Tuesday, July 25, 2017

From Russia with Love - A Little Travelog Post

Little Prince lived alone on a tiny planet no larger than a house. . 

The suitcase is empty, but it is not. There in the bottom, a small piece of paper with some writing on it.  I read it and I smile.

The bag's opened up, some toiletries spread around the hotel bathroom.  Another day on the road.  I guess the wandering spirit runs in my blood, passed on my from Air Force father to me. Seems like ever since I got a control yoke in my hand I've been wandering across miles of land, across rivers and towns in whatever way I can, be it dromedary-like transport plane, raggedly land rover or sway back mule.

I have an anchor, over time it's been a large house, a small house, it's been simply a suitcase and someone I love.  But when I'm there, I am thoroughly happy, for that anchor, instead of being a confinement, is simply the base from which I move, a fulcrum that amplifies the effects of my motion, the beat of my heart.

St. Expurey said, "He who would travel happily must travel light". And so I did, the earliest memories little more than the remembered feel of the starched uniform shirt I wore, the dense oily smell of jet fuel lingering on the tongue like smoke. It seems as if all my early years were reflected in the window of those moving airplanes. I see my reflection, my past, through bug splayed glass that tinted the world bright.
The airplane, the destination and the years changed, as did the landscape of my career, but some thing things never changed. Days in an airplane traveling far. Miles and hours spent watching the landscape, silver grain elevators, red winged birds, mountains formed of ice and fluid need, and rivers without borders, all blending into a bright diorama of life racing past. The world looks different from above, clouds massive and dark, looming up like a target in a gun sight, looking twice the size of an ordinary man.

I have spent a half of my life it seems, on the way to somewhere. I have watched a hundred cumulus clouds erupt, the mass assassination of mayflies and the disappearance of a slice of cherry pie at a tiny airport diner and the journey was only beginning.
In each day comes another opportunity for adventure. The ride to the hotel was something to remember, in and of itself. A shuttle service, stopping at several hotels on the way. The driver, sullen and demonstrating why driving was his second language. You know how when most people drive, certainly professional drivers, they brake using an increase in pressure on the brake pedal so as to come to a smooth stop. Not Mr. Shuttle. The only brake technique he used was to stomp on the brake, let up, let the car roll, stomp again. It would take four or five of these stomps to equal one normal braking action. No traffic, heavy traffic, it made no difference.

I started to feel like a bobble head doll and the 25 dollars I saved over a taxi was starting to look like one of those small decisions that had great, oversized repercussions. But perhaps I should have been more patient. I guess it was hard to concentrate on braking when one is texting while driving in heavy traffic.

I simply made sure my seatbelt was fastened and then bent down as if into a stiff wind, horns of the impatient exploding into the rain-split asphalt that opened and closed with opportunity. Like all traffic in big cities, we carried on, sharp with speed, and then trickling to a standstill, the road dipping into the fog, like a hand cleaving water, the headlights showing the gray bulk of streams of cars coming down the hill like rain.
When the last guest got off and it was just me, he quit texting and had a series of increasingly heated exchanges in his mother tongue with his dispatcher about how he only got  the equivalent of 47 US dollars in fares for this trip and he wanted to get a number one spot when he got back to the airport. (Actually, sir, you got 68 dollars in fares, one that you did not log and pocketed. I notice things like that.)

The arguing got more heated. I am not fluent in languages. I can simply listen and relate small things in a number of languages that come in handy, Russian, Chinese, Farsi, just enough to know when it's a good time to get out of Dodge or when happy hour is almost over. It comes in handy, the knowing, the looking, I think, as I catch quick glimpses of other drivers in the failing sunlight, faces fixed and grim as they fought to get upstream.
The van driver, still yelling into the phone while almost whacking several people on bicycles,  finally stopped in front of my hotel. I paid him the fare plus a 15 percent tip. He did NOT look happy, expecting much more from the American Redhead in nice clothes.

He muttered something under his breath about what he had to do to get a big tip, and I replied -

"Вам надо научиться использовать торможения." (you need to learn how to use braking)

He was still standing there, mouth agape when I went up to my suite.

But I had arrived. The hotel bulked long and dark against the city sky, but inside was golden warmth, a bite of a fresh apple, a much-needed bottle of water. Sitting still for a minute taking care of the aching neck and soon it was time to meet my partner for this assignment while we went over notes for tomorrow's business over a light meal.

