Knock, Knock. Who’s There? History. And a Bunch of Dead People Who Want In.

I have heard countless tales about the mystical days of the year when there is a thinning—an opening of the usually bolted door between the living and the dead.

I find these legends to be magnetic and irresistible from both the historical perspective in that apparently our folk tales of old are still captivating enough to be passed on and hold great longevity, and also because I’d love to know who is the guy who lifts the latch on that door and allows it to creak open with invitation.

Sure, it could be the wind, but seriously, that’s way too many years of perfectly timed coincidence, right?

The chunk of consecutive days known as Halloween or Samhain (the ancient Celtic festival), All Saints Day, and All Souls Day are three celebrations and commemorations when, beginning October 31st  through November 2nd, many people’s thoughts are steeped in leaf blowers, credit card bills showing an overabundance of pumpkin spiced lattes, and fear. (That second one causes the third one to bloom when the pounds run high and the dollars run low.)

Samhain marked the end of all things warm and sun-related, and the beginning of the coffin making season. The Celts marked their new year beginning on November 1st, and likely didn’t bother with any yearly census until spring, as people dropped like flies during the cold winter months.

I’ve always preferred Samhain to Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, as typically the costumes are better. Yes, they both incorporate some semblance of gathering—festive or otherwise—but the getups worn in days of old were truly meant to ward off ghosts. And what spirit wouldn’t turn tail and leave when peeking in to join the massive bonfire only to see animals being sacrificed within it and the party guests all draped in a few extra severed heads and blood-soaked skins.

Begone, you destructive wraiths! Leave our crops be or we shall threaten you with … Wait, hey, Bob? What are we threatening these dead people with?

Let’s say MORE DEATH, Dick, okay? Can we all agree that ‘more death’ is our menacing chant?

I could be wrong, but even with this action and logic I’m going to vote that the chilling and shuddery-inducing specters are more inclined to back off from a party such as this than one where folks are dressed in chintzy polyester tat from Walmart.

Personally, I think donning a naughty bar maid getup is likely more of an invitation rather than a deterrent to any lonely ghoul.

And although we may be in the thick of a ghastly pandemic at present, the fear felt by the living souls 2000 years ago was more of a “the entire village” type of dread as there really existed no “K” modeled economy forecast where when things went pear-shaped, some folks did well, and some felt they were in the middle of another version of The Hunger Games.

Back then, once you’d run out of firewood by dismantling all the furniture and eventually the homesteading structure itself, it was back to living surrounded by an outcropping of rocks and prickly gorse bushes instead of moving in with family. Because by that time, you may have actually eaten the only family that had a couch you could surf.

Once the Romans conquered a good chunk of the Celt’s turf, the new residents began to feel some softening of celebrations might be in order.

Maybe instead of scaring away all the dead, you folks should switch it out and commemorate them? We’ve come across far fewer demands for the sacrifice of livestock if we simply recite a few of their shinier earthly moments.

The request may have been a resounding NO! from the remaining Celts, which might have made the Romans give in a smidge and answer with:

Fine, fine, we’ll stretch the whole thing out a bit—keep your “frightnight”, but then word from corporate is that we make the next day one for the dearly departed, and then follow that up with a nod to old Pomona. She’s the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, and who doesn’t love bobbing for apples, eh?

Despite the church’s efforts to delicately rosy up and combine the fetes of the past, these people were surrounded by fearful imagery most of the time, whether it was a lack of food in the cupboard, the rush of pillaging neighbors who didn’t ascribe to that whole “do not covet thy neighbor’s anything, or simply waking up next to a spouse with three working teeth and a penchant for wild onions. Times were scary.

So why would they wish to set aside three whole days to mingle with the dead and focus on all that fear—all the prophesying of bad crops to come, or another mouth to feed, or hearing the soothsayer reveal that your mother-in-law was soon to move in?

Maybe for the same reason that we ride rollercoasters, or go through haunted houses, or check in with our 401ks.

Likely those actions are simply to show ourselves that it can always get worse, and we should be grateful for the now.  

As for me, I’m still left wondering if that doorman is really more of a Beefeater type of position or a “someone’s left the barn door open again” kind of deal, as perhaps the latter would explain precisely why it gets so damn cold in the winter, eh?

~Shelley

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On the Cutting Edge of Shear Madness

There is a venerable phrase many of us have heard countless times in our lives:

Doveryai, no proveryai.

Or if your Russian is a little bit rusty, Trust, but verify.

It’s an old proverb American writer Suzanne Massie passed on to Ronald Reagan before he began traveling to Russia to discuss U.S. and Soviet relations during his presidency.

It became for him somewhat of a trademark phrase.

It became a lodestar for many of us, a crutch for a few, but sage advice for all.

A week ago, my hound, Haggis, had none of the typical skepticism that normally washes across his face unless spotting a jar of peanut butter, his leash, or the hind leg of a freshly shot deer in my hands. But this was because he could no longer spot anything.

Literally. His hair had grown to a length where it could serve as an emergency ladder should he be close to a second story window and we had a fire.

So, when he finally heard the hair-raising snippets of my hair-cutting scissors, that skepticism shifted straight into suspicion and finally parked itself at defiance.

I had never cut his locks before, and he believed it was best if we left it that way.

Today, we find a great swath of our population experiencing a crisis of trust.

And why is that? The reasons are many. Understanding them is paramount and will likely shift the way we think, plan, behave, and move forward.

Together, this globe is redefining what life upon this planet is like. We are forced to assess our work, our relationships, our lifestyles, and the unforeseen shape they will morph into down the road.

Over the next several days I employ great determination during my time of internationally urged self-isolation to convince myself and my great hairy hound that I can accomplish the Herculean task of carving through his shrubby mane in the same way most of my fellow humans try to muddle their way through the maze of subterfuge, pretext, and great gobs of misinformation clouding our sight of the truth.

Daily, I place him in an unnatural position and beg him to be still as I scissor away for the space of an hour. I listen to the news: the practitioners, pundits, the press, and the president—each one with a decreasing sense of belief.

I feel Haggis tremble beneath the sound of sharp shears, and I put the scissors down and soothe him with all the ridiculous cooing tones meant to bring forth some ease. But I echo his same tiny twitch of skin when I’ve nipped him with the tip, or when they broadcast some new tally.

Every day certain numbers shoot up, and others slide down. We are warned by some and encouraged by others. Who do we trust? Who should we trust?

With boastful reassurance, I tell Haggis that he’s going to look fine—don’t gaze in the mirror, don’t question my actions, don’t think about it too hard. Trust me.

Each afternoon I hear about people who have heeded and those who’ve just balked. About those who have saved lives and those who have risked them. I wonder if, when this is all over, and I’m face to face with strangers, will I look at them with a fresh question: can I trust you?

And each afternoon I stand from my work, look at the dog, take a deep breath, and exhale with despair.

Good lord, what a mess. I’ve never done this before. And clearly it shows.

I fill him with flattery and maudlin praise, hoping he can’t see through my bluster and swash. But he feels my inexperience. And he knows that whatever my actions, I’ll not feel them as keenly as he does. He discovers at some point—day four or day five—that I’m frustrated with this routine, I’m wishing it over, and I’m unhappy with the results.

But he also knows that there’s no turning back, and this is where his lack of trust in my skills begins to crystallize into disregard.

I am somewhat offended as each day he pulls away from me, refusing to hand me a hoof or his chin.

You’re going to slow.

You’ve made a right mess.

Look here, now I bleed.

I hear him.

I should have left this up to the professionals. Although this is not a choice. We work with what we have, and a large team of experts does not appear at my door.

Each day I scooch the hound outside, toward the mile-long stretch of road between us and the mailbox. I keep my fingers crossed, hoping no one sees as we walk along. Haggis is only mid-way through this pruning, sporting a thick Mohawk down the length of his back, a mop-head, and four legs that are shaved only three-quarters down, making it appear that he is a belligerent teen prancing about in dog-friendly Uggs.

A neighbor stops his truck and rolls his window down slowly. He eyes the two of us with suspicion.

Has he got the virus?

No, I answer. He’s in the middle of a haircut.

Looks like he’s got the virus.

It does my ego and my confidence no favors to receive yet more criticism, and I mope the rest of the way home.

But tomorrow comes, and after convincing Haggis to climb atop the coffee table/barber’s chair once more, I ask myself a critical self-esteem building question:

What would Vidal Sassoon do?

It’s true—it’s not particularly hashtag worthy, but it seemed relatively uplifting for the moment.

And when one is on one’s own, navigating uncharted waters and expecting choppy results, one will search for signs of inspiration, direction, and security wherever one may find it.

(I’m lookin’ at you Dr. Fauci …)

We muddle through and trudge along. We rise to the occasion and make a small difference.

We find places to put our faith: in facts, in evidence, in one another.

And until we emerge on the other side, knackered, shaggy, and injured, we offer kindness if not confidence.

A spoonful of peanut butter can go a long, long way.

Surely the Russians knew that.

~Shelley

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When Everyone Tells You You’re a Witch, Eventually You Try on the Hat

I don’t feel well¸ I’d whispered just loudly enough for my own ears to register.

I reached out for the wall beside me, steadying quivering knees, and felt my hand slide southward until it came to touch the floor. I wrapped both arms around my bent legs. In this custodial cocoon, I closed my eyes and searched for a thread of clarity as a new anchor of support.

Another sound my ears captured—their scattershot proficiency even further impeded by the thump of my resonant heartbeat—was a half growl, half moan, also coming from me.

I spoke again in a whisper, directing my words to both recently and long-passed female relatives, If you all think this is funny, I will find a way to make you pay for your merciless amusement. Leave. Me. Alone.

I looked up and scanned the room. It was rich with excavated artifacts—urns, beakers, swords, and tools, skins, sketches, baubles, and bowls. Relics unearthed from the very ground I stood upon—or hunched over, as it were.

The Kilmartin Museum was perched atop a small ridge that ran along the edge of Kilmartin Glen—a stretch of prehistoric sites through the valley of a tiny village in western Scotland. It was here I was suddenly sinking with the feeling of lassitude—which I’m certain brought a smirk of self-congratulations to many of my female ancestors, as the words they shared with me when alive were of the variety that would bring great alarm to most, but were banal and eye roll-worthy to me during my youth:

You’re an old soul—you simply can’t recall your past lives. The tarot cards show this.

Open your ears to the goddesses, don’t put up such walls to their speech.

You are but a vessel—and willing or no, your spirit is an empath and draws the needful toward you.

I’d believed none of it. But partly wished it were true. They believed all of it. And impatiently waited my surrender to their truth.

I’d come for research—to resurrect not only the tangible details I’d need for my story, but the perceptible ones as well. One provided a sense of touch, the other, palpable only by the mind. Many storytellers find that if one can stand in the spot where the tale unfolds, and utilize all one’s senses, countless doors of creativity swing open with ease.

The problem I was encountering was not so much the onset of malaise but discovering that the long distance travel had not shaken the long buried voices of my own dead relatives—those who regularly muttered around me—and they now intermingled with the voices of those I wished to hear more clearly and singularly.

The book I was writing steeped within a warm soup of Celtic mythology and village mystics. The book I’d just finished was fraught with warring witches and fear-filled kingdoms. Death snaked its way through both narratives, just as my familial undead featherstitched their presence uninvitingly through more of my calendric cycle than I wish were true.

Their calls—which were clearly an unmistakable theme in both books—repeatedly stressed, You are one of us. Do not be deaf to the obvious and inevitable.

And although I may have purposefully shut out the opinions my more eclectic family members layered on, I have never been deaf to great books, as they speak to me with more than mere words. They leave countless overarching impressions. When you are the reader of any story, the author prays they have cannily articulated some message to you, and you leave feeling moved by the experience. When you are the author, you hunt for that affecting message. It is oftentimes a slow sweeping away of debris that reveals the structure: the bones, the skull, the spine.

And standing in a multi-roomed hut, jammed with primitive curios, or upon a battlefield, the acrid smoke charred deep into the soil, or beside a cairn, the stones heavy with the grief of thousands of tears, I can barely pick out the tone of my own long ago voiced youthful complaints as I stymie the growing sound of history’s vocal barrage.

I’m not like all of you. I’m my own person, I’d said to some auntie, eyeing me with pity through the wisps of the exotic smoke from her cigarette.

She’d shaken her head. You see it wrongly. You are not tethered to this hallowed ground with an anchor, but rather a tube. One that can act as a channel.

She is right. There is a hurricane of chronicles waiting to be heard. And countless times in my life I have been in the right place and present at the right time where the valves have twisted open. At these moments, I am usually caught unawares and overwhelmed.

Fighting off a chorus of narrators, rich with the urgency of untold tales is akin to skittering down an icy, rock-laden hill. You will not come out unscathed.

