Hatching Happiness through Husbandry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“Yes,” said the miserable man.

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

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

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

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

“‘Yes,” said the miserable man.

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

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

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

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

The man nodded, hope filling his face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

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

Reshaping Life Goals with a Reciprocating Saw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Nayara Dinato on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I get it. You’ve all made your point.

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

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

 

A Penny Saved is a Penny Saved

There are a lot of things about me that my kids would love to see change:

  • Maybe I could fill my fridge and pantry with something they don’t identify as squirrel or bird food. To them, seeds, grains, and nuts are strictly meant for feathered friends and fluffy rodents. Real food, that real people eat, comes in brightly colored boxes with easy instructions as to how to marry its contents with your microwave.
  • Maybe I could stop talking to inanimate objects like trees, and my car, and strong gusts of wind. Also, my kids would suggest most forest animals might voice the same request and would prefer if I left them to get on with the business of gathering all the seeds, grains, and nuts that still remain outside of my pantry.
  • Stop with the whole ‘Franny Frugal’ routine.

Knowing that the first two are practically impossible for me—as both the temple of one’s bodily realm and the earthly realm of one’s body cannot and should not fall into neglect and disregard in my opinion—makes it even more improbable that I could alter complaint number three.

I have morphed into this woman. Largely by the original and most influential of sculptors—my parents.

Let’s blame them.

Yeah. I’m all for that.

It is mostly their fault that I have sprouted, slowly and surely, into the penny-pinching person that I am, as I long ago memorized their valuable equation of Time + Effort = the good fortune and necessity of Food.

It was a tricky one to wrap my head around at first because in the beginning said parents were providing most of the A and B inputs.

Then they kind of suddenly stopped.

Well, maybe not suddenly, maybe slowly over a decade of handouts, loans, and last minute saves.

Samey samey.

The result is that I have come to realize that ditching anything before its true expiration date is a behavior that should be rewarded with a sharp and head-clearing slap upside the head. It’s akin to walking up to your great grandmother and saying, “Despite the fact that you can still top and tail three pounds of wax beans faster than Paul Bunyan can fell one tree, Granny, your maintenance requirements are a bit of a downer. We’re getting an upgrade and have voted you off the island.”

I’m roundly and repeatedly criticized for my endeavors to not buy new things.

My phone lasted nearly five years. My car is approaching ten. My clothes are from the seventh grade. And yes, that milk is fine to drink.

Although I may live in a society of great abundance, I actually exist in a mindset of scarcity.

I’m not a hoarder, I’m a saver. Why would I throw out perfectly good plastic Ziploc bags and deli Tupperware when they have countless uses in front of them? One never knows when one’s small patch of land could be suddenly jolted and buffeted by some unforeseen earthquake, where all the recycled spaghetti sauce and jam jars holding my seeds, grains, and nuts will come crashing to the ground from their shelves—and then what’s going to contain those items until I’ve accumulated more saved glass?

Yes. My old Ziploc bags.

I’m resourceful, not crazy. It’s not like I wash and dry my tin foil, right?

Okay, I actually do, but that does not point to lunacy.

Okay, maybe it does just a tiny bit, but hey, it too has plenty of life in front of it. And I am a lover of life. Of life, and longevity, and coupons, and scraping the inside of every single mayonnaise, ketchup, and peanut butter jar.

I learned that tip from my dog. He knows the value of a crafty tongue that can find one last lick-full of anything and does not mind putting in the effort to obtain it.

I would argue against anyone who characterizes me as cheap, as that is not wholly accurate. I am … thrifty, fuel-efficient, prudent.

And saving up for more indispensable expenses.

Like whisky.

Although I am working on the skills needed to one day make my own supply, fleshing out a plan to ensure I not only never have to purchase any more, if I should find that my recipe far surpasses all others, but also that I’ll have enough in supply for when I run out of Ziploc bags and tinfoil and must begin bartering to restock the shortage.

Yes, my kids would love to see me with a smartphone that actually touted an IQ of anything higher than the number of chocolate chips I allot into each homemade granola bar, or a car I didn’t first have to give a five minute pep talk to before putting the key into the ignition. But I imagine eventually, they will see the soundness behind the “insanity,” when, like me, they too may need an extra hand with rent, or groceries, or my ability to purchase an airline ticket to see them accept some award and thank me up on the podium.

I’ll be there.

For whatever they need.

And now, if you’ll all excuse me, I’ve set up a small “Wilderness Whisky Tasting Event” for a few forest friends. We’ve all agreed to a minor trade agreement pact with no tariffs imposed.

We’re now just negotiation how many sunflower seeds can pay for a dram.

~Shelley

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

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

Oh Come All Ye Frugal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Chloe

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

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

 

I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance

“Oh good lord she’s going to visit me now, isn’t she?” my mother had said as we were driving toward one of her many doctor appointments.

“Well …” I began, rolling my eyes skyward, “if you say so.”

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I don’t say so!” she insisted in a slight panic. “That’s just the way things happen in our family.”

“Um hm,” I muttered, glancing out the window, hoping to make eye contact with one of the many trees we rushed by on the freeway. Surely one of them would gaze at me in sympathy, or slap a branch onto their proverbial lap and give me the signal that this truly was an absurd conversation.

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But I suppose if that happened—or if I actually expected that to happen—then it was a clear indication that I was a bone fide descendant of the line of people I was inwardly scornful toward.

I flashed my mother an incredulous squint. “I just don’t get it. Why must all the dead women in our family pay a visit to all the alive women in our family?”

My mother shook her head. “I don’t make the rules.”

I snorted. “I kinda beg to differ here, but okay. Then who does?”

She was getting heated. “Well … it was the Church while I was growing up.”

“And now?” I asked.

“As far as I know they’ve not loosened the reins on too many issues.”

“So you think the pope has rubber stamped some sort of decree on post life apparition appointments—some sort of soul session, or a revenant rendezvous?”

I looked over at my mother. The lines between her eyebrows furrowed gravely enough to qualify for the depth of spring seed planting. She glared at me. “I don’t think this is funny. I’m not sleeping and I’m very anxious.”

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“So your sister is just going to pop up at any point, perch on the end of your bed, and stare at you like a cat until you feel the heat of her gaze and open your eyes?” I asked.

“I can see what you’re doing.” My mother held up a very pointy finger. “You’re setting this up. You’re trying to trap me into revealing some sort of solemn and serious family belief so that you can exploit us and write about it on your blog—or make me into some crackpot character in one of your books.”

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“Will you still give me that lovely speckled gravy boat once you die if I answer yes?”

She was silent. I sighed. I was on the verge of losing that gravy boat.

“Listen,” I began, “I’m really sorry to hear that Aunt Marci has shuffled off this mortal coil, but you two haven’t spoken in a bazillion years. What makes you so certain she’s going to want to have a pajama party with you now?”

“Unfinished business.”

“What does that mean?”

“My sister always had a lot to say, and when I cut off communication with her I’m sure an enormous backlog built up. It was easy enough not to answer the phone when she was alive, but now …”

“Yeah,” I nodded, “I can see how challenging it might be to patch a poltergeist straight through to voice mail. You know, with that whole omnipotent viewpoint they now possess, they can actually see you press decline.”

One more glance at my mother made me feel certain that the gravy boat was slipping through my fingers.

But I couldn’t be serious about this. I stopped being serious about it the second I heard about it. Which was probably when I was around seven or eight—some of my earlier memories of when my flamboyant and glamorous aunt would come to visit. She was the stuff of bewitching silver screen cinema. She was part movie star mixed with Romanian gypsy sprinkled with the hand gestures of a crystal ball gazing oracle.

She walked in a cloud of perfumed smoke from her long, slim, brown cigarettes. Her clothes were as vibrant and flowy as a clothesline behind the United Nations on flag washing day. Her voice was hypnotic and breathy, or like a fishing line that lured you right up to her magnetic gaze. And once she had you hooked, you were paralyzed.

Until she’d say something like, You’re an old soul that has lived a thousand lives and has been rebirthed to do some sacred and venerable deed. You know you’re an angel, right?

*insert record scratch here

“Okay, this has been fun,” I’d say as I’d get up and back away slowly from the kitchen table and then realize, once back in my bedroom, that all the quarters from my little coin purse that attached to my wrist were now missing.

She was good.

“Mom,” I said, taking my hand off the steering wheel and resting it on her arm. “Try not to worry. What’s a little ghost visit? Every time I’ve heard any one of the old aunties talking about these weird ancestral ‘on their way to the grave’ stopovers, none of them have said that they were freaked out by the ghosts, right?”

“No. I don’t care what anyone else has said. Whenever someone dies, the first thing I do is pray they don’t come visit me. And then I say it out loud several times. Just to make sure they hear. I don’t want the visits. No ghosts. Period. I think I’d die of fright right then and there if Marci’s ghost suddenly appeared.”

I nodded my head. “If it would help, I’ll come sleep on the floor in your bedroom tonight. And I’ll keep the gravy boat right by my side.”

She looked at me like I’d just suggested we both slip into some leopard print leggings and see if we couldn’t hitchhike our way to the nearest trucker stop for some fun.

“And what help would the gravy boat provide?”

“Oh that,” I waved off innocently. “Well, it’s symbolic really. You know—it’d be a reminder to the ghost of Aunt Marci that it’s a boat. And boats signal you’re on some journey. Like crossing from one side of something to another. And that she’s supposed to continue hers and not stop off at your bedpost to chew the fat.” I shrugged. “Plus, if you do die of fright, at least you can rest in the afterlife knowing that the gravy boat is in good hands and where you intended it to be.”

The look on her face suggested I missed the boat on the opportunity to comfort her through this whole conversation.

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I looked out to find a sympathetic face from any of the passing timber one last time. I wonder if I’d improve my chances of one day getting that gravy boat if I told her that she was being driven to her doctor’s appointment by a celestial seraphim.

At least I wasn’t a ghost.

~Shelley

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

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor (NOW FOR HIRE- so do go check out his gallery!)–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

How to Get Off to a Flying Start

In the last two and one-half weeks, I’ve gone to three different airports, four times. None of them have been for any adventures penciled into my calendar. I’ve simply gotten to play chauffeur to the accumulation of sky miles for others.

Both happen to be my children.

Neither happens to be aware of a little thing the rest of us cling to—like a clock.

