Knock, Knock. Who’s There? History. And a Bunch of Dead People Who Want In.

I have heard countless tales about the mystical days of the year when there is a thinning—an opening of the usually bolted door between the living and the dead.

I find these legends to be magnetic and irresistible from both the historical perspective in that apparently our folk tales of old are still captivating enough to be passed on and hold great longevity, and also because I’d love to know who is the guy who lifts the latch on that door and allows it to creak open with invitation.

Sure, it could be the wind, but seriously, that’s way too many years of perfectly timed coincidence, right?

The chunk of consecutive days known as Halloween or Samhain (the ancient Celtic festival), All Saints Day, and All Souls Day are three celebrations and commemorations when, beginning October 31st  through November 2nd, many people’s thoughts are steeped in leaf blowers, credit card bills showing an overabundance of pumpkin spiced lattes, and fear. (That second one causes the third one to bloom when the pounds run high and the dollars run low.)

Samhain marked the end of all things warm and sun-related, and the beginning of the coffin making season. The Celts marked their new year beginning on November 1st, and likely didn’t bother with any yearly census until spring, as people dropped like flies during the cold winter months.

I’ve always preferred Samhain to Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, as typically the costumes are better. Yes, they both incorporate some semblance of gathering—festive or otherwise—but the getups worn in days of old were truly meant to ward off ghosts. And what spirit wouldn’t turn tail and leave when peeking in to join the massive bonfire only to see animals being sacrificed within it and the party guests all draped in a few extra severed heads and blood-soaked skins.

Begone, you destructive wraiths! Leave our crops be or we shall threaten you with … Wait, hey, Bob? What are we threatening these dead people with?

Let’s say MORE DEATH, Dick, okay? Can we all agree that ‘more death’ is our menacing chant?

I could be wrong, but even with this action and logic I’m going to vote that the chilling and shuddery-inducing specters are more inclined to back off from a party such as this than one where folks are dressed in chintzy polyester tat from Walmart.

Personally, I think donning a naughty bar maid getup is likely more of an invitation rather than a deterrent to any lonely ghoul.

And although we may be in the thick of a ghastly pandemic at present, the fear felt by the living souls 2000 years ago was more of a “the entire village” type of dread as there really existed no “K” modeled economy forecast where when things went pear-shaped, some folks did well, and some felt they were in the middle of another version of The Hunger Games.

Back then, once you’d run out of firewood by dismantling all the furniture and eventually the homesteading structure itself, it was back to living surrounded by an outcropping of rocks and prickly gorse bushes instead of moving in with family. Because by that time, you may have actually eaten the only family that had a couch you could surf.

Once the Romans conquered a good chunk of the Celt’s turf, the new residents began to feel some softening of celebrations might be in order.

Maybe instead of scaring away all the dead, you folks should switch it out and commemorate them? We’ve come across far fewer demands for the sacrifice of livestock if we simply recite a few of their shinier earthly moments.

The request may have been a resounding NO! from the remaining Celts, which might have made the Romans give in a smidge and answer with:

Fine, fine, we’ll stretch the whole thing out a bit—keep your “frightnight”, but then word from corporate is that we make the next day one for the dearly departed, and then follow that up with a nod to old Pomona. She’s the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, and who doesn’t love bobbing for apples, eh?

Despite the church’s efforts to delicately rosy up and combine the fetes of the past, these people were surrounded by fearful imagery most of the time, whether it was a lack of food in the cupboard, the rush of pillaging neighbors who didn’t ascribe to that whole “do not covet thy neighbor’s anything, or simply waking up next to a spouse with three working teeth and a penchant for wild onions. Times were scary.

So why would they wish to set aside three whole days to mingle with the dead and focus on all that fear—all the prophesying of bad crops to come, or another mouth to feed, or hearing the soothsayer reveal that your mother-in-law was soon to move in?

Maybe for the same reason that we ride rollercoasters, or go through haunted houses, or check in with our 401ks.

Likely those actions are simply to show ourselves that it can always get worse, and we should be grateful for the now.  

As for me, I’m still left wondering if that doorman is really more of a Beefeater type of position or a “someone’s left the barn door open again” kind of deal, as perhaps the latter would explain precisely why it gets so damn cold in the winter, eh?

~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.

 

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.

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.

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.

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Carved in Stone: the Joys of Choosing an Epitaph

I have uttered one phrase so many times within the last few years it has become as familiar to me as my own name, except it’s usually followed by a giant sigh or a wide-eyed look of panic. It is:

I have a deadline.

Currently, it rattles off the tongue as regularly as one might say, “I have a cold,” or “We need milk,” or “I didn’t mind giving that second TED talk, but the third one was a bit of a bear.”

You get my point.

It is mundanely routine.

I think most of us are well acquainted with the concept and, in fact, find some form of it or another weaving itself throughout myriad ordinary situations in our lives.

Whether you’ve got a fixed time to show up for work, or class, or the meeting, or you’ve got only so many minutes before the bus pulls away from the curb, or the plane pulls its wheels from the runway, deadlines surround us all.

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The homework is due, the test will begin, the doors will be locked—just a few more of the many self-imposed timed boundaries we find ourselves floating within. And I’m pretty sure most of us have experienced the star-bursting, lung exploding moments where we realize we have fallen below the waterline and are now drowning in The Great Sea of Overdue.

Overdue_May16

My workspace is small. Purposefully so. Simply to induce that same calming feeling that miraculously occurs in newborn infants when you swaddle those suckers up like a human cannoli. There is no space for flailing, injurious arms, no room for every assignment to be on display, and not enough expanse to encourage the lying down beneath my desk for a quick mid-day kip or the body collapsing posture of giving up altogether.

In fact, much of the space beneath my desk is occupied by assignments that can be ignored until next month and will serve me better acting in the position of foot ottoman.

Paper is everywhere. Attached to the papers are brightly colored sticky notes with due dates on them.

Sticky_May16

Calendars are taped to the walls. Deadlines are highlighted in neon colors or sometimes old stickers from when my children were much younger and thought that a decal from the bank or the grocery store was akin to finding a twenty dollar bill on the sidewalk. Most of them say things like eat your vegetables, or put a penny in your piggy bank and have nothing to do with the D-day for the copy editor of my latest manuscript. But still, I think I’d rather see a picture of a head of broccoli

Brocolli_May16

than a picture of the copy editor with a bubble coming out of her mouth saying, “There is so much wrong here I don’t know where to begin.”

Editor_May16

Nuff said.

Some deadlines are not hard deadlines, but usually, only the ones that do not apply to my efforts. People with a lot more heft to their job descriptions get to blur the edges of their dates, whereas mine tend to show up with blaring sirens, a photographer to witness my failure, and enough guilt to ensure my therapist will be able to upgrade his seat on his next flight for the cruise I also paid for.

One of these days, I’d like to know what it feels like to be someone like Mother Nature, who, when I hold up my calendar to the sky and reveal the thirty days of time elapsed since her agreed upon announcement of Spring, will simply blow me a raspberry and create yet another hard freeze that shrivels even the meritorious efforts of the hardiest of daffodils.

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I assume once you get a taste of that kind of power, it’s pretty impossible to imagine handing it back. Perhaps it’s best I stay on this side of the fence. For here is where I make my tiny miracles happen. And I’m serious about the fact that some divine intervention is needed, because usually finishing some deadline assignment within a manuscript does not come without some serious hours on my knees, looking skyward, and promising to give all future royalties–should there be any–to some worthy cause.

I’m guessing that will end up being the electric company, but if there’s any leftover it will go into the fund to replace my continually dwindling supply of sticky notes and neon colored highlighters.

I suppose if I’m going to be honest, I have found a couple of areas where deadlines are flexible. Booking that annual dentist appointment—because he’s expensive and visits are time-consuming, plus there’s one area in my mouth where I can still chew food and not feel pain, so things must not be that bad. Visiting my optometrist—because ditto to the first two parts, plus I can still drive just fine as long as I cover my left eye and don’t get distracted by the unpredictable arrival of tunnel vision in the right one. And the replacement of cat litter. One just simply needs to recalibrate one’s definition of breathable air.

I’m pretty sure that due dates and deadlines will be the status quo for an indefinite amount of time—at least for me, that is. If things go the way I hope they do for the remainder of my life, I will continue to pump out books that will be not only life-fulfilling but life-sustaining.

In fact, I’d probably die a happy woman and consider my life well-lived if my tombstone’s epitaph read:

Shelley Sackier

Deadline

Deadline

Deadline

Flatline

 

~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.

A 422 Day Year? Yep, It Happened.

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If pressed one day to reveal my dream tattoo, its explanation would arise as a result of watching far too many Monty Python skits.

More than likely I’d need to find a space massive enough to accommodate this:

All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us? 

The one thing missing, I would hazard to say, is the calendar we depend upon today.

Imagine this– you are a farmer, tied to the land and your animals, agrarian in every sense of the word, and counseled beneath the Roman Emperor Numa Pompilius’ calendar.

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Lunar to begin with, it consisted of a mere ten months—March through December. Now as much as many folk would wish to be rid of January and February, Numa spit in the eye of his subjects’ greatest fears and threw two months into the beginning of the year, officially recognizing the missing sixty days of terror, when unmentionable fiendish ghouls ruled the streets. Yes, you could still walk around covered in ash and leap through the flaming pyres of purification meant to ward off those who shall not be named, but now you’d be able to pencil in on which day you’d prefer to have a chalky complexion and ones where you’d singe your coattails.

Fast forward around six hundred years. Same ancient farmer—well preserved from a fine diet off the land—and same ancient calendar: lunar and totally bungled. Sure, Numa threw in a few extra days here and there to appease those around him with better mathematical skills. But complaints were rife. A 355 day year falls a little short for the agricultural savviness of most farmers, and after a decade or so, they’re getting reminders from Outlook to start planting seeds around December 23rd.

Houston? We have a problem.

Cue Julius Caesar. Even though the guy had a lot on his plate: a budget crisis, political corruption, throwing a few dinner parties complete with gladiators and lions, he apparently got tired of showing up way too late for the Vernal Equinox Festival each year. Things had gotten so out of whack while Rome was busy conquering the world, nobody noticed—unless you were friends with a farmer—that the first day of spring was scheduled for somewhere in June, just after school let out. Something had to be done.

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Since he had friends in high places, Caesar sought the help of someone whose influence was of the highest order, astronomically speaking.

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Sosigenes, an Alexandrian greatly envied for the size of his telescope, er … astrolabe, was beckoned forth and instructed to untangle the calendrical conundrum. Pronto.

Up for the challenge, Sosigenes took out his freshly cleaned slate and chalk, came up with a slick marketing plan, and presented the new Julian calendar, complete with slides. The only glitch was that before implementing the shiny new calendar, they had to set straight the old one.

Thinking no one would mind—or even notice—Sosigenes threw a few missing days into the current year. Sixty-seven to be precise. Thirty days were added in between February 2nd and 3rd and thirty-five snuck in just after the last day of November and the first of December. The other two might have been tossed in as a couple of three day weekends.

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Still, no matter how much publicity sparkle the PR department tried to spin it with, the Romans became a cranky bunch. And who could blame them?

February now seemed like an unending Lent, and Sosigenes was getting hate mail from kids who were expected to be ultra-patient for the start of the Christmas season. People were going to have to wait an ungodly amount of time see if Caesar would put a menorah on the front lawn of the Basilica. Sadly, they’d never know.

Regardless, there are a couple of things we can take from the lesson of what soon became coined as The Long Year. Firstly, Rome realized their kids were falling way behind in math and sciences and that the Chinese were catching up. Secondly, Romans back then were older than what their driver’s licenses said. And lastly, we’ve got little to complain about when every four years we tack on an extra day in February, because seriously, look at all the Romans did for us. If you can’t remember, I’ll show you my tattoo.

~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.

Baby, Is It Cold Outside?

Midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox up here in the Northern hemisphere, folks start to get squirrelly.

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We’ve made it through the big eating festivals of Thanksgiving and Christmas, gushed forth an armload of inebriated promises to ourselves at New Year’s—swearing ‘change was on its way,’—and then we slogged through the gloomy gray of January, bedamning those drunken oaths.

When February hits, we are tired, we are bloated, and we are desperate.

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So we flip the calendar to a new page and employ the soothsaying prowess of a rodent. We gather round the critter’s hovel and cast out our urgent pleas.

Make these dreary days brighter for us, oh woodchuck!

Release us from winter’s wretched hold, little land-beaver!

Heal our melancholy spirits from these lugubriously long days, tiny whistle pig!

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And then we hold our pudgy warlocks high into the air and ask them to divine the future for us as all sane people of advanced cultures are doing.

I love Groundhog Day.

According to most of my reliable internet search engine sources and Frau Heidlehaufen on the north side of the large hill I live atop, both have stated that all groundhogs rise from their winter slumber on February 2nd at daybreak. Frau Heidlehaufen might have actually said prune cake or headache, but as she is a 92 year-old woman with only three teeth, most of what she says is easily mistaken for a long buried form of Greenlandic Norse.

