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.

Arugula–Nothing to Laugh About

There are no fun facts about arugula. Period.

I’ve scoured the internet, intending to illuminate and entertain, but after having read everybody else’s idea of ‘fun,’ I have come to the conclusion that these folks need to get out more often.

For example: “Hey! We’re going to the dentist!”

“You are? You lucky ducks. Instagram the hell out of that for us, ok?”

This is not fun.

I need FUN facts about arugula in order to encourage others to buy it, plant it, grow it, eat it. It’s really difficult to sway folks–who are used to seeing their food handed to them through their car windows–to start eating something they think needs to be eradicated with a drenching douse of Round Up.

Yes, you can tell people about its history, the fact that it was around before the Romans conquered Rome, but so has dirt, and people aren’t tossing that into their tuna casseroles for dinner.

You can remind them that arugula is one of the only herbs that has made some interesting presidential headlines … oh, wait, no, there’s another one.

Or how about I announce that arugula was once considered by many and used by scores as an aphrodisiac? Except for the fact that anything put next to flickering candlelight by default becomes an aphrodisiac. So it doesn’t count.

Since I could not come up with anything uproariously entertaining about the plant, I will divulge the few personal ‘fun’ facts I have encountered.

Beham, (Hans) Sebald (1500-1550): Hercules sla...

  1. I don’t remember planting it. It just showed up in my garden one day, and we’ve been eating it as a science experiment ever since. No one seems to have been affected negatively.
  2. I cannot kill it. It’s like a Hydra. Seriously.
  3. I am competing in a one woman competition to see who can come up with the hottest, spiciest arugula leaf by leaving some of the plants to grow old, woody and leggy. Thus far, I am winning in that one of my plants may qualify as eligible firewood come fall.
  4. If you take one of the leaves and squish it between your fingers and then bring it to your nose while inhaling deeply, you will be reminded of the smell of … arugula. It’s amazing.
  5. Arugula leaves make wonderful bookmarks.
  6. I am trying to popularize my newest dance move called The Arugula. It intermingles nicely with The Funky Chicken and The Mashed Potato. This is best accompanied by Mozart’s only foxtrot.
  7. There are very few etchings and even fewer bronze carvings of the arugula plant.
  8. No one has ever recorded a song about arugula that has made it to the top of the charts.
  9. No one has ever recorded a song about arugula.
  10. Haggis, our resident hound, is addicted to it. He eats more of it than I do, and I’m writing this article … with his help.

Okay, so I hope this little pitch will have you all digging a small hole and tossing out a few seeds or snatching up a bunch at your local market. Or, if you find yourself in the neighborhood, come on up and I’ll load the backseat of your car with some of mine.

Once you get home, here are a few ideas of what to do with your booty—er, bounty.

Arugula and Bacon quiche

Corn Macaroni with Asparagus, Fava Beans and Arugula Pesto

Penne with Turkey, Arugula, and Sun-Dried-Tomato Vinaigrette

Roasted acorn squash and gorgonzola pizza topped with arugula

Roasted Beet and Blood Orange Salad with Spicy Greens Recipe

Meatless Monday: Roasted Beet and Arugula Sandwich with Green Olive Tapenade

The Best Lentil Salad, Ever

Searching for the Best Arugula Pesto Recipe, Making Arugula Pesto Cream Cheese Spread, and Discovering Arugula Pesto Pizza

Now Go Forth and Arugulate!

~Shelley

PS If you’re searching for seeds (from arugula to zucchini and everything in between), I’m recommending a company that not only has a worthy mission creed but a wonderful moral code. Give The Mauro Seed Company a looksee.

Their motto? Grow One, Give One. I’m impressed. Maybe you will be too.

 

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

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

A 422 Day Year? Yep, It Happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Houston? We have a problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

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

Dipping a Toe in the Pond of Progress

Apparently, I live under a rock.

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Which is a declaration from one of my kids that makes me snort with laughter, because although from his perspective, yes, I am not as ‘hip and with it’ as a sixteen-year-old immersed in the ever-changing kaleidoscope of pop culture, but seriously, buddy, look around. We actually live on top of a rock. In the Blue Ridge Mountains.

He doesn’t appreciate the irony.

I’m typically not one for labels, so when I receive my weekly life assessment from my son it’s pretty easy to shake off. But when Seth Godin, one of my great-brained literary and entrepreneurial heroes tells me I’m a laggard … I sit up and take notice.

And then I cry a little.

Because he’s brought graphs to prove it.

And pictures never lie.

According to Seth, whenever something new is unleashed from the great minds of opportunistic impresarios, and we are all launched into the next great race of Don’t Be Left Behind!, there exists a graph that needs to be understood if you’re hoping to make a shift in cultural behavior. The graph illustrates a picture that reveals how the population is divided.

It’s called the INNOVATION ADOPTION LIFECYCLE.

I call it: Nature’s Crowd Control.

Folks are divided up into factions that label how quick they are to get on board with new concepts, new technologies, new devices or new celebrity baby names that could only have been dreamed up by taking the online quiz to determine your ideal prostitute moniker and blending it with a piece of fruit found strictly in South American street markets.

The factions are as follows:

Innovators

Early Adopters

Early Majority

Late Majority

And LAGGARDS

When I read this, I straightened up and shouted, “NOW HOLD ON A MINUTE!”

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And then I quickly apologized to the cashier who had snatched back the jumbo package of toilet paper that probably took out a forest equaling half the trees in one of our country’s smaller national parks to create. I had been looking at the graph on my smartphone while grocery shopping and reassured him that yes, I really did want all that toilet paper, and then took note of all the people around me who now suspected I had some sort of minor colonic affliction.

