The Best Worst Day of my Life

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

Yeah, neither do I.

Except for the first part.

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

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

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

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

Then I went home.

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

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

When she’s sleeping, she’s awesome.

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

Oh, dear God, where was she?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deer are loud.

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

 

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

She was prepping for another go around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I opened them, I realized three things:

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

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

~Shelley

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

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

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

Dear Reader,

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

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

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

Dear Chloe,

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

So I won’t.

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

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

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

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

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

But you’re finished with all that right now.

For about a minute.

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

But it’s the truth. Because …

Life is school.

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

Money in the bank?

Title at work?

Rovers landed?

You decide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, and yes, they’re lucky.

But more important, we’re lucky.

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

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

Every single one.

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

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

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

The call was strong, and so are you.

Welcome here, honey.

Make yourself at home.

Love, Mom

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

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

Batteries, Boyfriends, and VW Bugs

This last month I learned a few new things about cars:

  • Jump starting a car battery is dark and semi-dangerous magic nearly anyone can do.
  • Wrestling out and replacing certain car batteries is a little bit like squishing a bloated elephant into a shoebox.
  • YouTube can teach you how to do both and come out mostly alive on the other end of it.

It all started around the time finals were happening for most college students in my neck of the woods with my own college student up to her earballs in textbooks, tests, and giant tubs of Ben & Jerry’s. Nothing alleviates an overheated thermogenic thought process like two pints of Hazed and Confused on a daily basis.

I received a text from said college student’s boyfriend:

When’s the last time you started Chloe’s car?

I scratched my head. Six weeks ago? Eight? It didn’t really matter because that thing was dead. Like unrevivably dead. It would be like digging up Beethoven or Mahler or Schubert and fist pounding on their chests screaming, “NONE OF YOU HAVE FINISHED YOUR SYMPHONY NO. 10!”

Yeah, that kinda dead.

I texted back an emoji shrug.

I could hear Ben’s eyes roll to the back of his head, and I don’t blame them for doing so.

He finished off: I’m coming over with a new battery. It would be nice for her to have a working car when she gets home from school.

I agreed. I also thought that it didn’t really matter if all the car parts were functioning if one did not have money enough to fill it with “go juice.” It kind of puts you in a position where you’re All Hat No Cattle.

But they’re college kids. They’ll figure it out.

I was working at my desk when Ben popped in. “I’m here. I’ve got the battery. I’ll be in the garage.”

“Need help?” I asked.

“Nah. Easy peasy.”

Super. I could keep writing. And I did.

For about sixty seconds.

“Do you have any gloves?”

Got Ben gloves. Went back to writing.

For about sixty seconds.

“Flashlight?”

You betcha.

Work … sixty seconds.

“How bout a magnet?”

Search for magnet: Old toy boxes. Drawers. Next to credit cards, computer hard drives, people resting in my living room with pacemakers.

“Nope. Sorry.”

Ben shrugged. “Never mind. I’m sure that piece will fall out of the engine block eventually.”

I looked at Ben with eyebrows that reached to my hairline.

Back to work. I counted to sixty twice.

“How small are your hands?”

Oh dear lord. I pushed back from my desk. “Let me find some shoes.”

I entered the garage and saw Chloe’s little VW bug with its hood popped. A miniature PAC-MAN of motorcars. Ben, whose height most telephone poles will nod with deference to, was almost in a downward facing dog yoga pose, hovering over the engine block.

There was a lot of grunting going on, but it might have been coming from the bug, as whatever Ben was trying to tug out of it seemed super important for that little roadster to cling to.

Apparently, it sensed the ongoing, effortful labor of disassembly and finally decided to put up a fight. It’s a little bit like going to the dentist for one defunct tooth to be removed and when you finally have a moment of anesthetic clarity, hear, “Oh, good lordy there’s another one. Well, she really doesn’t need that guy for chewing anyway.”

Yes, I think in a blind panic, but what about for maintaining social norms like speaking without sounding like I’m an eight-year-old whose face just met a tree trunk after a bike crash?

“What can I do?” I asked.

Ben explained to me that we just needed to slide the battery into place and then voilà, back to work I go and he’s outta here. Easy peasy.

Except he was finding it just a teensy bit tricky to slide this particular battery into place.

“How come?”

He gestured at the ground which held oddly shaped bits of plastic, metal, screws, caps, and hoses. It looked like the car had thrown up onto the garage floor. “A lot of stuff had to come out in order to remove the battery.”

“I assume all that stuff is essential?”

Ben shrugged. “Yeah, it all has to go back.”

I looked at the disassembled engine parts. I really really hoped he remembered where all the bits and pieces originally lived because none of them were color-coated, or Post-it note labeled, and there were no IKEA directions to be found anywhere.

If it were me, I would have labeled everything with Garanimal tags—like the clothing line my mother used to buy for us when we were little kids. Each piece of clothing had some anthropomorphic animal code attached to it so you could find something that matched to make a set. Make sure the alligator shirt is not paired with giraffe shorts and then feel confident sending that child on off to school.

Yeah, there were a lot of things on the ground that looked like they needed to be remarried to their original partners.

“You’ve done this before, right?”

Ben flashed me a smile and held up his smartphone. “YouTube.”

Oh, good heavens.

For the next three hours we battled with that little bug, trying to slide, shove, inch, hitch, and bang that new damn battery into place. It was like trying to get a cat to swallow a pill. That battery refused to go down.

We, as instructed by the warning words of the World Wide Web, did not tip the battery. Which would have made things so much easier. At one point I suggested to Ben that if we couldn’t tip the battery, maybe we should tip the bug. Seriously. It would have been so much easier.

He did not agree.

At long last, we did manage to get that SOB back into place. In fact, we managed to do it twice, because after the first time—once we’d reconnected all hoses, screws, and pulleys—we discovered a small piece we’d left out on the garage floor. Something akin to an OR nurse tapping an open-heart surgeon on the shoulder just as he’s tying off the last stitch of flesh together and pointing to the pan that still held an essential organ.

But we did it.

Easy peasy.

~Shelley

This thing ready to go??

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

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

 

 

 

 

Presidential Partying

As the American Presidential race is currently running at fevered pitch, the press—ever watchful and observant, and always acting on our behalf—alert the public to everything about the candidates from what color their bed sheets were as a child to whether or not their fiber is presently effective.

We’re given a thorough evaluation of each candidate’s depth and breadth. Spellbinding details from the big scale decisions they’ve made to the minutia of off-camera life, because who isn’t fascinated by the contents of our candidates’ glove compartments, right?

Things have certainly changed since our first president was elected in 1789, and since George Washington wasn’t scrutinized in the same fashion as today’s runners, he was fortunate enough to escape the prying eyes employed at present which would surely have made mincemeat of his past.

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I won’t go into the marijuana growing or the fact that he possessed only one real tooth, but the bit about his fervor as a distiller of whiskey and, according to some, one overenthusiastic with its intake, might have sent up a few red flags had he been trying to gain the popular vote of our current day and age.

Abraham Lincoln didn’t exactly make hooch so much as sell it. Even his dad worked at a local distillery doing odd jobs when Abe was a babe.

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As it turns out, it was a tricky time for Mr. Lincoln because of the Temperance movement. Owning a store in the backwoods of New Salem, one was forced to sell what the community needed (read: demanded). Whiskey was just as much a necessity as bacon, beeswax, and bee vomit (read: honey). Many criticized the man for participation in dram selling and voiced the opinion that those who sold liquor were minions of Satan. But Lincoln’s address to the Evangelicals of the reformed drinker movement is in essence summed up by Mahatma Gandhi’s quote, “Hate the sin and not the sinner.”

I’m guessing Hollywood did not read that chapter in their history books and have gone ahead to reveal the long-hidden truth that Lincoln was, in fact, a vampire hunter and slayer. Again, I’m sure in modern times, some savvy journalist would have sniffed this bit out.

John Adams had a strong penchant for Madeira, cider, and beer, complaining bitterly when it wasn’t available. And who could fault the guy? Anyone who starts smoking at the age of eight surely knows what will best cut the taste of nicotine first thing in the morning. Let’s give the kid a break.

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It could be that he was simply trying to drink away the bitter memories of the fact that not one of his family members attended his inauguration. It’s likely they were boycotting because they discovered he once shared a bed with Benjamin Franklin—or perhaps again, shacking up with Ben was a memory only Madeira could erase.