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Still, the World Wide Web never lies.

What happens then is thus:

If our precious badger-like beast spots his shadow casting a long form from the front doorstep of his burrow, he yawns, waves drowsily at the gathered crowd and heads back below to hunker down for another six weeks of snoozing until spring will finally arrive.

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But if our meteorological marmot does not see his shadow, he quickly checks his stocks on the NASDAQ, scampers into his bunker to put on a pot of coffee, and starts sifting through seed packets for the early arrival of spring—which should show up in about six weeks.

How did we wonky Americans come up with this little piece of mid-winter amusement? Clearly, it came about at a time when the Internet had yet to enter stage left, Instagram wasn’t even in the stages of Let me show you the pictures from my family’s trip to Disney World, and George R.R. Martin was likely giving himself permission to go to the bathroom in between writing his enthralling epic novels for a demanding and impatient readership.

We obviously needed SOMETHING to keep our spirits up.

And I think most of us have realized that if we can’t find a ferret to shove down our trousers in a round of raucous pub games, then any animal from the group of large ground squirrels will do.

Of course, there’s also the historical footnote stating that this custom was brought to our country via the Germanic tradition of Candlemas Day where folks would bring their year’s supply of candles into church to get blessed from whomever was behind the altar that day.

Yeah, I’m not really seeing the connection either, but this fact was brought to you via some old school traditionally published encyclopedia that I was thumbing through and not my more reliable source of some dude’s blog post advertising his small West Virginian farm and the heart healthy benefits of varmint meat. You decide.

There are plenty of American cities that have claimed their prickly pet as the real deal, but read any poll administered by the good people of a small town in Pennsylvania and you will soon see that Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary is the groundhog upon which all other groundhogs measure their self worth.

If there is one thing we must collectively agree upon though, despite the protestations from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stating that the groundhog possesses “no predictive skills,” it is the fact that these guys are amorous little rascals.

According to modern ethologists, who believe the study of animal behavior is more reliable using the scientific method vs. folklore, these chubby chucks are not actually stirring from slumber to check on the weather, but whether Shirley, or Sheila, or even Shondelle—a few burrows over—is up for a quick cuddle.

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That’s it.

Nothing more profound.

It turns out that our furry friends pretty much feel the same way we do come the beginning of February: they are tired, they are bloated, and they are desperate. So they gather round another critter’s hovel and cast out their urgent pleas.

“I’m cold. Can I come in?”

The answer is usually yes, as thawing somebody else’s icicle toes turns out to be a pretty heartwarming gesture. Apparently we’ve been wrong about these creatures from the beginning. They are not oracles with a forecast from a Doppler radar wormhole, they are simply starry-eyed romantics. They are motivated by nothing more than answering the quest for comfort. Just like you and me.

In the grand scheme of things, we’re pretty much all groundhogs at heart.

~Shelley

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

 

 

 

GOTTA HAVE A GOTT!

And now for something completely different …

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This week is the grand unveiling of the crackerjack cartoon collection of Peak Perspective’s illustrator extraordinaire—Robin Gott. We’ve been ballyhooing this exciting event for ten months, and have decided that for this first year Rob will create and put FIFTY calendars up for sale. The cost is approximately $22.95 for the U.S. (this will include shipping and handling—because Rob’s hands are all over these pieces, and typically it’s extra for ink-stained fingerprints, but not this time).

We say approximately because Rob is still wrestling with a batch of Christmas carrier pigeons he’s been training for that “special delivery” touch. If the polar vortex continues to muck about, and Sweden remains as frigid as it is, a few pigeons may be sacrificed for sustenance. Therefore, he will have to rely upon traditional mail services. Other Earthly locations are still being calculated as well, and we may have an order from the ISS which we’re fairly certain the pigeons will not be able to manage. We’ll figure it out.

The calendars will be offered on a first-come-first serve basis, and we expect to sell out rather quickly as Rob’s great Aunt Marge has decided she and the twenty some women in her quilting bee will be buying them and using each month as pattern work. They are creating a ginormous bedspread for the newest infant arrival to Windsor castle. Therefore, just to add a little spice into this ballgame, we’ll add a zippy quick Peak Perspective Quiz.

If you answer all three quiz questions correctly, you are in line for the calendar. Answer two, we’ll likely make an exception, but perhaps grumble about the lack of fan loyalty and dedication to retaining pointless trivia, etc. If you’re down to just one, we’re going to assume you belong to Marge’s quilting corner and are basically hoping to get in good with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and care very little for high quality cartoons.

Understand this is a necessary step to filter through the riff raff. No offense, Aunt Marge.

*As a bonus, because we love you, everyone who purchases a calendar will have their name thrown into a hat and we’ll draw out one. The lucky winner gets their calendar as our gift. That’s right—for free. (The deadline for entering the drawing is December 12.)

Below you’ll see the ten winners for each month (November has yet to be voted for and December will be ‘Artist’s choice’). But in fact, we’ve decided to go with a collage of your favorites so that you’ll never tire of seeing the same pen strokes for four weeks at a time.

You’re welcome.

Peak Perspective Quiz Questions:

1.)  What are the names of Shelley’s woolly mammoth sheep?

2.)  What country was Rob born in, and which one does he live in now?

3.)  What was this summer’s five-part blog extravaganza about?

a- attempting to make clouds pee inside Plexiglas

b- science smacking nose first into Hickville

c- evidence that Google Earth should not be a parent’s first choice of spyware for their teens

d- all of the above

Tie Breaking Quiz Question:

How many bottles of whisky does Shelley have?

January Winner

 

Leeky Nose

 

February Winner

I Told You So

March Winner

Toenails

April Winner

Pepe Le Sprout

May Winner

Catrobatics

June Winner

Courage

July Winner

Natural Colors

August Winner

Pollock

September Winner

Valderi

October Winner

The Gods

Now for the logistics. To be a contending calendar customer, send your answers for the above quiz questions to info@robingott.com. And if you’re one of the first 50 (and have any inkling about the content of this humor blog), you’ll be directed to our PayPal site to finish giving us your details.

We hope you might enjoy having Rob’s handiwork light up your walls and a few faces in your homes. Good luck and have fun!

~Shelley & Rob

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

Amazing Grace–a happy human condition.

I have this habit of seasonally taking stock in things.

In the fall, I tally how much wood I have for the fireplace.

In the winter, I measure the amount of scotch in storage.

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In the spring, I size up what made it through the harsh winter and then I toss whatever didn’t.

In the summer, I keep my fingers crossed that I was one of those things that survived the spring cleaning.

My birthday is this week, and each year when it arrives, the first thing I do before sticking a toe out from beneath the covers is to make a balanced body account:

Anatomy-wise, what is still chugging along cooperatively? What is barely keeping up? What buckled under the pressure and was left on the side of the road and is currently being pecked into bite sized morsels for turkey vulture vittles? If I find that the scale hints even slightly in the positive direction, I will roll over and begin my morning ablutions. If I have a deficit, I will try again in an hour.

I have been lucky thus far. Rare has a birthday come and gone with me spending most of it hitting the snooze button. I have been criticized much of my life for being uncommonly, uncomfortably and annoyingly happy. But this quibble regarding my nature is inaccurate. It’s not that I’m continually popping perky pills, it’s much more simple than that.

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I’m grateful.

And gratitude can be a heady drug.

I cannot walk by a blooming bush or a cluster of planted posies without detouring in order to inhale a lungful of their inebriating fragrance. Occasionally, I find I am nose to nose with another individual who is not particularly thrilled with me overseeing his work, and can make a painful point about territorial rights.

I can easily be swept away by the colors that explode around me: greens that are so intense they are nearly pungent, hues of blue that suggest a depth of travel for which there is no end, blushing bursts of color that flare across fields and hillsides beckoning the eye and tossing in an extra heartbeat to my normally steady rhythm. I am a sucker for a rich palette, whether displayed on canvas, or within a shock of teenage hair; it is eye candy and I am drawn to it hungrily.

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My appetite for conversations with the small brood I care for is insatiable. I want to know what they’re thinking, how they’re thinking and if they’re thinking. Their learning process has been so different than mine, so foreign to my intuition and intellect, that I find myself wanting to study them like an entirely new species. And they are. Their alien intelligence is something I may have paid for, but am denied access to. Still, I am granted the license to observe and appraise, to curiously examine, and to marvel at the mechanisms of learning. I also marvel at the fact that most nights I am not face down in my soup, having exhausted all reserves of energy in attempting to follow their rapid fire, warp-speed conversations about topics I couldn’t even classify. Copious amounts of their words are not in my lexicon.

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They are a foreign species, but I’ve found I have a taste for the exotic. Another tick on the gratitude graph.

My appreciation scale widens further with the component of a truly savory experience. The phrase Food and Wine is one of the greatest string of words mankind has thrown together. With every adventure into a grocery store, a restaurant, or even my own refrigerator, I am continually caught by delighted surprise with what is available and creatable. I am also caught by surprise—not the delighted kind—with what is available and creatable.

Yum and yuck.

Ultimately, whether I am drawn to something new, something bold, something blue, or something old, the notion of feeding my body, feeds my soul. And many times I have found myself tempted after a particularly delectable adventure to turn to someone next to me and ask, “Does this make my soul look fat?”

Fingers crossed it does.

Lastly, true sensation–the ability to feel both physically and emotionally–is not without risk. At one end of the spectrum floats blissful nirvana. The other is the lead weight of despair. Somewhere betwixt is balance, but the gamut is wide with a breadth and depth that needs to be explored to claim the title of ‘a life well-lived.’

And this is what I seek: the taste and touch, the sights and sounds, the extraordinary, the humbling, the awakening, the challenging, and that which steals your breath away, but hopefully returns it.

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If I stop to think about it, I’ve been spinning in a reeling pirouette from the moment I was a cluster of human cells. Rightly so, I should be dizzy enough to ask for pause to untangle myself from the one way spiraling road trip, but thankfully, I am determined to remain in my seat.

Each day I continue to purchase a ticket, find an open stool, and buckle up my safety belt.

Destination: Life

~Shelley

 

June Gotta Have a Gott winner

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. Jump on over to see the cartoon winner for June!

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

The Grand Poobah of Parties

I read a lot of historical fiction.

On purpose.

I like historical fiction and I write historical fiction, but the way to become a decent writer of the genre, and for others to become fervent followers of your writing in that genre, is to immerse yourself in the times as much as possible.

Alas, time travel isn’t feasible, although having toured the physics department in the United Kingdom’s Birmingham University last year (read about the unfathomable physics), I’m pretty sure it will be soon. So, until those clever clods figure it out, I’m left with reading. And reading leads to imagery. And imagery leads to sensation. And sensation leads to … well it doesn’t matter, but if we were Amish, this whole thing could lead to dancing and you know that’s one come hither look closer to hell than anyone’s comfortable having in their living room.

Call me a mutineer if you must (and likely only if you’re Amish), but I find that apart from joining a traveling band of reenactors, the only way to thoroughly taste the joie de vive of the past is to immerse yourself within the time period’s literature.

Or to make a pot of joie de vive, which I’m pretty sure includes a lot of entrails and a few copper francs.

One holiday not entirely gone and buried from memory, but not widely celebrated anymore, and one I think would be enormously fun to resurrect from the graveyard, is Twelfth Night.

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Taking place the night of January 5th, it heralds the beginning of the Epiphany and the end of the gluttonous Twelve Days of Christmas. Back in Tudor times, I’m guessing a dozen days wasn’t nearly enough, as Twelfth Night signified it was time to pack up and head home following all the debauchery that began waaay back on All Hallows Eve.

Yeah, these people knew how to party.

And “part-aay” was the name of the game. And the game was lead by the Lord of Misrule. Misrule as in total anarchy. But before we get to the more well-known versions, let’s take a quick tour of how things were done in a few other lands.

Yes, there’s a religious component to Twelfth Night, as some folks used to celebrate it in remembrance of the Three Kings’ arrival to the birthplace of Christ. It might have simply been a round of “Hallelujah” chorus because the three fellahs were wandering about in the desert for an unduly long period of time and refused to ask for directions. Wise men, eh?

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In Austria, there was a boatload of smoking that took place during the twelve days of Christmas, all poetically named … Smoke Nights. Apparently, Austria had a rather large problem with unwelcomed evil spirits hanging about the country, but soon discovered that the simple combination of great clouds of choking incense and a good solid drenching of holy water took care of the pesky so n’ sos for another three hundred fifty-some days.

Clever.

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In the Netherlands, Twelfth Night officials allow folks to drive away all their unwelcome demonic shades by blowing out their eardrums with a festive little activity they call midwinterhoornblazen. Of course, there is the common misconception among foreigners who catch a glimpse of the Netherlandian wraiths that the reason they are sporting ear muffs is that they are chilly. In fact, they are simply bracing for the upcoming festival.

Clever.