Once I got safely home, I pulled out my favorite book of all time—my Thesaurus—which, like The Bible, The TV Guide, and The World Atlas of Whisky—all books of paramount significance—should be capitalized.

I looked up laggard. I was not impressed with the alternatives. I am not a dawdler, or a loafer, or a slowpoke. I am not a slacker, or a sofa spud,

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or a navel gazer—except when specifically cleaning that important and oft-ignored body part.

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As this beautiful bell-curve was specifically created in 1957 and applied to agriculture and home economics of the time, and was used to track the “purchase patterns of hybrid seed corn by farmers,” the definition of the term laggard meant: very conservative, had small farms and capital, and were the oldest and least educated of the populace.

But I would not consider myself very conservative. In fact, I can recall a time, years ago when I actually considered having a third child—and not just because of the tax deduction.

Yes, maybe the small farm thing would stick and likely the bit about not much capital too—but surely that’s about to change because we all know how it’s typical for unknown children’s author’s income brackets to shoot right through the roof after they’re published.

But oldest—nuh uh. And least educated? Nope. I’ve got me some learnin. And as long as I keep up a steady stream diet of news feed from The Drudge Report and The Onion I should be golden on most international issues of import.

Now just to quiet the shouting in the background that’s coming from the balcony containing my teenagers and all of mankind’s teenagers who believe their parents are still dressing in high-waisted culottes and are on the verge of no longer sleeping with their teeth, I figure it’s only fair to look at the chart through their un-cataracted eyes.

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It’s true that I am not the person who “comes up” with the shiny brand new inventions. I’ve not worked at a start-up, I don’t have a lab in my garage and I’ve yet to start a movement. So innovator is not a term applicable to me.

It’s also true that I’m not the first to stand in line all night waiting for the release of something that may or may not work, might be massively overpriced, and will likely be remembered in a pop culture montage at the end of the year in a reel entitled AND THE BIGGEST WASTES OF SPACE THIS YEAR WERE …

Yep. Not my style.

I also hate to be a crowd follower. If all of the Kardashians own one in every color it comes in, cross my name off the customer list.

Which brings us to the ‘late majority’ category. This is where I usually get caught. I reason with myself relentlessly. Something might prove to be a good idea—after a great deal of trial and error and three review cycles in Consumer Reports—but then I get whiff of the new contraption coming down the pike. If I buy it now, I’ll have something outdated within minutes, but waiting another month for the replacement means I’m now proudly sporting the unwanted badge of ‘I got it first.’

So this slides me back into the category of laggard. Or worse–I never board the bus.

So I’m left with this degrading classification reserved for folks who spend a good chunk of their day talking about how their latest operations panned out.

But you know what? I’m fine with it. I am who I am. A little behind the times, but careful and diligent. And I certainly don’t have time to worry about what a bunch of teenagers think of my speed of progress. I’ll get there.

First I have to head out to the garden and get the soil ready for my big corn crop this year. I just finished thumbing through a catalog and purchasing a bucketload of super seeds through this new company I discovered called Monsanto.

~Shelley

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click)

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

 

 

 

Shedding Light on the Seat of Power

Today was an interesting day. Today I found a small section of my brain where, upon closer inspection, it was revealed that a couple synaptic plugs had come loose from their sockets and were lying about on the floor not contributing to the overall brain function capacity assigned to my person. Sparks were flying, but the juice wasn’t flowing.

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I really hate when that happens.

It’s like discovering that for the last five years, your health plan allowed for you to have a free massage every week, but only if you clicked on the web site’s tab that said Legal Jargon You’ll Never Understand and Fine Print too Tiny to Read.

Who goes there??

Well, I did. At least for a quick look-see. Not to my health care plan, but to another ordinary every month invoice. And what I unearthed was confounding and a little bit balmy. But I am attracted to the absurd. And this fit the bill.

When I was a kid, the food co-op movement was starting to rev up its engine, and folks were beginning to find little shops where they could scoop up bulk food from hand-labeled barrels and bins. I was never particularly interested in stepping over this threshold, as the air held the scent of patchouli, and the atmosphere reeked of good health. The only bin that roused my interest was the one containing carob coated raisins and peanuts which—for a reason that could only point toward a level of unflattering intelligence—fooled me every time into believing its flavor had changed from the week prior and now would be delicious.

It wasn’t.

Ever.

Just mutton dressed up as lamb.

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Recently, I have taken over paying some of the household accounts. One of them is the electric bill. Scrutinizing the statement top to bottom, I also examined its name. I belong to an electricity co-op. This came as a massive surprise to me, mostly because my mind had a hard time grappling with the mental image of local folks driving to the edge of town, where the rents are cheaper, walking into that ‘good commune vibe’ atmosphere, pushing a few old mason jars across the counter and pointing up at the bin lined shelves to say, “I’ll take 45 of the yellow joules, 25 green volts, and how bout …60—no 70 watts of the really bright red ones.”

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An electricity co-op? Really?

I had no idea any such thing existed. And since research is like an addictive drug that must maintain a high dosage level in my bloodstream, I reached into my jar of joules and cranked up the old computer for a little overtime.

It turns out that utility co-ops were introduced to the U.S. somewhere around the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his shiny “New Deal” plan for America. As folks were in the midst of the Great Depression, it became even more depressing to discover that Big Business owned utility companies were not interested in spending the extra bucks on investment to bring electricity, water, and communication to the outskirts of society. If your nearest neighbor was a collection of cows, you’d likely still have to rely upon your hearth, your rain barrel, and smoke signals.