As writers in any genre will affirm, there are myriad ways to quilt the patchwork of a story together: spending months or years in a library while pouring over reference books, chronicling dream journals and cherry-picking threads of a narrative from within it, ferreting through new innovation and discovery via disrupters and thought leaders we interview. The list is endless.

But there are those that believe the stories are omnipresent, ubiquitous as the air we draw for each breath. And within our breath is the breath of others. Our task is to tap into the substance of it, the elements within it. We simply unveil that which keeps it muffled from others’ ears.

I had no inkling I would be a teller of tales one day, that I would find a snug fit of comfort stretching beyond the bounds of everyday humans and attempt to build worlds elsewhere. And for an unfathomable amount of time I stubbornly resisted seeing one of those unhuman worlds as it was repeatedly illuminated by others who believed they held access to it and wished to hand me a key.

Those experiences—the ones where I’ve been flooded with the emotions, or voices, or thrumming vibrations that did not belong to me specifically—have more often than not, not been welcome. I don’t know why they appear. Maybe those women are right. Maybe I am an empath. And welcomed or no, some unseen fingers may continue to twist open that wheeled handle despite my trying to plug the spigot. But lately … lately I have wondered why I would willfully eliminate a source of inspiration or guidance. Why would I dismiss a muse as it sits staring into my face, or whispering into my ear?

So for writing’s sake, for the enrichment of story, I will try on the hat—to see if it fits. Fits like a child’s head, warmly embraced within the arms and bosoms of women long passed, but refusing to be forgotten.

~Shelley

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NASA: Definitely not a Waste of Space

“So how ‘bout that whole folding of the fabric of time thing?” I asked when it was finally my turn in the long line of people forming a queue.

“I beg your pardon?” an elderly NASA engineer asked, his two furry white eyebrows fully sewing together in the middle of his face.

“Time travel,” I clarified. “You don’t have to keep the research bits a secret from me. I’ve got a badge and everything. I’m allowed to be here.”

“MOTHER!”

I felt a sharp yank at my elbow and was spun out of the line and pushed toward the conference hall’s exit doors.

I heard the engineer ask the assistant at his side to find new batteries for his hearing aid as he thought they were going a bit dodgy.

I detached the sharp claw around my arm and glanced over at my daughter’s face. It was a little more red than I thought healthy—like the color a kid’s face turns when they’ve been holding their breath after you tell them they’re absolutely going to eat every last bit of liver on their dinner plate thank you very much.

And then they explode.

Or faint.

Chloe could have gone either way.

“I thought I told you I was going to vet each one of your questions to panelists,” she said, crisply.

“Yes. You did say that. But you were busy talking to someone who was showing you how to cure cancer in space—or something like that—and I thought that info was too valuable to interrupt.”

She gave me her best oh my god I can’t believe we’re from the same genetic material face and walked down the corridor toward a display of spacecraft materials—textiles that could absorb great gobs of angry heat.

I’d need to make it up to her. I was here—at NASA’s 100th centennial celebration and symposium—as her plus one. I’d been given access to all the talks, lectures, panel discussions, power point slideshows, and live beam-ins from the ISS.

I was meeting and listening to some of the greatest scientists, engineers, and administrators of the great big NASA family—a family Chloe has been dating for the last four years—and I’d better not be the black-socked and sandled potted uncle who blows it for her by showing up at the posh annual family BBQ asking where I can set up the bouncy castle I’d just rented for the event.

She wants a large, shiny ring from these people. I should really help her get it.

So I sat quietly for the next many hours. A full two days of many hours. I listened to people explain what had been taking place the last one hundred years in labs and clean rooms—that part I called history—and what would  be taking place in the next one hundred years but mostly on spaceships and extraterrestrial terra firma—that part I called magic.

Human exploration, space technology, mission objectives, and interplanetary sleuthwork—a bazillion talks showing what happened to the lecturer when someone made the mistake of saying to them, “Betcha can’t make this happen.”

Think again.

It’s the hair-raising results when smart people get bored and have access to wind tunnels.

Now, I’m not going to say that every single speaker had me at the edge of my seat, wide-eyed, and breathless. There were plenty of rumple-suited, mumbling lectors who lost their places or couldn’t figure out how to work a laser pointer. Moments where I would turn to Chloe and accusatorily whisper, “That’s not a real word,” or request that she explain to me in one sentence or less how nuclear fusion for space travel would work.

But the videos were definitely thrilling bits of rousing drama. In fact, I’m pretty sure that NASA uses one guy from Hollywood to do all the musical score work because all of it was EPIC. Like academy award winning musical compositions. I felt heart-melting stirrings in my soul when seeing a scientist simply unfold some foil. It could have been what he was having for lunch, but I didn’t care. I just want to see if eventually Ridley Scott will ask Matt Damon to play that guy on the big screen.

At the end of the symposium was the massive NASA gala. Tuxedos, sequins, fish and chicken, politicians, musicians, astronauts and journalists. The early computers, the young engineers. The daring old stories and the futuristic visions.

It was a room filled with people who had done great things, and with people who dreamed of doing great things.

It was a room that held the remarkable past and the unfathomable futures. It was filled with an electric energy, the promise of possibility, a gritty determination.

And waiters.

Yeah, it was filled with a lot of waiters too.

I thought that by the end of the night I had done my utmost to behave. To absorb the sagacious words of pioneers at the frontiers of space. I’d kept my hand at my side and simply remained fixed on their words, their proposals, their data, and their accomplishments.

I did not chase people into the bathrooms to ask burning questions about Mars, or the moon, or asteroids, or multi universes.

Except for that one guy, but he hardly counts. Because Chloe doesn’t even know about him, so mums the word on that bit, capisce?

I thought after all my good behavior we could finally go home and find some real sleep, as we’d been crashing in a hotel room whose air conditioner sounded like a gargantuan Kitchen Aid blender stuck on liquefy—or annihilate—samey samey.

But then the gala’s emcee made one last announcement before dismissing us for the night. “We’ve got a surprise for you! There’s a dance party downstairs—a DJ, a sparkly ball, big speakers, and a lot more alcohol. Go have fun NASA!”

I saw Chloe turn to me with a face that displayed the happiness a farm hound shows when he’s spotted a field full of cowpie patties.

“NO,” I said firmly.

“You owe me,” she said.

So we went.

And now I am absolutely positive time travel exists, because I would put a big ole bet that most of these scientists and engineers wouldn’t want any of their dancing film footage to get out into the public—and if there was a threat of doing so, they’d travel back to this event and erase it.

It was like watching colts try to stand immediately following birth.

Okay, to be fair, a couple people knew some archaic dance moves, but seriously, no one should be doing the Robot anymore, or the Running Man, and especially not the Sprinkler.

Except I’m going to make one allowance: there was one move they were all exceedingly good at.

The Moonwalk.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration should be damn proud of a century’s worth of work. Seeing their past accomplishments was a trip back in time I was honored and astonished to experience.

 

But hearing about their future? Nope. I don’t want to skip over one single second of it.

Congratulations, NASA.

~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.

Knowing All the Angles

I’ve lost my favorite sock.

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Well, maybe it’s more appropriate to say that I lost one of my two favorite socks, because, of course, socks come in pairs.

But this wreaks havoc with the wordsmithy part of my thought process—the one that wholly annoys almost all of my friends and family—the one where I cannot keep my lips clamped together when a person uses a word incorrectly.

Like the word priorities. There is no such word.

No. Such. Word.

Priorities is not something that can be pluraled. (Nor is pluraled a real word but I’m not gonna get off track).

You can have ONE priority. The rest of all your important matters fall in line somewhere beneath that top notch point of concern.

I know. It’s a really picky piece of trifling tittle. But it matters to me. Almost as much as my favorite sock.

So … I take in a big breath this morning whilst looking around my closet and bedroom for where the damn thing might have scampered off to and remind myself—as it is January, and one of my New Year’s resolutions was to see things from “another’s” perspective this year in order to help myself understand half of my fellow Americans—to put on those lenses and look.

It might not be a perfect example of what I was going for when I uttered my pledge on December 31st, but I actually like the broad swath of application. I’m certain I will benefit from it in other areas of my life apart from the political.

Like when I look around my bedroom and spot a dying potted plant, a time-ravaged old rug, and an antiquated hamper.

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(I said hamper, Rob.)

“These things have got to go,” I announced to the curtains, who were doing their utmost to appear as unshabby as possible. “Every time I leave this room, morning daylight reminds me that the Salvation Army is waiting for a truckload of items from me.” Daylight brings on crisp objectivity.

And then I swear I heard the curtains snicker, “Try the dump, cuz even the Salvation Army has standards.”

I gave the curtains a menacing glare, told them to stop putting on airs, and left.

jan2017_airs01

Wearing mismatched socks.

Because only half of my feet needed to find themselves dispirited today.

The odd sock happened to be that of my son’s, and in keeping with my theme of stepping into someone else’s shoes, I found it utterly befitting of my 2017 goals.

Today, I was going to see things from someone else’s perch.

Everyone I interacted with today got the same question: Why did you do that? (Only without the snarky-like overtones this sentence could easily convey if only reading.)

Like the small consignment shop I was sizing up for my eventual spring cleaning offerings. I’d pointed to a Trump poster up on the wall behind the owner. He pointed to a wall behind me, where a series of antique firearms were on display. “Cuz guns,” he shrugged.

I thought about how different the world felt from when I was a kid growing up in Wisconsin, where nearly every one I knew owned at least one rifle and brought leftovers from the reason they had one in the first place to any BBQ where everybody was supposed to contribute.

I asked the question to a Croatian woman who was cutting my hair and describing her life as a refugee when she told me that many of her fellow countrymen-now-American friends had voted for Donald Trump. Why did they do that? (This one was said with a big dollop of surprise on my face, but still no snark.)

“Because,” the hairdresser said, “they saw the Clinton name as a reminder of horrific times in our country and they were choosing the lesser of two evils—although,” she continued, raising a sharp pair of scissors into the air, “I had to remind them that Mr. Trump seemed oddly familiar to our own past president, Slobodan Milošević, who had been arrested on suspicion of corruption, abuse of power, and embezzlement, and had fraudulently voted himself back into office for his second term.”

jan2017_chips01

And finally, I’d asked the question to a psychologist friend of mine after I’d discovered that he, a lifelong Democrat, at the last minute switched his presidential vote. Why did YOU do that? (This time it was dripping with snark.)

He took in a big lungful of air and said, “So that I could better study narcissism. Purely for scientific research of grand magnitude.”

Then he raised a finger and said, “Don’t forget, good things can come about from this presidency too. Want to an increase NASA’s budget? Tell Trump the European Space Agency thinks they’ve got the First Foot on Mars position nailed. Want climate change to get some attention? Tell him China might be pulling into the lead problem solving position globally and are about to initiate geoengineering.”

I raised an eyebrow at him.

He snorted. “Narcissists like to be top dog.”

jan2017_topdog01

Okay, I thought after this long day of listening and not judging. I’m inching forward. Making a little movement. Increasing the scope of my perspective.

I decided to do something I’d not done in a long time and stretched out on the ancient, grizzled old rug. In no time flat I determined that from every angle and through any optic, this carpet still needed to go.

Then I pulled my feet up close to yank off today’s mismated socks. I tossed them toward the hamper and caught sight of the sock that had gone AWOL this morning.

jan2017_sock01

Yup. Proof that seeing things from another perspective was going to serve me well this year.

I looked up at the curtains and told them I probably deserved a little praise for my advancement with my New Year’s resolutions thus far, but they responded with a Tell it to the hand kind of attitude.

It reminded me of my kids.

Maybe I could tell both of them so I’d get a pat on the back and a round of applause.

But then I thought of how they’d likely say they would have wished that my resolution was to back the hell off being such a grammar tyrant.

Okay. Point taken.

I’ll add it to my list of priorities.

~Shelley

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

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

Presidential Partying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Well, this little tidbit:

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

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

Straighten Up and Fly Right

Today, Peakers, I’m posting an article I wrote for an online magazine called Dear Teen Me, where authors pen their teenage self a note from the future. An exercise in memory, humor, advice and forgiveness, writing a letter to your former self is a worthy task and a labor of love.

