single shot eight dollar price of a boy.  And like a mother chick with her brood, the gunsmith must learn to know and love them all, for woe betide the gun craftsman who publicly refers to some customers pet scatter gun as being inferior to another type."
 - Profesional Gunsmithing by Robert J. Hower (1946)

There's all sorts of ways to do things, but sometimes just the basics can be as good as all the new found gadgets.  The books these quotes are from is an excellent one for a basic understanding of Gunsmithing.  The skills are timeless, only the technology and tools have changed (if you don't have the skills all the technology in the world is useless).  It also has some info on how to use old Atlas Lathes and Mills.

You have to understanding the basics.  Such it is with gunsmithing, such it is with another craft - foodsmithing.

With a kitchen full of expensive gadgets, mixes and packaged food, most people can put dinner on the table. But truly understanding how basic foods are cooked and why flavors turn out as they do is the difference between an "OK" cook and a "why is there a line on my porch?" cook.

What do we have to work with? There's  a few hamburger buns left from the cookout, a few canned goods.  A cheap chunk of roast beast was picked up, one that will be best prepared by slow cooking as  that will soften the connective tissue without toughening the muscle.  Still, it will need something to bring out the flavor.

It's DIY dinner time.

First you need to sear the meat the get the flavors that come only from the Maillard Reaction.


 No, not Mallard! It's MAILLARD.

It's a form of nonenzymatic browning resulting from a chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar, normally with heat (and named after a French chemist who described it, not in the context of a French Dip but in attempt to reproduce biological protein synthesis). The reactive carbonyl group of the sugar reacts with the nucleophilic amino group of the amino acid, and forms a complex mixture of poorly characterized molecules responsible for a range of odors and flavors.
  
In the reaction, hundreds of different flavor compounds are created, that in turn break down, forming yet more new flavor compounds. The browning reactions that occur when meat is roasted or seared are complicated, but most  occur by Maillard browning with contributions from other chemical reactions, including the breakdown of the tetrapyrrole rings of the muscle protein myoblogin (you've all just been waiting for this, haven't you?)
 
This enhances the flavor of any food that contains proteins and sugars and there are some food whose flavor profiles owe a LOT to Dr. Maillard.  Grilled roasted meats, crusty bread, dark beer, roasted coffee, chocolate, toast, cookies. Any food that you are cooking at temps above 250 F are going to have some Maillard components giving it color/texture/aroma.  If you know that, and can take full advantage of it, your dinner guests will thank you, even if you experiment on them, like I do. 

So don't forget to sear.  It's a scientific chain reaction of "MMMMMM". 

Range Beef Dip

Into a crockpot went:

2 1/4 cups beef broth (with added water to bring total liquid up to 2 and 1/3 cups
1 cup Merlot
1 can cranberry sauce
1 package Knorr French Onion Soup Mix *
1 heaping teaspoon crushed garlic
a couple of grinds of fresh  tellecherry black pepper
3 1/2 to 4 pound rump roast

*homemade soup mix  (no MSG)=  3/4 cup dried onion, 1/3 cup Penzey's beef soup base or bouillon powder, 1/4 tsp celery seed, 1 tsp parsley flakes, 1 tsp turmeric, 1/4  tsp pepper.  Store in air tight container and use 4 Tablespoons for most recipes that call for a package of soup mix. 

First, lightly and quickly sear roast in a smoking hot pan covered with a thick sheen of oil.  It's done properly when there is a light brown crust on each side and the smell is pleasant, not acrid.  Don't overdo!

Place roast fat side up in crock pot and cover with the remaining, ingredients which you  have blended in a bowl. Cover and set to lowest setting. Seven to eight  hours later, the meat will be falling apart tender and the au jus will be  fragrant and  incredibly good,.  The cranberry adds a delicious undertone, not a fruity taste.  I'd have preferred some crusty Ciabatta rolls to stand up to dipping the sandwich, but messy will work with a knife and fork.

Try it.  It may not be as great as your Mom's recipe, but, like a basic shotgun, it's still pretty darn good.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Driving Miss Brigid

We live in a 100+ year old Village in Chicagoland.  The streets are small, and most houses have tiny garages that exit to the alley. With a lot that has side yards with lots of space between we and neighbors plus a long driveway exiting to the street, we are a bit unusual (we think the original owner bought two lots for the space, then added the garage in the 50's or 60's).