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Shortly after Johnny Town Mouse left a visit to his Country Cousin, it was clear that listening to all that lofty babble about how grand things were in the city was a bitter pill no one wanted to swallow.

Cue disgruntled homesteaders, sharecroppers, and ranchers. Please enter stage left.

The utility co-op was born. Now you could tell that boasting braggart of a relative of yours that not only did you have running water and a light switch, but that you were now an owner of a business that stretched as far as the eye could see and beyond. You were a proprietor in the fast-paced industry of the Utility World. Public Power just took on a whole new meaning.

Okay, all of you in overalls and Birkenstocks, take a bow, and head back to the barn. Those cows aren’t going to milk themselves.

I liked the idea of a utility co-op. In fact, once I began to understand the structure and organization’s ideas, I called my electric company to speak with a real person to get a few more facts.

“So,” I began, “being part owner of a company, that means I have some say in how the business is run, don’t I?”

Absolutely, came the operator’s reply. The whole idea of the cooperative is that the community shares in the responsibility, management, and profits of the company.

“Profits?” I whispered excitedly. “As in revenue?”

Yes, ma’am. In this case, we call them Capital Credits. Our success is your success.

“Well, I think Capital Credits is a Capital Idea, and a Credit to whoever came up with that little gem.”

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We hung up the phone and I paced about the kitchen planning what I would do with the share of my business—my Capital Credits. I quickly phoned back.

“I forgot to ask. When do I receive my dividends? When do you cut me a check?”

Oh! the operator chuckled, You, yourself, won’t actually receive any money. But the benefactors of your estate will.

“Wait. What?”

Yes, it’s called Estate Retirement.

“You mean I have to die first to extract benefits from the co-op.”

Precisely. We simply need to see a death certificate from your estate representative, and whomever you dictate in your will to be the recipient is immediately issued a check for your years of collecting Capital Credits.

“Hold on a second. I grow my own vegetables. I DO NOT HAVE AN ESTATE.”

It’s just an expression, the operator said, snickering again.

“Well, I’d like to express my dissatisfaction with the way the profits are withheld from owners.”

Ma’am, this is a business. The profits are mostly rolled over into maintaining a working utility company.

“What happened to the whole idea of “Sharing is Caring?”

Oh, dear, the operator said. I’m just going put a mark in your file for future reference to other agents should they take a call from you. You are what we refer to as Newbie Members.

“What does that mean?”

New to the idea of business profits and margins. In your case, The lights are on, but nobody’s home.

~Shelley

*BONUS CARTOON FOR THIS WEEK’S 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.

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Hell is empty and all the devils are here!

There is a plague on my house.

Or more aptly, there is a plague IN my house.

Even more aptly, there is a plague in BOTH my houses. (The hound has a tiny cottage just outside the dog door.)

It’s evil. It’s widespread. It’s pandemic.

Actually, it is a they.

STINKBUGS.

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These six-legged beasts have made themselves at home—without invitation, without cessation, and without a return trip ticket from whence they came.

A few years ago, the abominable scourge was the ladybug—or ladybird beetle. I can’t believe people complained about our overabundance of ladybugs. Growing up, you were lucky if a ladybug landed on you—it was a chance to make a wish, or count its spots to see if a good harvest was coming your way. And as is well known—a good harvest could make or break the day of a seven-year old.

California citrus growers released thousands of the beetles—purchased from our good friends Down Under—and kept their fingers crossed that the clumsy, crimson cutie pies would gorge their tiny bellies on as many aphids as they could muster. They were champions. Our desperate need to send grapefruit for the holidays was saved.

But eventually people complained. (Bet you didn’t see that coming, right?)

Rumor had it that the next idea was to release some parasitic wasp that would in essence sneak up on the ladybugs, inject them with venom, rendering them paralytic and zombie-like, and then lay eggs inside them. Our tiny beetles shortly found wasp eggs hatching and chewing their way out of their own belly.

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Yeah, love that fix. Let’s launch a battalion of those wasps to teach our ladybugs a lesson.

The lovely ladybugs are no longer an issue in our abode, but have now been replaced with these malodorous, marmorated, major pain in my backside bugs.

Stinkbugs, so true to their name, are now making a yearly pilgrimage to my neck of the woods to worship something found in all the creases of my curtains, along the crown moldings of my ceilings and embedded deep within my light fixtures. When not paying homage to their transcendental deity, they rejuvenate their shield-shaped bodies by guzzling any sweet, liquid libation they can locate. Gone are my plump figs, my peppers and thick, leafy greens. I am a mecca that provides a free for all service of food, lodging and late night vespers to these party animals. A one stop church and chow, a synagogue and sip, a temple and tipple—I could go on …

I suppose I would have a lot more energy to create a battle plan to reclaim my house and crops if only I were allowed a proper night’s sleep. I have challenged cognitive skills at the best of times, but when paired with a chronic sleep disorder—thrust upon me by the late night riot of cocktails and carousing that these bugs launch into once I’ve donned my nightcap—I am left droopy-eyed, sluggish, and just barely tuned in to the fact that one of them is crawling along the back of my neck as I’m trying to work at my desk. I’m guessing he’s attempting to peek over my shoulders to report back to the others of my annihilation strategy.