Regardless, it’s tough to imagine Trump and Cruz sharing a cot in a Motel 6 to save a few bucks since they’re both currently belting out stump speeches in the same state. It just wouldn’t happen.

James Buchanan could have qualified for the Olympic drinking team had there been one, as his capacity for drink—namely old rye, champagne, Jacob Baer Whiskey, and cognac—could rival the recycling bin of your average frat house.

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And surely making a regular habit of having two or three bottles of wine with a meal that consisted of mostly glasses of cognac and rye, and ensuring one’s regular ten gallon barrel of whiskey arrived each Sunday has seriously got to ensure that your liver will find a place of honor on some curiosity shelf in the Smithsonian, right? And yet, it is not there …

Grover Cleveland “enjoyed” his beer—as much as four to eight bottles of it a day—which left him with a beer gut that mirrored the great Buddha belly.

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What can be said of Thomas Jefferson, apart from the fact that the man not only knew his wines, but endeavored to grow them?

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Well, this little tidbit:

Our founding fathers ran up an epic bar tab in Philadelphia’s City Tavern at a dinner to honor George Washington a couple of days before penning their signatures to the Constitution, including eight bottles of whisky, twelve of beer, seven bowls of alcoholic punch, 22 bottles of porter, eight of hard cider, 54 bottles of Madeira and 60 of claret. That was divided between the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention.

It’s no wonder most of their signatures are illegible.

I think the lesson learned here is not so much one that suggests all of the fellows reviewed were supremely lucky to get away with the swilling habits of most sailors on ship leave, but one that will have you realizing what thirsty work governing America truly is.

~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.

My Mother, Thief of Goat’s Milk Products

There was no freaking way she was going to redecorate my room. No way on earth. She had that power at one point in my life, and as a result, I spent my teenage years in a sunflower yellow room adorned with far too much poppy imagery.

I finally had my own space – of sorts. I spent the first week of my summer in Boston scrubbing the floor, spackling the walls and maneuvering the biohazardous excuse for a mattress gracefully out of the window. Then I painted everything brown. And threw the entirety of my wardrobe on the floor. The space was officially mine.

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A few days earlier, on the phone with my mother regarding the upcoming visit: “OH IT WILL BE SO MUCH FUN WE WILL GO TO THE CUTE LITTLE WHOLE FOODS BEHIND YOUR CUTE LITTLE ROOM IN YOUR CUTE LITTLE HOUSE AND BUY CUTE LITTLE GROCERIES AND FIX UP YOUR ROOM WITH CUTE LITTLE CUTE THINGS.”

No.

NO POPPIES. OR BRIGHT COLORS. NOT HERE.

Such interference must be prevented at all costs. So I crammed every minute of the weekend with plans to explore the revolutionary and overwhelmingly Italian parts of Boston. (Distinct neighborhoods, albeit.) No time for redecoration.

But first, she had to climb five flights in the sweltering evening heat, only to be greeted at the top by a bathroom that was literally growing hair out of every drain. (She got that part right.) However, no challenge is insurmountable when one equips my mother with a little red wine and stolen fans from the communal living spaces.

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We were awakened the next morning at sparrow’s fart by the music of hundreds of trucks idling outside my window. (Two seasons in New England – winter and construction! Hahaha… so funny …I want to burn this city to the ground. Just kidding. Maybe.)

We embarked on a grand adventure to see libraries and historic churches – basically my mother’s favorite things – and she attempted to “check out” books from a library she does not belong to in a city she does not inhabit. No, Mom, published authors don’t get automatic librarian rights. Don’t listen to Grandpa.

We toured a historic art museum famed for the world’s most expensive and currently unrecovered art theft – I think my mother gave off a slightly suspicious vibe, as we were followed around by a number of guards from room to room. Either she didn’t notice or was intentionally messing with them by standing a hair’s too close to the artwork and exclaiming loudly “This Rembrandt would go perfectly with the bathroom color scheme!” Regardless, they broke a sweat.

We explored a booming Farmer’s and Artist’s Market in South Boston – I have never seen her accumulate so many samples so quickly. She had it down to a script too  – “Yeshihello, how are you, marvelous, I live in the area and will definitely be back to buy more of your product, may I try a sample of your local deliciousness thankyougoodday.” We made it out of there with literally enough food to last the rest of my collegiate career.

(If you’re not picking up on a theme here – my mother is a klepto. Of library books, priceless works of art and artisanal cheese samples. I plead unknowing and accidental accomplice.)

We hiked Boston’s Freedom Trail, a winding path through the tumultuous history of the Revolutionary War- it also happens to wind through the North End, where overstuffed cannoli and fresh, cheesy pasta distract from the patriotic quest. And I do not say “hike” lightly – after repeatedly climbing the five flights up Dante’s inferno to my place, we decided to also climb the Bunker Hill Monument at midday. We basically climb stairs now. It’s a hobby.

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Finally, a surprise I had meticulously planned – an evening on a sailboat and a visit to the best improv club in town. But the good old public transportation system, essentially comprised of turtle-drawn buggies, had different plans. Hence the running three miles in flip flops, tearing through a quaint harborside party reception waving my arms and screaming “CATCH THAT SAILBOAT!” Not gonna lie, probably one of the most epic things I’ve ever done.

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Now, just to complete the picture, here are some pictures.

Chloe and Shelley on sailboat
Conducting business on the sailboat. (I.e. dealing with the homefront crisis in which Grandma forgot where the cat food is. Classic Grandma.)
She knocked over an encyclopedia right after this was taken. I kid you not. It was so loud.

Shelley in library

Washing the kleptomania from her hands in Boston’s picturesque Frog Pool.

Shelley at Frog Pool

Apparently a proud supporter of the internment of Samuel Adams.

Shelley at Sam Adams tomb

The face of a woman who is done with my preposterous selfies.

Shelley selfie

A preposterous selfie. That stone circle behind us marks the location of the Boston Massacre. A lack of tea makes everyone cranky, apparently.

Chloe and Shelley Boston Massacre

At the end of the weekend, she departed, leaving me with a mountain of nut cheese and crackers made from seaweed harvested by mermaids. I’ve already started to plan the next adventure, which will involve more racing to reach ships in time and less opportunities for my mom to get thrown in federal. And, most importantly, at the dawn of the next week, my room was still clothes-strewn and completely bare of poppies.

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SUCCESS.

~Chloe

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click)

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.

Magical, Musical, Maleficent Mayhem

Hello, Peakers.

It is I, my mother’s nefarious, cupcake-baking daughter.

I have returned.

I know you missed me.

Even better: this is one of three guest blogs I’ll be writing over the next couple of months to give you a taste of our glorious summer adventures. I’m also subbing cause she’s been kinda busy with her book that will probably put an end to all sugar.

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Still not sure if that’s a good thing or not, but regardless, you should buy it immediately because the only college care packages she has sent me this year have been socks.

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(Shout out to my grandmother for secretly mailing me my massive stuffed rhinoceros pillow named James Franco when my mother scoffed at my childishness.)

Anyway.

The first installment of this epic adventure collection involves satanic worship, children in cults and good old fashioned family time. And it all began when my mother made the fatal mistake of agreeing to play the piano accompaniment for my grandmother’s music recital.

For those of you who didn’t grow up in a classical music cult, allow me to enlighten you about the Suzuki Mafia, or, What My Grandmother Does When She’s Not Gardening.

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She runs an illicit ring comprised of small children whose parents willingly give their time and money in exchange for pint-sized violins and children that can imitate chicken noises on a musical instrument.

These children are called “Twinklers,” owing to the omnipresent, haunting theme of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” that is repeatedly drummed into their heads. I believe it has hypnotic power, and that whenever its dulcet tones are imitated, the kindergarten sleeper agents are summoned to serve their evil overlord. In our story, their commanding officer is my grandmother, who goes only by the code name “Mrs. W.” Probably for tax evasion purposes.

These Twinklers are disseminated throughout their hometowns, and with their persistent chicken scratching, day in and day out, slowly work to break down the mental stability of those around them, converting them to the cult under the guise of “musical education.” And then, once every season, the ring coalesces in a local church to perform mass rituals and provide sacrificial offerings to Mrs. W and their parental network. Then, over brownies and fruit punch, they all discuss their progress on the front of world domination.

