Words Fail Me

I come from a family full of stage folk.

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

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

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

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

Because I wanted to do it all over again.

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

It was always, always a possibility.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I panicked. And it wasn’t pretty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I pulled back. “Really?”

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

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

“Not for long,” the little girl said.

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

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

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

So I just did the splits.

~Shelley

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

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

 

 

Two Can Play at That Game

THWACK! is a beautiful sound.

So is SSLRP!

These are two noises I easily associate with my youth, and, in particular, my youth while around my dad. We’re playing softball. He pitches, I swing, he catches.

Rinse and repeat.

These buzzy, breezy, warm summer afternoons are all snugly tucked deep into the depths of my childhood memory treasure chest.

I’m also totally addicted to the sound of PING and PONG.

100515pingpong (800x354)

These tiny blips of sound snippets fill the space between my son and myself as we face one another and focus on the small, plastic white ball that rapidly zips between us.

It is an addiction we share—this undeniable craving to master the trajectory of an object in motion as well as the desire to outwit one’s opponent.

I’m not sure which one is more important to me—skill or sagacity.

Okay, maybe crushing my challenger ekes out smidge above pure talent, but surely I cannot be blamed for that. Perhaps that is Mother Nature’s way of saying, Genetically, this version of a person doesn’t totally suck. Let’s make her a fighter and see what happens in the wild.

Table tennis was another one of those gladdening games my father took the time to teach each one of his kids. It didn’t require an enormous amount of exertion, but rather focused on hand-eye coordination with a hefty sprinkling of on your feet, forward thinking dexterity. Not something your average nine-year-old has mastered, but if you set up a rigid, unrelenting schedule of early rising, all day training under the guidance of a brutal drill sergeant, your proficiency skyrockets.

Except, we didn’t do that.

My training was filled with way too much giggling to be taken seriously.

And it is what I love most about playing ping pong with my son.

When put into the same room with a sixteen-year-old boy, one often struggles—nay, labors with intense strain to find common ground—a place where he can hear my parental pearls of wisdom and I can be assured that his language skills still exist and are being exercised.

And one must toil in this manner if one hopes for a future where one is not surrounded by a group of unfortunate, drooling elderly who feast on antipsychotics for breakfast, sit for much of the day slumped in a wheelchair and chew on their hands for entertainment.

No. I’ve documented these last few years, and will continue to do so, in an effort to prove to my son that even though most psychologists agree there is no other reasonable explanation for why teenagers behave the way they do other than the fact that aliens have covertly swooped in one night and sucked out their brains,

100515straucers (800x677)exchanging it for the contents of a jar of Marshmallow Fluff, I will not resort to the easiest solution. I will not institutionalize him as long he will not institutionalize me.

Seems fair enough, right?

Therefore, through the rigors of trial and error, we have hunted to find a shared activity. I have discovered that getting our nails done together is out. Watching soapy chick flicks with a pitcher of margaritas between us is definitely out. And sharing the writing of this week’s flowery batch of rhapsodic fan mail to Neil deGrasse Tyson will likely be a flop as well.

We are left with sports.

Since one must bend to the lowest common denominator here— meaning my son cannot/will not attempt baton twirling or curling on ice, and I have more than a little bit of trouble throwing myself in front of a soccer ball traveling at breakneck speed, we are left with some softer athletic choices.

Ping pong it is.

We’ve spent a couple of months sizing one another up. It’s been years since I’ve played competitively … okay, I’ve never played table tennis competitively, but I am a very competitive player—and my son knows that. I usually don’t shy away from the ball, unless he is attempting to lodge it in the space between my eyes. And as much as I’ve requested that these games between us do not include any skeletal denting, I’ve also told him not to go all soft on me.

I aim to beat him.

Because the point of this endeavor is to teach him how to be a good loser.

Thus far, we have lost seven ping pong balls—four to the dog who sees them as neutral flavored, un-legged white mice,

100515mouse (800x767)two behind the ancient organ that magically sucks them up and transports them through a Wurlitzer wormhole into another dimension, and one to a full, crushing body slam that may have damaged a few internal organs, but was impressive enough to justify.

We have both lost a layer or two of some of the skin that protects our hands, arms, and hips, as the sides of the ping pong table are about as sharp as Winston Churchill’s rapier wit.

100515winnie (749x800)

And we have lost hours of precious playing time arguing whether or not a ball was on the line, off the line or possessed by a demonic spirit that should not be attributed to our skills or lack thereof.

If my aim was to teach my son how to lose graciously in life, I think I’d have to admit to having learned the same lesson.

When it comes down to it, we’ve lost ourselves … in the fun of it all.

~Shelley

*ROBIN GOTT’S NEWEST 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.

 

Twas the Night Before Finals

I have been on both sides of a performance since way before I can mentally remember, and likely somewhere around the time I was first forming eyelids.

My mom was a musician.

Her children all became musicians.

She married a man who was not a musician, but was a better musician than many musicians I have come to know.

211214mctrapps (798x800)

Sitting in the audience is hard if you go to a concert and you are “a musician.”

You really, really, REALLY want the performance to go well. Better than well. Spectacular. You want to be moved in a way that would have you offering a kidney to any one of the participants afterward as a way of saying thank you for sharing their skill, talent and soul with you.

I know very few musicians who actually attend other people’s concerts with their fingers crossed that the show will suck and it will get slammed by the press. Yes, I know a few, but they’re miserable, unhappy people who are constipated and suffer from halitosis. They have no friends. It’s a sad life, but they deserve it.

I went to a concert last night. It was a holiday concert I attend nearly every year. And it’s something I look forward to with as much excitement as the first winter snowflake, the first winter hearth fire, and the first moment I realize it’s futile to keep fighting my body’s desperate need to bulk up for the upcoming season. Winter pudge is a fact of life, and I’ve come to heartily embrace it.

211214pudgyhug (707x800)

Almost as much as I relish this annual concert.

Every year, this particular performance spotlights the talents of our local university’s divine male voices, corralled into polished control. It must be a massive undertaking, as these dulcet tones are more accustomed to swilling caustic liquids and belching out the alphabet when not rooting for their home sports team like caterwauling hooligans. The transformation is magical. But I imagine they convert to factory default settings faster than a taxed rubber band snapping back to form.

Two hours of intense and focused concentration is a lot to ask of a young lad aged 18—22. Especially as it was finals week. The fixed determination on these collegiate faces revealed the end of a long semester with nothing more than one more toilsome week in front of them. They were tired.

But the boys sang on.

On top of everything else, they were required to decorate the hall before the event. It really should have come as no surprise to anyone then that having asked said young men to make the hall look festive, they would use whatever adroit ingenuity they could scare up. To describe the auditorium as merry and bright would be accurate, but deficient. More precise would be to point out that much of the décor was likely nicked from neighborhood lawns and secured with whatever supplies found in the hallway janitorial cupboard.

Strings of lights were pinned up with duct tape. Plastic garland was tossed around podiums. Miniature multi-colored trees were plopped in random places across the stage and plugged in with long extension cords that snaked to available outlets. And large pink flamingos stood guard like stand-ins for the life-sized nutcrackers that never quite made it for Showtime.

211214flamingos (577x800)

It was award worthy.

For a frat house.

And yet, strangely, this was part of the charm.

They walked in like tuxedo draped monks, holding candles and chanting O Come O Come Emmanuel, and filled the darkened hall with an incantation that transferred goose bumps from one arm rest to the next.

What also seemed to be contagious was the persisting, remarkable coughing that rippled through the crowd. With each new piece, another audience member began clearing their throat, hacking through a tickle, and then hawking up something demonic. At one point I began to wonder if the entire hall was coming down with croup.

I thought that perhaps at intermission I should dash out to the nearest drug store, buy a few bags of cough suppressants and hand them out as folks filed back in. The war cry of windpipes continued.

