Climb Every Mountain (even those without cell service)

One day, when my children were very young, I said to them, “Do not live a safe life.”

Over the years, they’ve come to understand what I meant by that. Be bold. Explore. Seek adventure. Leap!

And they’ve both taken those words to heart, and each in their own ways.

One has decided to live as far away from home as possible and still be considered a resident American. And the other has decided she’s not even entirely satisfied with the offerings of this planet, and is seeking to set up permanent dwelling on some other.

I’m fine with that. In a weird, No, I’m not taking it as indicative of how near you’d like to be to me.

Because that would be safety. Not the message I was pumping.

But I suffer the byproduct of all that, Go concur the world! flag waving. My fault. Entirely. And suffer I do. Because I was born a worrier. I have grown to become Olympic level competitive on that scale.

There are messages that come to me from both kids that fuel the scale of anxiety, like:

Wait, what day is it today? Oh, god, it’s July?

Or

A gift from you of one hundred dollars? Finally food!

Or

I’m heading to Patagonia for a hike. You won’t hear from me for at least a week.

That last one is what I’m going through right this very minute. And I’m not going through it very well. I think I’d go through it better if I’d not had exchanges like:

Me: You know it’s winter there now, right?

Her: Good point. I’ll pack a scarf.

Me: How will we communicate?

Her: Communicate? Mother, the whole point is to leave all people behind.

I have deep breathed my way through nearly twenty-four hours of her traveling to simply get to where nobody else is. And now, knowing that it’s pretty likely she has arrived at the base of some glacial fjord—because we lost communication five hours ago—it is simply a projection of my mind’s interpretation of her scrabbled together emailed itinerary that I will cling to.

Let’s take a peek into the inner workings of a somewhat neurotic, definitely overprotective mother’s brain as we view her schedule, shall we?

Day 1 – Something something Torres del Paine something something Estancia Sector. *shrug* I don’t know. It’s all in Spanish. I just filled in the proper names of places.

Day 1 (my take) – Hike from the lowest point of some fjord until you feel a torrential pain across your body, then point yourself toward Antarctica—from whence a stiffer cold wind is blowing—and stand in this section until the pain has subsided, and you can move forward again. Or the spring thaw arrives.

Day 2 – More Spanish words including Ascencio River, then Los Vientos, followed by Chileno Montaña, and finally, La Morrena.

Day 2 (my take) – Forge across river of ridiculously fridgid temperatures, lose your vientos, which could be food, or water, or all camping gear. I’m not sure here. Then lose the trail map and find yourself totally alone, cold, and without wifi.

Day 3 – Blah blah blah foreign words including Nordenskjöld Lake, Almirante Nieto Hill, and again, another word ending in something that sounds like it hurts, Cuernos del Paine.

Day 3 (my take) – She’s somehow found herself in a small area that Scandinavians have staked claim to, they give her shelter, and whatever that new untranslatable Norwegian word that defines coziness is, they watch a Danish drama, then put her in a sauna to thaw out, and finally roll her back out into the snow for a taste of compare and contrast—life, versus you wish life would end.

Day 4 – There’s something about the Francés Valley, words that end with the phrase The Italiano Campsite followed by other foreign text and the concerning location Hills Paine Grande, ultimately coming to an end with even more worrisome words placed side by side Paine Grande Mountain Refuge.

Day 4 (my take) – Clearly, she’s in Europe now. I saw nothing about flights or boats. I have no idea how she’s arrived on that continent. But the thing that disturbs me most is that she agreed to trek the ‘Hills of Great Pain’ followed by the ‘Mountain of Great Pain.’ The last word ‘refuge’ does little to assuage my anxiety, as being an American, I fear she may be shown the same kind of hospitality our country is currently offering others who are seeking shelter. Paybacks, baby.

Day 5 – I used Google translate. And I think all of us know exactly the sharp accuracy of linguistic interpretation available here, right? Using this fine tool, I have made out the phrases chunks of floating gray glaciers, catamaran dividing great blocks of frozen spears, and impossible to operate ice field.

 

Day 5 (my take) – I think Google did a fine job. I think if she has made it this far, she will make it no further. I think that this part of Chile is sending a message: Go ahead and just try. We love a good laugh. And we’re keeping you in this frozen tomb until climate change forces us to defrost.

I have stopped looking at her itinerary. I’ve come to realize that translating biblical Hebrew texts into Middle English and Old Norse would be a better use of my time, and I’d best get moving on learning all three dead languages. In another week’s time there will either be a phone call from my exhausted but exuberant child at the airport or an ex-band member of ABBA—now retired cliff dweller—in Patagonia with some unfortunate news.

