Black-Eyed Peas: Apparently Good Fortune Comes from Good Fiber

If ever I needed proof that I am only mid-way through the birthday year where I naively wished for a spate of fresh challenges, it has fallen into my lap like spilt New Year’s champagne.

Any thoughts that the clinking of bubble-filled liquid in crystal would somehow wipe the slate clean and bring me respite was about as viable as believing hugging a skunk would turn out favorably.

I’ve have witnessed those who’ve tried and made a wide berth of their error.

And if I believed my deceased female relatives—a band of cackling, clever ancestors to whom I sent this credulous ‘speak-to-the-dead’ request to—had left their watchful posts for one instant when the clock struck its first moment of 2020, I was sorely proven wrong.

They are nothing if not dogged, steadfast, and no doubt thoroughly enjoying themselves.

It has been half a year of watching me trip over my tongue, toes, and trifling talents and land ungainly in cow-pie patties so stench-ridden they even give pause to most dogs.

I have hosed off and gotten back in the proverbial saddle more times than a handful of stuntmen. And my message to them on this fresh first month of the year is thus:

Go choke on it.

As of now—simply two weeks into 2020—I have the new and unwanted experiences of

  • One dead deer
  • One damaged car (soon to be …)
  • One dead car
  • One dead residential water system
  • One restored residential water system minus one toilet
  • One dead computer
  • One restored computer (think snail with a limp type vitality)
  • One partial electrical failure
  • Two partial electrical failures
  • Three whole electrical failures
  • A request from the IRS to provide all receipts from when I was fourteen and started working part-time in a strawberry patch.
  • Lost productive work hours wishing for the traumatic fatality of the IRS

 

I’m sure with one refreshing glance upward you can pinpoint the theme present in abundance:

I’m in need of a drink.

And likely an exorcist.

I’m not entirely sure what kind of a kick these vengeful visitors are experiencing as they continue to shovel calamity upon calamity in my direction, but referring back to that whole “spot the motif” concept, my guess is they have some sort of monthly execution quota to fulfil, and I was an opportunistic target.

Or … it could be that thing I did in the grocery store on December 31st.

I walked through the produce section to pick up a few last-minute things for dinner. There, squeezed between three elderly turnips and a basketful of withering Brussels sprouts was a bag of black-eyed peas.

I picked them up and rolled my eyes—which must have made a loud sound—or it could have been that my eye-rolling was accompanied by some giant snort, because a tall sapling pretending to be a human scuffled over to see what was amiss.

Is there a problem, ma’am?

I glanced up at the young man’s employee name tag. Just bemused by the fact that a package of dried black-eyed peas is mixed in with the fresh produce, Leverette.

He studied the sad display. Well, because it’s New Year’s.

I scratched my head. But they’re dried.

He shrugged. Doesn’t make ‘em any less potent.

I must have rolled my eyes again because he continued. Surely you aren’t one of those scoffers, are you, ma’am? One of the reasons we place them here is for ease of access. A reminder of necessary tradition.

I picked up the sad sack of Brussels sprouts. I’m more into “necessary nutrition.”

Leverette’s eyes went wide, and he jabbed a pointy finger toward a faded insignia on my hoodie. NASA thinks they’re good enough. They’ve been test-growing them for years in fake space vehicles and Martian greenhouses.

I narrowed my eyes at him and then whipped out my phone. Standby, Leverette.

I texted my daughter.

Uh … sure, that sounds like a thing we’d do was her reply.

Dammit.

I threw my nose into the air and glanced back up to catch the supercilious expression Leverette now displayed. I’ll pass, I said, and gave him a wave. Then I mumbled something under my breath about going home to make a pot of four-leaf clover soup.

Apparently, the witches were watching.

And likely rubbing their hands together with glee.

Which I find extra annoying as it makes the scent of one of those old aunties materialize. And it is an aroma that was long ago burned into my brain as specifically identifiable to her. All musk, earth, and sandalwood steeped in the smoke of her long, thin Virginia slims.

Well, that’s what I guessed they were, but I was young, and for all I know she could have been smoking incense sticks.

But the scent is present, and I’m sure it’s her.

Or it could be the wires in the walls finally sparking and smoldering. Chances are that’s what’s next on the list.

As I sit in the dark and shine a flashlight on my taxes, I try to hearten my gloomy mood with the acceptance that it’s only another five months.

I then load up another spoonful of black-eyed peas and force myself to swallow it.

Because who couldn’t use a little extra fiber, right?

~Shelley

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

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

 

How One Dog’s Bladder Changed my Life Strategy

“Hurry up!” I shouted off toward the edge of the woods where my hound was having a pre-pee before getting in the car to go someplace he was going to unload his truck-like gas tank-sized bladder. “Why do you always have to pee before we go? The trail is literally a few minutes away.”

Haggis trotted back to me and the rover before easily leaping inside of it.

Vigilance, he said, settling down in the back. Anyone nosing around will note this place is well patrolled—and often.

I rolled my eyes, but put the rover in drive and started the two of us toward the four mile stretch of woodland path we regularly navigate about four times a week. It is a county park, but to me, it is a sanctuary.

Which is utterly ridiculous when I reflect on where I live, because where I live is as “sanctuary-like” as one can get and not actually inhabit an island, or live in the hut of a polar expedition, or within the capsule of a manned mission to Mars.

Yet, I feel this deep desire to go somewhere that isn’t home to do some serious pondering on all jumbled thoughts at the end of a day.

When I first discovered the trail, I was insanely excited—nearly matching the frenzy of joy Haggis expressed, as he too was beginning to mutter about the same dreadful slog up and down our homestead hillside, and craved the scent of other animals that hadn’t already been categorized into one of three tiresome classifications.

Hey, he’d say with a glance back toward me as he stood over a patch of tall grass. Newly discovered fresh death, or Meh … newly discovered old death, and lastly, Wherever this guy is, he’s about to keel over because I can smell death in his pee.

My excitement was generated more from the “new scenery” situation and although new scents were part of it, none of them, I assure you, emitted the odor of anyone’s demise.

The “Deep Creek Thinking” trail is a moniker given to my hikes of how I wish those treks were, but cannot truly claim to be representative of the actual experiences themselves.

In truth, the trail has proven to be a doppelganger topographical map of my life, and during the last four years, as I have governed a new straightaway section of independence, this trail repeatedly surprises me with its dead-on accuracy depicting all that I face, embrace, and fall flat with.

Yes, literally, a face full of dirt is a regular occurrence.

Like the landscape of my life, the terrain I was now exploring was not the proverbial “walk in the park” I was hopeful it might be—all philosophical and Walden-like. Tree roots leapt from the ground to snag at my feet continuously, new rocks were pushed to the surface of the trail in new places every day, and branches reached out to hinder hikers like an impatient toddler grasping at the pant leg of a parent, determined for attention.

It was impossible to look anywhere but down. Well, it was possible, it just wasn’t safe. I figured out that little pearl after my third sprawl.

“Hey!” I’d shouted farther up the trail, spitting out a mouthful of decomposing leaves still too crunchy to be called dirt. “Little help here, please?”

I waited and counted to thirty and focused on assessing any concerning bone or muscle damage as I lay with my cheek pressed against the earth.

A thin, eight inch femur landed inches from my nose. Look what I found, Haggis had said.

That was enough to have me leap up from my pity party position. “Eww, is that human?”

Haggis raised his brows to signal a shrug. You’d know better than me. Hurry up. I’ve cornered a rabbit and treed a coon. Time is of the essence.

Our early days were filled with these exchanges, and now, four years later, whenever I’ve taken a flying sprawl, they’re more representative of:

How did you not see that root? It’s been here for … Haggis would glance up to access the tree, sixty—seventy years?

“It was covered with leaves,” I’d barked back at him.

I have a mental map of the landscape. This never happens, he’d said with a roll of his eyes.

“Bully for you.”

Don’t you have a mental map by now?

“Don’t you have some dead deer’s carcass to roll in somewhere?”

But he was right. After four years, this trail remains just as challenging, as there seems to be something new continuously thrown into the mix that precludes me from getting too comfortable. For instance:

I’ve started running every uphill stretch because … ugh, exercise.

One day of solid rain turns the entire path into an exhaustive, cumbersome mud pit that will repeatedly suction my shoes right off my feet.

Fat trees with boundless branches fall upon the trail and need scrambling over, under, or sometimes the very long way around.

A swarm of thirty or forty bikers will suddenly come crashing around a curve, an unbroken swarm of brightly colored, helmeted bees relocating from one hive to the next, wholly unaware of the odd hiker and hound they’ve sent flying into the thorny bushes off the path.

The above obstacles on my footpath are perfectly mirrored by the impediments on my life’s path. They’re not unlike my grasp on healthcare—which is a never ending uphill marathon, or general home maintenance costs—which are exhaustive, cumbersome money pits that will suction the coins right out of my bank account. They’re nearly identical to all the hurdles that fall in front of me—testing to see if I have the meddle to maneuver my way around them. And are as stunning as the fast-paced, pitches and curve balls that send me diving for cover—usually one that can be identified as a quilt.

But as a result of a long ago developed mulish and stroppy mindset, I force myself to see the trail as an invaluable experience. The path is not so much a trail as it is a training ground.

I suppose as my “mental map” grows, I will stop playing offense and pick up more of a protective “I’ve got this under control” type of attitude like Haggis enjoys, peeing on vulnerable areas that need to be defended. And like it or not, anyway you look at it, his method somehow always provides relief.

~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.

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.

Definitely One For the Books

One sticky August Virginia day, my boyfriend and I sat on an open tailgate, snacking on apples and trying to beat the heat while a legal representative from a nearby bookstore read us a subpoena. What kids get up to these days, right?

This is the story of my mother’s book launch,

190915catapult

featuring a bunch of literature-loving yogis, an overdose of sugar, and a bookstore that doubles as a law firm. After a couple years of arduous editing and nearly two decades of subjecting her children to her foodie Frankenstein kitchen persona, my mother’s first book (of many), Dear Opl, was published. (Shameless plug: go buy it if you haven’t already. If you have children, they will find it funny. If you don’t, the cover art is pretty. Also, my name is in the dedication. So, it’s worth it.)

Flash back four hours. I sat in the kitchen, next to the carefully packed box of 100 apples that the glorious Whole Foods–health grocery store supreme– had kindly donated to support the fresh fruit cult. Mom waltzed in and asked if I thought 9-13-year-olds, the intended audience of her book, would find her look approachable. I told her to maybe switch out the “eat good food or you will die alone” shirt, and with that, we were off, rocketing along the back roads with a box of books and apples.

190915diealone

We got to the bookstore, (I won’t name names, so let’s just call it Yarns & Global), unpacked and settled into the throne that had been allocated to the signing. My mother immediately began walling herself inside a fort of brightly colored books while I set up the box of scrumptious apples. Two minutes later, a wild customer service employee appeared, eyeing the apple box skeptically. Apparently, in the kingdom of Darns & Mobile, only packaged food may be served at events. Especially when the event in question centers around replacing packaged food with fresh food. But hey, who doesn’t love a bit of legalistic irony with their grassroots campaign? And my mother, being the resourceful person she is, simply relocated me to right outside the kingdom’s borders, where I was to sit, with a stool and a box of apples, to reward purchasers with a healthy snack.

Inside Narnia & Bobbles:

My mother greeted arriving family members and tried to prevent my grandmother from stuffing half of the gardening section into her purse.

Outside Narnia & Bobbles:

I was just preparing to cart out the apples when curses, foiled again by customer service. Apparently, the kingdom’s borders extend beyond its four walls. I reassured them I would move farther out into the wrath of the burning hot sun with my fifty-pound load of poisoned apples.

Inside Brawns & Foibles:

Half of my mother’s yoga class stood in line for a signed copy of the book. People purchased copies for their grandchildren, nieces and nephews on the other side of the country. Mom signed and signed, making up a different spelling of “Bon Appétit” each time.

Outside Brawns & Foibles:

Another genius idea: relocate to the back of Mom’s car in the parking lot, in plain view of exiting customers. I recruited the loyal boyfriend to keep me company as I sat on the tailgate, handing out free little parcels of arsenic while the sun threatened to knock me out.

190915apples

Inside Narnyness & Boblitude:

Small, eager children swarmed around my mother, attracted by the scrumptious chocolate bar on the cover. One child told her about the mermaid novel she was currently engrossed in while another inquired about library availability and stuffed his pockets with some signed bookmarks – prime merch. If she keeps this up, she’ll have the weirdest little fan club of third graders sporting “think global eat local” bumper stickers on their lunchboxes.

Outside Narnyness & Boblitude:

Some poor guy sent by the evil overlord of the kingdom’s legal department stood in front of me, hands shaking, reading me a cease and desist. With heavy hearts, we conceded the victory of World War III to our enemies. May we live to solicit another day.

When the lady could sign no longer, we piled into the car, down a bucket of books, and headed off to a celebration dinner of burgers and milkshakes. Then additional festivities ensued where Grandma provided a massive fondant cake in the shape of the book. And finally we landed in our kitchen, where I test-baked three batches of different cookies. Her campaign slogan may have been “connect with your inner good food dude” but mine (and Grandma’s) was “free the free sugars.”

(BRAG TIME: I MADE PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE STUFFED MOLASSES COOKIES, NUTELLA STUFFED OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES, AND THE BEST %$#*ING BROWN BUTTER OATMEAL WALNUT COOKIES STUFFED WITH PEANUT BUTTER AND CARAMEL. OPEN FOR DISCUSSION – SHOULD I DROP OUT OF COLLEGE AND OPEN A BAKERY?)

190915nonserious

*dons serious face*

190915serious

It is a truly marvelous thing to see a community united in support of a well-intentioned project and its pioneer. If I know my mother, I know that she will never stop engaging everyone she meets in good books and good food. I hope to see all of you at her second book launch, which will most likely take place upon an actual launching rocket ship and … there will be cookies.

On an unrelated note, if anyone would like some freshly made applesauce, we have a few tanks to spare.

~Chloe

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click) 

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

 

And How Did That Make You Feel?

Writing a book involves a different recipe of elements for every author. Some folks must write down their story in a longhand format—

120915longhand

handwritten on legal pads,

120915illegalpad

printed in their super-secret diary, or even pieced together on a dry erase storyboard complete with enough 3M sticky note details to plaster a full-scale papier-mâché replica of the Empire State building.

Some of us owe trees a massive apology letter.

120915sorry

Others are all about their space. They need absolute quiet—or absolute chaos. They need three screens, two dictionaries and a bottle of scotch at their elbow. Maybe they can only write on rainy days so the gloom of a gray day won’t allow the sun to reflect an enticing sparkle across their monitor and make them yearn for two hours of mowing the lawn. Or maybe the rule is that they only write on days when there’s a full moon, their desk is clean and they’ve just found a copper penny.

And some people need deadlines: a class, a critique group, an editor sending threatening daily emails asking where the damn pages are.

It’s a unique process and it’s individual to each writer.

Me?

I just need a therapist.

Seriously. That’s it. My go-to guy.

The way I see it, who knows more about the human condition and all of our frailties than someone who studies the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for a living? Someone who can gossip at the water cooler about some miserable bloke with serious issues while legally define the gossip as “work?”

Yeah, I figure I’ve hit pay dirt.

So our conversations usually go something like this:

Him: So, what’s on your mind today?

Me: Ugh. How long have we got? An hour? Fifty minutes? Where’d you put your clock? You moved your clock. Did you paint in here?

Him: *silence*

Me: Yep. Smells like fresh paint. I wonder if paint fumes are something that kids can manipulate into drug experiences these days. Are you finding kids are coming into therapy with an addiction to paint fumes? Have you been treating anyone for that lately?

Him: Are you concerned that one of your kids may be struggling with an addiction?

Me: No. Well, who knows, right? There are a million different kinds of addictions so chances are they’ve got a few, but let’s just say they were—no wait, let’s not make it an addiction. Let’s say one of them was struggling with a transgender issue. Yeah. Much more interesting.

Him: Are one of your kids struggling with a transgender issue?

Me: No, but for the sake of this hour today, let’s just say that they are. Tell me everything about it. Wait. Let me get a pen.

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That’s my method.

It doesn’t work for everyone, but I’m not everyone. Unless you were to see the notes my therapist keeps on me, in which case, you might conclude I’ve got some multiple personality disorder. Seeing him each week and discussing “other people’s issues” might have my therapist thumbing through the back pages of his manual in an attempt to discover just how many times a brain can fracture and how many identities it can support.

Chances are, I’m adding a little zing to his day by not coming in with the same ol same ol “I’m just not feeling fulfilled and I think my kids hate me” routine.

That’s what I tell myself anyway.

But my point is—and I pray I have a point—I’m neck deep in the writing process again and it’s a time frame that usually puts me into a time warp. I bury myself so far down rabbit holes with research that I usually come out the other side and discover I’ve come up for air in the middle of a Chinese chicken coop.

120915process

Yeah, deep.

It is incredibly easy for me to lose my “self” within the process and sharply disturbing to have phone calls like this one:

Daughter: Mom? Where have you been? Are you okay?

Me: Fine. What’s up?

Daughter: Seriously? I’ve phoned you four times in the last three hours and sent you eight texts. Did you not get any of my messages?

Me: Wait—I have a phone? Red flag. That would never happen in 18th century Scotland. Thanks for the anachronistic heads up.

120915touche

Daughter: *sigh* I need to talk to you about whether or not I can come home for Thanksgiving.

Me: Wait—hold on—I totally forgot about the beef tallow on the stove. I’ve seriously got to get cracking on those tapers. I’m turning meat scraps into Christmas candles. God, the holidays are going to be fun this year.

Daughter: Never mind. *click*

If you’re going to be a successful writer, you really have to dive into your characters. You have to live their lives, have their problems, embrace fleas.

Well, at least for this book.

You have to apologize to your friends and family for being unreachable, unpredictable and for effusing the personal odor of barn animals.

And you also need a therapist. Someone who will help you dig deeply into the problems of “others,” someone who will help you discover the backstory and motivation of your characters,

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and someone whose water cooler conversations will be highly sought after purely for the opportunity to shake their heads and mutter, “If only Freud could see us now.”