But the boys sang on.

Directed by a man who was world weary himself, whose lines to the audience were as deeply ingrained as a piece of old driftwood, and who struggled to recall the names of the soloists, simply relying upon a finger to point them out among a sea of youthful faces, the boys did their best to follow the slushy command of their leader.

At any given moment, something was always falling, burning out, or beginning to smolder and spark. Not one singer’s head turned, no one dashed out to catch the collapsed trimming, and the new sound of a tittering crowd accompanied the carols, canticles and chorus.

But the boys sang on.

211214boysing (774x800)

Angelic and earnest, exhausted yet joyful, those young chaps persevered, delighted to share and be part of the university’s 74 years of bestowing song to those who were hungering to hear it. Clearly their intent was to lay their acoustic offering at the foot of the stage, gift wrapped in a bright and festive bow.

They finished their celebrated recital as they had begun it; candles in hand, they drifted out single file, ignoring the buckled adornments and the coughing crowd, and on toward a long night of study. With the last haunting notes of the Dona Nobis Pacem round disappearing behind the stage, the audience sat still for the first time in two hours, holding on to the precious musical moments as they lazily slithered away.

But thankfully, the boys sang on.

~Shelley

PS. Rob and I would like to wish everyone the very happiest of holidays! Next week, all will be silent and dark, as Rob’s hands will be filled with grog and nog, and I’ll likely be buried beneath four months’ worth of laundry that came home from “someone’s” dormitory. We’ll be back the first week in January with a very SPECIAL EDITION of Peak Perspective and look forward to seeing all of you upon our return. Happy New Year, Peakers!

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

Related articles

 

 

 

Give Me the Straight Dope

General words of wisdom suggest everything in moderation, right? But I’ve got an itsy bitsy, teeny weenie, steamy kind of dreamy need for podcasts. And I think my weakness might hover right on the edge of addiction.

I actually crave my daily dose with an urgency that suggests the necessity for an intervention. I’m a knowledge junkie, a story fanatic, an anecdotal zealot—I pine for the adrenaline rush of hearing my pushers’ voices break through the silence in my ear buds. There are four men in particular who have encouraged this uncontrollable habit of mine. Four men who all work for the great drug lord—NPR.

National Public Radio. Each country has something similar—their own kingpin. The BBC, PRI, ABC. I could go on, but I’d bet there’s no need. We’ve all got our source, and sometimes we need to keep it under wraps lest it reveal too much about one’s slant on the world.

But I’m revealing mine, and maybe it’s a desperate plea for help, but I have a feeling by admitting my podcast obsession, you all might just increase the volume and make it worse by offering up your own. And then I’m going to need to taste yours too. Just a small dose to see how it compares to the stash I already get. It could send me right over the edge, and come the holidays, when I’m supposed to be in the kitchen basting, stirring, baking and carving, one of my kids will find me sprawled on the floor, eyes glazed over, my ear buds doing the work of an IV drip hooked up to the bag of juice that is my smart phone on the counter.

261014ivpodcasts (768x800)

Firstly, let me correct two misconceptions I may have created. I’m not stating that I am a news junky, and only get my worldly knowledge from one source. That would be the near equivalent to feeding my body all its necessary nutrients only via chocolate. I’ve tried it. And it’s missing a few things. Like a good chunk of the building blocks for a functioning brain and body. But I gave it a royal go—for the sake of science. No, it’s not political issues, economic reports and scandalous headlines I’m after, but rather pure human interest.

The other fallacy is that all four men work for the organization. The big conglomerates only pimp their work. All this is nearly irrelevant, because I’d like to get down to brass tacks and introduce you to four men I would not like to live without.

Guy Raz. His geeky, chunky glasses with tape in the middle sound has me sigh with delight every time he begins his podcast and hosts The TED Radio Hour. The man has an extensive history, working his way up the ranks in radio, both in the studio and on the field, and has the accolades to match his efforts. And through this accumulation of experiences he’s developed an audio personality that people warm to immediately. He pulls out the best of his interviewee’s tale and hands it to you with a warm mug of just for you. As if TED talks could get any better, Guy Raz squishes the best parts of at least four of them into less than an hour. And because of this, I just want to squish him.

261014guyraz (570x800)

Next up? Two fellas who share a mic, and with whom I would willingly share a last meal, my last bottle of wine, or a small row boat while we wait for the inevitable possibility that we will never see rescue. Why? Because so much that comes out of their mouths is rewind worthy.261014robert (589x800)

That’s right. I find them so interesting, and so opinionatedly creative, that I spend more time going backward in their podcasts than I do moving forward. Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad, the hosts of Radiolab, reel their audiences into a world where curiosity is deeply explored.261014jad (533x800)

Their descriptive tag:  Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience, neatly says it all. They are the answers to your inner, never-ending, five-year old self’s desire to ask, BUT WHY?

And finally, a man so well-known for his prowess in storytelling, I doubt there is an honor or award that has not found space upon his walls and shelves. To be a part of the production of anything Ira Glass creates is like being a part of something that might be canonized for future generations when wanting directions for building the ethereal soul of a story.

261014ira (497x800)A soft-spoken bard, Ira Glass takes you on a journey in the podcast This American Life with stories that talk of mostly everyday folks doing ordinary things, but he sprinkles extraordinary perspective around it. Ira can make the act of watching paint dry turn into an spine-tingling philosophical adventure. There is magic in that minstrel’s narrative, and he encourages me to look at life through a lens I’d like to make permanently mine.

And so it goes with each of these stewards in charge of spinning a colorful yarn. They capture my attention with their shiny, fluttering strings, weave a tapestry of turmoil, exploration, hypothesis and kismet into a large enough mat where we set sail upon updrafts and thermals. And their stories are as fickle and unpredictable as the wind. I never know where it is we will go, or how we will get there. I only know that when it is all said and done, I want another ride.

I am obsessed, I am devoted and I am happily under the influence.

~Shelley

October Gotta Have a Gott 

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

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

Related articles

The etiquette of working a room.

I have never been a big party person. I find being in a roomful of jubilant people about as fun as having a toenail removed with a putty knife by three-year old. Yep. A laugh a minute.

080614bigparty (800x723)

This is ironic because long ago I worked as a social hostess for a beautiful resort, where six nights a week I hosted a cocktail party for at least one hundred people. But that was work. And I got paid handsomely for it. Plus I had nothing to do with the prep, set up, operations, or the washing of thousands of glasses smeared with freshly applied lipstick. All I had to do was glide and gush—and discourage the odd wayward hand.

The ‘speaking to folks I didn’t know’ part wasn’t so difficult because my job was simply to make my way from one end of the room to the other, butt in on conversations, ask a few questions—all totally rehearsed with practiced ad libs as answers—and make empty promises. I was instructed to be agreeable. Say you’d love to sit with them at Chef’s six course dinner (never happened), promise to have a drink with them later after the resort’s evening show (I was nineteen—couldn’t happen), consent to many a game of tennis on the clay courts the next morning (nope), and pledge to meet guests up on the championship golf course after lunch (sorry, Charlie). No one was ever fussed, because that kind of talk was as meaningful as a basketful of air kisses. Just cocktail chatter. And I got the hang of it in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

080614lamb (800x435)

Well, that was then and this is now. Right now is graduation season where everyone and their uncle are celebrating the commencement of someone special.

My kid just graduated high school! Potluck at our place!

Come help us applaud Harold for his achievement at finishing first grade! Formal reception at the Four Seasons.

Your father just passed a three-year old kidney stone! We’re breaking out the good booze and getting ready to play lawn darts.