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In medieval times, the Norse (and now the English) would dedicate the evening to Apple Wassailing. Traditionally sent out into the apple orchards, a group of men would locate the oldest tree, encircle it, tie bread and toast to its branches and pour the last of their evening’s alcoholic winter punch over its roots. I’m going to guess they may have relieved themselves over the roots of the tree to boot, but likely it was just an earlier version of the evening’s punch. This, surprise surprise, was done in order to scare away any ghosts and goblins and encourage a bountiful surplus next season.

Questionable.

The thing we glean from looking at these past celebrations is that Europe was plagued with malignant spirits.

Later on, Twelfth Night improved a little in that folks went from driving out the dead to nearly joining them as they drank themselves perilously close to the edge of their lives. There are a plethora of opinions as to the correct form of celebrations, but I’ll give you the general gist.

A cake was cooked.

A reversal of fortune followed.

Lewd behavior ensued.

The Church found out.

Everyone grabbed their coats and went home swearing next year no one was going to invite The Church.

Still today, there are communities that make a grand go at keeping the traditions alive, but in my opinion, there’s clearly a lot of work to be done to convince the rest of the world that the holidays are not quite over.

So back to the books I go, immersing myself in the times of yore. But one thing remains certain: I read about the past to plan a better future.

I hope yours will be brilliant. Happy New Year!

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

The Din of December

There is something magical about the word December.

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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 world, it’s 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.

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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 when that cycle is no more, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

720 hours hath September

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. It softens her edges, mollifies the barbed tips of clacking seconds as they tick, tick, tick in the foggy background. They slowly transform 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 of either.

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 rest 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.

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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. Always too long.

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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 kitchen to a plush-lined parlor, with hushed library voices and our mental bandwidth slowly revving into gear. 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 and now houses prim white shirts and pleated skirts, ordered and homogenous.

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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 lies across all available flat surfaces, requiring signatures, filing, and the hopefully intended read-through.

With the onslaught of shifting our moods and modes, it does not surprise me that in 1752, when the British Empire adopted the Gregorian calendar, they cut nearly two weeks from their clocks by finishing September 2nd and then skipping straight to September 14th. Perhaps it was not simply a method of keeping up with the rest of the world, but also a way to wipe away exhausting obligations. But then again, Britain can be slow to give up commitment and tradition, and their participation in Gregorian reform was 170 years after the first memo landed on everyone’s desk. In fact, a law created in 1307 states that still, should any dead whale be found, washed ashore on the British coast, the head automatically becomes property of the king, while the lucky queen shall have its tail. One must have access to bones for one’s corset, yes?

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Thankfully, September is nowhere near the holiday party season, and there is plenty of time to hunt the shores for washed up whale.

But there should also be time for reflection and observance among the business of harvest. The long days of reaping, the 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 breeze that slowly pushes summer’s plump stars off stage in preparation for the next act: a crisp set of patterns that will pierce the dark, blue 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, asking to be seen through a soft focus lens.

Be busy, be effortful, be thoughtful.

Be here now, in September. Before she says goodbye.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

A recipe for a delectable life.

I find it hard to fathom that one more year has blown by and I’ve tacked on another 365 days worth of eating way too much, sleeping way too little and spending countless hours attempting to teach my dog to talk. Funny enough, I’m sensing the future will be much of the same. I’m not big on change and everyone agrees that the hound is making forward progress with his sibilance.

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I mentioned last year how one of the first things I do when waking on my birthday is to take stock.

Acknowledge things that work: check.

Acknowledge things that don’t: check.

Acknowledge things that squeak … yeah, that one is a growing list, but … check.

There were times in my life when making a splash with my birthday was worthy of planning and fuss, but the older I grow the more I often feel that this yearly rite is more enjoyable as an inner nod to the growing number of trips I’ve made around our sun.

Giga coaster: The first Giga coaster, the 310 ...

The way I look at it is that it’s similar to an amusement ride we’re all sharing and none of us can get off. Ever. Lungs taking in air or not, the ticket was purchased and has no foreseeable expiration date.

And although there may be times when we feel dizzy from the speed, overcome with exhaustion from hanging on, and close our eyes to what’s become a blur as we round another corner, this yearly journey is also filled with flashes of sheer exhilaration, eye-opening perspectives, and heart stopping moments that bring you to your knees and fill you with unimaginable gratitude.

I think back to those first remembered birthdays—the ones filled with confetti cake, sugared air and ribboned boxes—and try to conjure up the innocence. Like the sweetest of berries and the most ambrosial fruit, the years of childhood are delicate, and their flavors, fleeting and rapturous, leave you wishing it was possible to preserve them, lovingly labeled in six ounce jam jars, safeguarded in the pantry for blustery, bone-chilling nights.

Once we’ve emerged from the cradle of youth, we begin ticking the boxes of societal benchmarks, placing an ever increasing amount of importance on a yardstick that has been whittled partly by time grown wisdom and the rest by Hallmark and overly invasive but overwhelming successful marketing campaigns.

Fourteen (553x800)Hey! You’re double digits!

A teenager at last!

Sweet sixteen!

Now that you’re an adult …

Twenty-one! Let’s have some fun!

The big ‘3-oh,’ the big ‘4-oh,’ … HALF A CENTURY?!Thirtyfour070713 (648x800)

But there’s still all that middle ground that needs to be covered, all the numbers not snazzy enough to be grandly celebrated, fussed over, or worried about. Thirty-four and sixty-two and fourteen are pretty “blah” digits that have no dedicated section in the greeting card isle, but should that make them any less significant? Any less worthy?

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Maybe someone could make the argument that distinction is a good thing, that if every birthday were a monumental celebration, they might not feel so monumental any longer. Maybe we need the milestones to bring a flavorful variance to the day. Maybe having your favorite black-out, chocolate chunk, chocolate cake every day sounds like a great idea until about day six or seven when black-out becomes cross-out and cross-eyed.

I might just have to offer myself up to science on behalf of us all to test the theory. It’s okay. I don’t mind. I’m sure it would make a fascinating read in one of the fancier periodicals like The New England Journal of Medicine Specifically Related to the Cacao Bean, or maybe peer reviewed in Nature and Science and Chocolate.

I’ll keep everyone posted for its release.

Regardless, what I find more important with each passing year is the resolve to be fully present. And although this has nothing to do with bow-tied boxes, it has everything to do with gifts.

I want to notice more within each flip of the calendar month, each crossed off master task list day, and each fleeting moment that combines together to create them all.

I want to steep myself within the joy, marinate inside the fear, fester around in turbulent anger, bubble about within surprise.

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And by doing so, I feel I’ve made a marvelous feast of a life. In fact, I long ago tossed out the powdery confetti cake in favor of its unctuous chocolate replacement. But it’s not just a chocolate cake anymore; this cake is drizzled with blissful caramel, mixed in with tooth-cracking toffee, spiced with hot-headed cayenne, and packs a bombshell number of calories. Is it clear? Joy, fear, anger and surprise? It’s all mixed in together. It’s the sum parts of my whole year baked into a forkful or two. Or five.

They are put together for a reason: so I remember to take it all in. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

They are the ingredients of life.

And they are worthy.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

Mister Rogers, Mae West & Mexicans; a beautiful blend of bedfellows.

File:Fred Rogers.jpgHow does one define a neighbor?

If you’re Mister Rogers from the thirty year hit children’s television show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, it’s everyone watching on the other side of the camera. Granted, that audience was mainly comprised of three to six-year olds who were simply in search of a thirty minute eye-glazing nap, but we were present nonetheless. The fact that he called both me and Julie Ziggler his neighbor—and we were pen pals in separate states—made the term confusing and spurned a few poorly written crayon arguments between us as to where the good man truly lived, but that’s neither here nor there anymore.

When I was a couple years older, “neighbor” meant the elderly folks who were the recipients of our May Day baskets on the first of that month. Stuffed with flowers, and maybe a sweet or two, the tiny wicker bins were dropped off on our neighbor’s front porch before we rang their doorbells and dashed away. The dashing part was easy, as the rule was if you were caught by the recipient of the basket, they had kissing rights. Eeyuck.

Then there was the constantly drilled in phrase, “DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR NEIGHBOR’S PAPER,” articulated with a spray of spittle that easily reached across a classroom of nervous test takers. And this, of course, intoned not only fear of one’s classmate, but suspicion as well. Again, I think the word suffered.

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Just last week, I received an inbox full of reminders to participate in Neighborday (April 27, 2013 for all 50 states and growing globally), where folks were encouraged to do more than attempt to make eye contact with the person in apartment 3B with whom you’ve shared an elevator ride with for the last year and a half. Elevator (800x772)Paste up flyers, set up a grill and have a block party, or make a cake, bring two forks and ring the doorbell of the guy who lives next door, or coordinate a “Thanksgiving in spring” dinner at your local park, or run around your block singing John Jacob Jinglheimer Schmidt while bashing cymbals together and see if you can get everyone to join in the parade. Be creative, they said. Try not to get arrested, I add.

This April, my son had an opportunity (read had no choice) to spend a week working with his classmates, repairing, rebuilding and reviving structures needed by folks living in a much more impoverished area of our nation. What he came away realizing was that whether because of a natural disaster or naturally bad luck, when trouble comes a callin’, you pray your neighbor answers the phone.Teethrapair (800x773)

I think what moved those teenagers in such a monumental way was the understanding that all it really takes to make a difference is a drop of desire to do so. One pair of hands is a blessing to most folks, but one hundred pairs are enough to bring you to your knees.

That truly takes the definition of neighborly to heavenly heights.Monsterhands (800x737)

Today, many people in both America and Mexico will celebrate Cinco de Mayo; a momentous day in history (May 5th, 1862) when a meager and poorly outfitted Mexican army overcame the leading and most powerful militia of the time, a case of David beating Goliath, a day where the notions of freedom, democracy, unity and national pride are passionately cheered for until the margaritas take over and make everything worthy of raising a glass in toast. And since it would be churlish not to acknowledge our neighbors to the south and offer them our sincerest words of congratulations regarding such a feat, I’d encourage you to haul out the bar blender and find that old lime rolling about in the back of the fridge’s fruit bin.

Graveyardcake (800x513)So whether or not you decide to make that cake, ring and run with a basket, or extend your hand, I encourage you to give a thought to Fred Rogers’ beloved song, and in particular, my favorite part:

So let’s make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we’re together, we might as well say,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?

Screenshot of Mae West from the trailer for th...

Lastly, I leave you with a quote from Mae West (who falls about as far from the position on the personality spectrum as Mister Rogers, but I wanted to be fair in my research):  Love thy neighbor – and if he happens to be tall, debonair and devastating, it will be that much easier.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

Sinning saints make red letter days.

Green Beer!

Green Beer! (Photo credit: garrettc)

Great gobs of people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. And although this is a fine day to indulge in Emerald City colored food and drink, I think we’re missing the bigger picture here:

WE NEED MORE SAINT’S DAY HOLIDAYS.

Yes, it’s likely that most of us will have at some point come in contact with or been a part of the making, baking, chewing and spewing Saint Patrick’s Day grub that would send most nuclear plants’ managers straight to the alarm panel. Yet not all of us are entirely sure why we’re compelled to do so.

It’s true that Patrick has been a shining example of how just about anyone can turn their life around right after they’ve been kidnapped, purchased by a Druid and worked as a slave for half a dozen years. But Patrick would be the first to push away the parades and shamrock-shaped cakes baked in his honor. I’m guessing he’d be happier if we all just sat in a circle and shared stories from Bible camp. He’d probably also confess that a lot of unnecessary hype has been drummed up over the years about him driving out every snake in Ireland. It’s all stuff and nonsense. There are no snakes in Ireland. There are, however, a few slow worms in County Clare, but as we’ve come to find out, those guys are actually legless lizards.

Tropical Island Paradise

Tropical Island Paradise (Photo credit: sebr)

Apart from St. Nicholas and St. Valentine, the only other saints’ names we tend to truly utter with voices expressing pure thrill and anticipation are when we’re boarding an airplane and ensuring our bags are checked to one of a few tiny islands in the Caribbean.

I think we can do better than that.

Why not consider a St. Augustine’s Day? Twenty-four hours where we celebrate our youthful transgressions of stealing, cheating and scoffing at the banality of common education. We recall our addictions to the lowest vices, remember fondly the concubines we once embraced, and retell the story of Augustine’s childhood misdemeanor where he and his posse climbed a neighbor’s pear tree and stripped it bare of fruit—not to eat, but just for the pure joy of vandalism. As a general act of penance and goodwill, we can send friends and neighbors a fruit basket from Harry & David’s. We can even send a Hallmark card off to any children we sired and abandoned along the way, wishing them well with therapy. It’ll be cathartic and remedial at the same time.Pear-stomping (684x800)

In addition to making amends for Augustine’s negligence with the fruit of the tree, we could also minister support to the discarded fruit of his loins. Well, not his in particular–it’s a little late for that–but we could easily create a St. Margaret of Cortona Day. Margaret is the patron saint of the orphaned, reformed prostitutes, single mothers, sexual temptation and the mentally insane. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest there may be a connection of sorts.StMargaret (494x800)

Margaret won this supporting role through diligence and research. There were plenty of other women lining up with the hopes that the Catholic Church might give them recognition for playing a similar role, but Margaret’s character really seemed to shine through and connect with the Academy members—I mean, the Vatican panel of theologians. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she was tremendously photogenic and looked good on stained glass.