After a short walk back to the hotel, my partner making sure I got to my room safely, I made a couple phone calls to loved ones, wanting to let them know I was in and safe. My Dad always worries when I travel, even when I can't tell him where I'm going.  So do friends, and I try and keep in touch. Then I took a long bath in a tub so deep you could hide a Mastodon in it and slept until it was 6:30 in the morning. Unfortunately, it was 6:30 in the morning where I wanted to be, not where I was at.

So I got up and made coffee and watched a stain of light snare itself between steel and rain, spreading until the stain grew light and the light became morning.
By choice or not, travel is part of my life.  But travel brings something to you that people who live in the insular world of their home town their whole lives may miss. It pushes your boundaries. When you travel, you can become invisible, if that is what you choose. I like that. I like to be the quiet observer. Walking alone along the edge of another ocean, as it stretches away into space with its illusion of freedom. Strolling through the celestial hush of a square that has seen generation after generation, the sun glinting off marble where the monotonous rain has washed it bright. What stories would that old building tell, what makes these people who they are?

You don't have to understand the language that is spoken, only the language of the streets, the scents, the stone. Without understanding a word around you the language becomes simply a musical background for watching the water flow onto the shore or a leaf blowing in the wind, calling nothing from you.

You may have work that takes much of your time, yet still, in this strange place, there are hours open to you.  You don't have a lawn to mow or bills to pay.  There is only life ,simple and inescapable as an empty hallway, where you can leave behind for a moment, the burdens that you freely asume and carry as bright and ambitiously as brass. For this moment you are simply a creature of choice, free to visit stately buildings, savor a cup or coffee or simply go watch the trains.  You're open, if only for this moment, as a child to receive all of the world, not just your own.

It is all there for the taking, multicolored flowers in bright density, the smell of fresh bread baking, laid out like fabric on the ground which you pick up and wrap around you, drawing in a breath through the scented cloth. This fabric, this essence of a place, that contains both the dead and the living, the blooms of lush flower, the decay of a building, the smells that are both the death and the birth of a city. You are a historian, you are a hunter free to explore and seek and find and then return home bringing memories to lay on your doorstep.
From the memories come words.  They may be only in your head, they may be on paper.  But they tell a story, one composed of past journeys on ancient rails washed clean by wind and rain and tempered by time, written to the mournful sound of a train whistle echoing through ancient memories and newfound dreams.  The words strung out like cars, beyond which wait the world and life, hope unrestrained and incontrovertible.  They recall the memory of it all, moving fast now, wind rushing past like flood, leaving you breathless.

The suitcase is open on a simple wooden stand. It is empty, but in it there is so much, the smell of crushed sage as I bounced across the desert in a jeep, the wood smoked burnt woods of autumn, the smell that is untouched ground after a rain, the rich earthy scent of something being lit that had for so long been cold.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Sometimes we just need a little support.

Hey Mom's what's that?
Is it a bird?  A plane?  A giant bone shaped stuffie?
Mom said it's a pillow. She is writing a Novella that's going into a published anthology with some action and sci fi authors she knows so she's been on the computer both all day for work and late into the evenings the last few days. So Dad (a mechanical engineer) made this pillow by cutting pieces of bone shaped fabric and sewing them together and stuffing it so it cradles and supports the neck for some couch napping or bedtime.

Dad will demonstrate before he takes me for my walk.

Come on Dad. . Walkies. . Walkies!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sunday Black and White

A dog is a soul who is just as happy with one toy as a dozen. Humans could learn something from that.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Not just for Flower Fridays - The Purple Coneflower as a Natural Healer

Abby's snoozing so no dog antics this afternoon but I wanted to pass on some information for those of you who commented on the purple coneflowers in yesterday's post.  We live in a big city, but growing up in a more rural part of the world, I learned a thing or two about self-sufficiency, especially with parents who grew up in the Depression.  I try and keep all the basics on hand - Food for all of us for several months, plenty of water, and a way to treat more, medical supplies (both human and pet), etc. in case of a major natural disaster. and a way to prepare food and stay warm if there's no power.
But there's one thing around the place that many of you may have in your gardens and not know what it is. The purple cone flower. Echinacea purpurea (Asteraceae). Echinacea comes from the Greek word echinos meaning hedgehog in reference to the spiny center cone. It's a simple, but beautiful bloomer from as early as June to fall, with a bloom that attracts bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects (always welcome). The dead flower stems will remain erect well into the winter and, if the flower heads are not removed, they will attract goldfinches who perch on or just below the blackened cones to feed on the seeds. This unique plant grows fairly high, up to 3 feet to get some height above nearby grasses. Common in prairie beds, it can be found throughout much of the Midwest. It does well in the cold but doesn't like overly wet soils.