Either way. It’s all out of my hands.

But it is a safe bet that my whole “do not live a safe life” series of lectures will continue to come back and bite me on the backside, for as I dropped this child off at the airport and shouted out at her receding figure, “Have a safe trip!” the last thing I heard was a fading cackle of irony.

~Shelley

PS–An important update to all the Robin Gott Doodle Devotees out there! Robin has opened a new site where you can finally and officially purchase some of his finest and funniest work via a website called Society 6. To quote the champ of chuckles, “I know it sounds like some kind of low-budget South African sci-fi film, but it’s actually an online market place for all sorts of design.” Don’t miss out. Check it out here: ROBIN GOTT

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

The Best Worst Day of my Life

You know how you can have like … the best day of your life, and then suddenly the whole world just beams down on you with sunshine and flowers for days and days to follow, and you just bask in that glow?

Yeah, neither do I.

Except for the first part.

My child has finally finished school. The official kind. At least for a little bit. Seventeen years of schlepping to class nearly every day. She’s graduated. She’s now a fully-fledged rocket scientist and has permission from all her teachers to hurl stuff up into space.

I wish I understood what it is that she’s going to be doing. I only know it has to do with the subjugation of Mars, triumphantly wrestling that planet into servitude for us Earthlings who are apparently fed up with this planet and are ready to conquer another one.

Or maybe she just wants to plant flowers and make it less orange. I don’t know.

The point is, is that graduation day was a day where I thought my whole heart would burst with joy. She raced down the aisle, and I sped toward her too. I have never hugged someone so tightly before. I cried. And laughed. And sobbed. And explained to all the thirteen thousand other people around us that my child just graduated from college, in case they were wondering.

Then I went home.

And I brought her cat with me. Just for the summer.

I love this wily, scrappy, reckless cat. Except for when she is wily, scrappy, and reckless.

When she’s sleeping, she’s awesome.

First thing that morning following graduation, I opened the front door to grab a flower pot on the front porch and this streak of jet black fur flew past me and disappeared. I panicked. Like really really panicked. I was in charge of the care of this cat who did not belong to me—the tiny little champion that supported my child’s exhausted soul all through school—and now it had entered the on-location shoot of a National Geographic special about mountaintop birds of prey where she was likely going to be the tasty treat of one vulture shared by seven of his closest friends.

Oh, dear God, where was she?

For two hours I searched outside. Under porches, bushes, behind barrels, and up trees. For two hours my head raced with what I was certain would be the result: my child would ditch her dream of meddling with Mars because her cat died. How could I be responsible for this?

I was defeated. I had to make the call—let her know what had happened and how hard I’d tried.

I opened the front door and suddenly that brazen black streak blasted past me once more—straight into the house and under the first couch she found.

My heart refused to stop hammering against my ribcage for at least a full hour, and my brain could not think of anything apart from “that was too close a call to ever repeat.”

Which is why paying a tax bill directly afterward was a really bad idea.

When one’s body and mind are busy recalibrating its official duties, math does not appear anywhere on the Top Ten Most Important Things list. It’s nowhere close. In fact, it’s so far away, Math doesn’t even know that a Top Ten Most Important Things list is a running concern. Math is out there busy chewing the fat with its neglected neighbors: grouting tile and soap sculpting.

Math did not think to show up and shout, STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND DON’T PRESS THAT BUTTON! when I ended up mistakenly paying the IRS the equivalent of Lichtenstein’s GDP for 2017.

I’m pretty sure I heard the smack of a giant facepalm it made though once it heard what I accidentally did.

As it was Sunday, no accountant was going to come to my rescue. The accountant I’d hired to help me with my taxes was very good at math, and she made clear to me that she knew how to count hands on the clock. There were still twelve full hours of Sunday left, plus eight more after that before she was going to answer her phone.

But mine began ringing off the hook suddenly. My cell phone, my house phone, the radio, and my computer all simultaneously began belching out panic signals “Grab your children off their swing sets and flee to the root cellar!” A major storm was barreling down upon us.

Now normally I am quite capable of handling big booming, lightning filled thunderstorms up here on this big hill I perch upon, but this one was determined to be a record breaker—also a tree breaker, a window breaker, and a furniture taker. (That last one was close enough. Move on.)

