Why We Need to Acquire a Taste for Flavor

As a writer, there is nothing I love more than putting on my Alice in Wonderland frock and purposefully tumbling down the rabbit hole of research.

With the exception of getting published, of course.

And seeing my hound gaze sincerely into my eyes over breakfast to convey that I’ve never looked more well-rested and attractive, and would I mind passing him three strips of bacon?

But the research part of necessary investigative sleuth work is wholly engrossing and powerfully magnetic.

It also turns me into an insufferable enthusiast—a gasbag of chatter with the sole purpose of spreading knowledge that may be of no interest to any other human.

I tend to forget this bit in between my research projects where I launch headlong into overzealous lectures about poisonous plants that can make you puke, or the new studies supporting the worthiness of fecal transplants to support flailing microbiomes, or the debate as to whether cereal is actually soup.

Currently, I am reviewing countless books, scientific journals, and ongoing analysis all relating to the topic of flavor. And thus far, I have been tentatively directing all conversations I have with breathing humans toward this subject.

Good morning, this is Betty from Allstate insurance. How may I direct your call?

“Hiya, Betty! I’ve got a quick question about my homeowner’s policy, but first, can I ask you how it is that you’d define the vague and rudimentary term we call ‘flavor?’”

Or …

Ma’am? This fish in your grocery cart might not be as fresh as we’d want to sell you. How about I get a stock boy to switch it out for you?

“You betcha. And it appears your orthonasal olfaction skills are exceptional, whereas I probably wouldn’t have caught anything off until I was neck deep in the whole retronasal olfaction process—one occurring during sniffing and the other only when eating and drinking.”

Or …

“Hello, Chloe, this is your mom calling. I know you’re busy, but I was just wondering if you happen to know how many different odor compounds there are in the world?”

I don’t care.

Clearly, I could use an audience who chooses to be there with me, or maybe just a therapist who listens because I pay him.

Either way, it is impossible to simply let such riveting information go unshared. Who wouldn’t want to know that circumstances affect our flavor perceptions—such as the discovery that fans attending hockey games and involved in a study, determined that ice cream tasted sweeter after their team won and more sour after they lost?

Or why hold back that researchers are collecting impressive data that shows babies have an affinity for foods if their mothers eat it while they are pregnant with said baby. Hoping your tiny tyke will be asking for seconds on that bowlful of mustard greens? Start gestationally shoveling it in, Popeye.

And by no means could I refuse to relay the critical science utilized by the food and healthcare industries where phantom aromas are helping to control high blood pressure. Has your doctor diagnosed you with hypertension and mandated you to a low sodium diet? Food industry scientists are your new superheroes, having discovered that by adding phantom aromas of ham into certain foods, your brain will believe it’s still indulging in that five-pound salt lick your tongue so badly craves.

Super interesting info, right?

You’re welcome.

One of the reasons I’m so engaged in this particular research currently is that we, as human beings, have a frustratingly underdeveloped ability to articulate concepts related to flavor. As flavor is an umbrella term that houses both taste and aroma—taste having far more descriptive language than smell—it repeatedly highlights how we struggle with a narrative for our experiences.

How do you profile the unique difference between cheddar cheese and aged Gouda? One’s cheesier than the other? What words describe these cheeses?

What is the flavor of red snapper? It’s not fishy. And stating it is of firm texture does not illustrate flavor.

Flavor is more than a sensory experience as well, as it turns on the light in our brain’s limbic system and rummages around to immediately connect that taste and smell to an emotion and memory.

Why is that when a plate of beautifully sautéed halibut is placed beneath your nose, you’re immediately flooded with the desperate optimism of a marriage proposal?

I’ll tell you why. Because you, like me, used to come home after school and whip up a batch of Gorton’s Fish Sticks and watch an episode of Gilligan’s Island where your only wish was for the professor to finally ask Mary Ann to marry him so they could make perky, adorable, and intelligent babies to populate the island they’d be stuck on forever.

No? Was it just me? Well, still it proves my point. And as an aside, I learned more about GDP, the spectrum of human usefulness, and estate planning from this sitcom than I did from Econ 101.

The scents and tastes we experience are intricately interconnected to a vast array of our bodies’ systems, and we’re too intelligent a species to answer the question – how does it taste? – with an answer like: pretty good or it doesn’t suck.

So come on, people, let’s ban together and lend a helping hand to further science. Take a swig of some Drink Me potion and start fishing around for some helpful language.

Articulation is key.

I’ve told my dog that a thousand times and refuse to pass the bacon until he can “use his words.”

~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.

Hatching Happiness through Husbandry

When I was a kid, the word stress had a few specific meanings:

  • “Please stress the notes in your right hand, as there you’ll find the melody.” (I played the piano.)
  • “Hey! Get off the tire swing, dummy. Dad said it can’t hold two people cuz it’ll stress the branch and make it snap!” (I played with my brother.)
  • “I cannot stress enough how you must never eat any mushroom on the forest floor that looks like it is cherry flavored.” (I played being a Pioneer Princess when going for woodland walks with an elderly neighbor.)

As an adult, the word stress emits a different tone. It effectively and uncomfortably punctuates the feelings of anxiety, burden, anguish, and fatigue.

The CDC stresses the importance of social distancing and face masks for the safety of you and your neighbor.

The long-ignored stresses of systemic racism are experiencing a resurgence of interest and commitment from more than just those who experience it.

The constraints of quarantine have placed an abundance of stress upon the economy where many manufacturers may never find recovery. The toilet paper industry, however, is finding their lack of stress is primarily experienced by grocery shore shelves meant to hold their product.

The fact remains, we are inundated with strain and tension, and must find new ways to counteract the effects of them.

It reminds me of a story I once heard when attending a synagogue service long ago. The rabbi—an elderly man who missed his calling on the stage—delivered his sermon with this dramatic narrative.

 

Once upon a time, there lived a Jewish man—miserable in his existence and driven to alter it. He traveled to his village rabbi, and once seated face to face, began to unload the cause of his unhappiness.

“You wouldn’t believe the tumult, Rabbi. My wife, she heckles me all day long. My daughters bicker between themselves. I cannot find a moment’s peace. I need your advice. What should I do?”

The rabbi nodded sagely, and looking him straight in the eye, said, “Do you have a cow?”

“Yes,” said the miserable man.

“Then go home. Bring that cow into your house and come back to see me in the morning.”

The miserable man was confused, but did not resist, and carried out the rabbi’s advice. The next morning, the miserable man returned to the rabbi, looking woeful and confused.

“Rabbi, I think there must be some mistake. I took your advice, brought the cow into the house, and had the worst night ever. My wife still heckled, my daughters still bickered, and now as well, the cow has made a mess all over the floor and the whole house stinks. I’m very unhappy. What do I do?”

The rabbi nodded sagely, looked him straight in the eye, and said, “It’s as I thought. Do you have chickens?”

“‘Yes,” said the miserable man.

“Then go home. Bring those chickens into your house with the cow and come back to see me in the morning.”

The miserable man, again confused, carried out the rabbi’s advice. The next morning, he returned to the rabbi, dismal and depressed.

“Rabbi, again, I feel there must be an error, as I took your advice with the chickens, and last night was even worse than I could have imagined. My wife with her heckling, my daughters—such bickering, the cow and her mess, and the chickens—well, the chickens clucked and crowed all night. There are feathers everywhere, and I have been pecked more times than I’ve had hot dinners. I’m terribly unhappy. What do I do?”

The rabbi placed his hand upon the miserable man’s clasped grip. “Do you have any sheep?”

The man nodded, hope filling his face.

“Bring the sheep in with the cow and the chickens and see me in the morning.”

The following morning, the man returned, beleaguered, exhausted, and bleak. “Rabbi, the heckling, bickering, cow’s mess, and chicken clucking had the added awfulness of a night filled with unending bleating. No one can sleep, there is no room, and the place is in shambles!”

The rabbi walked the miserable man to the door, his arm around his shoulder. “There is one last thing you must do. Have you any pigs?”

The miserable man reeled back, his faith in the rabbi’s wisdom beginning to wane on his face. But he did as was advised and returned again the next day.

The man slumped into a chair across from the rabbi, put his head on the table, and announced his defeat. “It was worse than worse. More horrid than anyone could imagine, Rabbi. The heckling, bickering, cow’s mess, clucking, and bleating was joined by a ruckus so unbelievable. The pigs ran amuck of everything—toppling furniture, eating our food, bringing in flies. I cannot stand it anymore. I give up.”

The rabbi put his hands on the miserable man’s shoulders and said, “Go home. Remove all the animals from your house and give it a good cleaning. Come to me tomorrow.”

The following morning, the miserable man appeared at the rabbi’s door looking … happy.

“I don’t know what you did, Rabbi, but I feel wonderful! My wife is so pleased with our house free of animals. My daughters smiled gayly at breakfast. And I slept peacefully, at last. I cannot thank you enough.”

The rabbi walked the contented man to the door and smiled broadly as he said, “There is nothing so simple as to live through misfortune to illuminate one’s blessings. The real point is to not lose sight of them from the beginning.”

 

And I think it’s easy to state unequivocally, that life at the moment feels like we’re living within chaos. But, as has been asserted by the greatest of philosophers, from within crises we experience fog, upheaval, turmoil, and finally clarity.

The stresses we put on systems are often purposeful and meant to reveal where we should place our greatest attention and energy.

I think with dedication, sacrifice, and perseverance, we will increase that which is right at our fingertips and has been the entire time … peace.

~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.

The Meticulously Precise and Non-Magical Way to make Whiskey

I’m nearly finished writing another book.

This one won’t be published for the public though. It’s a technical manual.

I’d never done a technical manual before; therefore, this genre has been entirely new to me.

I was at one point reminded, Technically speaking, technical manuals do not fall into a “genre,” Shelley.

Disappointing news.

I was also at one point informed that my other skills of fiction writing were, although appreciated, inapplicable with this work.

“What do you mean?” I’d asked, halfway through the job.

Please do not allow the machinery to have any “dialogue.”

Hugely disappointing news.

In my mind, everything is conversing with anything beside it. Refrigerators hum, clocks tic, boats roar, trees creek, tea kettles whistle, grills hiss, frying pans spit, drains gurgle—I could go on.

There is conversation with their purpose, with their function, and it is our choice to tune in to hear it if we choose to do so—or maybe it’s just a special type of non-worrisome derangement those of us who practice anthropomorphizing inanimate objects experience every day.

So, okay, the mash tuns, the fermenters, the stills, and bottling equipment will not be engaged with any discourse. Fine.

Also, no need to “set the scene.”

Wait. What? No “Once upon a time”? No “In a galaxy far, far away”?

No.

No “Imagine if you can, a farm field in Virginia filled with rows of waving grain. Corn so tall, so yellow, so sweet. Wheat so soft, so feathery, so—”

No. Also, just list the manufacturer of each piece of equipment. No need to give colorful backstory that creates a uh … biography for them.

Damn.

But the still is an old copper Armagnac pot which surely, if you’d allow me to research, has the most fascinating history, connecting it to a village in Gascony, and likely to some illicit brandy making where people’s lives were at risk for defying the king’s orders and skirting around the excise men, right?

No. Louis XVI died in 1793. The still was made in 2006. Write that down.

No excise men?

*insert cold stare here

Fine. Hard facts only. It has been an arduous road to travel. It has been serial numbers, maintenance schedules, standard operating procedures, operator responsibilities, quality controls, ingredient specification sheets, safety protocol, system malfunction detection. It has been measurements, sampling data, testing methods, recording methodology, and out of the realm of tolerance identification.

No language describing the invention of any equipment, the trials and tribulations of the inventor, the recognition, the accolades, the race between rivals to patent first, to reach the market, to make a name and reap rewards.

No timeline of history, the tales of great machinery malfunction and mishaps that caused strife, or injury, or daresay … death.

Nope. Just operator files.

It’s ‘if blank, do blank.’ Or ‘when this, then this.’ It’s ‘measure now, record here.’

There’s no beginning, middle, or end.

It is not a story, not a narrative, no plot.

None of the machinery barely scrapes by, screeches to a halt, or belches out for attention.

The manual is meant to be informative. Concise. Crystal clear. It is meant to provide a “just in case” scenario for an event like a catastrophic pandemic wiping out all previous operators’ ability to fight through throngs of apocalyptic zombies to appear at the facility, allowing any stranger to eventually walk in off the street, discover the book and easily, effectively, and effortlessly pick up where we left off.

No, Shelley. It is meant to use as a teaching guide for new employees.

Yeah, that too, but my take could be plausible (I mumble quietly).

So, I study each piece of equipment. I learn its function. I define its specifications. I describe its purpose. It is thirsty work as I crawl around, beneath, above, and inside many of them. I watch them perform. I study their mechanisms. I research their optimal modes.

And I learn … they are still magical.

I learn it from listening to the operators as they describe their years of experience working with each station.

The grain will stubbornly clump and ball if you don’t chase it with the paddle in the cooker. It likes to hide right in that corner.

If you don’t clamp down the hose securely, the impellor pump turns into a raging snake that’ll spit hot mash on every square inch of the production room floor.

You see that steam rising from the strip still’s parrot spout? We call that the dragon’s breath.

I did find a story. The story of waking up the yeast before releasing it into its comforting, warm bath, of performing the tightly timed choreography between pieces of machinery as they demanded immediate attention to avoid calamity, of discovering that the general consensus for many of the processes was that you just had to feel it, smell it, taste it, gauge it. The machinery had its tells, and a good operator was sensitive to them and could anticipate results because of the accumulated years of a bonding relationship.

Making whiskey requires procedural care, yes. It’s a recipe. It’s a step by step adventure that when timed perfectly churns out a salable product.

But to me, and to others, the machinery is responsible for the alchemy, the head-spinning potions, the conjuration that leads grains to glass, this honeyed, headying elixir.

But the manual will not reveal that magic. The manual will not even hint at it. The manual conceals the story.

Except it’s there. We just don’t capture it within the pages that keep the secret safe. It is for others to read between the lines, to unearth the buried story within it.

If they find it after the zombie apocalypse.

~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.

 

A Problem Shared is a Problem Halved (or not Felled if You’re Quick)

Currently, I’m in the middle of a fight with three people.

Well, they’re not actually people, they’re animals, but they are just as stubborn, unreasonable, and small-minded as some of my closest friends, so it’s easy to confuse the two groups.

There is a cardinal, who for weeks has been fighting with fisticuffs, or whatever feathered version there is of that, with nearly every window I have on my house.

And on my car.

And with my head if I’m outside and happen to have extra shiny hair that day.

 

Obviously, one must protect one’s nestlings from intruders—even if you mistake them for your own reflection. And I, obviously, must protect a smaller-brained organism from leaving his nestlings fatherless.

But my efforts are thwarted by the cardinal’s span of territory to patrol. I cannot blackout every window to diminish the glare, as I have limited supplies and a biological need for vitamin D.

He will have to take his chances with the likelihood of beak repair.

There is also a squirrel. One who suffers from great impatience.

The rule in my childhood neighborhood, adhered to by anyone with one season of vegetable growing experience was thus: plant 1/3rd for the deer, 1/3rd for the birds, and 1/3rd for your family.

For years this directive was sage and followed by all participating creatures.

This year, I cannot get the seeds in the ground without a squirrel—one I now recognize because of the prison art tattoo on his back—digging them up the second I’ve stepped away.

First, I tried netting the box. He must have opposable thumbs. He easily unnetted the netting.

Then I tried heavy-duty tree trunk wiring. He must have tools. Unwired, and again I am seedless.

Then I just put out half a pound of already grown green beans and a sign that said YOU WIN.

(*insert squirrel snickering here)

Lastly, there is a beaver.

He is industrious. He is relentless. And he has expensive taste.

He has already struck down and carried off three massive bayberry bushes and is now working on a beautiful thick oak that will take him years to gnaw through. Gauging his angle of approach, it will likely land directly on my house.

It’s okay. I’ve got time.

But to deter him from this great specimen of timber—which may or may not survive his insatiable appetite for cellulose and lignum—I have begun laying piles of thick branches and small logs at the base of the tree. A gift. An impediment. A message that suggests If you carry on with this task, you will soon become a part of my winter wardrobe.

Nevertheless, he persists.

My next step would be to enmesh that tree with the heavy-duty tree trunk wiring, but it’s still currently in use with my next squirrel-thwarting endeavor which involves a small makeshift catapult.

I know these minor skirmishes sounds like small potatoes as we’re all muscling our way through day after day of the pandemic which forces us to revisit and ration our daily wants and needs.

But might there be a silver lining out there for many of us? The substantial amount of people who have yet to experience the oh-so-real terror of scarcity?

Is it such a bad idea—despite the fact that it has been forced upon us—to reevaluate what the word need truly means? Or to press each of us into a state of deliberative ingenuity?

I’m not suggesting we all slap on a coonskin hat and become some version of Daniel Boone, but would it be so awful to think like an Italian nonna when facing the dwindling supplies on one’s pantry shelves and you’ve got thirteen hungry bellies to fill?

I think most of us would benefit from a few hours of bootstrap thinking.

Certainly, when I look at the microcosm of The Hunger Games event I’m involved in with Mother Nature and her brood, I can see that there’s more than one way to skin a cat—or a beaver, if you will.

I see them effortfully striving, every day, for the same things: food, shelter, and the protection of one’s progeny.

That’s the focus. And I don’t blame them.

That said, being the individual with slightly more gray matter, I find it’s possible for me to not only endeavor to achieve those same things, but maybe help a few of them in their pursuit as well.

Now is the time for inventiveness, resourcefulness, and innovation. Along with that comes the eye-opening bonus of gratitude.

We may never view the necessities—the essentials of life in quite the same light. Whether you’re handing out bags of successfully grown green beans to neighbors, or you’re delivering face masks made from the hairy hide of a befallen beaver, you’ve seized the chance to be a section of a solution and not part of a problem.

Most important, this is a critical time for self-reflection. The point is none of us have to be bird-brained about any of it.

~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.

On the Cutting Edge of Shear Madness

There is a venerable phrase many of us have heard countless times in our lives:

Doveryai, no proveryai.

Or if your Russian is a little bit rusty, Trust, but verify.

It’s an old proverb American writer Suzanne Massie passed on to Ronald Reagan before he began traveling to Russia to discuss U.S. and Soviet relations during his presidency.

It became for him somewhat of a trademark phrase.

It became a lodestar for many of us, a crutch for a few, but sage advice for all.

A week ago, my hound, Haggis, had none of the typical skepticism that normally washes across his face unless spotting a jar of peanut butter, his leash, or the hind leg of a freshly shot deer in my hands. But this was because he could no longer spot anything.

Literally. His hair had grown to a length where it could serve as an emergency ladder should he be close to a second story window and we had a fire.

So, when he finally heard the hair-raising snippets of my hair-cutting scissors, that skepticism shifted straight into suspicion and finally parked itself at defiance.

I had never cut his locks before, and he believed it was best if we left it that way.

Today, we find a great swath of our population experiencing a crisis of trust.

And why is that? The reasons are many. Understanding them is paramount and will likely shift the way we think, plan, behave, and move forward.

Together, this globe is redefining what life upon this planet is like. We are forced to assess our work, our relationships, our lifestyles, and the unforeseen shape they will morph into down the road.

Over the next several days I employ great determination during my time of internationally urged self-isolation to convince myself and my great hairy hound that I can accomplish the Herculean task of carving through his shrubby mane in the same way most of my fellow humans try to muddle their way through the maze of subterfuge, pretext, and great gobs of misinformation clouding our sight of the truth.

Daily, I place him in an unnatural position and beg him to be still as I scissor away for the space of an hour. I listen to the news: the practitioners, pundits, the press, and the president—each one with a decreasing sense of belief.

I feel Haggis tremble beneath the sound of sharp shears, and I put the scissors down and soothe him with all the ridiculous cooing tones meant to bring forth some ease. But I echo his same tiny twitch of skin when I’ve nipped him with the tip, or when they broadcast some new tally.

Every day certain numbers shoot up, and others slide down. We are warned by some and encouraged by others. Who do we trust? Who should we trust?

With boastful reassurance, I tell Haggis that he’s going to look fine—don’t gaze in the mirror, don’t question my actions, don’t think about it too hard. Trust me.

Each afternoon I hear about people who have heeded and those who’ve just balked. About those who have saved lives and those who have risked them. I wonder if, when this is all over, and I’m face to face with strangers, will I look at them with a fresh question: can I trust you?

And each afternoon I stand from my work, look at the dog, take a deep breath, and exhale with despair.

Good lord, what a mess. I’ve never done this before. And clearly it shows.

I fill him with flattery and maudlin praise, hoping he can’t see through my bluster and swash. But he feels my inexperience. And he knows that whatever my actions, I’ll not feel them as keenly as he does. He discovers at some point—day four or day five—that I’m frustrated with this routine, I’m wishing it over, and I’m unhappy with the results.

But he also knows that there’s no turning back, and this is where his lack of trust in my skills begins to crystallize into disregard.

I am somewhat offended as each day he pulls away from me, refusing to hand me a hoof or his chin.

You’re going to slow.

You’ve made a right mess.

Look here, now I bleed.

I hear him.

I should have left this up to the professionals. Although this is not a choice. We work with what we have, and a large team of experts does not appear at my door.

Each day I scooch the hound outside, toward the mile-long stretch of road between us and the mailbox. I keep my fingers crossed, hoping no one sees as we walk along. Haggis is only mid-way through this pruning, sporting a thick Mohawk down the length of his back, a mop-head, and four legs that are shaved only three-quarters down, making it appear that he is a belligerent teen prancing about in dog-friendly Uggs.

A neighbor stops his truck and rolls his window down slowly. He eyes the two of us with suspicion.

Has he got the virus?

No, I answer. He’s in the middle of a haircut.

Looks like he’s got the virus.

It does my ego and my confidence no favors to receive yet more criticism, and I mope the rest of the way home.

But tomorrow comes, and after convincing Haggis to climb atop the coffee table/barber’s chair once more, I ask myself a critical self-esteem building question:

What would Vidal Sassoon do?

It’s true—it’s not particularly hashtag worthy, but it seemed relatively uplifting for the moment.

And when one is on one’s own, navigating uncharted waters and expecting choppy results, one will search for signs of inspiration, direction, and security wherever one may find it.

(I’m lookin’ at you Dr. Fauci …)

We muddle through and trudge along. We rise to the occasion and make a small difference.

We find places to put our faith: in facts, in evidence, in one another.

And until we emerge on the other side, knackered, shaggy, and injured, we offer kindness if not confidence.

A spoonful of peanut butter can go a long, long way.

Surely the Russians knew that.

~Shelley

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

At Death’s Doorstep but Refusing to Knock

My computer has been damaged.

It happened several weeks ago. In a moment of lumpish movement, I reached for my mug of ginger lemon brew.

But I missed the handle.

Hit the mug.

Mug tumbled.

Liquid spilled.

Computer morphed into Margaret Hamilton in toxic emerald green paint, hissing burbling words of, Ohh! You cursed brat! I’m melting … how could a good little girl like you … what a world …

I looked at the flattened mass of steel, glass, silica sand, and bauxite and wondered how an object so small could oversee so much.

Of my life.

And how could an infusion of chamomile, ginger, and lemon—a trifecta of ingredients that would likely be the doppelganger action behind any yogi crossing himself—be the orchestrator of such tumultuous chaos?

I checked off the usual boxes of people-based panic.

  • Took immediate useless action to undo damage
  • Scoured the Great Book of Knowledge via smartphone to employ other useless actions to undo damage
  • Set up a small alter of candles, stones, and spice jars in place of unavailable idols to undo damage
  • Carved new idols from Irish Spring soap bars to replace spice jars in hope of undoing damage
  • Took a hot shower with useless idols

Days later, news from the twenty-year-old behind the We Fixit In Fifteen counter said it might make a nice new coaster for my mug and take a look at our newer models behind you.

Twenty-four hours later I order a new computer.

Twelve hours later I rest my hand atop my faithful old friend and remind him that all the great dogs die in the best movies and I promise not to forget you.

Five seconds later I see a blinking light on my old computer and am flooded with the same adrenaline as a SETI scientist having discovered evidence of extraterrestrial contact.

Immediately, I cancel the newly ordered computer—of course via smartphone, as who would be so cruel as to break up with your new obsession by letting your old obsession deliver the shattering message?

The old obsession should never be aware you were so quick to replace him. Especially if you’ve got a serious conversation to have about some accidental drowning and electrocution charges lodged against you.

But now … he is not the same.

There is flickering, sluggishness, unresponsiveness, and a fan with sound comparable to that of a Hoover on high churning all the time.

I am counting the minutes of life.

I am too nervous to unlock his tiny screws to reveal his backside—possibly caked with flecks of ginger, lemon peel, and sticky with agave syrup.

I will live with his new dysfunctions. I will admire his determined efforts to keep his optical drive optimal, his CPUs from functioning fractiously, his unrelenting maternal push of cool air on his overheated, sweet-caked motherboard.

Except, he’s really distracting.

It’s just like the heavily taxed HVAC unit outside which when both starting up and shutting down mimic a driver pulling up curbside beneath my window depressing the breaks on a massive antiquated school bus.

Or it’s like my pre-biblical flood-aged microwave which will only work if I slam the door shut and squeeze its sides together, chanting Judaic words of encouragement which are probably only the lyrics to an old Chanukah song.

And it’s like my nearly old enough to vote printer which jerks and coughs with every line it successfully prints and then spits out the finished product, shooting a barely-inked piece of paper straight across the room as if it finally hacked up some pestiferous phlegm.

The one thing these objects share is my fear of finding their faults.

The flaws in a system indicate weakness, deficiencies, and malfunction.

They panic you into late night visits to urgent care, house calls from specialists, and the poking and prodding from unqualified quacks who advise you to toss your not-quite-dead loved ones onto the wheelbarrow of the deceased.