He’s my doyen, my muse, and my research assistant.

I owe him a lot.

Seriously.

He’s gotten, like, all of my royalties.

~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.

 

Big Words, Clean Teeth & Jell-O for Brains: a Lovely Recipe for Life

Sue Archer: Editor, blogger, and master of not only English but nearly every science fiction and fantasy language to boot. Linguistic skills more impressive than the blinking and confusing cockpit lights of the Starship Enterprise. Have you need of a first-class editor to guide your manuscript to lofty heights of high-class quality? Sue’s your gal. Hungering for a few golden writing tips to sharpen your blog, your essays, your work-related writing skills? Look no further.

Peruse Sue’s new editorial site and her blog site too—and I do mean peruse in the truest sense of the term. DIG DEEP. There is pure gold in them there words.

And if you feel like putting your feet up for a spell, see her fine interviewing skills down below. It was a pleasure and an honor to work with this lovely, talented lady.

A woman with cosmic talent, and universal appeal.

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Conversation Corner with Shelley Sackier

Today I am holding a special edition of Conversation Corner with children’s author and humour blogger Shelley Sackier on her blog Peak Perspective. You don’t want to miss my first ever illustrated interview! Please come visit and read about our conversation on using large words, writing for children, how to be funny, and the advantages of having Jell-O for brains.

 

When I first read your About page, back when I was lucky enough to have discovered your blog, I was immediately struck by two things: your wonderful sense of humour and your mastery of large words. I’d like to know who I can thank for this. Who were your influences? And how did you land upon your clear calling as a humour writer?

Well, firstly, Sue, a prodigious “thank you” for the laudatory commendation.

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Yuck. That sounded awful. And pretentious. And so not me. Except for the part in quotes. I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak with you, as I’ve learned a great deal from reading your essays and articles. But however it was you came to find me, I really should send the contact person a batch of cookies as a show of affection with my bountiful thanks.

And as far as where you can send your thank you card? My hero, Peter Mark Roget—British physician, natural theologian and lexicographer. I think I read somewhere that he liked line dancing as well.

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He wrote a little bestseller back in 1805, which unfortunately for his followers and admiring fan base was not widely published until 1852. But still, it now exists in all its glory. When I discovered there was a book To Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition I nearly had a small rapturous fit of delight. I was hooked. His thesaurus is my daily drug. Every morning I swallow my Omega 3s, glucosamine, and a page of Roget’s work.

Sadly, you may find that Peter is slow with his correspondence. I’m still waiting to hear back from him on a small addition I was hoping he might include in the next release, but you know busy authors, right?

And then there’s my dad. He was really funny whilst I was growing up. He’s still really funny. And much quicker with his exchange of letters.

The classification of a humor writer was something I just morphed into—like how incredibly fit and attractive people slowly mutate into pudgy, sagging, middle-aged folks who are exhausted, underpaid and overworked. It creeps up on you.

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And also, making my children laugh was a good way to surreptitiously see their teeth and discover whether or not they’d brushed before bedtime.

Humor and hygiene go together like Punch and Judy. Well, that might not be a fitting example as they had a fairly contentious relationship. I think you get my point though.

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I definitely get your point. I have found humour goes a long way in persuading kidlets to do all those “good for you” things. Also hugs. And maybe a stern look here or there. Did you find your experiences with persuading your children influenced how you wrote Dear Opl, which has its own “good for you” message about food?

I’m a firm believer in ‘time’ as the best teacher. I’ve always regarded the space between my children’s ears as a swampy, murky mess that was not going to fully settle into its final state until somewhere around the age of 25. It’s like Jell-O. I’ve got to keep tossing in as many parental pearls as I can right now with the hopes that later they’ll be viewed as worthy by the owner.

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That said, my mom drove home the message to me that all those bits of brilliance—the ones that immediately create the teenage phenomena of eyeball rolling, exaggerated sighing and door slamming—will be eureka moments that my children will have on their own and claim 100% ownership to. They will never—and I repeat the word never—remember that you were the one to give them the awesome info.

The best way to keep yourself sane in those moments of unacknowledged revelation is to simply chuckle at how well you worded it the first time around. Although a small part of me wants to leap up on the kitchen table, point a finger at their super smug dispositions and scream, “You’re totally plagiarizing my words from back in 2002 when you were 7!”

I’m guessing it would not go down as a bonding moment for any of us.

But yes, my “Dear Opl” messages are simply a spiffed up version of my “at home” message. And, as becomes clear in the book, not all of those messages are well-received or hit the mark, so I’m sure you can deduce the level of success I’ve had with my offspring.

Thankfully, neither one of them is close to 25 as of yet. I’ve got a ways to go before the Jell-O sets.

All power to you tossing in those pearls of wisdom, Shelley! I’ve certainly enjoyed the thoughts and observations that you’ve posted through your blog. 🙂  Could you share a little more about the message in your book, and how this message is expressed through the story?

One of the most important messages I wanted the book to convey was that there are no magic pills. Life is full of problems and we all have to handle them.

Pushing them away, ignoring them, or pretending they don’t exist creates an unruly monster that ends up taking over. The world is full of advice—both good and bad—but the filter system for determining which is which lies only within ourselves. People have stopped listening to the wisdom of their bodies and minds. It’s there. Buried beneath a boatload of advertising and social pressures to conform, but still there.

The book’s main character, Opl, does a lot of avoiding, rejecting and misguided judging. She’s in an emotionally fragile place as a result of the death of her father and living in a space that no one has been able to help her move through. So she muscles her way around on her own and continues down a path of unhealthy choices because they’re filled with instant gratification. The problem is solved and soothed for now. Kids struggle with looking more than 30 seconds in front of them, and this isn’t due to a lack of intelligence, it’s because of brain development. They don’t have all the tools yet and our job as parents and educators is to hand them those tools and explain the manual. At this point, a lot of it looks like it’s written in Klingon.

The grownups who care for Opl finally clue in to what’s happening and begin to nudge her into a place of growth—the inner kind, which is where she struggled with a deficit. Her grandfather helps her discover real food. Her yoga teacher illuminates Opl’s inner insight. And Rudy, an injured Iraqi vet who works at the food pantry, teaches her about desire and regret. These people are not there to “fix” her problems, but rather draw back the curtain so the chance for self-discovery is available.

As much as I support parents who see the need for their kids to fall down and scrape their knee, they still need the occasional Band-Aid. They are not tiny adults. It’s a fine line we walk in order to keep balance. You give them a little and you step back and watch. ‘Trial and Error’ parenting.

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 Speaking of not being tiny adults…I imagine that writing for a younger audience must have required a very different approach from writing your blog. What types of things did you have to think about when writing your book, as opposed to blogging? And do you have any tips for readers who are looking at writing for younger readers?

In my experience, blogging and book writing are two different beasts, and employ two different skill sets.

I set about blogging to work on something very specific. I wanted to create the ability to demand my muse show up for work every single day. If my butt is in my chair, there had better be some bit of sparkle hovering about in the air that I can reach up and grab by the fistful.

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It was about developing accountability for a job and not relying upon the tired trope of Ah well, writer’s block again. What can you do?

It ain’t easy. But I don’t think true accomplishment is meant to be.

Writing a novel is broken down into blissful and not so blissful sections. There is no feeling in the world to me quite like figuring out a scene, or the dialogue, or discovering the heart of a character and what they bring to the book. Writing Story is a method of therapy and psychoanalysis to me. I discover bits of ancient truth within the unfolding of this scrap of someone’s life. I’m nothing more than a translator of a highlighted piece of the human puzzle.

Okay, so that’s the purple prose flowery blissful part for me. Creativity explodes everywhere.

The not so blissful sections are the deadlines, the edits, the rejections of your edits, the people who don’t understand why you won’t just DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR LIFE. There’s a lot of that and more. You’ll know pretty soon if you’re cut out for this kind of life pursuit or not.

Advice for those looking to write for young readers? Be youthful. Be goofy. Go back in time—really try to propel yourself to those feelings, those situations, that mindset. The way you looked at life was so different. Again, kids are not just tiny adults. They’re a whole different animal, with claws and sharpened teeth, and fairy wings and magic wands. Bring back your ten-year-old self and give her a massive welcome home hug.

My ten-year-old self wanted to write fantasy novels, so I can definitely relate to the fairy wings and magic wands. 🙂 I think as adult writers we need to maintain that level of creativity and imagination if we want come up with compelling ideas and relatable characters. Like the character of G-pa from your story. How did he appear on the scene? (I must admit that G-pa was my favourite character, he kept cracking me right up.)

Every time I wrote a scene including G-pa, I just wanted to squish the guy. His gruff exterior masked a deep love for his grandkids and I loved making him struggle with the desire to show it.

He was effortless to create, and as I’ve come to discover within my books, I apparently always find the need to have a “G-pa” character in it. He’s mostly based on my dad so I’m sure it’s a Freudian thing.

As a side note, I’m a big believer in not having adults solve problems for kids in stories, but I’m also very aware of the fact that knowledgeable, loving, and encouraging adults are an absolute necessity for guidance. I believe the ability to problem solve is one of the greatest skills we can teach our kids, and G-pa felt like a character that could help contribute to that accomplishment.

Okay, now for the final and most important question. What is your favourite homemade dish? (And have your kids mastered the art of making it yet?)

Thankfully, neither of them have taken a strong liking to all those earthy Polish dishes I had to eat while growing up—the ones fortified with blood to try to cure the pastiness out of my people or all the ground up bits that got shoved into intestinal casings and called ‘links you’ll love, I promise—now eat.’

I think we all adore Fajita Nite. Whenever I picked up the vibes that someone’s day was going to hell in a handbasket, it was the one meal that never ceased to lift their spirits. Maybe it’s the fact that I line up all the ‘fill your tortilla with these options’ on the counter and to them it’s like visiting the buffet bar at Applebee’s, or that the house smells like an old Tex-Mex cantina for the next 24 hours, or it could be because I drag the mechanical bull out into the living room for after dinner entertainment—I’m not sure, but we all love it.

And no. I’m thinking it’ll be a while before they decide to make it themselves, if ever. Some recipes just don’t taste of home if you don’t make it there.

No, they don’t! Thanks for inviting me into your blogging home today, Shelley. I’ve enjoyed chatting with you. And all the best to you with your book!

*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.

Getting to Know You–er, Me

Today I’m offering up an interview I did with author/blogger/human extraordinaire, Jan Wissmar I had a marvelous time with Jan and I do hope you’ll check out her work. She’s just released her third book, Willful Avoidance and continues to impress me with being someone whose work on this earth is beyond inspirational.

I hope you enjoy.

~Shelley

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Meet Shelley Sackier, author, blogger, pilot, and whisky drinker

 

Today I’m delighted to welcome Shelley Sackier, creator of the always entertaining blog – Peak Perspective – and author of the upcoming teen novel DEAR OPL.

Shelley Sackier headshots 3 (1704x2272)JTT: Hey Shelley – thanks for being here!  First of all, how did you come up with the title Peak Perspective?

SS: The blog title and tagline (Peak Perspective: trying to climb out of the fog.) was born of both sight and wordplay. I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’m surrounded by mountains, and living on top of one gives me a spectacular view, except when it doesn’t. Some days I’m fogged in, occasionally I’m above the cloud base, but most days, the scene is truly breathtaking and allows me a view of three counties. As I’m always staring out one window or another for a moment of inspiration, rare is the day when something remarkable does not flit across my field of vision. It’s a little like living on the live set of a National Geographic special filmed by the WeatherChannel. Some days are truly spectacular. Some days are scary. A couple have made me think that it might be time to start doing bladder strengthening exercises.

Bruichladdic view

JTT: Please send me a copy of those bladder strengthening exercises ’cause I need ’em.  With those spectacular views there must be a lot of artists living in your part of the world, however your illustrator, Robin Gott (who I just adore), is from England, but lives in Sweden. How did you find him?

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SS: I love the fact that Rob and I live in separate countries and have worked together for a few years but have never met. There’s something so remarkably “today’s business world” about that. We were introduced years ago and had almost worked together on a different project. The blog venture just sort of spilled out of that serendipitous past.

Robin is one of those incredibly multi-talented folks whose craft spills over into myriad dimensions. Animation, acting, drawing, writing. His work is prolific and I feel so fortunate to have this time to be creative with him. I’ve discovered what it feels like to work with someone whose brain will likely be preserved for science.

However long the blogging business keeps us artistically woven together, I can think of so many other missions I’d like the two of us to take a crack at. Time will tell. Fingers are crossed. Pencils are sharpened.

JTT:  Blogging does provide us with some interesting bedfellows doesn’t it? Well, “bedfellows” isn’t exactly the right term.  Collaborators?  Gads, that’s not much better… (Help me troops!)

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Speaking of blogging, I’ve been in awe of your blog for a long time.  I wonder if you’d mind sharing some blogging tips and tricks (or is it top secret)?  When did you start?  How did you build your incredibly supportive audience?

SS: Well, firstly, thank you for saying so. That’s the hope of so many writers. Tips and tricks? I think when searching for success, you have to be willing to stick your neck out and embrace vulnerability. And more importantly, you have to be willing to fail. I’ve gotten pretty good at kicking myself out of safe mode, skinning both knees, and then moving on. There’s so much to learn when you make mistakes. Being careful does not make a terribly exciting life. And I crave challenge.

And chocolate. I’m not sure which I devour more.

Also, it might be extraordinarily helpful to have a roadmap—a story grid of sorts. Why are you blogging? Is it to share wedding photos? A trip to Dubai? Your time in the slammer? It helps to understand what the end goal is.

My blogging exploits began strictly to develop a skill I thought I needed improvement with: churning out about 1000 words on demand. Butt in chair, holler to muse, write the damn essay, finish the laundry. When you devote attention to something every day, bit by bit the challenge begins to feel increasingly more comfortable. Welcome to the new normal.

And building the supportive audience comes from caring about what people have to say. There are so many wildly interesting people hon our planet, each with a distinctive voice, and I find it’s like a funky orchestral hot mess when I engage with everyone. It’s a huge time investment, and I’m not looking forward to the approaching day when I’ll have to back off because of other writing commitments—ones from people who rightfully require more time as they’re actually paying me to produce work for them, but I’m hoping to have at least created a community of folks who can carry on the conversation if I’m not there and who have made worthy friendships simply from having had my blog site be one of their playgrounds.

Jonathan Sackier Blue Ridge Mountains Virginia

JTT: “Butt in chair, holler to muse, write the damn essay,” AMEN!  However, you did manage to finish DEAR OPL while building your audience.  Congrats on that major accomplishment.  You deserve chocolate, lots of chocolate.  However, I know from reading DEAR OPL (and your blog) that keeping our food safe, nutritious, and delicious are important issues for you.  I don’t want to spoil the plot for potential readers but the main character, Opl, achieves some amazing things while battling a common bugaboo for many of us growing up:  a negative self-image.  At first, I have to admit I thought the mother was cruel – always making a big issue of Opl’s understandable weight gain (I mean, she had just lost her father!) but by the end you managed to make the mother sympathetic.  I think it had to do with Opl’s growing awareness that staying healthy need not be an arduous task. Was personal experience a motivation for writing DEAR OPL?

SS: I’ve had food issues for as long as I can recall, but not of the same type as Opl. Working in the entertainment industry, one gets judged every which way but Sunday. It was brutal. Costumes were measured and remeasured on a regular schedule. If you lost a pound of sweat during a show from exertion, and your waistband had a half an inch worth of give in it, it was immediately sewed shut. I survived for years believing that fat was an enemy and that tinned peas and Cream of Wheat was my culinary lot in life. This was horrifically rough for someone who grew up in a family full of caterers, butchers and chefs. I loved food, but was growing deprived of it because of the fearful sweeping top to bottom gaze of an unforgiving producer or director.

I was determined to raise kids with the idea of nutrition as the motivating factor for meal planning and food education, and didn’t want to create battles over what we put into our mouths. I knew that as my kids grew more independent I’d lose a lot of sway over what they’d choose to eat. I knew that layering information in small bite-sized chunks, and also walking the talk would be important components of whether or not they’d remember what I’d said, and did as I advised. Most importantly, indulging in food they knew I’d cringe at was a given, but I hoped that they’d pay attention to the correlation between what they ate and how they felt afterward. I know the pressures teens feel when trying to fit in with their friends, and that sometimes food issues become friendship issues. In my mind, I believed they’d make diet related decisions based on things other than what the crowd was doing. They learned to love good food, and cooking it themselves has been an ongoing joyful discovery.

Chloe & Gabe 2015

JTT: You’re absolutely right – making decisions about what to eat based on how you will feel afterwards is far wiser than going along with the crowd but it is a hard lesson for many teens to learn. On your blog you’re doing an excellent job of what marketeers call “building your platform” and so I’m fairly confident this next question will be an easy one for you to answer, please describe Dear Opl’s ideal reader?  Who are you talking to?  What do you hope your readers take away from the book?

SS: DEAR OPL’s reading base is 9 to 13 year-olds, but I’m hoping to attract kids who may be in a similar situation as Opl—those who feel like they are either losing the battle with weight, or who feel they can’t stop eating junk food, but mostly kids who are desperately looking for a bit of direction. People don’t realize how much help is available and often give up before they’ve even begun.

My hope is that Opl will be able to communicate that there is no “magic pill,” and that change can happen in small ways creating a ‘ripple effect’ result. If we expect to shift the habits of a lifetime, it requires education, support, patience and faith that you’re doing the right thing. (And a big dose of self-forgiveness when you don’t.) I feel that all too often we’re told by marketers to expect a miracle with their slick headline promises and mind-blowingly easy overnight success. I’m hoping to impart some savviness.

JTT:  You’re absolutely right – kids are bombarded by “lose weight overnight” ploys which are nothing by quackery.  It’s horrible.  Speaking of horrible, now onto the uncomfortable revelations part of the interview (just pretend I’m Barbara Walters).  You’re a pilot and whiskey drinker, is that correct?  Were you also abducted by aliens like other famous whiskey-drinking pilot drinkers, i.e., Harrison Ford? Please describe some close encounters of the third kind you’ve had while soaring through the clouds.Runway 23

SS: Really? Ford was abducted?