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And although I may occasionally skate into appointments with barely five ticks before classified as officially late, commercial aviation does not provide a slushy window of time for takeoff, and therefore I don’t muck about with where they draw the line. In fact, it is rocking horse manure rare to find an airliner that will keep their engines running on idle for that one desperate passenger who is racing to the gate and will arrive in 8.2 more seconds.

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That’s right. I think we’re all fairly well acquainted with the gate agents that see you barreling toward them, child tucked under one arm, briefcase slung around your neck, one hand thrust out in front of you with boarding pass in full view and your mouth wide open, stretching out the word WAIT and who then quickly shut the mobile hallway just as you skid to a stop in front of them.

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They didn’t hear you screaming wait?

Of course, they didn’t.

You were traveling faster than the speed of sound during that last thirty-yard dash.

Who could blame them?

Therefore, I make sure to leave plenty of time to arrive at an airport so I’ve got extra minutes enough to get to the gate and go to the bathroom. Or back through security and out to the car because I’ve forgotten my phone adapter. Or the 1 ½ hour trip back home because I may or may not have remembered to turn off the sprinkler.

I like to be prepared.

These last few trips to the airport had me rethinking my previous bubble of cushioned clock ticks against the departure hour. On each occasion, we pulled into the airport parking lot and dashed. After thanking any and all deities for allowing my kids to get through the snaking security lines, to their gates and into their assigned seats, I realized I needed to back up our EDT.

The problem was me—not them. They were behaving as teenagers behave. I, on the other hand, was behaving as if I was just me and not transporting teenagers.

Teenagers need extra time to do things like:

– drop off their car at a different airport because they are not flying in and out of the same one, or

– stop at the drugstore on the way because they made a last minute request for much needed refills on prescriptions, or

– squeeze in a quick shower, a meal and a minor outpatient surgery.

It could be any of these things.

Or all of them.

Since I was the driver, I was the one wearing the mantle of responsibility.

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And that is a hefty cloak that refuses to render you invisible when plans go pear-shaped—like in my latest adventure with my son.

“I’ll meet you after school and we’ll go straight to the airport from there.”

No, Mom. I have to drop my car off at the regional airport in town because that’s where my return flight lands.

“Huh. Okay. Well, that adds a few minutes to the trip, but we’ll still be fine. I’ll meet you in the parking lot.”

(On route, I come across a traffic snarl, backtrack and then phone my son.)

“Hey bud, there appears to be an accident at the intersection of Polo and Branchwater, so don’t take the main thoroughfare. Use the back route.”

Yeah, sure. Where are you?

“I just told you, and now I’m reversing my route because of the accident and will be about three minutes late meeting you. See you in the parking lot.”

(I arrive in the lot and surprise, surprise—no son. So I phone.)

“Where are you, kiddo?”

I’m in a long line of standing traffic, Mom! It looks like there’s been some accident up ahead.

“Where. Are. You.”

Not far from Polo and Branchwater.

“Did you not hear me say there was an accident there just five minutes ago?”

There was an accident? Why didn’t you tell me?

*face palm*

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These precious gems are all tucked away into the of ‘Let’s Laugh About Them Later’ album, but throw two or three of these in succession into the ‘Best Laid Plans of Moms and Managers,’ and you’ve got yourself the makings of minor apoplectic fit.

As I prefer my heartbeat to be one that mostly goes unnoticed, and I’m steadfast in my refusal to support the pharmaceutical industry any further with additional prescriptions meant to alleviate the harrowing conditions brought on by guiding one’s offspring through the last couple of treacherous years up to adulthood, I am girding my loins for the next teen interaction and request for transport before take-off. It will go something like this:

Hey, Mom? Will you drop me off at the airport next week? I’ve got an interview for my summer internship.

“You betcha. Let me just grab my purse and keys. I’ll meet you in the car.”

Mom, the flight doesn’t leave for three days.

“You’re right. We may be cutting it close.”

~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.

A Reversal of Fortune

Tis time for one of my favorite festivals, folks. TWELFTH NIGHT! Therefore, Rob and I have had a little fun and, as is traditional on this day, switched jobs. Don’t be too hard on us. We have been humbled by the task put before us.

What do I get my Mum for Christmas?

It was Christmas Eve, 1991. I was working as a freelance animator’s assistant, a sort of “pencil for hire” around the small London animation studios. I’d got a nice little gig at Animus Studios in Camden, working with a team of eight jolly souls on a couple of TV commercials for an American insurance company.

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Animus Studios was situated in a couple of rented rooms in a classic London mews, owned by the Monty Python team. It was where they had all their publicity people, lawyers and accountants. I guess you could call it Monty Python HQ. A hub of insanity basically!

So, Christmas Eve. Five o’clock, and the question “What do I get my Mum for Christmas?” was niggling away inside my slightly inebriated brain. We’d been taken out for a fabulous lunch by the boss man, Tony White. We’d bought a couple of bottles of wine on the way back to the studio and we were all draped around over chairs and sofas, sipping lukewarm Riesling and exchanging slurred tales of our sightings of the various members of the Pythons.
“John Cleese was here last week. I only saw him from the back, mind you, but it was definitely him!”
“How’d you know it was him? Did he do a silly walk or something”
“Don’t be daft! He’s six foot five and he had his Bentley parked out there!”

I was travelling home to my parents over the holidays so I was keeping an eye on the time. The commuter trains going out of London are erratic at the best of times, but on Christmas Eve you’d better be sure to be on a train by eight or nine o’clock or you’re dicing with the possibility of being stranded in the city over Christmas.

But there was no sweat. I had my rucksack packed and ready, all the family Christmas pressies wrapped and labeled. All, that is, except for my Mum’s! I’d clean forgotten her.

Just as people were starting to think about hitting the road, Tony White walked in and told us that the Pythons were having their traditional Christmas party for their employees and that we were all invited along as well.

Wow! We all thought. This was an opportunity not to be missed.

The party was a relaxed affair with a buffet, drinks table, background music. There were about 30 guests – admin staff, producers, directors and the gang themselves – John Cleese, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam, with respective partners and families. A nice cozy little bash.

We animators stood huddled in a corner, clutching our glasses of wine, somewhat overawed to be in the same room as a gang of comedians who for most of us were on the level of cultural icons.

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Within our huddle there was a lot of whispering and discreet pointing.

I watched as Michael Palin and his wife moved over towards the buffet table and in my slightly inebriated state I had one of those brilliant flashes of inspiration you only get when you ARE slightly inebriated. The solution to the problem of what to do about my Mum’s non-existent Christmas present popped into my head fully formed. Within the space of one nano-second I had a plan! I handed my wine glass to one of my pals, extricated myself from the huddle and sauntered over towards the buffet table. Towards Michael Palin!

“Hello, Michael!” I said. “My name’s Robin. Nice to meet you!”

True to his cordial reputation, Michael was very pleasant. I chatted with him and wife as we picked away at the buffet and loaded our paper plates. And then I popped the question.
“Could I have your autograph? It’s for my Mum. She’s a big fan of yours.”
“Yes, of course,” he said.

But we weren’t home and dry yet. There were a couple of hurdles to cross.

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First off was the question of what to write the autograph ON. I fumbled in my pockets but all I found was an old bus ticket and a receipt for a salt beef sandwich.

“How about this?” Michael said, holding up a paper plate.

Well, it wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind, but having got this far with my plan I decide to just go with the flow.

“Sure! Fine!” I said.

The next question was what to write WITH. Neither of us had a pencil or pen. It was Michael’s wife, Helen, who saved the day. “Will this do?” she asked, pulling a black eyebrow pencil out of her handbag.

Okay, I thought. Kind of soft and greasy, but I was still in go-with-the-flow mode.

“Great!” I beamed.

Michael took the eyebrow pencil. “What’s your Mum’s name?” he asked.
“Bridget,” I said.
Two minutes later and the deed had been done. I was back with my huddle of animators, paper plate safely stuffed into a plastic bag at my feet.

I did manage to get the train home to my family. And I did give the rapidly-wrapped paper plate with Michael Palin’s autograph on it to my Mum. And she did look extremely bemused when she opened it and saw the battered and crumpled plate with the smeared, almost totally illegible scrawl on it.

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I spent the rest of the Christmas holiday telling her the story and trying to convince her that the words DID read “To Bridget. Happy Christmas from Michael Palin”.

The paper plate was tucked away somewhere and I was certain that it was stuffed into a garbage bag as soon as the holidays were over.

A couple of months later I visited my Mum over a weekend. We were going through some old photo albums. There were a couple of albums missing. “They’re up in my bedroom,” my Mum told me. “In the bookcase. You can go and get them if you like.”

I went upstairs and turned the light on in her room. As I crossed the room to the bookcase, something caught my eye. There on the wall, opposite the bed, was the paper plate, framed.
~Rob

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

Related articles

 

Humble Heroes

There is a guy I know—and I’ve known him for an awfully long time—who has managed to squish a plethora of memories into an area of my brain that surely should hold less than a plethora.

I am assured by doctors that this overabundance—due to the nature of said memories—is not taxing me to the point where they would create health concerns and elevate the need for antidepressants, blood pressure meds, or an overwhelming amount of double fudge ice cream.

In fact, they have advised I use these memories in place of other treatments in order to stabilize, recalibrate, and maintain a healthy weight.

So, in times of particularly high stress, like my weekly trips to the gas pump, instead of feeling the anxiety-ridden squeeze of my pocketbook as I press the gas hose handle, I play the game I used to play with this man on a Saturday morning getting fuel after my piano lessons. The bet was this: if he could stop the hose dead on ten bucks, I owed him a candy bar. Anything above or below was my win, and I got the goods. There was no slowing down, no easing off the pump, just full fledge pressure and then—WHAM!—let go.

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I always won.

The game might have been worked in my favor so the other player could avoid seeing the welling of my tears.

So now, I do that same game with myself. Squeeze, wham, note the fact that I rarely nail ten bucks, and then carry on to somewhere around sixty. Then I pay the fee and glance toward the candy bars and wave hello. I can’t afford a candy bar these days after paying for gas. And no one there is particularly concerned with the welling of my tears.

Next up? How bout the countless times I find myself in a situation where I struggle to hold my tongue, hold my words and hold my breath from releasing negativity? Displeasure directed toward my kids. Impatience aimed toward the traffic. Or outrage at my finances.

At these moments I conjure up the recollection of this man who would toss four kids, a hound, and a woman desperately in need of a break into different compartments of a station wagon and release us all onto the sharply pine-scented shores of a Wisconsin lake no one else seemed to have discovered yet.