Regardless, we could make this day one of good deeds rather than self-indulgence. Instead of holding a parade or making swanky dining reservations, we could all drop a quarter into a mass fund for the college education of the offspring of single mothers. Or those of you who regularly patronize the local den of iniquity might want to consider donating that night’s “fee” toward this good cause. It’s just one night. We could put the charity boxes on the counter at gas stations. I think the American filling stations called Sheetz would be an apt partner.

Another possibility might be a St. Catherine’s Day, because any woman who can write a treatise on purgatory is going to find a slew of females prepared to help her through it with a pot of caffeine and a large chocolate-laden coffee cake dished out at someone’s kitchen table.

Having been rejected by the nunnery, married off to a tightfisted, violent-tempered husband, and given the no-go by her reproductive system, it’s not surprising that poor Catherine sunk into a state of melancholy.

Oprah Winfrey, The Queen

Oprah Winfrey, The Queen (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

And since she didn’t have Oprah to turn to, she was left with the only other form of psycho-therapy available at the time: confession.

Suddenly pierced with Divine clarity in the confessional, Catherine apparently lost consciousness with an overwhelming eureka moment. And that might be why Oprah’s shows were so popular. Those thunderbolt episodes where you slap yourself on the forehead can lead to a lot of folks jiggling life back into focus. Like it did for Catherine. From then on out, this woman had purpose.

And couldn’t we all use a day like that? When we celebrate waking up from the fog? Maybe we’d all participate in a giant world detox. We could share, purge, take a quick nap and wake up refreshed. Think of the possibilities.

I’m sure there are endless candidates for further Saint Day holidays, as there are over 10,000 glorified souls currently inked in on the Catholic ledger, but maybe you can mull over the potential martyrs while having a pint at the pub today.saint bob And let me know if you stumble upon any winning ideas, because if there’s one thing history has taught us, it is that it can be a lot of fun to celebrate dead people.

~Shelley

*As a Saint Patty perk for today, click on this 4 minute Oscar-nominated short film and learn about our guy from one of the most edible authorities out there. Enjoy!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

Daylight savings, nighttime losses …

Sleeping Baby

Sleeping Baby (Photo credit: Lisa Rosario Photography)

Sleep is important.

Personally, it’s more important to me than most anything I can think of. I would gladly give up my favorite meal, a thick wad of cash or even the spare fifty IQ points I tell people that I have if it means I could rid myself of the wretched sluggishness that comes after I’ve overdrawn on my sleep bank account.

In fact, I’d happily give my left lung to simply have back the one hour stolen from me every year in March.

I hate Daylight Savings Time.

Ohio Clock in the U.S. Capitol being turned fo...

Ohio Clock in the U.S. Capitol being turned forward for the country’s first daylight saving time in 1918 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Except when it works in my favor.

The present moment does not fall into that category.

We are a society so tightly wound, so minutely organized, that we refuse to acknowledge our animalism. Our train tables, our baseball games and our prime time television shows fight for an adaptable clock, while our bodily clocks question the strategy.

My bodily clock does not just ask, “Are you sure about this?”—it rebels.

For six months until it gets its way.

My body wants a solar clock. Rise when the sun smacks you in the eye, and start shutting things down right after dinner, dishes and a Downton Abbey.

I am so attuned to the tiny shifts in the astronomical hours that it no longer surprises me to crack open an eyelid ten seconds before a tiny pinprick of pink light nudges above the horizon, announcing an aurora worthy of watching. Of course, the precursor to that event might have something to do with the fact that fifteen seconds prior to sunrise, a weight of around eight pounds, evenly distributed across four tiny paws and wrapped in fur, has perched on my chest and willed my eyes to open, which they remarkably do. It’s uncanny. Or uncatty.

Still, miraculous, right?

Retailers generally favor DST. United Cigar St...

Retailers generally favor DST. United Cigar Stores hailed a 1918 DST bill. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And to be wholly pedantic with semantics, the official phrase is Daylight Saving Time, not Savings. And to be wholly persnickety with the phrase, there is no saving. It’s shifting, adjusting or simply sliding the assignment of a named hour to a slot that we like better than where it resided previously.

We’re control freaks.

We’re like tiny gods waving sticks up at the air and shouting, “Take that!”

And if Mother Nature happens to catch a glimpse of us, she’s probably shaking her head and she might even throw out one of our people’s best vernacular comebacks: Whatever.

 Yeah, that about sums up our collective human maturity when it comes to thinking we’ve got it all under control. We’re teenagers.

I understand the rationale behind the thinking, to make better use of daylight, but it seems absurd that we’re attempting to make the Earth bend to our will—our preferred and ‘set in stone’ tablets of behavior and time.

Thou shalt not golf in the dark.

I believe this absurdity (failure to coerce the Earth, not golf blindly) to be true only from past blundered experiments where my scientist daughter has repeatedly attempted to explain to me that no matter how hard I wish it to be so, no amount of positive thinking will change the laws of physics and discoveries of science. Mathematical equations will remain true to form no matter how many times you may cheer on the concept that 2 + 2 = 5. A four is a four is a four. Period.

Except when it isn’t.

Example? Some infinities are bigger than others. Thank you, 19th century mathematician Georg Cantor. Trying to wrap your head around that concept is likely to trigger a small brain hemorrhage. And since I covet every cell remaining in that gray amorphous matter residing between my ears, I can’t risk the possibility of injury. But if you’ve got extra, click here or here for more on Georg and his brain dissolving theory. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.Buzz (586x800)

But there’s more to this than math. There’s biology, which happens to be my main beef. Try to convince a dairy cow that, because the milk truck will arrive an hour earlier tomorrow morning, she’d better pump up the volume tout de suite, or worse, tell her to hold that bursting udder for another sixty minutes because you’re planning to hit the snooze bar for the next six months, and you will likely form a new theory all your own. Cranky cows like to kick.

I follow the sage advice of my yoga teacher who for countless years has been reminding me, and a throng of other zen-for-a-moment seekers, to “Listen to the wisdom of your body.” This mantra has been sewn into the very fabric of me. Every molecule. It’s found in the strain of my downward facing dog DNA.DogDNA (800x573)

I know there are countless reasons to support DST, but there exist just as many for why it interferes or doesn’t make sense. My favorite?

Allegedly, in order to keep to their published timetables, Amtrak trains must not leave a station before the time printed. Therefore, when the clocks fall back in October, all Amtrak trains in the U.S. that are running on time stop at 2:00 a.m. and wait.

For one hour before putting it into drive again.

Sleepy, confused passengers are surely scratching their noggins over the clever corporate decisions made in that boardroom.

There is so much more to say on this subject. Seriously, I could … yawn … go on and on with my argument.

Instead, I’m going to go take a nap. See you in an hour.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

Maneuvering thru March Madness

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My favorite things to do in March 
• Count the days until April
• Make all food green and shamrock-shaped
• Try Irish whiskies
• Keep track of the number of days until the first day of Spring
• Realize that Spring break has begun
• Pretend that Fat Tuesday only happens on one calendar day of the year

My least favorite things to do in March

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• Count the days until April
• Eat green, shamrock-shaped food
• Pretend I like Irish whiskies
• Forget the first day of Spring
• Realize that Spring break has finished
• Come to terms with the fact that Fat Tuesday could easily be replaced with Chubby Wednesday, Bloated Thursday or I-Hate-My-Closet Monday

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My favorite poem about March
“The sun is brilliant in the sky but its warmth does not reach my face.
The breeze stirs the trees but leaves my hair unmoved.
The cooling rain will feed the grass but will not slake my thirst.
It is all inches away but further from me than my dreams.”
~ M. Romeo LaFlamme, The First of March

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My least favorite poem about March

pg 192 Human Skeleton

pg 192 Human Skeleton (Photo credit: perpetualplum)

Spring Treasure
by DAVID LAPIERRE

Spring arrives slowly…
Seeds begin to quiver from
their frosty sleep…

My steps on the still-hardened ground
Thump
With vibrations
That wake up the roots…

Wake up, little fellows, wake up…

The sun begins its vernal ascent,
And its rays grow stronger by the day…

I gaze upwards to bask
In the warm, golden light…

…and stumble…

Training my gaze

To the brunette forest floor –
A stick? No, a leg bone. A skull. A rib…

Yes! Yes!
I found a body!
I always wanted to find a body!
Yes! Yes!

j
My waxing lyric about March

The nighttime peepers sing in full chorus (toads not Toms), slick from the upward climb through layers of oozing mud, a brown butter gift from river banks and softening bogs.

Belching tractors with their curved teeth inch slowly across a crust of soil the earth hides beneath, protecting itself from Jack Frost’s sharp talons.

And the inky, pin-pricked heavens declare the entrance of Auriga, the charioteer—our cosmic copy of Ben Hur, who dashes across the sky each night. His race against whom and to what destination remains uncertain. It might be that in his haste, the sound of his voice is lost to us within the wind that still shrills across the land and rattles newly budded branches.

So much noise to announce new birth. A heralding indeed.

crocus

crocus (Photo credit: polkadotsoph)

There are softer sounds that go unheard, but not unnoticed, for who can hear the push of a crocus beneath its winter bedclothes? Can one measure in sound the growing length of daylight? Or the upward shift of mercury encased in glass?

Having been named for the Greek god of war, Mars, it seems fitting that March would be the month when Roman soldiers returned to service and revved up military campaigns. As it stands, holding off lovers’ quarrels for the full two weeks following Valentine’s Day would set records in our modern day world. I praise these ancient warriors for reigning in their tempers and the itch to decapitate anything with a tongue that speaks ill. We may want to revisit that page in history.

And as I am a devoted fan of any almanac—farmer or shepherd—I find myself nodding enthusiastically with the Middle Ages journaling wisdom of Ptholomeus, where he speaks of those who draw their first breath within the month of March:

Under this planet “is borne theves and robbers nyght walkers and quarell pykers, bosters, mockers, and skoffers; and these men of Mars causeth warre, and murther, and batayle.” *
~Compost of Ptholomeus.

*There could not be a more fitting description of my sheep.

Boster (800x700)

Yet the almanac foretells abundant pleasures around the corner if we simply bide our time. The slow and measured heating of the earth reveals new spears of green, a primrose-petaled face, a songbird’s sunrise narration, and a thawing creek’s reprise. A walk through mapled woods reveals the timid request for a share in the sweet, rising sap, one tiny, patient drop at a time. And just as we settle into that new patch of enticing sunlight, as we take off our shoes and point pale toes toward the warmth of our closest blazing star, fickle March inhales a lusty lungful and finds us with our faces tilted upward, our jackets tossed off and our eyes blissfully closed. The exhalation is a wicked one, a cruel one, a callous one. It is meant to catch us vulnerable.

It succeeds.

We recoil, grumble toward the sweaters we nearly put at the back of the closet, zipper up, hunker down and wait it out with a mug full of steam, a bowl full of broth, and a determined disposition.

Sure sign of Spring - Robin - Bird

Sure sign of Spring – Robin – Bird (Photo credit: blmiers2)

Spring will come.

It always does.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

Women; wives, wiccan and warriors.

The Purification of the Virgin.

The Purification of the Virgin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are a lot of things I’m grateful for these days, but one of the biggies is that I no longer live in an ancient world where much of my time is taken up with purification rites. Not that I can actually remember living in that ancient world, but if the whole idea of reincarnation is accurate, some clever therapist is going to eventually discover a treasure chest of past lives’ memories in addition to the fear and angst I’ve been dragging along with them for centuries. The likely reason is that even now, I cannot seem to give away anything that might come in handy one day. Or ever.

Like my entire wardrobe from when I was thirteen.

Or my junior high science project of leaf identification.

Suovetaurilia (sacrifice of a pig, a sheep and...

Suovetaurilia (sacrifice of a pig, a sheep and a bull) to the god Mars, relief from the panel of a sarcophagus. Marble, Roman artwork, first half of the 1st century CE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But my point is, if we leapt back in time to when I was still living with my Roman warrior husband, I’d have a lot more to worry about than simply finding enough drawer space for all my childhood riffraff. Likely, I’d be too busy spinning wool, loaning out my skills as a wet nurse or preparing some livestock for the next animal sacrifice.

I suppose there was the chance that I could have been commanding an army and issuing coins bearing my image, but you really had to be incredibly organized for that sort of thing, and anyone standing over my desk will attest to the fact that order and efficiency aren’t my strong suits. Plus, I just don’t have the hair for good coinage.

February, in particular, would have been a month I’d have been glad to see the back of. All those nights when I lived as a Druid, lighting torches and waving them about in hopes of chasing away evil spirits that cluttered invisibly around us resulted in a lot of smoke and no definite feeling of a job well done.

English: Saint Brigid.