One by one I saw the heavy iron patio furniture glide right off the deck and tumble across the lawn, the cushions becoming new nesting fodder for a local fox’s den or half of North America’s birds. The lightning strikes—spitting distance away—made my hair stand up on end and left the acrid whiff of soot and cinders. Likely it was the charred fragments of a few desperately needed synaptic connections still struggling for cognitive responsiveness housed within my head.

Hours later after clean up, the windows, doors, and roof leaks, the search and rescue for the outdoor furnishings, the weeping over losing every tomato, green bean, and budding cucumber, I told the hound we were taking a walk. We would breathe deeply, walk swiftly, and cry where no one could see or hear us. I mean me.

He agreed but refused to have more than two boxes of Kleenex strapped to his collar. He’s so fussy, as it hardly added to the five pound whisky keg he already had fastened to that spot.

We walked. It felt good. The rain having plunged the temperature down twenty full degrees. All that deep breathing was finally starting to bring my heart rate down to somewhere around “only mildly concerning.”

Until I heard the fearsome, high-pitched scream of an unholy banshee—or it could have been a baby fawn being stepped on.

And one would remember that very particular sound because believe it or not, I too, have stepped on a fawn.

They hide. Beneath the grasses. Because apparently for a few tedious hours after being born they struggle with actually walking. Damn them.

And the hound had come upon one in his sleuthy, ferretting way. He scared the bejeebies out of both of them simultaneously.

And upon hearing the baby banshee holler, her mother—freshly finished from birthing—came shrieking down the ridge from above us. Barreling her exhausted body like a freight train straight toward her baby’s clueless predators, this doe was sending the message that she had not spent the last umpteen hours pushing out this bag of gangling bones and four sharp hooves for nothing.

Deer are loud.

And fast, and big, and really scary when plowing straight for your head.

 

She lept from the side of the hill and landed on the driveway where, because of the rain, her hooves skittered right out from beneath her big bloated body, and she slid across the road just like all my heavy iron lawn chairs. Then she scrabbled her footing on the other side and raced back up to the top of the other ridge mirroring the first.

She was prepping for another go around.

I screamed for the hound. And the little banshee squealed. The doe barked or roared or boarked (it’s a weird sound). There was just so much noise.

The second pass from Bambi’s furious guardian was apparently enough to jar the hound out of his muddled state of mind as he hightailed it straight up the hill and out of sight.

Which still left one large angry doe careening down a mountainside with anger and physics on her side. I was the remaining target.

Dumbstruck, I had no plan of action. I had bear spray on my belt loop, but that was about as useful as telling a Mac truck at full speed that he’d better “hold up there, buddy, can’t you see I have some Q-tips in my back pocket?”

She hurtled past me, again leaping and splattering on the driveway to slide straight across it like an ice cube.

I closed my eyes and clicked my heels together three times real fast.

When I opened them, I realized three things:

  • If I made it home alive, I’d best cloak myself in bubble wrap for the rest of the day.
  • If I made it home alive, there should be no “rest of the day.” Go to bed.
  • If I made it home alive, realize that the universe does not like imbalance. For every high there is a low. And taxes. There are always taxes that somehow don’t count on the universe’s balance sheet.

I just really hope there won’t be taxes on Mars. Let’s not forget … I saved a cat that might be vital in allowing that to become a reality. Surely the universe will count that in my favor.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

An Address to a Girl in a Dress (and a Cap and Gown)

Dear Reader,

With permission from my daughter, I’m sharing my “personal commencement speech” given to her following her college graduation. I imagine it is kindred to a million other parental letters. But she is my kin and my one in a million. 

Plus, I really needed an essay for my monthly blog post.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Chloe,

I’m sure by now a million people have said, Congratulations.

So I won’t.

Because I don’t like being like a million other people. And neither do you. Which is why I like you so much.

I’m lucky that way because I could have birthed a child who wanted to be on American Idol, or who wished to run a gelato shop, or who believed working as an accountant for the IRS could be a safe and super fun job.

But I did not birth that child. Instead, I landed a girl who rolled her eyes so often with impatience in her formative years, one of those times she was looking skyward actually revealed something that held her gaze. A star? An airplane? A celestial thought?

We may never know. The point is, is that everyone has vision. Whether through working eyeballs or simply one’s focused imagination, we all have some sort of direction. Yours just happened to be up.

Which must have been really frustrating for you for over sixteen years of schooling, as in order to achieve a position in that field where everyone else is looking skyward, you spent most of it looking down. At textbooks and exams.

But you’re finished with all that right now.

For about a minute.