JTT:  Whoops, sorry.  I was actually thinking of the drunken pilot from the movie The Fourth of July who saves the world from aliens somewhat in retaliation for having been abducted by them.

SS:  Whew! Well, flying and whisky have been a significant part of my life. Although, never at the same time for obvious reasons.

When I was first learning to fly, in order to gather up the courage to do solo night flying (which is incredibly different than daytime flying — you’ve got nothing but a Lite-Brite board beneath you), I’d belt out the theme song to Raiders of the Lost Arc while doing finals and preparing to land the aircraft. You have to acquire a fair amount of knowledge to fly and land an airplane, and a teensy bit more if you’re hoping to reuse it. But you also have to have an element of faith.

Also, having an old codger for a flying examiner was a lucky thing. I think he realized as I was taking my final physical flight exam that I was still too timid with the aircraft. He took the controls and shouted, “You’ve got to manhandle this beast, lass! And you’ve got to know its limitations.” He then proceeded to pull the plane up into a stall and let her do a falling leaf pattern for about twenty seconds before recovering the aircraft. He kept shouting, “She ain’t gonna break!”

I think that was about as close to an extra-terrestrial experience as I’ve ever had, as I was fairly sure I’d not live to walk on our planet again.

JTT:  I love that story! My father was a pilot – he loved to get me into his little Cessna and do loop-de-loos! Okay, here’s your chance for revenge, what embarrassing question would you like to ask me?

SS: You see, this is where I’m struggling, Jan. I can find absolutely no dirt on you. You are one of the most impressive humans I’ve come to know. Your work with the Make a Wish foundation, your advocacy for at risk foster children, your books, your blog, your terrific writing … yeah, I got nothin’.

But maybe I’ll ask the question readers are probably wondering: how is it that you can get so much done in one lifetime?

JTT: How sweet of you but perhaps I should have given you my ex-husband’s phone number!

Whenever I hear the theme song from Raiders, I’ll think of you soaring across the skies! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me and best wishes for the release!

092314_DearOpl_HiRes (533x800)DEAR OPL is available for pre-ordering on Amazon here.  The official release date is August 4, 2015.  Here’s my review:

DEAR OPL is an honest look at a problem facing many young teens: negative self-image brought on by weight gain.  It is also the story of a family trying to move ahead after a catastrophic loss.  Young OPL (who left the “A” off her name in order to lose weight – LOL!) has a talent that surprises her classmates and gives her an outlet for the ongoing frustrations of teen life.  She can blog!  In fact, she rapidly becomes a blogging superhero as “Dear Opl” dispelling advice to her peers with an abundance of sass and wit. But she doesn’t just make a difference in her own life, she reaches out and makes a difference in the lives of others.

*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.

Why I Wrote DEAR OPL- Part 3

*Just a heads up to anyone new joining in–this is not my typical blog post. This is part 3 of 3 for a speech I’m preparing and posting here to get valuable feedback from my community. If you’re interested in joining in (and I so hope you are), and you’ve not had a chance to read part 1 or part 2, you might want to take a minute and get up to speed. I look forward to hearing what all of you have to say. It’s been wonderfully worthy and I thank every one of you for participating!

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What’s in it?

My sleuthing skills progressed mainly because food labels showed up. I, therefore, became obsessed in the pursuit of truth.

I suspected that every chemical I read about on the back of a label and couldn’t identify was likely a form of my mother’s mystery ingredients I had to watch out for. The only things I could trust were foods in their whole and original form. And this is something our culture has removed us from in a very real and dangerous way.

Despite the higher intake of calories our western diets have had us adopt, people are hungry. We’re now eating more food than ever before yet we are starving for nutrients. And our bodies are yelling this fact out to us. We’re struggling with these massive and overwhelming cravings for sugar. It’s hugely addictive and, in fact, scientists have discovered rats will work eight times harder to get sugar than they will to get cocaine.

Our average modern diet is not providing the nourishment our bodies require for good health, and because of it, our bodies are suffering more insulin spikes than a tumultuous day on Wall Street.

Basically, we have an abundance of calories, but a shortfall of nutrients.

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I find this to be a shocking and saddening state of affairs, but if you really want to hear something that will make the hair on your arms stand at attention, here’s another one of those eye-popping statistics I alluded to earlier:

The junk food industry spends about 2 billion dollars each year targeting children. One scary study found that elementary school kids in the US see an average of 254 ads from McDonalds each year. That’s just ONE company in the sea of junk food advertisers.

We are bombarded with media that dictates what we want, what we’re hungry for, what gadgets we’re desperate for, what will make us feel better about ourselves or our lives, and what will make us feel included. Kids are targeted even more so. It’s overwhelming and impossible for them to filter these messages or tune them out, and certainly challenging for them to interpret and identify how they are being subtly and not so subtly molded.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now reports that around 12.5 million children aged 2-19 are obese. And this is just in the United States. If you need a mental graphic that’s like nearly the entire population of Ecuador. Or how about this one—two Norways, a Botswana and a Liechtenstein. Worldwide we’re talking about 43 million kids.

Yeah, it’s a lot. Want to elevate that arm fur another notch? The World Health Organization estimates that in ten years time, over 70 million children globally will be obese. And the most alarming surprise? This number is only including children from ages 0 to 5.

Diet-related diseases are the biggest killers of human life. Far bigger than homicides, pneumonia, kidney disease, accidents. The statistics are jaw-dropping.

It makes you want to curl up in a ball and cry, doesn’t it?

Or we can do something about it.

Which brings us to part three: WHAT WE NEED TO DO

  1. No amount of exercise is going to help you run away from a bad diet.

It’s really hard to recognize a problem despite the fact that it’s growing right beneath our noses, mostly because it’s a fairly unremarkable one. It’s not remarkable because it’s become common.

We all know what a dog looks like—we’ve seen gobs of them over our lifetimes. Nothing too terribly novel about them from where we stand right now. But if you woke up one morning and looked outside and spotted a flying dog, you’d probably pause and really study the anomaly … until it wasn’t an anomaly anymore. If pretty soon flying dogs were just as common as grass, then no one would really see them any longer—which is what’s happening to our children. Obesity is becoming familiar, universal and ordinary.

We can’t let this happen.

It would be incredibly easy to point our extra pointy fingers at the heart of the problem and scream until we’re blue in the face at the food industry, but if any of you have ever been in a situation where you’ve pointed a finger at someone and assigned blame, I think you’ll also recall that they didn’t offer either an apology or any available energy to help solve the problem.

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More often than not they likely gave you back a pointy finger as well—but facing in a different direction.

A better response might be to ask for partnership in problem-solving. Our food industries can make food education a top priority of their business. Help us shop, teach us how to cook, educate us about nutrition. A win for the public and a win for their public relations. Besides, it does not show savvy business sense to kill off your clientele.

The restaurant and fast food industry, which have gotten us hooked on the drugs of sugar, fat and salt by targeting consumers with their persuasive advertisements, could help wean us off the extremely unhealthful amounts or face selective taxation from the government to cover the skyrocketing cost of healthcare: a price tag we do not have the funds to pay for—no matter how far down into our purses we dig.

We need restrictions on advertising to children who are most vulnerable to these campaigns. We need to protect those who are easy targets, those who are easily preyed upon, and those who will suffer the most.

Also, we need clearer food labeling—something effortless and easy so consumers don’t have to count grams or teaspoons. Something like the proposed traffic light label. Red for high amounts of free sugars, yellow for mid-level amounts, and green for Go for it, buddy.

We need to give our children LIFE SKILLS. We can get in the kitchen with them, teach them the basics of nutrition, educate them about what they’re eating and illuminate how it will affect the quality and longevity of their lives. It’s going to be a mess, but maybe architects can start making kitchens with a large drain in the middle of the floor which allow you to just hose down the walls after a family cooking session.

We can take the necessary steps to overhaul our school lunch programs. And currently there are a handful of people pioneering over this treacherous landscape who are battling to illustrate that pizza should not be considered a vegetable because it has tomato sauce in it. Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters, Michelle Obama and Congressman Tim Ryan from Ohio are a few familiar names who have been leading the campaigns of international food revolutions. These folks are shaking up government nutritional guidelines, instituting school garden programs, and proposing ways to lower the cost of healthy foods so that everyone can have access to them. But there are many, many more who are working in the trenches and mostly without a spotlight. We need to support their endeavors.

The three points I’ve highlighted—what we eat, what we know, and what we need to do—are part of a task we need to knuckle down and get busy with—a cause we need to champion. Creating and implementing solutions to our epidemic is a global obligation we owe ourselves, our children and our children’s children.

We need a new killer slogan for our planet. Not a slogan that will kill us.

I propose something like this:

Planet Earth: come for the food, stay for the fun, die when you’re old.

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~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.

Why I Wrote DEAR OPL – Part 2

*Just a heads up to anyone new joining in–this is not my typical blog post. This is part 2 of 3 for a speech I’m preparing and posting here to get valuable feedback from my community. If you’re interested in joining in (and I so hope you are), and you’ve not had a chance to read part 1, you might want to take a minute and get up to speed. I look forward to hearing what all of you have to say. It’s been wonderfully worthy thus far!

 

So let’s talk about the foul new four letter word that’s getting everyone’s knickers in a twist. FOOD.

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  1. Our diets have drastically changed form.

So much of what we used to eat was effortlessly easy to identify by using just one word to define it. For instance: apples, squash, lentils, pecans. Now the western diet needs a box to hold it in and a label to identify it with.

And a chemist to explain it all.

More and more of our food is processed with ingredients that most seventh graders aren’t allowed to handle without plastic gloves, eye goggles, and their science teacher in attendance.

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It happened right beneath our noses. As a kid, I remember the hour and a half of effort I’d spend making brownies—with the flour, the sugar, the butter and eggs, the melting of chocolate and the teaspoons of vanilla and salt and baking powder.

And almost overnight it changed. It’s now a box, an egg, and a splash of water from the faucet. It’s not so much food anymore as it is a magic trick no one really wants to pull back the curtain on and spoil. Not that spoiling is a concern any longer as science has discovered a way to make a fast food hamburger last longer than most marriages.

Reading nutrition labels dredges up memories of your earliest years in grammar school sounding out new words, and also proves to be a test of one’s grasp of the periodic table of elements. Plus, the regulations for what our government is allowing into our food and defining as food live in a murky swamp and are up for interpretation by the manufacturer.

That old line stating That which does not kill us makes us stronger, should be revised to read:

That which does not kill us—because the studies are ongoing and are being run by folks who have a vested interest in their financial outcome—does not kill us …yet.

Our food of today is no longer the food it was fifty years ago. A carrot is no longer a carrot. Chicken is no longer chicken. A hunk of fabulous chocolate cake is still the sugar bomb it was no matter how long ago it was made, but that’s sort of a given and doesn’t serve my argument. And my point is that things have changed in the food growing world.

Our soils are depleted. Our animals are fed unnatural food meant to supersize them toward growth and not health. We’ve introduced pesticides into our diets that have altered our endocrine function. We’ve stripped off minerals and vitamins from processed foods and have replaced them with chemicals meant to give them a shelf life rivaling the length of time it would take you to read off the numerical value of pi.

Some of the ingredients added into our foods today are ones not meant to contribute to our health or the food’s supermarket shelf endurance, but rather the perceived value of the manufacturer’s product.

We’re talking weight.

And just as WEIGHT is the hefty issue we’re struggling with here globally, putting additives into food that give it extra bulk and substance is a widespread technique used across the food industry. Cellulose, an indigestible fiber made from wood pulp, is a common item you’ll find in most processed foods. Supermarket bread, bags of shredded cheese, barbecue sauce and ice cream.

Yep, ice cream too.

Have yourself a Blue Bell country day. (Embrace nature. Hug a tree. Better yet, eat one.)

Carvel Ice Cream. It’s what happy tastes like. (And trees.)

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I could go on snarkily updating ice cream slogans, but the point I’d like to highlight is that cellulose has no nutritional value and our government food regulators have no policies regarding its use in manufacturing. Thus far scientists have determined that eating it in small quantities is what they’ve labeled as GRAS – Generally Regarded As Safe. And even if this remains to be so, it still points to the unhealthy practice of eating food that is deficient of the valuable nutrients we want and need for ourselves and our children.

Not surprisingly, there are plenty of other things food makers are slipping into the ingredient lists of their products these days:

Binders and extenders—nonmeat products used to create bulk and texture.

Coloring agents Blue #1 and #2, Yellow #5 and #6, and Red #40—a rainbow of creativity if your goal is to eat the Nickelodeon television channel.

Azodicarbonamide, or ADA—a funky little compound that keeps your bread spongy and your yoga mat squishy.

And don’t forget growth hormones—feedlot operators’ kitschy little answer to America’s question, “Where’s the beef?”

There is a solid handful of folks who are vocal and persuasive when illuminating the presence of these additives in hundreds of food items today. They draw attention from the press and the population occasionally takes note. Sometimes manufacturers stand up and defend their choices and sometimes they pull the worrisome ingredient from their recipe and replace it with something else. Oftentimes food scientists will jump in, provide a little data and the fire dies down—that is until a few more rats die, enough signatures on a petition are accumulated, or an organization’s lobbying funds dry up.

If you look behind the grand kerfuffle made about alarming ingredients, you’ll see the main message is simply that food manufacturers are putting unnecessary chemicals and compounds into our grub and there are alternatives.

Next let’s talk about the research, the studies, and the dry and brittle data. It’s WHAT WE KNOW.

  1. Architects are growing worried that they are building houses with an expensive and worthless room.

Kitchens are full of cobwebs. For many school-aged children, breakfast is skipped or breakfast and lunch are eaten at school. Dinner is handed over through the driver’s side window. And the new dinner plate is a cardboard box or bucket. Millions of kids are looking at a fork and a knife with the same confused look on their face when handed a pen or a pencil.

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Food education used to come from the home. Our grandmothers painstakingly took the time to write down the recipes that were crafted and perfected by the generations before them. Houses had gardens, produce markets were plentiful and dinner was a scheduled event that you showed up for rain or shine.

We learned how to shuck corn, peel potatoes and pinch a pie crust. You watched the bread rise, carved a chicken and got your hands slapped away if you tried to steal a cookie that was still cooling on a half sheet.

Now I’m not suggesting everyone return to churning butter and dig themselves a root cellar, but I find it unsettling that way too many children do not realize that chickens actually have bones.

Food is the most marvelous thing in the way that it’s often attached to the meaningful events in our lives. Birthdays. Holidays. Dates. Parties.  And we count on it for all the meals that are nothing more than something that satisfies an urge or are simply a scheduled time of day activity. An appreciated break from our busy lives. Breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Growing up, food was incredibly important to my family for many different reasons. I came from a clan of six and although I can’t recall ever going hungry because we didn’t have enough to eat, there were a few times when funds were quite tight and I chose to go hungry because of what was on offer.

To stretch a dollar and a pound of ground beef, my mom would creatively find all sorts of fillers—tofu was one and soy protein was another. She was quite ahead of her time. Powdered milk was cheap and showed up repeatedly—and I don’t care how you disguise it, it had about as much tastebud appeal as liquid cardboard.

As my family ancestry was Polish, my folks oftentimes introduced us to unusual foods that in my opinion would likely have had the offspring of scavenging beasts raise an eyebrow when encouraged to eat it by their parents. Blood seemed to be an ingredient in way too many things for your average nine-year-old’s comfort. I began thinking I should truthfully detail my family’s heritage as part Polish, part vampiric.

Of course, growing up where I did in the Midwest, many folks were hunters, and one evening a platter of what my folks labeled “tiny chicken” showed up on the kitchen table. It did not take me and my siblings long to figure out why my mom was no longer complaining about the unruly squirrel population taking over her summer garden.