And they are options that for me usually equate to an insanely expensive fix that lasts for three days, versus a ‘do nothing about it’ choice where they quietly die in two.

I’ll choose the latter.

Because there is something noble and magical about a piece of machinery anthropomorphizing into a half-marathon runner who crawls across the finish line as the balloons are being taken down and the banners are all rolled up.

I will cherish every second of my enfeebled laptop as it gushes out with audible vibrations akin to the phrase, I can’t feel my legs.

I will celebrate my tubercular printer with applause as it heaves out my text.

I will bear hug my nukebox and switch from Hebrew to Ladino when it’s beans and burrito night.

I will stand in a giant pink bubble—like Glinda, beaming an identical smile of unflappable tranquility, likely due to one too many mollies in her dressing room—as I ponder what it is like to be bereft of these items.

Okay, that last sentence is likely impossible for me. Presumably, I will continue to be needled by all their noisy and toilsome imperfections.

But at least now I will sip my tea an arm’s length away.

~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.

Black-Eyed Peas: Apparently Good Fortune Comes from Good Fiber

If ever I needed proof that I am only mid-way through the birthday year where I naively wished for a spate of fresh challenges, it has fallen into my lap like spilt New Year’s champagne.

Any thoughts that the clinking of bubble-filled liquid in crystal would somehow wipe the slate clean and bring me respite was about as viable as believing hugging a skunk would turn out favorably.

I’ve have witnessed those who’ve tried and made a wide berth of their error.

And if I believed my deceased female relatives—a band of cackling, clever ancestors to whom I sent this credulous ‘speak-to-the-dead’ request to—had left their watchful posts for one instant when the clock struck its first moment of 2020, I was sorely proven wrong.

They are nothing if not dogged, steadfast, and no doubt thoroughly enjoying themselves.

It has been half a year of watching me trip over my tongue, toes, and trifling talents and land ungainly in cow-pie patties so stench-ridden they even give pause to most dogs.

I have hosed off and gotten back in the proverbial saddle more times than a handful of stuntmen. And my message to them on this fresh first month of the year is thus:

Go choke on it.

As of now—simply two weeks into 2020—I have the new and unwanted experiences of

  • One dead deer
  • One damaged car (soon to be …)
  • One dead car
  • One dead residential water system
  • One restored residential water system minus one toilet
  • One dead computer
  • One restored computer (think snail with a limp type vitality)
  • One partial electrical failure
  • Two partial electrical failures
  • Three whole electrical failures
  • A request from the IRS to provide all receipts from when I was fourteen and started working part-time in a strawberry patch.
  • Lost productive work hours wishing for the traumatic fatality of the IRS

 

I’m sure with one refreshing glance upward you can pinpoint the theme present in abundance:

I’m in need of a drink.

And likely an exorcist.

I’m not entirely sure what kind of a kick these vengeful visitors are experiencing as they continue to shovel calamity upon calamity in my direction, but referring back to that whole “spot the motif” concept, my guess is they have some sort of monthly execution quota to fulfil, and I was an opportunistic target.

Or … it could be that thing I did in the grocery store on December 31st.

I walked through the produce section to pick up a few last-minute things for dinner. There, squeezed between three elderly turnips and a basketful of withering Brussels sprouts was a bag of black-eyed peas.

I picked them up and rolled my eyes—which must have made a loud sound—or it could have been that my eye-rolling was accompanied by some giant snort, because a tall sapling pretending to be a human scuffled over to see what was amiss.

Is there a problem, ma’am?

I glanced up at the young man’s employee name tag. Just bemused by the fact that a package of dried black-eyed peas is mixed in with the fresh produce, Leverette.

He studied the sad display. Well, because it’s New Year’s.

I scratched my head. But they’re dried.

He shrugged. Doesn’t make ‘em any less potent.

I must have rolled my eyes again because he continued. Surely you aren’t one of those scoffers, are you, ma’am? One of the reasons we place them here is for ease of access. A reminder of necessary tradition.

I picked up the sad sack of Brussels sprouts. I’m more into “necessary nutrition.”

Leverette’s eyes went wide, and he jabbed a pointy finger toward a faded insignia on my hoodie. NASA thinks they’re good enough. They’ve been test-growing them for years in fake space vehicles and Martian greenhouses.

I narrowed my eyes at him and then whipped out my phone. Standby, Leverette.

I texted my daughter.

Uh … sure, that sounds like a thing we’d do was her reply.

Dammit.

I threw my nose into the air and glanced back up to catch the supercilious expression Leverette now displayed. I’ll pass, I said, and gave him a wave. Then I mumbled something under my breath about going home to make a pot of four-leaf clover soup.

Apparently, the witches were watching.

And likely rubbing their hands together with glee.

Which I find extra annoying as it makes the scent of one of those old aunties materialize. And it is an aroma that was long ago burned into my brain as specifically identifiable to her. All musk, earth, and sandalwood steeped in the smoke of her long, thin Virginia slims.

Well, that’s what I guessed they were, but I was young, and for all I know she could have been smoking incense sticks.

But the scent is present, and I’m sure it’s her.

Or it could be the wires in the walls finally sparking and smoldering. Chances are that’s what’s next on the list.

As I sit in the dark and shine a flashlight on my taxes, I try to hearten my gloomy mood with the acceptance that it’s only another five months.

I then load up another spoonful of black-eyed peas and force myself to swallow it.

Because who couldn’t use a little extra fiber, right?

~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.

 

Science is a Work of Art … and a Headache Full of Math

I have a love-hate relationship with physics.

I love the way it sounds as a word. It’s a pleasurable one to say—like cupcakery, flibbertigibbet, or I’ve just won the lottery.

Okay, that last one is not so much a fun word to say as it would be a fun phrase to shout.

But “physics” is lovely to pronounce.

I also love that it works the way people expect it to—airplanes alight, bowling balls roll, people don’t fall off when on the upside-down part of Earth’s rotation—stuff like that.

I appreciate—nay, love—that so many people on this planet understand the science that studies the nature and properties of matter and energy.

But what I hate … is that I’m not one of them.

It’s not that I haven’t tried, because I have. I really have. As in sat down, read books, attended lectures, asked questions, did experiments. All that jazz. Definitely not half-hearted attempts to crack the codes of complex concepts.

It was effortful work.

But it just didn’t stick.

It never does, and I feel entirely deflated with the results.

Currently, I’m working on an art installation project with someone whose background is both fine arts and engineering. We have a massive canvas which we’ve agreed to apportion and parcel between us, settling upon no theme other than some sort of Venn diagram of shared experiences.

My first outlined section involves a three-headed snake, slithering downward through the seven levels of celestial existence, depicting the metaphysical realms of deities and including the classical planets and fixed stars.

It’s pretty.

His is a physical representation of irrational numbers. It is lines both curved and precisely angled.

It is math.

I said, Can you see how mine shows the concept of the divine wrestling with—

I get it. He broke in, nodding. I’ve studied religious antiquity through art. It’s pretty straightforward. Now can you see how mine is the answer?

I squinted at the canvas. The answer to what?

To everything.

Everything? I echoed.

Yes. To the universe, to space, time, you, me, the existence and meaning of everything your mind can conjure.

My mind was not conjuring. My mind had stumbled to a cracking fat halt.

I don’t get it, I said, feeling a hot creeping blush move across my face. Where’s the formula part?

I received a look of incredulity. He pointed to the canvas. It’s right there. Where the lines and arcs intersect and join. It’s all present. It’s simple. It’s elegant. It’s beautiful.

He moved across the canvass, sweeping his hand from one point to another. Five or six minutes passed where words like “thermodynamics,” “quantum mechanics,” and “electromagnetism” were meshed with phrases like “the laws of motion” and “Bose-Einstein state of matter,” and “Are you truly not getting this?”

It made me worry. Again.

As I am currently on my way to see my daughter in her place of work. It’s a place that makes spaceships.

And everyone there comprehends all the words and phrases of physics to a point so deeply understood they can be trusted with millions of tax dollars that gets sent up to planets we all hope might one day hold a few Starbucks.

Her colleagues are the kind of people who could easily look at my art partner’s portion of our canvas and say, Yeah, man. That’s so beautiful.

They are the kinds of people who have pi tattoos, and blow-up dolls of Newton sitting a desks at work, and regularly visit therapists for anger management issues related to Flat-Earthers.

Chloe is, understandably, a little bit nervous, as in the past, when touring the facilities that educated her to qualify for her current place of employment, I apparently asked questions that left the occasional professor befuddled and giving her a second sideways assessment as to whether she may have been adopted.

Those questions usually involved time travel and multiverses—which at those moments were, in my defense, valid and being discussed by true blue scientists and not stripped from episodes of Star Trek.

And it’s not like I was asking whether all the orbiters and rovers we’ve been sending up were going to be interfering with my monthly horoscope.

Besides, I much prefer divination by means of flour. There is nothing more accurate than aleuromancy, as Chinese fortune cookies have yet to let me down.

So as I sit in my assigned seat on a fancy flying machine that surely neither Newton nor Galileo could have imagined, I am left staring out the window and wondering what I could possibly add to the art installation that could stand up to “the answer to everything,” whether I would find anything comprehendible when shortly visiting Chloe’s spacefaring factory, and whether my luggage would arrive at my final destination.

Pulling out my daily ration of much relied upon soothsaying, I cracked open my rice cookie and read today’s fortune:

A closed mouth gathers no feet.

Surely, this could be voted as a potential fourth law of motion.

I will consider it.

~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.

Life is like a Box of Chocolates: Sealed, Stolen, & Seeing the Countryside without You

A bazillion years ago—let’s call it seven—I went on a trip to the United Kingdom, crisscrossing the country to view university after university, accompanying my then seventeen-year-old daughter as she scoped out her next big chunk of education.

The recollection of big cities and ancient villages have long been swallowed by the fuzziness of time and now reside in my head the same way one retains precise memories of a colonoscopy. And although I can appreciate the anesthetic delights of anterograde amnesia for some experiences in life, the one long-cached, souvenir stilled lodged firmly in my hippocampus is that of stumbling across a tiny shop on the high street of Oxford.

Hotel Chocolat.

It’s not a hotel, although I’d have no issues with setting up camp in a corner on the floor if I should accidentally get locked in after hours. Rather it’s a luxury chain of the ultimate chocolate shopping experience.

There is no trickery involved in drawing customers off the cobblestoned streets—just an open door, where the aromas of ground and sweetened cocoa beans snake invisibly around your wrists and appear beneath your nose, tugging you inside and fastening the lock behind you.

When I first saw the shelves lined invitingly with countless bars and baskets filled with creamy brown confectionery, I remember turning to my daughter and saying, This is where I’d liked to be buried, please.truffles

In keeping with the traditional facial expressions of young adults, I was immediately silenced with a practiced and perfected eyeroll.

We silently moved about the shop, but apparently with each new peak into the burgeoning baskets and careful scanning of each shelf, Chloe finally turned to me and sighed.

What? Her gaze was stern, her tone was clipped. Why do you keep clucking your tongue, Mother?

I hadn’t realized I was, but it was likely true.

I just don’t understand why they’ve chosen to mash all the extra bits into the chocolate, I’d said. The chocolate looks perfect on its own. It doesn’t need fruits and nuts or brownies and gingerbread in it. You can’t improve upon perfection.

It was then that she held out a square box with six small globes within it.

Oh yeah? Are you telling me that you will not put aside your ridiculous rule for this?

In her hand was milk and dark chocolate, swirled together in an eddying ripple, apparently each orb pillow-casing a teaspoon of whisky.

My knees weakened a tiny bit as I envisioned what two of the dreamiest comestibles would taste like as clearly betrothed companions.

I shook my head with fixed determination.

Too expensive, I said as an excuse, when what I was thinking was, Surely disappointing.

Christmas came a month later, and the gift of truffles filled with single malt scotch came from the outstretched arms of Chloe, smugly determined to win the category of Best Gift Ever.

I was elated. Excited. Curious. And worried.

I put them in the refrigerator for safe keeping.

For six- and one-half years.

I couldn’t bring myself to try them. Too expensive, surely disappointing.

I know I’d frustrated her, as I recall a few years after that holiday, I’d received a beautiful box of chocolates in the mail. Chocolates all filled with other things other than more chocolate.

box celebration chocolates decoration

 

I put the box aside, deflated. But Chloe simply texted the sender and said, Obviously, you do not know my mother. Your lovely gift will be mothballed in cold storage indefinitely. But thank you, nonetheless.

She then proceeded to eat them on my behalf.

Last month, I traveled by train again across the UK. To my utter delight, the port of origin held a Hotel Chocolat shop. I spent a few harried minutes and far too precious pennies on a doppelganger box of whisky-filled truffles, an identical box that not four months earlier–as I cleaned out the fridge to move houses–finally found its way out of the back of the fridge and regrettably into the waste basket.

Thrilled with the chance to redeem my unappreciative behavior, I placed my pungent package on a shelf above my bunk and dreamed of the soon-to-receive declarations from family that I had at last lost my persnickety fallibility.

The next morning, I promptly exited the train, mindlessly leaving that little package filled with chocolate and whisky, and the expensive opportunity to salvage some respect.

I’d also left my reading glasses. Another thing I’d rebuffed for years.

It did not occur to me that I’d left these things until I began rooting around for an aid with map reading.

My heart raced, followed quickly by my feet. Ten minutes had passed since I’d exited the train, and dashing back out onto the platform, I saw nothing but Scotch mist.

The train was gone.

With panicked flapping limbs and the alarm of a woman who left her baby in a taxi, I managed to locate and communicate my loss to a white-haired train attendant whose Scottish dialect was as thick as the slabs of solid chocolate I would have preferred to have purchased in the sweet shop.

Fifteen minutes later, the elderly man returned, a broad smile stretching the road map of wrinkles across his face. He handed me my reading glasses.

I peered at him. Did you happen to find the chocolate? The whisky-filled truffles?

Oh aye, he stated grimly, but all edibles are immediately binned if left behind. That’s the policy. But if ye want my opinion, lassie, yer far better off wi’out them, as nothing foreign but yer lips should touch a single malt scotch. Any addition is like two trains colliding into a crash.

He looked at me sternly and pointed at my glasses. Perhaps use your wee spectacles before making such a purchase next time. After all, ye canna improve upon perfection. Some things are just more sacred when separate.

blur book book pages close up

~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.

Booze, Britain, & Maybe Someone’s Bride

If you’re asked any questions you can’t answer, just send those folks to me.

I looked at my boss. The one who brought me to the London Whisky Show with just barely enough information to sound like I was dangerously competent but not snarkily egotistical.

You mean like, “How many proof liters are you pulling off the still between noon and 6pm on every third Saturday of the month?”

Or how about, “Exactly what percentage of liquor are you extracting from that rare twenty-five year old rum cask you’re resting your bourbon in for two years?”

Or even this one. How bout this one? “Will you marry me?” *hic* Can I lob that one over to you as well?

He gave me a look from beneath his brow. Umm … no. You can deal with the drunken fan boy bits on your own.

Fab. Back to work.

And work it was, as setting up a booth in Old Billingsgate—one of London’s myriad iconic buildings, notably a venue that used to house the world’s largest fish market—was not just as easy as plunking down a few bottles of booze and then flipping a shingle to say ‘open for business’ as thirsty customers strolled by.

Instead, it was setting up the most eye-catching, magnetically plumaged display of all your finest award winning wares right beside hundreds of other eye-catching, magnetically plumaged displays of award winning wares.

And for most of us, all on the size of a postage stamp.

The festival brought distillers and whisky lovers from all over the world together to experience some of the most coveted, laurel wreathed drams begging to be savored. Participants wandered (and eventually stumbled) about from booth to booth over the two festival days with supremely developed palates and highly developed expectations.

Now there may only officially be listed just over 100 carefully selected global distillers, but each one of them had some version of, You think that was good … (pulls bottle from beneath hidden shelf) … wrap your tongue around this one!

Altogether, a patron had somewhere between 600-800 drams of whisky to filter through in 48 hours.

As did their liver.

Of course, there was recommended show etiquette.

Spit, don’t swallow.

Drink lots of water—hell, bring your own IV pole if it’s not too unwieldy.

And if you are officially documented by the patrolling Security Stewards to have asked more than three exhibitors for their hand in marriage, the last one has the right to hold you responsible for their children’s college fund.

Gamble as you may.

One of the most challenging aspects of the festival was to reel in the participants, convince them that Reservoir’s whiskies stood head and shoulder above most others because we were not a carbon copy of the vast menu list available.

Our ingredients are of the utmost importance.

We pride ourselves on those ingredients being local.

Our process is different, our distillate is unique, our people are unprecedented, and for Pete’s sake, every day we festoon our bosses’ office doors with balloons and thank you notes because we just frickin’ love working here!

PLEASE JUST COME TASTE OUR WHISKIES!

In truth, we may not have sounded quite so desperate, but you get my point. You have to stand out. And not in a gimmicky way. You have to present them with something that’s memorable, that’s meaningful, that matters.

You have to make them want to take you home in a bag.

Okay, that did not come out right, but again you get my point.

It was an opportunity to meet people who love whisky and who make whisky from every corner of the Earth. To share what we’ve made, to learn from others, and to come home filled to the brim with the vim and vigor of pursuing our future.

We also come home smelling a little bit of fish, but that’s beside the point.

We travel the world with our wares. Sometimes we come to you. Sometimes you come to us. Most importantly, we come together, our spirits aligned.

Now, agreeing whether you want to make monthly payments to the university or just one lump sum is where we might diverge, but we can always work that out over a dram or two.

~Shelley

My favorite customer …

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.

 

 

 

 

Explaining the Birds & the Bees, But Mostly the Bugs

But before we begin …

A thousand squealing thank yous to Robin Gott — sorcerer of stage, screen, and scribbles — who has so kindly taken a few minutes off from work to sit in his dressing room and whip out a handful of his amazing cartoons to accompany this post. And for so much more of Robin, visit robingott.com

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

I think we can all agree that we will never, ever truly be alone.

And for some that is a giant sigh of relief, as being alone is akin to losing your entire family and all your friends—even if they only existed on screen in the form of the cast of Downton Abbey.

But for others, no matter how hard we may try, we discover that we will shuffle on this mortal coil in the company of countless others who clearly have never been invited along.

They make quick assessment of who you are, but mostly where you live, and decide to take up residence—contributing nothing to the upkeep and maintenance, and only adding to your woes.

Bugs.

As I’m pottering about my new abode, discovering nooks and cramming things in crannies, I also discover a great variety of crammed in arthropods—either walking, flying, or in some cases, swimming, depending upon the nook or cranny.

It has been a cycle of either open up cupboard, glance toward ceiling, or focus in on floor followed by squeal, squeak, or shriek.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think bugs are interesting. Fascinating, even. Because who doesn’t want to know how a frustrated Australian seaweed fly finally gets some action from all the disinterested Sheilas around him?

Or how a green spoon worm, happily sitting at the bottom of the sea, can accidentally inhale her husband when she simply suffered from an itch on her nose?

Well, I certainly did.

I’ve read Olivia Judson’s Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation. I took copious notes about virgin births and about paralyzing would-be lovers so that your children can eat him alive. I scoured the sketches of detachable penises, and made sure I understood how one could go deaf from too much mite sex.

But seeing it in real life form, knowing that all that was happening right beneath or above my nose was something else altogether.

Hello, Pest Control.

The jolly folks on the other end of the line proved almost too happy to hear from me.

Infestation? Blight? Chiggery scourge and epidemic? How delightful! We’ll be right over.

Mere moments later, I greeted a six foot three, thin as a pine sapling fellow with a beaming face exuding pure celestial rapture, and instead of shaking my hand, he held up a framed 8 x 10 diploma.

Blessings on you and yours, ma’am. My name is Jebediah, and I just got my certs.

Well, uh … I stumbled, glancing up into the scalding hot sun where his head was haloed, Praise … be?

He beamed sunshine. Yes, ma’am. And then stood, turning to admire his freshly-inked degree.

It’s not been 24 hours yet since the family gatherin’ with coffee and a slice of pie to celebrate my good fortune, but I assure you—

He peered down at me gravely.

—I am fully in charge of my faculties despite sneakin’ that sip of Mama’s cookin’ sherry she hides behind the flour tin in the pantry. Ooowee!

He made to swipe at his brow, and I realized the pest company had sent over a reincarnation of Mayberry’s Gomer Pyle.

I suddenly wondered if this meet and greet should come to a quick end, as a few steps farther into the house he would be received by my own set of not-quite-choir-boy-bottles. Well over one hundred of all the Bens and Glens from Scotland, neatly lining an entire wall of shelving.

Come on in, Jebediah, I said hesitantly. Let’s see if we can’t cleanse this little dwelling of its demons.

Six steps into the house he did a three-sixty spin, his wide-eyed, slack jawed visage finding my uneasy one.

Ma’am? I saw all the wood from the outside as I was drivin’ up, but I had no idea there’d be all this wood on the inside too.

I looked at him, my head cocked with incredulity. I live in a log cabin, Jebediah.

He nodded soberly and whispered, This was not on the paperwork.

Might want to make a note of it for next time then, I suppose, but I’ll leave you to it for now. I’ll be in my little office if you need me. I pointed down the hallway.

For the next ninety minutes I heard precious little and finally decided to hunt down the biblical bug butcher.

Jebediah? I called out, and then spotted him crouched on the floor in a corner, his hand cradling an iridescent blue-winged dead wasp.

He glanced up at me, his eyebrows crinkling as he sighed. Real butes these guys are, ain’t they? This here is Chalybion californicum—what you all commonly call the Blue Mud Dauber.

Then he held out his other hand with another bug that looked exactly like the first—including the whole dead part. This here should not be confused with his cousin, the Chlorion aerarium—the Steel-Blue Cricket Hunter—as although the same size, one has a longer pedicel, and the other is much more hairy.

Also, he went on, these fellers are worthy specimens, as some of them will rid the environment of crickets and others of the vicious black widow.

I studied the young man for a full thirty seconds as he sighed long and sorrowfully once again, his head bent low over the bugs he was in charge of destroying.

Jebediah? Are you sure this is the right job for you?

He looked up at me and then swept an arm in a circle over his head. You live in a tree, ma’am.

I sniffed. Well … a dead one, really.

He nodded. Exactly. It’s the natural habitat for nearly all of these creatures. It seems … he paused, … it seems a little unnerving that there has been so much death here today. I did not expect such a high body count on my first day of work.

I walked to my bookshelf and then returned to Jebediah on the floor, holding out Dr. Tatiana’s sexpert advice for all bugs.

Here. Read this. Chances are you’ve been far too immersed in the end of the life cycle for all your many legged friends.

Jebediah read the title slowly and out loud, and then looked up at me dumbstruck. A slow smile crossed his face as he tucked the small book into his back pocket and headed for the door.

Word of warning, Jebediah, I added, you might want to keep this behind the flour tin in the pantry too.

~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.

 

You Say Tomato, I Say, “Hey There, Bloody Mary”

Someone last week announced that I was particular.

But what I thought I’d heard was that I was peculiar.

Both are true.

At the time I assumed it was a simple observance—one like Oh, you have blue eyes or Your shirt is misbuttoned, or even Huh, I guess some people really do like lutefisk.

But in retrospect I think the statement was more like Huh, I guess some people really do like lutefisk—slathered with Limburger cheese sauce and perched atop a mound of kimchi.

Of course even I know where to draw the line because, Good Lord, no one in their right mind would serve dried cod in lye next to deeply salted and fermented red vegetables. The colors are just way off.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But I should probably embrace one adjective more so than the other, except after giving it some deep-thought consideration while cleaning out the cat litter (an event that comes just behind sock-folding as far as pensive places for contemplation), I realized that both descriptions justify not simply tolerance, but support.

Maybe even celebration.

Merriam Webster (my three favorite people in the world—yes, three cuz there were two Merriam brothers) states that the word “particular” means: notably unusual, nice in taste, hard to please.

Obviously, that last one was added by mistake and surely the next edition will correct their error, but for the sake of full transparency, I’ve included it above.

The three then go one to define “peculiar” as: special, curious, odd.

Again, I feel as if I could be accused of cherry-picking here, but clearly this is not the case. Undoubtedly, as there are 58,876 words that begin with the letter P, and this day surely brought immeasurable stress and opportunity for the occasional blunder, I shall forgive the lexicographers for that last erroneous entry and dismiss it out of hand altogether.

I am neither hard to please, nor odd.

Except if doing a headcount of humans in my home. Then yes, odd in number I would be.

And I feel extraordinarily pleased to be the odd human at home as there is precious little time wasted instructing anyone but the cats as to the proper way to replace a toilet paper roll. Although they still quibble, with countless power point slideshows, as to the ease of reach for the “under” argument, I, as purchaser of said paper, have final say.

The dog has no opinion and believes it all tastes the same no matter the direction – over or under.

Regardless of one’s paper product preference, I still feel there is much to lionize when one comes across anything or anyone deemed “notably unusual” or “curious,” as these are two terms we have, in the past, sadly assigned negative connotation to.

Reviewing my grade school report cards, I note a handful of examples that reinforce this impression.

Shelley has a lot to say and may benefit from raising her hand less often is not what your Average Joe parent wishes to read on a quarterly bulletin summarizing academic progress.

Nor is If you continue to ask questions during CCD classes, you are risking an interpretation from The Almighty as one of little faith. Our catechism classes are spaces meant for quiet absorption.

My recollection was that neither myself nor any of my classmates were precocious enough at ten to question the four pillars of Christianity but simply wished to understand the definition of “catechism,” and therefore repeatedly drew straws to see which of us would get whacked with a ruler that afternoon.

I mean really, why were we here? This time slot was interfering with our ongoing science project of seeing what 3000 tons of freight train with a rail speed of 60 mph can do to a penny.