English: Saint Brigid. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At least womenfolk finally figured out how to delegate by the time I’d been reborn into Ireland. Yes, the weather might have been worse, but we were now putting responsibility solely on the shoulders of Brigid, the goddess of fire. It was a heck of a lot easier explaining to our fretting husbands that we did everything we possibly could to chase away winter and let the ewes deliver safely, but apparently the fickle deity we spent all day praying to was otherwise occupied and unavailable. Plus, there was laundry to do. Sorry.

That whole February fire purification bit often ended up ack bassward in that driving the sheep through hoops of flames so they could be “blessed and protected” by Brigid often resulted with a few wooly fireballs, nullifying the whole affair.

Ring of Fire

Ring of Fire (Photo credit: chiaralily)

But waste not want not, right? As long as we had a crowd gathered, we might as well sharpen a few sticks and hand out kabobs. My farmer husband would likely be pacified with my explanation that any animal who wasn’t clever enough to veer away from death by jumping thought the middle of the hoop was an animal that needed culling from the herd anyway. And their offspring would only compound the genetic defect.

Basically, we just killed two birds with one stone.

Much to the relief of my own small herd, their lack of common sense is rarely tested to the point of life or death in the present. And thankfully, I now no longer leave their mid-winter fate in the hands of some guardian spirit, an omnipotent flame fairy. Now, in these modern times, common sense prevails. I leave it up to a rodent.

Groundhog

Saint Punxsutawney Phil.

I can picture my ancient self gazing down at the evolutionary progress I’ve made, admiring how I originally just waved heat in the direction of evil, then progressed to elect an invisible woman to guide me through the dark, scary days up until now, when I can at least see our new underworld god, if only for a second.

Progress.

I suppose I can, at this very moment, make a gesture of thanks to our military leaders at the Pentagon for giving my future self the go-ahead to fight off any evil determined to drag me and my flock back into Neolithic times. Yes, it may not be for every woman, but some of us might be able to dredge up our past life skills of flogging and flaying our enemies, then carve buttons from bones and stitch up something practical from any dried leather hides. Or we could update our methods of combat and practice pulling a trigger.

Coin of Seleucis and Pieria in Syria, with Mar...

Coin of Seleucis and Pieria in Syria, with Mark Antony on obverse and Cleopatra VII on reverse. Compare with RPC# 4095. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Which brings me right back to commanding an army like I might have been doing in my Roman days. The only problem I foresee with this is that I’m regularly left with helmet hair.

Which, when giving this some consideration … is exactly what I need in order to be taken seriously when posing for the face of my new coins.

~Shelley

 Don’t forget to check out what was cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here)!

The Oaths We Take, The Rules We Break.

Promises170113 (800x632) (2)January is supposed to be a fresh, new start to the year, right? Full of promises we make to ourselves and one another, and we most often hear them at the end of a liquor-swilled dinner. People resolve to make themselves thinner, exercise and meditate, swear off cigarettes, stop burying Fed Ex drivers in the backyard …

Regardless, along with all the “New You” promises made sits a quiet, smug, don’t-need-to-be-flashy-because-that’s-not-what-we’re all-about campaign. It’s the “Simpler You,” the “Par Down to the Core You,” the:

“Barely there, but so aware” promise you make to yourself.

Juices

Cleanse. Purge. Sluice. Expunge. Clarify. Erase. (Somehow, I still get the unnerving feeling this can loop back to the Fed Ex guys.)

It doesn’t matter what words you use to define it, but it makes most sense to me with this word:

DECLUTTER

(Funny enough, that word is overstuffed with a mess of letters.)

It’s a word that has to elbow its way to the front of my hippocampus where it muscles past all my other short-term memory “to-dos” and insists—nay, screams—for immediate attention.

Post-It Note Art Collage (PINAP)

Post-It Note Art Collage (PINAP) (Photo credit: Adrian Wallett)

I write myself a Post It note to remember.

There’s a lot that needs sorting. My desk, my closet, the pantry, the fridge, the barn and at some point I’d like to find where I last left the kids.

I find it near impossible to weed through my email inbox. It’s filled with hundreds of self-motivating subject lines like:

2013 will be my most manageable year yet!

A chaos free mind = a chaos free me!

Ransom negotiations.

Sorry. That was a copy and paste mistake, but I think you get my meaning. And if it isn’t mail that apparently came from my higher evolved, totally zenned out self from a future dimension, then it was a forward that probably came from my mother, who has seen my desk, closet, pantry and fridge. And it’s likely she’s the one holding the kids until I can see past all my Post It notes—hence the last email title.

clutter

clutter (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

There are several others—okay, who am I kidding, there are hundreds of others—all with similar messages:

6 Steps to Realizing Your Resolutions—which I would read if I could remember where I put my list of resolutions.

Conquer Clutter!—another great idea apart from the fact that there’s not enough space to lay out the blueprint for battle plans.

Becoming Minimalist—that’s one of the longest emails I’ve ever read.

Don’t be a Stuffaholic—I bet there’s a support group which meets twice a week (which will eat up all my free time for decluttering)

*sigh*

And it’s not just emails. The messages are coming at me like bullets from all angles.

–        I’m in the car and the radio assures me that “Organizing the new you for the new year has never been easier. We’ll send someone to your house to do it FOR YOU!” I switch stations. I’ve already got a mother-in-law.

–        I walk into the gym for my yoga class and see message boards in bold and catchy coloring: Make a mindful New Year’s pledge. Find the real you buried beneath all those unnecessary pounds! Apparently, no one realizes the mindful minutes I put into selectively accruing those extra layers. It was deliberately done. It’s winter. Snowshovel? Check. Salt pellets? Check. Purposefully acquired figure of impenetrable, whale-like composition? Oh, yeah. Check.

English: Komondor

English: Komondor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

–        Even the dog, who at this point in the year has more hair per square inch of flesh than my 1970’s childhood home’s combined shag carpeting, has been sending not so subtle messages about his much needed spa day and haircut. I find him listening to books on tape instead of pouring over leather-bound tomes in the library.

Yes, I hear the messages. I need to reduce. Maybe I can live without the remainder of my wardrobe from junior high. It’s possible I will never reread all the cards I have received and saved since I was seven years old. I suppose some people draw the line at holding on to Halloween candy dated as ‘Best By 19-something-or-other,’ but it’s truly hard to let go of one’s thrifty nature.

fingers crossed

fingers crossed (Photo credit: cinnamon_girl)

So all I can promise is that I’ll try.

For the good of my family. For the benefit of my dog. For the relief of the Fed Ex guys.

I’ll do it.

I promise.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what was cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and most importantly this week, be sure to check out the awesome cartoon humor of Robin Gott (here)! He penned the above caricature of me (spitting image by the way), and will be sure to give you a giggle in the pub with his take on styles of kilts across the globe. Check him out!

The Mayas were dead wrong; yes, dead, but most importantly wrong.

English: matchstick arithmetic problem

Although any statement I make in my house involving science is automatically tossed aside with a giant hearty laugh, I really thought I had a decent handle on math.

I announced in my first post that because someone threw down the gauntlet and challenged me to catalog the absurd things that either take place in my brain or on top of our mountain, I had agreed to write about them for one year. And one year equals fifty-two weeks, does it not? But this will be my fifty-fourth post for a once a week blog.

And seeing as the Mayas had many of us convinced we needn’t have set our alarm clocks for Friday, the 21st of December—and because of that I was late for yoga—I’m guessing that those fellas were working off the same abacus I’ve been using.

Mine seems to have an extra bead.

Description unavailable

Description unavailable (Photo credit: Tim.Deering)

Not entirely sure what their excuse is though, which is really bothersome, as I have a basement stocked with canned goods, ammunition and wearable sleeping bags. Plus, I’ve skimmed through every survivalist handbook I could check out from the local bookmobile lounge, which has to take every other Saturday off to transform into the Mammogrammobile. It turns out I’ll need to return my borrowed books, as they now have a noteworthy due date. Fingers crossed it’s next Saturday. (Kill two birds with one stone.)

I suppose in truth, the rest of my end-of-the-world provisions will come in handy, because one simply needs to add a vat of Crisco to have all the essentials for a full day up here on Hootenanny Hillock.

And that is ultimately my theme here today. We’ve been issued a continuance.

An extension. A prolongation. A get-a-bloomin-move-on.

Worldly scholars warned us all about this unhealthy habit we as a society have fostered—the one where we’re all constantly looking for Armageddon. But perhaps worldly psychologists would roll their collective eyes at us and tell us to just schedule a Giant Day Off.

21.12.2012 _DDC4514

21.12.2012 _DDC4514 (Photo credit: Abode of Chaos)

Maya historians have attempted to explain the whole calendar phenomena: the big hand on the clock finally ticking over to the thirteen b’aktun, the terminology and explanation of the Long Count and the Maya’s penchant for keeping track of celestial cycles, but I guess many of us were too absorbed by the phrase, “Marks the end,” to follow along and hear the rest of the words that completed the sentence. It could have been, “—of how far into the future they were willing to schedule dentist appointments.” Or, “—date when all the perishables in the lowest cave should finally be tossed.

It could have been anything.

In fact, there are more Maya dates on cave walls that are still being unearthed today. And nobody’s got a clue as to what they all mean—except maybe Mel Gibson, who I’m pretty sure speaks ancient Mayan, right?

Devil's Tower Wyoming as in close encounters o...

Devil’s Tower Wyoming as in close encounters of the third kind (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My fear is that this date was of cosmic importance. Perhaps the Maya were pointing out the lining up of some planetary, spherical or solar dynamics and that at the precise date of December 21, 2012, 6:12 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, a portal would open, something would unlock, a gate would unhinge.

All I know is that at that particular moment, Sir Sackier nudged me from sleep and told me to put my arms down and stop mumbling. Apparently, I’d been speaking to the Mothership and was reaching out for a leg up. Now we’ll never know. I might have been the key that unlocked this huge mystery.

Or it might be time for me to stop drinking so heavily before bedtime.

English: Chromolithograph print of a tobacco l...

The point is, I’ve got no other choice than to Keep Calm and Carry On.

I know… the signs are everywhere—and quite probably a message from the Maya. They knew this would happen.

Therefore, I’m taking the message to heart. I shall persevere with the blog. The perspective from up here on my peak is that, in looking back over the past 53 essays, it’s clear I’ve still much to do. There are stalls to muck out, gardens to destroy, teenagers to aggravate, letters to be written just for the sheer pleasure of annoying bureaucrats, roasts to scorch and above all, arithmetic to master.

In light of this announcement, I’d like to wish you all a Happy New Year and hope you’ll return to read about life up here from my perspective.

The air may be a little thin, but the future is fat with ample tales.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!

Saturnalia; good ole fashioned, naked fun.

Forest on a foggy winter day

Forest on a foggy winter day (Photo credit: follc)

Earth’s darkest days. It’s such a foreboding phrase, don’t you think?

And yet, on the upper half of the planet, it is a time of great merriment, benevolence and outright fuddled intoxication.

Long ago, that joy was attributed to the fact that the sun—a symbol of divinity—had decided not to abandon us. We’d been found worthy enough by the bright god for his return northward to heap another six months of favor upon us. And when one’s gods show munificence, one quickly dashes out invitations to local friends and neighbors to kick up their heels and enjoy a good shindig.

Of course, these long past party animals had to be Roman. When someone mentioned the word bash, it was either in reference to the use of one’s weapons or upcoming rampant Roman revelry. These guys lived life to its fullest—none of this ‘one day only’ deal. When it came to the close of December, a week’s worth of fun was considered cutting it short.

Paris - Musée d'Orsay: Thomas Couture's Romain...

Paris – Musée d’Orsay: Thomas Couture’s Romains de la décadence (Photo credit: wallyg)

And when sizing up all of the year’s fancy feasts and festivals, the blue ribbon winner had to be Saturnalia.

In the earliest of Roman ages, the age of Saturn, a festival was thrown in honor of Saturnus—the god of seed and sowing. The gala at first was held on December 17th, but because of a few folks fooling around with time tracking, things got muddled. Somewhere between then and Caesar’s changes to the calendar, the exact date grew hazy. Therefore, the Romans covered their bases and stretched the length of celebration to a few days before and after the new calendar’s official date. There were the usual gripes about no mail delivery and closed government offices, but seeing as most folks spent the week in a fog of alcoholic fumes, flaring tempers were easily dampened with an extra swig of grog.

The point of the festival was to recall that Golden Age, when innocence reigned and abundance was the norm. Once Saturn was ousted from his celestial throne by Jupiter, and time marched forward to the darker and despondent periods of the Silver and Iron ages, Romans did their level best to bring back snippets of that shiny era. Determined to experience a taste of the delicious decadence their ancestors once embraced as everyday ordinary, these normally gladiatorial warriors left their weapons at the door and started whipping up big batches of eggnog.

But showing a bit more gusto than their predecessors, these rowdy Romans took the lily-white past and ratcheted the level of excitement to new heights.

Designated Driver

Designated Driver (Photo credit: storyvillegirl)

You know how today we exercise caution with alcohol and warn folks not to drink to excess? No Roman would invite you back to their place if you were going to poo poo their fun and order a taxi for everyone come 10:30.