Whatever the occasion, it’s Graduation Party Season. Having a high school senior, and admiring their success at convincing the requisite number of teachers that they deserve a diploma, has morphed into recognizing the tiniest of achievements leading up to graduation day. All of them honored with a party.

– This month is the last month of school for our seniors. We’re starting it off by giving them a skip day, but come back for the BBQ in their honor.

– Let’s celebrate our seniors with one last senior appreciation day lunch in the cafeteria.

– Parent potluck with our seniors. Let’s bring in their favorite food. (I truly was expecting a table full of Ben & Jerry’s pints.)

– Senior’s, parent’s and teacher’s brunch. Let’s rehash all those stellar grades.

– Graduation rehearsal and picnic to follow.

– Breakfast before Graduation.

– Reception to follow ceremony.

– Lunch to follow reception.

– Diploma party.

– Diploma framing party.

– Slide show party of all the parties.

Ugh.

080614diploma (777x800)

I understand how important these life events are, and the necessity of celebrating the terrific efforts of our loved ones, but parties nearly kill me with the amount of energy I apply trying to fit in like a normal person. It probably wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t other people at these parties. Or if there had to be other people, then the rule was you could only acknowledge them with a wave. No talking allowed.

As a writer, I work with a lot of words. Hundreds of thousands of them flow out my body in any given year. But they flow out of my DIGITS and not my MOUTH. I get little practice chatting with folks currently apart from dialoguing with my hound all day long. Except he and I have our own language. We’re like Hans Solo and Chewbacca. Or Kristoff and Sven. No one but us understands us.

080614digital (696x800)

And I’m pretty sure that wonky part howl, part growl parlance is the first thing to slip out as soon as somebody sidles up, gives me a hug and asks how I’m doing.

It’s guttural, it’s primordial, it’s dysfunctional and makes people take a large step back.

But one cannot dodge these mandatory events without some sort of judgment and backlash, therefore, I plaster on a face and pull on a dress. I make my way from one end of the room to the other. I remind folks to try the chef’s newest award-winning dish of elk and sea urchin pie. I hype up the ballroom’s upcoming show and encourage people to get a seat early. I point outside the cafeteria window toward the outdoor basketball court and suggest we volley a few balls over the net in the morning. I promise a handful of fathers I’ll have a drink with them before the evening is out.

I turn back to register a sea of parental faces staring at me quizzically and note several women dragging their innocent husbands to the door. I stand in horror over my massive faux pas.

I garble something that sounds like it came from the mouth of a German Sheppard.

I fumble for my car keys and dash to the parking lot.

I am not a party person.

~Shelley

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

Related articles

 

 

 

Ready or not …

A long time ago I learned how to fly.

Lessons were thrilling, dazzling, mind-blowing and action-packed.

They were also exhausting, white-knuckling, petrifying and hair-raising. My knees knocked together with such precision and regularity, I’m certain they were sending out some sort of Morse code of panic.

But one of the most important lessons I took away from that experience was gaining the true definition of what it meant to fly by the seat of your pants.

230314Whoosh (800x653)

I think, at the time, I would have been fairly confident in admitting that I was not spontaneous. I’d been raised and trained as a musician and had been for many years making a living showing others that I could deliver results because I’d practiced and perfected (or close enough) what was expected and what I’d been paid to do. The shows I performed in were strictly timed and had no room for stepping a toe outside the margin for artistic license. In fact, artistic license was frowned upon. With microphone in hand and speaking to the audience, even the ad libs were practiced.

No surprises.

That was the point. Surprises meant panic—and these were not shows that invited outliers to mess about with the tried and true. Follow your cues, hit your mark, and take a big bow. Remove your makeup, cash your paycheck and wake up to do the whole thing again tomorrow.

230314BigBow (516x800)

Piloting a plane was incredibly similar. Tick off the checklist, fly the plane, land the craft. Don’t skip procedure or you’ll NOT wake up to do the whole thing again tomorrow. You will also not wake up inside the pine box you’re now residing in.

Easy peasy. Simple and safe.

Accompanying my daughter to one of her shows is an entirely different experience. She too had been fed on the same diet of stable, steady and straight, but at some point, she spat that bunk out like it was a mouthful of cat hair.

230314Cathair (709x800)

From then on, playing the part of parental roadie has been like riding a roller coaster without a safety harness, and knowing somewhere you missed the sign that said, “Temporarily shut down for repairs.”

I’m a planner. If I’m doing a road trip, I’m going to make sure my car is in tiptop shape, I’ve got gas, I have directions to the destination, I’ll have packed my bag, and I have emergency supplies for every conceivable calamity mankind has had to face.

My daughter will grab an armload of clothes off her bedroom floor, a jug of eyeliner and rely on a bra strap to use as floss before bed.

My computer copied directions turned out to be less than reliable as a split second after seeing the Google Map displayed beautifully on my screen and clicking the word PRINT, all the numbers seemed to have gone missing. I was told to turn left or right, but not onto what and never after how long.

But I’ve got a great sense of direction. So we fly by the seat of our pants, right?

WRONG.

Rule number 792 of flying: Never trust the seat of your pants.

230314Pants (550x800)

Trust your instruments. But only after you’ve checked your backup instruments to your instruments. And only after you’ve checked and double checked your original instruments and backup instruments.

Speaking of instruments. Do you have your violin??

The answer was: Probably.

We had to rely on my daughter’s iPhone, as mine is working better as a thick bookmark and a paperweight these days than it is as anything with intelligence—artificial or otherwise.

The problem with the above scenario was that the smartphone’s voice for directions only occasionally worked because the gadget was being overloaded with text messages from a hundred other teenagers and the necessary ‘study music’ needed to accompany somebody who was finally cracking open a few chapters for a massive physics test in 36 hours.

About 30 minutes before we arrived for sound check the question, “I wonder what I’m playing tonight?” floated through the car.

Flicking back through several weeks of old text messages revealed the set list: a few songs she sorta remembered, one she would wing, and two others she vaguely recalled performing nearly a year ago.

VAGUELY??

My ‘panic and puke now’ bells were rapidly firing off. I was only an audience member and I was beginning to hyperventilate, but the person riding next to me just pulled up one of the tunes on YouTube and started air violining her way through it.

“Oh my godfathers, you had better hope they’re going to let you Milli Vanilli the performance tonight.” I envisioned catastrophe.

“Chill, Mom—and shush.”

Fast forward to showtime and a last minute text that came before the lights went down.

MOTHER! Hair up or down?

230314Bighair (800x731)

I thought about what could save her future. Down. Definitely down and see if you can’t hide most of your face.

And then I added, Which dress will you wear?

Her response: All of them.

The lights went down, the show began, the numbers flew by. There was no panic on anyone’s faces—no sign of distress—my child did not leave the stage amid a flurry of booing and tomato throwing from the audience—no crashing and burning of aircraft because she forgot to do a fuel check before takeoff. She got fuel from applause. She got inspiration from the whooping and hollering. She got chord progressions from the guitarist beside her.

Was she lucky? Was she good? I think maybe both.

And now she wants to learn to fly.

Well, I may sit with her in a car using nothing more than the sun and a few shadows for directions, and I may sit in the audience for her holding my breath and hoping for the best, but I will not sit in a cockpit with her and be offered nothing but a wing and a prayer.

That is one flight of fancy that I’ll just have to ground.

230314FlightofFancy (800x612)

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the Pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Related articles

A little Holiday Folly

I hope that all you “Peakers” out there are enjoying your December holidays, and that your homes are filled with cheer, your hearts are filled with joy and your sinks are full of dishes. And as is customary for and craved by most folks at some point during the year, a week off to rest the bones and curl up on the couch with the cat seems like a fine idea.

But just so you’re not left feeling empty and unloved, I’ve tossed you a good giggle to while away a few minutes in place of reading this week’s episode.