I know. That was an awful thing to say. Especially to someone who still carries around the blood shot eyes of a student who just days ago was pulling her umpteenth all-nighter.

But it’s the truth. Because …

Life is school.

It is a giant campus with a million different teachers and a gazillion annoying classmates who are repeatedly flunking and succeeding right alongside you. It is countless classes where the only scores given are pass and fail, and you get to determine what your GPA represents.

Money in the bank?

Title at work?

Rovers landed?

You decide.

Yes, there are still exams. Yearly, you have a giant pain-in-the-ass one which the government insists you show up for, but it’s not as bad as it seems because you’re granted a cheat sheet—they’re called accountants.

The medical ones are some you start attending with greater frequency—and again, thankfully this is “group effort” problem solving, so rest easier in that department too.

There are the courses you enroll in that instruct you on home ownership, insurance policies, contract negotiation, and credit card debt. These are all core classes you’d best take a few notes in, but there are others—the humanities electives—where you can sit back and relax, maybe doodle in the margins.

There is, and never will be, a syllabus for yoga.

Likely there will be some mind-blowing field trips—maybe Mount Olympus, maybe Olympus Mons. Who knows? But it’s likely with your itch to run, your feet will tread across paths old and new, and you’ll Snapchat your way across every one of them.

When we, as a society, look out across the world at the sliver of individuals, the percentage of our population, who end up having truly amazing jobs, we usually first think about how lucky they are.

In truth, or after a moment of Googling just what amount of effort goes into getting that job, we realize that no, they’re not lucky—they’ve worked their backsides off to get to that place.

Okay, and yes, they’re lucky.

But more important, we’re lucky.

We get to benefit by tucking up close and drafting off your efforts, positioning ourselves within your slipstream as you push aside the rough winds in front of you. If you do it well enough and deftly, you may be awarded a few plaques or trophies with your name etched across a plate of gold. But those recognitions usually only happen at work. No one is going to erect a statue in your honor for cleaning out the cat litter, but it’s equally important work, and occasionally lives or marriages depend upon it.

I will miss this last past phase of your life, the video chats where you don’t want to chat, but instead simply want some actual parent to be your parental controls on all things technologically distracting. So we both work in silence companionably. Or where you text photos of your meals, or your dress, or your clean laundry, or proof the cat is still alive so that someone can give you a faraway hug of approval for those independent efforts. Those reach-outs will lessen, and I will mourn them. But I’ve cherished them.

Every single one.

So as I’m not prepared to offer you congratulations, maybe the better thing, the more fitting thing, is to say, “Welcome.”

Welcome to the new hallways, the bigger classrooms, the special buses, and to the many lounges that hold some kick-ass club meetings. It’s going to be great. And hard. But mostly great.

Maybe I’m wrong. About the start of it all. Maybe as a little kid the first thing that left an impressionable mark on you was the red clay of Virginia beneath your tiny bare feet, and when you finally glanced up, you recognized the kinship of a sister planet’s soil.

The call was strong, and so are you.

Welcome here, honey.

Make yourself at home.

Love, Mom

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

A Penny Saved is a Penny Saved

There are a lot of things about me that my kids would love to see change:

  • Maybe I could fill my fridge and pantry with something they don’t identify as squirrel or bird food. To them, seeds, grains, and nuts are strictly meant for feathered friends and fluffy rodents. Real food, that real people eat, comes in brightly colored boxes with easy instructions as to how to marry its contents with your microwave.
  • Maybe I could stop talking to inanimate objects like trees, and my car, and strong gusts of wind. Also, my kids would suggest most forest animals might voice the same request and would prefer if I left them to get on with the business of gathering all the seeds, grains, and nuts that still remain outside of my pantry.
  • Stop with the whole ‘Franny Frugal’ routine.

Knowing that the first two are practically impossible for me—as both the temple of one’s bodily realm and the earthly realm of one’s body cannot and should not fall into neglect and disregard in my opinion—makes it even more improbable that I could alter complaint number three.

I have morphed into this woman. Largely by the original and most influential of sculptors—my parents.

Let’s blame them.

Yeah. I’m all for that.

It is mostly their fault that I have sprouted, slowly and surely, into the penny-pinching person that I am, as I long ago memorized their valuable equation of Time + Effort = the good fortune and necessity of Food.

It was a tricky one to wrap my head around at first because in the beginning said parents were providing most of the A and B inputs.

Then they kind of suddenly stopped.