Also, a shock of realization regarding your naiveté with savvy hairstyles.

~~~~~~~~~

Dear Shelley,

Buckle up. I mean it. Your life is going to be like a long, long ride in a SIAI Marchetti aircraft doing countless aerobatic maneuvers until you toss your cookies across the glass-roofed ceiling and finally land. Then you’re going to scrape all that Keebler off the canopy and get back up there.

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And if you’re having a hard time imagining what it’s going to be like in that Marchetti, picture the Blue Angels, or the Thunderbirds mid-show. Picture speed, panic, and an occasional loss of equilibrium.

And then realize that your answer to all those hair-raising, stomach-churning, lunch losing flights is to learn how to fly the damn aircraft yourself.

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I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking we’re an idiot, right? Well, we are and we aren’t.

We’re an idiot for letting so much scare the hell out of us, but we’re not too duff in the brave department. It nearly evens out.

There’s so much I could tell you right now—warn you about, but I’m thinking if I do that, we might have ourselves a Back to the Future situation here where I could end up altering the past. And I’m not willing to risk that.

I know what you want to hear. Did you get the guy? Is your name in lights? Did all those wishes you made on candles, eyelashes, and falling stars come true?

Sorry. I’m not going to tell you that. Even though it would be tremendously easy for me to do so. Why not? Because you like surprises. And because life would hold no magic if I let you read the end of the book.

Do you remember that one time when you were eleven or twelve and finally got the new hardcover everyone was talking about in school, and everyone was nearly finished with it and you were so behind you jumped to the end so that you could at least talk about the ending with everyone else the next day? Do you remember how it made you feel?

Empty.

The book meant nothing to you. You found out the plot, but you missed the whole point. Yeah, it totally sucked and I’m not going to do that to you. I want you full of wonder. Because wonder is the thing that motivates the hell out of you. But you already know this. I’m not spoiling anything here.

So what might be the point of this letter? Why write to you in the first place? The answer is such a simple thing—such a tiny message, but it might have a big impact. This letter is nothing more than a request. I want you to make a habit of carrying around a small plastic bag in your pocket. Think of yourself more like a Girl Scout. I want you a teensy bit more prepared. Prepared for those “I’m so scared I could toss my cookies” moments. I want to at least eliminate the fear of having a “visual burp” where you can’t get rid of the evidence within the amount of time it takes to tie your shoe, or swat a fly, or download a song from iTunes when you’ve got unbelievable Wi-Fi coverage and computational speed. Okay—ditch that last reference because you’ve got no idea what the hell I’m talking about.

It doesn’t matter.

But because we carry fear around in our invisible backpack of ‘can’t leave home without them’ obstacles, it’s best you just stop trying to overcome it or destroy it and maybe just embrace it.

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I’m not saying the two of you have to become best friends, but you are both riding on the same bus and you’d better find a few things to talk about in order to pass the time. It’ll be so much easier this way.

Get to know this fear entity as quickly as you can. Explore it, like the dark side of the moon people write songs and poetry about. It’s really not such a mystery, more like a family member no one wants hanging around when the shit hits the fan. Fear is one of those things that ends up getting in the way of solving a problem when you really wish it would grab a bucket of water and start helping to put out the fire. Fear is the person who screams, “MY BABY!” instead of wrestling the longest ladder she can find off the fire truck and slamming it up against the house beneath the nursery window.

It doesn’t have to be all panic and suffering. It can be more like accomplishment with a little sprinkling of panic and suffering.

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Think of fear as a seasoning like salt and pepper. You can live without them, but ask anyone who’s on a low sodium diet what they think of their dish and the first thing out of their mouth is going to be about how bland everything tastes.

So, here’s my definition of fear: not necessary, but greatly needed in order to provide life the depth and breadth of its true dimensions.

I promise I’m not just blowing smoke out of my pie hole for fun. At forty-five, we’ve had enough experience with the annoying companion to qualify as a crackerjack connoisseur on the subject. Trust me. Just roll with it.

And don’t forget the plastic bag.

Lastly, just so we don’t waste time with the whole ‘get your debut book out there quicker’ issue, I’m attaching the manuscript of a little book I wrote which I think might do well. It’s a tale about a boy who finds out he’s a wizard.

Love,

Shelley

Shelley Kids Photo 2Shelley Kids Photo

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click) 

Today, he’s posting a sketch that BELONGS in DEAR OPL!

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.

 

 

Daze of Wine and Poses

There is no better comparison than to say I was like an accordion.

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Stretched to my limits.

Occasionally wheezing.

And still trying to belch out cheerful sounds.

I think I was fairly successful on that last bit despite the prior two burdensome grievances. And damned if I was going to put any damp, dark marker on my one weekend in Boston—my three days with Chloe. A mother/daughter weekend extraordinaire like none I’ve ever had.

I thought it would be 72 hours of us fixing up her new tiny flat—a space Harry Potter would have called a snug fit when compared to his hovel beneath the stairs. And I also thought we’d be shopping for groceries. I was pretty determined to make sure she had all the necessities since her miniscule weekly shopping budget seemed just about right as long as she had the appetite of a two-pound gerbil.

But my visit turned out to be time spent doing neither of these.

Chloe had planned for every minute available to us—and, as it turned out, many more that weren’t. She’d booked activities requiring the precise timing that would have made a Swiss watchmaker glow with pride. But I think we’re all pretty familiar with the old adage If you want to make God laugh, plan a picnic.

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Now just apply this to public transportation timetables and you’ll have just revealed the fat glitch in her ‘planned down to the second’ schedule of events. I can still hear the echo from the cackling deities.

The first thing she said upon meeting me at the airport, and snapping the first of a million selfies to catalogue our time together, was that she hoped I’d clocked a few extra hours in my sleep bank, as nightly rest was not something she’d taken into consideration before writing out the agenda—a roster of events I was guessing would be taped up on her bedroom wall in the form of several pie chart diagrams, bar graphs and schematic flowcharts.

My response to this was to ask her where the nearest wine store was in relation to her apartment, as I was likely going to want to purchase a bottle to help get me through the breakdown of the activities lecture surely awaiting me once we arrived at her flat.

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She then told me that Boston was expecting an uncharacteristically intense heat wave for the next three days, that her room was on the top floor of a five floor building, and that air conditioning was for wusses—or that they just didn’t have any. It could have been either. I couldn’t hear over the roar of the subway station we’d entered.

My next response was to amend my prior request for one bottle of wine. Yelling out that I’d likely need a heftier supply of vino to soften the weekend’s unexpected challenges was probably not a great idea as I had no clue how far a voice could carry in the cavernous tunnel of a tube station—especially after that roaring train instantly disappeared.

We did, however, find ourselves with a little more elbow room after that so I suppose it wasn’t a total loss.

She wasn’t kidding about the heat. Nor the size of her room. So, as a consolation prize, she informed me that she shares a bathroom with about six other girls, although after using it I updated her description of “girls” to mean two Yetis, a Sasquatch, the band members from ZZ Top and the showering rights of Chewbacca.

Hair is really important to college women.

Losing it, not so much.

Reclaiming it, not at all.

So instead of doing a rundown of every activity we managed to squeeze in, I will give you the highlights I thought most important to share:

Boston has a lot of public libraries. Some of them have books you can check out. Unless you’re hoping to take them back to Virginia.

Or into the women’s bathroom for an extended, relaxing read.

There is a bucketload of beautiful churches in this city. Almost all of them are locked. Especially when you need to use the bathroom. Even if you’re not sneaking a “keepsake” from the Boston public library beneath your sundress.

Museums are no longer free. Unless you’re a college student.

I can no longer pass for a college student.

Museums are not terribly wine friendly.

The subway is filled with people. But oftentimes surprisingly bereft of trains.

The subway has no issues with beverages of any description.

People who go to the Improv are usually people who auditioned for the Improv but were rejected by the Improv.

I can still run three miles in flip flops. Especially when told that the world as we know it will end if we don’t make it to a reservation we were supposed to have shown up for thirty minutes earlier. And “TWO WEEKS’ WORTH OF SOMEONE’S PITIFUL HOURLY WAGES WILL GO OWN THE DRAIN FOR NOTHING, MOTHER!”

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Wine is essential after running three miles in flip flops fueled by nothing more than guilt.

The Farmer’s Market in Boston was filled with booths belonging to painters, sculptors and photographers.

And one farmer who sold goat yogurt.

Goat yogurt tastes surprisingly good with wine.

Boston’s Freedom Trail is a 2 ½ mile long path that highlights the patriots’ determined fight for liberation from the British.

It must have been a path littered with booby traps as it is filled with scores of cemeteries along the route. Haley Joel Osmond could never survive in Boston.

Apparently, folks are generally discouraged from taking selfies with the tombstone of Paul Revere whilst making a duckface.

If you’re going to be visiting the dead all day long, the only way to rouse yourself from the incredibly somber mood you’re falling into is to agree to make duckfaces whilst snapping selfies.

Making duckfaces while snapping selfies as you stand behind national monuments is so much easier if you’ve first had some wine.

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I’m fairly sure Boston has placed a moratorium on air conditioning.

I’m incredibly grateful that the patriots chose to toss the crates that held all the tea and not the barrels that held all of the wine.

~~~~~~~

So, all in all, my trip to Boston was chock a block full of a bazillion activities where we made some serious memories. Although I may have to review each of our pictures in order to remember them all.

Or any of them. *hic*

~Shelley

PS. Next week. It’s Chloe’s version of the very same 72 hours.

Oh, goody.

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click)

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

 

 

 

 

Shedding Light on the Seat of Power

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

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I really hate when that happens.

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

Who goes there??

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

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

It wasn’t.

Ever.

Just mutton dressed up as lamb.

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

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An electricity co-op? Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait. What?”

Yes, it’s called Estate Retirement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What does that mean?”

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

~Shelley

*BONUS CARTOON FOR THIS WEEK’S POST!* (click)

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

Related articles

Go Fetch Me a Pint

There is nothing more attractive to me than a big, burly Scotsman dressed in a kilt.

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Scratch that.

There is nothing more attractive to me than a big, burly Scotsman dressed in a kilt and holding a glass of single malt scotch.

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Oops. One more go at this.

There is nothing more attractive to me than a big, burly Scotsman dressed in a kilt, holding a glass of single malt scotch and offering it to ME.

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BINGO.

And the great thing about January 25th is that my chances of seeing this attractive vision unfold increases monumentally all because of one charming fellow.

Who happens to be dead.

Nonetheless, Robert Burns is still remembered, admired and hailed around the world. His birthday is celebrated in ways that likely have him wishing he could be there and glad that he is not. It all depends upon what party you end up attending.

So let me explain …

Ole Rabbie Burns was born on January 25th, 1759 in the southwestern part of Scotland in the village of Alloway. His folks were farmers, and as most farmers barely have two farthings to rub together, they rubbed together that which they did have—each other. Robert had six other siblings—plenty of hands to lighten the load—which might have been the reason Robert had time to read and write.

And chase girls.

Lots of them.

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Once his father passed away, Robert and his brother took over the family farm. At this point it seems Rabbie may have asked himself some questions about the direction he wanted to take with his life.

Would I prefer to be writing up the yearly farm accounts or writing down poetry? Better yet, would I rather be watering the land, or down at the local watering hole?” And finally, Should I choose to sow seeds into the soil, or into all of the bonnie women I can catch?”

It was clear Robert excelled with whatever was behind door number two—which was usually him and some other lass.

His poetry was oftentimes meant to impress the fairer sex, in order to have sex.

And lest you think I’m pulling your chain, let me provide some proof: our lustful lyricist had a total of TWELVE CHILDREN by FOUR WOMEN. Seven were illegitimate, because, well … after a while you stop counting. They just become stock.

It seems the old bard knew how to make his quill sing.

*ahem* (and a few others’ too)

Okay, back to celebrating someone’s birthday and not conquests.

Once Burns finally kicked the bucket—at the tender age of 37, from what was apparently reported as “heart disease,” although there were plenty of folks who stated that whisky and women contributed to his demise—his cronies decided to carry on the tradition of celebrating his birthday with a yearly tribute: booze, women, food and okay, fine, poetry.

If you were to cast a wide net, chances are you’ll find a Burns Supper happening somewhere within spitting distance. As long as you’re a champion spitter. But the circle grows smaller each year.

Lots of folks love whisky, everyone loves food, and a couple of folks even like poetry. There you have it. The makings of a Burns Night.

There really are only a few ingredients necessary for its success:

  1. FOOD: All things Scottish—if you’re attempting to be truly authentic. So, neeps and tatties (smushed up turnips and potatoes), cock-a-leekie soup (chicken and leeks, not leaking roosters!), haggis (most of you do not want to know), and cranachan or cream clowdie (this is just a hot mess of oatmeal, cream, sugar and whisky—breakfast for highland savages).
  2. MUSIC: Make friends with a bagpiper. Tell him to bring an extra lung or a tank of O2 because it’ll be a long night.
  3. POETRY: Or any good storytelling material. Have your guests tell a joke, recite their favorite piece of prose—authored by Burns or any other great odist, or share a memory of when they too were a drunken, sex-depraved, Scottish lad.

And finally, but most importantly …

  1. WHISKY: The more you imbibe, the better the food becomes, the more appealing the music grows and everyone becomes a balladeer capable of reciting rhapsodic soliloquies (insert roll of eyes here).