Hope you enjoy a little Morecambe and Wise skit. One of my favorites, and performed in their 1971 Christmas show.

Cheers to you all, and a very Happy New Year.

We’ll see you next week!

~Shelley (& Rob)

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

The ups & downs of progress.

Last week I wrote about my daughter and her camp which was not Space Camp, “and not even camp.” After the closing ceremonies, which consisted of a few politicians lecturing parents about the importance of maintaining the space program (might you be preaching to the choir??), a former astronaut reminiscing about the good ol’ days of freedom when he could pee without having to unzip anything, and a snack table full of freeze dried ice cream and cups of Tang, we decided the next day would be spent in as brainless a fashion as is possible for Americans.

We would visit …The Amusement Park.
Historically, the village fair birthed our modern day theme parks, providing everything from a celebration of a seasonable crop to a tranquil stroll about purposefully grown pleasure gardens. Games, food and freak-show attractions found homes in many of these fairs with the eventual addition of music, exhibits, and the ever-increasing playground of rides.

180813nonamusement (800x622)

The world’s fair was a step closer to our current experience, where the human imagination was catapulted forward from the introduction to the newest advances in industry and economic innovation. For a well-worded, artfully painted picture into the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, Illinois, I highly recommend Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City. You won’t be disappointed.

And where would this growing world of entertainment have ended up if Walter Elias Disney had not thrown his mouse-eared hat into the ring? Granted, there were other theme parks in operation before Disneyland, but Walt had a way of taking a kernel of an idea, heating it up and allowing it to explode into a bucketful of fluffy success.

180813veggieland (800x533)

Somewhere along the way from searching for a brief respite among the well-placed garden benches to opening a park filled with amusements meant to stimulate imagination and foresee the awe-inspiring future, someone announced that life was too safe, our days too dull, and our pulses to slow. What the world truly needed was an experience that you may or may not come away from still fully intact.

Cue the roller coaster.

The first of their kind were “ice slides” constructed in Russia during the 15th century. And since there wasn’t nearly enough excitement or danger involved in free falling wagons that had no directional control, folks went to work upping the ante. How far to the edge could engineering go before engineering failed? Well, only death would tell us.

And death has been known to shout its accomplishments from a great height and with amplification. The number of folks killed on roller coasters is less than a million, but more than one. Still, that’s a number I don’t like to fool around with. It just seems to me that if a theme park’s ride is reported to have let loose one of its passengers from somewhere around 75 feet above the earth, the response from said theme park CEOs should probably not include words like, “Well, it was a thirty second spot on the local news and only page four in the paper. We can do better. Shut her down so we can speed things up and add on fifty feet. Aim to reopen with a big splash next month.”

In my opinion, the swivel chair facing my computer has tougher federal regulations than some of the coasters out there today.

180813swiveller (800x618)

But this doesn’t stop the diehard fan of fun. Roller coasters–made of either wooden rails or tubular steel, advertising engineering feats of vertical loops, whirling corkscrews and plunging nose dives–dot world maps entitled ‘Where to get Whiplash’ like the skin of a kid with chickenpox. It’s universal. People want sixty seconds of living life at fevered pitch with the added attraction of a brain so addled afterward you may need to repeat elementary school.

Traveling in the park with the family is tricky in that you’ll likely need to split up. Not everyone is going to want to wait in line for forty-five minutes for a heart-stopping brain scramble. Especially if you’ve passed the age of, “Hell yes, I’ll try it!”

180813Itriedit (587x800)

This means three out of the four of us go in a clump, and I find the Birds of Prey exhibit, where most of the large vulture-esque creatures on the inside of the cages are eyeing the hoary-haired, age-ridden mortals on the outside of said cages, viewing the scene as if it were soon to be a lunch buffet.

Knowing my daughter has never been tempted by roller coasters gave me comfort in that usually I had a companion on the non thrill seekers rides: the decrepit train that circled the outside of the park, the sky ride gondola that limps along a wire just at tree top level, and the tram that takes you from one parking lot to the other. All rides meant to show you how much fun everyone else is having and how much you’re missing.

And then her “Hell yes, I’ll try it!” gene kicked in.

I was on my own while the rest of the family rode the coasters.

I waited worriedly, keeping myself busy watching vendors fill waffle cones, and finally got a text from my daughter.

“I am most definitely a roller coaster person.”

​“How much of a roller coaster person?” I texted back.

“All of the roller coasters person. And some twice person.”

Ugh. I was worried. All that time spent developing her mental capacity, and organizing her brain cells to respond specifically to requests for untangling formulas and equations: was it damaged?

I asked her, “Can you still add and subtract?”

Her response? “1 + 1 = 4GS.”

Well, at least her snark gene is still intact. Relieved, I got back on the smoke-belching, ancient railroad trolley and inched my way through the pleasure gardens. This was the level of death by amusement I could handle.

180813snarkgene (667x800)

Choo choo!

~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.

Cash flow

This was a hugely busy week.

We sent our fourteen-year old son off to Ecuador this afternoon to live and work for thirty days in a small village that needs help building a schoolhouse. We had an endless list of things we needed to tell him in order to help make his trip run smoothly.

– We told him how to navigate through the airport.

– We told him how to manage his way through customs and immigration.

– We told him when he’d need to take his typhoid and malaria pills.

But we forgot to tell him he’d be living at the bottom of an active volcano.

Damn.

I knew we’d forgotten something.

Ah well, he’ll figure that one out on his own in double quick time if he needs to.

280713corre! (800x596)

This whole shuffling your child from one continent to another seems so much easier on paper than it turned out to be. There was a plethora of little things that kept popping up along the way. Doctor visits, pharmacy pickups, packing lists and forms to fill out. Plane tickets, insurance policies, baggage rules and passports. There were emails and phone calls, interviews and consent forms. I spent more time at our local bank writing my signature in front of notary publics than I spent sitting in my childhood living room learning how to play the piano.

The largest of the pains was renewing an American passport. Just saying the last word makes my teeth itch.

Because my son is fourteen, it is deemed unreasonable by our government that we could renew his previous passport of nine years and a few months via the United States Postal Service, as one can conveniently do as an adult. Procedure for anyone not yet sixteen is to go through the entire passport application process in person.

Easy enough. So we thought.

We had just over three weeks to get it done. I showed up at our local post office, where there is a small passport agency the size of an airline toilet. In front of it is a snaking line that would rival the opening of a new Disney theme park, filled with people expecting to gain entrance into that toilet.

Showing up in person was the alternative to continuing my fruitless efforts at getting a hold of someone via the telephone. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the drill. You phone, an automated voice system answers, you are directed to punch buttons indicating your choice from the options—a lengthy series ranging from, “Press one if you’d like to hear us read the instructions for filing an insurance claim, and understand why we feel it’s pretty pointless on our end,” to, “Press nine to track and confirm a shipment that we’re not entirely positive matches the eleven digit number we gave you to begin with.”

What I was searching for was, “Press eight to hear the committee notes revealing the reason we decided to choose the music icon Johnny Cash as the next face of our Forever Stamps series, and to listen to one of his ninety-six studio albums. And also, wait here if you want to talk to someone about a passport.”

*Cue head falling on desk.*

280713telephone (800x495)

After hearing and cataloguing the nearly fifteen hundred Johnny Cash songs, I was finally transferred to the passport office where an automated voice told me that if I pressed “one,” I would be treated to a fascinating history of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, and if I pressed “two,” I would be connected to an operator in order to schedule an appointment at the passport office. Of course I pressed “two.” And of course I was redirected to the beginning of the Johnny Cash Collection.

In the past, I have waited in that snaking Disneyesque passport office line for hours on end to no avail. As the office is open for a miniscule amount of time—from 10:30 until 2:30—and the one fellow who mans it has a lunch break from noon until one, the window of opportunity to make it to the front of the line only with the intent to make an appointment is slim to *insert maniacal laughter here*.