I’d say that kind of curiosity deserved to be commended.

To be fair, I feel I should attempt to put in a sympathetic word or two for the case of being determined “hard to please” or “odd.”

In some lights, one might benefit from a touch of hard to please-ness, such as when one has been convinced one’s mechanic has sufficiently fixed the brakes.

An attitude of As long as they’re going to halt the car eventually is likely one that will not serve you well for long. Best to adopt a posture of fastidiousness regardless of the inflated garage shop bill.

And when exploring the depth and breadth of the term “odd,” one must acknowledge that although, yes, it can denote something bizarre or mismatched, it can also highlight that last brownie in the pan which could not be divvied up equally among friends going home after tea, or that one Weimaraner puppy with crossed blue eyes, a paw in a cast, and one undescended testicle.

Q: Why the hell would you want this runty K-Mart blue light special, lady?

A: Why the hell would I not?

Clearly, this is not a case of being hard to please, rather seeing years’ worth of creative writing material.

It’s true—in essence, all of this is simply determined “in the eye of the beholder,” right? You can be picky or specific. You can be creepy or eccentric. It often comes down to how the term is delivered and how it is received.

For the sake of one’s self-esteem, I vote a regular bath among the tissue-thin pages of one’s dictionary where you can steep yourself within myriad meanings of every descriptor ever tacked upon your personhood.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You will come out learned, enlightened, and smelling like a rose.

Which, for most people, is slightly better than smelling like lutefisk.

~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.

Reshaping Life Goals with a Reciprocating Saw

We’re occasionally faced with asking ourselves the question: What is the definition of home?

The answer I usually provide is: Wherever my collection of scotch resides.

But in truth, as we all know, it is more than that.

It’s: Wherever my collection of scotch and Glencairn glasses resides.

Because really, drinking straight from the bottle is just barbaric.

If I were forced to expand upon that description though, I would add that my furfaces—the hodgepodge of bewhiskered, keen of eyesight, and sharp of teeth domesticated companions—would, with great certainty, be found sprawled on some floor. Usually right beneath a bottle of whisky I’m trying to reach.

Also, my books. They would need to be included within that sphere. As books are the most practical of possessions. They educate, entertain, act as trivet and coaster, and in a desperate pinch, garden trowel.

And as most people could attest, one’s home often comes with an eclectic set of quirks—uniquely perplexing at first, but ultimately leaving one resigned to its presence.

When you first move into a freshly built home—one that comes with the architect’s telephone number temporarily affixed to a wall in each room for easy access to explain what this button does or to report this doohickey still doesn’t work, one also hopes that it comes equipped with a full staff to fix those pesky particulars.

When one moves into an older home, say a dwelling that has seen the birth and death cycle of a few families, one should expect the house will have accumulated a few peculiarities that no architect can explain away, and no butler can restore. It’s also likely the old house will have accumulated a dead relative or two who one of the previous families neglected to take with them.

I’m fairly sure I’ve got one of those.

And it’s no surprise to me, as I am used to the presence of old dead relatives and long ago acquiesced to the idea that my family was stocked with deceased witches, soothsayers, crystal gazers, and astrologists. Women who had a habit of making strange announcements suggesting you were just as weird as they, and that one day you’d all gather at some great Wiccan bonfire in the afterlife.

Until then, they would have to suffice with pestering you during your current one.

Seriously, yesterday I had a thirty minute conversation with a flickering light bulb.

Photo by Nayara Dinato on Pexels.com

I’ve called in an electrician, but I’ve done that before and not been surprised when the resulting diagnosis included the phrase, Hey, lady, this thing ain’t even plugged in.

This month I had a birthday, a fairly noteworthy one according to our culture, but birthdays have never held much weight for me other than to grasp the opportunity to sit down and recalibrate.

I like the feeling of biennial rhythm—a life cycle of two seasons from New Years to midsummer and midsummer to New Years—in order to see how six months of effortful work in some direction is fairing.

I usually scratch out on pen and paper new projects, new habits, soon-to-be discarded habits, and the odd lofty goal or two. I ask myself the age old question, Are your mindset and behaviors still serving you? And then proceed to block out any mental responses I find prickly or distinctively unattractive.

This year, I ratcheted up my level of earnestness and wrote a list revealing sharper resolutions coming from a more candid examination. Fruitless labor is out, accumulation of new skills is in.

When one lives on one’s own, there comes a time when you look around and discover that the architect is no longer returning your calls, and the butler left to become an Instagram celebrity. Therefore, purchasing a drill is at the top of the list.

As are things like nails, hammers, vises, and pliers. Bonus to the guy at the hardware store who convinced me that every girl should have a reciprocating saw that can cut through a person like butter. Best not to ask for a bag of fast acting lime to go on your tab straight after that though.

Feeling quite plucky and proud of myself, I set to work with a newfound sense of purpose fueled by my annually refreshed mission statement: Don’t waste my time, Life, I’ve got some serious shit to do.

And this would have all been fine save for the fact that I’m certain one of those ‘stayed behind specters’ was reading my list across my shoulder and then, cackling with great glee, called over her other residuum compatriots, and they all agreed I should reexamine my new motto.

Nothing was as uncomplicated as I believed it should be. Nothing as straightforward as I’d hoped.

Spending an hour spraying weeds on a hot sunny day is met with an ancestral titter of On your knees and pulling by the root is not fruitless labor, as one gains an appreciation for toiling effortfully.

And then the sky darkens with clouds and immediately washes away my insecticide.

Or … I finally break down and decide to purchase a washer and dryer. I travel fifty minutes to purchase said washer and dryer. Washer and dryer now on its way to my house. Bank calls and cancels payment of units, labeling the cost as “fraud alert behavior.” Washer and dryer not on its way to my house. I wrestle with bank. Washer and dryer again on its way to my house. Units arrive and delivery men discover no exhaust vent for dryer. I now own a fine washer and a large metal box that pointlessly sits on top of it. I saw through walls (thank you hardware store guy) and fashion an ‘inside the house’ vent. Metal box now operates as both clothes dryer and sauna generator. Mold grows on walls. Handyman and I soon discover after spelunking in the crawl space beneath the house that an actual dryer vent does exist, it’s just been linoleumed over.

*insert a great shrill of sniggering laughter here and an ethereal chorus of Perseverance is not superfluous exertion.

I get it. You’ve all made your point.

Perhaps I was a bit glib with my whole I can do anything charge into battle bit and must remember an old adage of my grandmother’s: the higher the price you pay for something, the dearer it becomes to you.

And yes, I think I’m willing to devote time and effort to a footpath with no poison ivy, and clean clothes with which to travel upon it.

Now I simply have to discover just how much an exorcism costs because no longer conversing with a chandelier is likely worth a pretty penny or two.

~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.

 

You Cannot Teach An Old Cat New Tricks … Or Anything Really

“What do you think you could do? For your part in the program?” I heard the voice ask.

I looked around my desk. Papers, sticky notes, a leftover bowl of quinoa the cat was extremely interested in exploring.

“Umm …” I hesitated and tried to buy some time. I glanced at my phone, hoping it would ping with some notification that I could cleverly read out.

The phone was not helping. And the person on the other side of the line was waiting for my answer.

Yes. Yes, I very much wanted to be part of an evening called Women In Whiskey, hosted by a distillery I held in the highest of esteem. And Leslie, their head of PR, was offering me just that opportunity IF … I could create a marketable angle for why I should be there—and a persuadable reason people would feel inclined to attend because I was part of it.

The cat pulled a paw out of the bowl of quinoa, now coated with the sticky red grain.

She stared at it intently. She nosed it. Then stuck a tiny pink tongue out and gave it a tentative taste.

Shaking her head to rid herself of the apparently foul flavor, I sighed and frowned.

She didn’t even really give it a try. Judged it unpalatable without truly knowing anything about it.

If only cats were teachable … and not obligate carnivores.

“Whiskey Tasting 101,” I blurted out. “I can do an introductory course.”

There was a short pause on the other end of the line. “In ten minutes?” Leslie asked.

“Fifteen. I will squish four lessons into fifteen minutes.”

“Hmm … what kind of lessons? Remember, you’re going to be working with a food and spirits critic, a mixologist, and a distiller. You’ll have to bring something different to the table.”

Leslie knew I wrote books—middle grade, YA literature, non-fiction essays, and a lot about whisky. She knew I’d apprenticed in Scotland—studied with distillers and people who were hugely passionate with their work—all because I’d eventually developed a great love for the spirit and a yearning to make it. But my main labors were simply writing about it.

How many people would want to come to an event to hear women speak about their work in the industry and find out my part was just “Lemme tell you about my books.”

Can’t imagine that would fly.

But for the past twenty-five years I had done something that morphed accidentally into a profession. I became a teacher.

Enthusiasm can do that to a person.

Or fanaticism. Samey samey.

My history was one that was both typical and atypical of a person first introduced to brown spirits.

Typical, in that I thought it was the most disgusting thing ever to touch my lips—save for Jeremy Krazinski, who, in fifth grade, tried to plant a big one on me just beneath the monkey bars when I had no idea it was coming.

Atypical, in that only a few short years later, after having traveled repeatedly to Scotland and gaining a depth and breadth of appreciation for everything falling between the barley and the bottle, I found myself determined to make it. To understand the craft, the science, and the magic of that spirit.

My longing for a deep dive found fulfillment because of a great distillery, but my love for whisky blossomed because of a great teacher—one who discovered my first handshake with the spirit had been an avoidably painful one. I’d learned incorrectly and had a good bit of erasing ahead of me. From that moment on I’d grown resolute to not allow the same “first time flop” unfold for other people. I wanted them to love whisky as much as I did.

“What will you teach?” Leslie repeated.

I recalled a series of essays I’d long ago written called Belly Up to the Bar. “Eyeing, Nosing, Tasting, and Finish,” I said with more confidence than I felt.

Indeed, the more pertinent question going through my mind was, Sure, I can write about it, but can I aptly teach it?

I thought about the most proficient instructors in my life thus far. The ones whose lessons have left the greatest indelible imprint on me had no degrees in education—nor fancy lettering following their names. They had instinct, purpose, and need.

A cat has schooled me in the necessity of paying attention to the most muted of reverberations as much as any sound engineer. You wish to catch a prey? Listen like your life depends upon it. Hunger can tutor the stupid right out of you.

An elderly Polish neighbor repeatedly walked me through the woods as a child, revealing what will taste good raw, what will taste good cooked, and what will outright kill you if you so much as lick it.

And no doubt my parents have left me with life lessons near impossible to accumulate from anyone else: Do what you love, love what you do, and please pay attention goddammit to what Mrs. Sobieski warns you not to lick.

We are surrounded by teachers. Many have a desire to give you what they already possess: comprehension of the world. And oftentimes for free—simply because of the passion they possess with the subject.

“Okay, you’re hired,” Leslie decided.

I was thrilled. Most times in life I’ve found myself as the student—the hungry pupil desperate for know-how, happy to be on the receiving end of it. But on this night, I would get to be that teacher.

That teacher who teaches what she loves, and loves what she teaches.

Likely I will start off the session with an introductory phrase such as: “Thank you all for coming, thank you for being willing to learn, but mostly I’d like to thank Mrs. Sobieski for allowing me to be here tonight.”

The Reservoir Distillery’s “Women in Whiskey” event.

(Robey Martin, Beth Dixon, Mary Allison, and Shelley Sackier)

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.

~Shelley

Yes, Splice and Dice, But First … Stumble and Tumble

Okay, I wrote an entirely different blog post before this one. The essay you’re reading isn’t even remotely similar to the original. This one isn’t about hiking, this one isn’t about how you can effortlessly compartmentalize mountain bicyclists onto an easy to read Game of Thrones character trait spectrum, and this one isn’t about how much the other one sucked.

It really did.

Yes, you’re right, I did just make this essay about how much the first draft was awful, but we’re not going to talk about that anymore.

Because I wasted hours writing it. All thirteen hundred words of it. Which is far more than I typically allow myself for my monthly post.

People don’t have that kind of time.

Or patience for pure drivel.

Which is exactly what it was.

Seriously, enough of the old one. My point is that editing is everything.

You have to know when to keep plowing through with some endeavor, when to cut, snip, and modify, and when to just find a large fire pit to toss it all into and watch it burn, baby. Your tears can dry by firelight. It’ll be romantic.

Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

I learned long ago the importance of an editor. I learned shortly after that the importance of a good editor and how there is a difference. And now I’m learning just how badly I am in need of a life editor.

We all need people like this. People who shape, guide, instruct, and brutally shine a light on everything we’re too close to get a real grip on. How awesome would it be to have someone silently in the background? A tiny Jiminy Cricket on your shoulder who either subtly whispers in your ear as you’re about to reach for something, “Uh yeah, I wouldn’t do that. Drop it, sweetie,” or one who shouts, “Oh my godfathers, what the hell are you thinking? Run!”

Lately, I’m falling in need of something in the middle. A helpful aid who has a bird’s eye view of thirty seconds in front of me, and who maybe has a sweet and syrupy southern accent, prefacing all my idiotic choices with a, “Aww, God bless your cotton socks, honey,” so I don’t feel such a sharp rebuke with my blunders.

I’m making a lot of mistakes recently. Misjudgments, miscalculations, moving with misdirection. Energy spent on the wrong thing and on the wrong people.

It’s a little bit like the time I decided to paint my bedroom florescent yellow to increase the cheeriness factor within it and ended up suffering a year of massive migraines. I also lost a year of sleep as I slept in a room that shined as brightly as the inside of a working nuclear fusion reactor.

It stings a bit wasting two or three hours on writing an essay that turns out to be a stinker versus wasting a week on a project or plan that falls short because you lack the vital fundamental understanding needed to see the big picture.

And no doubt there are countless people who can scoff at the above paragraph’s whiny note and kick away its relevance by revealing that they wasted twenty years on a spouse who insisted they were near a breakthrough with their milestone advances in organic tree water and anti-inflammatory conifer oils when you finally opened up the door to their backyard science lab and discovered they’d been doing nothing but perfecting the art of making balloon animals for children’s birthday parties.

Experience is expensive.

But so is any worthy education, right?

I finally learned how to write musical manuscripts for a big band swing orchestra with swift speed only after three of the guys cornered me backstage following one rehearsal. They said either I sit down with them and see why the bullpuckey bunk I was penning for them stunk or they were walking and I’d be left without a horn section. Again.

It was the hands-on guidance I needed instead of the “Music Theory 101 classes” I suffered through where reams of music returned to me from a pricey conservatory instructor with his red penned notes saying, “Review page 329.”

Okay, fine, but why??

And experience is painful.

I recently attended a fifth grade science fair where I saw a young lady, casts on both arms up to her elbows, standing in front of a white board that read How High is Too High?

No doubt all of us look back and feel our lives might benefit from some redaction. From a touch up given to us by an expert. From a reshoot, or revision, or an overdub.

But our lives are not a blog post. Our days are not essays published with an eye-catching snapshot or two of the subject. We’re not a slickly scripted podcast or a mirthful vlog nailed on the twenty-first take.

We are the humans who live the stories, who then write the stories, who then publish the stories as warnings or lessons or amusement for others.

The good ones are filled with conflict and resolution.

The real ones are riddled with mistakes.

If you want to tell a great story, you really need a great editor.

If you want to live a great life, you might want to boot kick that idea of a “life editor” to the curb.

Cuz they’re going to stop you … before you even have a chance to fall into something worth writing about.

~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.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Nature’s Turducken

Photo by Mike Bird on Pexels.com

Last year, I had a gazillion bunny rabbits gather on the lawn both at sunrise and sunset every day through the three beautiful months of spring—nibbling, lounging, fattening.

This year, I have been hard-pressed to see even one dash out in front of my car as I trundle down the mountain to run a few errands in town.

Where did they go, I wondered?

This morning, I watched a brawny and brutish red fox prance along the woodland’s edge, patrolling the perimeter, his ears and swishy full tail twitching with anticipation at any movement or sound from the grassy border.

Ah. Now I know.

There were a few brief, tense moments when the world virtually paused, my breath suspended, when with lightning quick speed, the fox sprung into the air in the direction of a fat rabbit, dashing from the safety of her brushy compound, making a run for it—out in the open.

Now, I know you’re all wondering what happened to that fat little bunny, and I could be cruel and tell you that’s not the point of this essay, but for the sake of keeping friends, I’ll relieve your suspense.

She made it.

But it won’t be for long, so let’s not grow accustomed to her furry little face.

Because bunnies are accidental survivors. Countless times, I have taken walks and come across one of them on the side of the path, and their method of life management is nothing more than freeze.

If they find they’ve fooled you into believing they’re actually a painting or statue, well … bully for them. They live another day of blissful clover grazing. If you are a predator and make your raptorial move, then their only hope is to outrun you, or “under-size” you by fitting in somewhere you cannot.

Not much to be impressed by.

A fox, on the other hand, is a planner. A plotter, a schemer, and wholly opportunistic.

Unlike a bunny, his nose is not focused solely on the floral fragrance of the tender shoots from the genus Trifolium, but also notes whether or not those herbaceous patches carry the scent of lucky rabbits’ feet.

Lucky for him, anyway.

Treading the path once or twice during the gloaming hours, he notes their playground and their warren holes, then takes a quick kip till just before the time sparrows fart and the sun’s rays creep over the dewy grass.

He positions himself in their familiar Don’t mind me, I’m just a figment of your imagination style crouch when muddle-headed bunnies womble out of bed and head to the clover cafeteria, and then waits until …

Gotcha.

Breakfast and exercise all in one fell swoop.

Nothing to do but sleep off the meal.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

And possibly be surprised by a sharp wake-up call in the middle of the night, as he is now surrounded by a ring of coyote—canines recognized for their ability to utilize deception and cheekiness to their benefit.

Obviously, our fox sees little comedy in his demise, but I can certainly appreciate the turducken style gallows humor and feel compelled to view life outside my window through these optics.

To do anything less would have me lamenting about the woodland hills, the smell of death thick in my nostrils, and an overwhelming feeling of despair and fatalism cloaked about my shoulders.

I cannot live life like this, mostly because I was raised on a diet rich with despair and fatalism, but wrapped up in a puff pastry crust of Monty Python humor.

I know some of you might be wondering where I’m going with this whole essay, and it would be crystal clear if you saw the books and articles scattered across my desk:

How to Write Better Bad Guys

Six Tips to Scandalous Scoundrels

Superheroes, Supervillains

This is a time period (in between books) I designate as “The Gathering.”

The collecting of ideas, the generating of plots, the reviewing of old writing habits that no longer serve and need to be replaced.

Like that of writing antagonists.  

We are surrounded by them in our everyday lives. They are the people who we intermingle with often and repeatedly: the guy who cut you off in traffic because he saw an opening and took it, your boss, who criticizes your work in front of a roomful of your coworkers which leads to you pull an all-nighter to prove her wrong, your ex, who tells every handyman in town that you don’t pay your bills on time and sometimes not at all.

Yeah, they’re evil, heinous, and diabolically sinister people in our minds.

But … not in theirs.

In their minds, they are doing what’s right. What’s right for the flow of traffic, the result of the project, and the protection of the local business owners who don’t deserve to get burned.

In their minds, why would they choose to do anything else?

A fox is never going to pass up the bunny buffet. The coyote would be harebrained to skip out on the freshly prepared “foxbunherb.” And the only thing missing now is what follows to bring down the sharp-toothed pooch.

I vote Monty Python’s Foot of Cupid. As there is nothing more satisfying then seeing your enemy squished by an animated sketch, followed by the juvenile sound of ripping flatulence. And truly, this is the Universe’s way of saying enough is enough.

It is an effortless exercise to read about creating great villains on paper, and then see the perfect example of them right outside my window. The thing that makes them perfect is that they are all relatable. We understand them. Their motivations. And can empathize with their actions.

They are not evil for the sake of being evil.

Photo by Wendelin Jacober on Pexels.com

Some of them, in the case of a humongous, hand-drawn heel are just evil for the sake of being hilarious.

And I can live with that.

~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.

The Magical Tale of a Tail

The world is full of random flukes, right?

We’ve all experienced a flush of good timing, poetic justice, or quirky happenstance. Something we look back on and say, yeah, that was weird, but seriously, how cool.

As a writer of fiction, I know I can drizzle a bit of curious coincidence into my stories, but I treat it as though it was a ghost pepper hot sauce—a little goes a long, long way. And too much will kill my reader’s appetite for any more of my story.

I mention all of the above because my life would never be considered believable fiction.

My editor would toss it back and say it was filled with way too many unexplainable flukes. Events that appeared for no reason, simply to push the narrative arc along. It’s too farfetched, too fortuitous, too implausible.

And yet … this is the contents of my life.

I write about magic in some of my books. In one it is simply sprinkled about, in several others it is the main focus, widespread and thoroughly researched. As authors we are encouraged to write what we know. But I wouldn’t say I know magic per se, I’d instead phrase it as I experience magic—or what some would define as magic—nearly every day.

And I don’t mean magic in the sense of ‘wand-casting-turn-you-into-a-toad’ type magic, nor would I lessen it to the side of the spectrum which might be confused with abundant gratitude. As in the warm rush of excitement at seeing a rainbow, or a water funnel, or a squirrel escape unharmed from the opposite side of your moving vehicle as it dashed out in front of you.

No. My magic is more the serendipitous kind and mostly the unexplainable. Unexplainable, as far as science is concerned. And I do believe science will one day have an explanation for my wonky situations. That chapter just hasn’t been written yet.

I don’t have rational answers for why, when visiting religious sites, or landscapes of great historic relevance, I am overcome with a physical dis-ease so great it can send me to my knees. Someone theorized that perhaps the pseudo-science stating the correlation between ley lines and magnetic fields might be an influence—and my body simply has an abundance of iron that interferes.

*shrug*

I have no reasonable explanation as to why I am forever running into self-proclaimed witches, soothsayers, mystics, and wizards. This week alone the tally is already up to three.

Surely, you think I jest.

I certainly would.

And it’s not like I belong to any covens, Wiccan moots, or regularly visit Renaissance festivals. These individuals just find me. Or, as I have heard explained to me numerous times, I find them. But I take issue with this declaration, as the last one I “found” was literally fifteen minutes ago—someone who marched up to my front door to say hello as I’ve been working on this article.

*sigh*

I know. It’s supremely absurd.

I feel like erasing this entire confessional essay, except that I’m writing to tell you about one of my most beloved repeating serendipitous occurrences: meeting my favorite people.

(The reveal is coming up, so hang tight.)

I was recently away at a massive book festival in Tucson, Arizona. Over one hundred and thirty thousand people attend this three day event each year, and I was lucky enough to be invited to participate.

A bazillion flights, ubers, panels, and tacos later, I lug my bags across the threshold of my home, my luggage filled with the contact info of countless authors, publishing reps, moderators, and book sellers.

I toss it all up on the kitchen counter and glance out the porch door where movement catches my eye. A wretched face glances up at me, curled up upon my swinging rocker. Two large chocolate colored eyes effortlessly convey the message of I’m cold, I’m hungry, I’m lost.

Unlike the countless other things up on the mountain where I live, this animal has no desire to fight me back for territory taken, and only wishes for a quick solution to his mounting problems.

I rush out to greet the sweet and gangly-legged hound and usher him into the warmth where aid is in abundance. “Sammy,” as his tags indicate, is one of the most grateful tail wagers I’ve yet to lay eyes on.

He tells me, in a way that only animals can, how the water has never been so thirst-quenching, the food has never been so filling, and yes, please scratch right there until I tell you to stop. I adore animals and their gratitude for simple needs met. I wish more people were so.

I quickly make contact with Sammy’s owner—a doppelganger of me, had I been on the receiving end of the phone call: thrilled, desperate, relieved. She is on her way.

Sammy and I find the warmest, sunniest room in the house to await her arrival, and many attempts at my poor human-to-dog speak message of, “I promise, she’s rushing here to get you,” prove unsuccessful. His eyes still say, Make my two-leg appear, please.

And minutes later when she does, I can see in her eyes the same urgency as was in Sammy’s, and my “chatty Cathy” habit is getting in the way of reunification.

Paula is clearly a perfect match for her companion—warm, gentle, intelligent, personable. It’s almost as if she was a …

“What do you do for a living?” I ask her.

“I’m a school librarian.”

I drop all pretense of politeness and inhibition. I hug her.

“You are my favorite kind of people!” I look at her hard. “Did you somehow know that I run a campaign to erect monuments to all librarians? Because I write that on the jacket flap of all my books!”

She shakes her head. She did not know. And eyes the door.

I thrust three of my books into her hands. “For your school, if you want them.”

We will be friends. I’m sure of it. I will make it happen. And I will try to tone down that unnerving affection.

But it comes naturally when you’ve been surrounded by all this wonky magic your whole life. I may look askance at all the other lunacy that regularly shows up, but I will never question fate or the three siblings in charge of it.

And if Clotho, Lachesis, or Atropos—the three Sisters of Fate—should toss a librarian onto my front door’s welcome mat, I will treat her the same way I would any lost and loved puppy: with open arms and great goodwill.

Also a big spoonful of peanut butter.

~Shelley

Sammy was lost in the forest for two long winter days. And because of his perseverance and suffering, I suggest he receives a spot at Paula’s feet within the mold of her bronze cast—once her school raises enough money from bake sales. Come on, Western Albemarle High School. Get baking!

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.

 

 

 

When Everyone Tells You You’re a Witch, Eventually You Try on the Hat

I don’t feel well¸ I’d whispered just loudly enough for my own ears to register.

I reached out for the wall beside me, steadying quivering knees, and felt my hand slide southward until it came to touch the floor. I wrapped both arms around my bent legs. In this custodial cocoon, I closed my eyes and searched for a thread of clarity as a new anchor of support.

Another sound my ears captured—their scattershot proficiency even further impeded by the thump of my resonant heartbeat—was a half growl, half moan, also coming from me.