They fly, stumbling along in the air, drunk on fig juice and nectar of collard greens. Their buzz is analogous to that of a small child’s radio controlled flyer, and just like the barely airworthy kidcraft, the bugs are likely to fall out of the sky at a moment’s notice. I’m not sure if they suddenly tire of the effort their wings ask of them, or if they have a very low work ethic, or even if their tiny brains stopped focusing on the task at hand and gave up coordinating calculations for lift, thrust, drag and weight, but they plummet and hit the earth—or the person standing between them and the earth–with a crisp thwack. They then are stuck on their backs, stranded by their hefty bulwark, many unable to flip themselves over because Mother Nature did not take into account the overwhelming dullness of mind these creatures possess.

A good number perish this way. No funerals are held. I am both elated and repelled at the sheer number of dead stinkbugs lining the windowsills, scattered across the countertops, or that crunch underfoot when I’m lulled out of bed with the need to use the facilities. I’ve decided to wear combat boots to sleep so that I’m totally prepared should the need arise. Plus, battle waits for no man.

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They fall into my cup of tea, dive bomb into my pot of soup, squiggle their way into the folds of my face towel and I am fed up. I’ve lost sleep, my appetite and my appreciation for cilantro—for this is what they smell like when squished.

The only answer is suction.

I stalk these foul creatures like I would conduct a witch hunt—that is if I was an uneducated, fearful Protestant—which I am not. But for the sake of good plot, I pretend to be close. At least for this scenario. It is method acting.

It is me and my central vac hose. We suck them up one by one. Gleefully. Triumphantly. Like a woman possessed. Or getting rid of the possessed.

I fly about the room, cackling maniacally. The witch and her wand.

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I cast these evil creatures into the abyss with a parting quote: We are time’s subjects, and time bids BE GONE!!

~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.

Brass bands, the backwoods and bugle boys.

I grew up in a pint-sized town where we had one of everything: one post office, one school, one grocery store and a helluva lot of one-dimensional thinking.

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It’s not that I criticize the folks from my childhood home, because this was normal to me. We were a half-baked bunch of farmers and families with an unsevered umbilical cord that received a good, solid yank from the motherlands of northern Europe on a regular basis. Accents still sprouted through the soil even through years of plowing the old languages asunder. And my reference to half-baked couldn’t be truer, in that anyone who has spent some measurable amount of time in the upper parts of the Midwest will agree that the sun’s grace and efficacy was short-lived and insufficient. It usually left many of us looking like pallid, stodgy bakery goods with no leavening agent.

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It was a safe and dependable place to grow up. The cows were content, the back roads straight and you could set your watch after waving to Mr. Sobieski as he headed out in the morning to go fishing and came back in for meals. Betty’s Café always served pie, the Miller’s butcher shop had the best big pickles in a barrel, and the lake was either covered by ice or algae, but sometimes both—depending upon the season.

There was another thing that happened like clockwork in our village, and that was the annual Memorial Day parade. As a scabby-kneed kid, all I cared about was being close enough to the curb to scoop up a Tootsie-Roll or two as the 4-H float came rolling by, its riders tossing candy into the crowds. And maybe I wanted to catch a glimpse of the oldest Gold Star Mother as she was transported down Main street, likely wishing she was being honored for anything else other than having lived longer than every other mother in our town who lost a son or daughter in dedication to our country’s service.

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When I was old enough to ride the 4-H float myself, I only hoped my aim was sure and that I wouldn’t blind some poor elderly woman who was probably only there to show strong moral support to her Gold Star Mother best friend on the float behind me, and who was now weeping openly at having caught a Tootsie-Roll in the eye.

When I was a teenager, my main focus was finding some way to gain membership to the high school marching band. Since I played the oboe, my instrumental participation was nixed. My suggestion of having an oral surgeon striding in scrubs a foot behind me was a solution no one agreed with, as it would mess with our formation and color coordination, That meant I could twirl flags or rifles. Since the flags were three times the size of the rifles and much easier to spot if you screwed up on the routine, it was a no brainer. I learned how to snap, twist and hurl a chunk of wood. It was incredibly impressive. And incredibly loud if it fell. Which was often.

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The coolest thing about the marching band—and in particular the flag and rifle corps—was that we were outfitted in full Scottish regalia. It was also the hottest thing about the marching band. Covered head to toe in folds, layers and bolts of heavy, tartan wool, we prayed it never rained during the parade, causing us to smell like fetid farm animals and creating a cavernous gap between us and the floats before or after the band. And we kept our fingers crossed it never got above fifty-two degrees, at which point you were beyond sweltering and marchers would start dropping like flies. As long as we could contain most of the drum section, folks didn’t seem to care. It wasn’t like we were throwing out candy or anything.

The parade lasted all of about five minutes, there being only the two floats and the marching band, but once you knew it was over, the whole town would follow behind and bring up the rear, walking in time to the remaining drummers until we reached our little town park and the local swimming hole, which was no bigger than a large rainwater puddle. Here, everyone would gather round the flagpole, listen to Pastor Anderson give his memorial sermon, see the wreath dedicated to our fallen soldiers be placed in position, hear the three or four men representing the American Legionnaires fire their arms in salute, and lastly, listen for the bugle player from the marching band—hidden somewhere distant in the woods—follow the gunfire with Taps. Our fingers were always crossed in hopes that he was not one of the members lost along the parade route. Our fingers were also crossed in hopes that he remembered to practice the night before.

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No matter how old I was, what part I played, or what accents murmured around me, I understood the message: This was important.

More important than fishing, pie or pickles.

This was freedom.

English: Members of the 86th Airlift Wing base...