I know all this because I was once a Twinkler.

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I was one of the agents so deeply ensnared that it took me forever to escape. My childhood was a blur of itchy dresses, tightly braided hair, group bows, (“look at your toes and count to three!”) and broken strings. These mass rituals or “recitals” form some of my earliest memories, and so revisiting the scene to watch my mother play piano accompaniment for the tiny, unarmed yet powerful sleeper agents was quite the nostalgic experience.

The day before, my mother and I met Mrs. W in her underground fallout shelter (basement of the Music Emporium) to assess the readiness of the troops. Five of them, pigtailed and confused-looking, stood with their imitation Stradivariuses crammed under their arms, waiting by the piano for Mrs. W’s cue. On her mark, my mother sounded the first four chords that triggered the little ones to play.

As five bows collided simultaneously with five strings with the spirit and determination of invading Huns, I felt the earth open up beneath my feet and the welcoming satanic embrace of the underground climb up my chair. The little army of violin robots played on, sawing out their homage to Bach, Beethoven and Voldemort. Watching them rehearse, I felt the ability for and disposition to independent thought slip away, leaving me with the sole desire of joining their ranks and offering dissonant screeches to the evil overlord.

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The next day was showtime. Parents crowded the pews of the commandeered church, their faces worn with visible exhaustion from corralling their mind-warping musical maestros. My brother sat, skulking in the back, his face hidden by the flowers I forced him to bring, likely illegally streaming movies. My mother was attending to Mrs. W, addressing last minute crises like the fact that Tommy may have just stepped on Sara’s violin and now it doesn’t quite sound the same.

I sat in the front, readying my best snarkastic face to distract my mother while she attempted to accompany. I was prepared for a full, glorious 90 minutes of the audible equivalent of having teeth pulled. I watched as one of the tiny cult members took the stage, readied his violin and tried to reposition his knee-length tie. He tucked his violin under his neck, took a shaky breath, and with the bow hovering over the strings, hesitated for a moment. I saw his round puppy eyes glance at my mom, waiting for that magical, motherly look that is a combination of recognition, approval, and assurance.

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She smiled and nodded, and, with renewed vigor and purpose, he plunged into a hearty rendition of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Gently Down the Rivers of Blood of our Enemies and Stage Mother Tears.” No matter if he forgot a note, or a measure, or an entire half of the song, she would follow his musical diversions and remain a safe place to fall.

The rest of the recital was a whirl of Mrs. W’s recruits acting like adorable tiny humans and stepping on each other’s expensive horse-haired bows. Yet I remembered that quiet, singular moment of connection between a nervous little one and my mother. In my hectic tornado of lab work, laundry and cooking for myself, sometimes, those little reassurances that the accompaniment will always be there remain the strongest glue holding me together.

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That and Mrs. W’s magic Kool-Aid.

~Chloe (an ex-Twinkler)

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click)

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.

 

 

Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate

When hearing the term “spring break” many of us easily conjure up the images of families taking off for that one last round of late winter skiing, or finding a child-friendly cruise, with wallet-friendly options. We see ourselves organizing the garage, and sifting through closets, a cathartic cleanse that gifts us new space. And it’s especially easy to picture a throng of college students making their way en masse toward sandy white beaches far removed from the cramped, windowless lecture halls they’ve occupied through dark winter months.

But this year spring break was anything but the above depictions. For me, that is. And I think for my daughter too.

This year I spent the time uneasy and restless, tense and observant. I spent it hoping to hear the words in someone else’s thoughts. I needed to measure the struggle, my daughter’s level of distress.

Her campus was in crisis mode, all parents on high alert. The same lamentable word refused to be muted, would not release its steadfast grip.

Suicide.

It is a word that strikes through the strength of a family and weakens the backbone of a community. It is an action that brings us to our knees with the senseless loss from an unheard cry.

Chronic stress is a familiar disease most every college student is acquainted with. Its unforgiving malady inflicts academic anxiety, depletes crucial sleep, and unleashes widespread social struggles, challenging our children to fit in somewhere new in someplace foreign.

A known and nerve-wracking fact among parents and educators, the leading cause of death among university students is suicide. The statistics are varied, and we brace ourselves to hear of the wretched news. One is horrifically tragic. A second is a spreading concern.

But five?

Five within one year? And all on one campus.

It left me desperate to talk to my child … and to hear my child talk.

I wanted her home, with me where I could see her. But I forced a stillness within myself, remembering that she was attempting to build herself a new home. To stretch and redefine who she was. To discover where she will next belong.

We’d speak on the phone. I’d offer her words. But words are paltry and may only provide an anemic effect. It’s nearly impossible to feel you are getting an accurate reading in a situation such as this. It is a terrible tug of war. The wanting. The wanting to rush someplace and fix something. But that is not always the answer.

Your answer is not always their answer.

In the last 19 ½ years I have known this child, a few things have bubbled to the surface to claim the top box if she were filling out an application profile, describing who she is. It’s likely she’d say:

A scientist

A musician

An activist

But there is a tiny little baker buried deep inside her that materializes when in desperate need to combat ironfisted stress.

When spring break arrived, I met her at the airport. Encased in a hug that I hoped echoed a million words of warmth, I breathed her in. I’d missed the spice of her hair, the honeyed notes of her perfume.

I took her home—and not to a beach, the garage or the slopes. To no great surprise her personal Pillsbury Doughboy punched in daily on his flour-dusted time clock. Within minutes of arriving, he had transformed my kitchen into a satellite city patisserie.

Dorms consider a communal kitchen to be a closet with a microwave from 1957. College cafeterias are considered fresh and contemporary if they could advertise they’ve been cooking ‘nose to tail’ recipes long before it was considered hip, and were nearly certain there was a fork somewhere in the utensil bin that was dedicated as “peanut free.”

Winters can be bleak and mournful if the closest you can come to home cooking are dorm room banned candles crafted to smell like meatloaf and chocolate chip cookies.

My kitchen became an invisible big-bosomed therapist, warm from the heat of the oven, smelling of Madagascar vanilla, and costing a considerable amount of money which insurance companies would never reimburse under the umbrella of preventative healthcare.

It didn’t matter.

I savored the fact that she was home. And day by day the smudgy, dark circles beneath her eyes—the circles I at first took for a potential dabble into a late teen Goth phase, but knew were the result of a schedule where sleep was rarely granted before 3am—slowly faded. I would not have been surprised to see her drop her bag at the end of her childhood bed, fall prone and not rise until I told her it was time to head back.

But there was that urge to bake. To turn the bitter into sweet.

Every day the pantry was scoured, the fridge was raided, and recipe books were consulted. Every day something fragrant appeared in finished form, its come hither whispers accompanied by an invisible finger, crooked and beckoning.

There were mounds of muffins and breads, cookies and tarts. Chocolate covered confections and lime zested pies. Graham crackers married sticks of butter and served as a crumbly hug for whatever they embraced. Coconuts and pecans toasted themselves beneath the fiery, wiry heat of a broiler set to suntan. Apples, dates, bananas and carrots had every gram of sugar coaxed out of them with the deep calm of an individual lazily spinning through the quiet hours of an unnoticed afternoon.

Day by day, ample perfumes mingled with each other to signify a steadily budding state of grace.

Taste this.

Eat that.

Try those.

Little words, big flavors, potential aid promising relief.

Every day I told myself, Okay, either she’s going to run out of steam, or I’m going to run out of ingredients. The end is near.

The “End” did not arrive until I returned her and her tiny duffle bag to the airport where she was soon whisked back to seven more weeks of muddling through those stressors she’d left; the disquieting uneasiness locked behind a dorm room door and strewn about a grief-stricken campus.

The list of things I have to offer this child may be rapidly diminishing in terms of parental care, but there is still comfort. I will hold what she cannot contain, I will hear what she cannot say, and I will eat what she cannot finish.

She may not have had a traditional respite from school this year, less spring break more spring bake. But I hope it was what she needed.

When I walk into a space that is filled with the heady aroma of caramelizing sugar, I am immediately reminded of my daughter. Transported to a nearly tangible encounter, it is at once comforting and then painful. It is something I wish I could return to those heartbroken parents—the unmistakable scent of their child.

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~Shelley

Related articles

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.

I’ve Got This Down to a Science

I felt like a million bucks walking into the Koch Institute Auditorium.