Luckily, they are easy to grow from the seeds. Plant the seeds in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked, and when you still expect another frost or two. Sow the seeds 1/4" deep and 2" apart. When you've got a bunch of seedlings at least an inch tall, thing them to 18" apart. Rabbits and hedgehogs think new echinacea shoots are the perfect breakfast treat, so you will need to protect the seedlings if your beds are frequented by the little critters.  Since Spring is long past, you could still pick some up in most commercial garden centers.
Echinacea has been widely used by Native Americans, particularly the Plains Indians, for hundreds of years as an antiseptic, an analgesic (pain killer) and for the treatment of snakebites. Echinacea is also used extensively by herbalists to boost the immune system, help speed wound healing, reduce inflammations, treat colds and flu (though once you get the flu a tincture of thyme works better as it's a natural expectorant)  and fight infection. It is NOT recommended for those with autoimmune disease (only a doctor should recommend any herbs for such issues), pregnant women or children, as there just isn't enough studies on those groups taking it.  But I have found that using a tincture at first sign of a cold, usually reduced my sick time by half, without having to make a trip to the immediate care.

 A growing collection of scientific evidence now supports Echinacea's contribution to stimulating the immune system due to a rich host of polysaccharides and phytosterols, unique to this plant. While there are studies indicating that the whole plant has medicinal virtues, (which is why I'm including harvesting information for the whole plant) it is traditionally the root that is used. Herbal remedies are not intended to replace trained medical care, especially if you have children.  But they can provide a host of health benefits and in the absence of medical care, due to a disaster of some sort, may prove to be a blessing.

For medicinal purposes, you'll want to harvest some roots and some flower tops. For best quality, experts say to wait until the plants are about 3 years old and harvest in the fall when the tops have gone to seed and the plants have seen a hard frost or two during their lifetime. The tops should be harvested just as the flowers start to open. Whether harvesting the tops or roots, the dried herb is good for a year and should be marked and discarded if not used by then.
To Harvest the roots:
Cut off a portion of the root, leaving plenty for the plant to grow on. (aren't you happy you keep those sharp knifes handy? Cut into pieces small than one inch. (large ones may have mold growth during the drying process).

Wash thoroughly and gently pat dry with clean towels.

Lay them out on screens in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight. The larger pieces may take several weeks to dry depending on humidity levels. Don't overcrowd them.

When completely dry, store in tightly covered glass jar in a cool place away from sunlight.
To Harvest the Flower Top
Cut the plant at the point where the first healthy leaves are growing.

Lay the tops on a screen or bundle and hang upside down out of direct sunlight. Don't overcrowd them as air circulation will help the process.

When completely dry, the leaves will crumble to the touch.

 Store in a tightly sealed glass jar in a cool place away from sunlight.

To find out more about making tinctures, salves, syrups, antiseptics, sprays, and many other simple remedies with this handy plant, see Growing and Using Echinacea by Kathleen Brown.  It's a great little book for less than $4 and has a lot of good information. We made a tincture with half a cup of  dried herbs and vodka in a pint jar and it lasted through multiple cold/flu seasons).

Friday, July 21, 2017

Flower Friday

Today's we're joining:
For Flower Friday which was established by Angel Dory and continues with the loving memory of Dory and her angel brother Bilboe.

Look closer at the Purple coneflowers.  They have visitors today!

What's buzzin' over at YOUR house?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Why is Abby Lab Hiding Under the Coffee Table?

What's up with this?  Abby?

I had to take her collar off to wash it.

It's from:

Koda's Collars by KodasCollars on Etsy 

Mom, I'm NAKED!!  I'm not coming out til I get my Koda's Collar back!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Pet Insurance - Some Guidance

I don't know how many of you have pet insurance, but it's worth looking into.  We did NOT have it for Barkley and his expenses in his last days grew into the thousands of dollars.  For Abby Lab, we have coverage up to $20,000 and it costs $45 a month.  That's less than the cost of a coffee on the drive to work each day.