I spoke again in a whisper, directing my words to both recently and long-passed female relatives, If you all think this is funny, I will find a way to make you pay for your merciless amusement. Leave. Me. Alone.

I looked up and scanned the room. It was rich with excavated artifacts—urns, beakers, swords, and tools, skins, sketches, baubles, and bowls. Relics unearthed from the very ground I stood upon—or hunched over, as it were.

The Kilmartin Museum was perched atop a small ridge that ran along the edge of Kilmartin Glen—a stretch of prehistoric sites through the valley of a tiny village in western Scotland. It was here I was suddenly sinking with the feeling of lassitude—which I’m certain brought a smirk of self-congratulations to many of my female ancestors, as the words they shared with me when alive were of the variety that would bring great alarm to most, but were banal and eye roll-worthy to me during my youth:

You’re an old soul—you simply can’t recall your past lives. The tarot cards show this.

Open your ears to the goddesses, don’t put up such walls to their speech.

You are but a vessel—and willing or no, your spirit is an empath and draws the needful toward you.

I’d believed none of it. But partly wished it were true. They believed all of it. And impatiently waited my surrender to their truth.

I’d come for research—to resurrect not only the tangible details I’d need for my story, but the perceptible ones as well. One provided a sense of touch, the other, palpable only by the mind. Many storytellers find that if one can stand in the spot where the tale unfolds, and utilize all one’s senses, countless doors of creativity swing open with ease.

The problem I was encountering was not so much the onset of malaise but discovering that the long distance travel had not shaken the long buried voices of my own dead relatives—those who regularly muttered around me—and they now intermingled with the voices of those I wished to hear more clearly and singularly.

The book I was writing steeped within a warm soup of Celtic mythology and village mystics. The book I’d just finished was fraught with warring witches and fear-filled kingdoms. Death snaked its way through both narratives, just as my familial undead featherstitched their presence uninvitingly through more of my calendric cycle than I wish were true.

Their calls—which were clearly an unmistakable theme in both books—repeatedly stressed, You are one of us. Do not be deaf to the obvious and inevitable.

And although I may have purposefully shut out the opinions my more eclectic family members layered on, I have never been deaf to great books, as they speak to me with more than mere words. They leave countless overarching impressions. When you are the reader of any story, the author prays they have cannily articulated some message to you, and you leave feeling moved by the experience. When you are the author, you hunt for that affecting message. It is oftentimes a slow sweeping away of debris that reveals the structure: the bones, the skull, the spine.

And standing in a multi-roomed hut, jammed with primitive curios, or upon a battlefield, the acrid smoke charred deep into the soil, or beside a cairn, the stones heavy with the grief of thousands of tears, I can barely pick out the tone of my own long ago voiced youthful complaints as I stymie the growing sound of history’s vocal barrage.

I’m not like all of you. I’m my own person, I’d said to some auntie, eyeing me with pity through the wisps of the exotic smoke from her cigarette.

She’d shaken her head. You see it wrongly. You are not tethered to this hallowed ground with an anchor, but rather a tube. One that can act as a channel.

She is right. There is a hurricane of chronicles waiting to be heard. And countless times in my life I have been in the right place and present at the right time where the valves have twisted open. At these moments, I am usually caught unawares and overwhelmed.

Fighting off a chorus of narrators, rich with the urgency of untold tales is akin to skittering down an icy, rock-laden hill. You will not come out unscathed.

As writers in any genre will affirm, there are myriad ways to quilt the patchwork of a story together: spending months or years in a library while pouring over reference books, chronicling dream journals and cherry-picking threads of a narrative from within it, ferreting through new innovation and discovery via disrupters and thought leaders we interview. The list is endless.

But there are those that believe the stories are omnipresent, ubiquitous as the air we draw for each breath. And within our breath is the breath of others. Our task is to tap into the substance of it, the elements within it. We simply unveil that which keeps it muffled from others’ ears.

I had no inkling I would be a teller of tales one day, that I would find a snug fit of comfort stretching beyond the bounds of everyday humans and attempt to build worlds elsewhere. And for an unfathomable amount of time I stubbornly resisted seeing one of those unhuman worlds as it was repeatedly illuminated by others who believed they held access to it and wished to hand me a key.

Those experiences—the ones where I’ve been flooded with the emotions, or voices, or thrumming vibrations that did not belong to me specifically—have more often than not, not been welcome. I don’t know why they appear. Maybe those women are right. Maybe I am an empath. And welcomed or no, some unseen fingers may continue to twist open that wheeled handle despite my trying to plug the spigot. But lately … lately I have wondered why I would willfully eliminate a source of inspiration or guidance. Why would I dismiss a muse as it sits staring into my face, or whispering into my ear?

So for writing’s sake, for the enrichment of story, I will try on the hat—to see if it fits. Fits like a child’s head, warmly embraced within the arms and bosoms of women long passed, but refusing to be forgotten.

~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.

 

The Strive to be Ahead of Your Time

There is nothing like the joy of bringing something new into the world—something you worked incredibly hard to produce. A baby, a book, a barrel of whisky—they’re all boxes I’ve been privileged to tick off.

The thing that brings absolutely no joy, but is also heavily represented in the realm of the world of production, is the waiting that comes with it.

I am not a waiter.

I am a pacer, a tosser and turner, a nervous finger drummer, and a clock watcher.

I wear out carpets, pound and fluff pillows, and have more scraps of paper containing chaotic time-tables than the TSA currently, as they’re scrambling to fill “no-shows” in their employee work schedules.

Yeah, a bit like that.

And whether I’ve been hauling around a growing human, chattering on social media about an emerging tale, or taking far too many samples from the barrel “just to check its progress,” there is one thing certain about all of them:

They ain’t done till they’re done.

The element of time is something I cannot alter. And altering it is the one thing I wish were at the top of the “to do” list for a few more scientist, physicists, and local crackpot sorcerers.

I’m really not fussed who it turns out to be is the person we all bow down to after he or she has discovered how we can tinker with a timeline to suit our needs, but surely someone is going to wear that sash and crown eventually, right?

For years, whenever visiting universities for my daughter’s college campus test drives, I’d manage to find a way, specifically out of earshot of my “I’m going to help conquer space” child, to have a private conversation with one or two of the professors we’d met. I’d inquire about space/time travel, they then made a wide berth of me for the remainder of the tour.

It’s only now, maybe six or seven years later, that the chatter on that subject is finally one that fills the internet with graphs, pie charts, and spreadsheets made from multi-degreed scientists and not just science fiction authors.

It’s a teensy bit ironic that I’m having to wait for time travel.

Weirdly, just as strong as the desire to leap forward to arrive into the moment of accomplishment, there is another want that travels at its side, in its shadow: the yearning to leapfrog back.

It is impossible to do, of course, but anyone who’s ever endeavored to journey through a long haul production will likely agree that at some point within the undertaking—whether halfway through or at the finish line—you will feel a desperate urge to return. To tweak, to adjust, to unclutter. To reappraise, jigger, and amend.

But again, science is moving molasses slow with their participation in giving us this option. A bit like the speed of a snail with a limp.

And thus we are left with a few paltry alternatives. First—be circumspect with your work from the get go. Second—suck it up and deal with the regrets. Third—hide, Thelma and Louise it right off a cliff, change your name and buy a food truck/mammogram van to fill the need for cancer prevention through comfort food. Call it Two Boobs for a Biscuit. I don’t know. I’m riffing here.

Anyway, the point is that we can’t go back.

We can’t unmeet that man. We can’t revise that chapter. We can’t redistill that spirit.

The results are the results.

The good, the bad, and the ugly. And in some worst case scenarios—failure.

But … what people often misunderstand is that right up until the moment of the outcome is not a colossal waste of time or effort. The result may be called failing, but the rest is called learning.

I know that’s a small measure of comfort when you’re on the precipice of seeing your results unveiled. It brings little relief to those of us in charge of a gazillion dollar mission to Mars that sees catastrophic calamity in its “all done and dusted phase” to have the ability to say, “Well, at least we know what line of code doesn’t work.”

But it’s a necessary and unavoidable part of all progress. Period.

And the concept of ‘progress’ brings us back to the whole idea of time, movement, and achievement. The text missing in this chronology is the word reflection. When our efforts are spent and we’re left with an outcome, sure, we can choose the food truck, but we can also choose the food for thought.

Mindfully revisiting and diligently muddling through a postmortem are key for advancement, for if there is one thing I feel certain of, it’s that I simply do not want to be good enough to keep my feet on the track, I want to keep my feet moving forward.

So yes, the waiting for our books or babies or booze to be complete must be reframed as not stalling out. Reflection and projection might be very capable methods to utilize at these moments. We can learn from our past—and one day, if science will finally hear my beseeching petitions, we can learn from our future. All so that we will not just survive the present, but thrive within it.

~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.

 

How to Come to Your Senses and Leave Some Behind

If I had to choose one sense to give up, what would it be?

December.

Yeah, I know, none of that holds any meaning. Which is par for the course these days because I’m pretty sure I have never been this insanely busy and still comprehensible.

I start out each day finishing yesterday’s work—this again, is rather average and ordinary for many of us. But should it be?

Maybe—and only from the perspective that I’ve never been this incredibly productive—but I’m noticing a pile up of all my minor bucket list activities ignored, dismissed, and pitched off the itinerary entirely because really, who has time to teach quantum physics to their dog?

Except I wanted to.

I also wanted time to balance last month’s checkbook, take a glance at last week’s four thousand emails, and clear out last year’s leftovers from the fridge.

None of these activities are nearly as important as the whole science experiment believing that with enough patience I could turn the genus Canis into a genius Canis, but I feel the surplus of neglect in other areas is starting to rear its ugly head demanding attention.

I know, I know, I can hear the responses to my gripe pouring in right through my computer monitor:

Editor/publicist/agent—We told you this business is a tough one, and maybe not for a pansy such as yourself, but you went ahead with it anyway. Stop your whining and deliver us work.

Parents—None of this would be happening if you’d just finished your degree in opera performance with a minor in third-world country folk music. You could be onstage at the Met right now dressed as a villager from Tajikistan.

Pets—Like we give a damn. Feed us.

Pity party over. I find no solace from any quarter.

Except … from Father Time.

Because everything ends. And December, in particular, is a time for endings. The end of the fiscal cycle, the end of the endless holiday season, the end of twelve months on every calendar. It is the finish line of the long six month journey into darkness. And at the end of darkness comes light. Dawn follows the night, summer springs forth from winter, illumination shortly succeeds most every election.

It is a pattern we’re used to, but maybe not wholly aware of. It’s so far in the background it’s now just white noise.

Eckhart Tolle sends me (and millions of others) an occasional “present moment” reminder. It’s a pithy little sentence that in a gentle non-blaming, non-shaming kind of a way announces you’ve strayed from the path and lost the plot.

And it doesn’t matter what tender, sympathetic words the great philosopher uses as an alert, I always read, then slowly hunch over in my chair, and end up face down on my keyboard, forehead somehow locating the letters U, G, and H, tapping them out repeatedly as my head rolls across the characters.

The work will always be there.

The work doesn’t care about you.

Eckhart Tolle doesn’t necessarily care about you either, but he cares that you care about you.

And that is as bright a light bulb moment as we’re ever going to get from anyone.

Our beginnings, middles, and endings are largely structured by us—in an everyday sort of way, although if you want to start the argument that covers the whole “ultimately, we’re fooling ourselves if we think we have free will,” then the first part of my sentence is a moot point.

And I really hate moot points, unless they work in my favor.

The grand message here is that endings— for this essay in particular—are all around us, and personally, I love endings. I like all loose ends tied up and solved, I’m drawn to the last chapter of a book, the last scene of a movie, the last forkful of pie—okay, that one I might wish were never-ending, but it’s technically still a delicious ending.

But the thing about endings is what follows them.

Beginnings.

A little meta, I get it, but valid nonetheless.

And beginnings are fresh starts. Clean slates ready to be scribbled upon. A whole new pie ready to be forked over. Where some last breath is drawn, some other lungs are filling with air for the first time—and I know that’s a little morbid, but death is morbid.

Except when it isn’t. Like the death of a day. Sunsets are not morbid.

The death of a bad law. Slavery was a very big and bad idea to begin with. Not morbid.

The death of longhand penmanship. I’m pretty sure there are millions of school children across the land who are prepared to throw a parade in honor of that withering demise.

It’s perspective, really.

But you know what does not have an ending? Work.

Work never ends. You finish one pile, and another grows exponentially in that same space. One project overlaps another. Years of effort accumulate and you can no longer remember the pitch you made to start the mission.

To be fair, work is truly important, as it’s what makes many of us feel as if we’re making a difference. But we also crave feeling a difference.

In everyday life.

And the way to make that happen is to experience things that are mostly outside our ordinary sphere of interactions and practices. AKA, that bucket list.

It doesn’t have to be big or grand or cosmically so noteworthy it’s on the 6 o’clock news. It just has to be worthy enough to us.

Because it would be awful to come to your own ending only to realize that there were a million things you wished you could have at least started.

So, I say hop to it. Get on the ball and make some movement forward—toward the middle of something new and exciting and un-work related.

Because the clock is ticking and time is running short. Pretty soon, you won’t be able to smell December anymore.

~Shelley

Happy New Year to you all!

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.

How One Dog’s Bladder Changed my Life Strategy

“Hurry up!” I shouted off toward the edge of the woods where my hound was having a pre-pee before getting in the car to go someplace he was going to unload his truck-like gas tank-sized bladder. “Why do you always have to pee before we go? The trail is literally a few minutes away.”

Haggis trotted back to me and the rover before easily leaping inside of it.

Vigilance, he said, settling down in the back. Anyone nosing around will note this place is well patrolled—and often.

I rolled my eyes, but put the rover in drive and started the two of us toward the four mile stretch of woodland path we regularly navigate about four times a week. It is a county park, but to me, it is a sanctuary.

Which is utterly ridiculous when I reflect on where I live, because where I live is as “sanctuary-like” as one can get and not actually inhabit an island, or live in the hut of a polar expedition, or within the capsule of a manned mission to Mars.

Yet, I feel this deep desire to go somewhere that isn’t home to do some serious pondering on all jumbled thoughts at the end of a day.

When I first discovered the trail, I was insanely excited—nearly matching the frenzy of joy Haggis expressed, as he too was beginning to mutter about the same dreadful slog up and down our homestead hillside, and craved the scent of other animals that hadn’t already been categorized into one of three tiresome classifications.

Hey, he’d say with a glance back toward me as he stood over a patch of tall grass. Newly discovered fresh death, or Meh … newly discovered old death, and lastly, Wherever this guy is, he’s about to keel over because I can smell death in his pee.

My excitement was generated more from the “new scenery” situation and although new scents were part of it, none of them, I assure you, emitted the odor of anyone’s demise.

The “Deep Creek Thinking” trail is a moniker given to my hikes of how I wish those treks were, but cannot truly claim to be representative of the actual experiences themselves.

In truth, the trail has proven to be a doppelganger topographical map of my life, and during the last four years, as I have governed a new straightaway section of independence, this trail repeatedly surprises me with its dead-on accuracy depicting all that I face, embrace, and fall flat with.

Yes, literally, a face full of dirt is a regular occurrence.

Like the landscape of my life, the terrain I was now exploring was not the proverbial “walk in the park” I was hopeful it might be—all philosophical and Walden-like. Tree roots leapt from the ground to snag at my feet continuously, new rocks were pushed to the surface of the trail in new places every day, and branches reached out to hinder hikers like an impatient toddler grasping at the pant leg of a parent, determined for attention.

It was impossible to look anywhere but down. Well, it was possible, it just wasn’t safe. I figured out that little pearl after my third sprawl.

“Hey!” I’d shouted farther up the trail, spitting out a mouthful of decomposing leaves still too crunchy to be called dirt. “Little help here, please?”

I waited and counted to thirty and focused on assessing any concerning bone or muscle damage as I lay with my cheek pressed against the earth.

A thin, eight inch femur landed inches from my nose. Look what I found, Haggis had said.

That was enough to have me leap up from my pity party position. “Eww, is that human?”

Haggis raised his brows to signal a shrug. You’d know better than me. Hurry up. I’ve cornered a rabbit and treed a coon. Time is of the essence.

Our early days were filled with these exchanges, and now, four years later, whenever I’ve taken a flying sprawl, they’re more representative of:

How did you not see that root? It’s been here for … Haggis would glance up to access the tree, sixty—seventy years?

“It was covered with leaves,” I’d barked back at him.

I have a mental map of the landscape. This never happens, he’d said with a roll of his eyes.

“Bully for you.”

Don’t you have a mental map by now?

“Don’t you have some dead deer’s carcass to roll in somewhere?”

But he was right. After four years, this trail remains just as challenging, as there seems to be something new continuously thrown into the mix that precludes me from getting too comfortable. For instance:

I’ve started running every uphill stretch because … ugh, exercise.

One day of solid rain turns the entire path into an exhaustive, cumbersome mud pit that will repeatedly suction my shoes right off my feet.

Fat trees with boundless branches fall upon the trail and need scrambling over, under, or sometimes the very long way around.

A swarm of thirty or forty bikers will suddenly come crashing around a curve, an unbroken swarm of brightly colored, helmeted bees relocating from one hive to the next, wholly unaware of the odd hiker and hound they’ve sent flying into the thorny bushes off the path.

The above obstacles on my footpath are perfectly mirrored by the impediments on my life’s path. They’re not unlike my grasp on healthcare—which is a never ending uphill marathon, or general home maintenance costs—which are exhaustive, cumbersome money pits that will suction the coins right out of my bank account. They’re nearly identical to all the hurdles that fall in front of me—testing to see if I have the meddle to maneuver my way around them. And are as stunning as the fast-paced, pitches and curve balls that send me diving for cover—usually one that can be identified as a quilt.

But as a result of a long ago developed mulish and stroppy mindset, I force myself to see the trail as an invaluable experience. The path is not so much a trail as it is a training ground.

I suppose as my “mental map” grows, I will stop playing offense and pick up more of a protective “I’ve got this under control” type of attitude like Haggis enjoys, peeing on vulnerable areas that need to be defended. And like it or not, anyway you look at it, his method somehow always provides relief.

~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.

The Need for Meedful Media

The word social is not one I would use to describe myself with. Like, ever. As a writer, I am comfortably cloistered away, far from noise, or distractions, and, most disconcerting to many … people.

Yes, I prefer to be far away from people.

Primarily because people are noisy and distracting. Of course, it’s true, they are many, many other things as well. People are generous, and interesting, helpful and creative, some of them are good at balancing silverware on their faces and can be truly entertaining. And if they could be all those wonderful things without the not so wonderful things, I’d be hooked on people. I really would.

Now the word media is one I rely upon heavily for myriad reasons. My work must be transported through the “agencies of mass communication” in order to be utilized, to provide some worth for others, to be functional and purposeful.

My goal, as a writer, is to find words, string them together into a pattern that either entertains or informs, and move a reader of those words to either act upon or experience something.

It’s pretty simple.

Yet the action of putting the words social and media together, side by side, is anything but simple.

It’s an effortful act of interaction if one wishes to be significant. And that interaction requires the bonding of human beings—to relate, and to be relatable.

Without that engagement, every author’s efforts simply sit on a library shelf, or a bookshop discount table, or in a warehouse somewhere with a bucketful of other unloved, unknown books.

The clincher is, you cannot just shout at people to, “Look over here! Hey! I’m annoyingly loud!” without them giving you an eye roll and going back to grouting their tile with a lot more enthusiasm.

I have worked with people who are slick and savvy at social media. They have studied the art probably with more intense effort than a teenaged boy, who measures and charts the growth of his biceps after each twenty reps of push-ups.

And if you’ve ever been a mother to a teenaged boy, or been a teenaged boy yourself, you may recall that I am not kidding about the “intense effort” applied.

But these clever engineers of awareness campaigns are usually paid professionals. At times, it’s best to employ them. They can be expensive, and regrettably … a little impersonal.

So here is where the paradox lies for many.

One must understand just how important it is to truly connect with someone you’re trying to get the attention of. And oftentimes, anyone marketing a product or idea goes about grasping that attention with the success of a five-year-old relentlessly tugging on the pant leg of their mother while she’s soaking up juicy neighborhood gossip from her best friend down the street.

You will be ignored.

We, as consumers, learn to turn a blind eye against the overwhelming influx of info wash that can at times feel like a fire hose of detritus. We have to. To keep our minds and moods safely intact.

Unless … and this is a big, important word … unless we get a whiff of something that brings value to our lives. Then we pay attention. Then we find some focus. Then we see the worth. Then we spread the word.

Long ago, years ago, when I first started publishing—whether a blog post online, a book in solid form, an essay, a picture, a tweet, a vid—it didn’t matter so much on the format—what I realized quickly was that if I wished to stand out within the noisy, info-saturated platform I worked within, I would have to show up with two things: something fresh, and something urgent.

Fresh, in that you can take old ideas and sharply spank them into something vibrant and sparkly—to appeal to a new set of eyes and ears, and reinvigorate some older ones.

Urgent, in that the content one produces must fill the recipient with a need to share. This is the smartest way to spread one’s work: word of mouth. Same goes for any industry.

If what you offer is something old—something people already possess—they’ll vote you straight off The Gong Show. You’re an amateur with dubious talent.

Connecting to people on both levels—both in content and campaign—requires consistent attention to crafting one’s skill, but also developing sincerity. And you can’t fake that. It’s been tried. It’s transparent. And people feel like taking a hot shower with a bucket of bleach and a wire brush after they’ve been exposed to it.

The timeless and repeated counsel I’ve been given can be summed up thusly: The years, the schooling, and effort you put into your craft should first and foremost be evident. What you write (or make) should resonate. It should amplify the meaningful not the meaningless. If you find it cannot captivate an audience, either go back to the drawing board, or find other employment where you can succeed. Don’t reconcile with offering up poor output. We need noteworthy voices that refuse to settle with generating mind-numbing content.

Then, when that content has been spat upon and polished to an absolute sheen, find one person who believes in it. Then find another. Find two. Be patient. Find ten. Be diligent. Be gracious. Reciprocate. Give back. Be social.

Yes, be social.

Not in the gossipy, drink in hand, playlist in the background kind—the kind I struggle with endlessly. Rather the kind where you contribute to society. To culture. To humanity. To the betterment of someone, somewhere else.

If you’re reading this post, then you’re part of the overwhelming majority of people who are somehow touched and involved in social media. You don’t have to be selling a widget to find this essay applicable—because, widget or not, you are selling something: yourself.

Spread your ideas, pass on your work, share your vision. Just make sure it is worthy and worthwhile to pay attention to.

~Shelley

PS–(In case you missed it!) 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.

September; the Gathering and Gleaning

There is something about September.

I wake to the sound of rain splattering on the copper rooftop, slapdash and sporadic, its disordered pattern teasing and anticipatory.

The dove gray skies are a soft, woolen blanket the earth has loosely wrapped about her shoulders. She makes a tucking in gesture, paying no mind to the cold and endless black that surrounds her. Those slate-colored ceilings soften her edges and mollify the barbed tips of clacking seconds as they tick, tick, tick in the foggy background. They slowly morph into a muffled heartbeat. Is it mine, or hers?

My first whiff of wood smoke … I am transformed. A tendril that taps at a memory drawer, unopened for months and stiff with disuse. But once loosened, it spills, like cream over ripe berries, and I do little to halt the movement.

There is a tinge to the trees, too early to label as anything more than a lowering of the bright, green flame of searing summer life. The sun has merely stepped back a pace to eye her work in progress and rests on the handle of her proverbial rake. And like all avid gardeners, she finds that there are other projects that catch her eye as they rotate into her field of vision. And with that momentary lapse of intense attention, the products of her efforts soon yellow and wither.

No matter, she shrugs. Work will resume next circle round.

It’s now that I brood about in the pantry. I count the beans—for big potted stews which will fill chipped crockery and rumbling bellies. I measure the tea—for ample kettle-fulls that let slip soft wisps of steam carrying somnolent notes of ginger, cinnamon, and chicory. I eye the whisky—for the pure pleasure of the oncoming flush of heat. And then I eye the clock to determine how long I must wait for that sweet fever. It’s usually too long. And I re-busy myself with bean counting.

Each year, I am caught unawares when changing the calendar from the eighth to the ninth month. August is so spectacularly hot, so devoid of working people, so filled with the phrase, “We are off for three weeks.”

September is for ‘back to business,’ ‘back to school,’ or “Back to you, Bob, and that’s a look at our weather.”

It’s a transitional month, a swinging door from a sizzling, smoke-belching patio to a wood-paneled parlor, with hushed library voices where one’s mental bandwidth slowly revs into gear. It is a time for thinking, musing, simmering, and inventing—spoon-feeding one’s brain the rich broth where the flavors of creativity will meld and percolate, sluggishly dragging salient thoughts to the surface.

There is an observable change in the laundry basket, which once barely reined in an endless mess of cut-off jean shorts and paper-thin tank tops. It now houses fuzzy socks and zippered hoodies, displaying the return of layers—an unending circle of cloth discarded then desired—warm days and cool nights.

The printer churns a constant stream of schedules, documents, forms, and calendars, convulsing with updated information like a Morse code machine relaying movement of troops and coordinated attacks. Paperwork strewn across all available flat surfaces, requires signatures, filing, and the hopefully intended read-through.

And it is the time for reaping, for gathering the last, for the lifting of leaves, the peeking to see if one final fruit has found the finish line.

But there is also time for reflection and observance among the business of harvest. The long days of field work and preservation may still take place in the sweat of the last shafts of summer sun, but once she has set, there is a thinning of the air. The scent of woodsy autumn appears on a draught that slowly pushes summer’s plump stars off stage in preparation for the next act: a crisp set of patterns that will pierce the inky black skies.