And think about how much time we usually spend picking out jubilant outfits for the many seasonal soirées. The sparkle and glitter, the festive colors of red and green, the merry messages spread across our chests to invite mirth and frivolity? Waste of time for these guys. Saturnalia was a function without formalities in that department. In fact, the dress code called for total nakedness. No black tie, just flesh-toned birthday suits.

Role reversal was a big hit in the party game department. Servants switched hats with their masters and led the feasting, while the lord and lady of the house spent their time serving food and washing feet. Ultimately, it really didn’t matter. They all ended up in bed together. That was pretty much the point. Ah, those rascally Romans.

Presents

Presents (Photo credit: Alice Harold)

Unchanged from past to present are the presents. Although those guys partied hard, Rome’s inhabitants were good about saying thank you in the form of sending one another small gifts. I’m guessing some of it had to do with replacing valuables broken the night before.

Thankfully, most of us have abandoned the crowning of a less-than-enviable position—the Lord of Misrule—for the whole bawdy affair. Yes, one can understand the ancient desire to appease the god of the week and make a solid sacrifice of love and loyalty by offering up some unlucky schmuck, but it can really put a strain on the rest of the partygoers. Anyone who’s placed next to the soon-to-be dead guy at the banquet table quickly realizes their efforts at holiday chitchat and cheerful musings are wasted efforts. Hence, we see the justification for the origins of seating charts.

Wenceslas Hollar - The Greek gods. Saturn

Wenceslas Hollar – The Greek gods. Saturn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, eyes open this week. Think about how things have changed. Make a toast to the dusty bones of a long dead Roman with a measured cup of mulled wine. Pull out that reindeer sweater and for once be grateful the weather necessitates head to toe clothing. Show some ancient gratitude for the folks who bag your groceries, bus your table or tutor your offspring. Put a cookie in the mailbox. Hand a stick of gum to the poor chump who has to stand for hours holding the Stop/Slow sign for roadwork. Thank your lucky stars we no longer choose the weakest link as the scapegoat for the culminating event of all December dos.

It may be dark outside, but the future looks bright from right here.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!

Untying the bow that holds December bound.

Rows of Candles

Rows of Candles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Come December 1st, there is a great unleashing that happens in this house. As the solemn, chilly solstice nears, and the days grow muted and bleak, we shift into winter gear. Several things happen simultaneously.

Candles appear on every surface. Their quivering, fickle flames are my attempts to create small suns to replace the deeply felt absence of their somnolent ancestor. Tiny altars illumine with twinkling incandescence. Most folks walk into the house and hope they’ve not entered a family coven.

Woolly sweaters pile up on the backs of chairs and mound in hairy clumps on the counter tops. I find myself repeatedly doing double takes thinking the livestock and woodland animals have mistakenly gained access to the living room and kitchen.

English: Cistercian monks at work

English: Cistercian monks at work

Celtic harps, penny whistles and sleigh-belled songs slither through each room—substitutes for the vanished, chattering birdsong. The dog is particularly fond of fourteenth century a cappella French motets. I know this by evidence of the number of deep barrel-chested sighs he emits while snoozing through each piece, content to such a degree that mere words will not suffice. Or perhaps this is his way of communicating to me that he’s tired of us acting like we’re living in a monastery and can you shut the damn thing off so I can get some shuteye? Maybe.

And speaking of animals, all of mine have responded to the grip of winter. The indoor ones twist themselves into tight, little knots of flesh and fur, noses tucked beneath the surface of nippy air or possibly removed from the bombardment of heavily scented candles mimicking balsam and clove and wood smoke. To them it’s likely an assault. The outdoor brood, the mammoth wool balls in the meadow, battle the frost fettered days with frenzied feasting. Rip, munch, chew, swallow. Shift to the left. Rinse and repeat ad nauseam.

I’ve asked myself if I’d be willing to be terminally cold if it meant I could constantly graze on food. I’ve answered myself with a qualifying question, We are just speaking hypothetically, right? Turns out I’d try anything theoretically, but draw the line at sensory.

The slow-cooking Crockpot is belching heat, steam—and occasionally when I forget enough broth—plumes of black smoke as it chugs along, working a full day of magic on raw ingredients. It releases an almighty “tadah!” when I remove the lid to reveal the results of the bewitching black arts it’s been known to use. I sold my soul to the devil when I purchased that cauldron. I bow down to it repeatedly and grow fat on its spellbinding triumphs.

Hot Chocolate

Hot Chocolate (Photo credit: mike and meg)

There is a hazy fog that settles over the kitchen from where the tea kettle, the stove or the faucet dispenser musters up bucket after bucket full of boiling water to fill mug after mug of tea, hot chocolate and mulled cider. The potions fill the air with a heady scent, but the dog complains the humidity wreaks havoc with his poodle ancestral hair. I tell him either I’ll ditch the Gregorian chants or pamper his pompadour, but not both. He moves outside and solves both his gripes.

And lastly, I’m left with an insatiable desire to unearth the words of those, who although silent in their graves, still move with great effect through their eternal works of pen and paper. Poems, essays and long told tales keep me agreeably disposed, passing the hardened air hours until the return of the sun and all it promises.

So through this dove gray December, I leave you with a verse to recall or read for the first time. Bundle up, fatten up and chin up. Let’s welcome winter.

~Shelley

Winter-Time

Robert Louis Stevenson (from A Child’s Garden of Verses, 1885)

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.

Hoar frost or soft rime on a cold winter day i...

Hoar frost or soft rime on a cold winter day in Lower Saxony, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!

Planes, trains and Oh my god, I left the stove on.

The holidays of November and December usually bring an overwhelming amount of excitement with their fast-paced, fun-filled, family-crammed events.

Mural in Brown Palace Hotel

Mural in Brown Palace Hotel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They also bring an eventual headache that accompanies the ample opportunities for overeating, over drinking and over my dead body arguments.

The least fun out of all the “I’ve Had My Fill” holiday experiences is one that creates such tension in the neck and shoulders, it alone keeps massage therapists flush with cash through somewhere around mid-March. (That’s usually when the last lingering relatives decide to head home and check on the cat.)

Coming in at the number one spot would have to be:

TRAVEL

Do I hear an amen?

Most of us would prefer to apparate a la Harry Potter or be zapped by Willy Wonka’s Wonkavision rather than spend hours, if not days, in our cars, at the train station, or in the airport, where it seems the deck is always stacked against us.

–        Got to the airport on time for once? Doesn’t matter. Your flight will be delayed because the pilot is required to take a 15 minute nap in between two 24 hour shifts. Pansy.

–        Got the kids out of school three days early, packed up the car for the nine hour drive to Granny’s and pulled out of the driveway in the middle of the night to beat the traffic? Tough luck. So did everyone else. You’ll still get there in time, but now you’ll have a few extra days to make new friends on some jam-packed, horn-crazed highway where you’ll continue to bump into one another at the same rest stops and petrol stations.

English: Leavitt's Farmer's Alamanac, 1875, by...

–        Read the farmer’s almanac and decided this was the big drought year with no snow in sight that would finally make it possible for you to make that trip to the Big Apple to see Cats like you’ve been promising your wife for the last two decades? Uh oh. Don’t you remember when the economy tanked and you decided to pare down to the bare essentials, so you canceled all magazine subscriptions? Yep. You read last year’s, which no one bothered to throw away. This year’s almanac had a major spread telling us all how we should have listened to Al Gore. You’re headed toward Superstorm I Told You So.

If there’s one thing I’ve found harder than travel, I’d have to admit it’s the step that comes before it. That would be the one where you’re forced to decide what to bring with you.

Apparently, I cannot travel via Global Van Lines. I’ve been told the furniture must stay put.

Footwear is a nightmare for women. Sure, you may only be planning a casual sightseeing trip or family get together, but it’s likely you’ll need your sprinting shoes for the airport when you transfer from one plane at gate 3A to your connection in the next zip code.

Don’t forget evening shoes. Maître d’s have perfected the up/down glance, followed by a withering glare, if you walk in wearing a party frock and Nike Air Jordans.

I look at my closet and shrink at the task of finding three articles of clothing that can be combined to make thirteen different outfits. I’d be hard-pressed to come up with thirteen different outfits if I were standing in the middle of the Mall of America.

Barn

The real problem is that I only have two sets of wearable options: barn clothes and yoga clothes. And although the sheep could give a flying fig about what I come in wearing–as long as they can suck on it or rub up against it–the folks in my hatha class are looking for some Zen in their day. That requires some deep breathing. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this one. Eau de livestock makes it tricky.

Jewelry is foreign territory as well. I’ve got lots of it, but I never wear it at home. I guilt myself into thinking these special away days are precisely for ‘gettin’ gussied up,’ take it all with me and promptly forget what that heavy velvet miniature treasure chest at the bottom of my suitcase is holding.

It could be the three gallons of perfume I bubble wrapped and boxed. When one is used to getting sideways glances with the telltale sign of an accompanying twitchy nose, one begins to get paranoid. Especially when one usually smells like the remnants of a mucked out sheep stall or the inside of a gym bag. Therefore, I overcompensate.

Sans enfants and before I was married, I would be flabbergasted to discover an aspirin at the bottom of my purse. Now, of course, I must play the role of walking pharmacy. Sir Sackier will likely develop signs for the Ebola virus on an airplane, my daughter will get bitten by a new species of mosquito and blow up like a Macy’s Day Parade balloon float, my son will come down with Alien hand syndrome and I will be the only person in Mexico to become constipated.

Mexican pharmacies do not carry Ex-Lax. 

Keep 'regular'

Keep ‘regular’ (Photo credit: Christian Yates)

Mexican pharmacists advised me, “beber un poco de agua.” I now carry a vial of it slung around my neck like holy water.

Traveling is tricky. Deciding where to go, choosing what to take and forgiving fellow travelers for bringing more bags than brains with them on their journeys requires some devotion and pliability.

Deciding that next year you’ll host … requires only an effective dose of Prozac.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!

Family Ties That Tug

Palace of Westminster.

Palace of Westminster. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I will be in London for Thanksgiving this year.

For me, it’s the second worst day of the year to be in London. The first, of course, is the Fourth of July. Sir Sackier made a practice of “accidentally” arranging family summer holidays so we’d be out of the country during America’s annual celebration of freedom from the British. We’d usually find ourselves ensconced within the warren of London’s streets, dazed from playing Follow the Leader where The Leader regularly forgot he had a family of three—jet-lagged and cranky—pulling up the rear.

One can’t expect the British to be all, “U-rah-rah!” over helping traveling Americans celebrate a page in the history books they might want to tear out and use as fire starter. Perhaps it’s the equivalent of picking at a scab. To Sir Sackier, it remains an open, festering wound.

550d - London - Churchill at Big Ben London

550d – London – Churchill at Big Ben London (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

To compensate, three quarters of the family were often found slumping against one another in cavernous museums, led by our own family monarch as he enlightened our weak-muscled minds about the hundreds of years of British invention and innovation. Surprisingly, there are quite a few dark corners in Churchill’s bunker where one can catch a quick kip.

Regardless, there’s an ever-increasing number of American expats living in the land of palaces and prisons. And because many of my countrymen have found it near impossible to be more than fifty feet from the big-boothed safe haven of chain restaurants, and because eateries find catering to the appetite of their diners a no-brainer in helping to pay their electric bills, locating an establishment willing to rustle up some Turkey Day grub is easier than imagined.

Whether they go for a dressed down sort of experience and order a McGobble-Gobble, or they get all gussied up and search out a big bird with all the trimmings, Americans are offered plenty of places willing to pull together the makings for a slice of comfort pie.

But it won’t be the same.

Line art drawing of Pteranodon.

Instead of man-handling a thirty-two pound turkey/pterodactyl into a Kmart kiddie swimming pool for a 24 hour soak in our own version of the Dead Sea, a tradition I’ve always cherished doing with my mom the night before, I will lie awake in bed knowing she’ll probably have chucked a three pound turkey breast into a salt-filled ziplock bag and tossed it to the back of the fridge. Likely she’ll still make a good dent in the fifth of scotch we would use to reward ourselves for slowly moving the bird from the back of the car and onto the back porch without breaking a wing or a leg or a sweat.

Instead of waking in the morning to find my parents in my kitchen, freshly scrubbed, aprons on, knives sharpened, coffee made and ready to discover just how many things I forgot to purchase at the grocery store and will need to send Sir Sackier back out for, I will sit quietly at a table with a cup of English Breakfast and nod consolingly toward the opposite end of the table where my husband grows increasingly shocked at the price of petrol, the loss of traditional values and how the American debt crisis could be solved if one English footballer simply donated three or four week’s pay.

Pie-Making - transferring the dough

Pie-Making – transferring the dough (Photo credit: CaptPiper)

Instead of kneading, rolling and crimping seven pie crusts using seven unique “no fail” recipes with the hope that at least two of them will “no fail,” I will contemplate the possibility that my mother will have decided to forgo pie altogether and simply give everyone their own pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a spoon in place of all the fuss.