The problem is, people don't consider that we have to get OUT of that driveway to a narrow street. After the giant four door 4 x 4 truck and I moved in after getting transferred to our office here, there were a couple of mornings I had to wait until the neighbors that park on the street left to get out. The house across and one down had been a  multi unit rental (basement, first floor, and second floor) after the previous single owner  retired and moved, putting it up for sale.  There were several parties living there with multiple vehicles. There's plenty of open space further down, but that entails driving further, even if it's not any further away from their door. I made sure everyone got homemade baked goods, an introduction to the bat truck and an explanation as to how much space I need to get out without whacking their vehicles.  Other than having to sometimes put out cones when someone had family member visiting on a weekend, everyone has been awesome.
But that house across and one door down has new owners - a family who is going to live in it with the exception of the tiny upstairs dormer rental, with multiple cars, including a new Ford truck that likely will NOT fit in their little garage.  With several cars there as their extended family helps get the house ready for final move in, some spending the night, it's been a bit crowded getting out.

Yesterday,  rather than consider the thought of going through THAT learning curve again and having to use leave because I am late to work - when I came home and the new owner and what looked like (from the resemblance) either adult sons or little brothers were standing outside waiting for a contractor (since it's been a rental, I'm sure there's a bit of work before it's move in ready) - I HAD A PLAN!
They spot cute redhead in big shiny black truck and all hold their stomachs in, smile and give a friendly "hello new neighbor" wave.  I waved back.

I normally back in - in one fluid movement, as it makes it easier to get out in the a.m. Having been a commercial pilot for many years, I can usually back that truck in very quickly and very efficiently, in one try (unlike the Reno airport in the snowy/icy winter where you just use differential power to SLIDE into the gate and hope you get it right).

Yesterday, while they all looked on, I deliberately took about 4 wide tries at it, less than gently stomping on the brakes, and on the last one deliberately taking the truck THROUGH the lawn (that will buff out) and intentionally almost hitting one of the spruce trees, before finally, getting the truck backed in with a screech of brakes.

Today, all the new neighbor's vehicles and those of their family were parked WELL down the street, away from my driveway.

My work here is done.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Elevator Music

In the last 8 years, the size of my home, was divided by half, then half again, not due to finances, but simply by choice.  I now have a 1200 square foot home, with a shop area almost as big.  It's not fancy, and I've smiled more here than in any giant McMansion I've owned.

For what is contained in that house, is only what is essential or  holds the most special of memories in it.  Some of such things are two violins, one very old, one fairly new.

Music is something I grew up with, playing piano and clarinet in both band and orchestra. As an adult there was a keyboard in the crash pad living room, a guitar often nearby, even if I didn't play often. But late in life, I decided I wanted to learn to play something new, what I wished I'd have learned instead of the clarinet.

I remember the trip to the music store 8 years ago, to look at violins, so many instruments of beauty, of power, love, lust, longing, faith, joy. So many ways to paint a picture on the silence of your life.  I didn't let the"oh, is this for your child?" deter me and I came home with my first violin in my 40's, the music from the store trailing like a contrail in the twilight.
It was harder than I expected, and I'd like to say I'm really good, but as a violinist, I'm a really good piano player.  Still, I have no regrets about giving it a try.

The first step is always the hardest. Trying something new. Embracing something long forgotten that at one time you loved. Embracing something you've never done but wanted to. I see it in people who take up a new hobby, a new career, late in life. I see it in friends who after years, or even decades of marriage, find themselves alone, as they fling themselves out into the dating pool again (which for most feels less like the pool at Holiday Inn and more like a scene from Jaws)
But we do it, in tiny leaps upward propelled by longing and only held back by the gravity of timidity.  It's not much different than learning to fly; the trepidation of the first solo. It's the fear of the what we don't know that holds us back, as a huge unknown beckons. The sky is almost human in its passions, almost spiritual in its quiet, and as likely to forgive as a scorned lover. But to certain people, it is the mystery that calls, until one morning, waking slowly upon this sleep-fast earth, they finally hear.