My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing; land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims’ pride, from every mountainside let freedom ring!

~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.

Related Articles

Daylight savings, nighttime losses …

Sleeping Baby

Sleeping Baby (Photo credit: Lisa Rosario Photography)

Sleep is important.

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

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

I hate Daylight Savings Time.

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

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

Except when it works in my favor.

The present moment does not fall into that category.

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

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

For six months until it gets its way.

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

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

Still, miraculous, right?

Retailers generally favor DST. United Cigar St...

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

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

We’re control freaks.

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

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

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

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

Thou shalt not golf in the dark.

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

Except when it isn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

For one hour before putting it into drive again.

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

O Brother, where art thou brain?

Toot & Puddle I spend a lot of time looking outside the windows. The views are truly spectacular: mountains, trees, silos, cows, woodland creatures, fairies and llamas.

Okay, I took it too far. Everyone knows we don’t have llamas, we’ve got sheep.

Funny enough, the windows I’m most drawn to are the ones that look over the sheep pasture. I’m so curious to know what keeps those mammoth woollies busy all day long. Occasionally, I’ll try to sneak up on them, to catch them by surprise. They never seem surprised. They’ve got the Art of Zen down pat. They even blink in slow motion, although it might be the arctic temperatures that are slowing down that bodily function.

Stamp owned by Swollib

They’re brothers, even though they look nothing alike. But heck, I’ve got three siblings and none of us resemble one another. However, there was a high turnover rate of postmen on our lonely stretch of road while I grew up.

Our sheep, Toot and Puddle—named after two fairy tale pigs—refuse to be farther than a three hoof stride from one another. They wander the meadow, chew grass, get caught up in the search for better tasting grass, raise their heads and snap back together in some strangely choreographed rubber band dance.

At times, I see them both with heads high, still as statues, staring in the same direction. I crack the window and listen. Wile E. Coyote? Bumbling bear? Livestock snatching Scotsman? I am regularly left with no answer and they simply both return to the heads bowed position. Perhaps it’s sheep yoga. The stretching of tired neck muscles.

And that brings me to their favorite pastime. Ramming. Talk about needing beefy necks. Or would that be lamby necks?

Whatever the terminology, it remains unfathomable to my brain that they continue to sustain this brutal level of continuous impact, a collision so violent I’m left hearing birds tweeting carousel-style. But as is customary, they both seem to agree that the best thing they can do after a good head bashing is … repeat the experience.

Ad nauseam.

Ram speed ahead!The sound alone is volatile enough to crush the tiny bones of my inner ear. It is a thudded clunk, a muffled wallop, a thwack that only the crunch of bone jarring against bone can create. But to them, it is akin to the tinkling tones of the ice cream truck coming up the street, for it sends them leaping into the air with glee, bouncing with legs like springs.

I’m guessing the only thing saving their brains— what little they do possess—from spilling out of their ears, is the giant cloud of wool they are encased in. I suppose it’s a little like taking two large cement blocks, wrapping them in pillows and forcing them to merge at breakneck velocity. Or magic. It’s the only other explanation.

But it is quite the show. And I think it’s my squeals of protest and elevated anguish that ratchets up their fun factor. They’re showing off. By having a pillow fight with their heads.

The other thing I find unendingly fascinating is that one of them refuses to talk anymore. Now, lest you think I’ve been joining the ramming riot, I’m not suggesting these yahoos can string a sentence together and quote Shakespeare. They hate the bard. Especially Leonardo’s version of Romeo and Juliet when we showed it on Movie Nite last week.

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No, what I mean is that Toot used to be vocal, and being the bigger brute of the two, we thought he’d be raucous and unruly, an intemperate bulldozer.

But as we’ve come to realize, size isn’t everything.

He ended up sounding like Mike Tyson with a case of croup. Raspy, high-pitched attempts to communicate generated uncontrollable laughter from the crowds we sold tickets to. And herein may lie our mistake. We may have overscheduled him with shows.

I thought he possessed more confidence, but I’m guessing he took much of our mirth to heart. I feel terrible. So I’ve decided to start a rehabilitation fund with the proceeds. Of course, we first had to pay for the overhead, because bleachers and popcorn vendors don’t just build themselves, but everything remaining thereafter went straight into his account. Mostly.

I’m determined to make it up to him. And to the folks I’m refusing a refund.

Regardless, the sheep have taught me a lot over the last couple of years and in no particular order:

–        Once hay has fallen out of the hay rack and touched the floor, it is inedible. They’re worse than me with the ten second rule.

–        Everything is a scratching post. Fences, trees, the bookcase that holds all of their favorite poetry … everything.

–        Wool is waterproof, soundproof and nearly bulletproof. And I mean nearly. It’s super close to being there.Bullet_proof_wool_200213 (800x543)

–        Sheep hold a grudge. Forget to feed them for one measly week and they stop talking to you. Won’t even get up to greet you at the paddock door.

–        There is no lamb language for, “Excuse me.” Head butting gets the message across super quick and you don’t even have to stop chewing whatever’s in your mouth to communicate this.

–        I would like pajamas made entirely out of sheep lips. Seriously, it’s like a new fabric made of jelly and velvet.Sheep_lips_200213 (800x636)

–        Sheep have no teeth in the front part of the upper jaw, which for the first year I found incredibly upsetting and thought was a result of the barnyard brawling, but apparently, this is considered normal.

–        Sheep refuse to fetch.

In closing this week, I leave you with an old bit of farmer wisdom, handed down through many a family: Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. And always drink upstream from the herd.

~Shelley

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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.