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You were allowed to grab hold of his shoulders with the quick warning of, “Let go when you must,” just before he would immerse himself beneath the water and swim with you on his back. Deeper and deeper he would plunge, until you felt your little ears pop. And when you could hold on no longer, you’d panic, bob to the surface, gasping for breath–your underwater dolphin game over. But he … would not appear. For what seemed like hours.

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You would scan the waters, heart pounding. Waiting. And worrying.

And then he would materialize, quietly, smoothly—in the middle of the lake.

I will practice holding things in with grace. And exercise a tranquil reentry.

There are myriad memories of walking into a room and finding this man with an open-faced book resting in his palms. It was his default position. I would need something. An answer, permission, a sip of his drink, but mostly just attention, and it would not be denied. My urgency was met with a raise of the eyebrow, a slipping in of a bookmark, but most importantly, nearly always with a smile.

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As a writer I have learned the wisest way to pen a tale is to steep yourself in other’s stories. My love for reading was one of example, fueled by someone else’s insatiable hunger for words. My love for my children is one of experience. The feeling of not being brushed off, ignored, or set aside because of inconvenience is an impressionable one, and one that has me swivel in my chair to greet whomever has called my name.

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These memories are the stuff of childhood, and yet they persist. Their tangible qualities are still felt, still practiced, and still admired. I have no idea what it’s like to be this man, but I have a million memories of what it’s like to be fathered by him.

Happy Day to you, Dad. Thank you for making so many of my days … Happy.

~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

 

 

Food for thought, but rarely for dinner.

If there is one phrase that is more common than any other in my house, it has got to be …

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And I’m serious about it being all in capital letters, because I’m usually shouting that phrase to someone who either has their head buried deep within the fridge, or their body concealed within the cavernous room I had built to represent the pantry.

The pantry is really more of an averaged-sized dry goods store, and if I simply filled out a few pages of paperwork, it could easily qualify as a Stop n’ Shop for locals on their way home from the office. Those folks would really have to like tuna though, because that covers about half the pantry’s inventory. That and cat food. I’m guessing either the cat has convinced someone in the house that we’re running low and to write it on the list, or she’s finally passed the course with the daily YouTube videos I’m been making her watch on teaching yourself to write.

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Either way, she’s hoarding. And that needs to be dealt with.

I grew up with a kitchen that was just slightly bigger than a coat closet, and oftentimes had the entire family rummaging around within it, so it’s no surprise that as an adult I’d want to create a canteen that might easily share the same acreage as that of the Mall of America. I’m not saying I achieved those numbers, but it was what I was going for.

The refrigerator is not your average size either, and although not a commercial walk-in like some restaurants, it could double as a garage for a few small farm vehicles if need be. Note that the design for the rest of the house was given much less thought. My office is large enough for my swivel chair to make only half rotations in, unless I expel all oxygen from my lungs and tuck my elbows in beneath my rib cage, and the other living areas were fashioned after cheap department store changing rooms and fast food restaurant bathroom stalls. Why? Because I wanted everyone to live in the kitchen.

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We eat when we’re happy and we eat when we’re miserable. We also eat when we’re bored and trying to avoid laundry. So in my mind, that about covered where we needed to spend the serious money.

In the kitchen of my youth, the pantry closet was large enough to accommodate two cans of soup and a nail file. Nevertheless, it fed half my school district. Yet the one I currently have apparently does not hold enough of what is deemed necessary for my two teenagers. Ditto for the fridge. The crackers I have are not the right kind of crackers. The granola bars I purchase are now in the “so yesterday and I’ve gone off them” category. The macaroni I get doesn’t have the right kind of cheese. The butter is not the soft, spreadable kind like Grandma has. And most every other complaint falls under the wretched umbrella of, “Stop buying the organic version of everything. It tastes weird and I won’t eat it!”

The grocery list has always held the possibility of being a vehicle filled with “teachable moments” for those who eat regularly at my house in that if you finished the OJ and didn’t put it on the list, then you’re the guy everyone will be sending the next day’s hate mail to. This sounds like it should work, right?

Nuh uh.

As is well known to most mothers, we are expected to have our act so well put together it could headline on Broadway. Yes, someone forgot to add milk to the list, but surely you knew it belonged there when at the grocery store, right? Somehow you sprouted those eyes at the back of your head that caught nearly invisible infractions, and you grew the superhuman ears that heard the cursing grumble from way out in the sheep barn, so are you telling me your telesthesia is on the fritz?

So not cool, Mom.

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Occasionally, my nagging about adding things to the grocery list has made a small impact on my at home diners. There have been days when I’ve arrived at the store, taken the first glance at my list and then had to physically stop myself from ramming my shopping cart repeatedly into the nearest bin full of asparagus and avocados. Why? Because the list is chock-a-block full of junk. Chocolate in every form has made its way onto the paper but is “cleverly” disguised by showing up in between other items so the requests don’t appear too gluttonous.

Collard greens

Apples

Chocolate milk

Navy beans

Salmon

Chocolate covered pretzels

Eggs

Tofu

Brown rice

Chocolate toaster pastries

Sparkling water

Miso paste

Brownies

At this point, I simply buy the things I intended to purchase for the meals I plan to make, but also plop down onto the dinner table a squirt bottle of liquid chocolate and tell the kids to have at it. I shudder to think how Hershey’s syrup can make delicate halibut in a corn and mung bean broth taste more appealing, but apparently it must.

So I’m trying to see this all from a different perspective. I suppose I should be grateful for the last few precious years of gathering round the table. Clearly our tastes at this point are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but thankfully our desires still meet in the most important room of my house. And no matter what everyone is eating, and what head-shaking requests show up on my next grocery list, I shall pull up a chair to the dinner table with a thankful heart. Because “Spending time together” is not something that can be purchased at any store.

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~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.

Out of touch

Panic has set in at my house.

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It’s as crisp and as tangible as hair-raising electricity, sharp as a floor full of tacks, and capable of creating irreparable organ damage from the anxiety-ridden heart palpitations taking place. We’ve been cut off. Specifically, the little optic fibers meant to supply juice to our technologically dependent family have been severed.

We are addicts and our drug of choice has been snatched away, brutally and without warning.

And … on a holiday weekend.

This Labor Day three day festival is turning out to be a labor-less one, as far as our phones and Internet are concerned. And did I receive a memo about this? Nope. No one said, “Hey lady, if it’s okay with you, we’re going to shut down the overworked, desperately needed, wholly depended upon nerve center of your home for … awhile, alrighty?”

No, not alrighty.

Not alrighty at all.

Blood is beginning to spill out of my ears from hearing the teenage trauma as realization sinks in. We’ve lost all connection to the outside world. Studies have shown that if you allow this to happen to adolescents for any length of time longer than it takes to make a sandwich, neurological damage begins to take place. Synapses disconnect and their little points of contact shrivel and retract. I’m quite certain that Internet access is the same as sunshine to the plant kingdom, gas to a car, or a camera flash to Kim Kardashian.

No juice, no point in going on.

Find cliff. Leap off.

Everyone is looking around wondering what to do, baffled and bewildered that this could be happening. It’s almost as bad as discovering that air decided not to show up for work today.

Normally, something like this happens when there’s a massive storm, four feet of swirling snow, or there are trees down county wide from a slicing wind and rain storm. But that hasn’t happened. The sun is out, the grass is glistening with dew, birds are flitting about doing bird-like business. And there’s a thin blanket of mist in the valleys below us. Morning fog. Wispy bits nearly transparent and sylph-like. I am positive that fog does not have physical fingers capable of finding the plug that connects our house to the world and yanking said plug from its outlet. There is nothing to blame it on.

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I run downstairs into the utility room to scan the panels of blinking lights and machines that ping. I make my way through miles of wiring, and I wriggle around pipes that snake from floor to roof, pass through concrete walls and zigzag their way like thickly-roped spider webs across the ceiling. I find the receptacles that house all lines and cables relating to technology and magic, as they are one and the same to me. Some lights flash and others flicker. The important ones are dark or blaze in angry red tones signaling their lack of life or surfeit of irritation. Even these machines echo the family’s disposition.

I unplug everything and standby. I do yoga while waiting the requisite amount of time so as not to waste the minute and hope it will improve my mood. I replug and watch.

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No joy.

Perhaps I’ve done it incorrectly.

Wrong order? Too quick? Didn’t say the magic words?

I try again and decide to throw in a minute of holding my breath for good measure. I think positive thoughts and shine the basement flashlight on the box thinking maybe it just needs ‘healing white light.’

Nope. It needs a technician. Or a good spanking.

I search the house and yard for any place I might be able to get a signal in order to phone in and report our outage. I find one in the closet that gives quarter to the cat’s litter. I scan an object with real pages and inked printing, giving me direction to the telephone number of the one person out there who can take on my troubles and ease my family’s distress.

There is a plethora of numbers. I try them all. One by one, and even though they are listed as specific departments, they arrive at the same desk: the automated hotline. Businesses do not answer telephone calls any longer. Businesses have business to do. They have money to make, not problems to solve. Promises to guarantee, not satisfaction to deliver.

I give up playing the game by the rules since those on the other end have none. I mess with the machine and press buttons that they did not offer as an option. This often produces an individual whose game of solitaire or updating of Facebook was interrupted. They’re usually not pleased.

I provide the details. More than they need. Phone numbers, addresses, shirt size and bank account sums as incentive. Do what you will with it, just make the magic happen again, please. Can’t you hear the children suffering in the background?

He does not.

He issues “a ticket for service.”

Sometime, maybe soon, depending upon availability and mood, someone may or may not attempt to unravel your puzzle. Don’t hold your breath.

I know, I say, I tried that already and it didn’t work.

Well, you have yourself a good holiday weekend. Maybe spend some time with the kids, eh?

 I sigh, disconnect the call from my cell phone and go to the game cupboard.

I bring a stack of possible pastimes and place them on the table before my offspring. “Puzzle?” I offer. “Board game? Checkers? Gin Rummy?”

They stare at me blankly, eyes wide and unregistering.

The phone rings. THE LANDLINE PHONE!

It works! We are saved! We have been rejoined!

We bow down to the mighty, joyful ring, displaying our gratitude.

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We will always remember the holiday we nearly spent together. We laugh about it now.

Ah, memories.

~Shelley

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

 

The 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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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.

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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.

Clockwatchers

Depending upon what job I have held in the past, I have at times classified myself as an early bird, a night owl, and sometimes just the slug that gets eaten by both.