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The point is to enjoy a night of all the things that delight our senses, but unlike any other holiday, you may bring your broadsword and claymore to the dinner table.

Burns Night Suppers are usually long and lewd, reeling and risqué, and require two aspirin and a taxi at their completion.

They are worthy and memorable events, and I can’t encourage you enough to source out a local shindig in your area. Or be brave and throw the dinner together yourself. After all, attending a Burns Night is your best chance for running into a big burly Scotsman, dressed in a kilt and holding a glass of single malt scotch. Whether or not he’s going to offer it up to you is something you may have to negotiate. My advice? Hum a few bars of Auld Lang Syne and see if he warms to you.

Slàinte!

~Shelley

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

Related articles

A matter of life and death!

Kill your Darlings.

This is probably one of the most wretched phrases a writer ever has to grapple with. I’m guessing it settles itself just beneath Thank you, but no thank you, we’re going to pass.

Maybe it ties with Well, I’ve read some of your writing … You sure you want to be a writer? How about farming—what do you think of farming? Or trucking. Can you drive a big rig?

I say let’s find the old curmudgeon who came up with the satanic slogan and string him up by his toes. I could use some practice with dismemberment before I start hacking away at my manuscript. That’s what it’s about essentially: the death of all you love.

For those of you who’ve never come across this sinful suggestion in your line of work, you may consider yourselves lucky. You also may consider yourselves confused as to what I’m going on about.

A quick catchup: a long dead author—accurately identifying the name of said author can lather up writers into an unholy fractious state, so apart from classifying him as an English killjoy, we shall leave his name out of this—mistakenly believed the best way to win friends and influence people in the writing world was to inform them that the bits they loved most about their text were ALL GARBAGE and to basically take a hatchet to it.

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Okay, maybe I’m a little uptight at the moment and I’m unfairly criticizing what has become a sage rule of thumb to most authors, but only because it’s such a gleeful phrase for any editor to write. Take out all the fluff. Get rid of your purple prose. Find a sentence and ask yourself, Do I like this? If the answer is yes, then slash it. Delete it. Dump it. Kill your darlings.

Yes. I’m in the middle of editing right now, but perhaps you guessed that from my cheerful tone.

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This dreadful phrase is nothing more than a literary expression. Fairly innocuous to express. But putting it into action is akin to stripping away a layer of skin that you actually found attractive, warm, and cushioning. It also keeps several quarts of blood from oozing out of your flesh, but editors aren’t fussed about that. It’s the bare bones of beauty that we’re after, they say. We want only what’s relevant, only what moves the story forward, no frilly ornamentation.

I think my skin is fairly relevant.

And it allows me to move forward, as without my ‘ornamental’ skin I’d certainly never leave the house.

Putting oneself in a murderous state of mind seems easy at first. You read the advice from your agent or your editor or your critique group to simply “cut out about thirty pages.”

Thirty pages? At about 275 words per page? We’re talking more than 8000 words! That’s a huge amount of work. I don’t even say 8000 words in one week, so imagine how long it takes me to think up 8000 acceptable words to place in the manuscript?

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I pace a lot during this process. I slide down a lot of walls. I drape myself across the dog for comfort. I cry. I bargain. I bake cookies. I eat cookies.

Occasionally I find a word to delete.

It’s usually because I’ve combined two words into a contraction.

It is a miserable process.

I have just finished weeks of working—rewriting a 400 page manuscript that needed thirty pages sliced. I only sawed off twenty. I must begin the entire process again. And then again if needed. I’m thinking about removing one entire page for every forty that I read. Fingers crossed nothing dramatic happens on each of those pages, but perhaps I could sell them separately. We could offer the Editor’s Edition (370 pages), or the Author’s Edition (380 pages) and see which one shows better sales from the marketing department. Clearly we’d have to label the Editor’s Edition as a mystery because the reader will have to fill in the missing bits of nearly three percent of the book.

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And don’t forget, publishers always add those extra blank pages at the front and back of every book. Surely that should count for something, right?

(One can clearly see I’ve morphed back into the bargaining phase.)

(And now I’ve just fired up the oven.)

Regardless of how many cookies I shove into my gob, the work must happen. As long as I’m in my kitchen I shall sharpen my knives, hone their edges, make them gleam.

And now I am prepared. Prepared to continue killing my darlings.

As scared to death of this contemptible process as I am, I shall knock on death’s door, dance with death, deal a death blow, fight to the death and sound the death knell.

Egads, this murdering business will surely be the death of me.

~Shelley

BONUS MATERIAL!

HI MOM’S CULT BLOGOSPHERE AUDIENCE! I’m Chloe, her daughter, I guest-blogged here once. You might know me from all the complaining she regularly does about my high school life. ANYWAY. I am attempting to launch a weather balloon with cool science on it for the fun of it/to learn stuff/to save the world from its inevitable demise at the hands of muons. If you like science/space/me/my mom/being a generally cool person, please check out my fundraising campaign on Indiegogo! 
I’d greatly appreciate any support, as my parents are pretty sick and tired of my failed bottle rocket experiments and have refused to fund any more adventures into the great beyond.

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

May Gotta Have a Gott winner

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

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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Open Sesame. Pretty please?

Like millions of people living today who are semi-computer capable and who have a love/hate, “but mostly hate” relationship with technology simply because it moves at precisely the same speed as the tip of a bullwhip, I have one overwhelming pain-in-the-backside problem that grows monumentally larger every single day:

PASSWORDS.

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In early history, Roman soldiers used watchwords. These secret keywords were inscribed on wooden tablets and given out when the troops made camp at night. Passed from one guard to the next, and returned to the equivalent of their commander in chief in the morning, it was pretty easy to determine who was going to get a lickin based on the handwriting of all the tic tac toe games on the reverse side. But who could blame them, right? Angry Birds, Flappy Bird and Candy Crush were a few years off.

Skip and jump forward a few wars and the military decides to up the ante in their “anti-theft” division. Now you not only have to remember the day’s password, but you have to come up with the day’s counterpassword as well. So he says, “Potato,” and you say, “Potahto.” Capish? It’s the old call and response routine, and it worked well enough until everyone repeatedly forgot where they were and took to belting out Broadway tunes for the rest of the night. It made them an easy target for any folks on the enemy side who hadn’t already developed a taste for Liza Minnelli.

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Let’s time travel all the way up to the mid 1960s and walk through the hallowed halls of MIT, into the overly warm, clamorous, wall to wall stuffed room where researchers housed their newly built contraption—a time-sharing computer called CTSS. Supposedly it was an acronym for Compatible Time-Sharing System, but it could easily have been dubbed Create Trouble & Steal Security. The folks who worked on this computer are in many circles given credit for being the first to see the necessity and employ the use of passwords. They were also the first group of young adults to coin the term hacker and make a profitable practice developing the art.

Yep. It’s like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.

The rules for keeping your data safe on the internet today have grown from Think up a word and you can sleep at night knowing your emails are private, to Yeah, buddy, even if you come up with a brand new language using only tab keys, your door bell and the scroll lock switch, we’ll find out how many pennies you’ve got stored in your piggy bank in the time it takes for you to brush only half your teeth. So there. Nighty night.

It seems impossible to conform to all the dished out sage advice that counsels you to use different passwords for every site where you need to leave behind some of your personal identity.

There’s got to be a better way.

Let me blow in a tube that can code my breath, lick a saliva indentifying patch on my monitor, or bite down on a dental impression fitted to my keyboard. Surely the millions of kids with stupefying techy talent out there can whip up some solution to this world-wide conundrum we repeatedly face multiple times an hour, yes?

I’m told not to create a password that would be easily guessed, not to make it personal, not to repeat characters, not to use too few, but not to use too many. Have some letters, throw in a number, squeeze in a character, and do the hokey pokey.

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Now … do not, even under threat of torture, write it down.

But don’t forget it.

Now rinse and repeat for the next fifty web sites you do business with.

My brain is exploding.

Can’t I get a chip implanted in my wrist? How about a fingertip recognition keyboard? I would even go so far as to willingly give a small blood sample in place of recalling absurd, brain-blunting codes that a computer could crack in the blink of an eye.

Apparently organizing and overseeing passwords has a hefty price tag attached to it—somewhere in the region of billions of dollars in productivity losses every year. The extra time snatched away from me has surely affected my day negatively. I write less, bathe less, and have had to forgo putting parsley on my family’s dinner plates. Every second counts in my day, and instead of carving tomato flowers, I am desperately trying to protect my social security number from computer criminals who would one day like to have my checks sent to their mailboxes and not mine. No matter that by the time I qualify, social security numbers will be as financially valuable as an avocado-colored bar blender, but I’m sure some of their efforts are paying off now.

I know there’s no quick fix on the horizon, but I think I’ve come up with a few pretty good ideas.

If none of the above are worthy of consideration, I might even be willing to go back to showing my computer my daily wooden tablet to gain access.

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It’ll probably only bring me to a site where I can play tic tac toe.

~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

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

The Grand Poobah of Parties

I read a lot of historical fiction.

On purpose.

I like historical fiction and I write historical fiction, but the way to become a decent writer of the genre, and for others to become fervent followers of your writing in that genre, is to immerse yourself in the times as much as possible.

Alas, time travel isn’t feasible, although having toured the physics department in the United Kingdom’s Birmingham University last year (read about the unfathomable physics), I’m pretty sure it will be soon. So, until those clever clods figure it out, I’m left with reading. And reading leads to imagery. And imagery leads to sensation. And sensation leads to … well it doesn’t matter, but if we were Amish, this whole thing could lead to dancing and you know that’s one come hither look closer to hell than anyone’s comfortable having in their living room.

Call me a mutineer if you must (and likely only if you’re Amish), but I find that apart from joining a traveling band of reenactors, the only way to thoroughly taste the joie de vive of the past is to immerse yourself within the time period’s literature.

Or to make a pot of joie de vive, which I’m pretty sure includes a lot of entrails and a few copper francs.

One holiday not entirely gone and buried from memory, but not widely celebrated anymore, and one I think would be enormously fun to resurrect from the graveyard, is Twelfth Night.

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Taking place the night of January 5th, it heralds the beginning of the Epiphany and the end of the gluttonous Twelve Days of Christmas. Back in Tudor times, I’m guessing a dozen days wasn’t nearly enough, as Twelfth Night signified it was time to pack up and head home following all the debauchery that began waaay back on All Hallows Eve.

Yeah, these people knew how to party.

And “part-aay” was the name of the game. And the game was lead by the Lord of Misrule. Misrule as in total anarchy. But before we get to the more well-known versions, let’s take a quick tour of how things were done in a few other lands.

Yes, there’s a religious component to Twelfth Night, as some folks used to celebrate it in remembrance of the Three Kings’ arrival to the birthplace of Christ. It might have simply been a round of “Hallelujah” chorus because the three fellahs were wandering about in the desert for an unduly long period of time and refused to ask for directions. Wise men, eh?

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In Austria, there was a boatload of smoking that took place during the twelve days of Christmas, all poetically named … Smoke Nights. Apparently, Austria had a rather large problem with unwelcomed evil spirits hanging about the country, but soon discovered that the simple combination of great clouds of choking incense and a good solid drenching of holy water took care of the pesky so n’ sos for another three hundred fifty-some days.

Clever.

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In the Netherlands, Twelfth Night officials allow folks to drive away all their unwelcome demonic shades by blowing out their eardrums with a festive little activity they call midwinterhoornblazen. Of course, there is the common misconception among foreigners who catch a glimpse of the Netherlandian wraiths that the reason they are sporting ear muffs is that they are chilly. In fact, they are simply bracing for the upcoming festival.

Clever.

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In medieval times, the Norse (and now the English) would dedicate the evening to Apple Wassailing. Traditionally sent out into the apple orchards, a group of men would locate the oldest tree, encircle it, tie bread and toast to its branches and pour the last of their evening’s alcoholic winter punch over its roots. I’m going to guess they may have relieved themselves over the roots of the tree to boot, but likely it was just an earlier version of the evening’s punch. This, surprise surprise, was done in order to scare away any ghosts and goblins and encourage a bountiful surplus next season.

Questionable.

The thing we glean from looking at these past celebrations is that Europe was plagued with malignant spirits.

Later on, Twelfth Night improved a little in that folks went from driving out the dead to nearly joining them as they drank themselves perilously close to the edge of their lives. There are a plethora of opinions as to the correct form of celebrations, but I’ll give you the general gist.

A cake was cooked.

A reversal of fortune followed.

Lewd behavior ensued.

The Church found out.

Everyone grabbed their coats and went home swearing next year no one was going to invite The Church.

Still today, there are communities that make a grand go at keeping the traditions alive, but in my opinion, there’s clearly a lot of work to be done to convince the rest of the world that the holidays are not quite over.