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.

Untying the bow that holds December bound.

Rows of Candles

Rows of Candles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

English: Cistercian monks at work

English: Cistercian monks at work

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

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

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

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

Hot Chocolate

Hot Chocolate (Photo credit: mike and meg)

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

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

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

~Shelley

Winter-Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A root awakening in the garden of evil (I mean Eden).

I love the color green. I love wearing it, seeing it and eating it. I even strive to be it. It’s a lot to live up to, and more often than not, I end up falling back into my default color … brown.

I am basically a method of transportation for DIRT.

Living where we do, and how we do, I find life is a constant struggle between these two hues. Since there are animal chores to be done twice daily inside and out, you are likely to find yourself, come bedtime, with clods of clay, fragments of feed and patches of poop annoyingly clinging to clothes, skin and hair.

In anticipation of this, six years ago when we began building this barmy abode, I repeatedly requested that everything be earth-toned: floors, walls, furniture and fixtures. We currently sport every shade of muck and mud known to Benjamin Moore & Sherwin-Williams.

Seeing the wall calendar currently show the month of August, I know it truthfully to always be two months ahead. Signing checks and school permission forms with October in the date department throws a constant reminder under my nose that the chore list is changing.

romancing the garden glove

romancing the garden glove (Photo credit: curlsdiva)

Seeing the multiplying emails from our homestead’s chief strategist and tactician, Roger, arrive in our inbox, or guiltily acknowledging the growing stack of precisely laid out hacienda homework he has purposefully proposed, leaves no doubt with the message: get your gloves on, it’s time to tame the terrain.

Everyone in my family will attest that when it comes to gardening, my thumb is khaki-colored at best. I can successfully grow the fruit and veg needed to supply more than enough for my family’s culinary needs, with the extras pushed into the hands of our visiting Fed-Ex drivers, propane deliverymen and lawnmowers, as well as anyone who happens to accidentally come upon the house by taking a wrong turn. This particular garden is rich with offerings, and I’m beginning to believe, capable of enormous resilience after sessions of either my absence or mismanagement.

What is truly frustrating is that I’m surrounded by people who are incredibly capable landscapers, horticulturists and master gardeners. Give any one of them a sliver of someone’s fingernail and they can propagate the rootstock for a new human being. They have immeasurable talent, energy and knowledge.

Gardening equipment and tools, and grafting di...

Gardening equipment and tools, and grafting diagrams. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I, on the other hand, merely look at the garden and sigh with exhaustion. I immediately come to the conclusion that I need a nap.

When my mother arrives at the house, armed with a flotilla of tools, soil and a gleam in her eye, I detect the blood draining from my head and begin to feel woozy, realizing I’ve left things too late and will now have to pay for my negligence by sucking up forty-eight hours worth of nettled knees and a barking back. It’s my own fault. Somehow I’d hoped no one would notice the overabundance of choking weeds, smothering vines and disfiguring deadwood.

Not many people can appreciate the prairie look, but it does grow on you after a while … if not around you after laxity.

There is a massive difference between her glistening, well-oiled and surgically-sharpened gardening implements and my rust-covered, jagged-edged Ginsu knife picked up at a local county fair from a slick kitchen demonstration by a Brylcreem carnie.

My mother prods me through the gardens, requiring I take notes as she instructs what will need doing once she leaves me on my own. There are precise methods of pruning—“One can’t just hack!”

I like the satisfying sound of a good hack.

Believe it or not, not everything is a weed, which makes my efforts to weed whack tedious and tricky. Long tall green things look so much the same to me. The only reason I don’t rip most crops out of the potager is because I give them two months to get going and usually by that time there’s a berry or a bean hanging from it. Anything outside of the kitchen garden looks suspicious to me and if it does not sport a flower or has not been painstakingly labeled by Roger, my instinct is to cleave and yank.

There were multiple times this weekend when I heard sharp intakes of breath that did not come from my lungs. What followed were my mother’s masked attempts to cover an overwhelming urge to tsk. I don’t blame her. If I were her, I’d probably take a shovel to the back of my head. Trailing these negative assessments of my lack of familiarity was my insistence that duct tape is man’s best friend. Apparently, Mother Nature does not share this opinion.

Rip Van Winkle Illustration by NC Wyeth

Rip Van Winkle Illustration by NC Wyeth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still, we carried on, my mother pruning, snipping, coaxing and trimming, me … carving, lancing, docking, gashing, lopping, sawing, severing and slashing. Some of us did better than others.

Regardless, there is a small chunk of the garden that is now, thanks to the know-how and hard work of other people, ready for a winter snooze of around forty winks. Sadly, the rest of the garden will have to face certain insomnia until I can review all my notes. Seeing as though it’s only August, I’ve got plenty of time.

~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)!

Pitchforks to fancy forks

Farm to table. It sounds so easy, so simple, so … no brainer, right? You farm your food, pick it, eat it.

Tah dah!

Except anyone who farms realizes there might be a few whoopsy-poos that can happen somewhere between dirt and dinner.

Yet surprisingly, you can’t turn around these days without bumping into somebody who is  ripe with success, making headlines in the food world.  Either they have a forthcoming book all about the way they turned a small third-world village into a new sustainable enterprise with nothing more than a tractor made from Legos, or they’ve opened five new restaurants which are run on recycled potato skins and leftover lemon rinds. I’ve even stayed in a hotel that stocked toilet paper made from sheep poo pellets.

I would love to be one of these people.

I am not.

James Shikwati, Kenyan economist, at the TEDGl...