Okay, that’s a big fat fib.

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I did not feel like a million bucks, I felt like a million bucks couldn’t make a dent toward improving my current status.

I was more water-logged than the Cutty Sark’s figurehead: hair plastered to my skull, rainwater sluicing down my pants and overflowing from my squeaky shoes, and mascara tracking soil-black furrows in all directions away from my eyes. I was in need of some serious respackling.

This was a result of my rain-battered, late afternoon mile-long walk from my hotel to my daughter’s university campus where I’d been invited to attend a lecture given by one of the esteemed faculty members before “Parent’s Weekend” the following day. (Full story here.)

I slogged to the lady’s room and wrung out my clothing, paper towel dried my hair, and attempted to scrape off the black grout that now epoxyed itself to my skin. Waterproof Wonderful, my Aunt Fanny. I left the bathroom looking like I’d been camping in a nearby peat bog for the last three weeks. I snatched up my name tag and dashed into the lecture hall to locate a seat near the back. And in the dark. And under a tarp if I could find one.

The invite stated the program was to begin at 4 pm. But what actually started was the wine and hors d’oeuvres party. This meant I’d get to watch other people—other people who were dry—enjoy themselves with the first rate food and the five star confidence that they’d not scare the bejeebies out of the other lecture guests during the meet and greet. No, it was best I stayed put.

And did for the next hour.

I dripped a melancholic puddle beneath my chair, forming a large enough pool to gather the attention of one of the catering staff, who kindly brought me two cocktail napkins. It had the about the same effect as trying to cap the eruption of Old Faithful with nothing more than a Tupperware lid.

But it was the thought that counted.

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The well fed and lubricated crowd filed into the lecture hall and the Chancellor took to the podium. She thanked us for coming, and then launched into a long-winded, rhapsodic introduction for the professor we had gathered to hear. The man sat looking sheepish as the Chancellor gushed with exuberance over the prof’s accomplishments.

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I prickled. No human being alive could have done this much in three lifetimes let alone two thirds of one. The man introduced and moving toward the podium had a name akin to that of a James Bond villain—Vladimir Bulović. I felt he should have been wearing a cape.

The lecture’s title? Why the Future Will Be Measured in Nanometers.

A plethora of questions buzzed through my head: What is a nanometer? Did anyone bring an extra calculator? And will I be seen if I crawl on all fours toward the exit and swim home in the direction of a clean, dry bed?

Professor Bulović spoke in a torrent of rushing words—and Russian words—or maybe it just sounded foreign because it was all diodes this and photovoltaics that. Yep, total Greek.

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So I stopped listening and started reading. The slides from the power point presentation were filled with words and symbols, and thank god occasionally moving pictures. Those I could follow.

The snippets of video showed objects that all fell under the umbrella of ‘nanoparticles.’ Quantum dots, carbon nanotubes, icosahedral twins and triplets and the rest of their unpronounceable family members. And soon I was enlightened with what this man, his team, and the monumentally small world of nanotechnology had been beavering away with in laboratories across the world.

For your mind-blowing pleasure, here are a few of science and technology’s newest projects Professor Blofeld–er, Bulović discussed:

LiquiGlide – A freaky non stick coating that can be applied to food packaging to eliminate waste. In this particular instance: ketchup. Click and be amazed.

Transparent Polymer Solar Cells – Windows that clearly harvest energy from the sun.

The Flexible Light Bulb – What if the light bulb of the future wasn’t a light bulb at all?

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Cancer detection – with magnetic nanoparticles.

Flexible solar panels – printable too!

Eyeglasses that can recharge your hearing aid while you’re wearing both.

Nanoparticles that clean oil spills via magnets – You’re welcome Exxon Mobile.

Water filtration—or desalination. Here we have folks working to make a filter device that allows a glass of seawater to become drinkable water after a few minutes of hand pumping. I think some hand shaking is in order.

Reengineered cement that will reduce carbon emissions. Now that’s a solid idea.

Better lighting with quantum dots. As far as I can see, this is some brilliant science.

Yep, hearing this lecture had been one tiny head explosion after another.

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So even though I traveled what felt like a million miles to get there, and even though much of the lecture was a million light years beyond my ken, and it was clear that folks had spent millions of dollars on research and development, I now just want to say, Thanks a million. The future looks wonderfully exciting, Professor Bulović—although it’s a little hard to see.

~Shelley

CALENDAR WINNER AWARD!

Our free calendar goes to the lovely Linnet Moss. Kindly contact Robin with your address so that he can post your 12 month doodle diary. (info@robingott.com)

Congratulations, Linnet!

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.

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How to Get Found by Losing Your Way.

Orientation is a concept I spent a lot of time thinking about this last weekend as I helped move my daughter into her new digs at university. From the moment I put the key into the ignition and the car into drive until I parked my automobile snugly into the garage returning home, I was in a constant state of getting my bearings.

As a writer, one is schooled to continually practice the art of noticing.

The teenager sitting beside me rarely noticed anything that wasn’t coming into view on the flat screen of her smart phone.

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There is a vast difference between us. We orient ourselves in completely different ways.

We both learn about the world using our eyes, but mine make grand sweeping gestures east to west and north to south, taking in trees and buildings, street signs and faces, while hers make a minuscule movement barely left and right of center—just enough to absorb the bazillion articles on Reddit that tell everyone reading what’s happening in the world today.

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But at least we know what’s unfolding around us.

We both use our ears to scope out sound. As we sit in a lecture hall, in front of a panel of teachers, advisors, administrators and staff, I soak up the voices and what they say: the chief of campus police—serious and dour, the dean of students—confident and erudite, the chair of the physics department—stumped by all the befuddled faces, the university healthcare representative—thoroughly weary from repeatedly answering the same question, just posed in a different accent.  The incoming freshman I’ve placed in the seat next to mine has used her ears as a holder for two pieces of electronics and plastic in order to block out the ambient voices and welcome in somebody else’s streaming from iTunes.

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I look at the distance we need to maneuver from one end of campus to the other and pull out a map; she hears the phrase lovely walk and clicks on an app to hail a cab.

We pass by groups of kids and I scan the clusters of faces from all ends of the earth and say, “It’s going to be wonderful getting to know so many new people from places you’ve never been.” She replies, “I already know most of them. We’ve all met on Facebook.”

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The list of activities–the get to know you parties–are poles apart from what would ease me into my new surroundings had I been the newcomer on campus.

Come build a rollercoaster!

Edible LEGO bricks. Let’s eat our architecture!

100 somewhat illegal uses for all your tech gadgets—shhh.

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Yeah, my university mixers were more of the sort that announced: We’re having a pizza party in the Student Union. Come meet your mascot.

I watched a kid zoom by on a ten speed bike powered by a chain saw. I heard music coming out of a speaker that looked like a small Oreo. I saw someone typing words onto a screen, which would have been fine apart from the fact that there was no keyboard beneath her fingers.

I was now completely disoriented.

By the end of the day I had amassed a file full of papers—everything from phone numbers to calendars, lecture notes to course requirements. I turned to my teen, “I’ve got spares for you too because I noticed you weren’t taking any.”

She waved her phone at me. “Got it all right here.”

Smart phone. A helluva lot smarter than me.

We bring the last of her gear up to her dorm room. “Do you want me to remind you how to do your laundry?”

“Nope. I’ll YouTube it.”

“Shall I walk you to the university’s clinic and campus police?”

“Already Google-Mapped it, Mother.”

“How bout I—”

Smart phone is waved in my face.

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It is clear I have been replaced by an app. By copper and wiring and eye tracking and satellites. This is her world not mine. It is fast, it is immediate, it is clever and it is made for a group of brains that do not see the world as I see it.

I collected my things and we walked to my car. I looked at my daughter and thought about our positions in the universe, how I would find my way back home, how I would go back to what was familiar and well-worn, and how I’d be recalibrating life and adjusting to the “new normal.”

So much of the weekend was, in truth, an orientation meant for me. I watched this young woman and all her peers around us utilize unfamiliar signs, and oftentimes unreadable directions, leading them confidently down their new path.

There really was nothing left to do apart from stand aside and lovingly snip the last threads of that invisible umbilical cord between us. I let her go … wireless.

~Shelley

August 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 August!

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.

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The story of your life.