280713Cash (800x638)

The good thing though is the folks in my village really look after one another. Throughout the queue of waiting taxpayers and among the sleeping bags and hot pots, someone is always making a fresh batch of granola and finishing off the month long fermentation process of stewing a gallon of kombucha tea. There’s plenty of sustenance.

As this is an exhaustingly long tale that include chapters about eventually giving up on our local office, traveling to another city, paying vast sums of money to be given the privilege to “track” online our son’s renewing passport as it sat IN TRANSIT for two and a half weeks, only to hear the application is missing information that no one had the authority to relay to us, my husband finally gave up and was about to go postal.

He drove for hours to our nation’s capitol and started offering sacks of gold, the Holy Grail, or every internal organ that was medically extraneous in exchange for an audience with any person who could help.

Apparently, someone was in need of a kidney, and as you can see from the second line of my essay, our teenage son is now up to his kneecaps in adobe bricks (and hopefully not molten lava).

280713kidney (800x734)

It’s a frustrating process, having to slog through federally run organizations in order to obtain what you need, and we made it to the other side of this one only by the skin of our teeth. But we sent him on his way with everything ticked off on the packing list.

– Passport

– Sleeping bag

– Bug spray

– A gift for the villagers embodying a hallmark of America

Well, as far as the gift is concerned, I’m imagining that shortly, somewhere in Ecuador you will find a small schoolhouse whose students know all fifteen hundred Johnny Cash songs.

It’s catchy stuff.

~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.

Nothing to fear but fear itself. (And the mic, the stage and the 800 people.)

Port-42

Port-42 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

October is full of things meant to scare you: ghoulish sites and hair-raising sounds, grisly stories and spine-chilling escapades. But if you have never had a case of stage fright, it means you still have a few degrees to finish up before rounding out the circle of fear.

For those of you who haven’t, chances are it’s simply because you have never been through a ceremony like marriage, a graduation or have been asked to carry the final torch to light the Olympic flames.

Have you never been the center of attention for a recital, a birthday or burial? (Hey, that last one could occur. People have been buried alive. And I would imagine it’s got to be somewhat stressful.)

Maybe you haven’t even given a toast or led a fascist movement.

For people who have experienced something akin to the above, they usually announce one of two things:

  1. I like having people watch me.
  2. Allowing people to watch me is creepy and should be illegal.

If you fall under the first category, you can choose to stop reading this essay, pat yourself on the back, and head back to your chair on the judges’ panel for American Idol. Of course, you’re welcome to continue reading and catch a rare glimpse at the other side of normal.

English: LED lighting instruments used on Radi...

English: LED lighting instruments used on Radiohead’s recent tour. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you find yourself assigned to group two … walk with me a minute. Let’s remember why it’s best to leave the spotlight for the big boys.

The first thing that happens is the invitation to walk on stage–an enticing summons that fills your head with mind-altering thoughts of flattery. Ah, this person sees in me that which I knew deep down was there: GREATNESS.

Apparently, the word is out. You need to be shared with an audience of more than just your bathroom mirror.

You accept the call. Wave it off as if it’s something you routinely do and hope to remember to jot it down in your calendar. Of course, details will come later. No worries. Loads of time to prepare. Yes, it’ll be fun.

The second thing that occurs is nothing.

That is, you do nothing for three months except occasionally see the penciled notice in your calendar and dismiss it from your mind with the same gesture one uses to swipe a mosquito from your vision.

Next, you’re sent reminders. They pile up on your phone and email account. A note is left on your car. Somebody hunts you down at the gym. Remember you said you’d perform? This suddenly translates to: You promised to give me your kidney.

Things begin to crystallize. Like the fact that you were a dolt for agreeing to do something like this in the first place.

You begin to practice at home.

You realize your material is best suited as an ingredient in the manufacturing of pellet packaging matter.

You make another choice. Anything will be better than doing what you originally thought would be acceptable. It’s awful.

It’s all you have.

English: The illustration shows the major sign...

English: The illustration shows the major signs and symptoms of heart failure. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You go back to the original. It’s not as bad as you thought.

The night before, you stay up until 2:30 debating whether or not you can pull off a sudden case of laryngitis, scurvy or congestive heart failure.

You wake in the morning to realize that sadly, you’re healthy, apart from a slight tremor you developed in the middle of the night.

You show up at dress rehearsal hoping for a large sign indicating the show has been canceled and participants will still be generously acknowledged in the local newspaper.

Instead, there’s a woman with a clipboard, a dour expression and a habit of glancing at her watch as you approach.

Your tremor increases, making your car keys jingle like tiny sleigh bells in your hand.

The stage manager tells you where to sit, where to wait, where to walk and finally where to point your mouth when the time comes. Smile up there. Don’t look down. Please don’t trip. This is reinterpreted as Wait a second. I can’t breathe. What’d you say?

 It doesn’t matter. You’re dismissed. You must come back in two hours.

Must you?

How much gas is in your car? How far can you drive if you start now?

You return out of guilt. And the fact that you have only a quarter of a tank and you’re fairly certain someone was tailing you the entire time. You hate accountability.

You sit. People filter in. The muddled noise of the crowd is a swooshy sound not unlike the fuzzy garbled reverberation of the one word echoing in your head: idiot, idiot, idiot.

An Austrian curtain.

An Austrian curtain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The curtain opens and the first act plays spectacularly.

The crowd applauds and your tremor is now sizeable enough to register on the Richter scale. The applause dies down apart from one person who continues on. Why won’t they stop clapping?

Wait a sec. That’s your heartbeat.

 You cannot feel your feet.

Person after person and group after group performs with eloquence, style and ease. These people belong here. Look at them. They don’t even wave to their parents in the crowd–that’s how practiced they are.

It’s your turn. You’re tapped on the shoulder and sure you would have felt it had your whole body not gone numb. Your vision grows tiny, two infinitesimal pinholes of light at the end of long dark tunnels.

English: Gemini V Prime Crew, Astronauts L. Go...

Are you onstage?

You wave to your parents.

Something happens and you wake up to applause.

Finally, you are in your seat, smiling ear to ear. You are given more pats on the arms and shoulders than a gazelle in a petting zoo.

“You were fabulous!”

You shake off the compliment with a nonchalant shrug. Aw shucks, it was nothing. I could do this in my sleep.

Apparently, you did.

~Shelley

PS. Watch two people who truly thrive under hot lights. (Chloe Sackier & Humberto Sales )

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)!

Men in plaid. Aka Highland Games

For some people, a work of nature can make their hearts sing: a sunrise or sunset, a full moon, a double rainbow, a field of poppies. For others, it might be the music of Debussy, an African children’s choir, or the ocean as it rolls with breaking waves across the sand.

English: The Bagpiper

For me, as glorious as these things are, nothing comes quite as close to filling me with awe as seeing a man dressed in a kilt. If he’s blowing a set of pipes, all the better.

Alright, so my “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” viewpoint might be a little different than most.

I’ve been to Scotland many times. Not as many times as I’m hoping to go, but more times than my children wish to recall. When the strains of a bagpipe seep past me, I spot a flash of plaid, or I walk into my pantry–overrun with single malt scotch–I am transported back, if only for just a moment.

To remain there longer, I need do one of a few things: get on an airplane and head to the Highlands, strap some whopping big horns on to my dog and beg him to release his inner Highland cow, or go to one of Virginia’s many Highland Games.

Highland Cow

Highland Cow (Photo credit: Vanessa (EY))

Are you with me on the theme here?

Last week I went with door number three.

A few thousand others did too.