Of course, intermission casts the bright light of the Harvest moon, and she will illuminate your path from field to home and back again. September bathes in that downy yellow glow, almost as if, aware of her age, she asks to be seen through a soft focus lens.

Be busy, be effortful, be thoughtful.

Be here now, in the last of September. Before she says goodbye.

~Shelley

PS–(In case you missed it last month!) 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.

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

I used to cling to a mantra that encapsulated everything I thought and felt, and was conveniently and succinctly put into three words:

Change equals death.

I know. It sounds … dead on perfect, right? Like I nailed life for nearly all of us, yes?

Except, every time I uttered this phrase and expected to get a high-five from the person listening, I was instead greeted with the fusion of eyebrows. It was like I’d asked each one of them, “Can you make any part of your face look like a caterpillar?”

I don’t say the phrase out loud anymore.

It’s not that I don’t like entomology, but rather, I’m trying much harder these days to embrace change.

Or death.

It could be both.

I’m not sure.

I have been incredibly lucky to have been given a plethora of experiences on this particular go round—this multi-decade drawing in of sustainable breath. Experiences that have allowed me to steep in, or wade in, or dip a toe into the pool of at least three things I have been passionate about thus far:

Music—Writing—Whisky.

(Yeah, yeah, the whole childbearing thing has been grand as well in case the two of you are reading this.)

Moving from one to another—or even doing two simultaneously—has proven to leave me with heart palpitations that prove I can be a pretty fearful person. Or that I’m housing a really large tapeworm.

But it can be hard to give oneself permission to explore and be curious.

Being a grownup requires discipline.

And a huge sense of humor when catching a reflection of yourself when stepping out the shower.

But mostly it requires the understanding of multisyllabic words like: Timeliness. Efficiency. Quality. Obstructionism. And all these things—when done in concert and with proficiency—can produce the thing most folks are seeking:

Payoff.

Now, defining what a payoff means to any one individual may fall on a wide spectrum of meaning and significance.

In the past I have assigned it to mean something that will end up paying the electricity bill.

But sometimes we need to feed meters in other areas. It’s so easy to dismiss the importance of learning something new because effortful thinking can be … well, effortful. And who truly likes to have sweat leaking out their ears? But paying the brain bill is crucial. And especially worthwhile after the reward of newfound knowledge and skill bathes you in a golden glow of self-congratulations.

It just feels damn good to get smarter.

It’s happened to me at least twice.

Once when I figured out that there was a filter in my vacuum cleaner. And the second time when I figured out that it was a waste of time to vacuum.

Other things that have paid off for me during the last few months?

Naps, fresh air, walks.

Yes, I’ve found the answer to life is to live like my dog.

A dog that can drive, and read, and open a bottle of wine—true—an unusual breed, but every day that puddle of sun on the wooden floor is increasingly comfortable, and I’ve gotten used to peeing outside at the edge of the woods.

I’m only kidding.

I never go as far as the edge of the woods.

There are the other myriad bits of horse sense that every day grow to sound more reasonable—I wouldn’t call them aha moments but rather duh moments of realization.

Anger is a waste of time.

Righteousness is a waste of breath.

Tantrums look awful from a 71 year old civil servant.

I think you all know where I’m going with this one. Nearly all of us survived a year where it felt like our country was thrown into a giant Yahtzee cup, shaken until our teeth began to rattle and then tossed out onto some new horrific cardboard landscape in the 2017 version of Life.

And I mean nearly because thankfully Hasbro has decided that this year’s version would be updated with a space that says, “If you have shamelessly behaved in any lewd and licentious way, the rest of the players are free to vote you straight off the island.” So yes, the dominoes are falling in a sweetly satisfying design of their own making.

Enough with the game metaphors.

My point is, we’re surviving.

But is surviving enough?

Sometimes it feels enduring is all one can do when surrounded by an unhinged political circus that has the annoyance factor and efficacy of a fruit fly convention. (Dear God, may it have the lifespan of one as well.)

Maybe we all just need to remember that if we put out one overly-ripe and near to rotting piece of fruit all those vexatious pests will make a beeline straight for the cesspool (or cesshouse or cesshole) and feast themselves to death while the rest of us get on with work in a gadfly free zone.

And maybe that work means making some changes so that we can ALL continue to keep the American dream alive—the one where we’re encouraged to see just how much of a difference we can make on this planet by discovering our talents and skills. A chance to see just how far we can push the limits on the human experience.

So maybe change doesn’t equal death always. Maybe, I will have to consider that if I stubbornly set my talons deep into the earth where I now stand, I will deserve getting flattened by the giant 64 wheeler flying down the highway and coming straight at me.

Sometimes it only takes a few steps to the left or right, just enough to get out of the way of your own demise.

Just follow the chicken.

What I’ve come to understand this last year is that change is actually a choice. And choice is a freedom. And none of us should ignorantly pass up the opportunity to exercise our freedom. In a world where more and more of us are being stripped of our liberties by those who are in power, it becomes easier to see that the phrase Change equals death should be altered to Change equals fear.

This makes a lot more sense when trying to parse what’s happening around our globe.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

We have a choice. So let’s make a change while we still can.

~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.

Bones: Taking Stock of Life

It’s the end of the year. Time to take stock. And time to make stock, as my freezer is chock a block full of the bones of birds who’ve been spatchcocked and roasted to perfection, and of deer who have unfortunately wandered to close to a tree stand.

I’m grateful. Amazed. And exhausted.

Grateful in that twelve months have passed and not one of them has slipped by unnoticed as it spreads itself out on a buffet table full of things that taste sweet or bitter or rancid or divine. I believe in a well-balanced life just as much as a diversified diet. Nothing can quite put one’s perspective into sharp focus as much as having the two ends of life’s emotional spectrum—joy and sorrow—battle each other daily like the climax of a Marvel superhero film.

I’d never wish for a life that was as supine as a flatlining monitor, but this year, both my brain waves and heartbeat have tested the vertical space allotted them. I wouldn’t mind tweaking the master switch just a tad so that the next 365 days might not have quite so much ear-splitting, heart-wrenching feedback.

Amazed because one can go through a year of peaks and valleys (or as I like to refer to it in whisky terminology—glens and bens) and still come through the other side not only thankful for another day to draw breath, but indebted to life with a capital L for an additional chapter in the rulebook of survival and longevity.

Shock therapy—not in the literal sense, but rather a sharp realization after the fact—can be crisply defined and utilized by simply asking the question: So how much did this really matter?

My answers have spanned the gamut of So much more than you thought it would to Meh, it’s only money.

The point is, without truly delving into that question, you carry a lot of weight around that serves no purpose other than to stress your aching joints and increase the profits of pharmaceutical companies. I’m learning that instead of my usual daily mantra of Never, never, never give up, I might be better served by trying a few How quickly can I kick this one to the curb?

Of course, millions of women around the world are now having to change their calming daily incantations to Wake up, kick sexual harassment’s ass, repeat.

And lastly, exhausted from all of the above. But let me be clear; it is not burnout.

Life is full of failure, and I get that. I get to taste from that big soup spoon frequently and sometimes unceasingly—especially since I’ve taken on Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to do something every day that scares me.

In fact, that prescription has forced me into the prickly awareness that I’m growing comfortable with being uncomfortable.

And discomfort can be taxing. It can plaster you to a prostrate position by the end of the day–sometimes from the work that requires effortful patience and tenacity but sometimes like the flick of a switch with the speed and tonnage of a freight train.

Samey samey. You’re either deflated or razed. But in the wee small hours of the morning you’re pretty much a puddle.

I’m a very omni-directional sort of person. When coming to the end of the year, I like to look back. I like to see where I’ve been, how I’ve changed, and how many bodies are littering the ground behind me.

I like to look forward. To see how far I’ve yet to go, how much grit I’ll have to muster up, and whether the tread on my shoes are up to the task in front of them.

And I like to look outward. Outward because—and this is a little meta so hear me through—it helps me see inward. I think you can’t really answer that question above—So how much did this really matter?—unless you can pull back the lens and get a bird’s eye view. 30,000 feet gives you broad objectivity. From this frame of reference, the roots of the Tree of Life you tripped on grow blurry with the landscape.

What sticks out are the things you built.

The work you thought important. The relationships you believed were relevant. The foundation you’ve chosen to stand upon.

Your attitude of interpretation.

I hate to be preachy. It makes me my own teeth itch. But the end of the year always finds me channeling my inner Glinda the Good Witch with her saccharine life coaching. Obviously, she’s been dying to come out periodically but just like the Elf on the Shelf, she’s usually boxed up until the month of December when my whole house becomes the set for a Hallmark Christmas romance movie.

Plus, with so many family feasts and holiday gatherings, liquor is in abundance. And with the first sip of spirit comes the unleashing of all those pent up, stuffed down wistful musings I try to keep a lid on because I actually like my teeth and don’t want anyone to remove them when their fist accidentally bumps into my face because they just can’t stomach me anymore.

So I go back to making stock. Bone broth is simply life in liquid form. It’s nourishing. It’s healing. It’s soul sustaining.

Make enough of it to buoy you through the next twelve months. There’s magic in that elixir. It is full of life from the past … and for your future.

Happy New Year everyone,

~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.

 

 

Oh Come All Ye Frugal

Sup, Peakers! The prodigal daughter (me) has returned from Beantown for a brief, tryptophan-filled respite from rocket science and dropped r’s. And I’m here today to allow my mother a break from entertaining you all. So I’m going to tell you a story. A story about what my grandmother, my mother and I all do on Black Friday. But it’s an ancient tradition, shrouded in secrecy, so you can’t tell anyone.

We maintain that we go shopping, just like the rest of America, elbowing people in the ribs in the name of Christmas. But we really don’t. None of us really enjoy shopping for an extended period of time, as demonstrated by the fact that at least two of us can be found on December 23rd, frantically scanning the internet for something to pass as a gift. (Bic pens! Everyone needs pens! Thoughtful and handy.) Instead, the day revolves around eating a truckfull of food (to cleanse ourselves of the truckfull of Thanksgiving food), and driving around bumping Michael Buble at questionable volumes. Below is the day’s itinerary:

8:30 am: Meet Mom in the kitchen, ready to go. Caffeinate heavily. Inquire as to Gma’s whereabouts.

9:00 am: Decide a cat nap on the couch is a better use of time than waiting for Gma in the kitchen.

9:02 am: Rudely awoken by blaring car horn as Mom and Gma await in car.

9:03 am: Receive scolding for “consistently being the last one out of the house.”

9:30 am: Arrive at the first stop of the day: a hole-in-the-wall Victorian era farmhouse that converts itself into a quaint antique shop for the holidays. At this time of year and day, the home is frequented by little old Tara-esque ladies who sit around the fire and talk shop about wreath-making. Gma meanders through the maze of lights, furniture and art, repeatedly asking me if I can “find this any cheaper on the Google?” My mother and I play a little game called Who Can Steal the Most Gingerbread wherein we see who can steal the most gingerbread baked by the homeowners and provided to the customers.

12:00 pm: Arrive at Starbucks for further caffeination. I order like a pro/sleep-deprived, sugar-starved college student. But for Mom, this stop is a much bigger deal, as she allows herself a single allotment of Starbucks sugary goodness per year. Therefore, there’s a lot riding on whether or not she springs for the eggnog latte or the crème brulee hot chocolate. So much so that one year, she had me try all of the winter lineup – and take tasting notes for her – before coming home for Thanksgiving. I am not joking.

12:30 pm: Pit stop for burgers and fries. Wait in line for a table for 30+ minutes while bickering about the need to go to the same, somewhat-stomachable place every year, just for the sake of tradition, despite the insane holiday crowds. Get seated, address hanger, rinse and repeat.

2:00 pm: The “shopping” begins. This misappropriation of the term basically consists of popping into various kitchenware and home retail stores to see if they have one ridiculously particular item. This year, the objective was a box of Mint Chocolate Meltaways, apparently sold by Crate&Barrel in 2003 and only purchased by my family. Another go to stop is a pop-up calendar store where Mom and Gma buy 2018 calendars for literally every single person they might encounter over the holidays, still adorably unaware that there are now apps for that. I am Not Allowed to enter this store with them (so that I don’t see my own calendar), and as a result, normally nap on a bench outside until awoken by someone dropping change in my lap.

6:00 pm: Cold, hungry, and overladen with purchases that were funny in the moment, we wander up and down the mall, burning time staring at twinkling window decorations and watching the children’s train ride up and down the mall until a dinner reservation. Gma moves slowly, and Mom and I keep pace. The train conductor seems to have it in for us, as she keeps driving up directly behind us and laying on the whistle. It’s only funny the first few times.

7:00 pm: Dinner at an established Italian joint (the day’s sole beacon of classiness) finally rolls around. We recharge with an embarrassing amount of pasta and resuscitate the kleptomania by playing a little game called Who Can Steal the Most Restaurant Mints. (I have a great strategy – repeated trips to the bathroom, past the mint bucket.)

9:00 pm – Pile up the car with our odd haul of stolen gingerbread and mints, creepy antique dolls, kitchen trinkets, painfully topical calendars, and leftover pasta. Crank up the Buble and jingle all the way home.

~Chloe

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.

 

Words Fail Me

I come from a family full of stage folk.

I’m pretty sure that somewhere on my birth certificate it states that I wasn’t born in a hospital but rather on the jutting apron of a stage.

I was raised flossing my teeth on the grimy ropes of the house curtains. I learned to crawl up on some poorly constructed way over-budget theater catwalk. And I probably believed for years that whomever was hired as the followspot operator for the sun should be readily fired, as he was doing an abominable job whenever I was outside and in need of illumination.

There was the stage, and then there was … well, I heard there was other stuff, but I wasn’t sure what it all was or looked like.

Whether drawing a bow across an instrument shaped like a violin but surely in truth a tortured cat, skipping across eighty-eight keys with the hope and a prayer that some of them will be the right ones, and a few in the right order, or clutching a microphone and praying it can cover the intense alarm on my face as I gaze out over a crowd of hundreds, it didn’t matter that I left my lunch in a bucket backstage before stepping into that lonely pool of light. What mattered was that minutes later I realized that I’d left my heart out on that dais and that I was going to have to go back there to get it.

Because I wanted to do it all over again.

I’m not sure if the real thrill came from the adrenaline rush of standing in front of showgoers and hearing them applaud at the end of the number or the stress release of realizing that I made it through to the end, had not fainted in the middle of my performance, and no one had to rush up on stage and drag my limp body off into the wings.

It was always, always a possibility.

And the thing that created the most mammoth amount of nerve jangling? Going blank.

I’m going to guess that most folks have had this happen to them at least once in their lives. You forget someone’s name, all the facts you’d just crammed into your head the night before for the big test have suddenly vanished, maybe you arrive in a room and think, I’ve walked down into this cobwebbed, basement utility room for … what again?

And the consequences for these blunders can range from annoying to GPA torpedoing.

My vocation blunders were usually on the end of the spectrum marked “cringe-worthy.” That just went with the territory.

But thankfully, there were a boatload of tricks I’d learned over the years, ready to be shelled out at a moment’s notice, if my brain suddenly blew a fuse and all went dark.

Lose the thread in the middle of your fiddle solo? Just “accidentally” knock a peg and lose a string. Then give a nod to one of the guys in the band. They then take over while you just start clapping along and wait for a stage hand to slide you your spare Stradivarius.

Blow the choreography? Quick do the splits. Audiences love the splits. It’s both riveting and unsettling. And throw in some Travolta disco fever hand gestures. Pretty soon one of the other dancers is going to improvisationally pick you up and help pirouette you off the stage and out of the fray.

Forget the lyrics to your song? Point the mic to the audience and scream, “Sing along! Y’all know the words!”

Or step on the microphone’s cord and unplug it—or if it’s cordless, switch it off, and bang it on your hand like the battery’s gone dead. Send up looks of frustration to the sound booth at the back of the theater and shrug apologetically at the crowd.

There’s always something one can do to hide a misstep or mistake, and the more you do it, the more adroitly you grow at gracefully sliding around it.

But … what if the mistake is not you but your audience?

Yeah, sure, that’s a bit meta. But let me explain.

These days I no longer shuffle or sing or fiddle my way across a platform, I simply speak atop of it. I visit schools and libraries as an author determined to inspire middle school and high school kids to leap off the great precipice of possibility, wade through the wretched whirlpool of failure, and trudge down the precarious path of the Hero’s Journey just like their favorite characters.

I also encourage them to erect statues of all their school librarians.

But occasionally you get thrown a curveball you’ve never been thrown before—like arriving to give a talk to a bunch of people who were half the people you thought they’d be—not as in size, rather stature. As in, some of them were still busy forming eyelids and fingernails. One or two of them were definitely going to struggle with my talk mostly because talking was an incredibly fresh activity for them.

How could I deliver a message which was tailored to kids who were already prepping for their SATs when the true audience was still working on their ABCs?

I panicked. And it wasn’t pretty.

There was no mic to sabotage, no instrument to abjectly point to with regret—there wasn’t even a back door. And a back door is crucial if your excuse for not showing up when your name is called is that you heard cries for help out in the alley and rushed to aid the distressed and then rode along in the ambulance to make sure the paramedic had enough blood on hand because you happen to be O negative and the universal blood type.

I stood in front of these tiny preschool and elementary kids as they whirled in circles on their swivel chairs. Extra added bonus? The swivel chairs also had wheels.

My brain raced and squealed in a high-pitched hysteria: How do I rework and reword my ten minute tale of resilience about strong-willed and single-minded NASA scientists who had worked for fifteen years on one Mars rover project only to see a fat chunk of their life’s work come to a hugely crushing end because of some unforeseeable and miniscule error in math calculations?

So … there are these people who built a thing that went up—up to where the stars are, right? And this one thing—which took them a bazillion years to build—just went … boom? Right? Then these people gasped, hit the floor with their knees, ate a lot of ice cream, and then got up and said, “Let’s give her another go, Stanley!” Does that make sense? Cuz that’s what I’m telling you to do too.

Imagine this scenario—just with different subjects—on repeat somewhere about four or five times. Yeah, that was my talk.

I really thought I’d blown it. It was the wrong talk, to the wrong audience, with the right stuff, but the wrong time.

I made a tiny bow of my head and mumbled the end to a smattering of applause from the befuddled librarian and a few parents.

As I was packing up my things to slink out to my car, thinking I could wallow quietly in a pool of my lead balloon bomb, a mother and her small daughter came up to me. “We’d like to buy your book.”

I pulled back. “Really?”

“Yup,” the girl replied. “I’m going to read it … once I learn to read.”

I looked at the mother. “The main character is twice her age.”

“Not for long,” the little girl said.

I thought about my talk’s message of dealing with downfalls. You get in over your head, you make a mistake, you face failure in the eye. It happens. So get up, get going, start again. You go from can’t to can, couldn’t but want to, didn’t but will.

Life is not a stage, life is a series of stages.

This little girl got it. Shined a spotlight on it too. I started applauding, but that came across as a little weird.

So I just did the splits.

~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.

 

 

Wait a Second–or a Lifetime by Accident

It has been said that if you step back and actually look, you’ll discover that pets and their owners are remarkably similar.

Image result for people who look like their pets

Sometimes they share the same personality. Combative and pugnacious people rarely pick out a limp puddle of fur to come home to. And folks who flinch at the militant sound of wind chimes seldom pair themselves with a set of finely edged fangs and three lungs to power some vocal chords.

Often there are similarities to personal appearance. I’ve seen bucketloads of folks who could easily be mistaken for a poodle or a basset hound, but that’s usually because my supermarket is right next door to a bargain basement hair salon and a dilapidated liquor store that has long park benches in front of it.

I might add that many of us are beginning to take on the features of an overwhelmed puckered up pug from too many months of listening to the academics of our communities attempt to interpret the world of Twitter.

Yeah, if a Chinese Shar-Pei was capable of doing a killer eye roll, we’d be an identical match.

But recently, I’ve noticed that my own fetching Fido and I have yet another similarity: we are waiters.

I’m not suggesting that we both have a shift at the local greasy spoon bussing tables, but rather that our lives have been arranged around events yet to come.

I’m pretty sure you know where I’m going with this one, as no matter how old you are—if you are still inhaling breathable gases from a westward zephyr, you will likely have uttered something like this:

When I turn eight, I finally get to jump off the diving board.

Once I’m in college, I’ll open an IRA.

After I retire, I’m going to build an art studio.

I’ve got three years left in the slammer and then (or … you know … something similar).

Now although my trusty rusty trail tracker may not have as extensive a list of to-dos put on pause (paws?) as his human counterparts, there are undoubtedly enough things in his life that are worthy of comparison.

He’s always waiting for food. Not being blessed with opposable thumbs, he is dependent upon the memory of others to know that when the sun makes a certain shadow on the floor, kibble must appear in a bowl. I caught him once staring longingly at a possum sniffing around on the back porch—not because around here we consider possum to be the other other white meat, but because the creature had finely crafted digits that—if directed to do so—could pop the beer tab off a can of hash in under a minute.

The hairy hound is also forever waiting for someone to open the door. Any door. I think, during the last few years, that I’ve come to understand that his desire is not simply to go out, or come in, as he is fully aware of the fact that he has a dog door and uses it successfully and repeatedly. No … he’s too intelligent to have “forgotten” that he has free access. And he’s not making me get up out of my chair dozens of times a day to let him in or out just to be spiteful—or make sure I’m getting enough exercise.

I rather believe it’s due to his level of sensitivity. His inner Zen master bubbling up to the surface. I’m nearly convinced that, to him, a door is a blockage of Feng shui. Certainly this would explain the poster of Chinese Metaphysics on the back wall above his bed.

It’s probably just a phase.

But the thing that baffles me most about this perplexing pooch is the daily routine he puts himself through where he is waiting for his close of day constitutional. The long walk to the post.

We both go. Together.

Except the weird thing is, is that he doesn’t have to wait.

He can go. On his own. At any time.

There are no fences keeping him bound. No lead that needs to be strapped to his collar. No commands that have been drilled into him that indicate permission given to leave the premises.

Nothing.

And yet, every day, he waits.

He could take this walk a dozen times a day if his paw pads could withstand the demand. But instead, he paces the floor, nudges my elbow, and slyly glances at the clock upon the wall—which he has repeatedly requested be replaced with a sun dial as he argues them to be more accurate.

I look at him each day and ask the question, “What are you waiting for?”

And like each one of us—with all of the things we’ve hesitated to do, suspended until later, or sidelined until our plate has cleared—he’s got no answer.

Yes, part of that is because we’ve not spent as much time on speech as we have hands on the clock or really reaching into the corners with the vacuum to get a good clean—and he is making great progress in those departments. But mostly, it’s because there really is no good answer.

I’ve got a million things I wish to do, want to do, and long to do, but the waiting game is a familiar routine whose grooved path is so deep it’s nearly impossible to scale out of. The waiting game even has a waiting room filled with distractions that float across my field of vision with false urgency. It’s a cozy place that serves an endless hot cup of tea, countless food porn pics, and the head-spinning flush of dopamine text alerts.

There are so many things hijacking life that life is getting in the way of living.

That walk is the most important thing to my mollycoddled mongrelized mutt. He waits and waits and waits and never gives himself permission to make it happen of his own accord.

It’s frustrating that I can’t seem to communicate that message to him yet. Maybe he needs to watch the Wizard of Oz just one more time

Image result for good witch of the north

—to see Glinda burble up the phrase You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas—er the mailbox.

Or maybe … because we’re so very much alike, he simply needs to see me mirror that behavior.

Maybe … he’s really just waiting on me.

~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.

 

Rabbit Holes: Some Call it Daydreaming, Writers Call it Work

Aristotle argued that all objects craved their “natural place,”—the geocentric center of the universe. That would be Earth. Okay, well at the time Aristotle was sucking in air Earth was considered the be all end all.

And maybe yes, there exist a few folks who still believe this and are lagging a bit behind with their history homework, not having quite caught up to where the rest of us live—aka more than two thousand years in the future. And within the world of fairly trustworthy science.

Although, to be fair, the science we all believed one hundred—or even one thousand years ago was believed to be trustworthy too.

Until it wasn’t.

Regardless, it was explained to me that ‘Aristotle believed that a dropped rock fell to the earth because rocks belonged on earth and wanted to be there.’

This is from a book currently resting on my bedside table: But What If We’re Wrong? By Chuck Klosterman.

Often, I liken myself to Aristotle’s rock. I belong at my desk, in front of my screen, with my hands hovering over my keyboard, and my eyes effortfully scanning words across a page.

Except thankfully, there are other forces of nature at play (read friends and family) that repeatedly fight Aristotle’s idea of gravity where I am concerned, shoving me out into the world where people and ideas are in mix and at play.

I am not at all a fan of going places where you have to make eye contact with others, or exchange words that add up to more than those in a haiku, or share the same oxygen molecules. This behavior comes about just before birth when whichever deity is creating your personality profile decides you’ll be a professional recluse and switches on the genetic codes for artless, awkward, blundering bore.

But ultimately these opportunities are the catalyst that make the question WHAT IF burble up from the basement of my brain. And that is not an altogether unpleasant feeling.

It starts like indigestion but then belches out with measurable relief.

Yes, regularly I collect data to support the theory that I should simply stay home and away from crowds (read anyplace another person is already occupying), but more often than not, I am wide-eyed with surprise to discover the hidden gems of history, or art, or that people have moved on from wearing elastic waist pants and eyeglass ropes.

Except no. Turtlenecks are here to stay, dammit. (And the earth is the center of the universe … Yeah, yeah, I hear you.)

The WHAT IF question is one I have pinned up on my computer screen. It is the foundation for creative thinking. And creative thinking is the foundation for creative writing. And creative writing is the foundation for paying my bills—as people will not buy books that scream, “I’m exactly like that story you just read yesterday only my characters are Latvian!”

Yeah, not gonna fly.