Rather than hiding the salt from my mother just before she makes the gravy—who by late afternoon has lost all taste receptors that report salinity on her tongue due to her third jug of scalding coffee (okay, and maybe the cask strength single malt scotch, capable of scraping the tartar off of anyone’s teeth)–I will disembark from the bowels of an underground, blink back at the bright light of day, and scan across hundreds of heads rushing in and out of the Waterloo tube station, wondering which direction Sir Sackier dashed off toward.

Schlitz

Schlitz (Photo credit: fixedgear)

Instead of collapsing into a chair once we’ve finally gotten all the food to the dining room table and nearly allowing my head to slump forward to land in a pool of mashed potatoes larger than a pig trough full of slops, I will sit staring off into space in the back of a black cab wondering if my dad will have opened up a beautiful bottle of Beaujolais to compliment his can of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce or simply pulled back the tab on a can of Schlitz.

In place of gathering around the same table hours later after a post poultry nap to play Balderdash while we take turns shooing the dog out from under the table because of the nasally corrosive fumes he’s emitting, I will slip into a bed belonging to a crisply run British hotel and lie beneath covers so sharply starched I would not be surprised to find out they’d simply bleached off the words from last night’s Evening Standard.

Scène de l'Ordre de Bon Temps, Acadie (1606). ...

So although I won’t physically be in America for Thanksgiving this year, I’ll still be there.

But it won’t be the same.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!

Feasts & Famine, Saints & Sinners.

English: Statue of a woman praying. Decoration...

English: Statue of a woman praying. Decoration of the Aedicule in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old city of Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a child, I went to church.

A lot.

It felt like every day.

It was probably no more than twice a week—services on Sunday and catechism classes on Wednesday afternoons. Except for when we had choir practice, which was often held on Thursday nights. Or when my mother had a National Council of Catholic Women Who Needed a Night Out meeting in the church basement with coffee and pie, and I had to tag along. Or when there was an “extra” service celebrating a special saint.

There are over 10,000 named saints in the Catholic Church. Folks have stopped counting because they lost track a few years back. I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere in the fine print of a contract that all saints are dedicated a special service.

We have more saints than we’ve had presidents, astronauts and American Idol contestants combined. Throw in the number of iPhone updates we get in a year and we’re getting close.

The nuns from my class would get testy over the fact that we had trouble recalling which saints we were honoring each week, which I felt was terribly unfair, as they’d clearly had more time to familiarize themselves with the Pope’s Picks.

Magnesium Crystal Cluster Close-up

Magnesium Crystal Cluster Close-up (Photo credit: Paul’s Lab)

Simultaneously, we were in the process of memorizing the Periodic Table of Elements in science and things could get really tricky there. Was there a saint named Vanadium or was that a material found imbedded within meteorites? Were Valerian, Niacrinus and Gordian martyrs or metals?

It was even harder to concentrate during classes when a service was taking place upstairs in the church. The shuffling footsteps, the thumping of the prie dieu—that’s the fancy name for the kneeler benches–the muffled sound of the organ whirling away and the faint smell of incense that smelled like a combination of decomposing cabbage leaves and burning bleach. Eye watering. Oftentimes, the nuns would collectively sigh and direct us all up the back steps to join the service. When asked why we had to sit through church again for the second time this week, this is what we were usually told:

–        It’s a day of Holy Obligation—which I eventually found out was not true. There are six Holy Days of Obligation each year, not counting Sundays, and the year I finally started keeping track we’d gone seven times and it wasn’t even the end of January.

Occasionally, they threw in this explanation:

–        God has big ears and is keeping track of your lack of enthusiasm.

Saint Martin and the Beggar

Saint Martin and the Beggar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The one Feast Day I did happen to like was St. Martin’s Day, or Martinmas. Yes, the saint had an intriguing story, but I was smitten by the cryptic, hocus pocus magic of the celebration’s numbers.

Although America chooses not to make a big deal of the day, many other countries in Europe have bonfires, sing songs, have a family feast and give presents on November 11th. The thrilling bit was that they begin their Martinmas celebrations at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of this eleventh day of the eleventh month.

As a kid, this blew my mind. How could something magical not take place?

As an adult, I continue to look everywhere for magic.

I find it on the early morning breath of the sheep, in clouds of pillowy warmth, surrounded by whiskers filled with grain dust from breakfast.

It’s in the family of whitetails, sporting their shimmering, thick autumn coats in the slanting November sunlight, surprised at the iron beast that roars past, pitching them into nimble-footed flight from their deep, grassy beds.

I cling to the sky at dusk, marveling at how the thin, streaky clouds grow stained and saturated with crimson flames and plush blue velvets.

English: White-tailed deer

I search the inky heavens to discover the return of Pegasus, his wings beating breath into the blustery, black cloaked winds, sweeping the papery leaves about and whispering with a whiff of arctic air as winter chases him across the sky.

The snap of crackling logs, the heady, wood smoke scent, and the flush of radiant flames make a brick box come alive and funnel the focus of attention, enticing the harried and rushed to come sit a spell.

These are my saints, these are my feasts. These are my days of holy obligation. To notice, to celebrate, to capture, to treasure.

This is my church.

I hope God notes my enthusiasm.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!

Slaughter & Mayhem. How I love November.

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

During the past couple of weeks, and throughout the next month and a half, I’ll have celebrated four family members’ birthdays. Okay, one family member was celebrated twice, but she really deserved it and wasn’t totally “present” for the first gala I threw for her.  Still, I figure the event counts no matter how you look at it.

In between all these cakes, candles and moments of merriment, I have to fit in a lot of dishwashing.

Oh, and the Festival of the Dead.

I might be a pagan at heart, but not wholly. I pick and choose all the parts of Samhain I deem acceptable to participate in, and blindly wave off the others.

For instance, I will drive my sheep up from the far reaches of the meadow toward the barn to be stabled for the cold winter months ahead, but once there, they will argue like two bloated barristers, insisting that as long as I leave the cover off the grain barrel, they’ll ration themselves and keep an eye on the forecast.

I draw the line at sacrificing horses. They’re meant to represent the fire deity, Bel (or Belenos the sun god), and apparently will win back the world come springtime. But equine sacrifice is 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.

English: Wicker man, engraving

Next, I’m 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 is that usually somebody has issued a secret declaration to reinstate the ancient rites of human sacrifice to please a few disgruntled gods, and you won’t know till you get to the big bonfire if it would have been wiser to simply stay at home and grout some tile.

Worse still is when you arrive at the glowing gala get together and find yourself looking up at a massive effigy, The Wicker Man. You hazily recall 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 only after everyone and everything is stuffed in there nice and tight that the large light bulb in your head illuminates just as a rosy glow from below sheds some extra light on all of you—in the form of a giant pyre. There’s a lot of protesting at first, but things eventually quiet down.

Martel and van Over have friends for dinner an...

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. I’m totally fine with that. 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. 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 when The Other Side is no picnic, so one should be somewhat understanding of the occasional gripe.

It's that time of year once again, Halloween u...

On the other hand, I always get a bee in my bonnet with Trick or Treating. I appreciate the historical significance—the several explanations for the favorite activity. In days of yore, one had to deal with not only a few departed relatives, but also fractious fairies and spiteful sprites. Today, our children want to keep that memory alive by participating in the pranks of these wraiths. What’s the harm in frightening the neighbors into parting with a handful of sweets, cakes or coins, right? Your choice: a few tiny terrors or a couple of confections? To me, it’s just fancy begging.

Because of my disagreeable definition, my children hate me with a particular vengeance on Halloween. Or maybe it’s the fact that I refused to take them round the neighborhood beseeching comfits of any kind. One year, after so much bellyaching, I allowed them to dress up and run around the house a few times, ringing the doorbell when they reached the front door while I rummaged through the pantry shelves, determined to find some forgotten Easter candy. It worked for a year or two. Not so much anymore.

Lastly, I welcome anything that sheds 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.

Jack-o'-lantern

Jack-o’-lantern (Photo credit: wwarby)

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 shadows of any porch that sports a carved out pumpkin.

Kids love that story.

So as much fun as reliving my last few days has been, I’ve got to run and make another batch of barely cakes. A few of my dead relatives refuse to leave the comfort of my couch.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!

No Joke!

Gigantic beer stein. According to its display,...

Gigantic beer stein. According to its display, it was made in Germany, weighs 35 lbs empty, holds 8.45 gallons of beer, features the scene of a Flemish country wedding on the stein, and Gabrinus on the lid; it includes a German phrase translating to “He who can empty this stein is truly a man”. Located at the Pine Cheese Mart and Von Klopp Brew Shop, Pine Island, Minnesota, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This just in: It turns out human beings have more than five senses. Yes, there’s hearing, touch, taste, smell and sight, but it appears we also own a sense of humor.

Okay, except for Germany. Oddly enough, in several international polls, Germans collectively rank at the bottom in number of office pranks, comedy clubs and pictures with finger antennae sticking up behind people’s heads.

They do however find themselves at the top position for number of hemorrhoids per person in any given month.

I’m thinking both may be fixed by an increase in fiber and the occasional light beer.

(To be fair, I know a good handful of Germans and have witnessed firsthand their uncontrolled belly laughs with or without the additions of heavily flour laden food.)

Back to my point; what is it about April 1st (or March 32nd in many circles) that brings out such tomfoolery in many of us? Is it the desperate reversal of seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? The whole ‘the sap is running’ syndrome?

Seal of the United States Internal Revenue Ser...

Or maybe we’re mistaking raucous laughter for the mad hysteria that usually grips people when realizing they have two weeks left before the government makes fools of all of us.

Not everyone finds the same things funny. But on the whole, most of the world can agree that mocking their bosses is a personal pastime that will help make the work hours fly by. Sadly, mocking their bosses in front of said bosses will make the work hours nonexistent.

Unless you are a military family and moved around the bases with the same speed as either Jose Reyes in baseball or Hugh Hefner with women, it’s easy to shrug with confusion over what makes people in other countries giggle with glee.

The French like to secretly attach a paper fish to a person’s back.

Flemish kids lock their folks out of the house.

Polish kids lock their folks and themselves out of the house.

joanie loves chachi

(Photo credit: Rakka)

It’s a weird world, but maybe no nation is as weird as the land of the free, the brave and the willing to dress their pets in miniature Star Wars costumes. Yes, maybe America takes the cake for the most head scratching forms of humor created. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when our funny bone fractured and warped, but I’d guess it started when the TV series Joanie Loves Chachiaired.

Worldwide, we’ve never been looked at quite the same.

Although science has not been able to manufacture humor into pill form, and there’s still that sticky bit about double blind trials, research and proof, laughter has been known to cure what ails us—if only temporarily.

Chuckling obviously makes you more attractive and approachable, but it also boosts the immune system, releases endorphins and protects the heart. It does not, however, aid digestion when you do it upside down after a full meal. Best case scenario: no one is beneath you on the monkey bars after Thanksgiving supper. (Been there, done that.)

We crave laughter. We seek out comedians, forward knee-slapping jokes and tune in regularly for the President’s State of the Union address. I know one woman who says she won’t consider anything funny unless it makes her lose control of her bladder—just a little. (I’m sorry, but even with the qualifier that statement makes the top of my eww list.)

And what of pranks? April Fool’s Day presents an opportunity to show your loved ones, if not the world at large, just how far you’re willing to take a hoax to pinpoint a posse of prize saps.

Photograph of a woman harvesting spaghetti in ...

Photograph of a woman harvesting spaghetti in the BBC programme (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you participate? The BBC does. In fact, I suspect they may have a department solely formed to organize and plan for just this one day of the year. Who can forget the clever Swiss Spaghetti Harvest Hoax where broadcaster Richard Dimbleby revealed that an early influx of warm weather across Europe resulted in an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop?

Do you remember in 1980 how the BBC reported that in order to keep up with the times, the face of London’s Clock Tower (which houses Big Ben) was going digital?

Animation of the act of unrolling a circle's c...

Animation of the act of unrolling a circle’s circumference, illustrating the ratio π. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My favorite has got to be from 1998 when it was rumored that the Alabama state legislature was in the process of changing the mathematical value of pi from 3.14159 to the Biblical value of 3. I’m still choking on my Cheerios over that one.

Whether you’ve waited all year to hoodwink your homeboys or you palpitate with paranoia at being the targeted prey, have a hearty hoot at the hilarity others have pulled on a few unsuspecting victims. Here’s a list of the top 100 April Fool’s Day Hoaxes of all time.

http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/aprilfool

Now tell me … have you got something to add to the list?

Happy fooling around!

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here).

 

Know your Cupid, Stupid!

English: THE TREATY BETWEEN THE SHEEP AND THE ...

Last night, as I was finishing mucking out the sheep barn, I paused mid-muck, and shivered at a sound that pierced the silence of this early February evening.

Coyotes: Virginia’s scraggly version of a sheep’s Freddy Kreuger and capable of causing such nightmares, no amount of counting themselves aid in a good night’s rest.