And lastly, my mother’s favorite extender of any meal—cream of mushroom soup. Detesting mushrooms was a hobby of mine, and finding these spores in my food became an obsession. After highlighting my childhood foodscape, it’s not so surprising to see how I began to grow incredibly suspicious of all my food. I wanted to know the answer to a very important question:

What’s in it?

~~~~~~~

*I hope you’ll come back next week for part 3. And I hope you may consider offering your thoughts thus far.

Cheers everyone!

~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.

Why I Wrote DEAR OPL

Who Writes a Prologue to a Blog Post? … Umm, Me.

A heads up to this beautiful community I have come to know and embrace. The next three posts are not ‘blog posts’—they are a polished rough draft of a speech.

I’m crowdsourcing and asking for your valuable input.

The speech isn’t about the book I’ve written for children, it’s about the messages within the book that I’m trying to highlight by spreading awareness. Years ago, these topics grabbed me by the shoulders, shook me until my teeth rattled and demanded I do something about them.

The book is a vehicle to address these topics with children. The speech is my outreach campaign to engage parents, educators, and activists who care about how food politics are aggressively influencing our health.

So, I’m asking you to read and comment. Help me make an impact. Tell me what works for you, what doesn’t, what you’d like to see more of, or what you feel detracts. Your opinions matter to me.

This is not a plea to purchase my book. This is an appeal to help me make a difference. If this isn’t your shtick, I promise your names will still be rattled off in my nightly prayers of Please let these folks win some lottery in life. The point is to take advantage of eager, willing voices and collective brain power.

Your thoughts mean a great deal to me. I want to carry them with me as I carry this message to others.

And now … Why I Wrote DEAR OPL.

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I’m usually not one for eavesdropping—okay, who am I kidding? I’m a writer. I’m always listening in on conversations all around me. It’s a fountain-like source of creativity I regularly tap into. And it’s addictive. But it’s part of my job.

On this particular occasion—while I was working—I just happened to overhear a conversation that made me cringe. We were in Australia, and my then seven-year-old son was chatting with an Australian lad who was just a little bit older than him. The boy asked my son where he was from. I heard my son answer, “America.” The other boy’s response was, “Oh. Where the fat people live.”

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I sat back and thought about that unflattering national slogan. It did not have a sexy ring to it.

I thought about a few other places that had slogans to capture the essence and beauty of what they had to offer.

Egypt: Where it all began.

Bahli: The islands of gods.

Disneyland: The happiest place on Earth.

And now …

America: Where the fat people live.

The more I thought about it, the more a few other slogans repeatedly popped into my head. Like this one:

McDonald’s: I’m lovin’ it.

It gave me a lot to chew on—excuse the pun—but it really had me thinking about how big ideas could be distilled down to a few simple words. And sometimes those words could leave a bad taste in your mouth.

But I like slogans. I am all about slogans—or catchphrases or mottos—whatever you want to call them. I surround myself with them because throughout my whole life I’ve found them to be effective.

In fact, here’s an example of just how powerful one became:

As I was growing up, studying classical music was a precise and strictly defined practice. There were rules and not much wiggle room for interpretation of any of them.

I remember as a teenager sitting at the piano with a friend of mine who had not studied classical, but was rather raised playing jazz and improv. We were very different musicians. One afternoon we tried to find a song that both of us could play together on the piano. It ended up being something I could read off sheet music and he improvised alongside.

When we’d finished the piece, he turned to me and said, “Okay, now don’t do it regular.” I didn’t know any other way but regular, and when I found out that’s what I was, I aimed to change it.

In fact, that became the slogan with which I raised my children. My children weren’t particularly thrilled with my ‘swim against the current’ motherly advice as it made them stick out in ways that would make most kids’ toes curl. Their complaining fell on deaf ears and was usually followed with that old parental pearl of It’ll build you some character!

When years ago I heard the highly acclaimed entrepreneur, Seth Godin, say, “Ordinary is boring,” I nearly leaped out of my skin. I wanted to rush to my children and point out that I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t trying to ruin their fun, I was simply trying to enrich their lives.

That phrase of Just Don’t Do It Regular became a theme song I was determined to sing when coaching my kids through countless situations as if I were some first draft version of Maria Von Trapp or a slightly more colorfully dressed adaptation of Mary Poppins. The last thing I wanted for them was a ‘go with the flow’ predictable experience. I wanted them to counteract the narrative of their generation. If they had something to say to the world, it would take words noteworthy and uncommon in order to be heard above the fray.

And people pay attention to noteworthy and uncommon. After that trip to Australia, it seemed like I repeatedly stumbled upon the same message directed at a growing swath of our planet’s population.

We are in trouble, people. We have a big fat problem on our hands … and hips and thighs and bellies.

I couldn’t ignore the message.

After slogging through a forest full of research articles and data authored and collected by the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control and a compilation of all of Dave Letterman’s Top Ten lists, I realized that some of my sources were—although meticulously detailed and scientific—extremely dry and nearly impossible to swallow.

It’s as if the WHO and CDC embraced both Seth and McDonald’s mottos and made an unlikely lovechild tagline for themselves: We’re boring, and lovin’ it.

My guess is that neither of the big research and data collection agencies thought their articles could use any spicing up—with something like a massive neon lit memo—in order to hail the attention of the folks who were most desperately in need of reading it.

Extracting the main point message was easy though:

A shocking number of people are eating themselves to an early death. In particular, children.

I spent a lot of time looking around and asking the silent question, Does everyone know this? And then I spent a lot of time thinking it really shouldn’t be a silent question. And lastly I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I could take the message about our world’s growing epidemic of obesity and spread the word in a way that wouldn’t make people fall asleep with their eyes open.

To reach children, I wrote a book.

But for all of you, I’ve broken the message into three bite-sized portions of important information that I’ve gathered from myriad experts—aka folks far more clever than me—whom I’ve hunted down from all corners of this great round ball we live on. Those three points—the meat and marrow of this talk—are thus:

  1. WHAT WE EAT
  2. WHAT WE KNOW
  3. WHAT WE NEED TO DO

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*I hope you’ll come back next week for part 2 of 3. And I hope you may consider offering your thoughts thus far.

Cheers everyone!

~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.

A Peek at What’s Coming Down the Pike

And here we are, folks. A peek into DEAR OPL–a project of mine that began probably around the same time ancient Babylonian astronomers were first discovering some of our solar system’s inner planets.

You’ll see the synopsis, the first chapter, and the first press reviews by Kirkus.

I hope you’ll enjoy.

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SYNOPSIS

There is a sinkhole deep inside thirteen-year-old Opl Oppenheimer, and for two years she’s plugged the leak with a wad of junk food. But a hole from heartbreak is tricky. And anyone who’s experienced eighth-grade science frog dissection knows a heart can’t be repaired by a bubblegum band-aid. Worse still, overweight Opl now faces diabetes and must swallow the bitter news that sugar is the problem and not the solution to filling the empty space her dad’s presence used to occupy. Even the school’s galling version of celebrity chef Alfie Adam’s Meal Madness is turning Opl’s self-prescribed soothing syrups into miserable medicine. Mock meat and healthy colon slogans plague the lunchroom walls, encouraging change. But Opl can’t see the value of changing her whole life to save her future since it’s the past she wants to retrieve.

Opl identifies a scapegoat for her growing burdens and rallies an internet attack on Alfie Adam. The plan backfires, threatening the success of her mom’s bookstore, the loss of her best friendship and an international lawsuit. To win back her friend, Opl is forced to pledge allegiance to her arch enemy–the health-crazed chef, but in doing so realizes that, just like kimchi, festering problems, if handled correctly, can produce something a whole community can savor.

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DEAR OPL

by Shelley Sackier

Chapter One

The dark enveloped me, squishing my lungs. Like the engulfing bear hug you get from an uncle who’s built like a lumberjack. But this black was so tarry and thick, it made me feel as if I were breathing syrup and forced my heart to thud in my chest. I blinked again and again, and squinted hard, hoping something—anything— would come into focus. I wanted to sprint for my bed, to hide beneath my quilt, where nothing but fuzzy warmth and an old licorice stick are allowed. But I needed this. I couldn’t leave because I had to get rid of the awful ache that poked at my sleep. If I fed it, like a lion at the zoo, it would circle and grow quiet. Sometimes.

Even though I wasn’t supposed to.

My hands fluttered in front of me, like a couple of blind butterflies. They bumped against a pointed edge. I jerked back, thinking I’d been bit, but I took a breath and crept forward until I touched it once more. I traced my skittish fingers along its form until I felt certain the thing wouldn’t strike at me with sharpened fangs and light up with red demonic eyes. It was a box of cereal. And it had to be Froot Loops because the pantry was a bundle of lip-smacking scents like tangy lemon, zingy orange, electric lime, and mouth-watering cherry. This meant Ollie had left the bag open and steam would shoot out of Mom’s ears because it’ll have gone stale by morning. I sighed with relief because as far as I knew, no one has ever been seriously injured by sugary, ring-shaped cereal. Then, again, maybe my younger brother would be the first.

I pushed the box aside and moved my hands higher up. I knocked another smaller carton to the floor, where it bounced off my sock-covered foot. I squatted, sweeping my hands across the floorboards until I found it. Bringing the package to my nose, I sniffed its edges. It smelled like Thanksgiving—well, not the last one, but the twelve others before that. It smelled of cinnamon and apples. It smelled of happiness.

I opened the box and felt inside, my fingers searching for more of the memory. They picked up a tiny pouch. A tea bag. It made the sound of Mom’s old flower seed envelopes, the ones she held up each spring and shook like tiny maracas. “April showers bring May flowers! Let’s go plant some future sunshine.”

That didn’t happen this spring. Or the one before it.

I fumbled about until I found an empty spot I could push the tea bags into and then let my fingers wander farther across the shelf. They collided into something crinkly. Bingo!

I pressed my hands around the package. It had the right sound—like crunching plastic—when I squeezed it. I pulled it to my nose. Yes, definitely the right smell. And not one I could attach to any other thing. It was powdery sweet. Buttery. Not quite chocolate but deep, like cocoa. It mixed with scents of sugared vanilla—a cream so luscious, it ran slickly against your tongue. This was not just a food; it was a feeling. I wanted those Oreos so badly my mouth started watering like a mini sprinkler.

I felt around for the opening, the plastic pullback tab that granted you access right to the very heart of the package and the cure-all cookies. Tonight’s remedy. But something was wrong. The pull tab was missing. I groped the front and back, skimming its sides, trying to catch the sticky edge like you do when your Scotch tape has come off the metal ridge and sealed itself back onto the roll. It wasn’t there. I couldn’t find it.

Something brushed against my cheek and I reeled back in fright, bumping into the rickety pantry steps behind me. My fingers slapped at my face, but found only my hair falling out of its messy ponytail. With a racing heartbeat, I ventured a hand along the wall, searching for the light switch. Then I pulled back. I’d better not turn on the pantry bulb, because the glow would creep down the hall and shine like a headlight through Mom’s open bedroom door. She was a super light sleeper. She could leap out of bed at the sound of a cricket passing gas on the back porch.

But I needed those cookies.

A flashlight! That’s the answer. I bent down to hunt the lower shelf beneath the microwave. In my mind I could see four of them on the ledge, lined up like eager soldiers: sentries of the dark. But I bumped into one and they tumbled like dominos. I held my breath, trying to absorb the clunking sounds. I made that lungful stay put and listened, wishing I had a third ear. At the relief of no footsteps rushing into the kitchen, I grasped one of the tipsy warriors against the dark, flipped its switch, and looked at the package in my other hand. I held the Oreos all right, but they’d been double packaged, slipped inside a Ziploc bag along with a folded piece of stationery.

I sat down on the old wine crate Mom used as a step, forgetting about how badly it creaked, and unzipped the plastic bag. I pulled out the note and tilted the beam toward the words. It said:
Dear Opal,
Please don’t eat these. Remember your diet.
I love you,
Mom

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To Pre-order DEAR OPL (Published August 4, 2015)

Amazon

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Books a Million

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In the two years since her father’s death from cancer, Opal’s life has gone awry.

Grief and her family’s altered dynamics have contributed to Opal’s struggles with food and weight. She is increasingly at odds with her mother, who is overwhelmed and distracted. When her mother encourages Opal to start a blog as a way to document her food intake, Opal decides to use it to express her thoughts instead. Soon, Opal’s sharp, humorous observations as “Opl” garner interest as people respond to her commentary. Sackier captures Opal’s emotional turmoil as she grieves for her father and resists her mother’s campaign to persuade her to diet. When a savage blog entry directed at a popular chef earns Opal criticism from her best friend, remorse—along with an alarming health diagnosis from Opal’s doctor—compels Opal to reconsider the chef’s healthful-food philosophy. Sackier conveys a message about healthy habits without lecturing. Opal’s adventures in cooking and yoga—with occasionally comical results—alter her perspective, and her changing attitudes reflect her personal and emotional transformation. As Opal endeavors to better understand who she is, she gains a greater awareness of others’ life circumstances as well. When a chance encounter leads to Opal’s acquaintance with Rudy, a regular visitor to the local soup kitchen, Opal devises a kindhearted plan to help him.

By the story’s conclusion, readers will be happy they traveled with Opal on her journey to self-acceptance. (Fiction. 10-14)

*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.

I Knew It! It’s Only a Matter of Time.

All you have is the NOW.”

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This is a quote from my yoga teacher. She reminds me twice a week that there is the past, and the potential, but most important is the present.

This moment.

And once it goes, it’s gone.

I wrestled with that quote for an entire hour last week during class, trying to unravel it. Those six little monosyllabic words. It was harder to pay attention to than I thought it would be. My thoughts have a habit of being way ahead of my body—or way behind it. The idea of syncing the two together is about as easy as the concept of bowling in space or playing tennis underwater. Not a lot of success, and hugely effortful.

I understand the need for a point of convergence mostly because I’ve benefitted when I’ve arrived at exactly that spot. But these are tiny chunks of time—slivers really. Twenty minutes of meditation where maybe out of those twenty minutes I was fully present for about four of them. The other sixteen were thinking about my grocery list, what books were due at the library, or how to encourage my plumber to put whisky, red wine, and chocolate sauce on tap in my kitchen.

I know. I get distracted. But it’s nearly impossible for me shut down that thought factory.

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The idea of remaining mentally engaged is a no-brainer for me—although that’s clearly a poor choice of words. As a writer, I need access to my stores of creativity and a method of churning up its source to keep the vault filled to capacity. Damned is the day I open that door, reach in and pull out nothing but a fistful of mothball scented air. I also need cerebral acuity in order to keep up with my kids. Once I discover they’re slowing their speech and purposefully choosing words that would be dismissed as too difficult for a fourth-grade spelling bee I am toast.

I’m grateful to my yoga and meditation teachers who all seem to carry the parade-sized banner that states: Found yourself distracted by other thoughts? No worries! Start again. It’s rather an amazing club to belong to where you thankfully realize that J.K. Simmons is not your mentor and you will never get slapped upside the head for losing the count.

But the measurement of time—or time perspective—is often where I get caught in a circular loop. I once heard psychologist Philip Zimbardo lecture about how time—as our current culture defines it—can be broken into six segments.

You can have a Past time perspective, where you focus on the positive or negative, a Present time perspective, where you focus on hedonism or fatalism, or a Future time perspective, where you focus on life goals or the transcendental.

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I may pen Dr. Zimbardo a note to suggest a quick conversation with my hero Neil deGrasse Tyson who believes we could possibly add a seventh segment to time perspective that I’ll call Sideways. Neil says, realistically, if there’s a forward and backward and a ‘stay where you are’ on the measurement of time, there’s likely a left and a right built in there too, but we’re just not seeing it yet.

Yep. Mushroom-shaped, mind-blowing thought, eh? See why I can’t stay focused?

But I think I’ve discovered what would help me on all fronts of time measurement and it’s a ridiculously simple solution, and yet an impossible one.

HIT PAUSE.

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Stopping time altogether seems like an answer that would affect the past, the future and the present—and likely those wonky side bits Neil says are invisibly hanging about. How?

If for twenty-four hours I could stop time entirely I could work at fevered pitch, press play and then realize that the next day I’d wake up and be a paltry nineteen days behind schedule rather than the overwhelming twenty I’ve currently tallied. That might make a dent in the past and I’d feel a more ‘positive past time perspective.’

Or I could use the time to make a massive deposit in my depleted sleep bank and snooze through the two dozen hours. This would surely display my tendencies toward ‘hedonistic present time perspective.’

Or lastly, I could finally fill out that Last Will & Testament, write sappy farewell love letters to my children, build myself a sturdy pine box and locate the tree I’d like to be buried beneath as a clear illustration of my ‘transcendental future time perspective’ because the alternative of devoting those windfall hours to ‘life goals’ would do nothing but demonstrate that God had somehow managed to insert an eighth day to the week, as it would be the same as the seven before it.

No. It must be unique.

Twenty-four blissful bonus hours of time not moving even one tiny inch forward. I could catch up, I could sleep or I could focus entirely on my impending death.

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Umm … it may not be as tough a choice as I once thought.

Yep. Those extra hours sure would be appreciated. In fact, maybe the best idea would be to devote the day to increasing my success with that whole mind/body being in the moment goal.

So, for now I’ll put the past behind me and I’ll set aside the future. Because as all the great Zen masters say, there’s no time like the present.

Except for the ones Neil says we can’t see.

~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (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.

 

 

You Want to Step Outside?

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they drive.

You can tell even more about a person by the way they drive AT YOU going 40 mph on a thin and curvy country road while you are out for a leisurely Sunday stroll.

Not everyone is paying attention, as is clear by the amount of drivers that will suddenly swerve when they finally identify that you are a person on the side of the road and not a woodland deer on two feet, or a slow moving tree attempting to make a break from the forest.

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And not everyone is particularly concerned about speed, or laws, or the fact that studies have shown it is easier to drive a vehicle if you are in charge of the direction you’d like for it to move. Pesky windshields and steering wheels. They so get in the way of reading emails.

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As a person who spends the majority of my conscious, upright hours in a chair, I have made a pact with myself (or Beelzebub) that states that if I fail to take a head-clearing, leg-stretching, lung-cleansing walk by the end of the day, I must refrain from breathing for a full thirty minutes as punishment before going to bed. Or for as long as the dog’s last nap divided by pi and rounded up to the nearest tenth. Whichever is longer.

I rarely fail to take a walk.

When at home, my routine is measured and predictable. There is no choice in direction living on the peak of a great chunk of rock. You are allowed to go … down. But then you have to come back up if you’re hoping to get dinner. As I never tackle this adventure without my trusty rusty hound by my side, and because it’s clear to anyone who has heard me wax lyrical about the animal (and declare I’d give him a kidney if he needed it), I am usually swayed to flip a 180 once we arrive back to base camp and trek down half the mountain again as a bonus for a little added caloric burn.

I have been warned that I am way too indulgent with this mound of fur on four feet, but as he assures me he would pull me out of a burning house fire, I feel I need to continually shore up our relationship—and his muscle strength—as a just in case insurance plan.

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If I’m visiting my parents, my walk is more residential, peppered by driveways, cars, and the containers holding last night’s dinner—a gift tossed out truck windows from a good chunk of folks who have yet to meet an area of the world that does not confuse them as being an extension of the county landfill.

Should I find myself in town and in between appointments, I make use of the tennis shoes I keep in my car for such an occasion and stroll in whichever direction the wind is blowing. Coincidentally, the wind seems to push me right to the nearest bakery, which I take as a sign from the universe that I need a lot more gluten in my diet.

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And I’m all about tuning into cosmic conversations. I’m like a fully carbed out Jodi Foster, only instead of sitting on the hood of my car surrounded by giant, rotating satellite receivers, I am standing in the city center, inhaling in all directions seeking the tiny refrains of active yeast strains.

I can smell otherworldly puff pastry creations from sectors of space that have yet to be mapped by astrological spectrographs.

There are countless things to learn on one’s habitual daily walk, like how much the winter snow contributed to the health of the burbling brooks, or how fast maple trees leaf out in spring, or how much porcupines do not appreciate being taken by surprise.

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Where folks are closer together I’ve discovered that neighbors like to communicate their personalities through mailbox and yard art. Perhaps as a way of scaring off any real forest critters from feasting on hedges, flowers and veggies, fake ones are strewn about the lawn. Most complete with bullet holes. Some driveways are so crisply outlined in nighttime headlight reflectors, one could safely guide a Boeing 757 into the garage at the end of it. And if one house has decided to grandly name their abode, you can bet your bottom dollar that ‘Ben & Jen’s Lake House’ will soon find it’s sharing the same street as ‘The Earl of Norfolk Hall,’ ‘Chateau Belvoir,’ and ‘Killkerny Castle.’

In closing, it doesn’t matter if I’m in the forest, with my folks or following the fragrance of fine French bread, I really love to walk.

My hope is that I will remain healthy enough to do it for years and years to come.

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Another hope is that I will continue to recover from all the ditch diving I have had to practice in order to avoid speeding vehicles driven by amateur multi-taskers.

And my last hope is that I will finish this post before the clock strikes midnight so that I can squeeze in my daily walk and not be forced to calculate how long the dog’s last nap was.

I love to walk.

But I love to breathe more.

~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (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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Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate

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

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

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

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

Suicide.

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

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

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

But five?

Five within one year? And all on one campus.

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

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

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

Your answer is not always their answer.

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

A scientist

A musician

An activist

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

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

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

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

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

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

It didn’t matter.

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

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

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

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

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

Taste this.

Eat that.

Try those.

Little words, big flavors, potential aid promising relief.

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

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

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

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

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

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~Shelley

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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.

Don’t Be Alarmed …

I am a time freak.

Obsessed by the hours, minutes and seconds of my day, I am surrounded by the ever present notion that time is slipping away. And I am desperately grasping at those units of time with the same success as a giant Maine lobster trying to thread a needle.

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Not terribly successful.

But I’m not a total bust either, just realistic when looking at my chart of accomplishments and noting the upward trajectory is minute at best—no pun intended.

When I take a 360 glance about myself, I note the myriad gadgets that help me track my day and the plan I have for it.

Clocks are everywhere.

Tiny ones live on my desk, on my computer, on my shelves. Scheduled pop ups announce themselves on my smart phone and my tablet. My wrist ‘wearable’ vibrates every forty-five minutes with a tiny trumpeting announcement that the only things moving during the last three quarters of an hour have been my fingers and my eyes. Get up. Get going. Get active.

Too often, I feel my life is accompanied by a giant, ticking clock—a timekeeper so inescapable it is like trying to run from the wind, the unseen currents ubiquitous, uncontrollable and disorderly.

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My car has a clock that is always in a hurry. It runs several minutes fast, which consequently makes me feel late—and that of course adds to the general mental mindset malaise of never being able to keep up. Somehow the message surreptitiously sneaks into my brain that even if I am on time, I am late according to the beast of a manufacturing company I purchased this product from. Perhaps they have passed on their own unhealthy psychology to me, their consumer? The attitude that sounds—if you press your ear to the dashboard—like the desperate, drumming tattoo of, Churn them out. Churn them out. Churn them out.

I have a grandfather clock in the hallway which I long ago stopped setting. In the past, when waking to its hourly bong, I thought it absurd to be reminded that another sixty minutes had gone by since I last fell asleep—a good chunk of them spent attempting to fall back into slumber.

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I have three alarm clocks that are bedside companions. One is on an insta-glow setting, so that I’m never farther than one elevated eyelid away from knowing how many more precious moments of pretending to sleep I have before the other two audibly announce, “TIME’S UP!”

On the zootechnical front, I have two domesticated animals whose internal rhythms are so precisely tuned to their biological needs, there is no reason to own anything battery operated or electrically charged.

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And lastly, I find myself wholly annoyed with our planet’s main source of life—a star that, when visible, speedily tracks across my window pane and taunts me with the incessant reminder that the hours are slithering away, vanishing without a hint of anything to suggest they once existed apart from what lies behind and above the cursor on my screen. I long for cloudy days.

Of course, I am tied to the most vital of metronomes, the one which most of us ignore unless we are in an urgent state of health—either mental or physical.

The heart.

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I know it is there. Yet I’ve never seen proof. I feel its presence if I place my hand upon my chest, if I sprint after my hound, or if I come upon the faces of my children.

It stretches and nearly bursts with the swelling that takes place when discovering that my work mattered to someone, and it aches when it splinters after grasping the unrelenting unkindness in our world.

In my quiet moments of yoga practice, I am asked to find a stillness so deep and connected with the internal workings of my physical-ness that I can locate, feel, and hear my own heartbeat. That is a thin thread of ‘knowing’ available to all of us, but seldom sought and rarely found.

I am reminded to live in the present, to acknowledge each moment as prized, whether I am glowing with joy, or wrestling with pain. I am told to sit within time—not in the past, nor in the future.

I am a devotee of days, a maniac for minutes, and crazy with chronography.

I am a time freak.

~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.

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A Sight for Sore Eyes

The room was candlelit dark—apart from the blinding light directed into one of my eyes. I felt cool fingers pull down on the skin just below my left eye. Oh, how I wanted to jerk back and say, “Hey! You just undid four months of anti-wrinkle cream treatments with that one careless move!” But I refrained.

“Look to the left. Look to the right. Look up. Look down.” These were the words I heard and then heard repeated as my optometrist shifted her focus to the right side of my face.

This was the last test in line for my annual, incredibly long, No End in Sight vision test. I really had to make a note to book half a day for this appointment next year.

So many exams, with large hunks of plastic where you–please put your chin in the tray and look through the lens. It didn’t matter how many antibacterial wipes the staff quickly swished over the equipment. This was flu and cold season. I was bound to walk out of here with something the CDC hadn’t quite been successful in developing a vaccine for.

Exam number one was a test where I peered through a porthole and watched a hot air balloon in the distance come in and out of focus, but the only thing that became clear to me was that I would really like to be on that guy.

Next was the ‘puff of air’ Glaucoma test, designed to measure the pressure in your eye. I wonder if it could also detect the pressure in my head, as I had a bucketload on my plate today and always felt that this particular test was just one most physicians threw in for fun as a Made you blink! game.

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The Visual Acuity test has me sweating before I even place one hand over one eye. Reading the eye chart letters seems somehow slightly judgmental when my doctor used to say, “Fantastic! High Five!” and now simply sighs and then clucks her tongue as she puts notes on my chart.

HEY! IT’S NOT LIKE I COULD STUDY!

Cuz I would have.

The Ishihara Color Vision test is the only fun test given, and if a physician truly wants to go whole hog, she will show you up to 38 “plates” within the book that display pictures of colored dots surrounding a number that, to someone without color blindness, appear in multiple different colors.

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It’s rather similar to the random dot autostereogram artwork—the Magic Eye paintings—that allow folks to see 3D images while gazing at 2D pictures. If it weren’t for the headache that followed, I could stare at those puzzles all day long.

The refraction test is always one I stumble through embarrassingly. That monster multi-lens device gets swung in front of your head and you’re asked to peer through the glass and read the line of Morse code on the very bottom of the eye chart while the doctor flips through a series of choices. “Do you like A or B … A or B?”

“Umm … could we do them again?”

“A or B? … A or BEEEE?”

“I’ll take A—No wait! B. B. B! Yes, I’ll take B. I think.”

It would be so much easier if she just let me do it myself. It might take me a while to go through the manual and figure out what flips what and how many ticks I rotate through, but it would be a helluva lot more accurate because a massive amount of pressure would be alleviated. I’m itching to say, “Just go see the guy in examining room three and give me about fifteen minutes. I’ll have this all sorted out by then. You’re welcome.”

The test for macular degeneration is one that’s not only challenging to take, but challenging to say. Sometimes I’ll just ask everyone wearing some sort of a uniform in the office about macular degeneration simply to see just how easily it rolls off their tongue. Bit of a twister.

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But the test itself is one of quick response and reflexes. Cover one eye, put your chin on the petri dish, and stare at the black dot in the middle of the screen. You’ll see something that looks like graph paper there. It’s called an Amsler Grid—probably after some scientist who loved trigonometry.  They give you a handheld device with a button and tell you to stare only at the black dot, clicking the button any time you see something moving, flashing or flitting about on the grid. Well I find this hugely frustrating and nearly impossible as firstly, when someone says, “Don’t look at the pink woolly mammoth in the room,” everyone immediately starts searching for the pink woolly mammoth, and secondly, I’m constantly apologizing to the technician saying, “Whoops! Don’t count that press of the button. I’m pretty sure that was just a floater.”

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I fail this test miserably and we all begin to suspect I am either on the irreversible road to blindness or a flea has gotten into the machine. It doesn’t matter. I’m getting used to personally letting down my physician.

The Pupil Dilation test is likely my least favorite, as it renders you nearly incapacitated.

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They plop the stingy drops into your eyes, the drops leak down the side of your face and stream into your ears, taking with them half the mascara you applied for the day, and then everyone leaves you to stare into space while the drops take effect. Within minutes you cannot read, and because of the leftover drops in both ears, you can’t even listen to music or podcasts because everyone sounds like they’re under water.

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I sit. And wait. And pilfer the examining room drawers for samples. I now have enough sterile gloves to start selling back to the World Health Organization for a fraction of what they’re probably paying for them now, and be able to pay for both my kids’ college education within my first week of commerce.

We round out the exam with another paralyzing light directed through my eyeball and landing somewhere at the back of my skull. I am finished. For another year. And as always I am left with the parting gift of sage advice from my physician.

Don’t forget to wear your sunglasses.

Take a break from staring at your computer.

And at your age, perhaps next year you might want to entertain the idea of getting a pair of reading glasses.

(insert sound of record scratching here)

Wha?? AT MY AGE???

That is a careless and cruel farewell she gives me, and I vow to erase those dastardly words from my still soggy ears.

I walk out of her office with one helpful, sedating phrase: Out of sight, out of mind.

~Shelley

 November Gotta Have a Gott 

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. Last week, we revealed the winners, and today you can vote for the last month in the running and sign up to purchase Rob’s cartoons in calendar form. If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT,  place your order today ( info@robingott.com) and also see the cartoons in November’s competition so you can cast your vote.

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

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This is No Laughing “Matter”

Two weeks later there are seventeen staples.

That’s the punch line of this joke. Except, it ended up being much more of a punch in the gut, than a good giggle. Still, as with every adventure I experience, there is a constant narrative running in my mind. I cannot stop it.

I share it with you.