So, until I come up with an ingenious way to run a dairy farm on methane gas, or discover an unknown symbiotic relationship between worms and non-recyclable plastic, I can only support the people who do find jaw-dropping ways to make the news and soon show up on stage at a TED talk.

One of those ways is to attend a farm dinner.

Farm dinners, also known as meals in the meadow, pitchfork to plate, farm to fork, or cowpie to peach pie (only kidding), are a growing trend inspired by the healthy locavore movement. Usually a local chef lends his name and talents to the community’s neighboring food producers and creates a memorable multicourse meal in a farmer’s barn, a field among the livestock, on the beach beside the roaring surf, or in the vineyards between the chardonnay and the pinot noir.

Oftentimes, diners get a farm tour and listen to the chef and farmers chatter about what Bessie had for dinner last night in the barn just before slaughtering time. They might even throw in her final words, surely a message of thanks to the farmers for a true quality of life experience. It was probably something like, “Moo,” but it might have been, “Mooove that knife. It’s too close to my throat.”

We’ll never know.

I actually went to my first farm dinner last night. It was held at the historic Virginia estate called Morven: a property with a pedigree that likely links back to biblical times when Moses was trying to rent a summer home to get out from under the skin-shriveling heat of the dessert. Okay, I totally made that last bit up, but click on the property link and make yourself a large pot of tea. There’s a bucketload to learn about the estate.

The dinner was held in support of the Charlottesville City Schoolyard Garden program that uses a garden-based curriculum to help promote health awareness, scholastic success, and neighborhood involvement. Math? Measure and chart plant growth. Science? Understand and view firsthand what chlorophyll is all about. Music? Tomatoes are said to be partial to Handel and The Rolling Stones. (I’m joking. They hate Handel.)

Chef Gay Beery of A Pimento put out a luscious spread for 90 + diners under the setting sun on an old Virginia farm, using food from at least five surrounding farms and one school garden.

Thomas Jefferson was no doubt smiling in his grave as folks sipped wines from the soil he’d first planted vines in shortly before the Revolutionary War.

The food, the farm and the fruit of the vines created a spectacular evening—one I think everyone should be able to take part in.

Go ahead. Look it up. Google farm to table and see what pops up in your neighborhood. Then make a reservation and see what happens. Shortly afterward you may find yourself:

-eating more vegetables

-buying local food

-starting your own garden

-heading up a community veggie patch

-solving world hunger

-writing a book about it

-giving a TED talk

Even if you only make it halfway down that list of exceptional accomplishments, you have done yourself and many others a great deed.

Now go forth. Grow. Eat green. Be green.

Get a farmer’s tan.

~Shelley

 

PS If you’re searching for seeds (from arugula to zucchini and everything in between), I’m recommending a company that not only has a worthy mission creed but a wonderful moral code. Give The Mauro Seed Company a looksee.

Their motto? Grow One, Give One. I’m impressed. Maybe you will be too.

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)!

 

Sheep; The long and short of shearing.

His Secretary

Well, it’s near the end of April. And you all know what that means: Administrative Professional’s Day. It used to be called Secretary’s Day.

I’ll tell you what else happens during April. Sheep shearing. It used to be called Make Your Farm Animals Hate You Day, but that was a lot to fit into the little calendar squares, so it was changed.

Now guess what else has changed? The way my sheep look at me.

Peter, our Welshman sheep shearer, gave me fair warning. But I didn’t listen to him. I was too busy snapping over 300 photos of what was happening to Toot & Puddle, our wide-eyed woolly lambs.

It took Peter 3 minutes and 29 seconds to undress each shaggy form, an eternity in sheep shearing standards, but these fellahs were the first two of his season. He normally whips them out a mutton a minute.

It wasn’t until I scanned through all the uploaded photos on my computer that I realized what really took place, what Peter attempted to communicate.

To our sheep, I was provider of food, water, shelter and a good nightly noggin scratch. The perfect shepherdess. After Peter had them spread, splayed and speechless, trust left their eyes as the fleece fell away. They stumbled back to the meadow, not recognizing each other nor understanding why I stood three feet away and did nothing but document the entire assault.

Peter said I’d likely never catch them again, that they have a memory like an elephant, and I think we all have seen how well most elephants remember our birthdays.

I’ve never seen sheep suffer from depression before, and for two weeks following what I’m betting they’re now considering the attack, I have been subtly shunned from their little flock. Hearing sheep sigh can kill you, just a little bit each day.

If you have never witnessed a shearing, I encourage you to pack a picnic and send out feelers to find out where you might be able to watch such an event. As displeased as my two little fellows were over the sordid ordeal, I think it was more than amazing and expect the pair of them will come to their senses in a few short weeks when the temperatures soar and the shade is nothing more than a variance in ground color.

Seeing a sheep get placed into what farmers refer to as the chair hold will make small children fall into fits of giggles and most adults sympathize with what it must feel like to have four stomachs and all of them stuffed right after a Thanksgiving dinner. It’s just … unnatural.

As soon as Peter had one of the guys in position, it was easy to see the animal register a few things in double quick time.

Not only was he unnerved and unprotected, but he also found out he was … unendowed. He looked at his barn mate and belched out a collection of sounds that I translated to, “I knew something didn’t feel right down there.”

He then turned to me with a look that said, “I’m assuming this was another one of your ideas?”

They must have thought I was hiding behind the camera, refusing to make eye contact or take ownership of what they clearly believed needed nothing short of an apology in triplicate, if not recompense.