If I could have put some of my aerial adventures to music, what a song it would have been. Flying can be as mathematical precise as Bach, as fluid as Chopin and as restful as Brahms. I've had landings that were as lyrical as Vivaldi and I've had some that should have been set to the theme from Loony Tunes. There are flights that play in my head like a well worn record; there were flights that were less about moving towards a destination of physical place but more about moving toward a moment in time, a place in which fate and need became one. Had I listened to those that said "you can't do that" because of my age or gender or both, I'd have missed out on that grand adventure.
The only time you are too old to learn is when you cease to breathe. One is never too ingrained in their habits to take up the instrument that for them, will be the perfect blend of the joyous with the sublime, hands stroking a thing of beauty as it resonates with the sound of their dreams, the lingering notes of their need. So, be it an instrument, or putting hand to paper and crafting that book you always wanted to write, or crafting something else of your hands and brain, try it.  You have no guarantee of success but at least the music of your longings, that chorus that fills up those quiet spaces, will be heard, if only by you.

We'll never be 20 again. You can't make the years rewind like a tape. The Roman Poet Ovid said "All things change, nothing is extinguished, everything flows onward". Yet my music will pull me onward, pull me forward, calming me, soothing my mind, giving it peace, becoming the soundtrack of my life even as it propels me to explore my world.
What I listen to is diverse, at best, but good music for me may not be what's popular. Good music is a place where genres fuse; where concertos become operatic and arias symphonic; where glee and grief, the downtrodden and the sanctified, become one. A place where time is much too short, as with each note we are aware of our allotted span dwindling, time in which we not only have to find our true path, but derive some joy from the journey.

Though I enjoy many styles of music, I'm drawn the deepest into the classics. Many great composers have expressed the extremes of life: affirmation, despair, the sanctity of grace, the rush of sensual pleasure, fertile touch and barren void. But there are certain pieces of work in which all these emotions co-exist in the infinity of a short song, making it fuller, richer, touching a chord deep within. We play or listen to our music as we love, for different reasons, to redeem ourselves through the expression of it, to find forgiveness as well as reconciliation with what lives deep within.

Certain songs, certain sounds touch us like memory.  They can calm or uplift, they can bring us to cry, the quick, clear tears of a child for a lost toy or the long drawn out keen of  a love forever lost, salt on our face, salt in our wounds. When the tears stop, they can provide that beat in which we can place one painful footstep forward , muscle memory functioning in the desolation of grief.
Music is the landscape of the absolute, not as defined by black and white, but in those gray shores where beauty ebbs in and away, like the tide, where everything is contingent and nothing simple, and time is so very brief. A place where, as Henry James’s Madame Merle says, "an envelope of circumstances encloses every human life".

Music is as life is, it flows like wine and spills like wine, a communion with something as profound and rapturous as heaven. It is caressing whisper, it is epithet. It can touch you as if it were light, not decanted from heaven but as if  it was suspired from the heart itself.  It fills the room as scent does, leaving upon the senses the aftermath of invitation and  temporal promise, that secret affidavit, like scent itself.
Perhaps that is why I associate flying and music.  The two experiences are intertwined in my mind even if the only song playing in the cockpit was the hip hop beep of an aural warning system, the constant murmuring sound of the engines in still, serene air.

There were days when there was no sense of motion, my craft seeming to hang upon the high, clear sky in a tranquil paradox of time and motion, held on the air like a sustained note. There were days in which storms crashed around me, a kettle drum rumble of thunder warning me away, ice pellets striking the windshield with the ringing truth of a bell.  It would have been my loss had I not experienced both, but would have, had I listened to those that said "you shouldn't do that".
For both brought things to me that were worth every risk. Both induced in me a sense of the infinite and the contemplation of that which is unseen. Music and flying are both wonder, or can be. What is wonder to me may not be wonder to you, but you may understand it, the passion, the yearning for something that's only yet a taste, the visceral connection between the soul and what elevates it to the heavens. It is what strikes in you, that same chord, the same spark that is embedded in some hearts. Something that, in certain individuals, is simply part of our most basic and natural inability to live with the lonesome gravity of silence.

So when you wake up at dawn, listen carefully.  For there, within air that is loud with birds, you may hear it, that choral strophe that is your mystery and your wonder, laid out upon an altar of blue, waiting for you to answer.
- Brigid