Not So Fit as a Fiddle, but Still Music to My Ears

This year for the holidays, I received a beautiful gift: a bow.

Not a knot tied with two loops and two loose ends to adorn my hair or embellish a box.

Not a weapon from which I would launch arrows to fend off foes or hunt whilst hungry.

Instead, it was a wooden rod, curved and carved, attached to horsehair, and meant to fill a room with sound once drawn across a set of strings.

I’ve been missing the bow to my violin for years.

I’m fairly certain it left of its own accord, for my skills as a violinist are thus that once revealed, fill any listener with more desire to have me cease, than the encouragement they first offered to have me begin.

I have been surrounded by musicians my whole life. It is not difficult to assess who was capable and who was simply fulfilling the chore affixed to their daily schedule by a parent who insisted that if they wished to see the dawn of the next day, they would accomplish the tasks assigned to them on the present one.

I wasn’t fond of practicing the violin, and I don’t really know what would have happened had I refused to play it. Or if I would purposefully create sound that would have others beseeching I never do so again. I was a rule follower. And more than a modicum of effort was expected to produce results.

I reached the great height of mediocrity and would still to this day firmly quibble with Elfriede Jelinek who stated that The middling level has no terrors, no anxieties. For no matter where I went—and at that time, I was going from stage to stage—I found I was hired on because “yes, you can sing,” but also “we need a violinist too.” Therefore, I was thrust into the limelight where others now shined a blistering focus on those lackluster skills. Terrors and anxieties accompanied me as if we were tethered triplets.

Once departing that domain and birthing two small humans who grew to the level of trust where they could hold an instrument and not simply utilize it as teething relief, I quickly, and astonishingly, discovered what true aptitude looked like. Smart enough to engage industrious tutors, and youthful enough to recall tutorial methods that did not resonate with me, the blueprint to build two true musicians began to take shape. The foundation of this construct required one element I insisted be present, lest the whole edifice collapse: joy.

I think most of us realize that to achieve any measure of competency, it will involve some elbow grease, and therefore, joy can be muffled when engaged in employing said grease. Muffled does not mean silenced. No pillow may be engaged in asphyxiating the necessary joy essential to furthering one’s abilities—no matter how downy soft it may be. Many would agree the joy emerges strengthened and intensified, but usually after great effortful endeavors. Learning that pattern is what’s most difficult.

Now although my skills did not improve greatly as I worked and learned alongside my children, my joy associated with my violin did. I think it was due to living vicariously through many of their advancements. Hearing someone tackle increasingly difficult passages and produce mellifluous sound was phenomenal not simply to experience firsthand, but also to feel the jubilant skipping of my own genes expressing the thrill of a job well done. I would never take credit for my offspring’s’ capabilities, but I take a small amount of satisfaction knowing I did not fully dampen them to the point of being mute.

Today, the two of them are magnificently masterful with their art, and I remain astonished at the heights they’ve achieved.

I also remain tethered to my own averageness and would love to shift the blame onto something as absurd as my personal fear of heights. Some ladders are not meant to be climbed, although I find myself at least brave enough to perch a few rungs above dirt level.

And the view from this spot, although not panoramic, feels purposeful enough to elevate the worthiness of my efforts—the energy put forth to revive latent skills for no one else’s benefit but mine, where a small bloom of satisfaction unfolds as ancient filaments of melodic line burble up to the surface from ink to brain and instrument to air. The fact that they stitched themselves to some part of my essence and found hush-hush housing, emerging when called–albeit dusty and brittle, does not dampen my pursuits. In fact, those efforts are made more profound because someone I love gave me the means to express myself. And although I wish that that which is expressed from those four tightly drawn strands sounded less strained than the method one envisions it required to create the catgut strings, there is still joy.

Joy that someone gave me the gift.

Joy that someone still absurdly believes I have the wherewithal to make use of the gift.

And the joy that on any given day I can simply announce, I am not going to practice today, so there.

From where I stand on the ladder’s rungs of talent, I’d have to say that’s a gift in and of itself and should be wrapped up in a bow.

~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 Din of December

There is something magical about the word December.

And I think it’s more than the tingles I get from simply saying the word—a word that envelops me with a warmth containing decades of memories, all twinkling and glittered. I think it’s the hearing of all things December related.

December has a sound all its own.