~~~~~~~~

“Come on, buddy. Dinner time.”

Um, no thanks.

“Suit yourself, but the bowl stays down for only about fifteen minutes. Then I’m giving your table reservation to the next handsome hound that walks through my kitchen door.”

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~~~~~~~

“Alrighty. Take two, my prized pooch. Dinner is served.”

Think I’ll pass.

“What? Is it my cooking? Gone off my culinary craft?”

*shrug*

~~~~~~~

“Round three, my finicky fussbudget. Surely your point has been made. Tonight, I even warmed up your dinner with my best chafing dish.”

Something is wrong.

“Did you break a tooth? Swallow a toad? Has the cat been casting black magic spells in preparation for her shift on Halloween?”

Something is wrong.

“My pride in preparation says there’s a lack of gratitude, but my gut instinct says it’s time to call for a second opinion. Hold on, bud. Let me get the phone and make an appointment.”

~~~~~~~

“What seems to be the problem here, Shelley?”

“Well, Doc, the first is my wholly insufficient knowledge base in veterinary care. The second is the plummeting communication skills of my hound.”

“Dogs cannot articulate beyond their most basic needs.”

“Ordinarily, I would agree. I have raised many animals that have mistaken their brethren for tree stumps, and have made a lifetime goal of achieving the title ‘Most enthusiastic pooper scooper.’ This guy is different. And he has gone radio silent.”

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“Hmm … And his symptoms?”

I sigh. “Refusing my food. He’s become one of my kids.”

“Might he have eaten something other than your food? A sock? Household poison, perhaps?”

“No. The only way he would have eaten a sock is if I gave him permission to do so, and the only way he would have been poisoned is if the cat had done it. And I’ve not caught her mixing elixirs in her lab for months. The fumes make her eyes water, plus she’s taken up online chess.”

The vet looked at me, as all vets do, wondering if I’d actually stopped off at the wrong clinic. “Okay, well, how bout I bring Haggis back with me and give him a thorough going over.”

“I doubt violence will make him talk, Doc.”

“I meant I’ll examine him in the back.”

“Examine him in the front too. The tube runs from one end to the other. Plus, you guys charge a fortune. I’d like to get my money’s worth.”

Something is wrong.

“I know, buddy. We’ll sort it out. Be brave. I’ll see you soon.”

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~~~~~~~~

“We’d like to do some x-rays.”

I look up from my spot in the waiting room, twisting the hound’s plaid leash through my hands. “Is that coming from you, or did he ask for that? Not having eaten for three days can make him impolite and cranky.”

“All me.”

“Okay then. Remind him to hold his breath. We’ve practiced that all summer in the lake.”

~~~~~~~

“Well, it appears he’s got some matter in his stomach.”

“Is that a vet term for ‘something-the-matter’ with his stomach? Because that’s the diagnosis I gave you when we first arrived without the aid of x-rays.”

“Nope. Something’s in there and it’s not moving.”

“I hope it’s not the cat. They do fight something awful occasionally.”

“I think we’ll keep the dog here with us. You should go home and I’ll repeat the films in the morning. Then we’ll know if we have to operate.”

“Maybe you should do it now in case it is the cat.”

“Go home.”

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~~~~~~~~~

“He did just fine. He’s resting and sedated. I’ll show you what we pulled out of his stomach.” The vet puts a Ziplock bag on the exam table.

“That does not look like the cat.”

“It’s grass.”

“Could it be Italian parsley? I sometimes garnish with that.”

“It’s grass.”

“I would never garnish with grass.”

“He’s been eating grass.”

“I have always said he looks more like a sheep than a dog. Could we do a genetic test? That might be the issue.”

“You can take him home tomorrow.”

~~~~~~~~

Something is wrong.

“You bet your grassy ass there is, bud. It’s called lack of sleep. I have a medical regimen assigned to me that would give an entire hospital ward a run for their money. I’ve got alarm clocks set to wake me nearly on the hour to coax some pretty pill down your gullet. I’m zonked.”

Something is wrong.

“If I come over there and your breath gives off the slightest whiff of fine fescue, it’s curtains, got it?”

~~~~~~~~

“This time we’ll do an ultrasound.”

“Will it cost less if it’s done ultra quick?”

“Go home.”

~~~~~~~~

“Okay, Shelley, let’s try this again. Here are some more meds. Try to get him to eat.”

“Do the meds count as eating?”

“Good luck.”

~~~~~~~~

“Here. Try this, Haggis. It’s peanut butter.”

It’s pills wrapped in peanut butter.

“How bout this? Big beautiful red tomato?”

Tomato hiding pills.

“Alright, fine. Oooh, this looks yummy.”

Smells like pills.

“Look at this, buddy. Even my mouth is watering. I bet’ll taste like chicken.”

Pills.

“Ugh.”

Something is wrong.

~~~~~~~~~

“I’ve called in an internal specialist. She should be here soon.”

“Are you telling me there’s something more internal than his stomach?”

“We’re running some more tests. There’s some swelling, fever, gastroparesis … we’ll know by morning if we need to operate again.”

“Any chance we can get one on the house? After all, we are frequent flyers.”

“Go home.”

“Coupon card? Customer loyalty discount?”

~~~~~~~~

“Okay, call us if you have any concerns, and here’s one more medication he needs to take.”

“On top of the other eight?”

“Five.”

“Feels like eight.”

“Good luck.”

~~~~~~~~

Something is wrong.

“What? Seriously. Could you not have spoken up while we were still on the premises with the giant red cross on the window?”

Look at me. I don’t look like me. Something is wrong.

“Of course you don’t look like you. You’ve had a procedure to vacuum out your insides. One to sew your stomach to the lining of your abdominal wall, four sets of x-rays, two ultrasounds and a partridge shoved up your pear tree more times than I’ve had hot dinners.”

I look like a poodle.

“Yes, well four sets of IVs require some creative shaving.”

I’m missing half my body hair.

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“Yep, you know how your appetite can plummet just from getting hair in your food? Getting hair into one’s body cavity has the same effect times ten.”

And the seventeen staples? Why not stitches?”

“That was my request. I wanted to discourage anyone from heading back inside again.”

I’m hungry.

“You’re back! God, I missed you, buddy.”

Where’s the cat?

“Leave her alone. She’s upstairs online with the Russians.”

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Not for long.

*sigh* “It’s good to have you home.”

~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.

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Getting a Peace of My Mind

Over the last few years, one of the big differences I noticed between myself and my kids was the way we worked. And by work I mean inviting and finding success with brain function, not our skill level with bow and arrow, or our ability to use a circular saw.

Those rougher, physical arts I still claim top spot in, but our intake and processing of information is apples to oranges. Or maybe even apples to orangutans. Not even remotely close.

Somewhere along the way from infancy to young adulthood, their gray matter grew partitions and looks somewhat like the inside of a fifty story office building with each floor holding hundreds of worker bee cubicles. They all function independently separate and together. Those little parts work for the giant godhead of global function. It is a hive of ongoing mental stimulation.

My brain is more like a gelatinous fish egg sack someone hauls over the side and onto the floor of a boat. It’s filled with potential, and it’s interesting enough to have folks peer at it with wonder, but no one really wants to go near it.

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My attention cannot be divided from the one project I assign it. One brain, no partitions, solitary job. Biologically, that’s as far as it goes. I’ve attempted multitasking before, but without the necessary hardware—the partitions—it’s like trying to build a concrete foundation with black strap molasses and prop it up with toothpicks.

Brain wandering is a specialty of mine, but I’ve spent years developing that talent because it’s a necessary skill in writing fiction. And if you’ve read or watched any version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, you’ll have the barebones structure of how I go about my business. Multiple times a day, I see a waving hand before my face, or hear the repeated snapping of impatient fingers trying to get my attention.