But how many of us practice asking WHAT IF (insert head scratching query here) in real life? Chuck Klosterman did because he had to write a book where he asked a pile of crackerjack thinkers questions about their level of confidence on subjects like physics, and time, and whether AOL would ever come back into fashion.

And I do it because the thought of copying someone else’s ideas and simply giving them a limp and an accent is about as creatively appealing to my brain as separating all of the lint from my dryer into individual color piles.

Also because I enjoy electricity and food. Again … near carbon copies of other people’s tales do not equate to financial security. And more often than not a lawsuit.

But in real life? I’m not terribly sure I engage in this examination. Not nearly often enough anyway.

And maybe not at all ever—but that would be wholly embarrassing to admit on a public platform so let’s all pretend I didn’t, okey dokey?

This is not some sort of mid-life crisis desperate attempt to fill ever widening, fathomless gaps in my life, but rather just an everyday exercise of whim and whimsy. And okay, maybe a touch of the age thing, but hush—just follow me here.

It’s a fairly effortless task in my working realm, as the sky is the limit ergo, nothing is absurd. I can confidently lean back in my chair and ponder the impossible:

WHAT IF my main character quit his job, won the lottery, or discovered he had cancer?

WHAT IF my guy slowly starts to disappear, or can now communicate with polar bears, or wakes up with knees that can bend fully backward?

WHAT IF he can think himself anywhere, or program the earth to stop spinning, or activate himself to become any element in the periodic table?

WHAT IF every fictional character ever written about comes alive? WHAT IF we discover that our laws of physics only work this way on earth because we’re stuck on some default setting of one on a scale of ten and the answer has been printed on the last page of every IKEA instruction booklet?

Yeah … rabbit holes.

But I rarely spend time going into that warren when I and my life are the subjects for consideration. And it might be fun—if not a little necessary at times.

We’re all full of certitudes in life. We’re sure our political view is wide enough, confident we think with deep consideration, positive we’re slightly above average—at least in comparison to the other yahoos we find ourselves surrounded by.

But what if we’re wrong?

What if I’m not really meant to be Aristotle’s rock?

What if I’m meant to be Aristotle?

If we’re all going to be proven wrong one hundred or one thousand years from now, where’s the risk, right?

Think the absurd. Be the absurd. Do the absurd. Accomplish the unthinkable.

Physician, heal thyself? How about writer, imagine thyself.

~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.

NASA: Definitely not a Waste of Space

“So how ‘bout that whole folding of the fabric of time thing?” I asked when it was finally my turn in the long line of people forming a queue.

“I beg your pardon?” an elderly NASA engineer asked, his two furry white eyebrows fully sewing together in the middle of his face.

“Time travel,” I clarified. “You don’t have to keep the research bits a secret from me. I’ve got a badge and everything. I’m allowed to be here.”

“MOTHER!”

I felt a sharp yank at my elbow and was spun out of the line and pushed toward the conference hall’s exit doors.

I heard the engineer ask the assistant at his side to find new batteries for his hearing aid as he thought they were going a bit dodgy.

I detached the sharp claw around my arm and glanced over at my daughter’s face. It was a little more red than I thought healthy—like the color a kid’s face turns when they’ve been holding their breath after you tell them they’re absolutely going to eat every last bit of liver on their dinner plate thank you very much.

And then they explode.

Or faint.

Chloe could have gone either way.

“I thought I told you I was going to vet each one of your questions to panelists,” she said, crisply.

“Yes. You did say that. But you were busy talking to someone who was showing you how to cure cancer in space—or something like that—and I thought that info was too valuable to interrupt.”

She gave me her best oh my god I can’t believe we’re from the same genetic material face and walked down the corridor toward a display of spacecraft materials—textiles that could absorb great gobs of angry heat.

I’d need to make it up to her. I was here—at NASA’s 100th centennial celebration and symposium—as her plus one. I’d been given access to all the talks, lectures, panel discussions, power point slideshows, and live beam-ins from the ISS.

I was meeting and listening to some of the greatest scientists, engineers, and administrators of the great big NASA family—a family Chloe has been dating for the last four years—and I’d better not be the black-socked and sandled potted uncle who blows it for her by showing up at the posh annual family BBQ asking where I can set up the bouncy castle I’d just rented for the event.

She wants a large, shiny ring from these people. I should really help her get it.

So I sat quietly for the next many hours. A full two days of many hours. I listened to people explain what had been taking place the last one hundred years in labs and clean rooms—that part I called history—and what would  be taking place in the next one hundred years but mostly on spaceships and extraterrestrial terra firma—that part I called magic.

Human exploration, space technology, mission objectives, and interplanetary sleuthwork—a bazillion talks showing what happened to the lecturer when someone made the mistake of saying to them, “Betcha can’t make this happen.”

Think again.

It’s the hair-raising results when smart people get bored and have access to wind tunnels.

Now, I’m not going to say that every single speaker had me at the edge of my seat, wide-eyed, and breathless. There were plenty of rumple-suited, mumbling lectors who lost their places or couldn’t figure out how to work a laser pointer. Moments where I would turn to Chloe and accusatorily whisper, “That’s not a real word,” or request that she explain to me in one sentence or less how nuclear fusion for space travel would work.

But the videos were definitely thrilling bits of rousing drama. In fact, I’m pretty sure that NASA uses one guy from Hollywood to do all the musical score work because all of it was EPIC. Like academy award winning musical compositions. I felt heart-melting stirrings in my soul when seeing a scientist simply unfold some foil. It could have been what he was having for lunch, but I didn’t care. I just want to see if eventually Ridley Scott will ask Matt Damon to play that guy on the big screen.

At the end of the symposium was the massive NASA gala. Tuxedos, sequins, fish and chicken, politicians, musicians, astronauts and journalists. The early computers, the young engineers. The daring old stories and the futuristic visions.

It was a room filled with people who had done great things, and with people who dreamed of doing great things.

It was a room that held the remarkable past and the unfathomable futures. It was filled with an electric energy, the promise of possibility, a gritty determination.

And waiters.

Yeah, it was filled with a lot of waiters too.

I thought that by the end of the night I had done my utmost to behave. To absorb the sagacious words of pioneers at the frontiers of space. I’d kept my hand at my side and simply remained fixed on their words, their proposals, their data, and their accomplishments.

I did not chase people into the bathrooms to ask burning questions about Mars, or the moon, or asteroids, or multi universes.

Except for that one guy, but he hardly counts. Because Chloe doesn’t even know about him, so mums the word on that bit, capisce?

I thought after all my good behavior we could finally go home and find some real sleep, as we’d been crashing in a hotel room whose air conditioner sounded like a gargantuan Kitchen Aid blender stuck on liquefy—or annihilate—samey samey.

But then the gala’s emcee made one last announcement before dismissing us for the night. “We’ve got a surprise for you! There’s a dance party downstairs—a DJ, a sparkly ball, big speakers, and a lot more alcohol. Go have fun NASA!”

I saw Chloe turn to me with a face that displayed the happiness a farm hound shows when he’s spotted a field full of cowpie patties.

“NO,” I said firmly.

“You owe me,” she said.

So we went.

And now I am absolutely positive time travel exists, because I would put a big ole bet that most of these scientists and engineers wouldn’t want any of their dancing film footage to get out into the public—and if there was a threat of doing so, they’d travel back to this event and erase it.

It was like watching colts try to stand immediately following birth.

Okay, to be fair, a couple people knew some archaic dance moves, but seriously, no one should be doing the Robot anymore, or the Running Man, and especially not the Sprinkler.

Except I’m going to make one allowance: there was one move they were all exceedingly good at.

The Moonwalk.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration should be damn proud of a century’s worth of work. Seeing their past accomplishments was a trip back in time I was honored and astonished to experience.

 

But hearing about their future? Nope. I don’t want to skip over one single second of it.

Congratulations, NASA.

~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.

Batteries, Boyfriends, and VW Bugs

This last month I learned a few new things about cars:

  • Jump starting a car battery is dark and semi-dangerous magic nearly anyone can do.
  • Wrestling out and replacing certain car batteries is a little bit like squishing a bloated elephant into a shoebox.
  • YouTube can teach you how to do both and come out mostly alive on the other end of it.

It all started around the time finals were happening for most college students in my neck of the woods with my own college student up to her earballs in textbooks, tests, and giant tubs of Ben & Jerry’s. Nothing alleviates an overheated thermogenic thought process like two pints of Hazed and Confused on a daily basis.

I received a text from said college student’s boyfriend:

When’s the last time you started Chloe’s car?

I scratched my head. Six weeks ago? Eight? It didn’t really matter because that thing was dead. Like unrevivably dead. It would be like digging up Beethoven or Mahler or Schubert and fist pounding on their chests screaming, “NONE OF YOU HAVE FINISHED YOUR SYMPHONY NO. 10!”

Yeah, that kinda dead.

I texted back an emoji shrug.

I could hear Ben’s eyes roll to the back of his head, and I don’t blame them for doing so.

He finished off: I’m coming over with a new battery. It would be nice for her to have a working car when she gets home from school.

I agreed. I also thought that it didn’t really matter if all the car parts were functioning if one did not have money enough to fill it with “go juice.” It kind of puts you in a position where you’re All Hat No Cattle.

But they’re college kids. They’ll figure it out.

I was working at my desk when Ben popped in. “I’m here. I’ve got the battery. I’ll be in the garage.”

“Need help?” I asked.

“Nah. Easy peasy.”

Super. I could keep writing. And I did.

For about sixty seconds.

“Do you have any gloves?”

Got Ben gloves. Went back to writing.

For about sixty seconds.

“Flashlight?”

You betcha.

Work … sixty seconds.

“How bout a magnet?”

Search for magnet: Old toy boxes. Drawers. Next to credit cards, computer hard drives, people resting in my living room with pacemakers.

“Nope. Sorry.”

Ben shrugged. “Never mind. I’m sure that piece will fall out of the engine block eventually.”

I looked at Ben with eyebrows that reached to my hairline.

Back to work. I counted to sixty twice.

“How small are your hands?”

Oh dear lord. I pushed back from my desk. “Let me find some shoes.”

I entered the garage and saw Chloe’s little VW bug with its hood popped. A miniature PAC-MAN of motorcars. Ben, whose height most telephone poles will nod with deference to, was almost in a downward facing dog yoga pose, hovering over the engine block.

There was a lot of grunting going on, but it might have been coming from the bug, as whatever Ben was trying to tug out of it seemed super important for that little roadster to cling to.

Apparently, it sensed the ongoing, effortful labor of disassembly and finally decided to put up a fight. It’s a little bit like going to the dentist for one defunct tooth to be removed and when you finally have a moment of anesthetic clarity, hear, “Oh, good lordy there’s another one. Well, she really doesn’t need that guy for chewing anyway.”

Yes, I think in a blind panic, but what about for maintaining social norms like speaking without sounding like I’m an eight-year-old whose face just met a tree trunk after a bike crash?

“What can I do?” I asked.

Ben explained to me that we just needed to slide the battery into place and then voilà, back to work I go and he’s outta here. Easy peasy.

Except he was finding it just a teensy bit tricky to slide this particular battery into place.

“How come?”

He gestured at the ground which held oddly shaped bits of plastic, metal, screws, caps, and hoses. It looked like the car had thrown up onto the garage floor. “A lot of stuff had to come out in order to remove the battery.”

“I assume all that stuff is essential?”

Ben shrugged. “Yeah, it all has to go back.”

I looked at the disassembled engine parts. I really really hoped he remembered where all the bits and pieces originally lived because none of them were color-coated, or Post-it note labeled, and there were no IKEA directions to be found anywhere.

If it were me, I would have labeled everything with Garanimal tags—like the clothing line my mother used to buy for us when we were little kids. Each piece of clothing had some anthropomorphic animal code attached to it so you could find something that matched to make a set. Make sure the alligator shirt is not paired with giraffe shorts and then feel confident sending that child on off to school.

Yeah, there were a lot of things on the ground that looked like they needed to be remarried to their original partners.

“You’ve done this before, right?”

Ben flashed me a smile and held up his smartphone. “YouTube.”

Oh, good heavens.

For the next three hours we battled with that little bug, trying to slide, shove, inch, hitch, and bang that new damn battery into place. It was like trying to get a cat to swallow a pill. That battery refused to go down.

We, as instructed by the warning words of the World Wide Web, did not tip the battery. Which would have made things so much easier. At one point I suggested to Ben that if we couldn’t tip the battery, maybe we should tip the bug. Seriously. It would have been so much easier.

He did not agree.

At long last, we did manage to get that SOB back into place. In fact, we managed to do it twice, because after the first time—once we’d reconnected all hoses, screws, and pulleys—we discovered a small piece we’d left out on the garage floor. Something akin to an OR nurse tapping an open-heart surgeon on the shoulder just as he’s tying off the last stitch of flesh together and pointing to the pan that still held an essential organ.

But we did it.

Easy peasy.

~Shelley

This thing ready to go??

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.

 

 

 

 

Picture This: One Last Time …

Once upon a time I met a guy.

Okay. That’s not true.

Once upon a time I didn’t meet a guy, but I got to know a guy because we started working together.

Uh, okay, not even all of that is true either. We never actually started working together, we actually worked apart, but our efforts came together for just over four years.

I absolutely love the look on people’s faces when I tell them that my blogging partner of over fifteen hundred days is someone I’ve never actually met. It’s such a great story.

But even great stories—no matter how epically enthralling they are—will come to the last line of their tale with bold letters that say: THE END.

That part usually feels like you’ve been impaled by an errant satellite antenna and now have to wrestle it out of your flesh on your own with nothing but nail clippers.

Robin Gott and I had a couple of things in common:

  • We both spoke English—although he mostly speaks Swedish now as that’s his current crash pad country.
  • We both saw the world with a slightly skewered sensibility.
  • And we both loved his sense of humor—although I’ve never specifically heard him say he loves his own sense of humor, I took it to be a fact because on more than one occasion, when I would receive his sketches for the next post, there’d be an array of splatter on the page that I could only assume came from a mouthful of tea when finally sitting back to surmise one’s work.

But … we had one thing we did not share in common:

  • The way we envisioned Scotsmen.

I saw them as broad-shouldered, well-muscled, claymore-handling kilted men who eyed me with a savage come hither look.

And Robin saw them as knock-kneed, prickly-legged, bagpipe-wheezing kilted geezers who couldn’t look anyone straight on because they were also cross-eyed from too much bagpipe wheezing.

His version was a helluva lot funnier than mine so I stopped writing about them. One does not want funny in one’s delusional, sigh-inducing afternoon daydreams.

I cannot begin to convey the number of reactions Robin’s cartoons have produced—it’s usually the first thing anyone brings up when speaking to me about the blog. More often than not, that comment is snorted, or chortled, or sniggered out by an individual retelling the tale of being in a public place while reading the post and then making some embarrassing sound of amusement that turned heads and raised brows. Coffee shop lines, grocery checkouts, and a couple of bathroom stalls. I’ve heard it all.

My kids had their own take on Robin’s work. Oftentimes my daughter would grumble as to the awkward teenage shape her blog version body projected, and my son would beg me to stop writing about him, as surely some teacher at school the next day after the post was published would brandish their smartphone, showing him one of Robin’s colored pencil drawn sketches of him and warn, “You’d better never do this in my class.”

I soon came to realize that Robin’s depictions of myself were wholly accurate: frizzed, limp, or muddled hair, ungainly limbs, mismatched clothes, and always an expression that conveyed anarchic chaos.

Usually, they were also more flattering than the truth.

And speaking of truth we circle back round to the facts. And the sad fact of the matter is that there are only so many hours to a day and Robin’s are jam-packed full of a burgeoning family life, day job, and acting career.

Sometimes you have to whittle away the fat from the bone—cuz, you know, sleep is a thing.

And I get it. When we first joined forces, we were pumping out four or five posts a month. Solidly. For more than a couple of years. Then a few people entered my life—an agent, some editors, and a dastardly heavy breathing brute of a thing called a deadline.

We scaled back.

Once a month posts made everyone breathe easier. Except readers. And I got it. And by ‘got it’ I mean complaints. More people wrote in to express their dissatisfaction with the new arrangement. People NEEDED their Sunday shot of Gott—and oh, yeah, the writing wasn’t horrible either.

I advised most folks to recycle old posts. Most folks advised me to go take a long walk off a short pier.

Ah well.

But we must all come together and wish Robin farewell and good luck. The artistic world will continue to benefit from his influence and presence—whether he’s producing a play or appearing on film. And his doodles will live on. They are on my walls, in my text, and within my heart.

I have heard from so many people about the joy Robin’s sketches have brought them, and I know everyone will be saddened to find them absent.

One day, a long time from now, my grandchildren will likely discover as they tour through one of the halls in the Smithsonian, a jar containing a brain submerged in formaldehyde.

“What’s that?” they’ll bend down and shout into my Miracle Ear, seeing me chuckle with self-congratulations about a long ago prediction.

“That,” I’ll croak out, “is science’s failed attempt to understand the workings behind the waggish and whimsical wit of a man who saw the world through an enviable pair of glasses.”

I will pause and smile and remember.

“I was lucky to know him, but I never met him.”

~Shelley (& Rob)

For the time being, our 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 we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor (NOW FOR HIRE- so do go check out his gallery!)–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

 

Snake Slayer or Civil Serpent?

I like to think of myself as a fairly capable woman.

Okay, that’s a lie. I’d give my left lung to have other people think of me as a fairly capable woman.

Uh … okay that needs even further correcting. I’d give my left lung to have other people think of me as a kickass master virtuoso in most all areas, wielding life skills that leave my friends and family open mouthed with astonishment. I’d like people to look at me and say, now if Thomas Jefferson and Hildegard von Bingon had a child,

and that child was tutored by Joan of Arc,

and sung to sleep by her fiercely feminist nanny Beyoncé,

that would be Shelley.

All right, I may have gone beyond the beyond with that one.

Because the reality is far from that equation. No offense to the parental units as they worked their backsides off trying to encourage the mass of reluctant neurological connections I housed within my skull.

They did their best. Working with what they had to make a human being as independently capable as they could before they sawed at the fraying tether between us and cast me off to manage my own life raft.

But they still worry.

And I do not make it easy on them.

Sometimes purposefully, because that, in and of itself, can be fun. I like to push the boundaries a teensy bit to show them just how much their overall disappointment with me should lessen each day. Oftentimes this backfires.

Like when I announce to my dad that I’ve successfully replaced the flapper in a toilet.

He’s thrilled. Then I announce that in doing so I accidentally broke the overflow tube and the fill valve. He’s less thrilled.

Next time I’m editing that last bit out.

Or when I told my mother about how I just spent the last thirty minutes fertilizing all of the gorgeous spring bulbs she spent an entire day planting last fall. She was elated. I did not tell her that there was a 50/50 chance that I “fertilized” all the bulbs with weed killer because I’d recently transferred both liquids into unmarked spray canisters and neglected to label them before putting them away.

I’m learning.

Usually, most of their wide-eyed panic comes from my retellings of the Wild Kingdom episodes that regularly occur where I live: all alone, in the woods, up on a mountain, with not a stitch of people to borrow a cup of sugar from anywhere close.

I love it this way.

They are not nearly as delighted.

My latest run in with one of nature’s more hellish horrors (my mother’s words not mine) actually occurred on their property and not mine. So they were both there to witness the depth and breadth of my bravery and level of skill.

They live in a house that occasionally has indoor plumbing. But when functioning, those pipes can be fractious. They require me to regularly crawl under the house in order to beg and cajole (read: bang) those pipes into cooperation (read: submission).

Under a house is not a place most folks like to spend their free time. Sure, it’s got a variety of puzzles that will either entertain or flummox your synaptic connections for a spell. Like miles of wiring, or ducting, or hosing. And myriad dead things that cursed their curiosity that led them to a glue board. But maybe it’s the poor lighting. I never feel the urge to hang out longer than I have to.

Shortly after I announced to my parents my intention to have a “come to Jesus” meeting with the water filter in the crawl space, I decided to rethink my handyman chore list and shouted up into the house, “Hey, Dad? Can you give me a quick list of bullet points on venomous snakes?”

I heard my mother shriek above me.

“How big is it?” he responded.

“Them,” I corrected.

Kill them! (I think we all know who shouted this.)

How big are they?”

“Huge.”

“How big is huge?”

“At least 18 inches give or take a foot. Maybe take.”

“So not so huge then?”

“Well, not so huge but in a really big way … And they have a lot of teeth.”

“What type of teeth?”

“The kind orthodontists would marvel at.”

“Did you actually see teeth?”

“No,” I shouted, “But they conveyed teeth.”

“They conveyed teeth? In what way?”

“In the way women do when they are elbow to elbow in a shoe sale.”

Kill them! (Again, not me or my dad.)

I looked around for something to use as weapon. Not because I really wanted to end the life of some sad beasts that happened to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, but because I recognized the same look in these snakes’ eyes as the big black bear I’d recently encountered at home that conveyed the identical message of One of us is going to wish we could back up and start this day all over again with a whole nother path.

I found a shovel. I quickly realized two things. One—shovels are not the most ideal deterrent to use against a pile of snakes. Two—snakes are springy.

Yeah, that whole coiling thing is not just to keep warm like dogs and cats practice. That’s a preparatory pose.

Duly noted.

I found an ax.

Now we’re talking. An ax is an immediate confidence boost. An ax shouts, “You have no idea what century I come from and the talents I possess. But go ahead and roll the dice, buddy.”

I’m going to assume we can all deduce the outcome. After all, I’m still here and spinning this yarn.

I am also a newly minted superhero in at least one person’s eyes.

I may not be a proficient plumber, nor a great gardener, or even capable of bullying back a black bear, but as of today I stand proudly before you as … slayer of serpents.

Who no longer require diligent dental detail.

~Shelley

For the time being, our 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 we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor (NOW FOR HIRE- so do go check out his gallery!)–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Grave Danger of Being Silent

“Okay, you’ve got to choose one word. And one word only that will describe you and a representation of your life to be carved on your tombstone.”

I was at a writer’s meeting. And this was one of those wretchedly “fun” exercises we did to stimulate creativity, or imagination, or brain damage.

It was my turn. Everyone looked at me.

“Umm … whisky?

NO! was the general shout from all corners of the circle. Most of these people knew me well enough.

The host looked at me with a full measure of pity. A little bit like how I look at the dog after he’s eaten an entire stolen loaf of bread and he’s all swollen and gassy but still looking for more: pathetically.

“No, not whisky,” the host said in patient tones. “Whisky is something more of your life preference rather than your life portrayal, Shelley.”

Yup. Same look.

“Okay,” I said, determined to get this one right. “Then I choose voice.”

That answer got a woefully polite round of applause.

But the more I thought about it, the more I grew certain that it should have received a standing ovation. Because, in essence, it really has been the central theme threaded throughout my entire life—and every day, it grows more paramount.

In about two weeks, my next book will be published. (The Freemason’s Daughter) (disclaimer: Publicists and marketing departments get super cranky if you do not provide easy links to readers or refuse to say the phrase, “In my new book, The Freemason’s Daughter” as the start to every conversation. And let me tell you, it was a monumental challenge to work that one in with my seventy-four-year-old garbage man whilst handing him one more bag full of cat poop from the litter box.

“There are men in it,” I said lamely. Yeah, he was going to love my young adult novel about a sixteen-year-old Scottish girl.)

Anyway, again, in about two weeks, my next book will be published. I can hear all of you muttering the word finally.

And although this book has all the crucial motifs that appear in every coming of age story—the challenges of youth, friendship, love, relationships with six burly smuggling Scotsmen—the keynote theme that rose above all others was this: Where the hell do I fit in?

Now, granted, the voice that uttered this query at least one time in every chapter classed it up a bit with a lilting, girlish British accent, but it is, beyond a doubt, a central examination that needs answering by the end of the book.

And maybe it does get answered and maybe it doesn’t. I ain’t gonna spoil it for all of you. Especially ol’ Cooter Covington who promised he’d buy the book as long as I somehow managed to have the cat experience a fatal accident before he came back next week. But to find out … (The Freemason’s Daughter).

Funny enough, that question was present in my middle grade contemporary novel, DEAR OPL (Dear Opl – You’re welcome), about a thirteen-year-old American girl suffering from prediabetes and obesity who struggles with loss everywhere in her life except on her body.

Before that, I voiced that question as I made the transition from mandatory mother to partially needed parent to occasionally sought guidance counselor who receives messages like, “I’d like to schedule a major meltdown on Thursday evening after my class on linear algebra. Could you clear your schedule and send me a bucket of chocolate so I can have it there while you talk and I cry?”

My job status was shifting. And I needed to redefine some new position I could find fulfillment within.

And, quirkily enough, before all of that, my actual voice was the focus of my entire life. I got paid to sing. Once or twice I got paid not to sing.

The point is, “voice” has been stamped all over my forty-seven years of life.

Which brings us up to the present and the future—to my love for soothsayers and crystal ball gazers.

Because now, in recent months, voice has become a ubiquitous word. Rare is it a solitary strain, buried beneath the weight of larger, louder bodies that attempt to silence it. Rather now, it is a growing collection, a chorus, a rising refrain.

It is the sound of town hall meetings, the chant of protests, the carefully crafted question in a press corps meeting. It is the debate across the aisle, the conversations in the coffee shop, and the gossip over the garden fence posts.

It is the struggle to parse fact from fiction as myriad voices crow with what they believe to be true—or what they want you to believe as true. It is the concerted effort to eliminate the noise, to brush away the flashy and distracting so that you can uncover the naked, unvarnished reality.

Yes, it does exist.

And when we are able to do that—when we are finally able to hear inside our own heads, we will hear that sound that many of us have spent a lifetime ignoring. Our inner voice. The one that never lies to you. The one that says, Do not go out wearing those pants under any circumstances.

Yeah, that one.