For me, and where I live on this patch of earth, it is the sound of swirling snowflakes, cotton soft and cushioning. It’s a muffling of the natural world, a bright white quilt under a blue-white moon.

It’s the sound of wind chimes chinkling, nudged by invisible fingers of a frost-laden wind.

It’s the whistle of winter’s breath as it races down the chimney shafts and rushes through the empty halls, a purring, fluid melody, so measured and hypnotic. Suddenly, it inhales and pulls all open doorways shut with slaps of sound that startle, breaking soothing silence.

I hear the somber trees, brooding and contemplative. Rhythmic and slow, their drinking of the earth and drawing in the air allow them time for mindful reflection, and their meticulous planning of a spring that slowly creeps closer day by day.

And I listen for the pop of seasoned wood, ensconced in flames and smoke. The tiny hiss from flickering tongues is the language of heat, a faint articulation of a promise against the bleak and bitter chill.

I warm at the thrum of mellifluous song, the trilling of carols, the honeyed blend of bright, buoyant voices. Whether it be the refrains of jubilant noise thrust toward the heavens of a brilliant starry night, or one single, hallowed melody, hummed quietly and kept in check, music seeps out into the air, whimsical, innocent and heady.

This month is filled with the sounds of gratitude: the contented sighs slipping from souls who witness December’s darkness replaced with tiny, twinkling lights, the bright-eyed, gleeful shrieks from innocent mouths who point at storied characters come to implausible and colorful life, and the cheerful hail of reception that fills front halls, front porches, and the faces of those behind front desks.

It is abundant with the thanks for a warm cup of tea, a filling cup of soup, a coat, some shoes, a toy, a bed.

It is filled with a million wishes on the same bright stars, overflowing with countless dreams whispered deep beneath the covers, scratched in a letter to Santa, chanted in prayer over candlelight.

I hear the sound of sharp blades on ice, waxed sleds on snow, snowballs on parkas.

There is the noise of muffled feet on carpeted risers, the hum of a pitch pipe, a sharp intake of breath, and the strains of melody and harmony and dissonance braided throughout the next many minutes that make the hair across your arms quiver above goose flesh even though you are in an overheated room, squished into an undersized chair.

Throughout the month there is the crunch of dry leaves, the cracking of gunshots and the grunt of effort when dragging home that which will fill the freezer. I hear the soothsaying of snow, the delightful patter of euphoric feet, and the collective groan from a city full of scraping shovels.

The sounds of December are those of rustling coats and the stomping of boots, the rubbing of hands against the numbing, wintery sting. They are the hushed prayers of voices in holy vigil, the retelling of sacred stories to fresh ears and hungry souls.

The sounds I hear are those of glasses, clinking all in toasts. They are the wishes of warmth and the hope of fellowship, the thirst for triumph and the promise of change.

But most of all, I hear the plaintive yearning of my heart, voicing the wish that December won’t end, that January won’t come, and that time will stand still.

December is a month of sounds that sounds so good to me.

~Shelley

Lastly, I leave you with a small gift from me to you. I sing Norah Jones’ song ‘December.’ A tune I feel is my holiday hug to the world.

(And a huge hug of thanks to my wonderfully gifted son for mixing and production.)

Galapagods and Goddesses

“So what are you most excited about, Mom? The giant tortoises? The penguins? The Blue-footed Boobies?”

That last one always makes every one laugh—until you see a picture of the bird, in which case you’re trying to figure out how to slyly shove one of those cutey patooties into your suitcase to return home with.

“The distillery,” I answered truthfully.

I heard the distinct sound of a hand suctioning itself onto a forehead. It would be a familiar thump as well over the next couple of weeks, as we were nearing the end of Chloe’s “Countdown to the Galapagos” calendar—the trip of a lifetime my daughter had gifted me.

Weeks earlier she had surprised me on a Zoom call.

“I’ve checked with your work—all is thumbs up, and all the animals will be looked after. I’m taking you to the Galapagos Islands.”

“What?” I was stunned. “Why?”

“Firstly, you’re welcome. And secondly, as a thank you.”

I chose to ignore the firstly bit and moved on to the latter half of her explanation. “Thank you for what?”

“You know, the whole thanks for raising, clothing, caring, feeding bit, plus all the extra effort helping me get to where I am so that I could accomplish what I have.”