Pets are our family and the majority of us treat them as such, checking food labels for healthy choices, finding just the right bed for tired joints and spoiling them with treats and toys.   Yet, according to the latest American Pet Products Association’s Pet Owners Survey, only 4% of dog owners and 1% of cat owners carry pet insurance policies.
Here are  these reasons why buying pet insurance is a smart move:

It allows you to pick your veterinarian. Unlike human health insurance policies that usually require you to use a specific health care provider, pet insurance policies allow you to pick the Vet you are happy with. You simply provide the veterinary bill to the insurance company for reimbursement of qualified expenses.

It does not discriminate against any breed or age of pet. While it is advisable to obtain pet insurance as soon as you adopt or purchase your pet to obtain lower premiums, you can also obtain coverage for your pet later, though for some companies there may be restrictions on pre-existing conditions.

Having pet insurance allows you to choose treatment options.  Not having strict financial restrictions allows you to select care for your ailing or injured pet based on the best medical options available.  Most pet insurance policies reimburse up to 80% of costs after deductibles.
It helps with budgeting costs.  Most providers offer plans where you can pay monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or yearly.  You decide what level of coverage you want and many programs offer discounts for additional pets in the household.

With Abby being a senior we looked at it as a good investment.

But which company to pick?  We went with the one recommended by the Lab Rescue folks that micro chipped her but since we've not had to use it yet except for her first teeth cleaning after we adopted her, I can't really review it.

But the folks at Reviews.com HAVE reviewed a number of pet insurance providers for coverages, restrictions, and customer service (after discussing with Vets and health care providers as to what is essential versus "nice to have") and have some information that's worth reading.  Just click on the link below.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

And the Nominations Are . . . .

Abby T. Lab here.  Mom and I had the honor of being nominated for the "One Lovely Blog Award" yesterday by

The award calls for me listing 7 things you may not know about me.

1. I am not a  purebred Lab but was a Lab "Mix" from a high kill shelter.  Although from a distance I look like I am up close you can see my fur is much longer and softer, my tail is bushier and my undercoat is a deep red.  Mom thinks I'm part flat coated Retriever.

2  I won't get on the bed unless Dad is away overnight, even if invited.  The couch and the futon, however,  are MINE!

3.  Vanilla yogurt in the evening is my favorite thing in the world.

4.  My trained hearing can detect the footstep of our mailman versus the UPS driver.  If it is the mailman, I'll whine to let Mom know he is there, for the UPS driver I will bark as if I'm going to tear him to shreds.

5.When the Chewy Box arrives in the mail, I will lay next to it until Mom opens it, even if that takes WEEKS and WEEKS (OK, a couple of hours).

6.  After Mom and Dad, my favoritist person in the whole world is my dog walker Jan.

7.  Don't tell anyone, but I like going to the groomer that doesn't put us in cages and lets us finish drying in a cozy back room on soft rugs.
Is my yogurt ready Mom?

Another requirement for the award is listing 15 new blogs to share the award with. Most blog awards list 5-10, and to be honest, I don't have time today for 15 and you likely don't time to READ 15.  As Lexi said - be a rebel but share the fun!

So here are ten blogs I enjoy that you may not have seen, all worthy of the One Lovely Blog Award. I you are nominated feel free to nominate others, or just enjoy some visits from new friends.  If you do decide to join, list your 7 facts, nominate some bloggers others may not know about, and share the rules and the fun.

Choppy is a far traveling rescue dog who with his lawyer mom, Dad, and feline sidekick provides lots of adventures and laughs. His regular "signs" are worth the visit aline.

Life at Golden Pines is a lovely country home full of fosters and hospice care senior dogs that otherwise would have no place to go. A home full of love is always good.

Oreo lives just north of us, and though we've not met, we feel like family after reading of his adventures and those of his friends that live in his lovely old neighborhood.

Astro is an adorable Pit Bull/Cattle Dog rescue who lives in a beautiful new home out in Washington with his kind and patient pawrents.  He'll steal both your seat cushions and your heart.

Ruby isn't jsut the driver of Blogville's famous Margarita truck, she is a delightfully joyous friend to many of us here and a regular part of Blogville's community.

Princess Leia is a beautiful little King Charles Spaniel who lives a life of joy and elegance in England. If you have attended any of the Blogville events you've likely met this gentle soul.