Currently, I have entered into a phase of life many folks are well acquainted with. In fact, they have a face creased by lines of anxiety to show for it.

We are clockwatchers.

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Why? I have teenagers. And they have lives, man.

It’s one thing when you’re the one they depend upon for rides into town, transportation to and from friends, and passage from one activity to the next. We perform a gratuitous service in exchange for the hopeful moment of mere eye contact.

But when they have access to fast moving, gas-guzzling, tune blaring vehicles that either they or their peer counterparts control, the parental mind bolts like dropped marbles, scattering across the floor in unseen, dangerous directions, and foretells life-altering hazards in things as typically innocent as mailboxes, squirrels and rain showers.

Teens are big on taking risks.

This is not news to any person who is in charge of their welfare, but it certainly curls the toes of many adolescents after the fact—or after the fall.

In fact, I vote all teens must wear a piece of clothing that marks them as pubescent and encourages the rest of the village to stop them at any moment simply with the phrase, “Are you sure you’ve thought this through?”

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I bet we could lower the number of smacks on our furrowed foreheads by implementing this tiny technique.

It’s difficult to manage my regular routine when I’ve got two teens out of the house and both expected back at a specific time. Specific to me, but an ever-shifting time frame for them. Something always happens. This is the only predictable part of the outing. And it usually comes in the form of a phone call and a voice on the other end that speaks in dulcet tones reserved for Mother’s Day or my birthday.

I know very few parents who can head off to bed, knowing their teen is nowhere near theirs, and effortlessly lose consciousness. For me, it’s like cracking the spine of a chilling thriller, except for the fact that I’m not actually reading any words. I may be facing in the direction of the printed words on page, but a new author has taken over the invisible plot, rife with ideas meant to twist and churn my gut.

As an evil bonus, there’s a soundtrack.

If there’s wind—I’m dead certain one of the hundreds of overhanging limbs from trees they pass on the way home will come loose, crash upon the car and kill everybody.

If there’s rain—I’m convinced the oils on the road will coat a rising sheet of water, propel them into a ditch and kill everybody.

If there are animals that live on the route my kids take home, they are likely to be the equivalent of teenagers out too late at night, will be encouraged by their rowdy, pack mentality comrades to dart across the road in front of cars for a thrill, will be greeted by the Nerf Ball car my kids drive … and kill everybody.

Nerfcar140713 (800x591)

If you have teenagers, you are likely well acquainted with the movie reel running in your head that usually ratchets up to Technicolor vibrancy status every time you look at your watch or glance at the clock above the stove. You are waiting for the glide of headlights across the wall by the window, the sound of the car pulling into the drive, the bark of El Protector at the front door—anything that announces the safe arrival of the person or persons you invested umpteen years of energy, money and every wish you made, including those on falling stars, birthday candles, or the heads of a dandelions.

Why is it that no one has been able to push ahead the R & D for apparating? Yes, I know it would be expensive, but hey, JK Rowling has kids who will soon be teenagers, and since she planted the idea in everyone’s heads, I say she might be someone worth considering when petitioning for research funds.

I expect I should get used to the bleary-eyed, puffy-faced person who greets me in the mirror each morning and the slack-jawed, mascara-smudged woman whose reflection waves goodnight each evening. It’s inevitable, as my day starts when the racket of bellowing animal bellies rouses me from slumber, whereas my teens fall out of bed somewhere shortly before I shout out, “DINNER!” Bedtimes are slightly closer together—mine arriving when the sounds of their bedroom laughter, bass lines and Netflix all meld into the audio track of my dreams, and theirs happens when we’ve run out of post midnight snacks in the pantry.

And although I can actually consider myself both an early bird and a night owl at this point in my life, there is no doubt in my mind what category I look most like …

The slug.

Earlybird140713 (800x528)

~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.

Gridiron Chef; we shopped, we chopped, we smoked, we seared.

Massacre (800x786)

Somehow … my brother met an incredibly bright woman.

Somehow … my brother realized she was Tier One Talent and that he had happened upon a gold mine.

Somehow … my sister-in-law answered yes to his proposal of marriage.

I believe she may have been clubbed over the head, dragged back to his cave and denied food and water until she agreed, but that’s just a theory. (And for proof as to why I developed this hypothesis, last week’s post gives a rough outline that might illuminate.)

Regardless, this lovely woman gave her husband a plane ticket for his birthday, sending him off to mess up other people’s kitchens for a long weekend. I owned kitchen number one, but before we could put any floured fingerprints on my counter tops, we first needed staples. Therefore, we went to the place where both my children’s college funds have been spent.

Whole Foods Market.

DSC09711 (800x450)

Shopping with a chef is a heady experience. Shopping with a chef is an expensive experience. Shopping with a chef and no precise grocery list is a mistake.

My initial idea of arriving at the store for a “spontaneous” menu creation was born after a few weeks of seeing my email inbox overflow with my brother’s dazzling bill of fare ideas and the suggestion that I begin hunting down local food purveyors who could source out needs.

Huhu (800x640)Panic set in when I realized I was going to have to make some long term promises and exchange money under the table. We were probably better off not knowing who could locate Huhu grubs, boiled duck embryo and sheep back fat. Okay, I could locate sheep back fat, but it was still very much in use by its current owners, so I had to put the brakes on. Whatever was in the bins and behind the shiny glass cases at the grocery store would source our needs.Backfat (800x412)

While in the shop, a common occurrence was turning my back for thirty seconds and then pivoting to see my brother surrounded by people—both shoppers and stockers—who were wholly absorbed by whatever my brother held in his hand and the sagacious, culinary-infused words that came from his mouth. Within moments, folks were raising their hands to share a personal story—both ebullient and tear-jerking—of some meal that moved them. My sibling is a Pied Piper of the gastronomic world.

The plan was to purchase ingredients for two evening dinners. The cart held enough for two evening dinners and all the essentials needed for making our way through The Joy of Cooking twice. (Our chef is used to things coming into his kitchen by the forklift load.)Shop (800x568)

Once back at the ranch, it’s all business. Aprons donned, knives honed, hands scrubbed, patient prepped. (And by patient, I mean “deceased bovine.”)

We made steak fajitas. Except these didn’t taste remotely close to my original version—the one I’ve perfected over years and years of practice. Mine were no longer perfect. But the fact that I took mental notes and then called my brother because my mental notes had massive gaps in them means my steak fajitas will now be perfect again. That is, until he comes back to visit.

We pummeled avocados, chopped onions, diced tomatoes, gutted peppers, shaved cheese, seared skirt steak, shredded greens and peeled garlic. Bushels of garlic. There is no vampiric activity within miles of the house. In fact, we can’t even get Twilight to play on TV.

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But here’s the big chef secret free giveaway: VANILLA.

Yep, you read it right. The stuff we put in ice cream and cookies. The chef says to take about 1 ½ — 2 lbs of skirt steak and marinate it in the juice of four freshly squeezed limes (toss the lime halves in as well), 1/2 cup of olive oil, an entire head of garlic (don’t worry about chopping, just peel and smash each clove with the back of a knife), salt, pepper, oregano, and 1/4 cup of high-quality vanilla. Let it burble away for an hour on the counter or for the day in the fridge. Grill it. Slice it. Eat it. Beg for more.

The other big meal was an experiment that came to us on the fly. We were going to smoke short ribs, but decided to use a slightly unconventional wood. In fact, it wasn’t wood at all. It was PEAT. My favorite flavor in the world.

DSC09747 (800x450)Last summer, I got myself a birthday present. Two forty pound bags of peat. They arrived in two canvas sacks, housed within a large cardboard box and handed over by one irate UPS guy. “You shipped eighty pounds of dirt to yourself?” he asked me, rubbing his back.

“Yes. But it’s really old dirt,” I explained.

Then at Christmas, I received another eighty pounds of it. I didn’t order it. No one in my family ordered it. And I know the UPS guy didn’t order it. It was a mistake from the company. Thank you, Irishpeat.com. Sorry, UPS guy.

So we smoked these beautiful grass fed short ribs for about three hours and then made a one pot meal by layering the ribs on the bottom, covering them with mirepoix, beer, beef broth and eventually adding potatoes and greens to finish. Click here for the full recipe.DSC09761 (800x540)

Lest it need to be spelled out, the grub was good. Damn good. What phrase is more potent than damn good that I can use to explain the awesome quality without offending sensitive ears? You’re right. There is none available.

But to sum it all up, we acquired, we cooked, we conquered. The kitchen, although scarred, is grateful to have been included.

Thanks, Bro.

~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.

Sibling revelry

My brother is a liar.

Not only that, he’s a cheat, he steals things and he smells like he’s been wrestling inside a giant vat of rotting fish.Liar (800x653)

Okay, maybe I should have put all of that in the past tense or surrounded it with quotes and introduced it with, I announced to my mom when we were nine and ten. But then that takes all the fun out of knowing his face will go beet-red when he reads this. And I’d almost give my left lung to be there when it happens because that opening paragraph is a form of payback for popping all my Barbie dolls’ heads off, supergluing them together and then using them as a makeshift whiffle ball for batting practice. Barbie (800x597)I might have misremembered some of those exact facts, but the end result was basically the same: I was miserable.

Except when I wasn’t.

And that “non-miserable” status was actually a much more frequent state of mind.

My brother was my roommate, my playmate, and a very convincing Frederick the Great whenever we played war, which happened repeatedly. We agreed to rotate the games we played: we could build stuff with sticks in the woods, sword fight with sticks in a field, or pile up sticks and attempt to light them on fire.

The alternative was that I could get chased with a stick if I didn’t agree to one of the prior games.salkville,shell&steve001 (622x639)

It was a rare day when we got to play house, but when we did, it was Little House on the Prairie where I got to be Ma and watch him play Pa. He built us a “log cabin,” fought off warring Native Americans who wanted to run us off our homestead, and started a smoldering fire on which I could cook him his grub. Still sticks, no matter how you look at it.

There was one thing we heartily agreed upon though, and that was food. Everything we did was centered around getting, sneaking, stealing, making, hunting, fishing or feasting on grub.

on ya bike...

on ya bike… (Photo credit: deer_je)

If we wanted to get up early to bike through the woods to arrive in time for sunrise on the lake, we first had to fill plastic bags with cereal, grab two spoons and strap a thermos of milk to the handle bars. We’d make a quick stop to pick blueberries en route, then it was breakfast on the pier.