She was referring to her ever so awesome job and lifelong dream of sending shit up into space. “You are welcome. I knew those math flash cards were going to pay off one day.”

“I’m serious,” she said. “You were there with the support and encouragement and shoulder—”

“Don’t forget ice cream.”

“Yes, and ice cream too,” she added.

“Why the Galapagos?”

She smiled with glee through the screen. “Well, I may never be able to take you to Mars to study what we’re hoping to discover there—possibly some origin of life, so I’m taking you to where Charles Darwin first studied it on our little planet.”

Obviously, Chloe knew exactly how the poetic parallel would fill me with admiration, and it neatly explained why she had mailed me a beautiful copy of On the Origin of Species just a few days before phoning.

And so, every day for the next two weeks I received some version of the text ELEVEN MORE DAYS TILL GALAPAGOS, MOTHER!!! And I would send her back a picture of one of the animals I could not wait to lay eyes on.

This, of course, after researching whether any of the islands had some form of working distillery upon them, and after discovering one did, announcing that this was where we had to go first.

“We are leaving work behind, Madre—no computers, no spreadsheets, and no liquor apart from that which any charming South American bartender hands you in a glass, got it?”

“But this is not work, Chloe. This is learning. This is research. And as we are going to be spending hours wandering through the ample exhibition halls, gardens, library, and living labs of the Charles Darwin Research Station, we surely will wish to further our research on other aspects of the islands’ elements as well, right?”

“Discovering how some old geezer is distilling sugarcane will likely disappoint you. It’s not going to be like you’re in Scotland, and as you’re hunting through castles and stone circles you accidentally stumble upon some ancient, perfect, long silent but suddenly brought back to life prized distillery.”

I huffed. “I will not be disappointed, Chloe. Clearly, there is an artist waiting to be appreciated—and likely frustrated that Charles Darwin is constantly overshadowing his work. I aim to aid his need for recognition.”

“You aim to be poisoned, likely by a large dose of methanol, is my guess.”

But my sweet, generous, overly and uncomfortably educated child was wrong. Meeting Adriano Cabrera of El Trapiche was one of the most memorable moments ever.  Maybe because having seen some of the world’s most impressive and flush-with-cash companies, with their shiny copper pots, their massive barrel-filled warehouses, and their gleaming tasting rooms, experiencing Adriano’s barebones setup was the refreshing, reaffirming chapter I needed to slip in to my ‘book of life.’ It brought back the this process is magic feeling that can sometimes be buried beneath all the new glamour whisky making tours now provide to consumers.

Not one of the countless distilleries I’ve visited ever employed animals as part of the workforce, and yet Adriano had harnessed not just a braying donkey to run the press that squeezes the liquid out of the cane sugar, but every bit of flora and fauna he had available to utilize.

All throughout the facility—and by facility, I mean a long, open air shack—he was growing plants indigenous to his island of Santa Cruz. Whether it was the sugar cane, the coffee bushes, or cacao beans, the surrounding landscape was filled with flowering plants.

Those flowering plants brought birds, butterflies, and bees to pollinate them, and those thriving plants introduced an abundance of wild, ambient yeasts. Those indigenous yeasts then fermented that sugar cane juice, which attracted a good handful of insects looking to score a solid buzz on their buzziness and ended up dying for the cause. And still flying with the theme that Adriano was capturing flavor everywhere, surely there’s got to be a scientist who would agree with me that those insects added a bit of nuttiness to the mash, or that their natural fats and mineral-rich exoskeletons left some “flavorprint” behind.

It doesn’t matter. I have empirical evidence. My tongue was the judge.

Once that mash trickled downhill via garden hose to the antiquated, blackened oil drum that was his makeshift still, flames licking and embracing its bottom half as it heated and fractionated the fermented juice within, the magic was nearly done.

Adriano’s method of testing his alcohol’s proof was to use a scuffed-up glass hydrometer, but more to my amusement, was his flamboyant technique of simply throwing a cupful of distillate right onto the still’s flames.

If it goes boom, we bottle, could be a motto he might consider putting onto the label.

Of course, the proof is in the pudding as well, which to me—any small, albeit worrisome, overdose of methanol aside—was a nip worth sipping and a risk worth taking.

As I see it, the El Trapiche distillery succeeded in distilling the entire experience of The Galapagos Islands’ essence of origins into liquid form. The smells, the taste, the sights, the sounds. The true flavor of all its endemic species.