Well, maybe not suddenly, maybe slowly over a decade of handouts, loans, and last minute saves.

Samey samey.

The result is that I have come to realize that ditching anything before its true expiration date is a behavior that should be rewarded with a sharp and head-clearing slap upside the head. It’s akin to walking up to your great grandmother and saying, “Despite the fact that you can still top and tail three pounds of wax beans faster than Paul Bunyan can fell one tree, Granny, your maintenance requirements are a bit of a downer. We’re getting an upgrade and have voted you off the island.”

I’m roundly and repeatedly criticized for my endeavors to not buy new things.

My phone lasted nearly five years. My car is approaching ten. My clothes are from the seventh grade. And yes, that milk is fine to drink.

Although I may live in a society of great abundance, I actually exist in a mindset of scarcity.

I’m not a hoarder, I’m a saver. Why would I throw out perfectly good plastic Ziploc bags and deli Tupperware when they have countless uses in front of them? One never knows when one’s small patch of land could be suddenly jolted and buffeted by some unforeseen earthquake, where all the recycled spaghetti sauce and jam jars holding my seeds, grains, and nuts will come crashing to the ground from their shelves—and then what’s going to contain those items until I’ve accumulated more saved glass?

Yes. My old Ziploc bags.

I’m resourceful, not crazy. It’s not like I wash and dry my tin foil, right?

Okay, I actually do, but that does not point to lunacy.

Okay, maybe it does just a tiny bit, but hey, it too has plenty of life in front of it. And I am a lover of life. Of life, and longevity, and coupons, and scraping the inside of every single mayonnaise, ketchup, and peanut butter jar.

I learned that tip from my dog. He knows the value of a crafty tongue that can find one last lick-full of anything and does not mind putting in the effort to obtain it.

I would argue against anyone who characterizes me as cheap, as that is not wholly accurate. I am … thrifty, fuel-efficient, prudent.

And saving up for more indispensable expenses.

Like whisky.

Although I am working on the skills needed to one day make my own supply, fleshing out a plan to ensure I not only never have to purchase any more, if I should find that my recipe far surpasses all others, but also that I’ll have enough in supply for when I run out of Ziploc bags and tinfoil and must begin bartering to restock the shortage.

Yes, my kids would love to see me with a smartphone that actually touted an IQ of anything higher than the number of chocolate chips I allot into each homemade granola bar, or a car I didn’t first have to give a five minute pep talk to before putting the key into the ignition. But I imagine eventually, they will see the soundness behind the “insanity,” when, like me, they too may need an extra hand with rent, or groceries, or my ability to purchase an airline ticket to see them accept some award and thank me up on the podium.

I’ll be there.

For whatever they need.

And now, if you’ll all excuse me, I’ve set up a small “Wilderness Whisky Tasting Event” for a few forest friends. We’ve all agreed to a minor trade agreement pact with no tariffs imposed.

We’re now just negotiation how many sunflower seeds can pay for a dram.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Please … Let Me Explain

I glanced across the line of shelves filled with eye-catching boxes and broad-shouldered bottles, occasionally pulling one from the line-up to scrutinize with envious enthusiasm.

“I can’t confidently say that I’m an expert at this time, as it’s only been six months, but I figure another year and a half and most customers who walk through that shop door will find me to be a connoisseur of the craft—a malt maven, if you will.”

I glanced up at the twenty-four-year old soon-to-be scotch scholar and gave him an encouraging smile.

“I hadn’t envisioned finding myself in this position years ago when in school in Finland—working as Mr. Worrall’s apprentice—but”—he ran his hands through his buzz-cropped, fair-colored hair—“it seems the puzzle pieces just fell into place.”

“I see,” I murmured, pivoting from one tight space in the tiny London whisky shop to move past the long and lanky Finn toward another shelf filled with other amber liquids I’d yet to see or taste.

I picked up a bright canary colored box. “Huh,” I breathed out, twisting the carton in my hand to view all sides. A whisky made in New Zealand. I’d traveled to the country maybe a decade ago and had been disappointed to discover that the only distillation I came across was the furtive kind—with kerosene cans and rubber tubing. Nothing I could find on the shelves of duty free at the airport to take home. The box in my hand provided scant details.

“Where is this?” I twisted to glance up at The Lad McFinnland.

His eyebrows rose, and then quick understanding flooded his face. “Ah yes, New Zealand is a small chain of islands—two mainly—off the south eastern coast of Australia. Known for its mountains and glaciers generally.”