If we hoped to act like all the folks with big RVs and fancy tents who arrived at the local campground down the street and who got to eat Toni’s pizza, drink orange Fanta and play pinball while listening to the jukebox, we first needed to put our allowance savings plan into action. If we couldn’t scrounge up enough quarters to cobble together the price of the entire event, we’d settle for just the pizza. We had to have that pizza.

How stealthily could we sneak a fistful of pre-breakfast Oreos out of the booby-trapped cookie jar on a Saturday morning? How many weeds would we have to pull in our ancient neighbor’s vegetable patch before she’d call us in for sizzling fresh perch, drowning in home-churned butter and yanked out of the lake not an hour before?

Angry squirrel

Angry squirrel (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

How many blueberries could we stuff down our gullets while slyly creeping through the woods, hoping to ambush preoccupied squirrels, engrossed in nut gathering? How many wintergreen leaves did we scarf down, pretending it was candy? How many winter snowfalls had us tearing open a package of Kool-Aid or Jello in order to open our own professional snow cone stand with us as our only customers?

Things haven’t changed greatly, although supposedly he’s a grown up. He pays most of his taxes. He drives a truck now instead of a bike. His three beautiful daughters cling to him like ring-tailed lemurs on a mighty oak, so I’m gathering either he’s learned how a bar of soap works or his children have no sense of smell.Chef (551x800)

He has an actual job that pays more than his childhood allowance. And as sad as he was to give up playing Charles Ingles, he refused to give up centering life around food. Somehow, he learned to read and write while I wasn’t looking. And apparently muscled his way through the Culinary Institute of America.

They call him “Chef.”

I call him lucky.

Yeah, maybe he no longer lies, cheats, steals or smells, but he still plays with sticks. He’s just swapped out those long, woody weapons for shorter, sharper blades.

Still sticks, no matter how you look at it.

~ShelleyBarrels (800x630)

*Next week, we’ll go shopping with our chef since he came out for a visit. And once we put the groceries away, chef and I did some sword fighting in the kitchen. Come back to see who wins.

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.

Hurry up and slow down!

Rusher_300113 (800x523)I come from a family of “Rushers.”

This is not some ethnic inside slang for a relatively unknown Slavic country, but rather a perpetual state of physical being. One we have practiced, but not perfected.

We rush. A lot.

Because …

we’re always LATE.

It’s a weird club to belong to. Most folk don’t want to admit they’re a member and in fact deny any connection. Rusher_family_300113 (800x380)Of course, we’re not quite organized enough to formally meet yet —to create some sort of support group that gathers in the basement of the Moose Lodge on Sunday nights and comes clean about the somewhat sordid high we all feel when we make it to any destination with thirty seconds to spare.

The sound of a door clicking shut behind you while you pull the tail of your raincoat out of the way in the nick of time brings a zing of euphoria to anyone living in this category.

I don’t want to be in this category.

I want to be a measured planner.

I want to arrive places with my hair done, my shirt buttoned, everyone fed and no shortage of breath.

I want to eat breakfast, brush ALL of my teeth, walk, not race out to my car, and avoid running over that squirrel because he realized there was enough time to make a lovely nut loaf for dinner and chat with a neighbor just over the yellow line and finally scamper off to safety before my car came upon him.

Mouse_in_can_300113 (800x631)Instead, I am buried so deeply beneath my duvet that I sleep through my alarm clock. I wake only because the cat has tightrope walked along the ridge of my body and has started kneading my head to remind my brain where I have buried her breakfast.

When I squint at the time, I catapult out of bed, tweaking my back, limp to the shower, wash my hair with someone’s Super Juicy Cherry Bubble bath by accident, race wet-headed into my closet to filter through old laundry to find a pair of yoga pants with the least amount of sheep slobber on it and leap out the front door minus coat, the correct car keys and usually still sporting my highland cow slippers.

And if you’re a rusher, then you’ll know exactly what happens next.

I zoom down the driveway in my getaway guzzler, pop that puppy into a gear its manufacturers didn’t even know existed and race past herds of befuddled bovine, allowing the wind to dry my hair into what I imagine will be something convertible commercial sexy, but will end up hairdresser’s horror.

And that’s when it happens.

Tractor. 

English: A modern 4-wheel drive farm tractor. ...

English: A modern 4-wheel drive farm tractor. New Holland tractor somewhere in the Netherlands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe this word was birthed from the term intractable, because these guys are simply buildings with wheels.

Where I live, the roads are built like coiling, slithering snakes. No straight lines, no sharply cut angles. Just curves, bends, hills and loops. You must go around, up and down mountains. There is no “as the crow flies” here. Even crows don’t get to do that. And any flat land found between those prodigious heaps of rubble is covered with crops or cattle.

We love our farmers.

Except when we’re behind them in their John Deeres.

After working up a lathered frenzy and recalculating just how fast I will have to go to make up for lost time, taking into account all the usual lawmen lairs hiding troopers who are waiting to protect and serve, I blow a kiss to the harvester as he turns down another dirt road for work.

I fly.

Hairdresser_300113 (545x800)And I wonder why the inside of the car smells like a giant bag of Starbursts.

Moments later, I am jammed in morning traffic.

I find myself tapping my fingers on the wheel, drumming a frenzied beat and talking to the red light I wait beneath, pleading with it to change its mind.

I press on the gas, slam on the break, switch lanes, give a wave, shout a sorry, press on the gas. Rinse and repeat.

I find a parking spot. Grab my phone. Run from the car. Run back to the car. Grab my purse. Run from the car. Zip through the door. Scan in my keycard. Race to the bathroom. Recoil in the mirror. Bolt from the bathroom. Return to the bathroom. Snatch my damn purse. Sprint to my classroom.

I roll out my yoga mat.

Detach. Escape. Focus. Breathe. Relax. Loosen. Release.

Namaste …

(sound of pistol)

And we’re off!

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~Shelley

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

Learning your anatomy; it’s heart work.

English: The Queen of Hearts, from a 1901 edit...

February fluff is everywhere.

And by fluff, I don’t mean snow. I’m talking holiday detritus. Red and pink displays adorn shop windows, enticing the eye with come-hither missives. Blooming roses sit in cellophane cylinders, fragrant reminders from flower shops and grocery stores. Jewelry counters make monumental efforts to display baubles so brilliant, you risk corneal damage if proper eye protection isn’t worn when touring the facilities. And the manufactures of chocolate—an all occasion offering—achieve epic kudos for creativity and artifice by showing up in everything from pasta to toothpaste, face masks to band aids and candles to play dough.

I’ve even come across chocolate flavored chocolate.

The holiday of luv is upon us. Its mascot … an organ.ABC (800x612)

Raising children in a household with a physician, the first rule of order was to address bodily components by their proper names and “know thy functions.”

Before we securely settled on the order of the alphabet or techniques of shoe tying, I began overhearing snippets of conversation not uncommon within the lecture halls of an anatomy class.

“The human body contains an array of biological systems, and within those systems are assorted organs, which consist of tissues that are made up of cells. Those cells essentially are comprised of water in company with a soup of molecules, which primarily contain carbohydrates, proteins and lipids.”

“Daddy, I have to go to the bathroom.”

“Generally speaking, the excretory system is in charge of eliminating metabolic wastes generated by homeostasis. It regulates the chemical composition of your body’s fluids, maintaining the correct balance of water, salts and other necessary nutrients.”

“Daddy, my tummy hurts.”

Palpitating (743x800)“Your body does not contain a tummy, it contains a stomach. Now lie down flat with your hands at your side and allow me to palpate your abdomen for rebound tenderness.”

And even though for many years I made a living making music, I endlessly struggled in an attempt to pen catchy lyrics about the endocrine system or compose a convincing cardio march.

That just wasn’t my bailiwick.

I came to realize I was more about emotion than embryology—more gut than gizzards—spirit not spleen.

And it’s not that I didn’t appreciate the enlightening science. But I found that once words bypassed the three syllable mark, I began focusing on other things, like the physical feats of the human tongue, or categorizing just how many sounds I could hear at that precise moment, or what type of consumer would be moved to purchase chocolate flavored chocolate.

Baby's Blue Eyes

Baby’s Blue Eyes (Photo credit: Tampa Band Photos)

I ponder the great mysteries of the universe. Not the great leap forward of methodology in modern medicine.

I see a sash of colors cross the sky in an arc, ending somewhere misty and amorphous, and I’m told how the various parts of the eye labor together, converting light rays that travel through the pupil into interpretable data for my brain.

I hear my rumbling belly and sink my teeth into a sizzling mound of juicy beef, tangy ketchup, sour pickles and sweet brioche bun, and I find out hunger is the brain’s message to the body, announcing the necessity for nutrients.

I roll in the grass with a four-legged ball of fur and embrace all the licking, panting, growling and nuzzling that accompanies the act, and feel an exhilarating zing rush up my spine and pulse with each heartbeat. This mood “comes from the Greek word euphoria which means ‘power of enduring easily,’ or from euphoros, which literally means ‘bearing well.’”

Puppy Love

Puppy Love (Photo credit: smlp.co.uk)

Huh.

Apparently, my day was a lot more complicated than seeing a rainbow, chowing down a burger and falling in puppy love.

And yet, I feel an overwhelming surge of relief whenever I’m presented with the string of indecipherable digits that represents the results of blood tests, and after a quick glance from Sir Sackier, find comfort that everything is within allowable range.

That same release of stress occurs when a family member mails an envelope stuffed with black, coated films revealing shadowy, white forms and vague and blurry shapes, because what usually follows is a snap of the fingers and a phrase beginning with, “That’s a classic case of blah, blah blah.”

And how many times have I sat in an examining room with a fractious child, fretting over the sudden switch from English to Latin, trying to read faces, examine body language and deduce a diagnosis when my husband turns to me with the reassuring translation, “It’s just a tummy ache.”

Yes, we all have a heart that both pumps and pleasures, we’ve all grown a spine that both supports and resolves and we each possess vision through which we filter belief. Wonky (681x800)But this doesn’t make us identical, just unique components in the mass of a larger working, searching, yearning entity trying to make sense of it all. In all these beautiful tongues.

Laugh with the poetry.

Smell the roses.

Sparkle with trinkets.

Just make a wide berth of the chocolate flavored chocolate.

~Shelley

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

The bus is here.

School Bus_HDR2

School Bus_HDR2 (Photo credit: tncountryfan)

Could there be a more depressing week than the one before school resumes in August?

I can’t even use the phrase “school begins” as is traditional, because for the last few years, it feels as if we never quite got into the “school’s out” phase. Graduation happened and then BAM!, we were off and running.