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Thus, I’ve found that sharing the same air space with either one of my progeny while attempting to accomplish anything cerebral is wasted effort. Well, let me rephrase that. They can work just fine. I cannot organize enough thought energy to remember how one is supposed to write sentences, or calculate figures, or blink. I am annoyingly DISTRACTED.

I am sidetracked by their music—which usually has a tempo that calls out a challenge to my heartbeat. Sadly, this pace is one that most physicians would use after they’ve placed you on a treadmill for a stress test and are trying to ascertain the uppermost level of strain they can place upon your blood pumping internal organ before you pass out and break your nose on the handlebars.

My attention is diverted by the pinging of all their technological devices, the vibrating of their phones, the trips to the fridge, the video chatting with their friends, and the clinking of ice in their glasses.

Hell, there are even times when I lose focus because I heard someone swallow. And although I can bark at them to turn down their music or shut off their phones, I can’t ask them to stop any involuntary muscle movement. Well, I can, and I have, but I don’t think they’re really trying.

So I’ve decided to do something about it. I’m going all Jedi on my bodhi. Well, maybe it’s more like going rodeo on my consciousness. I’m learning how to reclaim it and reel it in when it starts leaking out my ears.

And I’m doing this by practicing a little bit of simple meditation every day.

I discovered a few good apps and narrowed it down to two that I found would work with my temperament and schedule. I started with an iTunes search that churned up an oceanic pot full of them, but then I cut out all the ones that didn’t require a credit card or ask that you rise at three a.m. for optimal results. Free and do it when you please fit my criteria.

A prerequisite for finding success when you’re first starting off on the meditation merry go round is a QUIET PLACE. This obviously means a place where neither of my kids has a physical presence. I go to my bedroom, and shut the door. But in my house, a closed door is like a magnet for knocking hands.

“Mom? What are you doing?”

“Go away.”

“When’s dinner?”

“Go away.”

“There’s no water coming out of the faucets.”

Three a.m. is looking more attractive every minute.

Even if I’m alone in the house, I’m not alone in the house. My fur-faced affiliates see me on the floor as part invitation, part challenge.

There is a lap, and I belong in it.

There is a lap, a ball belongs in it.

The minute I close my eyes and “focus on my breath,” I become uncomfortably aware of the fact that two others are focusing on my face. I can feel their breath on my face as they stare at it and mentally converse with one another, asking why I’m attempting to sleep sitting up. Then I hear the beginnings of a beleaguering brawl: a grand event ending in a fierce game of “If you do that again I will make hashtags on your eyeballs.” After tossing them both out the bedroom and closing the door, they become lab partners and endeavor to regain access. But their engineering feats lack imagination, skill, and opposable thumbs. Their efforts would bring about the same amount of praise as hiring an architect to build you a house out of triply ply toilet paper.

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Nothing these two do makes sense.

The constant pawing at the door. The constant pawing beneath the door.  The constant pausing I must do in order to open the door, shout and close the door again.

It is a process, this finding a quiet space in order to quiet my mind. It is also apparent that I must first train my family before I can begin training me.

I’m pretty sure the only way I will find success at this point is to secure a little help by my side. So now when I sit down to meditate, I make sure I have my bow and arrow on one side, and the circular saw on the other.

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With this minor adjustment, all great minds think alike.

~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.

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Diabesities: Our Young Brood’s Battle with the Bulge.

Everybody loves surprises, right?

Well, I suppose it depends upon the kind of surprise. The Hey, you just won a year’s worth of dental hygiene! could be nice. A Mom, I passed physics! is pretty worthy. And Your book is going to be made into a movie! is a phone call I am so hoping will come one day.

The surprises many of us would rather not face down the pike are:

Yep, see that there crack, ma’am? Looks like you’re gonna need a whole new foundation.

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Or: What? You’re pregnant with triplets … again?

 

And of course: Hey, honey. My mother is moving in with us. Surprise!

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Obviously these bombshell examples aren’t things we regularly have to get used to, but I’d like to make you aware of a few eye-popping truths that have become the new standard for normal around our planet.

1.) 43 million children under 5 are overweight or obese.

2.) 1/3 of kids born after the year 2000 will develop diabetes.

3.) The number one source of calories in the United States is from high fructose corn syrup.

4.)  43% of pilots admit to falling asleep during their flight. 33% of them wake to find that their co-pilot is out cold as well.

Yes, folks, the numbers are rising, just like those of the Earth’s temperature and most countries’ national debt. The stats I’m focusing on today are strictly numbers 1-3. Number 4 was thrown in simply for your armchair amusement, and your in-flight horror.

The bad news is that today’s generation of children will be the first to have a shorter lifespan that that of their parents.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

The great news is that it’s super easy to flip these numbers because the only thing standing in the way of our children’s health is our children.

Oh, and the media.

Oops, and their friends.

Yeah … and the school cafeterias.

Alright, maybe we ought to back up to the statement that simply reveals the good news bit, because once we realize what it is we’re up against, the odds for growing healthy human beings seems nearly insurmountable.

How do one or two parents launch an effective campaign for their children’s health that can stand up to billions of dollars in marketing, peer pressure and the common sense of legislation that states lunchroom pizza can be considered a vegetable because it has tomato sauce on it?

Go figure.

The food industry spends over two billion dollars a year with advertisements that target kids alone. TWO BILLION WITH A “B!”

And 98% of those ads are for foods that are high in fat, sugar and sodium—and fat, sugar and sodium are hugely addictive. They become things you can’t live without, like air and water and Facebook.

But unlike air and water and social media, those products of the food industry are nearly nutrition-less and only benefit drug companies who develop insulin related medications, Weight Watchers, and clothing manufacturers who charge by the square inch.

For those of you who are in command of stocking the fridge, I’m sure you’re familiar with the rule of thumb that one should never go grocery shopping while hungry. For those of you with children, there’s the extra add-on that one should never go grocery shopping with anyone who has learned to point and speak. With pointing and speaking comes nagging, and marketers have done studies to determine that it takes an average of “nine nags” for the typical child to convince a parent to give in and give over. Nine.

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That’s one above parental patience—where one disciplines while maintaining a princess Disney voice—and one below that combustible threshold I learned about in my daughter’s science project. Kaboom.

So while my kids were growing up, I found it was safer if they stayed home. A win win for all of us. They didn’t see the blazing, tantalizing come-hither advertisements placed directly at their eyeball level, and I didn’t get escorted out of the supermarket for hijacking the public address system, begging that anyone with a Xanax for me and duct tape for my kids would please come to aisle five for some serious cleanup.

Yep. Win win.

But this only lasts so long, because sooner than you know, the cat is out of the bag and your kids are off to school. This is where all the forces of good are overwhelmed by evil and your children declare you to be Satan.

They come home one day, slam the front door while tossing their tiny book bags to the floor and shout:

“Nobody else plants their own food!”

“None of the other kids have gone on monthly fieldtrips to local farms in order to watch dinner be chosen, slaughtered and butchered!”

“And not a one of them were told that they must study the stupid French technique of making duck confit because that helps with riding a bike!”

Oh? I say. And did you also crush their belief in all things sacred by telling them that chicken actually has bones?

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I have grown immune to their evil glares, but I refuse to ignore what’s happening to our kids and their declining health. It can be easy to shrug and wave the white flag of surrender, but I for one look awful in white and refuse to do so. I will continue to fight this worthy battle. And I’m doing it with my words.

Words are pretty powerful things. They move us, convince us, enrage us, and enlighten us. I’ve become so determined to help in the growing campaign for kids’ health that I wrote a book to tackle the subject, by tickling kids’ funny bones. I’m not sure if it will have an impact, but my fingers are crossed it will touch at least one or two folks. And if it helps one or two, that might have a ripple effect elsewhere.

But just to be clear, no one needs a book to make an impact. You just need to know you have a vote.

Folks are often surprised to remember their voice actually counts. The simplest way to do that is by deciding where your dollars, pounds and shekels will go.

And I bet the food industry will be pretty surprised to find a growing chunk of folks are fed up with the baloney they’re trying to feed our families.

It’s hard to initiate change—especially when you feel it’s a case of Muhammad and the mountain. But as I always say, if you’re going to eat an elephant, you’ve got to take it one bite at a time. And bringing better health to our kids is a battle I’d bet most of us are willing to fight.

That should come as no surprise.

~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.

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Bug Off!

Three nights ago something crawled into my bed that did not belong there. It was invisible and had fangs. Well, it felt like fangs, but because they were invisible teeth, I couldn’t be sure.

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Half a dozen times I flipped back the covers, flicked on the lights and scoured the bed.

The cat gazed at me like a therapist stares at his patient—the kind of assessment that lets you know they’re actually going through the latest chapters of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in their head to see where you fit in.

The dog raised his head and blinked at me, continually wondering if it was time for breakfast.

“Something is biting me,” I explained to them both, “and since neither one of you are within teeth reach, it must be beneath the duvet.”

I looked at my skin: my stomach, my legs, my arms—nothing. I must have been dreaming. I squinted hard at the mattress and the sheets. Empty.

Just to be on the safe side, I rootled around in one of the bathroom cupboards and came up with some mosquito repellant. This would be like camping, I told myself.

Now smelling like I’d accidentally fallen into a vat of DEET, I crawled back into bed and flipped the light switch. But with each passing hour, my eyes flew open immediately after I felt a pinprick of pain. I leapt up and repeated the same tiresome routine until exhausted from trying to get some sleep, I gave up and got up.

It wasn’t until that afternoon that I noticed I was beginning to itch—absentmindedly at first. And then, because I was in a meeting with other people who were over the age of four and would notice one of us lifting up her shirt to scratch uncontrollably at an itch that refused to be satisfied, I had to be surreptitious. Except that it’s hard to be sly when you are desperate to rip off your clothes and tear off your skin. That takes stealth. Or a room full of blind people.

It was not a good night. After showering, I noticed that it looked like my entire torso had sprouted polka dots. I looked like an early Jackson Pollock painting—like really early—probably the time period when he was still in a highchair and figured out how to whip cranberry sauce from his spoon to splatter onto the kitchen wall—that early. Nothing artistic about it. And I highly doubt any of his artwork requested he give it a good solid scratch in a hard to reach place.

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I covered myself in outdated hydrocortisone cream and crawled wearily into bed after first checking to make sure that the clean sheets hadn’t somehow become infested with last night’s fang festival fellows. I saw nothing.

But I felt creepy crawly.

It was as if something was under my skin.

I slept with the covers off. Okay, I lied. The covers were off, but there was no sleeping. Just noticing of the constant urge to itch.

Chicken pox? Nope – I felt fine.

Poison ivy? Nuh uh – the spots were too spaced out, and not in the right places.

Fleas? Bed bugs? Chiggers? Small as those fellas are, you can still see them, and I found NOTHING.

We were back to invisible fangs.

The next day I worked, sat, walked, talked and drove about, but all I thought about was how badly I wanted to scratch. And the problem with scratching in one place is that it stirs up the histamine response to activate all the other parts of your body that up until then were somewhat silent, and encouraged them to scream, “ME TOO, ME TOO!”

Since we don’t live close to town, and I’m stubbornly stoic, I was thrilled to hear my daughter was heading out to pick up a few things and would I like her to stop at the pharmacy? Would I? Oh boy, I would.

I sent her in with a list of everything known to man and medicine that might alleviate the desire to make a crosshatch of scars over my body. She came back with soaps, and creams, ointments and oils—even the words to a magic mantra one has to chant that she purchased from the local health food store. She had come at just the right time. These bites were rising to a fevered pitch of a frenzy.

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Every hour I showered, dried off and tried something that came out of the magic pharmacy bag. Relief was subtle, but even subtle was a miracle. Looking in the mirror, I reminded myself of a Dr. Seuss character, but I’m fairly certain that I’d frighten even pint-sized fans of The Cat in the Hat if I showed up at a public beach. Swim suit season was over for me. Well, truth be told, I never held a parade for the opening day either, so it was no real loss.

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This, the third day of purgatory, has me looking back over the last seventy-two hours and attempting to tally up the total amount of water used in boiling all sheets, clothing and any furniture I could stuff into the washing machine. Then I computed the amount of money I handed over to the pharmacist for each promised cure. And lastly, I added up how much it’s going to cost for a full torso skin graft. I’m working out a deal with a plastic surgeon tomorrow. I may have to sell a few things. Like any extra internal organs not pulling their weight.

Yeah, I know, call me crazy.

But it’s okay, the cat already does.

~Shelley

August Gotta Have a Gott 

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

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

Related articles

Muscle memory; body magic

From the moment I crack an eyelid open at dawn, I am aware of my muscles. Some much more so than others. There are a couple I wish I’d never hear from again, but I’m guessing if you remove one, it’s a bit like pulling on a thread from an intricately woven blanket.

Part of the awareness has come from pain. Okay, initially much of it has come from pain. But thereafter, I found a subtle shift in regards to my cognizance—which turned into quite a seismic shift, and is now part of my every day, my every hour, and occasionally, my every minute mindfulness campaign.

Not having the money, I could not employ a parade full of PR people to follow me around and point out the miracles of muscles 24/7, so I had to go it alone and blow my own horn section.

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The effortless shift of muscle over bone, the smooth and fluid motion of movement is an occurrence I wish for, aim for, and relish. And although there are hundreds of muscles in the human body, all expertly doing their thang with little coaching from me, it’s an easy trap to fall into–barking at the one or two that are acting crankily without recognizing and praising the other bazillion that are following nature’s blueprints.

But it’s not just my muscles that I’m keenly aware of first thing in the morning, but those of my animals as well. Even before setting a toe onto the floor, I pull knees to chest and attempt to test the temperature of whatever waters my back muscles will be floating in today. As I do this, the cat joins in beside me and demonstrates what it would be like to live with a member of Cirque du Soleil. I stick out my tongue, roll out of bed and attempt to erase her morning routine from my mind. Instead I lower myself to the floor next to my hound and give his belly a good morning greeting. In sleepy response, his body elongates to three times its original form and I am in awe, again, as to somebody else’s muscular structure and granted request.

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Faces are washed—we each do our own—and a quick assessment is made in the mirror to measure soap and water’s ability to snap facial muscles back into shape. Everyone agrees it’s a bonus to have fur around your eyes and mouth. There is absolutely no need for wrinkle cream.

I’m the only one who chooses to brush the teeth I own, but while I do so, I start my morning yoga. Adding an extra mental challenge to the task, I fling a sock-covered foot onto the rim of the super-slippery porcelain tub. I attempt a few warrior poses and high lunges to open up my tightly bound hip-flexors in preparation for the day’s demanding task of sitting at my desk, or in my car.

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As I work on my canines, my feline uses the same thin, slick edge to pirouette upon, prance above, and vault from in yet another attempt to flaunt the wide gap between our talents.

She is such a braggart.

I move to an area where I feel my talents surpass hers: the keyboard.

It is here I am reminded of just how fascinating fingers can be. It goes like this:

I think.

Synapses snap.

Fingers fly.

Words are written.

I pause and look at my hands. I wiggle my fingers above the waiting jumble of plastic keys. I mentally applaud the collection of muscles in charge, as I don’t want them to have to generate the effort to praise themselves for the efforts they make.

This repeated pattern that I practice thousands of times a day is nothing compared with the bewildering curiosity that occurs when I take a brain break and slide onto the piano’s bench for a minute or two of ebony and ivory exercise. But it’s not really exercise. It’s more like a pit stop at my personal Ripley’s Believe it or not exhibition. I call it my Magical Manifestation of Muscle Memory. It is a stunt meant only to amuse me, but reminds me just how little I know about the complex world of physiology.

I crack open a dusty volume of Chopin’s Waltzes. I look at the delicate lines of nimble quick notes. I try to read, process and move my hands across the rows of keys. I stumble. I plunk. I make sour mistakes.

I close the book.

I close my eyes.

I disengage brain and let go of the handle bars.

Fingers fly. They know where to go—they need no help from me. Whether it’s a Rachmaninoff piece that requires an extra two fingers to manage a blackened page full of orchestral chords, or the slim, sylph-like melodies of delicate Debussy, if I learned it way back then, I know it still today.

It doesn’t matter if it’s walking, running, skipping, jumping, turning a page, or signing my name, stirring a pot, or stroking the dog, embracing my child or brushing my hair, all those bits that flex and extend amaze and astound me.

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The magic of muscles.

I prize them and praise them.

~Shelley

**Gotta Have a Gott**

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

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

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How bout them apples?

The dog and I both adore apples. We eat one nearly every day—usually slathered in peanut butter at the dog’s request. At one point I was young and naïve and easily convinced of the old aphorism that An apple a day …

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Now that I am older and … older, I now know that statement to be pure bunk. An apple a day does nothing more than deplete the jar of peanut butter in the fridge. It also creates an incredibly distracting background track of canine lip smacking for about ten minutes after breakfast while I attempt to focus on writing, but as he is a living example of ‘good to the last drop,’ I try not to find fault with him and get on with the business of work.

Regardless, I have found the apple myth a frustrating one, as with each year that passes, I find myself in more waiting rooms, examining rooms and pharmacy lines than the collective number of hanging fruit in an entire orchard. And I know I have eaten the suggested serving—and then some.

The dentist–after his five second, “Let’s have a look-see,”–says to me, “Looks great! See you in six months!” And then whispers to the nurse on his way out something unintelligible. She then informs me that, “Dr. Q says things look lovely apart from the two antique fillings that need replacing and that itsy bitsy root canal that needs to be done. So as you’re paying up front, make sure you get on the appointment calendar ASAP. Have a good one and don’t forget to floss!”

Of course those appointments can’t be done in one fell swoop. They must be broken down into three 75 minute procedures. And by then it’s time for my next cleaning.

The ophthalmologist I see once a year, but I see the members of his staff in charge of handing out supplies–every three months. Somebody in my family wears contacts and rarely remembers to pick up her stockpile. After the third *ahem* polite reminder phone call, I go get them.