Lady Shasta's companion and friend Shilo had to go to the Bridge not long ago but she and her Mom Kim continue to find the joy in everyday life and share it with others.

We didn't' think anyone could fill Easy's paws when he left this world but new addition Phenny has brought nothing but laughter and joy to us from their home in France.

Quilting, birds, dogs, and life, what's not to love!

BIG dog, not so big dog, Mom, Dad, five kids and the beautiful landscape of Australia. Adventure abounds.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sunday Smiles

With that, we will say Happy Sunday!

The Johnson Family and Abby T. Lab

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Sunday Eats - 1 Hour Bowl to Table Yeast Rolls

For my best friend (who makes the best bread on the planet) a 1-hour bowl to table yeast roll. You can make them together in a pan or put in a muffin tin for a slightly different shape (cooking time might be slightly less)

I'd be willing to bet you have most of the ingredients in your house already.
Note - I made an extra batch today for a friend that had a death in the family that I prepared a meal for, so there are additional photos and tips tonight.

Easy Buttery Yeast Rolls

1 cups water
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon active-dry yeast (this is slightly more than 1 packet)
3.5 to 4 cups all-purpose flour (a 1/4 cup extra if needed)
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Grease a 9 x 13-inch pan with cooking spray, and set aside.

The rolls are for me, right mom?

In a microwave-safe bowl, whisk together warm water (NOT hot) and melted butter until combined.
Stir in the milk and honey.  Then microwave for 1 minute 15 seconds, or until the mixture is very warm to the touch (it should be 110°F).  Test it, whisk and re-heat in 15-second additional intervals if needed until the mixture is warm enough.
Pour the water mixture into the large bowl of a stand mixer (I used my Cuisinart with the little plastic paddle attachment) then sprinkle the yeast on top, and give it a quick stir to combine.  Wait for five minutes, or until the yeast is foamy. Add in 3.5 cups of flour, and the salt.  Then using the dough-hook (or paddle) mix on medium-low speed or pulse on and off until combined. (note if the dough sticks to the side of the bowl, add in 1/4 cup flour at a time until the dough pulls away from the sides and is only SLIGHTLY sticky to the touch).

You're looking for no more than 4 and 1/4 cups of flour total.

Form the dough into a ball with your hands and transfer it to a greased bowl.  If it is still slightly sticky, lightly dust a cutting board with flour and just knead it gently 4-5 times rather than work it extra with the bread hook. Cover with a damp towel and let rise for 15 minutes in a warm room (if you have your a.c. running that will not work, put it in the oven with the light on or out on the sunporch as I did, these will NOT rise if your house is 75 degrees or less).

Gently punch the dough down and divide into 12-15 equal-sized pieces.(I used 12) Form each piece into a  rough ball and flatten slightly  (with clean, dry and floured hands) and place evenly in the prepared pan.  Cover the pan, and let rise for an additional 20 minutes (again, if the room is air conditioned, put the rolls in the oven with the light on to rise  - then preheat the oven after removing rolls).

Bake 15-18 minutes, or until lightly golden brown on top and cooked through. Remove and brush with extra butter.  Serve warm with honey.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday Funny

As a guitarist, I play many gigs. Recently I was asked by a funeral director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man. He had no family or friends, so the service was to be at a pauper’s cemetery in the back country. As I was not familiar with the backwoods, I got lost. I finally arrived an hour late and saw the funeral guy had evidently gone and the hearse was nowhere in sight. There was only the diggers and crew left and they were eating lunch. I felt bad and apologized to the men for being late. I went to the side of the grave and looked down and the vault lid was already in place. I didn’t know what else to do, so I started to play. The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around. I played out my heart and soul for this man with no family and friends. I played like I’ve never played before for this homeless man. And as I played ‘Amazing Grace,’ the workers began to weep,

They wept, I wept, we all wept together. When I finished I packed up my guitar and started for my car. Though my head hung low, my heart was full. As I opened the door to my car, I heard one of the workers say, “I never seen nothin’ like that before and I’ve been putting in septic tanks for twenty years.”

Apparently, I’m still lost…

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wordless Wednesday - When Dad is Away on a Trip

A not so wordless note: I posted this as a blogpaws blog hop but when I put up the linky code it made my last 3 posts totally disappear. Don't know if it's a code problem, I've had blog hops that when I posted the code it didn't allow comments. But I just wanted to let you know we think the Blogpaws blog hop is awesome -we just had technical issues.