The amazing thing is, is that all of those voices are asking the very same question—that one about inclusivity. Where the hell do I fit in?

We all want our voices to be heard, our words to matter, our existence to count. Whether we’re a president determined to believe we are the greatest, largest, tallest, (insert-superlative-here) guy to draw breath. Or we are the lowly chap who’s still trying to muster up the energy to clap as loudly for that president as we watch him wave from one of his golf courses and we finish the leftovers from last night’s TV dinner.

Forecasting the future is dicey work. Asking the hard questions about that future needs to be done—despite the unwelcoming off the cuff response of an extra tiny pointy finger barking at you to “Be quiet!”

Don’t. Don’t be quiet. Find your voice. Raise it. And use it.

Because I’ve kind of grown fond of the idea of having voice on my tombstone. Otherwise, I will have to resort back to the original epitaph of whisky. Although maybe I’ll spiff it up a tiny bit with that lilting, girlish British accent.

She saw the beauty and necessity of hard liquor.

~Shelley

For the time being, our 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 we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor (NOW FOR HIRE- so do go check out his gallery!)–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance

“Oh good lord she’s going to visit me now, isn’t she?” my mother had said as we were driving toward one of her many doctor appointments.

“Well …” I began, rolling my eyes skyward, “if you say so.”

feb17_car02

I don’t say so!” she insisted in a slight panic. “That’s just the way things happen in our family.”

“Um hm,” I muttered, glancing out the window, hoping to make eye contact with one of the many trees we rushed by on the freeway. Surely one of them would gaze at me in sympathy, or slap a branch onto their proverbial lap and give me the signal that this truly was an absurd conversation.

feb17_tree02

But I suppose if that happened—or if I actually expected that to happen—then it was a clear indication that I was a bone fide descendant of the line of people I was inwardly scornful toward.

I flashed my mother an incredulous squint. “I just don’t get it. Why must all the dead women in our family pay a visit to all the alive women in our family?”

My mother shook her head. “I don’t make the rules.”

I snorted. “I kinda beg to differ here, but okay. Then who does?”

She was getting heated. “Well … it was the Church while I was growing up.”

“And now?” I asked.

“As far as I know they’ve not loosened the reins on too many issues.”

“So you think the pope has rubber stamped some sort of decree on post life apparition appointments—some sort of soul session, or a revenant rendezvous?”

I looked over at my mother. The lines between her eyebrows furrowed gravely enough to qualify for the depth of spring seed planting. She glared at me. “I don’t think this is funny. I’m not sleeping and I’m very anxious.”

feb17_spring02

“So your sister is just going to pop up at any point, perch on the end of your bed, and stare at you like a cat until you feel the heat of her gaze and open your eyes?” I asked.

“I can see what you’re doing.” My mother held up a very pointy finger. “You’re setting this up. You’re trying to trap me into revealing some sort of solemn and serious family belief so that you can exploit us and write about it on your blog—or make me into some crackpot character in one of your books.”

feb17_finger02

“Will you still give me that lovely speckled gravy boat once you die if I answer yes?”

She was silent. I sighed. I was on the verge of losing that gravy boat.

“Listen,” I began, “I’m really sorry to hear that Aunt Marci has shuffled off this mortal coil, but you two haven’t spoken in a bazillion years. What makes you so certain she’s going to want to have a pajama party with you now?”

“Unfinished business.”

“What does that mean?”

“My sister always had a lot to say, and when I cut off communication with her I’m sure an enormous backlog built up. It was easy enough not to answer the phone when she was alive, but now …”

“Yeah,” I nodded, “I can see how challenging it might be to patch a poltergeist straight through to voice mail. You know, with that whole omnipotent viewpoint they now possess, they can actually see you press decline.”

One more glance at my mother made me feel certain that the gravy boat was slipping through my fingers.

But I couldn’t be serious about this. I stopped being serious about it the second I heard about it. Which was probably when I was around seven or eight—some of my earlier memories of when my flamboyant and glamorous aunt would come to visit. She was the stuff of bewitching silver screen cinema. She was part movie star mixed with Romanian gypsy sprinkled with the hand gestures of a crystal ball gazing oracle.

She walked in a cloud of perfumed smoke from her long, slim, brown cigarettes. Her clothes were as vibrant and flowy as a clothesline behind the United Nations on flag washing day. Her voice was hypnotic and breathy, or like a fishing line that lured you right up to her magnetic gaze. And once she had you hooked, you were paralyzed.

Until she’d say something like, You’re an old soul that has lived a thousand lives and has been rebirthed to do some sacred and venerable deed. You know you’re an angel, right?

*insert record scratch here

“Okay, this has been fun,” I’d say as I’d get up and back away slowly from the kitchen table and then realize, once back in my bedroom, that all the quarters from my little coin purse that attached to my wrist were now missing.

She was good.

“Mom,” I said, taking my hand off the steering wheel and resting it on her arm. “Try not to worry. What’s a little ghost visit? Every time I’ve heard any one of the old aunties talking about these weird ancestral ‘on their way to the grave’ stopovers, none of them have said that they were freaked out by the ghosts, right?”

“No. I don’t care what anyone else has said. Whenever someone dies, the first thing I do is pray they don’t come visit me. And then I say it out loud several times. Just to make sure they hear. I don’t want the visits. No ghosts. Period. I think I’d die of fright right then and there if Marci’s ghost suddenly appeared.”

I nodded my head. “If it would help, I’ll come sleep on the floor in your bedroom tonight. And I’ll keep the gravy boat right by my side.”

She looked at me like I’d just suggested we both slip into some leopard print leggings and see if we couldn’t hitchhike our way to the nearest trucker stop for some fun.

“And what help would the gravy boat provide?”

“Oh that,” I waved off innocently. “Well, it’s symbolic really. You know—it’d be a reminder to the ghost of Aunt Marci that it’s a boat. And boats signal you’re on some journey. Like crossing from one side of something to another. And that she’s supposed to continue hers and not stop off at your bedpost to chew the fat.” I shrugged. “Plus, if you do die of fright, at least you can rest in the afterlife knowing that the gravy boat is in good hands and where you intended it to be.”

The look on her face suggested I missed the boat on the opportunity to comfort her through this whole conversation.

feb17_gravy02

I looked out to find a sympathetic face from any of the passing timber one last time. I wonder if I’d improve my chances of one day getting that gravy boat if I told her that she was being driven to her doctor’s appointment by a celestial seraphim.

At least I wasn’t a ghost.

~Shelley

For the time being, our 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 we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor (NOW FOR HIRE- so do go check out his gallery!)–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Knowing All the Angles

I’ve lost my favorite sock.

jan2017_lostsock01

Well, maybe it’s more appropriate to say that I lost one of my two favorite socks, because, of course, socks come in pairs.

But this wreaks havoc with the wordsmithy part of my thought process—the one that wholly annoys almost all of my friends and family—the one where I cannot keep my lips clamped together when a person uses a word incorrectly.

Like the word priorities. There is no such word.

No. Such. Word.

Priorities is not something that can be pluraled. (Nor is pluraled a real word but I’m not gonna get off track).

You can have ONE priority. The rest of all your important matters fall in line somewhere beneath that top notch point of concern.

I know. It’s a really picky piece of trifling tittle. But it matters to me. Almost as much as my favorite sock.

So … I take in a big breath this morning whilst looking around my closet and bedroom for where the damn thing might have scampered off to and remind myself—as it is January, and one of my New Year’s resolutions was to see things from “another’s” perspective this year in order to help myself understand half of my fellow Americans—to put on those lenses and look.

It might not be a perfect example of what I was going for when I uttered my pledge on December 31st, but I actually like the broad swath of application. I’m certain I will benefit from it in other areas of my life apart from the political.

Like when I look around my bedroom and spot a dying potted plant, a time-ravaged old rug, and an antiquated hamper.

jan2017_hamster01

(I said hamper, Rob.)

“These things have got to go,” I announced to the curtains, who were doing their utmost to appear as unshabby as possible. “Every time I leave this room, morning daylight reminds me that the Salvation Army is waiting for a truckload of items from me.” Daylight brings on crisp objectivity.

And then I swear I heard the curtains snicker, “Try the dump, cuz even the Salvation Army has standards.”

I gave the curtains a menacing glare, told them to stop putting on airs, and left.

jan2017_airs01

Wearing mismatched socks.

Because only half of my feet needed to find themselves dispirited today.

The odd sock happened to be that of my son’s, and in keeping with my theme of stepping into someone else’s shoes, I found it utterly befitting of my 2017 goals.

Today, I was going to see things from someone else’s perch.

Everyone I interacted with today got the same question: Why did you do that? (Only without the snarky-like overtones this sentence could easily convey if only reading.)

Like the small consignment shop I was sizing up for my eventual spring cleaning offerings. I’d pointed to a Trump poster up on the wall behind the owner. He pointed to a wall behind me, where a series of antique firearms were on display. “Cuz guns,” he shrugged.

I thought about how different the world felt from when I was a kid growing up in Wisconsin, where nearly every one I knew owned at least one rifle and brought leftovers from the reason they had one in the first place to any BBQ where everybody was supposed to contribute.

I asked the question to a Croatian woman who was cutting my hair and describing her life as a refugee when she told me that many of her fellow countrymen-now-American friends had voted for Donald Trump. Why did they do that? (This one was said with a big dollop of surprise on my face, but still no snark.)

“Because,” the hairdresser said, “they saw the Clinton name as a reminder of horrific times in our country and they were choosing the lesser of two evils—although,” she continued, raising a sharp pair of scissors into the air, “I had to remind them that Mr. Trump seemed oddly familiar to our own past president, Slobodan Milošević, who had been arrested on suspicion of corruption, abuse of power, and embezzlement, and had fraudulently voted himself back into office for his second term.”

jan2017_chips01

And finally, I’d asked the question to a psychologist friend of mine after I’d discovered that he, a lifelong Democrat, at the last minute switched his presidential vote. Why did YOU do that? (This time it was dripping with snark.)

He took in a big lungful of air and said, “So that I could better study narcissism. Purely for scientific research of grand magnitude.”

Then he raised a finger and said, “Don’t forget, good things can come about from this presidency too. Want to an increase NASA’s budget? Tell Trump the European Space Agency thinks they’ve got the First Foot on Mars position nailed. Want climate change to get some attention? Tell him China might be pulling into the lead problem solving position globally and are about to initiate geoengineering.”

I raised an eyebrow at him.

He snorted. “Narcissists like to be top dog.”

jan2017_topdog01

Okay, I thought after this long day of listening and not judging. I’m inching forward. Making a little movement. Increasing the scope of my perspective.

I decided to do something I’d not done in a long time and stretched out on the ancient, grizzled old rug. In no time flat I determined that from every angle and through any optic, this carpet still needed to go.

Then I pulled my feet up close to yank off today’s mismated socks. I tossed them toward the hamper and caught sight of the sock that had gone AWOL this morning.

jan2017_sock01

Yup. Proof that seeing things from another perspective was going to serve me well this year.

I looked up at the curtains and told them I probably deserved a little praise for my advancement with my New Year’s resolutions thus far, but they responded with a Tell it to the hand kind of attitude.

It reminded me of my kids.

Maybe I could tell both of them so I’d get a pat on the back and a round of applause.

But then I thought of how they’d likely say they would have wished that my resolution was to back the hell off being such a grammar tyrant.

Okay. Point taken.

I’ll add it to my list of priorities.

~Shelley

For the time being, our 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 we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor (NOW FOR HIRE- so do go check out his gallery!)–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Ask for the Moon, but Settle for a Star

“Really?” I said in a weak voice that imitated a woman who’d just been told that her mother-in-law was about to become her new roommate.

Or that new federal regulations on sleep had been voted into law and now five hours a night was the limit.

Or that the last glass of Chardonnay available to mankind had just been sold and there will be no more. Ever. Again. Period.

181216char02

In truth, none of these things would apply to me as I have no mother-in-law, I’m managing to squeak by with an average of 4.95 hours most nights, and as long as we don’t replace Chardonnay with the word whisky I can somehow manage.

But I still uttered the word with that same tone as I looked up at the old star perched atop the Christmas tree I’d just dragged into the house off the roof of my car.

It’s the first decoration that goes onto the tree every year. The equivalent to the commencement ribbon cutting. The thing that signals the official beginning. That object of honor.

But that object of honor decided that showing up for work this year was going to be a bit of a stretch. It refused to light when I plugged it in.

181216tree102

“Do you know how much I count on you?” I asked it from where I looked up at it, lying on the floor, covered in pine pitch and prickly fir needles. “I put a huge amount of faith in your kind all year long. You cannot check out on me just yet.”

I let my head fall back onto the sticky floor and really thought about what I’d said. It was true. I counted on the existence of these heavenly bodies with about the same level of addiction and enthusiasm as my son’s belief that our freezer is the birthplace of frozen pizzas.

181216freeze02

They will always be there for us.

I wake up to the blinding crack of sunlight most days as our nearest star climbs above the wide stretch of horizon I see out my bedroom window. Ah, Death has not yet pointed a knurled finger at me and dragged me off in the middle of the night. Get out of bed.

Each night I make a point to make a wish on the first star I see in hopes that whatever tiny prayer I offer up might be met with a genie’s “Your wish is my command” kind of an attitude in the forthcoming days. And then I am told by my space-science savvy kid that in fact, the object I have been throwing requests up to is not what I believe it to be.

Apparently, I have been spending years wishing on a planet.

Dammit.

And in truth, half of my country has elected a “star” per se to lead, and run, and oh-my-godfathers represent our nation as it makes four more trips around the sun.

I looked around the room empty of everything except holiday decorations and echoed that one word I’d said just moments ago but this time to a box full of shiny red balls, “Really?” I half expected it to answer me back.

181216really02

I started to fine tune my worries as I stared hard into the face of 2017.

What can I count on?

Who will show up to do the work that needs to be done?

What are the odds that we will ever run out of wine or whisky?

Glancing back up at that decoration forced me to pull the lens back a bit and redefine things in a way that annoys the hell out of my children because it’s the only way I think: in metaphors.

This tree is our country. Everything hanging from it are the people who live in it and are trying to find a temporary place to perch. That star … well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?

181216trumpytree02

If there was any one thing that people have routinely criticized me for over the last many decades of my life, it would be that I’m too sanguinely spirited, too rose-colored glasses earnest, too naively hopeful.

Yes, genetically speaking, perhaps my default position on the optimism meter is a bit off the rails—like far enough off the rails to be considered beyond the ditch and somewhere halfway into the farm field full of corn.

But I have a strong belief in the system, in our series of checks and balances, and in some invisible hooded Monty Pythonesque figure called Fate who’s somehow keeping score. These are the things that keep me from joining throngs of others who are now so overwrought with how the year has taken shape they are looking at ways to buy their own island and make a fresh new batch of people.

I get it. This has been a year where most folks have been sleeping on a bed full of pins and needles. We’re asking ourselves some really tough questions. And what’s making it so damn difficult is parsing through the fictitious and fraudulent answers we keep tripping over.

It has been a challenging slog. An effortful climb. Things we’ve counted on as concretely dependable are crumbling, wavering unsteadily.

Things like how we define the truth.

Are we really being advised to get used to a “post fact” society? That this is the era of post-truth politics?

It was Heraclitus who is quoted as saying that “The only thing that is constant is change.”

I can get used to change—hard as it may be. But I don’t want to stretch the line of discomfort to say that I will grow used to immorality, or dishonesty. I still want to live in an evidence-based world. I spend all day long in a fiction-based reality, but I’d like to come home to a fact-filled planet.

I thought we were making progress. I thought we were making improvements. I thought we were making room for one another.

I wrap the white and multi-colored lights all about the branches of this tree and plug them in. Most of them illuminate. Some are blinking fast and furious, flashing dramatically for attention. Others are calmly swelling to their full intensity before dimming down and repeating their pattern of participation. And some have been snuffed out. Their years of service come to a quiet dark end. This is us. We are those lights and baubles, the trimmings and treasures.

I may like some of them more than others, but they all go on the tree. There’s space enough for every one of them. They all made it into my home somehow, destined for that tree—whether I fell in love with them, was gifted them, or took pity on them. There will be room.

I stare back up at the large unlit star. “Hey,” I say to it. “I’m asking … pleading that you show up for work. Everyone else is here and some are even trying to get along. You won that covetous position up there because of your fancy marketing and packaging. My first choice was to go with something rather homespun and a bit rough round the edges. You made a promise from the shelf and, even though I can’t recall ever putting you into my cart, you’re here, and now I’m expecting you to do the great grind.”

Lead.

Head.

Shine.

I turn out all the lights and lie back on the floor. For a brief second or two that big ol’ star flickers.

I am flooded with hope and watch it intently.

181216starlight02

I hear the sound of an ice cube drop into the tray in the freezer.

Or maybe it’s the sound of another frozen pizza being born. A post-truth fact I could easily get used to believing.

As tough as this year has been, I’m not ready to give up faith because, as the great English poet Sarah Williams said, I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

Happy New Year to you all. I wish you peace.

~Shelley

ONE LAST CALL: Robin has his annual calendar of curiously clever cartoons for sale and time is running out. If you’re hoping to take a peek a tiny bit farther into his unfathomable brain, then I suggest you head on over and order yours tout de suite! It may be the one bit of comic relief you come to rely upon to get you through 2017!  Robingott.com

For the time being, our 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 we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

 

 

 

In Good Spirits

I needed help.

Professional help.

It’s a phrase I utter at least a dozen times a day it seems, and not every episode is referring to the fact that shock therapy might be just the thing.

271116shock02

This time I was searching for answers to questions that did not reveal the meaning of life, or my purpose in the universe, or even advice on how to handle the creepy guy at the grocery store who is always asking if he can hold my melons while I search for apples.

Ah … Security??

No, this time I needed help with my new book. The writing “fiction” part is always so much fun. But the “researching the fiction I just wrote and discovered wouldn’t even be remotely believable” part is always a little hard to choke down.

Best to do them in tandem.

And as my new book takes place in a distillery, and there’s one nearly spitting distance from my house, it would be foolish of me not to immediately take advantage of the expertise within grasp.

So I pleaded my case, called the joint, and set up an interview to make sure that my new manuscript wasn’t going to entirely fit into the genre of fantasy.

Or an oval shaped file under my agent’s desk.

At first I thought Ian Thomas, the new director of operations at the Virginia Distillery Company, was worried about the time—because he was always checking his watch.

271116ian02

And then I thought for a second that maybe the fellow I was standing across was fairly new to the concept of wristwatches, as when he did look down at it, he stared at it with intense focus for at least four or five seconds.

And then I realized that I was the actual idiot.

Ah. An Apple watch.

271116apple02

Ian was getting about as many requests for attention as if he’d had a tiny toddler tugging at his pant leg—which, coincidentally, he’ll have in a few short weeks as he’s expecting his first child.

271116expectant02

So perhaps coaxing a fledgling whisky distillery through its beginning years full of growing pains is exactly the kind of training a soon-to-be dad should be having.

If nothing more than to reinforce recognizing the blissful joy of losing consciousness for more than ten minutes in a row.

That, and maybe to discover what a bazillion new parents come to realize during the agonizing teething phase of their tiny tot: whisky can act as a damn fine benumbing agent …

For the parents, of course.

And this man is sitting on a gold mine.

The questions I needed answering were specifically related to the running and operating of a single malt distillery:

How much does each ingredient contribute to the overall end product flavor profile?

How much does the temperature and humidity in your warehouses play a part in the maturation process?

How many times have you tried to roll a full wooden cask of spirit into the back of your car to sneak home and feigned surprise when one of your coworkers discovered you struggling with the back hatch of the trunk?

271116barrelo2

Yup. All relevant.

We spent hours walking through the facility, and Ian patiently explained every piece of equipment and component involved in the operation: the gristmill, the mashtuns, the washbacks, and stills. The miles of plumbing, the resourceful recycling, the freshly plowed and planted barley fields, and the mile-long list of government officials he had to converse with on a daily basis in order to make this American malt find its way from barley to bottle—or grain to glass—or field to finally in my hot little hands.

At one point, while talking in the warehouse that securely housed the seven hundred wooden casks snugly hugging their aging spirit, Ian received the equivalent of another toddler tug that needed attention and stepped out of the warehouse while I ecstatically and repeatedly filled both my lungs with as much of the intoxicating, spirit-drenched air as they could hold. And then, profoundly lightheaded from hyperventilating, I suddenly worried that I had inhaled enough of the whisky-dense atmosphere to register as too intoxicated to drive home.

Maybe Ian’s watch would keep him busy whilst I slept off the fumes and stretched out across a few ex-bourbon barrels.

I thought about the last jaunt I’d undertaken researching a book—an afternoon spent questioning an internist about all the effective emetics available in the 18th century. There were no heady, soothing scents of toffee and brown sugar, butterscotch and bananas encapsulating me like a giant embrace from the ancient gods of magical elixirs. Just half a dozen homeopathic textbooks opened to pictures of poisonous plants that could make you puke.

Yeah, this one was turning out to be a lot more fun.

We finished the day with Ian allowing me to further question him in hopes that he could provide answers for the stickiest parts of the book—things I was struggling with and that were critical to the book’s authenticity and success: the biology, the chemistry, the plot.

His answers were enlightening. And clarified that there were actually a solid handful of hugely capable, talented, and ingenious people who worked alongside him to craft this outstanding spirit that holds so much promise.

And surprisingly, if not somewhat disappointingly, not one of them were alchemists or felt the need to invoke a series of sorcerous spells to turn this water into wine—er … whisky.

Apparently Gareth Moore,

271116gareth02

Chairman and CEO of Virginia’s newest spiritus frumenti emporium, really knows how to hire his nine-to-fivers and reviews of their work are about as glowing as the cheeks of those who imbibe in their product.

“Okay,” I said to Ian back in his office, “just in case this post goes viral and the only way you can fend off the sudden surge of paparazzi at the distillery is by locking yourself in the waste management warehouse and hiding behind a tank full of lye and caustic soda, is there anything else the world should know about Ian Thomas, young whisky maker hailing from Tennessee?”

“Ah,” he said, glancing at his wrist again and staring at it intensely for about four seconds, “Well,” he chuckled self-consciously. “I like casual strolls along the beach, I’m a good husband, I love my family and Virginia … and I’m working hard to make a world class whisky.”

I don’t doubt for one second all these things are true. Ian is a busy guy with a full life that’s only going to get fuller in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. A new dad. A new home. A new job. Yeah, he’s got his fingers in a lot of pots.

Copper ones to be precise.

And I think the world of ‘world class whiskies” is lucky to have it so.

~Shelley

HEADS UP Y’ALL: Robin has his annual calendar of curiously clever cartoons for sale starting now. If you’re hoping to take a peek a tiny bit farther into his unfathomable brain, then I suggest you head on over and order yours tout de suite! They won’t last!  Robingott.com

For the time being, our 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 we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Slaughter and Mayhem; How I Love November

There is something incredibly magical about the transition from October to November. And by magical I mean mostly spine-chillingly creepy.

231016wizard02

I cannot begin to keep count of all the happenings around here that start off with the catchy refrain Hey y’all. It’s time to celebrate the Festival of the Dead.

Growing up in the Midwest, I was raised and surrounded by incredibly careful Catholics. We were polite. We barely made eye contact. And whenever there was anything remotely resembling the acrid scent of incense, we automatically genuflected and started in on a few Hail Marys.

Where I live now, I see a mishmashed range of religious followers or unfollowers, but I also find myself amidst a plethora of pagans. And as it’s nearly impossible to ditch my Midwestern deferential upbringing, just to be neighborly, I pick and choose all the parts of Samhain I deem acceptable to participate in, and blindly wave off the others.

For instance, in the past I would drive my sheep up from the far reaches of the meadow toward the barn to be stabled for the cold winter months ahead like all ancient farmers were wont to do, but once there, would find they’d argue like two bloated barristers, insisting that as long as I left the cover off the grain barrel, they’d ration themselves and keep an eye on the forecast.

231016blah02

I drew the line at sacrificing horses, which are meant to represent the fire deity, Bel or Belenos, the sun god, and who reportedly would win back the world come springtime. It’s just such a messy job, plus if you’ve ever seen dead horses, they’re really not up to winning back anything for you after you slay them.

A couple of times, I was happy to extinguish my hearth fire and march through the fields alongside the rest of my townspeople with the intent to kindle a new blaze from some choice sacred oak, and then take my flaming torch back to relight my home fires. The snag was that usually somebody had issued a secret declaration to reinstate the ancient rites of human sacrifice to please a few disgruntled gods, and you wouldn’t know till you got to the big bonfire if it would have been wiser to simply stay at home and grout some tile.

Worse still, was when I once arrived at the glowing gala get together and found myself looking up at a massive effigy—like The Wicker Man. I hazily recalled something about the forcing of not just one unlucky fellow, but a whole slew of folks into giant wood and thatched cages, along with every flavor of farm animal, some bread and honey, and a few jugs of vino. It’s once everyone and everything was stuffed in there nice and tight that the large light bulb in everyone’s head illuminated just as a rosy glow from below shed some extra light on all of them—in the form of a giant pyre. There was a lot of protesting at first, but things eventually quieted down.

231016bonfire02

Of course, most of us know that on All Hallows Eve the veil separating the dead from the living is tissue thin—see-through for many if you regularly make a habit of chatting up dead relatives.

And I’m totally fine with that, as being a novel writer, I’m wholly used to hearing voices and engaging in what most folks would see as worrisome one-sided conversations.

In the ancient days of Samhain celebrations, spirits were greeted warmly from their regular gloomy, dank haunts. Everyone scooched over a bit on the couch to make room round the hearth, and a few nibbles of barley cake were offered as well as a cup of grog.