I look at this last week the same way I view the last brownie in the pan. Why did it have to come to this? I seriously need an Everlasting Gobstopper Summer. Just one, where I can join the loads of other parents who I eavesdrop on in the grocery store saying, “I cannot wait until I get these kids outta the house and back in the classroom.”

When I hear this, I mostly feel a great sense of shame. They obviously have been spending a bucketload of time with their kids—taking them to parks, swimming, friends, picnics, sports games and Disneyland. I, on the other hand, made mine weed.

I’m pretty sure that’s all they’ll remember.

That, and the fun family road trip. And I’m quite certain our definition of fun is far from similar.

Funny enough, I came across a list—a Summer Bucket List—thrown together by some breezy live life to its fullestmagazine, and figured, just for giggles, I’d see how many of these “suggestions” I was able to cross off between Memorial and Labor Day.

English: Bathing dress from 1858

English: Bathing dress from 1858 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.  Skinny Dip (Yes, but the sheep are incredibly pious and won’t hesitate to sling their pastoral opinions around as they complete their stations of the meadow.)

2. Take in a music festival. (As lovely as this idea seems, it’s never a restful one, as we’re usually on the stage. We are the music festival.)

3. Run through a meadow. (Live in one. Think of me as Julie Andrews only with a husband who no one wants to sing. And I would never think of making clothing from curtains. At least not before they served as bed spreads for a few years and then wrapping paper.)

4. Be the first one at the farmer’s market. (This requires stepping outside and into the garden. Viola. I’m first. And last.)

5. Take more pictures. (click here for proof)

6. Reread your favorite novel. (I’ve kicked it up a notch. I’m trying to write my favorite novel. Sadly, a few other people have already written my favorite novel, so now I’m just trying to use a thesaurus to substitute in a few words to make it truly mine. Seriously, there are only so many archetypal stories. The rest are variations on those themes. I bet no one will notice.)

7. Get caught in the rain. (An all-American favorite, until you have to do farm chores in a torrential downpour. Kinda sucks the romance right out of it.)

8. Wear your swimsuit all day. (This happens regularly when we run out of underwear.)

2 kittens taking a nap

2 kittens taking a nap (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9. Nap so long and hard that you can’t remember where you are when you wake up. (The last part happens frequently, but the first part is never long enough because the sound of a shrill and blaring horn from an oncoming car means the other driver is really picky about that crucial last half second before impact.)

10. Smell like saltwater all day. (Check. Except it’s not from the sea, but rather from the sea of sweat one accumulates from a sweltering Virginia summer. That layer usually peels off just after the first hard frost.)

11. Grow something green. (And red and orange and yellow and purple … done it. And, admittedly, brown and moldy green.)

12. Make a great picnic basket. (No basket needed. We just perch on the garden wall with a hose and a pocket knife.)

13. Hike to the summit of a mountain. (I hike to the bottom just to get the mail.)

14. Stargaze. (This is performed on a regular basis. I’m trying to memorize where it is I’ll need to look when having conversations with my daughter, who plans to live out the rest of her natural life in some space module on Mars.)

English: Artist's rendering of a Mars Explorat...

Artist’s rendering of a Mars Exploration Rover.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

15. Make lemonade. (click here for proof)

16. Catch fireflies. (After a full day of catching and squashing squash bugs, the whole bug catching craze deflates.)

17. Have a water fight. (This usually happens when one of us draws the short straw waiting in line for a shower.)

18. Watch the fireworks. (It’s all on the front lawn and coordinated by Sir Sackier, which is fine, apart from the bit where we have to sit through another rendition of his waving a fistful of sparklers and singing God Save the Queen.)

19. Sleep in a tent. (Does a Motel 6 count? The walls are paper thin and you’ve got just as many “bed bugs.”)

20. Go to the donut shop for breakfast. (Now on the agenda for tomorrow morning!)

Woman's one-piece bathing suit, c.1920

Woman’s one-piece bathing suit, c.1920 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously, the list is endless. I still must squeeze in building a campfire, making s’mores and buying a summer bathing suit. Hence the reasoning behind activity numero uno.

Still, there are seven days left. And I can assure you, not one of them is going to be spent stooped over and pulling up weeds.

~Shelley

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

 

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

1941 Packard Station Wagon advertisement

Family road trips.

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

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

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

"World's Largest Walleye"

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

They’re missing out.

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

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

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

They’re missing out.

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

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

toilets of the world, unite!

(Photo credit: kalavinka)

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

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

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

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

Alrighty then, Pu Pu Hot Pot it is.

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

Chicken Little

Chicken Little (Photo credit: damonj74)

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

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

“Can you still see?” he mumbled groggily.

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

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

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

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

Tacky? No doubt.

Resourceful? You betcha.

aquarium

aquarium (Photo credit: cuatrok77)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ice Cream Sundae

(Photo credit: Swamibu)

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

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

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

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

“That’s interesting,” my husband said.

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

“How come?” my son said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2. The Amish really know their sushi.

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

~Shelley

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

 

Birthdays; a cacophony of cake, calamity and cadavers.

A pile of inflatable balloons.

Birthdays.

People often fall into one of two camps when theirs come around: the kind that want balloons, and the kind that pop them.

I tend to tell my family to save their breath–not because I don’t like balloons, but because Sir Sackier is a god-awful singer, and without doubt, everybody wants to sing the duet part. It’s a train wreck of a song, but that’s not it. It’s not even half over after the first rousing chorus because then it has to be sung in Polish, then Spanish, and finally, just to impress, someone might start a verse in Hebrew. That one usually peters out quickly as no one is ever quite sure they remember the words, and it feels almost sacrilegious to continue muttering and mumbling something that could be mistaken for clearing your throat of phlegm.

Ducks in macao

Also, I was raised in a household that eventually fostered a lackadaisical attitude toward birthday celebrations. Being Polish, all festivities required the slaughtering of some unlucky animal, and seriously, one can only stomach so much duck blood soup. Therefore, I’m left trying to explain to my own kids why I’m not fussed when no one from my family calls or shows up to wish me happy returns on the day.

“Aren’t you offended? Doesn’t it hurt your feelings?” they’d ask.

“Nope. We were raised not to have feelings. We couldn’t afford them. Plus, we’re not big on guilt. We’ve still got a mighty big bag of it left over from catechism classes, so I think we’re all pretty much set for life in that department.”

Happy Birthday!

Now it’s not that my family doesn’t ever recognize one another’s birthdays, it just happens a little later in the calendar year–like over the phone when someone has called to let you know that another ninety-year old relative has finally shuffled off this mortal coil.

“Hey, you just turned thirty, didn’t you?”

“Yep. ‘Bout seven years ago.”

“Cool. And Ciocia Grazyna kicked the bucket.”

“Who?”

“Dad’s Great Auntie Gracie.”

“Good heavens, I had no idea she was still alive.”

“Apparently it came as quite a shock to the rest of the family, too. Three people swore they attended her funeral two years ago.”

Nowadays, birthdays for me are much more about taking stock. I start the morning off in bed and go through a small, yet growing, checklist. Toes still working? Check. Breath coming in and out? Slow, but steady. Check. Right arm still capable of hurling wretched alarm clock across the bedroom? Let’s see …

Check.

I take stock of what hurts, and more importantly, what doesn’t, but normally does. I say a small prayer of thanks and then throw a few curses at the bits that are louder than usual.

I try to get up early enough to drag a lopsided lounge chair outside, or find an accommodatingly soft rock to perch on, in order to watch the sunrise. It’s sort of a gift I give myself. That and the two shots of tequila I bring out as a pre-breakfast tipple.

I’m only kidding. I don’t actually get up to see the sunrise.

Petra's Yoga Poses around the world

Let’s all pretend this is me, okay?

Ok, seriously, I usually pick some yoga pose and try to hold it for as many seconds as years I’ve lived all while watching the sun creep above the horizon. By the time I’ve finished, the squirrels are having a good laugh, and birds are pointing out to their young just what not to do.

It doesn’t matter, I’ll get them all back later. We used to eat a lot of squirrel while growing up. We called it tiny chicken.

Usually, I then come into the kitchen, where Sir Sackier has cooked up something that one would normally see on a twelve-course tasting menu, but all on one plate, and the kids are bustling about snatching things like my iPad out of my hands, telling me I shouldn’t be doing any heavy lifting today.

The day continues with me basically eating too much, laughing too hard, and worrying that my kitchen will never look as it once did a few hours earlier.

I spend time really focusing on things. The direction of my writing, the height of my children, the sagging of my–well, never mind that–the point is I look with fresh eyes. Okay, maybe the eyes themselves aren’t so fresh, but the perspective is.

The phone rings and one of the kids peeks at the caller ID and says, “Hey, Mom, it’s your second cousin Celia.”

“Don’t answer it,” I shout.

“Geez, Mom, they’re only going to wish you a happy birthday.”

“No, they’re not. They’re calling to tell me about somebody’s deathday.”

“Whatever,” they respond. “And just so you know, G-ma and G-pa’s car just pulled into the driveway.”

Herding ducks in the New Forest

“Quick! Somebody hide the ducks. Or we’re going to have two funerals to attend this week.”

“No worries. Dad’s already made dinner. He said you’d love it.”

“Great,” I sigh. “What did he make?”

“I’m not really sure … I think he said it was some kind of soup.”

~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)!

 

Who’s minding the store?

Yes. The rumors are true. My mother the blogger has run off to be a full-time trapeze artist.

PAR-TAAAAY!!!

With the parents out of the country, we have the place to ourselves, and there are, like, forty teenagers in the pool! And my brother’s on the roof! You’re invited! Bring more beer!

Ugh. The truth is far more boring. My brother and I are hanging out with my grandparents—like the cool kids that we are—and instead of inviting my whole high school to my pool, I’m commandeering the blog. (I’m the NASA nerd/terrible teenage driver/kicks Betty Crocker’s butt daughter, by the way.) My mother is not circusing with bearded ladies and vertically challenged people—she is off traversing Europe, recruiting confused Scots to staff her personal kilted bagpipe army. And my brother is not on the … well. That depends on your definition of ‘roof.’

A Hammock on a tropical beach.