I stood silent. Then I looked around for something that would cost less than one hundred pounds to throw at his head, as this was a rare malt whisky shop that carried nothing one wouldn’t have to consider auctioning off a kidney in order to buy.

I sighed and rolled my eyes at the American distiller sitting in the corner, wrapping up business with the shop owner. We had developed a few signals during this trip to subtly communicate.

I was tagging along on his travels across the UK, helping him navigate his unpretentious and ballsy bourbon around a country filled with its exclusive, gentry-filled single malt scotch drinkers.

He’s a Virginian, whose teeth were cut on grits and grand plantations. I’m currently a Virginian—by way of a million little detours—who’s spent twenty-five years soaking up the Scottish, the Irish, and everything English.

“Your whisky tastes of marmite and ribena,” one distributer had said.

I’d leaned over to translate. “Yeast paste and black currents.”

“I’m getting a touch of candy floss.”

“That would be cotton candy,” I whispered.

“This one tastes of a water closet’s urinal cake.”

I looked at the distiller. His furrowed eyebrows halted my words. “Yeah, I got that one.”

I’m also here, immersing myself in a side of the whisky world I’m usually not swimming in—all for the sake of research. My newest novel in progress—a book about a suffering distillery on the verge of falling apart—has me seeking more than just the drinking of a dram. The more I know about the inside industry, the better the believability factor.

So, once again I’ve entered the world of spirits where the main players erroneously assume I have as much understanding and interest about the subject as I do about prostate cancer.

“We’re talking about brown spirits, darling,” one Englishman pointed out to me at a tasting event. “An utterly foul habit to the gentler sex.”

“Mansplaining is something we find even fouler,” I looked up innocently.

“Surely not,” he put a hand on my shoulder. “Perhaps we should get you a white wine?”

“A single malt, please.”

“That’s the spirit,” he said with another wry, all-knowing pat. “I’ll order you my favorite lest you find it distasteful. Then I’ll drink it myself.”

This industry has been slow to change. Like the pivoting of a large ship, the whisky world protects its stability. Women can make things tipsy—both literally and figuratively. And parts of the world I travel to are reticent to allow the hand of time to tick as quickly as it wishes to. But there is a growing number of “that gentler sex” that persevere, and for that I’m wholly grateful. As I believe it’s an alcoholic arena that many find too intimidating to enter, and we need a few to boldly clear the path in front of us.

I crave standing in the intersection of the two things I love most: writing and whisky. My aim for the last two decades has been to make it into an explosive crossroads, adding food and nature, folklore and peat smoke. To me, this is the best definition of scotch—purely Scotland in liquid form. It finds me weak in the knees and often at a loss for language.

Despite the heavy hand of doubt I’m usually greeted with on this male-dominated turf, I’d be remiss if I neglected to point out the bright moments where I’m caught by surprise and filled with delight.

“So,” a tall, Welsh actor beside me starts, “have you been dragged here by a companion you’re unfortunately in debt to, or are you as besotted with this juice as much as the rest of the poor SOBs at this whisky tasting?”

I turned and glanced up. I wanted to hug him. “Definitely not dragged. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

“Ah,” he nodded grimly. “Then I feel doubly sorry for you, as I’m sure like us, you’re continually searching for and finding the next Holy Grail, only to discover after a taste from that chalice, that it’s usually just a few too many precious pennies out of our budgets.”

I laughed and took a sip of the pricey elixir in my hand. Finally, a true compatriot.

He continued. “So what have you been dying to try that seems a little out of reach?”

I thought back to yesterday, in the rare malt shop. “Oh,” I breathed out dreamily. “A new single malt from New Zealand.”

His eyes lit with interest. “Really? Where’s that?”

I couldn’t help myself, and I snorted with laughter as the words tumbled out. “Ah yes, New Zealand is a small chain of islands—two mainly—off the south eastern coast of Australia. Known for its mountains and glaciers generally.”

~Shelley

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Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Talk, Turkey

Haggis, the great white hairy hound, ran into a wild turkey yesterday. And by ran into, I mean literally.

I was hiking down the mountain, en route to get the post and suddenly, in front of me, I saw a spray of pine needles, dead leaves, feathers, and an old empty bucket of vanilla ice cream.

Then I saw Haggis skedaddle out of the copse of trees, and run for the hills like the lily-livered, yellow-bellied beast that he is.

Chasing him out of the thicket was a monolithic, wholly indignant wild turkey—a wing-flapping, eye-popping, larynx-screeching pile of feathers.