So back to the books I go, immersing myself in the times of yore. But one thing remains certain: I read about the past to plan a better future.

I hope yours will be brilliant. Happy New Year!

~Shelley

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

O Tannenbaum!

Tis the season to eat, drink, be merry and … murder trees???

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Ugh, it nearly pains me to write that—especially since I merrily participate—but I figure, if you’re going to be one of the crowd, at least you should be an educated member of said crowd.

So … for all of you celebrating the holidays with some sort of festively decked out tree this year, I shall provide you with a little bit of trivia to entertain your fellow lumberjacks, tinsel strewers and gold star toppers. Pay attention, memorize and amaze.

You’re welcome.

Holiday Tree Trivia Twaddle

  • Christmas trees remove dust and pollen from the air. This year I’m training mine to use the vacuum cleaner so it can remove dirt from the carpet.
  • Christmas trees take an average of 7-10 years to mature. Christmas trees would make wonderful children.
  • To be more specific: It takes 7-10 years of fighting heavy rain, wind, hail and drought to grow a mature tree. It takes 18-20 years of fighting heavy rants, whining, howling and delinquency to grow a mature child. (numbers will vary)

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  • Since 1966, the National Christmas Tree Association has annually given a Christmas tree to the President and first family. The National Christmas Tree Association is still waiting for a thank you note.
  • Recycled trees have been used to make sand and soil erosion barriers and been placed in ponds for fish shelter. I simply preserve mine by brining it in pickle juice at the end of the holiday season, and then bring it out again come December 1st. I serve a lot of corned beef on rye for dinner during the month so no one is suspicious of the stench.
  • The best selling trees are Scotch pine, Douglas fir, Noble fir, Fraser fir, Virginia pine, Balsam fir and white pine. At one point there was a national push toward the Giant Sequoia because Americans never like to be outdone, but the wait time for them didn’t quite match up to our appetite for instant gratification.

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  • 100,000 people are employed in the Christmas tree industry. For about 4 weeks. The remaining 48 weeks of the year they’re just tree stump grinders.
  • In 1900, large stores started to erect big illuminated Christmas trees. In 2013, all stores erected big illuminated Christmas trees, kept them erected all year long, but took a break by switching them off for the month of April.
  • 98 percent of all Christmas trees are grown on farms. The other 2 percent wouldn’t know one end of a cow from the other.

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  • Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states including Hawaii and Alaska. Christmas trees are sold only in Alabama and Oklahoma. Everywhere else sells “Holiday” trees.
  • Tinsel was once banned by the government because it contained lead. Now it’s made of plastic. And it has to be said, landfills have never looked so festive.
  • The use of evergreen trees to celebrate the winter season occurred before the birth of Christ. After the birth of Christ, we learned to start celebrating the winter season by putting away any sparklers and fireworks leftover from the 4th of July.
  • In 1856 Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States, was the first President to place a Christmas tree in the White House. He was then promptly shouted at by staff for tracking in mud and pine pitch.

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  • You should never burn your Christmas tree in your fireplace because it can contribute to creosote buildup. You should only ever burn your Christmas tree in somebody else’s fireplace.
  • President Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the White House lawn in 1923. Taxpayers nearly ended the ritual after being presented with the White House electricity bill come January.
  • From 1948 to 1951, President Truman spent Christmas at his home in Independence, Missouri, and lit the National Community Christmas Tree by remote control. I’m guessing that President Truman was a bit of a Grinch.
  • Nineteenth century Americans cut their holiday trees in nearby forests. Twenty-first century Americans have somebody else cut their holiday trees in forests not even remotely close to where they live.
  • In the first week, a tree in your home will consume as much as a quart of water per day. After that, the tree will have located your liquor cabinet and will consume as much as a fifth of scotch until New Year’s.

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  • Helicopters help to lift harvested Christmas trees from farms. But this is strictly for the wealthy, whereas most folks simply drive their tree home strapped to the roof of their car.
  • An acre of Christmas trees provides for the daily oxygen requirements of 18 people. Sadly, 3 people use up that oxygen within about 60 seconds when visiting one of the many trendy Oxygen bars around the world. *gasp*
  • Real Christmas trees are involved in less than one-tenth of one percent of residential fires and only when ignited by some external ignition sources. This came to pass after many years of officials believing the sworn oath statements of homeowners who promised they did not pass out drunk beneath the tree with a lit cigarette dangling from their hands and that trees in their neighborhood have a tendency to self combust.

So, all this goofy fun aside, I wanted to insert a sentence or two about taking care of this beloved planet we all share and enjoy (read occasionally abuse). I’ve come to believe that if we are capable of making this earth just a teensy bit better for our having been here, then we should feel pretty good about ourselves when we draw our last breath. Recognizing that even this blog has its own carbon footprint (the Internet and related technology industries produce over 830 million tons of CO2 in greenhouse gases each year, and is projected to double by 2020), I feel it necessary to take responsibility for my work’s contribution to that figure.

I have instructed my blog to plant a tree to offset its negative impact on our environment. There was a bit of a tussle between the two of us as to who should do the actual digging, but in the end we agreed to flip a coin. Mercifully, the great folks at the Arbor Day Foundation have paired up with Green Gestures—a large-scale reforestation initiative in the US (by bloggers, for bloggers)—and will, on behalf of your blog, plant a tree FOR YOU.

My blog and I have decided to name it CLYDE.

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I’m incredibly grateful to the folks at both institutions for all their efforts, and encourage the rest of the blogosphere to participate and spread the word.

Write a post. Plant a tree. Breathe a little easier.

~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.

One for the books

I love my library. And … I hate my library.

First of all, I think being offered the privilege of reading one’s way through a building full of books is a fabulous idea. Apparently, we have the Romans to thank for that. History tells us that they made scrolls available to patrons of “the baths.” As a footnote, I will not credit the Romans with the ability to laminate, but guess access to these scrolls was available after a very stern, hefty, Hellenic woman with a pinched expression and even pinchier sandals first examined your mitts and noted that you had towel dried off enough to handle the goods.

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The public libraries as we know them today might need a nod of appreciation toward the great British Empire. Noted among the upper class, the Working Joes—after absorbing the brunt of the mid 19th century’s fun festival of war, insurrection, bankruptcy and scarcity—were apparently bringing down the country’s weighty, highbrowed reputation, mostly attributed to the cachet of good breeding. A rise in IQ was exactly what the aristocracy wanted country needed.

The drive toward establishing public libraries—state run and taxpayer funded—was a growing movement. Matthew Battles, a senior researcher with metaLAB at Harvard, states that:

“It was in these years of class conflict and economic terror that the public library movement swept through Britain, as the nation’s progressive elite recognized that the light of cultural and intellectual energy was lacking in the lives of commoners.”

Time to hit the books, gents.

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I’m guessing the famous Scotsman, Andrew Carnegie, grew convinced that draping himself in the colors of silver, gold and green was unflattering, and gave away barrelfuls of anything with those pigments to communities agreeable to a few ground rules and a hope for informational ease of access. 3000 libraries later, I think the world owes him a giant thank you card. Feel free to sign it down below in the comments section. I’ll forward it on to him later.

Today, if we are to include all types of libraries (school, special, academic, government, public, etc.) we’d find the world is lucky enough to house shelf after shelf of books in roughly one million constructed centers. This number is an estimate from the OCLC (Online Computer Library Center), a group of folks who love to count as much as they love to read.

As a kid, it was a Saturday ritual that after piano lessons, the next stop was the public library. It wasn’t for me, but rather a stop off for my dad so he could get his weekly hit from his dealer librarian. Yeah, he had it bad. There were times when he was lost in the stacks for so long that I started ripping out and chewing on the pictures in cookbooks merely for sustenance. And as long as the book wasn’t a new addition to the shelves, it usually had some splatter of the previous patron’s dinner mottled across a few of the recipe pages.

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Once I moved on to college and beyond, every town I found myself employed in for longer than a matinee showing and a midnight review also found me slumped against the door of the nearest local library, waiting for the doors to open first thing the next morning. Memorizing the new string of numbers on my library card was the single most important thing to do. Then I could find an apartment.

As a parent of two children—when they were children—I attempted to make visits to the neighborhood library closely mimic an experience of meeting God at the Magic Kingdom, only without all the genuflecting and endless snaking lines thrown in. When I discovered the limit on checking out books was 75 items per patron, I think I pointed toward the back wall and said, “We’ll take that section.”

What I enjoyed most from this period of time in my life was coming upstairs to do that last sweeping check of children and the switching off of bedside lamps where I would undoubtedly find a mound of discarded books at the foot of each bed, spilling onto the floor. More often than not, one was splayed across their chests, the plot interrupted by drowsy eyes and impatient dreams.

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Today, I’m rarely in charge of checking out books for anyone other than myself, but even so, my visits tally to three times a week. I walk in with an armload of books:

One is nearly read, and I finish the last 13 pages while waiting in line, continually gesturing folks to step in front of me.

Four are due today, but I’m only one half/two thirds/six pages into the stories and will need to check with the circulation desk to see if there’s any way I can please, pretty please, I’ll get on my knees check them out again as long as there is no hold on them currently.

And three are nonfiction and much needed for research pertaining to my books, my blog, my mental health and child rearing. Always, childrearing.

I carry a hefty bag of coins which I have labeled contrition cash, or penitence pennies, and hand the librarian the loot, along with a sheepish apology for my sins against the system.

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It’s why I hate the library. Their generosity has made me a green-eyed glutton, a piggish patron, a barbaric bibliomaniac. I subscribe to all their email lists.

Fiction Best Sellers!

Staff Picks!

Books Approved by Oprah, Obama and Oh My God You Just Have To Read These!

There is so much guilt I suffer because of my library. But it’s really writers who are at fault. On the whole, we’ve got way too many stories, way too many messages, way too many words.

But I shall read on.

And I hope you will too.

~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.

Thomas Jefferson is full of beans.

Old chocolate is amazing.

And I don’t mean old as in you found last Halloween’s leftover bag of miniature Snickers bars, and after removing both the fake and the real cobwebs, you classified it as … edible-ish.

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I mean old chocolate as in 250 year-old chocolate.

Okay, maybe I mean a 250 year-old recipe for chocolate, but I’m hoping that might be implied.

Regardless, I recently had a chance to taste this luscious libation when I last visited one of my fathers’ homes. Forefathers that is.

Although not technically related, I do feel a special kinship with Thomas Jefferson in that he and I share a lot of commonality:

Thomas Jefferson was the first United States Secretary of State. I was the first United States Secretary of Stately Housekeeping in the ramshackle kindling fort my brother and I made when we were kids. Both Jefferson and I argued endlessly with the Secretary of the Treasury over fiscal responsibility and where we would spend our combined allowance—I mean finances.

Thomas Jefferson was a leader in enlightenment. He brought about awareness and understanding to millions on a plethora of subjects. I am a leader in de-lightenment. I bring about awareness and understanding to my children on the cost of keeping a room lit with no one in it to enlighten. (Hold your groans, it only gets worse from here.)

We shared a great love of books, both played the violin, and astonishingly enough, it appears we employed the same hairdresser for much of our adult lives.

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But it’s the love of Colonial chocolate that brought me closest to Jefferson on my last visit to his shiny little shanty. The architecture of Monticello could not compete with the spindly legged table set up in his yard that was used to demonstrate a ‘made from scratch nectar’ enjoyed by our late president and many lucky citizens of the 18th century.

The event was the Heritage Harvest Festival. Coined as America’s First Foodie, Mr. Jefferson invited friends and family to one of his annual backyard BBQs. He’s good like that, allowing folks to trample through his garden and kids to climb his trees. I bet if he were alive today, he’d have been right out there on the West Lawn with the rest of us, eating a pulled pork sandwich and washing it down with a local brew.

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Or he might have been standing behind me as I attempted for the third time that day to pass myself off as a curious newcomer to the demonstration of ‘How the colonials made their chocolate drink.’ Free samples in miniature Dixie cups were handed out after you watched someone explain the roasting of cocoa beans, the process of de-shelling the beans by hand and the grueling work of grinding the cocoa nibs via mortar and pestle.

Yes, arduous work.

Thank you for the sample.

Delicious.

(Wait for 30 minutes behind a tree)

Get back in line.

There were a million things to learn about at this historical heritage happening. We were encouraged to Celebrate the harvest and the legacy of revolutionary gardener Thomas Jefferson who championed vegetable cuisine, plant experimentation and sustainable agriculture.

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And to Taste a bounty of heirloom fruits and vegetables and learn about organic gardening and seed-saving during this fun, affordable, family-friendly festival.

But I’ve had bushels full of fabulous fruit and veg this summer already, and was plum up to my earballs in articles and lectures on sustainable farming and gardening.