My traveling family usually curses some foreign land come summertime, after the happy, cheery funfest of school finishes. Of course, the normal mentality of a family at summertime is to take a relaxing vacation, unwind and escape from stress. Birds flying high while you relax with a tall glass of lemonade and watch someone’s cotton be harvested.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, this unit of genetic code does travel a little differently. In fact, we completely screw it up. We take the saying “to need a vacation after your vacation” to a whole new, disturbingly accurate level. It’s not a vacation. It’s not an adventure. It’s a cruise down the River Styx. What I’m about to tell you leaves no room for doubt as to why my brother and I are choosing the take-out summer vacation option and setting our dearest darling parents loose on Dulles International Airport.

Here’s a snapshot of us on Day One, Hour One: We are standing outside our house, copious luggage in hand, ridiculous smiles plastered on our faces. We haven’t even left the house yet, and we still manage to reek of the hyper-infectious Eau de Tourist.

He’s a snapshot of us on Day One, Hour Two: We are riding in the car to Dulles. Look! Look at the two teenagers outside of their natural environment! They’re sharing iPods … This is not right. Something is about to go terribly wrong.

English: Main Terminal of at dusk in Virginia,...

Here’s a snapshot of us on Day One, Hour Three:We have just set foot inside the bustling airport. Mom’s hair is all over the place. Dad looks like he hasn’t slept in weeks. One teenager just twisted an ankle. The other is about to trip the fire alarm. Several pieces of luggage just spontaneously disappeared. All of the electronic devices brought along suddenly lose all battery power. Oh no! We completely forgot to turn off the water and stop the post and shut off the lights and lock the door and find someone to feed the sheep. And for some reason, there’s no cell service in here. All of a sudden, Mom realizes she accidentally packed half of Bath and Body Works, and they are definitely not in 3-ounce containers. My brother is checking the sign about which weapons are not ideal for airplanes, and counting on his fingers the number of items he’ll have confiscated. Dad comes back from an argument with the woman behind the counter—good news! We actually have four tickets on an airplane this time! But only Mom is booked in first class … Dad is seventeen rows back, in a fire escape seat in economy. I’m checked in as an animal traveling in the hold … and my brother is taking the red-eye to Zimbabwe.

Interior of a China Southern Airlines airplane.

Magical, isn’t it?

And we haven’t even left the state.

After doing some shady last minute dealing with an old couple that always wanted to sit in an animal hold/go to Zimbabwe, we’re all in possession of tickets representative of seats that are at least on the same plane. You’d think that maybe, if we were all strapped down for eight hours, no trouble could possibly ensue. Dad obviously thought the same, manifested in the telltale look of bewilderment that occupies his face when a flight attendant brings him the SkyMall lawn care maintenance system ordered from Zimbabwe by his credit card. Mom is getting ready to recline her seat to ease her aching back, but soon learns that she has “special” seat C2, the one that spontaneously lurches forward and then drops back if the plane experiences any turbulence. I want to watch a mindless movie, but my seat’s video screen will only alternate between a test pattern and an “adult” channel. The gentleman across from my brother is still being talked out of suing the airline/us for the dent in his head made by my brother’s improperly stowed duffel bag. The airplane quivers momentarily, and my mother is catapulted forward.

‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: Mange hadde sterke reaksjo...

A few hours into the night, my brother lies buried beneath a mountain of candy wrappers brought to him by affectionate flight attendants. Dad sits quietly working, his face lit by the laptop screen, and every few minutes, he expels a sneeze so boisterous it awakens the omnipresent devil-baby a few rows back. My mother has abandoned her amusement park seat and fallen asleep leaning against the lavatory door. Having exhausted the two good movies in the system, I’m learning about the importance of friendship from Barney.

Things don’t improve much once we touchdown in jolly old England. Overcome with an exacerbated sense of “home-again,” Dad becomes the most English Englishman you can imagine, to the point where he’s confusing actual Englishmen. Furthermore, he walks through airports like he’s trying to inconspicuously escape a stalker. Weaving throughout crowds at a seemingly hypersonic speed, he never hears our aggravated calls of “DAD! We shook him off, promise! And we’ve lost Mom!” My brother does a remarkable job of impersonating a salt-caked slug that has the ability to softly moan “foooooood…” earning many pitying looks from passersby. Halfway through airport trekking, we’ll notice that we have each gradually offloaded all of our cumulative luggage onto Mom. And what she’s not carrying, we left on the plane.

This brings us to somewhere in the middle of Day Two. Even the formal act of traveling itself has not yet come to an end.

If I’ve done a descriptive enough job of relating the story, you’ll never want to leave the country again. And you thought I was exaggerating.

English: RAAF recruits leaving from Brisbane, ...

So this summer, the salted slug and I are living the easy, airport-free life. There is a pool out back, and a fridge within reach. For once, my father isn’t running around simultaneously holding arguments and trying to convince people of his nationality. My mother isn’t going mad trying to provide her offspring with “edutainment.” (She’s very proud of her sneaky hybrid educational system … because my brother and I definitely won’t know it’s a museum if it’s in another country.)

Right now, they’re off together, leaving a wake of destruction and destroyed luggage.

They could be in an animal hold.

🙂

Don’t forget to check out the new scullery recipe (here) and what I wrote about Whisky-wise (here).

Bubba, Bass & BBQ

Each year, when I’ve found myself counting the days until school lets out, it’s been in anticipation of the muscle-clenching release I’ve been dreaming about for the last two months, fast approaching amid the flurry of finals, recitals, parties and projects.

Usually, there’s a list of purely mind-numbing activities to look forward to, and they all have to do with a place my family is both proud of and deeply embarrassed by.

The Lake House.

The lake house is where my folks live.

The lake house is where the rest of us want to live.

The lake house is where the summer unfolds itself like a giant picnic blanket, still holding all of last year’s ants and sandwich crusts. It’s beautiful. And horrible. And we love it.File:North Anna NPP retouched.jpg

Swimming is a big part of the summer escapades. The lake we swim in is manmade. Not for people, but for a rather large and unbecoming power plant. Apparently, nuclear power plants are big babies when it comes to getting just a little uncomfortable with the sticky Virginia heat.

The plus side to swimming in a lake that’s used to cool down a power plant is that you can basically pop on your swimming togs come mid-May and keep them sopping wet until just before Thanksgiving.

The downside is that in August, when the term sweltering takes on new meaning—and you swear you’ll never use it out of context again—the lake is actually warmer than your January bath temperature preference. The fish go deep.

But according to folks who’ve only heard about the lake and like to poke fun at it, it’s not much of an issue to find the fish in the first place, as all things residing in the water glow in the dark and are two headed. If you can’t see where to cast, at least you’ve improved your chances of catching something by 50% simply because if one head isn’t hungry, the next one might be.

The "Confederate Flag", a rectangula...

The “Confederate Flag”, a rectangular variant of the Battle Flag. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The fact that there are still plenty of folks who fly the Confederate flag is always a touchy subject. It’s difficult to admire someone’s ‘artful’ decision to do so from the perspective that they might truly believe it still is the national standard, and if you attempt correction, you’ll soon see an impressive array of shotguns that will have you dancing a quick two-step off their property.

Boats are judged not based on length, expense, or manufacturer, but rather decibel level. If you’ve the capability to make the experience of passing by your boat a duplicate to thirty seconds at a monster truck rally, you have finally tweaked your engine to its cherry spot.

The Fourth of July celebrations (most often starting the first of June) are always difficult to pinpoint. No one is ever certain if the neighbor a few docks down has a lawnmower that they’ve set to backfire just to spice up the weekly routine, is testing out a few homemade cherry bombs before the big event, or lost a hand of Mississippi Stud and is taking it out on the nearest beer cans in quick succession with whatever happened to be closest and loaded.

English: Two Pot-bellied pigs (Sus domesticus)...

Finding yourself inundated with BBQ shacks, smoke-filled and grease-splattered, will leave you with an experience that is both calorically impossible to work off until next spring and addictive enough to become habitual. I show absolutely no judgment on my face when waltzing the isles of the local Wal-Mart, as I know if I lived next to Bubba’s Pig Patio all year round, my photo would doubtless be included in one of the mass emails of the monthly Wallyworld Wonders.

Sunset white lake 2006

Watching the sun sink below the silky warm ripples of a quieting lake with a sweating glass of  highly-herbed gin, bitter quinine-spiked tonic water, and a puckeringly tart wedge of lime will leave you breathless and filled with childlike wonder as the fireflies flicker in the blades of freshly mown grass and beneath the eves of sharp, sappy pine boughs.

The end of the summer comes at the same frightening speed as one of the occasional stray bullets that whiz past the side of the house, leaving a fresh graze on an old paint job. But the open wound soon becomes just another tale to reminisce during Christmas break when you’re outside lacing bushes with a netting of twinkling lights and setting up a crèche that puts you in a forgiving mood.

Okay, I’m kidding about the crèche. We don’t actually have one, but most folks around the lake are so excited for the Christmas season to start, there’s barely a day between taking down the red, white and blue bunting before the nailing of rain gutter icicles begin.

Leaving the lake house is usually fraught with my kids’ somber faces and grumpy dispositions. My folks, on the other hand, have a slight spring in their step and find it difficult to hold back their gleeful anticipation, knowing that within days, frat boys will disappear, no longer leaping from the rooftops of neighboring boathouses into the water, rap music will cease being the echoing film score to each meal eaten outside, and shortly the lake will be filled with nothing more than old bass boats drifting quietly along the shorelines. Ah, bliss.

We love it.

We hate it.

The lake house.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cooking this week in the Scullery (here) and what folks are talkin’ bout down at the pub (here)!

 

The modest virgin, the prudent wife and the careful matron

With the whole Mother’s Day variety show behind us, I find it uncanny that both coincidence and example have blossomed before me almost repeatedly this week. The message is simple: household management is a must.

Maybe I’ve spent too much time watching the bustling wren nest over the last four weeks. It could be the catastrophic laundry room I’ve walked past a thousand times, but refuse to look into. Or perhaps that seventeen minute nap I took on Mother’s Day finally put us all behind schedule until the Fourth of July. Whatever the reason, I imagine these recurring illustrations are much like when a woman is pregnant; all she sees are the faceless masses of other pregnant women.

I see a mess in need of sorting.

I doubt I can be accused of running the tight and somewhat unforgiving household I did when my children were still of the age where I could easily demand their cooperation, or strike an element of fear in them with nothing more than a narrowing of the eye.

In fact, I’ve done that trick so often my eyes now remain in that fixed position, constantly suspicious, and puffy with lack of sleep. There is little expression left in them now, and having consulted the latest manual on the care and maintenance of women, I am told I should not cling to expectation for any return in the future.