Charles Darwin would have been proud.

~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, for crying out loud!

Oftentimes we’re asked to assess parts of our physical bodies—to rate and rank that which we like and that which we abhor about ourselves.

Crack open any health, fashion or beauty magazine and you’ll likely come across a quiz that will ultimately help you “understand” yourself a bit better by the end of it. You hate your chunky thighs, but love your thick hair. You’ve got flawless skin, but detest your wide, flat feet. Your eyes are strikingly green, but folks will never notice until they stop gawking at your red, pudgy nose.

300314thickhair (583x800)

We’ve all got bits like this. Things that work for us and things that we wish we could bring back to some almighty maker with receipt in hand to ask for a refund.

Still in the process of raising two teens, I’m often thinking about how to communicate a healthy kind of “self appreciation” that balances awareness and mindfulness without obsession. Occasionally I hear one of my kids pass judgment on one of their bodily features that would make Simon Cowell announce they were being a bit harsh. I’m left with no other choice than to put a spin on the part getting hammered. I give them a few encouraging words that might make them see that attribute from a more positive perspective.

If I hear, My fingers are too short, I announce my envy at the speed at which they race across a keyboard. A comment like, Why won’t my hair cooperate? receives a reply such as Likely your hair is a reflection of your personality, which is somewhat wild and untamed and determined to show a little of that covetable rebellious teenage attitude we adults sorely miss. Or the complaint, What the heck is going on with my toenails? I point a finger at the phone and say, Take it up with your grandfather. Those are definitely his genetics. But hey, he’s super funny isn’t he?

300314toenails (800x622)

Yet there’s one physical feature I’ve noticed about myself lately, which I can’t quite seem to engineer an optimistic response to. And it’s a very tiny thing.

My tear ducts.

They’re unruly.

No. I mean they’re a little more enthusiastic than I’d like.

See? I just tried to steer that disapproval into a slightly upbeat description.

Nope. Didn’t work. I still feel like those puppies are determined to wreak havoc with my appearance at every opportunity—appropriate or not.

Yes, you’re watching a sad movie, reading a tragic novel or viewing the 6 o’clock news—many of us will tear up. But I could be in line at the bank and hear two people in front of me talk of one of their mothers who is struggling with the recovery from a hip fracture and I am right there with them, feeling the helplessness of knowing someone you love is in pain. Stepping up to the teller yields the response, “Umm, here’s ten, twenty, forty and the tissue is on the house.”

I’m at the grocery store, sifting through fruits and vegetables and I hear a lyrical piece of Musak. I stop what I’m doing and pause to listen to the heartrending chord progression that makes my breath catch and sends tears down my cheeks. I suddenly see the produce guy standing in front of me, staring. “Wow, lady. You really are sensitive to onions aren’t you?”

I once wandered the isles at the local drug store and found myself parked in front of the makeup display. After a minute, I noticed a young woman dressed from head to toe in camouflage combat fatigues standing next to me, and the insignia for the U.S. Army on her chest. My mind flooded with gratitude. All I could do was turn to her and say thank you.

She looked at me. Looked back at the makeup. And then handed me a wand of waterproof mascara and said, “You’re welcome?”

300314tearduck (669x800)

Somewhere inside, I know that having ‘hairtrigger happy to respond’ tear ducts should not bring about the element of discomfiture (read occasional mortification) that it does. But when your kids stop wanting to hang out with you because the last time you all went to the local café together you started leaking over the happy fact that they still had their cream of tomato soup on the menu, one must pause and question whether or not you should be let out of the house. You begin to doubt whether even a well-respected PR team could spin this into likeable quirk.

Maybe I possess a huge heart filled with gratitude and I should continue attempting to relish it. Maybe I’ve created a new level of hyper-developed sensitivity that comes with trying to conjure up believable emotion within the characters I write about. Maybe I suffer out of control hormones and should see my GP for medication or shock therapy.

Whatever it is, I’m determined to keep trying to embrace it. Yes, I’ve ruined more pictures by suddenly realizing I’m with a bunch of folks I love, and immediately tear up as soon as someone says, “Cheese!” But this is no reason not to love my selfie.

300314cheese (780x800)

That would be a crying shame.

~Shelley

 

**Gotta Have a Gott**

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Click here to see the cartoons in competition and to cast your vote.

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.

Related articles