The sound of their yipping and howling was so primal, it brought images of ancient scenes: priests, rings of fire, sacrifices and savage rituals. And it’s merely a hop from all that to Lupercalia—perhaps the forerunner of our modern Valentine’s Day.

A lot of folks would have you believe our currently appointed Day of Love

Cupid and Psyche

developed from one of three sainted men possessing the surname Valentine, and that through his deeds of medical miracles/imprisonment and/or writing love letters sprouted a holiday simultaneously celebrated and feared by men and women around the globe today. Maybe it’s true. Maybe it’s hogwash.

But long before these fellas were martyred and thrown on to the Pope’s big calendar of feasts celebrating someone’s demise, another ritual existed. Lupercalia was one of those totally raucous fiestas that nobody in Rome pretends to remember—unless you’re a Wiccan, in which case, nobody pretends to notice.

Curious to get to the real meat of the history, I was surprised to discover the uncanny similarities between the old Roman shindig held February 13th -15th and our fresh take on love, sponsored by Hallmark, held on February 14th.

See if you can follow along.

Lupa capitolina al Campidoglio. Ne esiste una ...

The Romans: Two teams of Luperci (upper crust youths from Roman society) run a footrace around the Palatine Hill and end at the entrance to a cave—supposedly where Romulus (founder of Rome) and twin brother Remus were nursed by Lupa, the she-wolf. Please note that in some texts, Lupa is interpreted as another slang term for prostitute.

Us: Men, no longer in teams but rather solo, run through any series of mazes, hoops, fire and monetary ruin in order to arrive first at the front door of their “prize” for the evening. I doubt many of the women offer professional services, but wouldn’t be surprised to see them bear wolf-like fangs if the man is late.

The Romans: Now in the cave and upon a shrine, priests sacrifice a couple of goats and throw in a dog for good luck, then mix the blood and smear it on the foreheads of those quick-footed lads.

Us: Now at dinner—be it house or restaurant—some sort of meat is slaughtered and whatever wine is paired with the meal is often smudged on the tie of our skittish young stud.

The Romans: The blood is now wiped away with whatever is on hand, usually some milk sodden wool, and everyone has a hearty chuckle at the good-natured prank. You’re asking me why they laughed at this. I shrug; maybe it was akin to blacking out a tooth.

Us: The waiter comes running with a fresh napkin soaked with club soda and everyone inwardly rolls their eyes at the inelegant act of folly. It seems we’ve outgrown the hilarity of the wine on the tie routine, too.

Flagellants practiced self-flogging at the tim...

The Romans: The sacrificed goat’s skin was then divided and handed over to the youths to both wear as loincloths and make into hairy whips for later on.

Us: Upon leaving the table, many men forget they’ve tucked their napkin into the top of their pants and depart from the restaurant with their own special loincloth.

The Romans: Now the youths get to run through the city streets flogging semi-naked woman (requested to be so by their Roman priests) with those bloody, hairy, goat hide whips, all under the guise that by purposefully getting in the way of the thongs the women will gain newfound fertility.

Us: At last, dinner done, our young man has great hope and expectation to see at least one woman expose herself in some manner or form, although this is where the traditions divide. Nowadays, it is the woman who does the whipping at the end of the evening, usually in the form of self-flagellation rapidly followed by self-loathing. Of course the end result is oftentimes the same as those of the Roman women. Newfound fertility.

To wrap things up, it’s easy to see we’ve not changed much. Apparently, getting to thwack a girl on the backside with some shredded bits of goat is still a winning Valentine’s Day plan for most guys.

A 2 month old goat kid in a field of capeweed

So no kidding, Happy Lupercalia.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here).

 

The Long, Eternal, Relentless, Never-ending, Unremitting Year

If pressed one day to reveal my dream tattoo, its explanation would arise as a result of watching far too many Monty Python skits.

Group shot of the Monty Python crew in 1969

the men who raised me

More than likely I’d need to find a space massive enough to accommodate this:

All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us? 

The one thing missing, I would hazard to say, is the calendar we depend upon today.

Imagine this– you are a farmer, tied to the land and your animals, agrarian in every sense of the word, and counseled beneath the Roman emperor Numa Pompilius’ calendar.

Numa Pompilius consulting Egeria.

Lunar to begin with, it consisted of a mere ten months—March through December. Now as much as many folk would wish to be rid of January and February, Numa spit in the eye of his subjects’ greatest fears and threw two months into the beginning of the year, officially recognizing the missing sixty days of terror, when unmentionable fiendish ghouls ruled the streets. Yes, you could still walk around covered in ash and leap through the flaming pyres of purification meant to ward off those who shall not be named, but now you’d be able to pencil in on which day you’d prefer to have a chalky complexion and ones where you’d singe your coattails.

Fast forward around six hundred years. Same ancient farmer—well preserved from a fine diet off the land—and same ancient calendar: lunar and totally bungled. Sure, Numa threw in a few extra days here and there to appease those around him with better mathematical skills. But complaints were rife. A 355 day year falls a little short for the agricultural savviness of most farmers, and after a decade or so, they’re getting reminders from Outlook to start planting seeds around December 23rd. Houston? We have a problem.

Русский: Бюст Юлия Цезаря, Летний сад, Санкт-П...

Cue Julius Caesar. Even though the guy had a lot on his plate: a budget crisis, political corruption, throwing a few dinner parties complete with gladiators and lions, he apparently got tired of showing up way too late for the Vernal Equinox Festival each year. Things had gotten so out of whack while Rome was busy conquering the world, nobody noticed—unless you were friends with a farmer—that the first day of Spring was scheduled for somewhere in June, just after school let out. Something had to be done.

Since he had friends in high places, Caesar sought the help of someone whose influence was of the highest order, astronomically speaking.

Sosigenes, an Alexandrian greatly envied for the size of his telescope, er … astrolabe, was beckoned forth and instructed to untangle the calendrical conundrum. Pronto.

Up for the challenge, Sosigenes took out his freshly cleaned slate and chalk, came up with a slick marketing plan and presented the new Julian Calendar, complete with slides. The only glitch was that before implementing the shiny new calendar, they had to set straight the old one.

Thinking no one would mind—or even notice—Sosigenes threw a few missing days into the current year. Sixty-seven to be precise. Thirty days were added in between February 2nd and 3rd and thirty-five snuck in just after the last day of November and the first of December. The other two might have been tossed in as a couple of three day weekends.

Still, no matter how much publicity sparkle the PR department tried to spin it with, the Romans became a cranky bunch. And who could blame them?

English: A girl's wish list for Santa Claus.

February now seemed like an unending Lent, and Sosigenes was getting hate mail from kids who were expected to be ultra patient for the start of the Christmas season. People were going to have to wait an ungodly amount of time see if Caesar would put a menorah on the front lawn of the Basilica. Sadly, they’d never know.

Regardless, there are a couple of things we can take from the lesson of what soon became coined as The Long Year. Firstly, Rome realized their kids were falling way behind in math and sciences and that the Chinese were catching up. Secondly, Romans back then were older than what their driver’s licenses said. And lastly, we’ve got little to complain about when every four years we tack on an extra day in February, because seriously, look what the Romans did for us. If you can’t remember, I’ll show you my tattoo.

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here).

 

Lads & Lassies, Pipers & Poets

English: Robert Burns Source: Image:Robert bur...

January 25th marks the birth of Robert Burns. The Ploughman Poet. The Bard of Ayrshire. Scotland’s favorite son. Sadly, most people only admit knowledge of the catchy tune he penned that they drunkenly mumble along to come New Year’s Eve at midnight: Auld Land Syne.

He wrote poems and lyrics, collected and improved folk songs and fathered as many children with as many women who would have him. No wonder so many people claim him as their ancestor. The guy was a rogue—and a quick one too. He died at age thirty seven, making a remarkable attempt to populate half of Scotland.

Regardless, numerous individuals, whether of Scottish decent, whisky aficionados, or enthusiasts of poetry, annually plan to commemorate this man’s existence and accomplishments (both bardic and bedroom) with an evening of debauchery and boredom.

Scotish dirk

The whisky I love, but somewhere during the third hour of poetry, I’m looking to impale myself on the first dirk  I can slip from any man’s stocking. Consequently, I appreciate the whisky with more enthusiasm than I probably should. Of course, this is what everyone else is doing and why they believe they’re channeling Laurence Olivier.

A typical Burns Night, or Burns Supper, as it is both commonly known, used to be (and I’m sure remains in some stuffy circles) a “boys only” getup held on the anniversary of Rabbie’s birth. Gathering that Burns himself likely preferred the company of women and wouldn’t have missed the chance to gaze upon the legs of a lovely lassie, a few welcome mats have been placed at the feet of the fairer sex. It seems to have spiced up the evening for many a current soirée and is gaining popularity, as more women begin to view whisky as something more pleasurable than a root canal.

The supper components make or break any Burns celebration. More often than not, you’ll find most of the guests sleeping with their eyes open at the table, making frequent lavatory trips, or curled up in a fetal position in the cloak room, arms cradling a depleted Lagavulin bottle.

Assembling your own Burns supper should not be undertaken lightly; get it wrong and you will find attendees plotting your grisly death and funeral. One must consider the key factors needed: the proper guests, the right food, the liquor and the entertainment.

The guest list is crucial. Have a gathering of wallflowers or self-indulgent bores and your evening feels like watching the weekly defrag session of your computer: it will never end. That’s when I find myself making crosshatch paper cuts on the inside of my wrist with the edge of the menu in an effort to locate a vein that may end it all.

If you find the menu is reminiscent of something even Fido would shake his head at, do not blame it on the Scots. Just because these folk were once scrap cloth clad savages does not mean they couldn’t wield a torch with just enough finesse in order to perfectly caramelize the tops of their Crème Brule.

homemade haggis, scotland food stock photo

 

The main course, haggis, (aka sheep pluck), is a dish whose preparation and success requires deft skill in the kitchen. Try to find a large animal vet who moonlights as a Michelin rated chef to construct yours. Avoid the kind sold in a tin can.

The liquor is simple. Only the best. Famous Grouse need not apply.

When it comes to entertainment, if there isn’t a piper you might as well call it a nice little dinner party because without Mungo MacBugle blowing the cobwebs out your ears, it’s just going to be a slightly Celtic book club meeting with weird snacks.

The Scottish Piper - Victorian print vector art illustration

I have attended other peoples’ Burns Supper and I have thrown a couple of my own. Let me be honest. It is much easier to have a “babysitting emergency” in the midst of someone else’s grand Gaelic failure than in your own living room, among fifty hungry guests, who can clearly see your children alive and well, and currently working as unpaid wait staff.

My suggestions for you? Start small.

Gather your children, your parents and spouse—or anyone you trust not to blog about you the next day, and ask them to come to dinner prepared to recite a short poem, quote or bawdy limerick.

Check out a couple of the easier recipes offered by the BBC (click here).

Then head on over to the nearest (and reputable) liquor store and purchase yourself a good bottle of uisge bathea. Do not skimp and buy something that can double as mouthwash or battlefield disinfectant. If you’re new to whisky, look for a spirit that isn’t heavy with peat or smoke.

Finally, toast with abandonment. The more frequently you do, the quicker everyone becomes pithy, handsome and hungry enough to eat sheep pluck.

Slàinte!

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here).

 

A countdown of sorts

Mayan Exhibit

Mayan Exhibit (Photo credit: Chasqui (Luis Tamayo))

According to my daughter, and several dead Mayas, this may be my last chance to get a year’s worth of blogging in before it all ends. Apparently, 2012 is either going to finish with a spiritual transformation or the apocalypse. This makes it a teensy bit difficult to plan as I am steadfastly against most forms of change to begin with. Both require an element of preparation, and truth be told, I cannot fit one more thing into my schedule as it is. If some sort of sacred conversion is about to take place, it’ll probably have to manage without my knowing or assistance. And if it ends up that our planet has been slated for destruction because of some hyperspatial express route, then who cares if I’m wearing clean underwear or not, or any underwear for that matter.

What does matter are the number of single malt scotches I have within reach on my pantry shelves when the end is nigh. As the sickle of Death makes a clean slice through my veins, the only prayer in my head is one that beseeches all deities to grant my last request: the one that appeals for a full dram or two to be coursing through said veins at the moment He cleaves. I’ll leave in peace—or in pieces as it may be, but content nonetheless.

One year, I agreed. I’ll blog for a year. How painful can it be to conjure up words to describe weekly life a thousand feet up in a verdant Virginia? Except that it is. The excruciating parts are the ones where you reread about your life and the many asinine adventures you throw yourself into. Therapeutic, you say? Hogwash, I answer. I’m private. I’m truculent. And defiantly deaf. Except … I’ll do anything for a bottle not already present in my pantry. A good old fashioned bribe. Okay, and maybe the children. For the good of the children. And don’t forget world peace. I suppose I’d feel obligated.

Yes, to accept that for the small price of one measly year I’ll see an increase in my stock, adolescent utopia and a little world peace, I say … welcome to a piece of my world.

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here).