My OBGYN and I are pretty tight, as anyone you give permission to poke and prod all your bits and pieces should be with you, but I’d have to say I’m even closer with the nurse practitioner who apologizes profusely just before she stretches some of those bits and pieces halfway across the room prior to slamming them between two encyclopedias. She cries a little at this, and I feel bad at the weekly therapy she likely pays for—an expensive repercussion of her concern for women’s health.

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My General Practitioner likes to see me every year to do four things.

1. Make eye contact with me in order to have legal permission to continue calling in another year’s worth of all the prescriptions she’s written into my chart as “age appropriate” and “preventative.”

2. Have me pee in a cup. *shiver*

3. Draw a gallon or two of blood. I’m serious. I have a lot of blood in my veins just waiting for the chance to pop right out of my skin. No nurse practitioner ever takes me or the note in my chart seriously when hearing or reading the words Careful. She’s a gusher. People have to go home and change uniforms after lab work with me.

4. Prescribe one more thing that either the medical profession or Prevention magazine has universally recognized as the next “age appropriate” and “preventative” wonder drug.

Which then brings me to the pharmacy line and my friendly neighborhood pharmacist, who at this point can barely keep up with my weekly order. We’re thinking about putting some of my meds on tap for easy access and refill.

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But it’s not just me and my appointments that fill up my calendar, there’s also all the physicians who care for the kids, the dog and cat, and my car. They’ve all got nose to tailpipe care that must be scheduled as well.

Skimming through a journal whilst waiting for somebody to walk back through a door marked “Patient Care,” I came across an article that discusses the latest finding about apples and lung health. Apparently, according to the study, eating four or five apples a week is linked to slightly better lung function. I rolled my eyes and threw the periodical across the waiting room.

The next day I was folding laundry and heard the hound begin to bark. I guessed someone had pulled up to the house. He and I both abhor visitors so I let him go to town with his efforts at raising the alarm. The doorbell rang and the dog ratcheted up his labors to a fevered pitch. By the time I rounded the corner and reached the door, whomever it was had decided to split.

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“Well done, bud,” I said to him. “You’ve driven away another unwanted caller.” I walked past the fruit bowl and tossed him an apple. “That was some impressive lung function.”

I’m not fussed because I finally found some truth to that tired saying: An apple a day keeps the doctor away. And you can bet it was a doctor, as they’re basically the only people I know.

~Shelley

**Gotta Have a Gott**

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

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

Related articles

 

 

Real rabbit rotten luck

There were plenty of lessons my mother taught me as I was growing up. Some of the most important were:

Be kind. (check)

Be clean. (check)

Be prepared. (double check)

Be on time. (screeeech  … okay, this one was put in purely for the enjoyment of anyone who knows my mother so we could all have a hearty belly laugh and exercise our eyes skyward.)

Let’s just cross off that last one and get one with it.

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My son showed me a diagram a couple of days ago where he made a triangle and inserted three words—one by each point. The topic was food and his first word said CHEAP, the second one written said HEALTHY and the final one was DELICIOUS. His argument was that you could currently have two, but never three of each word working in harmony and available altogether.

Well I disagreed, and wrote the word GARDEN in the middle of his triangle—which did nothing to further the precarious goodwill I occasionally see from my fifteen-year old. Ah well.

But it got me thinking about that list of things my mother taught me. And although I have spent a lifetime striving to showcase the first three learned behaviors in concert with one another, there was one time where attempting to do so probably left an indelible scar upon my soul. For to this day, I have regrets as to how I acted.

I was five—or six. Old enough to remember, but young enough to now find the memory foggy. It was Easter morning and I was in bed. The doorbell rang, and as my room was located directly above the front door, the chimes were crystal clear, as was the boisterous greeting to follow. Knowing what day it was, I sprung out of bed as only a six-year old with shiny, new and undamaged joints can. In front of me though was my brother, whose reflexes were a year fresher than mine, so he zipped out the door first. And that tiny delay was enough to see the blurred reflection of myself in the mirror as I lurched for the door.

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All I really cared about was an Easter basket full of unnaturally colored, sugar-laden, cavity causing oral amusements. This was one of the greatest feast days of the year on the calendar of all things sacred to children. But at precisely the same time that I saw my mirrored likeness, I also heard my dad’s voice raised to an abnormally loud pitch … GREETING THE EASTER BUNNY!

As I was already marinating in the female messages surreptitiously sent by my girl gang of Barbies, there was no way in hell the Easter Bunny was going to see me with bed head.

One hundred strokes—and hurry!

I heard the eager footfalls of my siblings racing down the steps. I heard the squeals of delight below me. I heard my Dad speaking to a creature standing at the entrance to my house that I could only envision through Beatrix Potter illustrations and elementary school coloring books.

There was a talking animal at my front door!

One last pull of my pink, bristly brush through my toe head-colored hair and I was off.

I flew down the steps—clean and prepared—ready to kindly greet the bringer of bountiful baskets, a Disney cartoon come alive, the stuff of afternoon matinees and bedtime tales.

Except just as I skidded to a halt in the foyer, my dad shouted through the crack of the front door, “Okay, thanks buddy. Buh bye!”

The devastation produced by a somewhat overly dramatic six-year old can, if gone unchecked, reach unprecedented proportions. It might be noted here that allowing the all-consuming anguish to flow freely and expire of its own accord might have saved the now fully grown woman years of psychotherapy. But emotion was stifled in lieu of acting “kindly” by accepting the bunny’s hand-delivered tokens of affection.

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To this day I suffer.

To this day, the years of grief, outrage and bitter displeasure at missing out have festered away in the back of my mind and the pit of my belly.

To this day I seek revenge.

And since spring is busting out all over in my neck of the woods, and since the garden is blooming beautifully, I shall use my cheap, healthy and delicious veggie patch as my tasty trap.

I shall be KIND—and offer the most flavorsome of micro greens. I shall be CLEAN—with a quick aim and one sharp shot between the eyes. And I shall be PREPARED—with the stewpot eager and ready.

Finally, the trio works en masse. Thank you, Mom.

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Eegads! Sorry ‘bout that. No worries. I’ve got it all under control. I’ve found my medication.

Jellybean, anybody?

~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

Oh, for crying out loud!

Oftentimes we’re asked to assess parts of our physical bodies—to rate and rank that which we like and that which we abhor about ourselves.

Crack open any health, fashion or beauty magazine and you’ll likely come across a quiz that will ultimately help you “understand” yourself a bit better by the end of it. You hate your chunky thighs, but love your thick hair. You’ve got flawless skin, but detest your wide, flat feet. Your eyes are strikingly green, but folks will never notice until they stop gawking at your red, pudgy nose.

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We’ve all got bits like this. Things that work for us and things that we wish we could bring back to some almighty maker with receipt in hand to ask for a refund.

Still in the process of raising two teens, I’m often thinking about how to communicate a healthy kind of “self appreciation” that balances awareness and mindfulness without obsession. Occasionally I hear one of my kids pass judgment on one of their bodily features that would make Simon Cowell announce they were being a bit harsh. I’m left with no other choice than to put a spin on the part getting hammered. I give them a few encouraging words that might make them see that attribute from a more positive perspective.

If I hear, My fingers are too short, I announce my envy at the speed at which they race across a keyboard. A comment like, Why won’t my hair cooperate? receives a reply such as Likely your hair is a reflection of your personality, which is somewhat wild and untamed and determined to show a little of that covetable rebellious teenage attitude we adults sorely miss. Or the complaint, What the heck is going on with my toenails? I point a finger at the phone and say, Take it up with your grandfather. Those are definitely his genetics. But hey, he’s super funny isn’t he?

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Yet there’s one physical feature I’ve noticed about myself lately, which I can’t quite seem to engineer an optimistic response to. And it’s a very tiny thing.

My tear ducts.

They’re unruly.

No. I mean they’re a little more enthusiastic than I’d like.

See? I just tried to steer that disapproval into a slightly upbeat description.

Nope. Didn’t work. I still feel like those puppies are determined to wreak havoc with my appearance at every opportunity—appropriate or not.

Yes, you’re watching a sad movie, reading a tragic novel or viewing the 6 o’clock news—many of us will tear up. But I could be in line at the bank and hear two people in front of me talk of one of their mothers who is struggling with the recovery from a hip fracture and I am right there with them, feeling the helplessness of knowing someone you love is in pain. Stepping up to the teller yields the response, “Umm, here’s ten, twenty, forty and the tissue is on the house.”

I’m at the grocery store, sifting through fruits and vegetables and I hear a lyrical piece of Musak. I stop what I’m doing and pause to listen to the heartrending chord progression that makes my breath catch and sends tears down my cheeks. I suddenly see the produce guy standing in front of me, staring. “Wow, lady. You really are sensitive to onions aren’t you?”

I once wandered the isles at the local drug store and found myself parked in front of the makeup display. After a minute, I noticed a young woman dressed from head to toe in camouflage combat fatigues standing next to me, and the insignia for the U.S. Army on her chest. My mind flooded with gratitude. All I could do was turn to her and say thank you.

She looked at me. Looked back at the makeup. And then handed me a wand of waterproof mascara and said, “You’re welcome?”

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Somewhere inside, I know that having ‘hairtrigger happy to respond’ tear ducts should not bring about the element of discomfiture (read occasional mortification) that it does. But when your kids stop wanting to hang out with you because the last time you all went to the local café together you started leaking over the happy fact that they still had their cream of tomato soup on the menu, one must pause and question whether or not you should be let out of the house. You begin to doubt whether even a well-respected PR team could spin this into likeable quirk.

Maybe I possess a huge heart filled with gratitude and I should continue attempting to relish it. Maybe I’ve created a new level of hyper-developed sensitivity that comes with trying to conjure up believable emotion within the characters I write about. Maybe I suffer out of control hormones and should see my GP for medication or shock therapy.

Whatever it is, I’m determined to keep trying to embrace it. Yes, I’ve ruined more pictures by suddenly realizing I’m with a bunch of folks I love, and immediately tear up as soon as someone says, “Cheese!” But this is no reason not to love my selfie.

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That would be a crying shame.

~Shelley

 

**Gotta Have a Gott**

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

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

Related articles

 

Coffee–it’s just not my cup of tea.

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Tea.

Three tiny letters, but thousands of years of warmth. Tea has slaked the thirst in throats that reside on all patches of livable dust and dirt across the earth. It is universal, it is unifying, it is uniformly taking over the entire pantry.

This happens every winter. And no one seems particularly fussed. Least of all me.

I find when I’ve come home from the grocery store and have another box or bag to add to the stash, I just give a good grunt of effort to sweep an arm across another shelf to make room for the new arrivals. This section was the ‘Medicine Cabinet.’ Chances are I will not have use for that large ledge full of pain relievers, fever reducers, nose uncloggers and chest dehackers.

I have tea.

And tea is all you need.

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Sorta.

I have herbal teas, and black teas, red teas and white, green teas and oolong and snoozy teas for night.

Whether loose or bagged, blended or bloomable,  I am fairly certain I have little bits of leaves that fall into every single category.

And I love them all.

Okay, that’s not exactly true.

There are a mass of containers all at the back of the pantry’s multi-leveled shelving where tea goes to die. And if you happened to have read about my penchant for hanging on to everything until it becomes either unrecognizable or toxic, you’ll understand why I cannot give up the foul tasting “Be Normal” tea (you’ll figure it out … and if you can’t, think ‘anti-blockage’) or the one that will give me a healthy prostate.

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Why? Because I figure there will come a time—probably during the apocalypse—where I am going to find myself desperate for anything to untwist the gut pretzel I carry around with me caused by eating nothing more than a repetitive diet of unripe bananas and large hunks of hard cheese. And because during that same apocalypse, I will come across a wandering elderly man whose only wish is to be able to pee for a full ten seconds.

I will grant him that ability.

With my tea.

(Okay, sometimes you just have to let me run with all that stuff. I’m a writer with an overactive imagination and no sense of realism. Which is why I specialize in fiction.)

But the fact is, if I have an ailment, or a mood swing, a hankering or a bout, there exists a plethora of answers awaiting their turn to play nursemaid to my needs.

There are teas to wake me up, and those to help me sleep. I have sachets full of leaves that will soothe sore muscles, calm convulsive coughs, alleviate my blues and brighten my brain.

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You’ll find blends in my stockpile that can abolish your appetite, quiet frayed nerves and generate glowing skin. Dig deeper and you’ll discover concoctions to jump-start your joints, some to detox your liver and one that will help tone your uterus. Because God knows, that is the number one exercise busy women admit to skipping most at the end of a long day, and thank goodness someone found a simple solution to put in place of that monotonous but monumentally important workout.

Apart from the digestive, purifying, and organ-based well-being brews, I have a multi-level area that houses my stockpile of seasonal teas: blossoms for spring, zingers for summer, and earthy, toasty, nutty infusions all meant to conjure up warmth, bolstering your spirits through the dark and broody days of winter.

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I cannot imagine a day when before I place fingers to keyboard or hand upon mouse, I have not found my favorite mug, picked out the lucky contender for my cup and placed it at my elbow. Once the slips of steam, escaping in tiny tendrils, have dissipated, it is time. The first sip begins the journey of a thousand cups – and the journey of a thousand trips to the loo.

If I could go back in time, nearly five thousand years ago, I’d hug the Emperor of China and say thank you for drinking that bowl of boiled water—you know the one where you found a few wind-blown leaves floating around inside? And you drank it anyway because you were one of those kinds of people who refused to waste the earth’s precious resources—or maybe it was because you’d had a long day of dispensing laws and punishing usurpers and couldn’t be bothered to get up and boil some fresh water.

It doesn’t matter.

You discovered paradise. And paradise tastes heavenly, so thank you.

And thank you for being part of the chain of discoveries that allowed some clever clod to create a tea that would exercise my uterus for me.

The world owes you a giant hug. And believe it or not, I’ve got a tea that can do that too.

~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

Purrrly Whites

The cat and I share very few similarities other than we both like to have food available to us 24/7, and we want everyone to leave us alone.

Today, we had another similitude.

We both had dentist appointments.

With different dentists, mind you.

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I remember when we first plucked this lionhearted kitten out of a mass of squirming furballs at the animal shelter. She was less than thrilled at being disturbed from her nap amid her breathing blanket, and upon making eye contact with me, swiftly assessed I was less than qualified wearing my new hat of ‘caretaker.’

I could see her point. I’d broken the cardinal rule we both share:

Unless I come to you, don’t come to me.

She breaks our cardinal rule far more often than I do. She brings me a dead leaf approximately the size of a mouse in exchange for one of those doodads in the treat jar on the counter. A dozen times a day. In her mind, gluttony is justification for her behavior.

Plus, rules are for schmucks.

Brushing a cat’s teeth is not a job for anyone hoping to retain either their hypothetical friendship with their cat, or the same amount of blood they possessed in their body before starting the procedure. It is an adventure one goes into with the understanding that it will be pleasant for no one and likely fairly fruitless.

Chances are it would make an entertaining YouTube video that may have better than average odds at going viral.

Three years ago, upon securing this peevish puss, my daughter also amassed a collection of references in order to aid her on her journey of surrogate motherhood. The cat was “hers”—a birthday gift long awaited and finally realized. The gift also came with a few caveats that were not so gifty.

– Feed her

– Amuse her

– And dispose of her deposits.

PS. You get to brush her teeth. Good luck. Love mom. And remember pretty is on the inside.

The scratches didn’t leave scars, thank God, but we did figure out that a glass of wine helped to make the whole job easier. We also figured out that the cat preferred bourbon, so I took over with the glass of wine. Brushing the feline’s canines was clearly a two man job. My daughter wrestled the cat into submission while I sipped my way into oblivion.

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It was a win win.

Eventually, our bicuspid brushing bash trickled down from our twice a week joint shout of “SHOWTIME!” to my daughter’s “Yeah, I’ll get around to it,” and settled firmly at the bottom of my vet’s “Now, I’m not suggesting braces—you can decide that later after you’ve had a chance to discuss it at home—but your cat would surely benefit from scraping the three pounds of tartar off her teeth.”

Well, at least she’ll only be two pounds overweight once they’ve finished the job. Bonus.

It’s often said that it’s an easy slip to let the cat out of the bag, but getting the cat INTO the bag is usually more of my problem. Some cats do not see the appeal of a bag no matter how many pieces of dried chicken strips and dead mouse toys you throw into it. But I am not one to wither and give up. Plus, I really didn’t need that second eye anyway.

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Getting my teeth cleaned is not such an anxiety-ridden affair any longer, but stopping the whole procedure to answer my cell phone can be tricky. Talking to anyone with a mouthful of foam, a suctioning tube hissing away from the side of your mouth and a tartar pick embedded in the side of your cheek can be extra tricky. Telling your dentist to back off and give you a second can be trickiest of all—especially since he’s still within reach of all the sharp, gleaming surgical instruments and is running behind by thirty minutes. One must be delicate.

It turns out that the vet was calling to let me know a few quick things:

Firstly, the cat voiced an immediate complaint about her new lodgings and was not the warm fuzzy wuzzy widdle kitten you said she was upon dropping her off. A note has been made in her chart. And if you’re aware of anyone with even the minimum amount of experience and training, would you please pass on the word that the office is now short and in need of a kennel technician and receptionist.

Secondly, one must pay extra for anesthesia when the staff must employ the tranquilizer gun.

Thirdly, no more sugar for the cat—no matter how much she gazes longingly at the supersized bag of Sour Patch Kids.

Finally, why don’t we give her a few more hours before you come by to pick her up? Just to be safe.

Why so long? Surely her meds have started to wear off by now, I say.

At the moment we’re just waiting for her to stop hissing and spitting at everybody.

What? I thought you said she’d received anesthesia.

Well, to be honest, we’re not entirely sure that it ever kicked in.

Did you have to remove any teeth?

‘Have to’ is a relative term. We voted and decided that in all likelihood, any tooth that we originally had our eye on is bound to come out sooner or later of its own accord.

So the cat is back home, more pissed off than ever, partly because we’re back to the old tiny teeth brushing routine, and partly because I ran out of her favorite brand of bourbon. But after nearly choking on the bill presented by the vet, I announced she was just going to have to get used to generic.

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Here kitty kitty …

“SHOWTIME!”