Thankfully, when the second George of England requested that the Scots kindly exit the United Kingdom for a permanent vacation, they (at gunpoint) willingly agreed and took one of the original cruise ships over the pond to set up a few tents in Canada and America. I say thankfully simply because one of their camper sites turned out to be Virginia. Apparently, the welcome was warm enough to encourage putting down a tap root. They stuck around.

And since the crabby English didn’t like seeing the Scots in their party clothes, or hearing their party music, or following their party leaders, the Scots took all of that with them and dumped it on the front lawn of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Celtic riffraff, but really lyrical riffraff.

But even having spent the last couple of centuries sliding away from a Scottish burr and into a southern drawl, these folks have held tight to their customs if not their castles.

Virginia Highland games, while not as raucous and cutthroat as those I’ve become acquainted with in Scotland, still retain the one thing that binds them no matter which land you’re visiting.

PRIDE.

The clan system is strong.

And they keep reminding each other of just how strong their clan system is. The Camerons are stronger than the McDonalds. The McDonalds are mightier than the Fraziers. The Fraziers kick the butts of the Buchanans. And the Buchanans think the only thing the Camerons show superior strength in is body odor. So there you have it. Clan competition.

Pipers piping.

Caber throwers cabering.

Archers arching.

Leaping lassies leaping.

Stone putters putting.

Sheep herders picking out the prettiest sheep.

Cattle smugglers pointing up at an eagle to throw you off the fact that you’ve just lost half your herd.

Fun and games.

And whisky.

And haggis.

And then more whisky.

Gun and fames.

You’re never as thunk as you drink you are, but the drinker you sit there’s, the longer you get. Hic.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Although seeing the men toss their cabers is an absolute thrill, the true highlight for me is always the electrifying, heart-quickening rush of the pipes. Hearing the combined sounds of one hundred pipers pouring every ounce of their spirits into music that will shred your soul is an addictive experience, and one that will likely leave a tiny tattoo on your heart.

They’re lined up in formation, silent and prepared, mist swirling about them like smoke from a long ago battle. They’re given the cue and collectively send skyward the chilling notes of bloodshed, crusade and struggle mixed together with grit, guts and glory. It leaves you shattered and breathless.

The gathering audience is silent, struck dumb with the power of the ghostly cries of voices silenced by graves. You can feel the crowd shiver. A big blowzy woman next to me breaks the sacred moment with, “Oh aye, I’d like to squeeze one of them there pipes myself.”

A few tender-conscious women make a swift sign of the cross and one man chokes on the pint of Guinness he’s swilling. The games have truly begun.

After a full day of watching the descendants of my favorite country duke it out Hazard/Highland style, we leave and drive home. I am left satiated for the moment, but know the feeling won’t last. As we wait at a stoplight, I see in the car beside me the swaying hips of the sweet figurine–the Hawaiian Hula girl.

11-22-09

11-22-09 (Photo credit: idovermani)

My only wish is that somebody, somewhere will create the Scottish equivalent of the kilted man. I think back to the pious women and what they’d make of my new dashboard saint.

I bet if they had one, they’d take the long, curvy road home from church. And then have to go back for the second service.

~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)!

 

Ears wide open

English: A square open cardboard box. Based on...

I live in a box.

Literally and metaphorically.

Within that box are many other boxes. One holds my thoughts—well, truthfully, that one is always spilling over, so I’ve had to invest in a few more.

Some attempt to contain my emotions (again, the previous statement applies, although those cartons explode occasionally with the heavy artillery they apparently house).

Some cradle my dreams—the ones where I somehow become a master distiller living off the grid with nothing more than the fuel created by sheep poo, and a certificate from Joe Salatin congratulating me for filling up more than half the food banks of Virginia with the excess of my prolific garden. (I said they were dreams.)

tiny uggs

tiny uggs (Photo credit: phil denton)

Other boxes support my curiosities. Much of those spill out into word form and show up on my blog, but there are others I’ve been advised not to share. Because how can you really explain the desire to seek out the price and possibility of making little boots for your sheep so their feet stay dry and don’t develop hoof rot without appearing to have lost your marbles? You don’t. That’s why this stays between us.

There are stacks of other boxes, but the container I’m cracking the lid on today is one that recently had its top pried off and its sides expanded. It’s the box I hold music in.

My early life was threaded with strains of virtuosic violinists, tobacco-spitting gitbox strummers, and tight horn sections swinging notes with the ease of trapeze artists.

As a young teen, I clung to sappy lyrics and vocalists who’d grown used to audiences full of swooning females, allowing myself an occasional attachment to a collection of notes that could double as a big wad of pink bubble gum.

Eventually, when I hauled two extra lumps of squiggling arms and legs around with me, toing and froing from crib to car to couch, I threw in side-splitting comedy, although I think I discovered there’s a limit to the amount of humor one can musically squeeze out of a banana.

Cowboy

Cowboy (Photo credit: AngryGlock)

At present, my summers are filled with slick Aussie cowboys and gun-slinging, sharp-tongued women who are fed up with the men that have wronged them. My autumn days slither by with filaments of tunes all penned in places thick with thistles, the pain dulled with whisky. Winter months are warmed with somnolent crooners, antiquated motets and the soft, round notes of lap-held harps. Come springtime, I’m surrounded by singing bowls and Native American flutes mirroring my hopeful spiritual growth with the new green shoots in the garden.

I’ve been quite content with my steady routine—a life immersed in a melodic soup of simple ingredients that make for a merry musical meal.

But it’s not just me in this house. Or car.

There are other beats that bleed into this shared space.

Our musical preferences are vastly different. And by different I sometimes mean whatever Ive been forced to listen to cannot in anyway shape or form be mistaken for music.

Except, it appears I am the mistaken one.

Music is defined not by a set of words, prosaic and pleasing, but rather by a set of ears. Just one person’s.

Pink Floyd Experience

Pink Floyd Experience (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My husband is so deeply entrenched in songs from his impressionable youth that he cannot shake himself awake from the 70’s. We’ve tried. He ain’t budging. We can’t even get him to set a toe into the next decade. But who’s to say the answers to all of life’s problems are not buried beneath the lyrical lines of Pink Floyd?

My daughter has an appetite that spans the taste buds of thousands of tongues. She continually stuffs her earbuds into my head to share astonishing compositions from cultures that have nothing to make musical instruments from other than a goat hide and a handful of sand. It is heartbreaking, inventive and worthy of a plastic spy ring for the sleuthing she must do to uncover such gems.

English: Black & White photograph of Lil Wayne...

English: Black & White photograph of Lil Wayne taken by RJ Shaughnessy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My fourteen year old son has joined a tribe consisting of many of his white middle class peers. Somehow, a slice from this generation of children has responded to a constant tug toward the music of their “true” people. I’m guessing they feel they were torn away from the hood before concrete memory was possible. But genetics are hard to fight and we have a mass of angry rapping white kids thankfully speaking on behalf of those with no voice.

Truthfully, he has forced me to listen in order to connect with him. Ignore the lyrics. Listen to the rhythm. Find the themes. Search for the story. Feel the pain.

I do.

Occasionally the pain is located in my eardrums.

But I am surprised at how much (if I work at it—and I do because it’s important to me) I can find to absorb and sympathize with, if not actually enjoy. I have to admit, when we’re jamming to somebody with a first name like Lil, Killah, Busta or 2, I wish I was driving one of the souped-up bagged vehicles that bounce because of added hydraulics. It could be fun. For about five minutes.

poppies on a breezy day

poppies on a breezy day (Photo credit: jon smith.)

Of course, there are still the other occupants of this mountaintop that provide me with a type of music not typically recorded or heard in places other than a meditation retreat at Yogaville. Birdsong, rustling leaves and blades of grass, the morning rooster a mile down the road, the slow grunts of pleasure from sheep scratching against the fence, the sigh of my dog in the middle of the night and the purr of a waking cat who rouses minutes before the blare of the alarm clock.