I WANTED THAT CHOCOLATE.

Okay, yes, every day I make sure to eat a fistful of mahogany magnificence, but this is not the point. The point is that what I usually have in my fist did not measure up to what I saw casually proffered to passersby via cherub-faced young ladies. What they held out on their trays should have been deemed illegal. It was addictive, enslaving—I was hooked.

It was cocoa bean crack.

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At one point in 1785, Thomas Jefferson penned that chocolate would surpass American love for coffee and tea—just like it had happened in Spain. Clever, clever Spaniards. I’m guessing over there, little kids had set up chocolate stalls and kicked the idea of lemonade stands to the curb.

Even Benjamin Franklin understood the importance of this ambrosia. Somehow, between his good looks and charm, he arranged six pounds of chocolate to accompany every officer, termed “a special supply” for those who marched alongside General Braddock’s Army during the French and Indian war. I’m guessing most Americans today would be asking for a refill after a week and a half tops.

Back up top at Monticello, I finally succumbed to guilt and temptation and forked out the twenty some dollars for the small tin of the American Heritage Historic Chocolate drink. It will sit on my desk for months as I gaze longingly at it, but I will repeatedly tell myself it should be saved for something monumental like a presidential election, or something worthy like passing a test, or a kidney stone.

Likely, next September will roll around and I will receive another invitation to visit the grandpappy of our population. I will rootle around on my desk searching for my tickets and come across the tin, having been buried beneath overdue Netflix movies, bills and yes, last year’s Halloween candy.

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I will head to the hill for some history (okay, we all know I’m just going for the chocolate) and try to soothe the guilt that bubbles up admonishing me for wasting money on something I didn’t even consume.

But then I will remind myself that the chocolate is 250 years old already, so what’s one more year. In fact, I’m totally with Mark Twain on the subject: Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

~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.

720 hours hath September

There is something about September.

I wake to the sound of rain splattering on the copper rooftop, slapdash and sporadic, its disordered pattern teasing and anticipatory.

The dove gray skies are a soft, woolen blanket the earth has loosely wrapped about her shoulders. She makes a tucking in gesture, paying no mind to the cold and endless black that surrounds her. It softens her edges, mollifies the barbed tips of clacking seconds as they tick, tick, tick in the foggy background. They slowly transform into a muffled heartbeat. Is it mine, or hers?

My first whiff of wood smoke … I am transformed. A tendril that taps at a memory drawer, unopened for months and stiff with disuse. But once loosened, it spills, like cream over ripe berries, and I do little to halt the movement of either.

There is a tinge to the trees, too early to label as anything more than a lowering of the bright, green flame of searing summer life. The sun has merely stepped back a pace to eye her work in progress and rest on the handle of her proverbial rake. And like all avid gardeners, she finds that there are other projects that catch her eye as they rotate into her field of vision. And with that momentary lapse of intense attention, the products of her efforts soon yellow and wither. No matter, she shrugs. Work will resume next circle round.

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It’s now that I brood about in the pantry. I count the beans—for big potted stews which will fill chipped crockery and rumbling bellies. I measure the tea—for ample kettle-fulls that let slip soft wisps of steam carrying somnolent notes of ginger, cinnamon and chicory. I eye the whisky—for the pure pleasure of the oncoming flush of heat. And then I eye the clock to determine how long I must wait for that sweet fever. It’s usually too long. Always too long.

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Each year, I am caught unawares when changing the calendar from the eighth to the ninth month. August is so spectacularly hot, so devoid of working people, so filled with the phrase, “We are off for three weeks.” September is for ‘back to business,’ ‘back to school,’ or ‘Back to you, Bob, and that’s a look at our weather.”

It’s a transitional month, a swinging door from a sizzling, smoke belching kitchen to a plush-lined parlor, with hushed library voices and our mental bandwidth slowly revving into gear. There is an observable change in the laundry basket, which once barely reined in an endless mess of cut-off jean shorts and paper thin tank tops and now houses prim white shirts and pleated skirts, ordered and homogenous.

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The printer churns a constant stream of schedules, documents, forms and calendars, convulsing with updated information like a Morse code machine relaying movement of troops and coordinated attacks. Paperwork lies across all available flat surfaces, requiring signatures, filing, and the hopefully intended read-through.

With the onslaught of shifting our moods and modes, it does not surprise me that in 1752, when the British Empire adopted the Gregorian calendar, they cut nearly two weeks from their clocks by finishing September 2nd and then skipping straight to September 14th. Perhaps it was not simply a method of keeping up with the rest of the world, but also a way to wipe away exhausting obligations. But then again, Britain can be slow to give up commitment and tradition, and their participation in Gregorian reform was 170 years after the first memo landed on everyone’s desk. In fact, a law created in 1307 states that still, should any dead whale be found, washed ashore on the British coast, the head automatically becomes property of the king, while the lucky queen shall have its tail. One must have access to bones for one’s corset, yes?

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Thankfully, September is nowhere near the holiday party season, and there is plenty of time to hunt the shores for washed up whale.

But there should also be time for reflection and observance among the business of harvest. The long days of reaping, the field work and preservation may still take place in the sweat of the last shafts of summer sun, but once she has set, there is a thinning of the air. The scent of woodsy autumn appears on a breeze that slowly pushes summer’s plump stars off stage in preparation for the next act: a crisp set of patterns that will pierce the dark, blue skies.

Of course, intermission casts the bright light of the Harvest moon, and she will illuminate your path from field to home and back again. September bathes in that downy, yellow glow, almost as if aware of her age, asking to be seen through a soft focus lens.

Be busy, be effortful, be thoughtful.

Be here now, in September. Before she says goodbye.

~Shelley

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

The ups & downs of progress.

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

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

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

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

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

Cue the roller coaster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am most definitely a roller coaster person.”

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

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

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

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

Her response? “1 + 1 = 4GS.”

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

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Choo choo!

~Shelley

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

Mister Rogers, Mae West & Mexicans; a beautiful blend of bedfellows.

File:Fred Rogers.jpgHow does one define a neighbor?

If you’re Mister Rogers from the thirty year hit children’s television show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, it’s everyone watching on the other side of the camera. Granted, that audience was mainly comprised of three to six-year olds who were simply in search of a thirty minute eye-glazing nap, but we were present nonetheless. The fact that he called both me and Julie Ziggler his neighbor—and we were pen pals in separate states—made the term confusing and spurned a few poorly written crayon arguments between us as to where the good man truly lived, but that’s neither here nor there anymore.

When I was a couple years older, “neighbor” meant the elderly folks who were the recipients of our May Day baskets on the first of that month. Stuffed with flowers, and maybe a sweet or two, the tiny wicker bins were dropped off on our neighbor’s front porch before we rang their doorbells and dashed away. The dashing part was easy, as the rule was if you were caught by the recipient of the basket, they had kissing rights. Eeyuck.

Then there was the constantly drilled in phrase, “DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR NEIGHBOR’S PAPER,” articulated with a spray of spittle that easily reached across a classroom of nervous test takers. And this, of course, intoned not only fear of one’s classmate, but suspicion as well. Again, I think the word suffered.

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Just last week, I received an inbox full of reminders to participate in Neighborday (April 27, 2013 for all 50 states and growing globally), where folks were encouraged to do more than attempt to make eye contact with the person in apartment 3B with whom you’ve shared an elevator ride with for the last year and a half. Elevator (800x772)Paste up flyers, set up a grill and have a block party, or make a cake, bring two forks and ring the doorbell of the guy who lives next door, or coordinate a “Thanksgiving in spring” dinner at your local park, or run around your block singing John Jacob Jinglheimer Schmidt while bashing cymbals together and see if you can get everyone to join in the parade. Be creative, they said. Try not to get arrested, I add.

This April, my son had an opportunity (read had no choice) to spend a week working with his classmates, repairing, rebuilding and reviving structures needed by folks living in a much more impoverished area of our nation. What he came away realizing was that whether because of a natural disaster or naturally bad luck, when trouble comes a callin’, you pray your neighbor answers the phone.Teethrapair (800x773)

I think what moved those teenagers in such a monumental way was the understanding that all it really takes to make a difference is a drop of desire to do so. One pair of hands is a blessing to most folks, but one hundred pairs are enough to bring you to your knees.

That truly takes the definition of neighborly to heavenly heights.Monsterhands (800x737)

Today, many people in both America and Mexico will celebrate Cinco de Mayo; a momentous day in history (May 5th, 1862) when a meager and poorly outfitted Mexican army overcame the leading and most powerful militia of the time, a case of David beating Goliath, a day where the notions of freedom, democracy, unity and national pride are passionately cheered for until the margaritas take over and make everything worthy of raising a glass in toast. And since it would be churlish not to acknowledge our neighbors to the south and offer them our sincerest words of congratulations regarding such a feat, I’d encourage you to haul out the bar blender and find that old lime rolling about in the back of the fridge’s fruit bin.

Graveyardcake (800x513)So whether or not you decide to make that cake, ring and run with a basket, or extend your hand, I encourage you to give a thought to Fred Rogers’ beloved song, and in particular, my favorite part:

So let’s make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we’re together, we might as well say,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?

Screenshot of Mae West from the trailer for th...

Lastly, I leave you with a quote from Mae West (who falls about as far from the position on the personality spectrum as Mister Rogers, but I wanted to be fair in my research):  Love thy neighbor – and if he happens to be tall, debonair and devastating, it will be that much easier.

~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.

Sinning saints make red letter days.

Green Beer!

Green Beer! (Photo credit: garrettc)

Great gobs of people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. And although this is a fine day to indulge in Emerald City colored food and drink, I think we’re missing the bigger picture here:

WE NEED MORE SAINT’S DAY HOLIDAYS.

Yes, it’s likely that most of us will have at some point come in contact with or been a part of the making, baking, chewing and spewing Saint Patrick’s Day grub that would send most nuclear plants’ managers straight to the alarm panel. Yet not all of us are entirely sure why we’re compelled to do so.

It’s true that Patrick has been a shining example of how just about anyone can turn their life around right after they’ve been kidnapped, purchased by a Druid and worked as a slave for half a dozen years. But Patrick would be the first to push away the parades and shamrock-shaped cakes baked in his honor. I’m guessing he’d be happier if we all just sat in a circle and shared stories from Bible camp. He’d probably also confess that a lot of unnecessary hype has been drummed up over the years about him driving out every snake in Ireland. It’s all stuff and nonsense. There are no snakes in Ireland. There are, however, a few slow worms in County Clare, but as we’ve come to find out, those guys are actually legless lizards.

Tropical Island Paradise

Tropical Island Paradise (Photo credit: sebr)

Apart from St. Nicholas and St. Valentine, the only other saints’ names we tend to truly utter with voices expressing pure thrill and anticipation are when we’re boarding an airplane and ensuring our bags are checked to one of a few tiny islands in the Caribbean.

I think we can do better than that.

Why not consider a St. Augustine’s Day? Twenty-four hours where we celebrate our youthful transgressions of stealing, cheating and scoffing at the banality of common education. We recall our addictions to the lowest vices, remember fondly the concubines we once embraced, and retell the story of Augustine’s childhood misdemeanor where he and his posse climbed a neighbor’s pear tree and stripped it bare of fruit—not to eat, but just for the pure joy of vandalism. As a general act of penance and goodwill, we can send friends and neighbors a fruit basket from Harry & David’s. We can even send a Hallmark card off to any children we sired and abandoned along the way, wishing them well with therapy. It’ll be cathartic and remedial at the same time.Pear-stomping (684x800)

In addition to making amends for Augustine’s negligence with the fruit of the tree, we could also minister support to the discarded fruit of his loins. Well, not his in particular–it’s a little late for that–but we could easily create a St. Margaret of Cortona Day. Margaret is the patron saint of the orphaned, reformed prostitutes, single mothers, sexual temptation and the mentally insane. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest there may be a connection of sorts.StMargaret (494x800)

Margaret won this supporting role through diligence and research. There were plenty of other women lining up with the hopes that the Catholic Church might give them recognition for playing a similar role, but Margaret’s character really seemed to shine through and connect with the Academy members—I mean, the Vatican panel of theologians. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she was tremendously photogenic and looked good on stained glass.

Regardless, we could make this day one of good deeds rather than self-indulgence. Instead of holding a parade or making swanky dining reservations, we could all drop a quarter into a mass fund for the college education of the offspring of single mothers. Or those of you who regularly patronize the local den of iniquity might want to consider donating that night’s “fee” toward this good cause. It’s just one night. We could put the charity boxes on the counter at gas stations. I think the American filling stations called Sheetz would be an apt partner.

Another possibility might be a St. Catherine’s Day, because any woman who can write a treatise on purgatory is going to find a slew of females prepared to help her through it with a pot of caffeine and a large chocolate-laden coffee cake dished out at someone’s kitchen table.