As you read this, I want you to envision how I would probably appear if I were standing in front of you, holding out a cup of tea and offering up an appreciative smile for having the courage to come back after the massive five part series adventure of last month.

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I am probably bleary-eyed, brain-fogged, and dressed in the same war-torn, weed-hacking, stiff with mosquito repellant clothes I’ve been throwing on for the last four days simply because I’ve no time to take the extra few steps into my closet and find something fresh to wear. Time is ticking exponentially faster with each glance I make at the clock, and I can’t seem to stop it.

These are the last few days I’m helping to prepare (read—preparing) my daughter for her shove off from home and toward the land of her personal Edutopia.

University looms in front of us.

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Hitching a ride with the rising buildings of academia are the rising fears of what lies beneath the phrases I’ve been shouting lately:

Have you finished your orientation registration forms?

Did you fax your immunization records to the Health Screening Office on campus?

What are all these boxes of clothes for? You’re moving into a dorm room the size of large broom closet. All you need are pajamas and a lab coat!

Yeah, there’s fear here. And excitement, and panic, and tenderness and uncertainty. Volumes of emotional exposure.

But these chapters are what make up life. The living part of life—not the hiding from it.

When I look back at the last few years of raising my children—no, these two young adults who still occasionally come to me for food, money, transportation and every once in a blue moon advice–I clearly see the one thing I wanted both of them to become:

Mistake-ridden.

This is a description I’ve encouraged them to develop for as many years as they’ve been drawing breath. I do not want a safe life for either one of them—nor for myself. I want them to acknowledge their fears, discover their weaknesses, and expose their raw and shatterable insecurities. I want them to stumble, to fall and to fail. And I want them to do this wholeheartedly with an openness to adventure and a liability for results.

And then I want them to repeat this process until they draw their very last breath.

For only by doing so will they touch upon the magnificence of courage.

I don’t want to see these two people standing on the sidelines. I want them inside the game. Sitting at the table. Winning and losing, losing and winning. I want them to show up, knees knocking with nerves, a heart hammering with upheaval and a stomach fluttering with butterflies. I want them to be brave enough to know that even though they may be rejected, they will never look back with ruefulness and self-reproach because timidity held them back.

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Another year of school begins for both of them next week. My messages have been steady and repetitive:

Be hungry, but feed others.

Listen and lead.

Don’t hide, unmask yourself and try.

Get up, get up, GET UP.

I know it’s a lot to ask. I know it’s fraught with embarrassment and pain and mounting self-doubt. It’s an accumulation of scabs and scars and long-healing wounds. But the alternative is bland. It will never leave them breathless. It has a bitter aftertaste. It is an all-encompassing folding in and shriveling up. It is effortless—and my coaching has been all about living an effortful life.

The world is a series of doors waiting not for a tentative knock, but for a hand that tries the latch. It is a succession of thresholds—those moments where you are on the brink of something, but only if you make the necessary, scary steps toward the edge of the precipice. Life is a giant leap of trust into a glistening pool of risk. It is cold and brutal, shocking and raw—yes, but it is also triumphant.

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And what do our children truly need to accomplish these directives? This chalk talk for the game of life? These instructions that promise them a life profoundly lived?

Nothing more than vulnerability and curiosity.

Nothing more than pajamas and a lab coat.

~Shelley

PS. As shortly I shall be neck deep in all things dorm room and parent orientation related, and as Robin has worked his pencils down to the barest of nubs and is in search of replacements, the show will go dark next week. But we will return the following weekend, full of stories and full of life. Fully written and illustrated for YOU.

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.

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Quick! Hire a teenager now while they know everything.

Long ago I made a point of no longer saying, “I told you so,” to my kids.

But I NEVER promised to stop making the I told you so face.

And I make it a lot.

Sometimes several times a day.

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Occasionally, I just keep it there until the next needed time comes around to save my muscles the unnecessary exertion of popping them back into their default setting—which according to my kids rests somewhere between a scowl and the expression that suggests intestinal blockage.

Lately, I’ve been doing a little motherly worrying that I only have six months to go before one of my fledglings will fly the coop. Is six months time enough to impart those last bits of needed wisdom before I drop her and her bags off at the door of what every parent surely feels is the opening credits of Animal House?

After last week … I’m not so sure.

Yes, there are different definitions of intelligence—and for this I am extraordinarily grateful. Because measuring mine by what I’ve retained from my schoolroom days would send my past educators into a vortex of surround sound tutting so energetic it would be like sitting in the middle of a field full of judgmental crickets.

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So, booksmart? … I ain’t so much none more.

Street smart? I’m fairly confident I’m making the honor roll. My daughter? Well, let’s just say she’s probably one or two notches above Elmo.

My daughter is a violinist. A very fine one. And she plays a fair amount of gigs, so she knows (with the occasional reminder from me) that instruments—like people—must have a maintenance schedule in order to achieve optimal results. Just before Christmas, she noticed one of her strings fraying badly and was about to play a three day running show. I swapped out the ready-to-snap bad string with an old spare, purchased her a set of new strings, and reminded her to bring her violin to the shop for its “annual.”

Amid a slew of, “Yes, yes, I’ll get to its,” I left it at that.

A couple of days ago she mentioned the headmaster of her school had asked that she play for an event he would be speaking at. Mentally calculating her holiday break activities, I could not recall her recounting a trip to the violin maker’s shop and raised an eyebrow at her.

“I’m fine. It’s fine. I’ll get to it.”

The night before curtain call, we were advised by our local newscasters to prepare for icy road conditions the next morning. In fact, we’d found all of the local public schools delaying a couple of hours to allow the frenetic worker bees to get to their stations ahead of the big lumbering school buses full of sleepy-eyed children. All schools, apart from my daughter’s.

As a freshly minted driver, I warned her that she must be prudent and give herself plenty of extra time to firstly, check road conditions before leaving, and secondly, drive slowly to be cautious of slick spots. Her mind was occupied with other things. Mainly, cramming for a calculus test the next morning.

“Did you hear me?” I asked.

“Mmm hmm.”

“How was rehearsal today?”

(Insert a series of mumbles that folks studying the fundamental notions of convergence of infinite sequences will understand) and then,  “My string snapped.”

“What? You mean you still haven’t taken your fiddle in?”

“I’ll play on my electric. I’m fine. It’s fine. I’ll get to it.”

Cue seven a.m. the next morning.

“Mother!”

I was still ten blissful minutes away from my traditional sounding alarm clock, but rose to this one instead.

“Well??? How are the roads?” she asked.

Normally full of pithy remarks at the crack of dawn, I was surprised when nothing but a croaky, “Huh?” came from my throat.

“MOM! I HAVE TO LEAVE! I HAVE REHEARSAL BEFORE SCHOOL AND I’M ALREADY GOING TO BE LATE!”

This did not sit well with me and had me out of bed, searching for my bathrobe and pulling on my wellington boots. The perfect choice for getting a firm foothold on frozen water.

The first step out of the house was slick and shiny. A little farther out, the pebbled courtyard of the driveway would have been a disappointment to most ice skaters, but was still capable of flipping you onto your backside. The blacktop driveway, for the few tentative steps I took, appeared safe. Ish.

“Well??? How is the driveway?”

I watched my daughter lug her electric violin and an amp nearly as large as her Volkswagen beetle toward the trunk of the ice cube she was about to drive.

I shook my head and looked at the crusted over windscreen. “The first ten feet are super. I cannot account for the remainder of the mile.”

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Knowing that the remainder of that mile was pitched at an ungodly angle downward and included at least three or four deadman’s curves, if it was covered in ice, I could imagine her car would no longer be a car but instead a fancy toboggan. I hoped she’d changed her mind. But apparently, she was a potential casualty whether she stayed home or went, as not turning up for the rehearsal was in essence a fate worse than death.

She left for school. I left for the shower and brought with me the prickly panic that would accompany me until I’d heard she made it safely into her parking space.

Fifty anxiety-ridden minutes later (as she forgot to text me when she first made it to school and went straight to rehearsal), and mere moments before I called the school to hunt her down, I received a thumbs up text and then left for an in town appointment myself. Halfway there I receive a second text that said:

Hey, Mom? R u coming into town this morning?

Me—at a stop sign: Already on my way.

Her: Turns out I left the cable that connects my violin to the amp at home.

There is no I told you so emoticon for texting, but somebody should make one. So I substituted: It’s fine. You’re fine. You’ll get to it.