This too, is worthy.

Harmonic and grand, melodic and winsome.

It’s all music to my ears.

~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)!

 

I see dead people.

There is something so tantalizing about going into someone else’s home, especially if they’re not present. Even more so if the folks are dead.

Monterey Wax Museum -US Govt. in Monterey

Monterey Wax Museum -US Govt. in Monterey (Photo credit: Ed Bierman)

Not newly dead and outlined in chalk, but rather long ago buried and part of a history book and some schoolmarm’s lesson plan.

It has to be said, history remained stone cold if I simply read about it in Mr. Schook’s classroom. It did, however, find new life during visits to historical wax museums or abandoned ghost towns.

I can even stand in the waving tall grasses of a carefully preserved battlefield and strain to catch the cries of men slipping through some crack in time. My imagination runs rife with other people’s supposed memories, their hardships and suffering, the easy to imagine tweets they’d post on Twitter.

Okay, you’re right. I took it too far. There’s no way I could imagine their hardships.

81/365: Reflections of Jefferson

81/365: Reflections of Jefferson (Photo credit: Adam Franco)

But I count myself fortunate to live smack dab in the center of a triangle of three residences belonging to past American presidents. And by past, I mean expired to the point folks paste their likeness on our paper currency and coins.

Many Americans (a large chunk of them being schoolchildren) hate to be reminded of the past, but for some reason, they love to reenact it. Because I am married to Sir Sackier, Brit extraordinaire, I find myself in the not so enviable position of hearing just how much we colonists have made a muck of things as often as I’d care to tune in. I figure I’d tune in a lot more if he’d dress in period costume, but that certainly won’t happen unless I agree to play the wayward wench opposite his feudally monocratic role.

Again, that ain’t gonna happen.

civil_war_actors

civil_war_actors (Photo credit: Tom Gill (lapstrake))

Yet you can’t turn around in this state without accidentally elbowing somebody next to you who happens to be dressed like the Revolution is still taking place just yonder down the street. I have perfected the double take when caught off guard seeing a few regimental Civil War soldiers, bloody and bandaged from battle, purchasing a ticket to see Spiderman at the town cinema.

I think it would be easier if our local time travelers could remain in character.

A few days ago, I made my annual trip with some out of town friends to one of my favorite historic eateries. It has a name like Ye Olde Durty Bird or Red Coat Tavern; House of the Village Baker and Physic. We specialize in both baking and bloodletting.

I feel compelled to return year after year, because the food is unbeatable. You sit in a smoky, dark dining room brimming with tourists and the only sounds you hear are those of people weeping with pure culinary pleasure and groaning at the amount they’ve stuffed into their gobs.

The tricky bit is trying to maintain the feeling of having passed through the portal of time. Yes, the food is authentic, the crockery and cutlery realistic, the costumes genuine copies, but it’s the occasional slippage back to our current Twilight Zone that catches me.

When passing by the kitchens, it’s not uncommon to hear, “Shirley! Stop all that damn texting and get that cabbage in the kettle!” Or when someone at a nearby table mentions their black-eyed peas are stone cold, the scullery maid grabs the bowl and chirps, “No worries, I’ll just nuke it in the kitchen.” I wouldn’t be surprised to find the staff doing the Macarena out back while taking a ciggy break.

George Washington

George Washington (Photo credit: Joye~)

In fact, I’m certain, when auditioning for the role of one of these fine dead people, the one caveat they accept, and then promptly ignore before receiving employment, is to read George Washington’s classic best seller—the one he wrote before his sweet sixteen—Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation: a Book of Etiquette.

The book is a fascinating read, and I implore you to take a quick peek at just a few of his rules, but you’ll find that we—as a society in general—would discover the white-wigged man choking on his Cheerios to see how it is that we have “adapted” his suggestions to better fit our present lifestyles.

For instance:

His 3rd rule states: Shew Nothing to your Friend that may affright him. Umm … what are we going to do without YouTube?

12th  … lift not one eyebrow higher than the other, wry not the mouth … He’s just eliminated all the qualifications for a successful James Bond audition.

18th Read no Letters, Books, or Papers in Company but when there is a Necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave. Blackberries, iPhones, Androids … you guys are sol.

44th When a man does all he can though it Succeeds not well blame not him that did it. Obviously, Washington was portending rush hour traffic.

52d In your Apparel be Modest and endeavour to accomodate Nature, rather than to procure Admiration keep to the Fashion of your equals Such as are Civil and orderly with respect to Times and Places. Ahem, Lady Gaga.

64th Break not a Jest where none take pleasure in mirth Laugh not aloud, nor at all without Occasion, deride no mans Misfortune, tho’ there Seem to be Some cause. Looks like we’ll have to nix all reality TV.

72d Speak not in an unknown Tongue in Company but in your own Language and that as those of Quality do and not as the Vulgar; Sublime matters treat Seriously. This one will wreak havoc with our pubescent saplings.

81st Be not Curious to Know the Affairs of Others neither approach those that Speak in Private. There goes Facebook.

107th If others talk at Table be attentive but talk not with Meat in your Mouth. Never gonna happen in my house and at our table.

110th Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience. Someone needs to do a little housekeeping in the Capitol.

Old books

Old books (Photo credit: Maguis & David)

Now I’m not suggesting we catapult ourselves back to slave trade, revolutionists, and no underarm deodorant, but yearning for yesteryear’s grace and civility is a small spark that keeps my own celestial fire burning.

To sum up, it appears we’ve got some work in our future if we hope to live up to the past.

~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)!

 

Lights, Camera … Wait. Where are the lights?

Candles Flame in the Wind by Photos8.com

In addition to blowing out my hair, our lawn chairs, the flower boxes and a handful of shingles from the rooftop, our Herculean wind, blasting January through March across our mountaintop home, never forgets to tick off the last item on its ‘to-do’ list as a parting gift: it blows out the power.

I think of myself as a fairly prepared wanted-to-be Girl Scout, who, when throwing any kind of a dinner party—elaborate or no fuss—will write check lists in triplicate to make sure nothing is overlooked. Except it’s impossible to identify that one thing you overlooked when you’re looking at your list in the dark.

It happens with enough regularity to set a clock by, barring the fact that the timepiece I set repeatedly flashes twelve o’clock because the power has gone out yet again.

There’s nothing that ruffles my feathers more than the sound of silence where there was once the humming of my oven, six pots burbling on the stove top, Diana Krall crooning from the speakers and the tinkling of silverware as the table is decorated.

When I Look in Your Eyes

In its place is the, “Oof!” from my husband, falling up the stairs from the wine cellar—arms loaded for bear, the crash of glassware as my son who’s table setting loses sight of his work, my daughter’s cry of unheralded alarm at the loss of “IRRETRIEVABLE RELATIVISTIC QUANTUM FIELD THEORY RESEARCH!!” as she sits in front of a dark computer screen and a cackle buried deep within the roar of the demonic wind.

It is now that I consider the repercussions of snagging one of the bottles of wine still rolling down the hallway and heading straight for the comfort of my closet where I will shimmy out of whatever dreadful outfit I forced myself to wear for the evening and slip back into one of the umpteen pair of nonjudgmental-ever-forgiving yoga pants I own. I will curl up in a corner and if I’m truly lucky, find the wine bottle has a screw cap; otherwise, I’ll be forced to dig out shredded bits of cork with the back of an earring. (It’s been done before.)

Knowing I will never be forgiven if I pull that stunt, I take a deep breath, and use my mind’s eye to survey the damage in front of me. I’ve got hungry people coming to dinner and a dinner unfit for feeding said hungry people. And very shortly those folks will be arriving in front of an eerily dark house, believing they’ve got the wrong day, or we’ve changed our minds and went to bed early.