Apparently, we had disturbed the monarch of the mountain, as one could nearly hear all the other animals in the forest take a giant step back and suck in a lungful of air.

The woods were filled with the whispered words, “I’m puttin’ fifty on the turkey.”

Or something like that. It could have just been the wind.

But this guy was a plumage-covered boulder of muscled meat that had made it through more Thanksgivings than Mother Nature normally allows. And he didn’t mind displaying the reason why.

Surely no gratitude could slip from the mouths of any ‘pack-as-much-poultry-in-your-gob’ feast-goer if that shindig had this brute on their platters. It’d be one forkful of anger right after another.

And anger tastes … well, not terribly optimistic about the future.

I think—and forgive me if I get this wrong, as there is little research on buzzard brains to delve into—he had a real twist in his knickers about winter.

As I could see it, it was the end of March, and his bones were aching, his feathers were waterlogged, the webbing between his toes were cracked, red, and itchy, and lastly, there was nothing to eat in this god-forsaken wretched house—err … forest.

All the good seeds were gone. Not a berry in site. Damn squirrels finished off the last of the beechnuts. And there hasn’t been a hatch of palatable pests in months.

Not that anything tasted good anymore anyway. His taste buds were nearly as old as the pilgrims he’d first started running from.

I felt for him—once I sussed out all possible escape routes, cuz he weren’t finished with his beef just yet.

I put my hands up and said, “You’re screechin’ to the choir, buddy. Remember yesterday? When you just sat from your lukewarm lair and watched me walk up and down this mountain three times? I had that book festival, and an authors’ panel? And because I would rather peel back my own toenails than ever be a no-show for work, the car had to be stationed at the bottom of the mountain—one big fat long mile away. Not even unplowed roads and eight inches of snow was going to be an impediment, remember?”

He looked at me blankly.

“Yeah, well, it was cancelled. And at the last minute. After I’d trekked through all that snow.”

His eyes narrowed, smoldering.

“You’re right, it should technically have only been two trips up and down the mountain, but the extra one was because of Haggis. Walking through snow is really noisy, and I had no idea he was following me until the very end, and of course had to march him back up the mountain because the Barnes & Noble folks are super prickly about which snow-clodden, fur-covered creatures get to drool over their stacks of bestsellers. But mostly, because I couldn’t trust that he could find his way back up to the house, as this guy can get lost in a paper bag.”

Even after that, old Testy Tom gave me the stink eye.

“Really? Still no sympathy?” I said, standing with arms akimbo. “How about two weeks before? Remember the three-day windstorm? The Nor’easter that felled twelve trees—each one across the damn driveway? That first day I was supposed to be one hundred miles from here, chatting to a bazillion beautiful fifth graders, being treated like the celebrity I’ve lead them to believe I am, but instead, I spent that day dragging logs.

“Not one of those trees asked me for my autograph. Or gave me a piece of warm, lint-filled butterscotch candy that had been sitting in its pocket since last Halloween. Not one of them bought my books. As in none.”

I glanced up around me at the trees. “Okay, there is a chance that’s because some of their ancestors are my books, but still. Not fair.”

Haggis peaked out at us from behind a large oak tree, far, far away.

“Coward!” I shouted.

The foul-mouthed fowl took one long step in my direction. I put up my hands. “Listen,” I said, “If the hairy hound over there interrupted your much needed afternoon kip, then I apologize on behalf of him. We’re still working on manners. And forming the words I’m sorry. Dog lips are tricky.”

The bird took another step toward me, and suddenly my mind was filled with images of the long, but surely award-winning documentary made by a group of New Englanders who’d advanced human knowledge and awareness on the dangers of engaging with belligerent wild turkeys.

It was two and one-half hours of watching these creatures savagely peck at the Subaru that always seemed to hold the camera man.

Yeah, at the time I laughed, but now I grew a measure of respect for their message.

“What is it you want?” I shouted at him. Well, not so much shouted as begged in a super high-pitched voice.

He said nothing. He just turned and walked slowly back toward the thicket of trees he’d flown out of, using one thick-sticked leg to bunt kick the ice cream bucket out of his way.

I stared until he was out of sight. Haggis came back and sniffed around the area of our standoff. I picked up the old ice cream bucket and read the label. Turkey Hill.

Related image

Clearly, like me, he just wanted a taste of summer.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

 

So Good to Hear Your Voice

Image result for be good and you will be lonesome mark twain free image

I’m smack dab in the middle of reading Mark Twain’s autobiography this month.

Okay, that’s not exactly true.