~Shelley

**Gotta Have a Gott**

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

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

Now that’s some fancy footwork.

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I am a saver.

Some folks would call me a hoarder.

I’d settle for ‘thrifty pack rat.’

Yes, I still have a few t-shirts from when I was about thirteen, but that’s because there’s still good wear in them. And because I just finished reading an article about one hundred ways to reuse, recycle and refashion your old t-shirts. I’m now going to start on a latch hook rug and make a colorful wardrobe of tea cozies for the coffee pot. I’ve also sent out for the free blueprints on how to reupholster your car’s interior. Savvy, eh?

Of course, I do make mistakes in hanging on to a few things that should have been utilized before they became useless. Like everything with an expiration date. But if someone gives me a gift of luscious chocolate or expensive perfume or much needed tooth-whitening strips, I tend to put those bits up on a shelf and glance at them daily with a simple nod and a casual statement of, “Pretty soon, just waiting for the right celebratory moment.”

Then two years later, in a flash of what I consider to be weakness, I unwrap the chocolate to find weevil larvae, I spritz the perfume to find thick, rancid oil and I hunt down the whitening strips only to discover that the dog got to them first because he has a wonky addiction to toothpaste. But his teeth look fabulous, so who am I to complain.

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Last week, I finally got around to cashing in a gift certificate given to me by my mother for my birthday. Not last year’s, but probably one from 1992, or the one falling after the millennium. The voucher was usable dependent upon whether or not we’d all make it through the Y2K impending doom. Thinking we wouldn’t, I stored it with my emergency reserve of chocolate. It was for an hour of reflexology–which, at the time, I mistook to believe was like tarot card reading, or crystal healing, or saving up a supply of apricot pits in case I’d fall victim to a case of severe toenail fungus.

It wasn’t.

It was simply a foot massage set to a lush film score.

After seeing the gift certificate perched among the plethora of shoes I have—and don’t wear, but might one day if the situation called for it (like reintroducing my combo high heel/chia pet shoes or the treadmill trainers with the built in CD player)—I finally called the reflexologist and reminded her that somewhere around a dozen years or so ago, she cashed a check from my mother and could I now book an appointment.

She graciously did not feign ignorance, but I thought I felt a note of judgment on the other end of the line. Still …

I arrived at the tiny spa and was immediately enveloped by the pricey scents of sandalwood and patchouli—two fragrances I recognized from the myriad that lined my bathroom cupboards and filled my closet drawers, but were hands off except for the occasional sniff. I vowed to open one of those jars and jugs when I got home—just like I vowed to open a Garanimals clothing line for pets when I was nine and feeling entrepreneurial. It just ain’t gonna happen (although I have been making progress with the wool-lined wellington boots for the sheep).

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So, for those of you who aren’t keenly familiar with the art of reflexology (aside from my nine word definition above), simply put by my trusty rusty reliable source Wikipedia, it is thus:

Reflexology, or zone therapy, is an alternative medicine involving the physical act of applying pressure to the feet, hands, or ears with specific thumb, finger, and hand techniques without the use of oil or lotion. It is based on what reflexologists claim to be a system of zones and reflex areas that they say reflect an image of the body on the feet and hands, with the premise that such work effects a physical change to the body.

In other words, there’s a spot on each of your feet (and hands) that connects to all the other important parts, glands and organs of your body. Press a particular spot on your big toe and your nose can start leaking. Knead your instep and chances are you’re going to make your stomach rumble. Squeeze smack dab in the middle of your foot and you’ll likely have to rush off to the bathroom to relieve yourself. Funky stuff, indeed.

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Okay, it might not be exactly as I’ve indicated, but having looked at the foot chart on the wall, I’m going to go with ‘pretty close.’

The main problem I have with the idea of reflexology is that someone has to touch another person’s feet. And seriously, I can’t imagine enough money in the world to charge for that task. I remember my children’s feet when they were babies and how incredibly adorable they were. I tickled them, I blew raspberries on them and I put them all over my face to play peekaboo with. But then one day … BAMB! They turned into adult feet and I could not make a wide enough berth.

But before you judge me, it’s not just other people’s feet I am squeamish over; understand that I’m even repelled by my own.

Okay, that was a totally unnecessary rant, and I got a little off track, but my point was simply that someone else cared enough about my well being to bypass making comments on the amount of sock fuzz between my toes. Also, unlike my father and his weekly report when I was younger, she did not find it necessary to point out the fact that I will never be hired as a foot model.

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All in all, I was convinced of the enormous benefit of taking care of one’s health and happiness via one’s feet. Therefore, I am on a new campaign to look after them a little more than I have. I’ve gotten new nail clippers, a loofah sponge, a self-rolling foot massager, foot salt scrubs and aloe drenched socks.

Now they will promptly go into a drawer where I will gaze at them longingly …

~Shelley

**News Announcement for all you Peakers out there:**

Rob’s crazy cartoons are finally going to be available for your walls in the form of a  2015 calendar! But instead of us choosing our favorite doodles, we decided to leave it up to YOU. On the last blog post of each month, you’ll get to vote on the sketches in competition. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Super simple. Simply super.

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

Waist management: detest detox

I am having one of those days.

And I’m guessing I’m not the only one.

I think a massive chunk of people around the world—people who have shoved at least four or five holidays into the space of about 5 weeks time—are feeling much the same as I do:

Stuffed.

We’re all plumped up on high fat, high carb, highly salted foods that were liberally washed down with bucket after bucket of spirits, wine and wassail.

We’re all glossy-eyed over late night movies, all night Twister games and unsuccessful attempts at sleeping in inactive airport gates staring at going nowhere aircraft.

We’re all hyped up on candy canes and gingerbread, rum balls and Yule logs, cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels (yes, maybe I got carried away, but you get my point). I cannot eat one more forkful of panettone or stollen. No more fruitcake nor wedges of pie. I’ve hidden all the chocolate and I’ve thro—wait … what? No, of course I’ve not hidden all the chocolate. I know exactly where it all is.

But the rest of the stuff … totally trashed. Except for the eggnog. And that last bit of trifle. UGH! Can you see what I mean? Once you start—and by start I mean make a six week long practiced and perfected habit of stuffing yourself to the brim full of “just this once” holiday fare–it is ridiculous to imagine your body is every going to look at a piece of kale again and say, “Umm, yeah, I could go for that.”

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Maybe if it’s coated in peppermint bark first.

And if you’re not one of us—the bloated, thickened, pot-bellied pudgesters—then I kindly ask you to stop reading any further because I have the feeling that you’re simply going to leave a comment down below that’s basically the equivalent of a giant raspberry.

And I am much too full even for a raspberry at this point.

Unless it’s coated in peppermint bark.

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And even though the word DETOX is not one that rolls off my tongue in a familiar, family friendly kind of way, it has multiplied like a rabble of rabbits in my inbox, pinging its “new arrival” announcements at an exponential rate. It’s oddly reminiscent of just how quickly the THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE FOR FREE SHIPPING and WE’RE REALLY SERIOUS THIS TIME AND WE TRULY MEAN IT NOW: THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE emails piled up. They attempted to share the same space with the plethora of “You’d be crazy not to make this recipe” newsletters.

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The nerve-wracking moments all leading up to each holiday left me (and yes, many of you) desperate for some sort of respite from the frenzy. A marvelous solution I’ve stumbled upon is simply to provide an extra layer of fat to protect those vulnerable internal organs.

Stress needs to be cushioned.

Except now that the festivities are officially over, I can’t walk around in my floor-length, three-ply plush robe of rapture with the excuse that holidays are meant to be cozy and comforting. And I translate that to mean I’m not required to change out of my PJs. Well, I suppose I can keep wearing the robe as long as I’m willing to ignore the sky high eyebrow raising that occurs whenever I’m filling up my gas tank or standing in line at the bank. I’ve found that reaching into my fur-lined pocket and handing the bank teller a rum ball sends the crisp and unmistakable message that I’m not ready to give up the holiday and join the rest of the world who are already ear-marking seed catalogs and looking for their Easter baskets. Not yet.

I realize now is the time when I have to make friends with grains, greens and the graceful act of surreptitiously crying in front of the bakery window. I must walk that extra mile, ignore that Ben & Jerry’s and cover every mirror in the house. I will make pasta out of zucchini, suck on lemons liberally sprinkled with cayenne pepper, and whizz up every fruit and vegetable into a frothy liquid fiber. I will nibble like a rabbit, forage like a ferret and snuffle like a pig. Wait … scratch that last one.

It’ll probably end up being something more like ‘cry like a baby.’

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But not without effort first. (The healthy detoxing, not the crying bit, although I’m sure they all go hand in hand. Plus crying is a form of expunging inner demons, right? So yes, I shall endeavor to cry with monumental exertion.)

I shall put my back into it, give it the old college try, use some elbow grease. Egads, we’re right back to foodstuffs again, aren’t we?

It’s no use. Who are we trying to fool? Winter pudge is here to stay. I might as well start getting ready for the holidays early this year.

Pass me the peppermint bark.

~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

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.

Good health hurts

I think by now we’ve all gotten the message from our physicians that if we don’t take care of our health, we’re going to die a god-awful, fiery, sudden and catastrophic death.

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And I’m sure there is a multitude of medics out there who–after reading the latest report of appalling statistics pinpointing the condition of global wellbeing–are, if not jumping up and down shouting, “I told you so!” then are at least just making the I told you so face.

If we are not hearing these cautionary predictions directly from the doctors we routinely visit, then it’s from our mothers, or our web sites, or the butcher as he hands you the leg of lamb that was awarded a health care plan far better than your own. Apparently, we are all ticking time-bombs teetering on the edge and as long as you follow the experts’ sage advice, you may be able to buy yourself a few extra hours.

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Well, I’m not sure those few extra hours are worth it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about maintaining good health. And not just good health, but great health. I want arms and legs and all internal organs running at optimum speed for the most advantageous results. But there comes a time when you have to step back and analyze whether or not what you’re doing is something that will make historians and school children, generations down the road, slap themselves upside the head at the sheer lunacy of your current day practice.

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about, reading about and running about, putting into practice countless ways to gain energy, improve my digestion and increase my immunity. Occasionally, there is time to wash a spoon, but for the most part, I’m covering all angles of the welfare wish list.

From farm to fridge to face, my aim is to find minimally processed, but maximally realized nutrients—all capable of helping me become the super-hearty, able-bodied, rosy-cheeked wonder woman that appears on the inside pages of my favorite reading material. She is everywhere: Food &Wine, the Yoga journal, and most importantly, The Farmer’s Almanac.

I’m determined to be her. And every day is a physical journey where I confidently feel I am marching toward my goal.

Except for last night, where my progress on this pilgrimage came to an abrupt halt.

Each morning starts off much the same way. I wake and plod my way toward the bathroom counter where a handful of relief and prevention awaits me. Down the hatch slide tiny tablets that will push away pain, fight free radicals and stimulate my defenses against invisible attack. I am now armed, and too full for breakfast.

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Instead, I take a two ounce swig of an energy shot made entirely of concentrated, bitter yerba mate—flavored with lemon so one’s facial muscles can practice that “extra puckery pout.” I’m sure it counts as exercise in someone’s book.

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Lunchtime brings an array of greens so hearty they usually require a small hatchet for carving purposes. On the side sits a pulpy cesspool of fermented foods which bacteria has made chewable for human teeth. To wash this all down, I choose some combination of herbs and roots, all ground, dried and steeped in boiled water. Occasionally, I throw in an eye of newt for good measure.

The afternoon slump rolls round and I combat that with forty drops of magic tinctures—extracts meant to boost endurance and rally the flailing troops. The potion is poured into a small amount of water, which then froths and clouds before meeting and shriveling my tongue. Good god, even rat poison is capable of being palatable. But it does the job and I am revived. I have just enough time to water a plant before it’s time to make dinner.

Tonight we’re gluten free and gorging on grains. Well … I am. The kids mostly make patterns on their plates like they’re creating Tibetan sand art, and will—as usual—meet up later in the kitchen, after I’ve tidied up, to prepare their real dinner. Likely it will come from the freezer. I’m guessing something beginning with ice and ending with cream.

Shortly thereafter, I swallow my own late night snack: blimp-sized balls chock full of bioflavonoids, rose hips and rutin–a fistful of antioxidant fortification meant to protect me from things that go bump in the night and make your skin sag three inches by morning. I lastly choke down two horse-sized pellets containing the equivalent amount of fish oil that the entire cast of Finding Nemo could produce. I slip into bed.

Literally.

It’s here I recall my afternoon eye doctor appointment. Basically, I was given about ten seconds to bask in the sharp-focused glow of the news that I have the eyesight of a prize-winning hawk. Then I discovered I barely squeaked by the test for early detection of macular degeneration and now needed to do something about it. I was given two carotenoid supplements to add to the daily lineup.

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So it’s Bottom’s up! again. As I drift off to sleep, something niggles at the back of my mind. Something the doctor mentioned as a side effect to my new best friends lutein and zeaxanthin.

Four hours later, his words sear themselves back into my brain.

LEG CRAMPS!

I phone the next morning to ask what can be done about them, for sleeping is impossible while a chain saw is severing away at your calf. He suggested a gin and tonic in the evening with dinner.

“Tonic water has quinine in it, which has been known to help treat leg cramps, and what the quinine doesn’t address, the gin will knock on the head.”

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Apparently, my ophthalmologist needs a new pair of reading glasses because it’s obvious he didn’t read the FDA’s announcement that quinine is a quiller. I mean killer.

I call my health food store friends to check for options. I need sleep.

“No worries,” they say. “First we’ll try you on 5 mg of melatonin, or a dietary supplement of valerian root—oh and poppy syrup goes down nice and easy.”

I sigh and put the phone down.

At this moment that god-awful, fiery, sudden and catastrophic death is starting to look really attractive.

So is a cheeseburger.

~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.

If memory serves–which it doesn’t.

There is something wrong with my brain.

I’m sure of it.

One minute I can remember the lyrics to a bazillion songs, the list of elements in the periodic table and the names of all our American presidents. Now I’m lucky if I can remember … whatever it was I was just going to write down here.

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It’s incredibly annoying to lose the springiness of one’s brain. My hippocampus is either on fall break or I’m entering a new phase of my life through a door I cannot recall opening.

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Whereas mere months earlier I prided myself on the fact that I could be taken on a drive to a place foreign and unfamiliar, and easily find my way back home, today I grabbed my keys, dashed out the front door, started up the engine and pulled out the garage only to suddenly remember I had simply meant to go to the bathroom.

There’s no dire medical issue—no diagnoses of cognitive meltdown–just old fashioned overload. It’s like my brain is a rather large cannoli, unable to contain the mostly fluffy contents stuffed within it. And things leak out unattractively.

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I’m not too terribly panicked at this point, for I remember my mother around this stage of her life with four teenagers demanding physical, mental, and at times, emotionally fever-pitched attention. Her basic response to any pleading look cast her way was, “Did I remember to feed you today?” I like how she brought every issue down to its simplest form before proceeding to venture into other territories. In essence, all other matters were manageable as long as that box had been ticked.

The fact that both my teenagers have dedicated space in their bedrooms equivalent to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault  (to provide insurance against any conversations such as those I described with their grandmother from ever taking place ) provides me adequate peace of mind. Although I have gone through the parental motions of nagging and threatening to eliminate weekly pocket money, nights out privileges, and occasionally even a bodily limb if I once again find out they’ve been eating in their rooms, I’m also aware of the fact that they might be doing us all a giant favor if the world should suddenly go to hell in a hand basket and we are cut off from civilization with nothing apart from my mushrooming whisky inventory, forty-six tins of cat food and a rosemary bush. Suddenly, they and their stash of after school and late night snacks are elevated to hero status.

Now recalling the subject matter of this post, I feel it important that you know I’m not simply sitting back and watching the inner workings of my brain decay day by day, but have leapt to the call of necessity and refuse to sit by idly. I will not be one of those women who live with their adult children, watch them leave for work in the morning, stare out the window all day long and then upon their return realize I’ve not eaten or used the toilet since the night before.

No. Not me.

I plan to fight with both fists up. And not using the girlie fist position with thumbs tucked in where they break upon impact.

My training regimen requires an appetite:

Healthy diet—No problem. I eat enough leafy flora to notice the slight tinge of cabbage patch green on my skin, and have discovered that I’ve ingested enough chlorophyll to nearly glow in the dark.

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Take supplements—At times I feel I am a giant walking ginkgo tree as I consume the leaves’ magic memory powers with such enthusiasm that I’m certain each of my cells are bathing in a small pool of tea, paste and gravy of gingko related products. And I’m forever hunting down any compound that claims to help my brain’s cell to cell communication. I’m even considering getting each one of them their own little iPhones if it might help with their correspondence.

Brain boosting exercise—I’m unsure at this point which is harder: flexing the flab of my bodily muscles or sharpening my cerebrum with puzzles and labyrinthine tasks. I do both, but feel equally disabled after each. Stretch, pump, push, pull … collapse. It’s so much easier to eat kale.

Drink red wine—Finally! Need I say more? Well, I can’t, because it’s a little challenging while swilling zinfandel.

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Laugh—Surprised? Me too. I came across several fancy pants universities that were engaged in or had completed studies with their students as subjects, determining whether or not weaving humor into “needed to learn” material could positively influence memory and recall, and therefore increase test scores. It turns out to be true. Except for one study. This was conducted in Nebraska. I suggest Nebraska should be sent a few more cases of red wine to help with future results of this study.

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Overall, I feel I’m doing my best to combat the natural downfall of my overworked, under-appreciated grey matter. I will continue to add some color with the greens and reds of food and wine, I will practice mental maneuvers to create an MRI brain map that will make the ROYGBIV spectrum pale in comparison, and I will wait patiently for the next season of Parks and Recreation to resume so that my weekly dose of belly laughs can begin anew.

In truth, the ultimate answer to all of my memory despair could easily be fixed by making a simple dinner reservation. Give me a salad, a glass of wine and  Amy Poehler as my dinner companion.

Now that would be a night to remember.

~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.