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Six more months and the roads are dicey.

~Shelley

It’s time to reveal January’s winner for the Gotta Have a Gott calendar! We hope you all voted, but if not, you’ll have another crack at it at the end of February (and all the months through November). For now, come see the past month’s winner.

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.

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The not so common app

A fair definition of parenting: hardest job to have, easiest job to get.

I’ve written thousands of words about the challenges of raising a kid. But lately, I’ve been thinking about just how challenging it is to BE a kid.

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I’m not so sure some of them will remember the bliss, as too many of the pleasures have been replaced with the pressures of performance and accomplishment. Yes, it’s a transition that our society has deemed necessary. Not too many folks find that living above their parents’ garage or finally landing that dream job of becoming a bail bondsman is as fulfilling as once imagined. But sometimes I feel we’re rushing them headlong into that territory.

It’s a sharp wakeup call to hear someone announce you’re too old to bounce on the trampoline any longer.

Truthfully, I don’t want it to be too late for any of us to do a few flips if we’re still feeling nimble enough. And one of these days I plan to be nimble enough again. It may take half a bottle of wine to make it so, but I’ll suffer through it somehow.

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Maybe I’m chock a block full of these nagging thoughts because for the last year I’ve been riding the Wicked & Wild College Coaster. It starts off at breakneck speed, flings you through dark and formidable tunnels, leaves your stomach somewhere in the stratosphere as you plummet from an unexpected dive, and flips you over repeatedly as you grapple for a foothold on the horizon.

I’m guessing this will all end somewhere just about a week before my funeral. As that is about how long I will be hemorrhaging money in order to pay for continuing my kids’ education. I will bleed out bit by bit until nothing remains but my hollow purse and a withered puddle of skin and bones. Not terribly attractive, but by then both my children will have learned that true beauty is measured on the inside of people—and chances are, by that time, they’ll have a pretty good look at the outline of my gorgeous gallbladder.

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Regardless of my efforts, I will not be able to pay for it all. And they will need to pitch in—a decision I feel they will thank me for later.

Much later.

But it does put an extraordinary amount of pressure on them to have to start thinking about finances now, and where it will come from.

Yet first, they will have to gain acceptance to a university. And this cannot be achieved without filling out the applications.

All ten billion of them.

Narrowing down the choice of college is a process we went through last year. Harrowing and hilarious, we visited institutions all across the UK and America. During the last few months, the list was refined and polished down to a “T” of ten—no twelve!—No nine!—Ugh, Mother!!

These were my daughter’s typical mutterings, often times thoughtful, more often at fevered-pitch.

But of course, this is a big decision, and required careful consideration along with a lot of soothing chocolate.

So she’d configured her list to ten schools which most college counselors advised should include a good balance of:

1. Safely assume you’ll get in.

2. Most likely you’ll get in if your test scores remain where they are.

3. It’s good to aim high, and of course you can do it.

And lastly,

4. Oh, what the hell, let’s shoot for the moon.

Now it’s time to take all the qualifying exams, write all the essays, gather all your recommendation letters, create your supplemental material, schedule your alumni interviews and win the Powerball Jackpot Lottery so you can afford tuition.

Don’t forget you still have school, your job, your internship, your music lessons, your volunteer hours, student government, research for scholarships, the articles for the newspaper, your senior thesis project, AND AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK THE FREAKIN’ CAT LITTER COULD BE CHANGED!

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(Sorry. That last one was more of a personal note to my daughter than a general statement about what all teenagers generally have on their plate.)

Still, that leaves precious little time for boyfriends, girlfriends and that most crucial obligation which usually gets tossed aside like a pair of stinky socks … sleep.

Family time is a laughable concept.

Although I’m pretty proud of myself lately simply because about three times a week on average, I have closed my ears to the insults to my cooking and the complaints about time to insist that butts will be in chairs at the kitchen table for twenty excruciating minutes while we share a meal. Or at least while I eat it.

I am thrilled when we make it past fifteen and no one has left in a fit of tears.

My goals are small, but steady and sure.

The point of this article is simply that I’m aware of just how busy our children are—and oftentimes, that busyness is created only as proof for a college essay, or a university’s common application, that they are really not so common after all.

But I think a solid dose of run-of-the-mill and commonplace is needed every once in a while. A few minutes to doze, to dream, to doodle. To accomplish zilcho.

It is wanted, it is worthy, it is wonderful.

I leave you with a quote from my second favorite sketch artist, and a very important life lesson I’m still trying to squeeze in before my kids have flown the coop:

There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.  ~ Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes

~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.

Dancing in the Hydrochloric Acid Rain

* Today, I bring back my guest blogger/editor/teenage daughter/biggest critic and share with you an essay she wrote as entry for a competition. She assures me it isn’t poetry, but the words sing sweetly in my ears no matter the genre. And although she long ago gave up her dream of becoming a ballerina, and decided pop star, zoo keeper, veterinarian and Laura Ingles Wilder were all professions unworthy of further pursuit, she has never, for one moment, taken her eyes from the skies.

This kid still wants to be an astronaut.

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

Space Shuttle Atlantis roars off the launch pa...

When I first saw the space shuttle Atlantis lift off into an oppressively warm Florida sky from Banana Creek, I felt the most resounding reassurance echo inside of me. The sky popped, the loyal thousands cheered on their space program, and my voice was lost. The ground beneath me trembled with the roar of powerful combustion engines, but I felt immovable, unshakable. The culmination of thirty years of a nation’s laborious efforts rose on a burning orange ladder into a space unencumbered by the debris of humanity. The higher the Orbiter flew, the surer I felt. This was my passion.

 I wanted, so badly, to stay for the hydrochloric acid rain. But my mindful parent had other plans.

Liftoff (800x763)
I have known, ever since I was the size of a lima bean, that I wanted to study science and work in aerospace. I love space, with every bone in my body, with every atom in me that fell, eons ago, from shining stars. I cherish the moon, the planets, and the stars, carefully plotting their slippery dance across the sky. I have spent countless nights, heavily caffeinated and wrapped in blankets, waiting for the streak of silver as the International Space Station zips by, counting the green and white flashes of icy meteors and marveling at the silent power of rockets launched from Wallops Flight Facility. I envision myself in the aerospace industry one day, working with people I cannot wait to meet, dedicating my life to an engineering pursuit I know can change how we live here on earth.

physics

physics (Photo credit: Hash Milhan)

I am happiest in school when in a science or math class, intrigued, propelled and amazed by the laws of the universe, humbly revealing themselves on a chalkboard. I fell in love with physics, the hardest and most all-encompassing class I had ever come head to head with, in my freshman year of high school. From that point on, I knew I would never be truly happy with my work unless I was pushing myself to the envelope of my ability. For me, that rewarding challenge lies in studying science. I have always been one of those students who has to understand an issue from all perspectives, an approach that holds an incredible payoff in scientific pursuits, such that understanding the governing principles behind electromagnetism makes a lightning show that much more spectacular. I cannot wait to get to university and find other people who cover their bedroom walls with mission patches and find NASA TV infinitely better than MTV.

Self Portrait and So Much More

Self Portrait and So Much More (Photo credit: Fragile Oasis)

I am a firm believer in the necessity of the continuation of space exploration. Space holds so many potential benefits, from spinoff technologies to border-crossing human relations, and I believe that to abandon it as a settled frontier would be a terrible mistake. Armed with a degree in aerospace engineering/astrophysics and an insatiable love for midnight launches and ocean splashdowns, I want to be part of the next generation that cooperates with engineers all over the world to return to the Moon, land humans on Mars, mine asteroids, design rovers and determine the inner workings of our beautiful universe. I bridge the gap now with lab internships, where chemistry classes come to life on whiteboard walls, in dry boxes and in centrifuges. But it isn’t enough.

English: Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d...

Amazing opportunities like the Virginia Aerospace Science and Technology Scholars and Johns Hopkins summer classes allow me to reach beyond the academic requirements of my high school and delve into what truly inspires me, be it rendezvous/docking procedures or the origins of Einstein’s theory of special relativity. I can say, quite honestly, that the summer I spent filling hypothetical telescopes with water and understanding the nuances of the Michelson-Morley experiment while wearing glowsticks in my hair was the best three weeks of my life. The glowsticks were related—I was supposed to be a photon.