Downton Abbey

Just to add an element of apoplexy to my frenzied state, I remember my mother is staying with us, recuperating after some minor hand surgery, but so hopped up on Percocet, she continually mistakes me for either one of the servants from Downton Abbey or an old walnut armoire from her childhood bedroom. She will be trying to make it down the stairs solo or may have locked herself in a closet, believing it to be an elevator. If I don’t get to her straight away, I will soon find her at the bottom of the stairs needing substantially more Percocet.

Unfortunately, she’ll have to wait as I see a pair of headlights inching up the unforgiving driveway. Time’s up. Where the hell is my Plan B?

I hear my husband stub his toe on one of the spinning bottles and shout at the poor dog who’s announcing the arrival of our guests. I hear my despondent teen scientist sobbing at her desktop. And I hear my table setter holler, “Mom? Power’s out! Where are the candles?”

This last phrase is one that has repeatedly sent shivers down my spine. After every power outage I swear I will create a system of preparedness: memorable locations for flashlights, candles, matches and a corkscrew. And each time … I remember that sworn oath after the next power outage.

“In the apothecary chest,” I call back.

This goes on and on and on.

“Which drawer?”

“I can’t remember.”

I wait for it …

“WHAT?? WHICH DRAWER, MOM?”

Nobody sees me shrug in the dark, or cringe with self-loathing. I turn to speak in the direction of my young Marie Curie. “Please go help your brother find the candles.”

I can feel the rancor as she fumbles past me and know that it will mix with the already present hefty dose in the dining room. Nobody wants to search the apothecary chest. It has nearly one hundred drawers.

At last the blessed generator kicks on. It waits—an irritably long time—just to make sure that it’s truly needed, and that we aren’t simply testing circuits, or replacing fuses, or god-forbid seeing if it’s paying attention and ready to go.

roasting a marshmallow

Sadly, it’s too expensive to have the whole house wired to it. I remember the hot July day we had to pick and choose what we thought absolutely essential to have hooked up to the juice. Who needs heat? We laughed. Lights? Just the kitchen so we can find the marshmallows which we’ll cozily roast over our roaring fire. Microwave? Sure! We’ll make popcorn! Okay, that’s it, generator guys. Thanks for comin’ by and helping us ‘prepare for the worst’.

Idiot, idiot, idiot.

I hear peals of laughter from the front hall where my husband must have greeted our guests. I hear my mother introduce herself as Hyacinth Bucket from her favorite BBC series. I look at my no longer burbling pots on the stove and sigh.

Then I peek into the dining room to see the mellow glow of firelight on wood, candles covering every surface and effusing the room with a spellbinding sentiment. I squeeze my children and whisper thank you.

Someone comes up behind me for a hug, hands me a bottle of wine and sniffs the air. “Mmm …What’s for dinner?”

I laugh. “Popcorn, marshmallows …” I look down at the bottle of Merlot and smile at the screw cap, “And wine.”

~Shelley

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

Know your Cupid, Stupid!

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

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

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

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

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

Cupid and Psyche

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

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

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

See if you can follow along.

Lupa capitolina al Campidoglio. Ne esiste una ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flagellants practiced self-flogging at the tim...

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

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

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

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

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

A 2 month old goat kid in a field of capeweed

So no kidding, Happy Lupercalia.

~Shelley

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

 

Pipers On Sale, Aisle Three

When you think about giving someone a gift, I’d bet most of you don’t entertain the idea of gifting a person. It seems a rather archaic bestowal, one reserved for a plantation owner increasing his human workforce, or a recently deceased pharaoh to accompany him into the world to come, except when you consider who is bestowing the gift. My English husband, Sir Sackier, considers himself—if the fates cooperate—the future royalty of reclaimed land (that would be America). Therefore, granting a human endowment would not make him pause, believing the token curious, or even illegal.

English: Don Quixote is knighted by the inn-ke...

Nonetheless, one of the nicest things he ever did for me happened on the day we’d moved into our newly built house on top of this mountain, a damp, misty December morning. Both my folks had come to help unpack boxes and direct a crew of moving men. Shortly after the moving crew left, I moved to the kitchen, burying myself in a box of newspaper wrapped crockery. Suddenly, I thought I’d heard somebody shout. I pulled my head out of the four foot deep box, hoping someone had finally discovered my favorite white platter that had gone missing two moves ago.

Sir Sackier hollered from outside, and my mom rushed into the kitchen, all a twitter, saying I’d better high tail it out to where he was. I expected the worst. Surely the man had fallen into an undiscovered well, or maybe he’d come upon a prickle of porcupines, a gang of angry elk or a cackle of hyenas. My mind whirled with all the unusual suspects when it came to the sceptred isle native.

I stepped onto the deck off the kitchen. Sir Sackier stood there with a ridiculous grin spread across his face. He looked like he was eight and had found his first frog.

“Do you hear something?” he asked, cocking an ear toward the mountains.

I leaned forward and scanned the horizon. What should I be listening for? The scream of a bobcat? The cry of an eagle? The sound of a bullfrog being squished behind his back?

“No,” I said, and then stopped. Because just then I did. I heard the magical sound my heart had suctioned itself to, years earlier when I first went to Scotland.

English: Piper James Geddes plays the most rec...

Bagpipes.

I looked out into the mid-day gloom, across the tree-covered slopes of the mountains, wondering how in the world I’d gotten so lucky as to pick a plot of land that was within earshot of a practicing piper. And then I saw him coming up our driveway.

Wheezing up our driveway.

Our driveway, which is one mile long and one thousand feet straight up.

“What do you think?” Sir Sackier asked me as both my parents joined us on the porch, a video camera in his hands and pointed at my face.

“Oh my God, the poor man!” I shouted, positive the piper was going to have a cardiac arrest before he made it to the top. “Did you do this?” I pointed at the asthmatic geezer in full Gaelic getup.

That eight year old face beamed and nodded. “Yep. Happy moving in day, Shell!”

I looked back toward the kitchen boxes. “Where is the carton that has our first aid kit? I need to see if we have a defibrillator in it.” I bit my lip wondering if there was going to be an eventual lawsuit, but hearing that beautiful sound in the most perfect setting made tears come to my eyes. A piper! To christen our new home.

After fifteen more blissful and painful minutes, the piper finally came through the front door without pausing for breath, and into the hallway—where I thought he’d surely collapse. Instead, he stood bellowing in the hollowed out foyer, perfectly centered beneath a space that rose a full forty feet above him. The blast of the pipes exploded through the house, puncturing the walls and paralyzing my parents. This is oftentimes the sneaky tactics of a military piper, who then signals the rest of the highlanders to sneak up behind their stunned victims and slice off their heads with a clean sweep of their broadswords. Although this probably wasn’t intended, loss of voluntary movement was a by-product of my husband’s housewarming gift.

Even if my folks were too polite—or too stupefied to put their fingers in their ears—I stood there, rooted to the ground, thrilled with the razor sharp melody piercing my bones. It was then Sir Sackier informed me that he felt we needed a house piper and this man was my gift. He could play at whatever events we hosted up here on the mountain. How could I say no? But it was necessary to make a clear distinction. I felt we owed the poor man as he nearly did himself in climbing the mountain to get here, not owned the poor man because he was idiotic enough to pick up the phone when harkened by this aspiring new monarch. I doubt Sir Sackier heard what I said. He had his fingers in his ears.

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

 

Lads & Lassies, Pipers & Poets

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

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

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

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

Scotish dirk

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

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

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

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

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

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

homemade haggis, scotland food stock photo

 

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

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

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

The Scottish Piper - Victorian print vector art illustration

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

My suggestions for you? Start small.

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

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

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

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

Slàinte!

~Shelley

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