After the Barber of Shearville left, I spent the next couple of weeks keeping tabs on the woebegone woolies. They either stood, with heads bent, barely touching each other’s foreheads, or sleeping their sorrows away in the barn.

Maybe it was their bulk that gave them bounce and vitality, their commanding identity. It appears I have stripped them of their Superman suits and revealed a couple of Clark Kents.  They are not impressed and want their capes back.

It’s a good thing their clumsy hooves cannot manage Peter’s shaving gear, for given the opportunity and shifty glint in their eyes, I’d not be surprised if they’d attempt to wrestle me into a chair hold and give me the exact hairstyle of who they really see me as …

LEX LUTHOR

Luthor in Superman: The Animated Series

Luthor in Superman: The Animated Series (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

 

Flyboys & Farmhands

No one needs to bring an airsick bag with them if they’re going for a ride on a tractor. It’s not one of those things you’d find on a “be prepared” list if you were fixing for an afternoon stroll in the grassy fields on a warm spring day.

On the other hand, tucking a barf bag into the pocket of your delicate calico dress—the one meant to impress the third date fellah you’re seeing—should be somewhat of a warning. Especially if the suggestion came from him.

Back up a few years to the day I first took a ride with my pilot boyfriend, back to when he was fresh off the boat from his homeland where lands are granted, titles bestowed and heads beheaded. And still far from any recent ideas about reclaiming rightful colonies.

“A flight with you? In a tiny aircraft? Okay, sure!” (Giggle giggle.)

“Bring a plastic bag? You bet!” (Apparently, there’d be leftovers from a picnic.)

“Aerobatic maneuvers? Nope, never heard of them.” (Batting of eyelashes.)

“Yes, an aileron roll would be great!” (Must be some kind of sandwich.)

plane's manuva:Aileron Roll

plane’s manuva:Aileron Roll (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Holy Mother of Pearl! The ocean is above us!” (Frantic pawing at flimsy, flirty dress in search of pocket and bag.)

“Breakfast does not taste half as good the second time around … Sorry about your ceiling … and the cockpit … here, just scrape that off and you can see outside … ugh.”

Fast forward two years. No pretty dress. No plastic puke bag. “No way, José. Move over. I’m left seat. You can read the charts and do radio.”

Fast forward further. “Hey, honey, building a house on a mountain would mean we’d be closer to the sky, wouldn’t it? And lookie there, it’s right on the flight path to the sweet little airport that’s your home away from home, isn’t it? I could follow you on Flight Aware and jump out of the kitchen with a sign telling you what to pick up at the market just as you zoom past  on your way home. Cool, huh?”

A 1948 Gambles Farmcrest by the Cockshutt & CO...

A 1948 Gambles Farmcrest by the Cockshutt & CO-OP tractor company. On display in Harvard, Illinois during Milk Days 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fast forward more. “I’m tired of looking up at the sky. Look down at the dirt. Hey, let’s dig in it.”

F.F. one more time. “We need a tractor.”

Yesterday. “Farmer tans are sexy, sweetheart.”

Present day discourse. “There’s a pile of sheep poo out there that ain’t gonna move itself!”

It’s true I became a pilot like my husband, but it was a long time ago and largely because one of us lacked a fundamental sense of direction. The thing most challenging for me is that radio talk is short. Purposefully short. Compulsorily short. I love words. I’m a writer. And even though I work very hard, attempting to find the best words to quickly convey my meaning to a reader, I’m super slow at it. Lots of extra words get thrown into my scripts before they’re weeded out. Flowery adjectives. Prosaic adverbs. Purple prose is in ample abundance. The words are sublime to my ears, but like fingernails on a chalkboard to Air Traffic Control.

ATC wants quick and informative. I like descriptive.

ATC wants: Montgomery tower Bonanza 422MA 5000 inbound runway 23.

What I’ve been known to do: Good morning Montgomery tower! This is the super sleek Bonanza November four two two Mike Alpha with you at five thousand glorious feet in truly blue skies requesting the newly paved and hopefully extra long runway two three in just a couple of quick minutes, okey dokey?

When I first learned how to fly, people were always asking me to state my position. Sitting down and facing forward was not the expected reply. I long ago learned a sense of humor is not appreciated up there—and that access to the airwaves did not grant me time to practice a hopeful stand up routine.

I am not allowed to do radios unless it’s an emergency now.

I’m not that fussed. Especially since I don’t work well under pressure. I was always asking ATC to hold on a sec so I could piece together the right code-like answer. It sucks to get shouted at while you’re desperately trying to remember what all the lighted buttons in front of you are for and why some of them are flashing and others are making siren-like sounds.

Which is why riding a tractor is so much easier and a whole lot less stressful.

And more forgiving.

If I forget to put the bucket down before making a pass at a pile of pine shavings, I back up.

If I forget to put the wheels down before making a swoop at the runway, no do-overs allowed.

If I forget to put enough gas into the tractor and get caught short way the heck down by the sheep barn, I trudge back up the hill and haul down the gas cans.

If I forget to put enough gas into the plane, there’s no trudging, just plunging. Big difference.

I suppose I’m grateful to have gone through the experience of learning how to fly if for no other reason than simply because it impressed my high school science teacher who thought I’d probably go no further than learning how to master a weed whacker.

It really goes to show you just how far a plastic puke pouch and picnic can take you.

Roger and out.

Ten-four, good buddy.

Wilco.

~Shelley

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

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

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

Group shot of the Monty Python crew in 1969

the men who raised me

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

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

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

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

Numa Pompilius consulting Egeria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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).