231016sofa02

Most ghosts were grateful. A few remained mulish and curmudgeonly. But who can blame them with the months of back breaking chain clanking and heavy breathing they have to repeatedly practice for The Big Night? I’m sure there are times where the Other Side is no picnic, so one should be somewhat understanding with the occasional gripe.

Lastly, I’ve always welcomed anything that shed light and warmth during the ever increasing dark days of oncoming winter. Stingy Jack, or Jack of the lantern, proves to be a piece of folklore I’ve always found entertaining.

In this old Irish tale, Jack—a tightfisted farmer—manages to trick the devil twice, resulting in one livid Beelzebub. God, who apparently watches the entire event unfold, is thoroughly annoyed by Jack’s seedy character. In the end, neither wants his company in the afterlife. He’s given the boot by both and told to head back from whence he came.

231016jack02

Apparently, Jack is a bit of a baby and still carries with him a fear of the dark. Just to prove he’s got a heart of gold, the devil tosses old Jack his version of an Everlasting Gobstopper to light his way —a lump of burning coal from the fires of Hell. Jack hollows out a turnip and wanders the earth to this day, ready to pop out of the creepy shadows of any porch that sports a carved out pumpkin.

Kids love that story.

There’s a lot to look forward to as usual, and I really ought to get a head start on making a few extra batches of barley cakes for all the upcoming visits from dead relatives who refuse to leave the comfort of my couch. As the older one gets, the larger the cast of characters grow.

~Shelley

For the time being, our 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 we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Crashing and Burning; It Takes Practice

I think three of the most frightening and exciting words spoken together in the English language are: three, two, one.

And the space that comes right after it? The silence where we then announce the outcome? Talk about a pregnant pause. Talk about stress and hope and anticipation—and the new physical knowledge of the phrase gut twisting.

Sometimes you hear the word Liftoff!

Or Action! Or Go!

What nobody wants to hear is Three, two, one … uh oh.

But it happens. And it’s said. With a lot more regularity than many of us would believe—or admit to.

I think most of us regular folks can probably scare up a decent quote or two from marvelous, mind-blowing space moments, right? Things like:

“Uh, Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

180916fish01-2

Or “That’s one small step for man …”

Or “Failure is not an option.”

Or is it?

The whole failure thing, I mean.

180916_failure01-2

Winston Churchill said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” I think the old British Bulldog would have loved to take a peek inside one of the many locations dedicated to our American aeronautics and aerospace research to see his words in action.

I’m talking about NASA, folks.

Space has long been an interest of mine. And parenting. I’m super dedicated to the act and art of parenting. Also writing. I can’t imagine my life without writing.

180916writingspace01-2

But this is where I’ll stop with that whole list because any further and it’s going to sound like I’m generating some sort of online dating bio—and that is not where this essay is heading.

It’s mostly about space and parenting. The writing part is simply my way of communicating to your eyeballs the beautiful connection between the two.

And they are connected. Magically. And ordinarily.

Okay, so actually, my interests are space, and parenting, and writing … aaaand failure.

Although there is some bewitching halo that’s thrown over the beautiful bubble of someone’s great achievement, there is nothing sparkling or spellbinding about a person’s failure. When seen up close, it’s usually unsightly and has us cringing but unable to turn away. A lousy result is a big pile of rubble we tend to shove underneath the nearest sofa and not show our friends by outlining it on the floor with glitter.

Failure hurts. It’s distressing and insufferable. It is your demanding and troublesome Aunt Gladys showing up on your doorstep and expecting attention and accommodation forthwith.

180916gladys01-2

You cannot turn her away. She is there. Staring you down with two leather satchels in her hands expecting a cushioned chair and a hot cup of tea immediately. The only thing one can do in a situation like this is …

Prepare for it.

NASA rehearses for surprise Aunt Gladys visits relentlessly and gravely. When every single penny of your budget is scrutinized, questioned, and arm-wrestled for and, more important, when human lives are a big wager in the game, you cannot afford a whoopsie poo from out of the blue.

Last month, I went to pick up my daughter from her summer internship with God—or rather, her god—at one of NASA’s facilities. She was building space rockets—well at least that’s what chose to believe because every time I asked what she was up to she rolled her eyes and reminded me about this little piece of paper she signed called a non-disclosure agreement.

This is a euphemism for the phrase, tell anyone what you’re up to and we’ll slice off your legs at the kneecaps.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t entirely that bad, but it was close. Maybe they’d only slice off her legs at the ankles, but she really wasn’t budging.

Anyway, I was given a glance at that amazing level of preparation NASA employs with its projects. Their walls were lined with pictures, graphics, renderings, and sketches of accomplishments and failures.

Yeah, you read that right. Failures.

I’m not saying it’s a gallery of shrapnel and explosions meant to terrorize and paralyze—it’s more like the “Mars Exploration Family Portrait.” There are a lot of pictures and footnotes that say, Stranded in Earth orbit, Crashed on surface, or Destroyed during launch.

How many of us would actually snap a selfie as we stand in front of an epic bungle and then nail it to the wall, poster-sized, right outside our office so that a couple dozen times a day we get to eyeball the lead balloon bombs that are our past?

I think not many of us.

180916spelfie01-2

But with each new person I met, read about, or simply saw beavering away in their government issued lung compressing cubicles that day, I began to wonder if maybe these people’s parents might have peppered their bedroom walls with exactly that kind of décor.

Not to be cruel. But to be … constructive.

Imagine this: right next to their American Mathematics Competition medal, their National Latin Exam Award certificate, and their Presidential Physical Fitness badge, there are two school exams—also pasted up on that wall. One is a Latin essay with whatever Latin words are the equivalent to this paper is atrocious scrawled across the top of it, and the other is a math exam with a big bold red F next to their name.

Next to that is a pink slip from Burger King with the explanatory words Malt machine too complicated for employee to master. This is just above a snapshot of a text reply to the request for a date revealing the response, Uh, Seriously? You’ve got to be joking.

Yep. Victories and defeats.

Achievements and downfalls.

Wins and washouts.

It is rocking horse manure rare to have one without the other. And yet as parents, we typically practice buffering our kids from these missteps and wrecks because …

Well … who wants to see our offspring suffer, or struggle, or return to us bleeding and holding out the handlebars of their new bicycle in one hand and three teeth in the other? Who routinely places their descendants in some Houdini hindrance and says, “Don’t forget to hold your breath,” just before their ears are submerged under water? Who leaps up from the bleachers and fist pumps the air, hollering, “I got it on tape!” to their kid who just did a major face plant onto the asphalt just as the one hundred meter dash shotgun went off and then explained to surrounding parents that the rest of the night was going to be spent watching that film a thousand times and taking notes?

180916faceplant01-2

It’s just not something we regularly do.

But NASA does.

And I vote NASA raises our kids from now on.

I know that sounds a bit extreme, and I’m not saying we just shove them all over their security gate in the middle of the night, dust our hands of the whole situation and then drive home.

No.

We can visit.

We’ll gauge their progress and applaud their efforts. We can wander the facilities hallways and see their scrubs and scratches, identifying the technical names for efforts that had to be scrapped because NASA has an abort procedure for everything: pad, launch, ascent, in-flight, and even the one everybody wishes they had in their car for an annoying passenger—ejection. Some plan for every phase of the course lest something goes wrong. And it will.

Our kids don’t have to stay there very long. Just until they get the hang of the new mindset, this unusual framework for their labors.

And that framework is: You will get it wrong. And then you get it right. Errors are normal. Mistakes are natural. Failure is fated. But what it doesn’t have to be is THE END.

In no short amount of time, they’ll be well rehearsed for life.

I know it can work. I heard the setup after I’d dropped my daughter off at the beginning of the summer. This was gist of the conversation:

Mentor: “Here’s what I want you to do. Make blank do blank.” *

Daughter: “Umm … That’s not very specific.”

Mentor: “Don’t I know it. That’s life. Now off you go.”

Results? Plenty. Loads of them. Usable ones? Not so many. Lots of failures. An endless amount. Embarrassing ones, time consuming and hugely frustrating ones.

Except one.

And really, truly, ultimately—that is the point. Don’t fall at the first hurdle.

Because what people often misunderstand is that right up until the moment of the wreck is not a colossal waste of time or effort. The result may be called failing, but the rest … is called learning.

There’s a lot to be said for scars and skinned knees. Our war wounds can be epic and extraordinary tales. They show we’ve done battle and that we made it through to the other side. They can prepare and instruct and inspire our kids to reach for the stars.

To fly to the moon. To land on Mars.

And maybe more important, to come back again.

chloe-nasa-photo

~Shelley

*(sigh … nondisclosure agreement thingie)

For the time being, our 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 we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Publishing; It Takes a Village (and some groveling)

Recently I had to write an acknowledgment page for one of my books.

You know what they are, right? They’re usually found at the back of the opus—the part so many folks gloss right over as the writing is mostly filled with names and one line quips about what these names did to contribute to the publishing process, and how life, the universe, and all of mankind could not have been birthed and evolved into what it is today without these sage and wondrous mortals.

Not terribly interesting for the average Joe—unless, of course, you happen to be one of those sage and wondrous mortals.

But in writing my page of “thanks yous,” I can easily see just how out of hand one of these notes of gratitude can become.

It’s critical that one includes the upper echelon of those who ultimately gave your book bound words a chance to be seen.

For instance, you must absolutely never forget to flatten yourself to the floor with a giant thanks to your editor—el supremo persona, le meilleur, un eroe—whatever language you choose to describe one of the most erudite, patient, resourceful, and good looking people you’ve ever met. Even if you’ve never “met”.

210816Editor01

Without your editor you are toast.

Maybe less than toast.

You’re just one slice of bland bread among dozens stacked in front and behind you and all the way down the shelf from side to side.

Your editor lifts you out of the endless mass and puts a fire beneath your feet—or whatever body part is molded to the anchor that’s producing your fairly vapid, stale, lifeless literary efforts. They then carefully tease out the aromatic notes, the visually enticing imagery, and the tantalizing flavors of your story while expertly identifying the exact dressing you need, applying a perfect layer of topping that will make the meat of you shine.

Yes, one must thank one’s editor profusely, and all your lucky stars if you have a truly divine one. And then eat, because just writing about editors and their skills makes one unreasonably hungry.

Your agent—should you have one of those as well—is also on the list for high-priority praise. They are the sleuth who, when first presented with your writing, siphoned out the thread of ability that wove itself in and out of the tapestry of clunky words you put down on paper. They are the individual who gets a first look glance at your work before bravely putting their name to an email that is then cast widely out into the pool of editors who are fishing for something new the public is hungry to bite on.

210816Agent01

Or they are the one who picks up the tab at a gulp and go lunch where they pitch your work to those same bleary-eyed editors in hopes of convincing them to take on the task of giving up another night’s sleep in favor of reading one hundred thousand of your best and shiniest words.

Don’t forget the copy editors. These folks examine your one hundred thousand words, parse them, and then reconstruct them into more appropriate linguistic elements that will have true value to the reader. They will leave you dumbstruck with awe to realize that there are individuals out there in the world who truly understand all the principles and rudiments of grammar. They should be given many basketfuls of cookies for their efforts and patience.

210816Toastoy01

The marketing department, the art department, the line editors, the assistant editors, and publicists—where does one begin? Each of them, inundated with so much work and so little recognition, really should have a small shrine erected in their names.

So I have.

I’ve built a large altar in a separate room in my house—a temple where I’ve placed magic stones, a dozen candles, tiny false gods, myriad pagan symbols, and any other sorcerous talisman I can collect for my ritualistic moments of devotion and homage. It is a room filled with smoky incense and funneled in melodramatic and lamenting bagpipe music. It is the best I can come up with to replace what I believe they all probably truly deserve over my feeble prostrations: a cruise.

210816Thanks01

I just don’t make enough money to make that happen. Sorry.

But you really should see the altar I’ve set up for you guys. It’s amazing.

And scares the hell out of the cat.

And lastly are the people who truly know you. Like—know you know you. The ones who had to read all those diabolically dreadful first drafts. The folks who see you drinking three-day old coffee and eating mac and cheese that you made for an end of school potluck last month. The family members who have had to learn to wash their own laundry, make their own lunches, write their own college essays, and attend their own parent-teacher conferences because you were “just finishing that last sentence,” or “editing that final paragraph,” or passed out on your keyboard.

Speaking on behalf of many writers, we know who you all are, and are so incredibly surprised to look up and discover that not only are you not in the house where we were certain we last spotted you, but are now living in another, entirely different city from us and have taken all of our pots and pans with you.

210816Escape01

We thank you too. Except for the theft of our housewares.

Lastly, as the orchestra music swells over our words, we thank our fifth-grade teachers, or librarians, or fairy godmothers. It’s that one individual who told us we had promise, we had potential, we had possibility.

It’s that one special person who started this whole domino effect of thanks and recognition: the one who gave us that first nod of acknowledgment.

So to all those sage and wondrous mortals—whether they see you as a product or a parent, family or a friend—the thanks are endless and the gratitude unfathomable.

Now it’s probably time to acknowledge the fact that there is no food in the house and the cat litter seriously needs to be addressed. Life goes on—even after The End.

210816End01

~Shelley

For the time being, our 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 we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

The Foot-Slogged Journey from Zero to Hero

According to Google, the definition of the word hero is:

A person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. A warrior, a knight, a lionheart.

Or we could go with Google’s second definition:

Another term for a submarine sandwich.

I am surrounded 24/7 by heroes. Their voices ring in my ears in pitches that reveal their age and dialects that unmask their country of origin. Occasionally, their speech is so foreign to my mind, I find I must consult etymological dictionaries to make sense of what they say.

Most of these heroes I conjure up myself.

It’s a writer’s process that involves a mixed bag of tools: a few shovels and brushes for the archeological dig to uncover the bones, or a hammer and chisel to chip away at “whatever isn’t the angel,” or, my favorite, the ability to sit with a mental stereogram—where you purposefully lose the eye’s traditional and automatic ability to focus—and then suddenly, mind-blowingly, find a new depth of perspective.

Something magical emerges from something quite ordinary.

I’m used to following these heroes through some journey.

We meet the hero. Something happens to him that forces him to change—despite the fact that he is resistant to change. He’s drawn into some crisis. Things go to hell in a handbasket for a brief period of time. Some metamorphosis occurs, impacting our guy and allows him to respond to the call. And then …

BANG!

He saves the day.

Amen.

I am drawn to these people like a needle pointing north and with the same urgency as when anyone cracks open the door of an oven filled with chocolate chip cookies.

My above definition is a super-simplified explanation of a complex, universal storytelling form called …

The Hero’s Journey.

(Please note: In my head, anytime this phrase is said aloud, its audio quality is enhanced by some impressively epic reverb.)

According to many who’ve studied the great stories of mythology and the broad swath of tales that fit beneath the umbrella of the monomyth, there are a few things necessary in each of these sagas:

A situation, a protagonist, an objective, conflict and disaster, and very important—an opponent.

Hero02

My list is by no means complete, but just an “around about” example to further my unfolding tale.

But the hero I’m going to tell you about is not one of mythology or conjured up by my writerly imagination. She is a regular Joe. A flesh and blood body. A mortal, a maiden, and amusingly, mine.

Okay, that last part may no longer really be true, as she leapt from the nest two years ago, but the ownership part isn’t the important bit. It’s the journey. It’s one I was given the privilege to watch close up and from all angles.

You know those first words we record as proud parents in the biblical baby books of unprecedented infant achievement? This is found in hers:

Airpane.

Yeah, not a typo.

One tiny fist with one tiny finger extended upward and continuously, unrelentingly, irritatingly pointed toward the sky. One tiny mouth was forever uttering what two tiny eyes could see and two tiny ears could hear.

Airpane.

Airpane02

Rare was the day when I had the time to track each one of her identifications—and I certainly did not possess the keen eyesight and impressive auditory range that she seemed to have been born with—but I breezily verified each one of her chirps with some form of response like,

“Wow, good for you, Toots. Keep your eye out for more.” Or,

“Clever girl. How many is that this morning? One hundred? One thousand? I’ve lost count.” Or,

“Okay, I get it. You were a pilot in a previous life. I’ve got to fold laundry.”

When my daughter was about five, two common career themes emerged and spilled out into her everyday life. She was heavily into deciding between becoming a ballerina or an astronaut.

Ballerina02.

One day, I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for her. She was going to have a few follow-up booster shots for some prior vaccinations. Knowing her intense hatred and fear of needles, I tried to plan something fun to follow that doctor’s appointment that would keep her mind off of the wretched shots:

We were going to have lunch … WITH AN ASTRONAUT IN TRAINING!

A family friend was delighted to hear of my daughter’s early interest in space and eager to encourage her tiny spurts of enthusiasm. It was exactly what we needed to follow that pediatrician’s appointment—which was …

Awful.

She hid, she screamed, she threw tongue depressors at the man as if she was barricading herself inside an ice cream truck with nothing but popsicles to use as weapons. She told him she was going to hunt him down in the middle of the night.

Yeah, it was appalling.

Anyway, back at lunch, our astronaut friend began to fill my daughter’s head with all the details involved in becoming “an astronaut,” and at one point launched into the myriad medical tests and examinations one must undergo in order to determine if one is even physically fit enough for space.

My daughter inquired about inoculations.

“Yep,” he said. “Plenty of needles.”

She then turned to me and asked, “Do ballerinas need shots?”

Well, I thought we were finished with our miniature hero’s journey into space and that life would finally return back to normal. I would no longer have to feign interest in her long conversations about the complex water systems aboard the International Space Station which provided astronauts drinking water made from a filtered mixture of recycled shower water, old astronaut sweat … and pee.

Except I was wrong.

Because every day that space interest grew. Whether she was curious about rocket fuel, or space shuttle tiles, or the physics of learning how to fly.

At one point, she said to me she would happily accept a one-way ticket to Mars if it was available and she qualified, and then gave me permission to give away everything in her bedroom to Goodwill.

“What?” I said. “You’re still interested in space?”

Apparently, this was the equivalent of asking, “What? You’re still interested in breathing air?

She struggled with physics like it was some Minotaur she’d regularly sword fight with each night before bed.

Minotaur02

She spent countless, frustrating hours with her teachers in order to understand—not memorize—the facts in front of her.

One of her teachers—a Japanese physicist, whom I swear was the prototype for Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid—threw countless roadblocks in her way.

“Why waste your time with space?” he’d ask her. “Space is for boys. Dolls are for girls.”

She would march from his classroom and turn to face him just before leaving and flip him the bird.

He, on the other hand, would smile with smug contentment after she left, knowing he’d lit a fire beneath someone’s nettled knickers.

Word had it, that this man had come to America with the impassioned notion that the world needed more girls in math.

But apparently, he didn’t want ones that crumpled when facing adversity.

Walking into her bedroom was a bit like being a detective who opened the door belonging to a guy whose crazed neural network encompassed all four walls of the freakishly alarming one room apartment he lived in. Where equations were sprawled across every square inch of space, and yarn connected one spot to another, making the entire room feel like it was a massive, but not yet completed, macramé pot holder.

Understanding that this was a language I would never have the codes to decipher, I’d offer up encouragement from the safest quarters of my own comfort zones—stories.

Seeing her bleary eyes each morning, and the small, but growing bald spot patches where she would regularly grasp at fistfuls of hair—I first assumed out of frustration, but after taking into account the amount of information she was trying to consume, I came to believe it was in an effort to expand skull space—I would offer up my suggestions. I didn’t want her to give up.

“Why don’t we head to the library and check out some super stories about space adventure? Stories like Aliens Love Underpants, or The Martian Chronicles, or Ender’s Game, or (most important) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?

But with each book I brought home and encouraged her to read, they ended up buried beneath printed out specs of some new rocket booster. Or NASA flight mission reports. Or CDs that declared, you can learn how to speak Russian and Chinese in under ten minutes a day!

She didn’t want to read a space story.

She wanted to be a space story.

Countless times in this child’s life, I’ve stepped back and looked at the path she was traveling. It’s been riddled with potholes, roadblocks, detours, and burnt bridges. But it has also been abundantly sprinkled with mentors: sensei sword masters, Yodas, Gandalfs, and Dumbledores. Guides who have handed her a sword, a light saber, a wand.

Repeatedly realizing how out of depth I was, the best I could hope to do was step out of her way. I was not going to be the antagonist in my very own child’s heroic journey. I did not want to be her conflict, her disaster, her apocalyptic Death Star.

But I could keep her sword shiny, her lightsaber full of batteries, and her wand connected to Wi-Fi at night whilst she slept.

I looked for the places I belonged in her story. Many times I found it was on the sidelines taking notes. It’s what we writers do to nudge a story into place. It’s what we cheerleaders do to rally our heroes. It’s what we parents do to encourage our children.

Today, this child of mine studies aerospace engineering at MIT and is in the middle of her first summer internship with NASA.

It is a beautiful thing to realize that Thank God, you did not get in the way of someone else’s dream and hopefully, instead, pruned back the prickly path a tiny bit to make the journey a little bit easier.

I celebrate both of my children’s achievements as they come, and tell them about the importance of embracing each one of their failures along the way as well. There is no rising without falling.

Bungee02

Today we celebrate. Tomorrow we may bring back the bandages and antibiotic ointments that come with life’s splashdowns and spills. It is all part of the hero’s journey and there are no shortcuts around facing your dragons.

Today I am so happy for this child I find myself nearly bursting with joy. I seriously just want to take a bite out of her.

I’m guessing she will taste something like a submarine sandwich.

~Shelley

For the time being, our 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 we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Class (And Glass) Warfare

Growing up in Wisconsin, my mother’s most prolific advice, which was usually offered up at least once a day during what felt like the presence of nine months’ worth of winter per year, was this: Don’t forget to dress in layers.

250616layers

If memory serves, these words were likely uttered as much a reminder to herself, during the span of one full decade, where the poor woman tried to live with a biologically unbalanced hormonal heating and cooling unit housed within her own body, as to the rest of us, pointing to the fact that we lived on the perimeter of the frozen tundra. You were usually either outside, where one could occasionally entertain yourself by spitting icicles waiting for the morning school bus, or inside, where woodstoves were cranking out such an impressive amount of heat, most people’s homes could easily double as a sweat lodge.

But for my mom, I do believe the idea of recalibrating her settings to some sort of acceptable functional state was as elusive a finding as locating the Holy Grail—it’s mythological, tons of movies have been written about it, and some of the fight scenes still have us doubling over with laughter when recalling them.

250616grill

Back to the idea of layers.

It really had me thinking lately about how complex we, as human beings, truly are. Depending upon the situation, it’s not unlikely that we rarely show—or know—who we claim to be. And uncovering that which is camouflaged can either be as mouth-wateringly exciting as digging into that triple decker hot fudge banoffee pie parfait, or as painful as peeling back an onion, where the whole endeavor, although necessary to accomplish that life-sustaining ritual we call dinner, will have you weeping and bitter over the caustic exercise.

To illustrate, as per my usual methods, I will use examples from all that’s within arm’s (and eye’s and ear’s) reach around me.

I’m a writer.

I live in (or rather get my rations from) a town where you cannot swing a dead cat without bumping into another resident’s published book.

250616swish

You cannot order a cup of coffee at the counter without hearing someone behind you utter the phrase, “Well, with my first novel …” And the introductory expression, “My therapist says,” has long been replaced with its shinier version, “My critique group pointed out …”

I think you get my point.

We are a community of book-bosomed logophiles whose end-of-year financial ledgers reveal we’ve contributed the same number of pennies to the local coffeehouse for liquid sustenance as we have to the library for our overdue book fines.

250616boobs

But there are writers and then there are writers.

I have heard my town’s writerly residents humorously described as usually belonging to one of two strata of the classic French pastry, the Napoleon, or the mille-feuille. You’re either like the puff pastry—where you’re flaky and half-cracked, and people make a wide berth of you because you’re temperamental and difficult to work with, or you’re the pastry cream custard—where you’re likely too rich for your own good, you find yourself spread out too thinly, and everyone wants a lick of you.

Together, we are the elements that make one kickass memorable mouthful, alone, we are broken down into the ingredients that most physicians warn you to stay clear of in order to maintain optimum health.

My town loves to separate itself into these definitive, identifying tiers. Do you do yoga or yoga?

250616yoga

Translation: Do you attend a class where the Native American flute music is often jarringly interrupted by the high-pitched feedback loop of a plethora of hyper-sensitive hearing aids and everyone breathes a sigh of relief no one threw a hip during the hour? Or do you attend a class where the temperature on the room’s thermostat is a topic for debate for the Intergovernmental Panel as to whether it may be a contributing factor to climate change and people leave the studio utterly amazed at just how much anger they’ve been storing in their thighs?

Here’s another one. Do you eat health food or do you eat health food? Translation: Do you shop at Whole Foods, or do you buy half your food from the myriad closet-sized natural food stores in town and forage the rest of your meals from within the cracks of concrete parking lots and roadside ditches—and of course only harvest the edible, invasive species that likely deplete the earth from its over-reaped holistic nutrients because we have to feed the earth as well as ourselves?

It can be tough to be “authentic” in this community.

Of course, there’s also the level of success one has achieved that stridently separates the massive cluster of word-slingers in my village, and that was made indisputably evident the last time I hauled my empties down to the local recycling center a few days ago. It can be a sobering and illuminating realization of where exactly you stand in the accomplishment stratification when elbow to elbow with someone whose prosperous wordsmithing has them dumping out a couple of wooden crates full of bottles previously filled with Dom Perignon and Louis Roederer Cristal whilst I am unloading a cardboard box full of empty Two Buck Chuck.

It probably wouldn’t sting so badly if my neighbor’s raised eyebrow of acknowledgment didn’t also silently smirk and say, “How’s the book comin’, kid?”

250616thegrish

Makes me think I should probably take my mom’s sage advice and keep a few extra sweaters on hand. They may be useful to pass out along with the myriad icy stares I give in return to that unspoken question.

~Shelley

For the time being, our 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 we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.