It feels like I should be smack dab in the middle, but in truth, I’m only stuck inside the introduction. Which, unbelievably, is nearly as long as the book part itself.

I’d say about one quarter acre’s worth of trees was sacrificed for the beginning of this book. And I’m gathering that the beginning of this book was deemed worthy of that slaughter.

Except I’m craving Twain’s words. Not some editor’s. Not some scholar’s. Not some newfound margin scribble from the guy who sat and took dictation. His words.

Mark’s. Or Sam’s. Or maybe he went by Phil on Tuesday’s and every other Sunday. It doesn’t matter. I want to hear what’s inside that man’s brain.

I want to hear his voice.

As an author, and I’ve checked with a couple of others on this bit so you can trust me, we collectively agree that the most important thing we can do for our careers is to develop a unique voice.

A voice that not only spins a good yarn, but does so with a color most folks don’t typically see in their everyday multi-hued spectrum.

Brown? Too drab. Purple? Too flamboyant.

Brurple.

That’s me.

If you’ve got something to say one must next find a way to tickle the auditory hair cells within the cochlea of the people you’re directing your words toward—or if like me and your musings are absorbed in the form of at least one effortful eyeball scanning words across a page, you need to create text that just leaps off that paper and literally spanks the reader across the forehead.

In a really loving spanking kind of a way.

But getting to the meat of your message is important. Dressing it up? Not so much.

In fact, I cannot count the number of times an agent or editor or beta reader of mine has said, “Yuck. Your writing is just dripping with purple prose.”

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it’s like taking a beautiful roast ham, packing it in a great wad of brown sugar, plastering canned pineapple all over it, wrapping it three times with maple bacon, and then pouring a large liter of Coco Cola over the top of it. Ala Paula Dean.

One ends up with something sticky, sweet, syrupy, and inedible. One also ends up searching for a large bucket of bleach and a wire brush with which to scrub one’s teeth. You’ve ruined what could have been something quite toothsome and savory.

Hiding behind unnecessary words results in confusion. I’ve been lectured repeatedly that it’s best, when trying to cultivate your true and authentic voice, to use your own. Don’t be snatching catchy phrases or snippets of impressive sounding opinions from clever pundits, worldly academics, or The Onion.

Okay, well, yes, I’ll take back that last one. The world could use a little bit more of The Onion.

The problem with this—the using others’ words in place of your own—(that I’ve most certainly discovered first hand) is that when people raise their eyebrows with interest at what you’ve just professed, they oftentimes will ask you to expound, to further enlighten the dark areas of their minds. And when you can’t …

Yeah, you better hope there’s an eagle or a squirrel close by. Maybe an errant This is not a test text that comes across everyone’s screen to save your tuchas.

I’ve become so profoundly aware of this situation because recently I’ve been purposefully surrounding myself with speeches.

Next month I’ve got a couple to give. It’s good to look at the historical soup of a million others. But I’ll quickly point out two that emerged and left me with a measurable thumbprint of thought.

I’ve just finished a book that held a selection of Kurt Vonnegut’s commencement speeches. They’re short, they’re punchy, they’re meant to occasionally have faculty members behind him draw in a sharp breath as he tells the students in front of him what the school has been glossing over for the last four years in their protective bubble.

No doubt within three sentences, you know this is pure Vonnegut.

Last month, I watched The State of the Union address. I’ve seen plenty of others. I know how these work. But these weren’t the words of the individual who was elected to office. Far from it. And I think for the people who voted him into that position, and for those waiting for the much touted promise The presidency wholly and completely changes a person, it was a lost opportunity.

It was purple prose.

Sticky, sweet, and yet altogether flavorless. No meat. No message. No memorability.

No thanks.

There is so much we people hide behind these days. Other people’s words, other people’s thoughts, other people’s ideas. It’s really not impossible to create our own.

It’s intimidating, yes, because we may be rejected or rebuffed.

It’s effortful, yes, because it requires one to formulate concrete thought and opinion, and wrestle with why you want to say these words in the first place.

And it’s humbling because there are bucketloads of moments when afterward we discover just how wrong we are.

But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Try to be authentic. Strive to be astute. Reach for earnest bona fide status.

I want people to truly seek out my words, and to have engaging enough words that they will fight through the forest of extra pages of editorial intros in order to get to them.

And like any good firewood chopping Wisconsinite, I know where the good stuff in a tree really is. And I want my books and words and sentiments to reflect that.

Otherwise, it’s all bark and no heart.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.