Having been rejected by the nunnery, married off to a tightfisted, violent-tempered husband, and given the no-go by her reproductive system, it’s not surprising that poor Catherine sunk into a state of melancholy.

Oprah Winfrey, The Queen

Oprah Winfrey, The Queen (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

And since she didn’t have Oprah to turn to, she was left with the only other form of psycho-therapy available at the time: confession.

Suddenly pierced with Divine clarity in the confessional, Catherine apparently lost consciousness with an overwhelming eureka moment. And that might be why Oprah’s shows were so popular. Those thunderbolt episodes where you slap yourself on the forehead can lead to a lot of folks jiggling life back into focus. Like it did for Catherine. From then on out, this woman had purpose.

And couldn’t we all use a day like that? When we celebrate waking up from the fog? Maybe we’d all participate in a giant world detox. We could share, purge, take a quick nap and wake up refreshed. Think of the possibilities.

I’m sure there are endless candidates for further Saint Day holidays, as there are over 10,000 glorified souls currently inked in on the Catholic ledger, but maybe you can mull over the potential martyrs while having a pint at the pub today.saint bob And let me know if you stumble upon any winning ideas, because if there’s one thing history has taught us, it is that it can be a lot of fun to celebrate dead people.

~Shelley

*As a Saint Patty perk for today, click on this 4 minute Oscar-nominated short film and learn about our guy from one of the most edible authorities out there. Enjoy!

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.

Women; wives, wiccan and warriors.

The Purification of the Virgin.

The Purification of the Virgin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are a lot of things I’m grateful for these days, but one of the biggies is that I no longer live in an ancient world where much of my time is taken up with purification rites. Not that I can actually remember living in that ancient world, but if the whole idea of reincarnation is accurate, some clever therapist is going to eventually discover a treasure chest of past lives’ memories in addition to the fear and angst I’ve been dragging along with them for centuries. The likely reason is that even now, I cannot seem to give away anything that might come in handy one day. Or ever.

Like my entire wardrobe from when I was thirteen.

Or my junior high science project of leaf identification.

Suovetaurilia (sacrifice of a pig, a sheep and...

Suovetaurilia (sacrifice of a pig, a sheep and a bull) to the god Mars, relief from the panel of a sarcophagus. Marble, Roman artwork, first half of the 1st century CE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But my point is, if we leapt back in time to when I was still living with my Roman warrior husband, I’d have a lot more to worry about than simply finding enough drawer space for all my childhood riffraff. Likely, I’d be too busy spinning wool, loaning out my skills as a wet nurse or preparing some livestock for the next animal sacrifice.

I suppose there was the chance that I could have been commanding an army and issuing coins bearing my image, but you really had to be incredibly organized for that sort of thing, and anyone standing over my desk will attest to the fact that order and efficiency aren’t my strong suits. Plus, I just don’t have the hair for good coinage.

February, in particular, would have been a month I’d have been glad to see the back of. All those nights when I lived as a Druid, lighting torches and waving them about in hopes of chasing away evil spirits that cluttered invisibly around us resulted in a lot of smoke and no definite feeling of a job well done.

English: Saint Brigid.

English: Saint Brigid. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At least womenfolk finally figured out how to delegate by the time I’d been reborn into Ireland. Yes, the weather might have been worse, but we were now putting responsibility solely on the shoulders of Brigid, the goddess of fire. It was a heck of a lot easier explaining to our fretting husbands that we did everything we possibly could to chase away winter and let the ewes deliver safely, but apparently the fickle deity we spent all day praying to was otherwise occupied and unavailable. Plus, there was laundry to do. Sorry.

That whole February fire purification bit often ended up ack bassward in that driving the sheep through hoops of flames so they could be “blessed and protected” by Brigid often resulted with a few wooly fireballs, nullifying the whole affair.

Ring of Fire

Ring of Fire (Photo credit: chiaralily)

But waste not want not, right? As long as we had a crowd gathered, we might as well sharpen a few sticks and hand out kabobs. My farmer husband would likely be pacified with my explanation that any animal who wasn’t clever enough to veer away from death by jumping thought the middle of the hoop was an animal that needed culling from the herd anyway. And their offspring would only compound the genetic defect.

Basically, we just killed two birds with one stone.

Much to the relief of my own small herd, their lack of common sense is rarely tested to the point of life or death in the present. And thankfully, I now no longer leave their mid-winter fate in the hands of some guardian spirit, an omnipotent flame fairy. Now, in these modern times, common sense prevails. I leave it up to a rodent.

Groundhog

Saint Punxsutawney Phil.

I can picture my ancient self gazing down at the evolutionary progress I’ve made, admiring how I originally just waved heat in the direction of evil, then progressed to elect an invisible woman to guide me through the dark, scary days up until now, when I can at least see our new underworld god, if only for a second.

Progress.

I suppose I can, at this very moment, make a gesture of thanks to our military leaders at the Pentagon for giving my future self the go-ahead to fight off any evil determined to drag me and my flock back into Neolithic times. Yes, it may not be for every woman, but some of us might be able to dredge up our past life skills of flogging and flaying our enemies, then carve buttons from bones and stitch up something practical from any dried leather hides. Or we could update our methods of combat and practice pulling a trigger.

Coin of Seleucis and Pieria in Syria, with Mar...

Coin of Seleucis and Pieria in Syria, with Mark Antony on obverse and Cleopatra VII on reverse. Compare with RPC# 4095. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Which brings me right back to commanding an army like I might have been doing in my Roman days. The only problem I foresee with this is that I’m regularly left with helmet hair.

Which, when giving this some consideration … is exactly what I need in order to be taken seriously when posing for the face of my new coins.

~Shelley

 Don’t forget to check out what was cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here)!

Saturnalia; good ole fashioned, naked fun.

Forest on a foggy winter day

Forest on a foggy winter day (Photo credit: follc)

Earth’s darkest days. It’s such a foreboding phrase, don’t you think?

And yet, on the upper half of the planet, it is a time of great merriment, benevolence and outright fuddled intoxication.

Long ago, that joy was attributed to the fact that the sun—a symbol of divinity—had decided not to abandon us. We’d been found worthy enough by the bright god for his return northward to heap another six months of favor upon us. And when one’s gods show munificence, one quickly dashes out invitations to local friends and neighbors to kick up their heels and enjoy a good shindig.

Of course, these long past party animals had to be Roman. When someone mentioned the word bash, it was either in reference to the use of one’s weapons or upcoming rampant Roman revelry. These guys lived life to its fullest—none of this ‘one day only’ deal. When it came to the close of December, a week’s worth of fun was considered cutting it short.

Paris - Musée d'Orsay: Thomas Couture's Romain...

Paris – Musée d’Orsay: Thomas Couture’s Romains de la décadence (Photo credit: wallyg)

And when sizing up all of the year’s fancy feasts and festivals, the blue ribbon winner had to be Saturnalia.

In the earliest of Roman ages, the age of Saturn, a festival was thrown in honor of Saturnus—the god of seed and sowing. The gala at first was held on December 17th, but because of a few folks fooling around with time tracking, things got muddled. Somewhere between then and Caesar’s changes to the calendar, the exact date grew hazy. Therefore, the Romans covered their bases and stretched the length of celebration to a few days before and after the new calendar’s official date. There were the usual gripes about no mail delivery and closed government offices, but seeing as most folks spent the week in a fog of alcoholic fumes, flaring tempers were easily dampened with an extra swig of grog.

The point of the festival was to recall that Golden Age, when innocence reigned and abundance was the norm. Once Saturn was ousted from his celestial throne by Jupiter, and time marched forward to the darker and despondent periods of the Silver and Iron ages, Romans did their level best to bring back snippets of that shiny era. Determined to experience a taste of the delicious decadence their ancestors once embraced as everyday ordinary, these normally gladiatorial warriors left their weapons at the door and started whipping up big batches of eggnog.

But showing a bit more gusto than their predecessors, these rowdy Romans took the lily-white past and ratcheted the level of excitement to new heights.

Designated Driver

Designated Driver (Photo credit: storyvillegirl)

You know how today we exercise caution with alcohol and warn folks not to drink to excess? No Roman would invite you back to their place if you were going to poo poo their fun and order a taxi for everyone come 10:30.

And think about how much time we usually spend picking out jubilant outfits for the many seasonal soirées. The sparkle and glitter, the festive colors of red and green, the merry messages spread across our chests to invite mirth and frivolity? Waste of time for these guys. Saturnalia was a function without formalities in that department. In fact, the dress code called for total nakedness. No black tie, just flesh-toned birthday suits.

Role reversal was a big hit in the party game department. Servants switched hats with their masters and led the feasting, while the lord and lady of the house spent their time serving food and washing feet. Ultimately, it really didn’t matter. They all ended up in bed together. That was pretty much the point. Ah, those rascally Romans.

Presents

Presents (Photo credit: Alice Harold)

Unchanged from past to present are the presents. Although those guys partied hard, Rome’s inhabitants were good about saying thank you in the form of sending one another small gifts. I’m guessing some of it had to do with replacing valuables broken the night before.

Thankfully, most of us have abandoned the crowning of a less-than-enviable position—the Lord of Misrule—for the whole bawdy affair. Yes, one can understand the ancient desire to appease the god of the week and make a solid sacrifice of love and loyalty by offering up some unlucky schmuck, but it can really put a strain on the rest of the partygoers. Anyone who’s placed next to the soon-to-be dead guy at the banquet table quickly realizes their efforts at holiday chitchat and cheerful musings are wasted efforts. Hence, we see the justification for the origins of seating charts.

Wenceslas Hollar - The Greek gods. Saturn

Wenceslas Hollar – The Greek gods. Saturn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, eyes open this week. Think about how things have changed. Make a toast to the dusty bones of a long dead Roman with a measured cup of mulled wine. Pull out that reindeer sweater and for once be grateful the weather necessitates head to toe clothing. Show some ancient gratitude for the folks who bag your groceries, bus your table or tutor your offspring. Put a cookie in the mailbox. Hand a stick of gum to the poor chump who has to stand for hours holding the Stop/Slow sign for roadwork. Thank your lucky stars we no longer choose the weakest link as the scapegoat for the culminating event of all December dos.

It may be dark outside, but the future looks bright from right here.

~Shelley

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

Feasts & Famine, Saints & Sinners.

English: Statue of a woman praying. Decoration...

English: Statue of a woman praying. Decoration of the Aedicule in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old city of Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a child, I went to church.

A lot.

It felt like every day.

It was probably no more than twice a week—services on Sunday and catechism classes on Wednesday afternoons. Except for when we had choir practice, which was often held on Thursday nights. Or when my mother had a National Council of Catholic Women Who Needed a Night Out meeting in the church basement with coffee and pie, and I had to tag along. Or when there was an “extra” service celebrating a special saint.

There are over 10,000 named saints in the Catholic Church. Folks have stopped counting because they lost track a few years back. I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere in the fine print of a contract that all saints are dedicated a special service.

We have more saints than we’ve had presidents, astronauts and American Idol contestants combined. Throw in the number of iPhone updates we get in a year and we’re getting close.

The nuns from my class would get testy over the fact that we had trouble recalling which saints we were honoring each week, which I felt was terribly unfair, as they’d clearly had more time to familiarize themselves with the Pope’s Picks.

Magnesium Crystal Cluster Close-up

Magnesium Crystal Cluster Close-up (Photo credit: Paul’s Lab)

Simultaneously, we were in the process of memorizing the Periodic Table of Elements in science and things could get really tricky there. Was there a saint named Vanadium or was that a material found imbedded within meteorites? Were Valerian, Niacrinus and Gordian martyrs or metals?

It was even harder to concentrate during classes when a service was taking place upstairs in the church. The shuffling footsteps, the thumping of the prie dieu—that’s the fancy name for the kneeler benches–the muffled sound of the organ whirling away and the faint smell of incense that smelled like a combination of decomposing cabbage leaves and burning bleach. Eye watering. Oftentimes, the nuns would collectively sigh and direct us all up the back steps to join the service. When asked why we had to sit through church again for the second time this week, this is what we were usually told:

–        It’s a day of Holy Obligation—which I eventually found out was not true. There are six Holy Days of Obligation each year, not counting Sundays, and the year I finally started keeping track we’d gone seven times and it wasn’t even the end of January.

Occasionally, they threw in this explanation:

–        God has big ears and is keeping track of your lack of enthusiasm.

Saint Martin and the Beggar

Saint Martin and the Beggar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The one Feast Day I did happen to like was St. Martin’s Day, or Martinmas. Yes, the saint had an intriguing story, but I was smitten by the cryptic, hocus pocus magic of the celebration’s numbers.