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I have one of the luckiest passions in the world—all I need to do for inspiration is look up. When I see a spread of glimmering stars, practice a radio call or a turn around a point in my parents’ little four-seater plane,

NASA "Mohawk Guy" To Host Show On Th...

NASA “Mohawk Guy” To Host Show On Third Rock Radio (Photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video)

or watch NASA’s esteemed “Mohawk Guy” cut another star-shaped swath in his hair, I am reminded of the wonderful science that I cannot wait to be a part of. I know that for as long as I live, I will pursue my passion of space, wherever it takes me.

~Chloe

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.

Blackboards, flipflops & bedbugs; the quest for knowledge, warmth & clean sheets.

English: The International Space Station as se...

Fifteen hundred miles! That’s the distance I drove—spread out over seven days—in order to fulfill my duty as the parent who drew the short straw and would have to leave home for the Crazy College Road Trip Part II. The other lucky parent had a vacation on Easy Street dealing with the livestock, any ravenous teenage boys who may decided to take up residence during spring break, a planetary-sized snowstorm (dumping a measly two feet of powder), and a few dozen downed trees, power lines and a minor release of radioactive material. At least the generator kicked on for ten minutes a day. And where’s the gratitude?

But let’s go back to me.

Fifteen hundred miles? Do you realize what that distance is equivalent to? If my car had a NASA hand stamp on it and was retro-fitted with a few rocket boosters, I could have taken my daughter back and forth from Earth to the International Space Station three and one half times.

And according to the Worldwatch Institute, that’s the distance an American meal travels to get from farm to table. It’s no wonder I felt like a shriveled peach by the end of the trip.

Regardless, I learned a great many things traveling with my daughter this time around that I was not aware of previously.

1. I should not have allowed her to pack.

Suitcases

Suitcases (Photo credit: masochismtango)

2. Having allowed her to pack, I should not have allowed her to pack five minutes before leaving.

3. Having allowed her to pack and do this five minutes prior to departure, I should not have allowed her to wake up six minutes before leaving and one minute before packing.

There is so much to learn about letting go of the ‘parenting your child’ routine I’ve grown accustomed to for the last 17.5 years. Thinking this was a grand opportunity to let her shine with blooming maturity, I came to the quick realization that I might have handed off the baton to a runner who hadn’t quite made it onto the racetrack.

Observing my daughter exiting the house wearing a pair of shorts, sneakers minus the socks, and no coat should have sent up a warning shot. The rest of her gear didn’t even fill her school book bag, which she slung into the trunk before collapsing into the passenger seat. The fact that it was just beginning to snow outside and that we were heading northward to New England and into the mountains forced me to send her back inside for some proper winter clothes.

She came back with a floppy, cloth hat.

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Fine. Off we go.

The itinerary showed seven days stuffed full of engineering school visits, campus tours, physics labs and info sessions. When we weren’t walking through hallways lined with gold-plated patents, we were peering into glass encased rooms, so precisely sterilized, that all chemical vapors, airborne microbes and any aerosol particles present were required to don white suits. These folks were serious about being clean and I figure there’s a good chance I can encourage my daughter’s development of this skill simply by pasting a sign above her bedroom door that reads Dupont Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering. It could work.

Some of the schools we visited were clearly her kind of people.

Mars, 2001, with the southern polar ice cap vi...

Mars, 2001, with the southern polar ice cap visible on the bottom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of them wandered the halls, spines curved and sagging under the weight of backpacks that contained textbooks that eventually, when understood, will reorganize their contents into cures for cancer, blueprints for Mars housing developments and the prototypes for the first antimatter power plants. If you could see into their multitasking brains, there’d be a large bubble above their heads filled with mathematical equations with a tiny asterisk at the bottom and a symbol for “don’t forget food.”

Other campus appointments undoubtedly revealed she did not belong to the institution. It’s very bad form and often frowned upon to snicker through sixty minutes, listening to the school’s admissions officer and two students make known how celebrated they were when viewed wearing the college’s logo. Try not to judge us too harshly. I’m pretty sure that somewhere around the forty-five minute mark we were told that by the end of each student’s third term they were handed a wand and told they could levitate, but only if they repeatedly chanted the university’s Latin motto.

The rest of our time was spent hunting for bedbugs.

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Not all of the public houses I reserved left us well-rested. One was perched atop an Irish pub, and all its occupants were in full swing dress rehearsals for Patty’s big day. Another spot left us doubtful the sheets had ever seen the inside of a washing machine and some of the stains in the bathroom were probably still under “crime scene” investigation. We debated whether or not we’d be better off sleeping in the car. It could be why the hotel was called a “motor lodge.”

But all’s well that ends well. I learned that the man/alien from Men In Black (Edgar the bug, but wearing his human form) actually runs a B&B in New Jersey and that his wife makes nice waffles, my daughter learned that whilst in the navigator’s seat, it is preferred by the driver to have directions given to them that are short, audible and presented before the car passes the off ramp, and we both learned that I packed more than enough clothes for the both of us.

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Next stop: the moon!

~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.

 

Dazed & Confused; the crackpot college tour.

Steam train

Steam train (Photo credit: eckenheimer)

My only defense is that I dipped into my ‘sanity jar’ one too many times, came up empty and proceeded to agree to something everyone is still shaking their heads at. Yes, I jumped onto the caboose of the crazy train.

Borrowing the oft spoken words from my fourteen-year old son, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Selecting the phrase I should tattoo on my forehead: “Beware. Thick-witted woman.”

English: Hester Prynne & Pearl before the stocks

English: Hester Prynne & Pearl before the stocks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Okay, perhaps my deeds do not deserve a Hester Prynne blood-red letter on my chest, but maybe I should be forced to wear silver “I” for idiot earrings over the next couple of months for believing that my husband, my daughter and I could shove twelve university visits into five and a half days.

The COLLEGE ROAD TRIP became a blasphemous phrase, uttered in pure frustration on a regular basis. It’s now moving up the ladder for hashtag trends on Twitter.

Where did I go wrong? Somehow I convinced myself that both my seventeen-year old and I could muster up the ungodly amount of energy Sir Sackier generates for an hour’s worth of work and spread it out evenly in one day. Times six.

And we would have succeeded had neither one of us needed to eat, sleep or pee. I’ve discovered a strain of camel in my husband’s genetic makeup.

He diligently put together our itinerary. It began at MIT in Boston and finished at King’s College in London. In between, we squished Edinburgh, Saint Andrews, Strathclyde, Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, Cambridge, Oxford, University College London and Imperial College. The UK looks so much smaller on MapQuest.

Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries, South West ...

Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries, South West Scotland (Photo credit: iknow-uk)

I would love to say I perched forward excitedly in my seat as our car sleekly swept past rolling green hills, lush with heather, sheep and historically preserved castles. In truth, I was drunk with exhaustion, alarm and angst as we either barreled down the motorway, unable to see anything but the hazy red glow of the tail lights two feet in front of us—momentarily visible between swooshes of overwhelmed windscreen blades—or idled on the same road, waiting for yet another accident to be cleared, so we could all carry on barreling until the next snarl brought us to a screeching halt.

I now know the precise shape of my heart and what it tastes like as well, for it spent a goodly amount of time residing in my mouth.

It didn’t matter how hard we tried, we were an hour late to everything. It became surreal. No matter when we left, we ended up cursing the weather, the road, the GPS, the parking, the underground or just people we randomly bumped into as we dashed passed them on our way to an office that was numerically ordered by folks who surely thought they were picking lotto numbers.

Sorted White Paper Pile

Sorted White Paper Pile (Photo credit: Walter Parenteau)

Once locating an office, one thing became crystal clear to both my husband and me. Every one of these professor’s tiny lairs looked EXACTLY like our daughter’s bedroom. How could this be true? Does everyone who studies physics have the same ability to compute the science of matter and motion, but find themselves puzzled by the form and usage of drawers? Papers, folders, letters and documents were everywhere: covering every surface, propped against the walls, stacked up on the floors. And if there was an area that had any white space showing, it was heavily scrawled upon, revealing either the country’s launch codes or the cipher to Cypro-Minoan syllabary. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that some of these folks have decoded all sorts of Bronze Age scripts, but simply can’t remember where they put them.

My daughter is looking forward to fitting in with her people because brain function lost on laundry is brain function lost forever.