Yes, surgery is an option for some, but it will reveal nothing in me apart from the wary demeanor buried deep within (a plague no scalpel can nip and tuck away, and only grain alcohol can temporarily blur).

Before I stray too far with my customary refusal to stick to the point, I’ll pull us back to management issues, the topic at hand.

Rijkmuseum Library, Amsterdam

Rijkmuseum Library, Amsterdam (Photo credit: leafar.)

I usually bite off far more than I can chew when it comes to my reading list, and because the literary world is analogous to an endless buffet of food (in turns savory, necessary and poisonous), I tend to keep about eight or nine books going at a time.

No, I don’t mix up characters or plots, authors or ideology, mainly because they all differ vastly from one another. Good writing is good writing, and I’ll inhale it whether it smells of curry, sabotage, or cheap wine and cigarettes.

At my bedside table is The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman, the last few pages waiting to be read and returned to the library. Within the 350 previous pages were references to old cookbooks that had me scouring Google Books in search of more than the title, author and a passing reference to the odd recipe here and there.

Title Page of "Beeton's Book of Household...

Title Page of “Beeton’s Book of Household Management” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the titles was a book I’d come across in past research but had never had the opportunity to fully appreciate until now. Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management is part recipe book, part advice column, but most importantly, a strict guideline for how things ought to be done if you wanted them done properly in 1861.

There is no way to paraphrase Isabella Beeton’s words. To fully appreciate her tone and message, I’ve pasted an excerpt of what I feel best sums up the woman, her opinion, and her ‘there are no excuses’ attitude.

As with The Commander of an Army, or the leader of any enterprise, so is it with the mistress of a house. Her spirit will be seen through the whole establishment; and just in proportion as she performs her duties intelligently and thoroughly, so will her domestics follow in her path. Of all those acquirements, which more particularly belong to the feminine character, there are none which take a higher rank, in our estimation, than such as enter into a knowledge of household duties; for on these are perpetually dependent the happiness, comfort, and well being of a family. In this opinion, we are borne out by the author of “The Vicar of Wakefield,” who says: “The modest virgin, the prudent wife, and the careful matron, are much more serviceable in life than petticoated philosophers, blustering heroines, or virago queens. She who makes her husband and her children happy, who reclaims the one from vice and trains up the other to virtue, is a much greater character than ladies described in romances, whose whole occupation is to murder mankind with shafts from their quiver, or their eyes.

Isabella Beeton (1836-65). Hand-tinted albumen...

Isabella Beeton (1836-65).

Whew. I get the feeling she walks about with a well-oiled whip at her side.

I love that part about her domestics following in her path. My dog and cat are the only domestics that follow me anywhere in our house, and that’s usually just to the bathroom for a change of scenery.

And as far as classifying ‘a knowledge of household duties’ to be topmost on the list of high ranking feminine qualities, I would assume after quizzing my family they would likely replace that with not making eye contact with them when their friends are within a five mile radius. Second might be volunteering to take over their household duties.

Fashion plate from The Englishwoman's Domestic...

Fashion plate from The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine of an 1869 issue

Yes, I greatly admire Mrs. Beeton, but I think, given the opportunity and permission not to judge herself too harshly afterward, she might have concluded that being a petticoated philosopher, a blustering heroine, or virago queen would have brought a hell of a lot more spice to her cooking and redefined her ‘careful matron’ strive-to-be status.

In the end, I find myself thumbing through her recipes, gauging whether I’d risk making dishes like barley gruel, cold tongue, or calves’ foot broth. At the risk of losing points in the prudent wife department, and possibly having to hand back my ‘Mother of the Year’ award, I’d best not.

But I’d bet the domestics would love it.

~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).

Food Fight

Perhaps it’s the same in your house, but come 7:22 a.m., two minutes past broadcasted departure time Monday thru Friday, my kitchen is ablaze with a mad panic rush of activity. Plastic tubs are flying from cupboard to counter. The cat shrieks from the pantry, and a voice bellows, “Move, Smudge!” from behind the door. The fridge door flies open with a force that suggests three times the power a 98 pound body can produce.

I make a mental note to check the hinges.

The dog, sensing the frantic energy, joins in at fevered pitch, snatching at swatches of loose clothing and dangling school bag straps. Someone shouts at the poor thing to Stay!as we fly out the front door and into the car, late and harried.

Given up

I rip out of the driveway, spraying gravel in a wide arc behind me and start the eye darting dance that is both necessary and routine when coming down the mountain. Whether deer, possum, raccoon, or hippo, they all know precisely when it is that we are in need of a clear runway, and usually choose to play chicken at that moment. If we are truly ill-fated, a posse of turkeys will band themselves together as if bowling pins waiting for the strike. They stare at my car, wild-eyed and frozen, a bowling ball of unprecedented proportions hurling toward them.

A flock of Eastern Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gal...

Turning onto the road and having woken half the surrounding hillside with a blaring horn of warning while pitching lightning fast down the mountain, I take a deep breath and ask, “What did you both pack for lunch?”

“Two Cliff bars and a Clementine,” is one response. “Water and a cheese stick,” is the other. The breath I’d inhaled rushes from my lungs, deflating my body and any hope I’d had for a stress-free day.

“What did you both have for breakfast?” I ask, a tiny bit of optimism pinned to their answers.

The responses, “I didn’t have time,” and “I wasn’t hungry,” quickly pierce that balloon.

The teenage stomach is one I can no longer fathom or recall. I am in a state of bewilderment when one begins to realize that this is the new normal. There is no going back. Now in charge of only one of their three (supposed) meals, I am forced to think strategically under pressure.

Flight Director Gene Kranz

Just like Gene Kranz when he gathered all the available engineers of NASA around a table and dumped a box of plastic hosing paraphernalia before them, telling them they needed to fit a large square through a small circle, I too, must pilfer through the items in my kitchen in order to squish a day’s worth of nutrition into a fork-sized bite to fit into a stomach that may or may not exist. When will they make a pill for this?!

Sound childhood nutrition is an obsession of mine—a cause I study, support and fight for. Now it’s also my sleep disorder.

Maybe I let the pendulum swing too far in my attempts to create children who strut out of the house each morning armed with a jar of kimchi, a cookie made entirely of quinoa and powdered stevia, and a sword to cut down any posters displaying golden arches or a stalk of corn.

English: Everlasting Gobstoppers candy made by...

I probably deserve it. In fact, chances are, my son will end up taking a position as an executive for Monsanto, tracking down and suing farmers for saving apple seeds from their lunch sacks, and my daughter will create the first workable prototype for Willy Wonka’s three course meal in a stick of sugar free gum. She’ll probably even get Congress to qualify it as a vegetable for school children because it has essence of carrot as one of its ingredients.

Dinner counts for a lot up here. The Family Meal is still important. We talk politics, debate religion and generally ignore anyone sliding food to the dog.

My hope is that one day, forty years from now, when my children are finally old (read wise) enough to have offspring of their own, my grandchildren will come to sit on my lap when visiting me at the Metamucil Relaxative Retirement Village, point to my Jell-O and say, “What is that? I’ve never seen that stuff before.”

I will smile and drool happily.

~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).

 

Safehouse, or Madhouse?

Cows in the Mist

Image via Wikipedia

I grew up in Wisconsin. Cows. Cornfields. Cold. I loved it. Most of it. Okay, some of it. There was a lot I liked. Especially the no-nonsense, matter of fact sense of humor. Our bumper stickers read, Come smell our dairy air!

This was a place you could feel confident in getting a fair deal, a firm handshake and frostbite, the first two being something you sought and the latter, something inevitable.

Regardless, it was also a place most folks felt safe enough to leave their car unlocked, their house unbolted, and most of their valuables strewn across the front lawn. In hindsight, that last one might have been more of an excess of liquor vs. a laissez faire attitude about life in general.

But I grew up with the mindset that keys were for treasure chests, lime pies and leaving in the ignition. Then I married a city boy. London liked to lock things. Like bicycles in chains and people in towers. They’re big on things that signify no loss of control. Tight ship, tight smiles. (Tight underwear?)

Yeoman Warder ("beefeater") in front...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s taken me a while to get Sir Sackier to loosen his cravat. I think it’s been too tightly notched for so long that the blood supply to his eyes throws floaters in front of his vision in the shape of men with sharp teeth and wicked intent.

“Was the UPS guy really delivering a legal document, or scoping out the joint? Let the dog bark a bit, just enough to register. But then tell them that this dog is a piece of cake in comparison to the nest of pit bulls out back we’re all trying to rehabilitate, but can’t drive the blood thirst from. Make sure he hears you shout to someone inside that you’ll be right there. Women alone in the house are an easy target.”

Which brings me to our new amulets to ward off evil.

English: Chord used as an amulet Nederlands: A...

Image via Wikipedia

No, it’s not a special necklace made from the woven hair of our enemies. It’s called the Redneck Remedy. I think it was meant to be a joke from Roger, our resident Renaissance Man. Roger has been working with us for the last year and a half or so, and come to find out, there is nothing this man hasn’t developed a skill set for. Landscaping? Check. Woodworking? Check. Fireman, mountaineer, sorcerer’s apprentice? Check, check and very likely so. I wouldn’t be surprised if the man came up the mountain having wrangled a team of oxen as his vehicle of choice for the week. He is Paul Bunyan. (But sports a tux with quiet grace should the occasion call for it.)

Roger, master craftsman that he is, whipped up a few dozen benches over the weekend that would have Frank Lloyd Wright secretly making sketch notes on the back of a napkin had he been around to see it. One was destined for our front porch—a place to take off your boots. Roger used the bench as a vehicle to display his sense of humor—and now according to Sir Sackier, our new security system.

An old pair of work boots lay beneath the bench. Worn out work gloves rest on top. Scattered beside them are tins of possum meat and chewing tobacco. And to round things off while sending home the message, a man-handled copy of Guns & Ammo magazine. If this doesn’t send any nefarious, plug-ugly ruffian a-scattering, then he can pause a moment longer to read the hand-scrawled note held down with an old railroad spike nestled beside the chew. That is, if he can read. Scroll through the slide show and let me know what you think. Should I still be allowed to invite the Avon Lady in for a cuppa joe since she went to all the trouble of making her way up here? Should Sir Sackier be banned from outfitting the tower with a machine gun nest? Should Roger, the Renaissance man be contracted by Plow & Hearth? I’m curious to know what you think.

~Shelley

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

 

A countdown of sorts

Mayan Exhibit

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

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

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

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

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

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