Math Wall

Math Wall (Photo credit: trindade.joao)

Meeting after meeting, I found myself sitting in a chair, desperately trying to follow the conversation and line of questioning. Symbols were used in place of words and squiggly lines formed a foreign alphabet. I felt my eyes glaze over repeatedly, only briefly registering when I recognized some part of speech. Sadly, it was usually an article like and, the or at. It was humiliating.

Occasionally, I ventured to open my mouth and realized I shouldn’t have. More often than not, my seventeen-year old gave me the wide-eyed glare that silently shouted, “KEEP SHTUM!” And after a while I could see that same face on many of the faculty. Okay, maybe they were all getting tired of my questions about time travel, but it wasn’t like I was announcing that I believed in unicorns.

I’d definitely save that declaration for a follow up meeting … should there be one.

Regardless, I did try to participate. I echoed back many of their statements by simply shifting their words into a slightly different order, but after a while, I realized I’d taken a peek into the other hemisphere of my brain and found it cold, dark and nearly empty. I quickly slammed that door shut and hustled back into more familiar territory.

The highlight for me was taking the laboratory tours. I saw folks doing research on optics, gravitational waves and solar wind using Star Wars lasers and vacuums that could suck the dirt off anything down to an atomic level of clean.

In one massive lab, I swear I was on a revealing backstage tour of a David Copperfield magic show.

space

space (Photo credit: Sweetie187)

One person made a whiteboard diagram of outer space and told us how he was involved in mapping newly discovered stars, planets and solar systems. I asked if I could snap a quick photo to send to my eighth grade science teacher. Finally I had proof that my leaving a giant question mark in the space provided for the question asking ‘how large the universe was’ should not have been checked wrong.

Yes, it was a crazy week. No, I’ll never agree to do anything like it again. But in the end, we all lost a little weight, met some amazing scientists and discovered the true limitations of our individual bladders. My daughter came back home more confused than clear about what she’s searching for in a university, but I’m fairly certain I unintentionally lessened the number of offers coming from across the pond, so ultimately that might help narrow down the choices.

Finding the right school can be a heart-palpitating hunt, but honestly, finding the right vacuum is more of a true achievement.

At least everyone knows what I want for Christmas.

~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)!

Fun family road trips; dead ends, dead fish and finding out you’re dead wrong.

1941 Packard Station Wagon advertisement

Family road trips.

They seem like such a good idea inside your head. Your husband is driving, you’re navigating and pointing out roadside America or quoting notable historical tidbits, the kids are in the backseat working diligently at car bingo, and collecting waves from sleepy truckers as they barrel past, and everyone has to pee at exactly the same time.

In reality, my fourteen-year old son has secretly programmed the GPS to avoid all major roads, in particular any that post a speed limit over 25 mph, both kids are plugged into their iPods, Netflix and the comedy station on Pandora, all while texting with such speed their thumbs are a blur, and I’m driving so that Sir Sackier can work on his laptop. This was how we’d spend the next three days doing a few college tours before dropping off my mini NASA scientist for her three week stint immersed in quantum physics and special relativity. I have no idea what any of that is; I only know that it’s incredibly expensive to study, and because of it, we can no longer afford airline tickets until the year 2017.

Currently, I am the only person seeing the magnificent scenery I championed as a bonus to car travel.

"World's Largest Walleye"

“World’s Largest Walleye” (Photo credit: jcarwash31)

They’re missing out.

Anyone interested in stopping by the world’s biggest bathtub? Or would you like me to snap a photo of you in front of the nation’s oldest septic tank? How ‘bout we drive through the giant Ukrainian sausage?

Lookee there, that’s the most Styrofoam anyone has ever used to make a walleye.

Did anyone see that house made entirely out of beer cans? I didn’t think so.

They’re missing out.

Who’s going to choose where we eat for lunch? And no, I swear, if anyone suggests The Cracker Barrel one more time they’re going to be running alongside the car for the next hour. I say we find someplace local and charismatic.

No. We are not eating at a place called Buns & Guns.

toilets of the world, unite!

(Photo credit: kalavinka)

Sorry, I’m drawing the line at restaurants that use toilet seats as dining chairs.

You’ve got to be kidding me. You want to eat at a place with a name like Pu Pu Hot Pot?

Ah, Sir Sackier? Are you listening to any of this? Have you heard the lunch selections?

(tappity tap tap tappity tap) Uh … anything is fine with me. Whatever you guys want. (tap tap tappity tap)

Alrighty then, Pu Pu Hot Pot it is.

Finding a hotel should be super simple, and it is. But finding a hotel that’s not indexed on BedBugRegistry.com is a near nightmare. Throw in the small wish for someplace where a wedding, bar mitzvah or middle school choir tour is not nesting is near impossible. With all the slamming doors, white kid rap and weeping, unmarried, middle-aged bridesmaids haunting the hallways, the only way one might manage sleep is if … nope, I’m coming up blank here.

Chicken Little

Chicken Little (Photo credit: damonj74)

One night I’d almost gotten lucky enough to be knocked unconscious by a small chunk of the bedroom’s ceiling.

“Oh my God, the sky is falling!” I shouted at my husband, who was fortunate enough to be one ceiling tile farther away.

“Can you still see?” he mumbled groggily.

“I have no idea! It’s pitch black in here.”

He grabbed the debris, flung it on the floor and reached over to sleepily pat my shoulder. “Well, at least you can still hear. We’ll check out your vision in the morning.”

Celebrating a teenage boy’s birthday on the road proved a little more challenging than I thought. Lugging the extra bag with his presents wasn’t too bad, but forgetting wrapping paper left me scratching the side of my head in search of creativity.

Hotel towels, restaurant napkins, my tie-died yoga t-shirt and public restroom toilet paper all managed to do the trick.

Tacky? No doubt.

Resourceful? You betcha.

aquarium

aquarium (Photo credit: cuatrok77)

Dinner was sushi, smack dab in the middle of land-locked Pennsylvania—fish capital of the U.S.

Entering the restaurant was somewhat surreal with the sleek and shiny, mirrored surfaces and the miles of neon light tubing filling up any space not occupied by a fish tank.

“I feel like I’m in a giant tanning bed,” my daughter whispered, her face glowing greener than Al Gore.

The food was first-rate, but it’s hard to get a good feeling about the authenticity of an Asian restaurant that’s run entirely by a couple named Abram and Sadie Hochstetler.

Much of the dinner discussion revolved around the colleges we’d spent the day touring and compiling a lists of the pros and cons of each school. How do you advise your child as to where they belong? Where they’ll find fulfillment and happiness in pursuit of learning? Where they’ll suceed in the search for a fine life?

We left the heavy dialogue behind and crossed the street to a place none of us had ever been, but each of us had poked fun at. Friendly’s. Where ice cream makes the meal. Or maybe where ice cream IS the meal.

Ice Cream Sundae

(Photo credit: Swamibu)

It seemed like a fine place to cap off a birthday celebration.

The menu was extensive, the wait staff, more than true to the restaurant’s name. How could people be that happy in a dead-end job, accomplishing nothing more than adding to the nation’s ever-expanding waistline? But it was hard not to notice our waiter’s genuine enthusiasm.

Before the bill came, we spent the last few minutes lecturing our children about the importance of a good education so that they’d have options and not be limited by low hourly wages.

Our waiter presented us the bill. Sir Sackier tilted his head and then pointed to the young man’s forearm. A Hebrew biblical verse was tattooed from wrist to elbow.

“That’s interesting,” my husband said.

The waiter pivoted to flash us his other arm. “I’ve another one here in English.”

“How come?” my son said.

The waiter smiled. “It’s a conversation starter. I like to talk about my faith.”

“Then why not go into the ministry?” I asked.

“I have. I’m a pastor, just like my father. I went to college to study religion and found I needed something more.”

My daughter looked at him and smiled. “And you found it at a Friendly’s?”

The guy beamed. “I sure did. Best job I’ve ever had. I really found where I fit in, but mostly, where I’m needed.”

Giant Ukrainian sausage ring (kielbasa) in Mun...

I think we all left that evening humbled, but more importantly, we carried home a few valuable lessons:

#1. Hard work is not hard work at all if you love where you are and what you do.

#2. The Amish really know their sushi.

#3. You’ve truly not experienced life until you’ve driven through a giant Ukrainian sausage.

~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)!