Although America chooses not to make a big deal of the day, many other countries in Europe have bonfires, sing songs, have a family feast and give presents on November 11th. The thrilling bit was that they begin their Martinmas celebrations at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of this eleventh day of the eleventh month.

As a kid, this blew my mind. How could something magical not take place?

As an adult, I continue to look everywhere for magic.

I find it on the early morning breath of the sheep, in clouds of pillowy warmth, surrounded by whiskers filled with grain dust from breakfast.

It’s in the family of whitetails, sporting their shimmering, thick autumn coats in the slanting November sunlight, surprised at the iron beast that roars past, pitching them into nimble-footed flight from their deep, grassy beds.

I cling to the sky at dusk, marveling at how the thin, streaky clouds grow stained and saturated with crimson flames and plush blue velvets.

English: White-tailed deer

I search the inky heavens to discover the return of Pegasus, his wings beating breath into the blustery, black cloaked winds, sweeping the papery leaves about and whispering with a whiff of arctic air as winter chases him across the sky.

The snap of crackling logs, the heady, wood smoke scent, and the flush of radiant flames make a brick box come alive and funnel the focus of attention, enticing the harried and rushed to come sit a spell.

These are my saints, these are my feasts. These are my days of holy obligation. To notice, to celebrate, to capture, to treasure.

This is my church.

I hope God notes my enthusiasm.

~Shelley

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

Slaughter & Mayhem. How I love November.

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

During the past couple of weeks, and throughout the next month and a half, I’ll have celebrated four family members’ birthdays. Okay, one family member was celebrated twice, but she really deserved it and wasn’t totally “present” for the first gala I threw for her.  Still, I figure the event counts no matter how you look at it.

In between all these cakes, candles and moments of merriment, I have to fit in a lot of dishwashing.

Oh, and the Festival of the Dead.

I might be a pagan at heart, but not wholly. I pick and choose all the parts of Samhain I deem acceptable to participate in, and blindly wave off the others.

For instance, I will drive my sheep up from the far reaches of the meadow toward the barn to be stabled for the cold winter months ahead, but once there, they will argue like two bloated barristers, insisting that as long as I leave the cover off the grain barrel, they’ll ration themselves and keep an eye on the forecast.

I draw the line at sacrificing horses. They’re meant to represent the fire deity, Bel (or Belenos the sun god), and apparently will win back the world come springtime. But equine sacrifice is such a messy job. Plus, if you’ve ever seen dead horses, they’re really not up to winning back anything for you after you slay them.

English: Wicker man, engraving

Next, I’m happy to extinguish my hearth fire and march through the fields alongside the rest of my townspeople with the intent to kindle a new blaze from some choice sacred oak, and then take my flaming torch back to relight my home fires. The snag is that usually somebody has issued a secret declaration to reinstate the ancient rites of human sacrifice to please a few disgruntled gods, and you won’t know till you get to the big bonfire if it would have been wiser to simply stay at home and grout some tile.

Worse still is when you arrive at the glowing gala get together and find yourself looking up at a massive effigy, The Wicker Man. You hazily recall something about the forcing of not just one unlucky fellow, but a whole slew of folks into giant wood and thatched cages, along with every flavor of farm animal, some bread and honey, and a few jugs of vino. It’s only after everyone and everything is stuffed in there nice and tight that the large light bulb in your head illuminates just as a rosy glow from below sheds some extra light on all of you—in the form of a giant pyre. There’s a lot of protesting at first, but things eventually quiet down.

Martel and van Over have friends for dinner an...

Of course, most of us know that on All Hallows Eve the veil separating the dead from the living is tissue thin—see through for many if you regularly make a habit of chatting up dead relatives. I’m totally fine with that. In the ancient days of Samhain celebrations, spirits were greeted warmly from their regular gloomy, dank haunts. Everyone scooched over a bit on the couch to make room round the hearth, and a few nibbles of barley cake were offered as well as a cup of grog. Most ghosts were grateful. A few remained mulish and curmudgeonly. But who can blame them with the months of back breaking chain clanking and heavy breathing they have to repeatedly practice for the Big Night? I’m sure there are times when The Other Side is no picnic, so one should be somewhat understanding of the occasional gripe.

It's that time of year once again, Halloween u...

On the other hand, I always get a bee in my bonnet with Trick or Treating. I appreciate the historical significance—the several explanations for the favorite activity. In days of yore, one had to deal with not only a few departed relatives, but also fractious fairies and spiteful sprites. Today, our children want to keep that memory alive by participating in the pranks of these wraiths. What’s the harm in frightening the neighbors into parting with a handful of sweets, cakes or coins, right? Your choice: a few tiny terrors or a couple of confections? To me, it’s just fancy begging.

Because of my disagreeable definition, my children hate me with a particular vengeance on Halloween. Or maybe it’s the fact that I refused to take them round the neighborhood beseeching comfits of any kind. One year, after so much bellyaching, I allowed them to dress up and run around the house a few times, ringing the doorbell when they reached the front door while I rummaged through the pantry shelves, determined to find some forgotten Easter candy. It worked for a year or two. Not so much anymore.

Lastly, I welcome anything that sheds light and warmth during the ever increasing dark days of oncoming winter. Stingy Jack, or Jack of the Lantern, proves to be a piece of folklore I’ve always found entertaining.

In this old Irish tale, Jack—a tightfisted farmer—manages to trick the devil twice, resulting in one livid Beelzebub. God, who apparently watches the entire event unfold, is thoroughly annoyed by Jack’s seedy character. In the end, neither wants his company in the afterlife. He’s given the boot by both and told to head back from whence he came.

Jack-o'-lantern

Jack-o’-lantern (Photo credit: wwarby)

Apparently, Jack is a bit of a baby and still carries with him a fear of the dark. Just to prove he’s got a heart of gold, the devil tosses old Jack his version of an Everlasting Gobstopper to light his way —a lump of burning coal from the fires of Hell. Jack hollows out a turnip and wanders the earth to this day, ready to pop out of the shadows of any porch that sports a carved out pumpkin.

Kids love that story.

So as much fun as reliving my last few days has been, I’ve got to run and make another batch of barely cakes. A few of my dead relatives refuse to leave the comfort of my couch.

~Shelley

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

Men in plaid. Aka Highland Games

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

English: The Bagpiper

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

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

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

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

Highland Cow

Highland Cow (Photo credit: Vanessa (EY))

Are you with me on the theme here?

Last week I went with door number three.

A few thousand others did too.

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

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

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

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

PRIDE.

The clan system is strong.

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

Pipers piping.

Caber throwers cabering.

Archers arching.

Leaping lassies leaping.

Stone putters putting.

Sheep herders picking out the prettiest sheep.

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

Fun and games.

And whisky.

And haggis.

And then more whisky.

Gun and fames.

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

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

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

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

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

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

11-22-09

11-22-09 (Photo credit: idovermani)

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

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

~Shelley

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

 

Speak up!

English: 14th Dalai Lama, Dharasmala, India

English: 14th Dalai Lama, Dharasmala, India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The president came to town to have a chat with us a few days ago. Next month His Holiness the Dalai Lama is dropping in. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the Queen is popping over for a quick cup of tea right after that, because apparently the word is out: my village must be in need of a little pick me up.

Or maybe we’re in serious trouble and the bigwigs are making a beeline to our front door with a message of I told you, don’t make me come down there, and now we’ll collectively be sent to our rooms. Could it be that we’re a hotbed of folks all the higher-ups want to be seen rubbing elbows with? Yep, farmers, vintners and indie musicians—the real decision makers of the world.

Or are we?

Recently, my daughter asked me if I’d attended public rallies or observed and listened to any great civic speakers in my life. I had to think. Did a past employee of Disney World, who now toured high schools giving motivational speeches, count? Probably not. But I did learn how to walk with pep in my step and smile with my upper teeth.

Moose head

Moose head (Photo credit: elasticcamel)

I’d attended a good few Moose Lodge meetings as a kid, but that was because my school regularly sent a few of us there to practice our National Forensics League speeches before state level competitions. I guess that doesn’t count, as we were the speakers and most of our speeches weren’t so much practicing the art of debate and utilizing a public forum as they were taking credit for humorous articles ripped out of the pages of the New Yorker. Some would say we were getting the hang of practicing plagiarism. I swear I never attached my real name to anything—except maybe all the works of Tom Stoppard, because clearly, I had high standards, and I was hoping someone would recognize my talent and catapult me out of our small farming town.

The real reason for going was because the women in the Lodge’s kitchen laid out a potluck spread as if that night might be our last chance to eat. Ever.

As a teen, I’d once gotten swept up in a great mass of people, cheering on a guy who was shouting from the top of a wine crate, only to find out fifteen minutes into his speech that he wasn’t just hard to understand because of some funny accent as much as because of his foreign language. I traveled a lot. It can happen. It turns out, I wasn’t missing much. The rant was about public bus drivers and how there should be a city-wide ban on their cantankerous attitudes. Yeah, good luck with that.

Now this might be stretching it, but being married to a physician, I’ve attended more medical symposiums than a rapper has tattoos and sat captivated by speakers lecturing about the unhealthy state of my colon. Even though many might disagree, I do feel these folks are contributing to some civic duty by educating us on fiber choice availability from local farmers, or at least who’s doing the quickest colonoscopy in my area.

Yeah, that’s probably going too far.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (Photo credit: Cocoabiscuit)

Does it count that Sissy Spacek lives bang next door down the road and her last movie was plum full of historic civic leaders? No?

Not even if I watched the movie twice, listened to it on audio and advertised the must-read novel for three straight weeks in my yoga class?

Visualize me shrugging in defeat.

Then, no. I will have to tell my daughter that despite my efforts, I’ve failed in ticking off the box that classifies me as an attendee to the speech of a great statesman.

But how many living orators does this world contain? Are we still churning out Winston Churchills, Nelson Mandelas, Martin Luther King Juniors and Demostheneses? Are they still teaching rhetoric in schools today?

Maybe the use of a public forum has changed—more cable TV and less barking from atop a soapbox at the local park. The way we argue our points and sway others to join our team is both effectively and laughably delivered via YouTube.

It’s different, but is it any less admirable? Do we want to foster spellbinding spokesmen or create compelling ideas and find a reliable vehicle to communicate them?

TED (conference)

TED (conference) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Admittedly, I’m addicted to TED. And if you’ve not heard of it, TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a nonprofit dedicated to broadcasting the handiwork of great human heads. I think of it as my personal global brain—my access to the Big Giant Head. Watch one of these speeches and you, too, will be hooked.

I know I missed out seeing Barack Obama. And the ticket sales for squishing into a crowd of patchouli-scented vegetarians to hear some of the wisest, simplest ideas for a good life compete heavily with the desire to send my kids to college, so again, I have to opt out. And the queen? Heck, that’s an open invitation whenever Sir Sackier returns to the motherland, so no worries there.

Seth McFarlane

Seth McFarlane (Photo credit: Dex1138)

But I’d make an exception to see Seth McFarlane spew forth a homily. That is a man capable of wrapping up current events, political agendas, religious dogma and critical social issues all within twenty-two minutes of colorful animation. Misunderstood genius.

So, in essence, I can answer yes when quizzed by my daughter. Physical proximity aside, I make it a habit to seek out the great thinkers of our era. I just happen to be sitting at my desk eating a sandwich at the same time.

~Shelley

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

 

Make a wish …

laying down on the job, in the middle of the r...

laying down on the job, in the middle of the road – _MG_0236 (Photo credit: sean dreilinger)

In memory of Neil Armstrong … our hero.

As a child, the most magical moments of my life were experienced lying flat on my back in the middle of a concrete road.

It was always pitch black, the night air cool, but you could still feel the warmth of the afternoon’s summer sun radiating from the asphalt below. I used to think the road soaked in the rays of sunlight during the day and held tightly to them until I spread out on its surface, and then offered up that heat to counteract the nip of nighttime air.

I’d bunch my hair behind my head, attempting a makeshift pillow so I could roll around comfortably on the gravely floor beneath me. Even so, after a moment or two, nothing short of someone wrenching an arm out of my socket in an effort to save me from becoming road pizza would bring me back to the present moment; that of four kids and their dad stargazing through the soft, magic nights of a Wisconsin summer.

English: This is a picture of Aurora Borealis ...

English: This is a picture of Aurora Borealis from canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mapping out the constellations, spotting faraway planets and staring slack-jawed at the aurora borealis, we swore we felt the earth spin and convinced ourselves how easy it could be to slide off and find our bodies propelled into the dizzy mess of twinkling stars.

I grew up with a thirst for the stories behind those skies: the tales of a fierce warrior chasing sisters across a width of space he would never lessen, a deadly scorpion hot on his heels, a great bear seeking revenge, a dragon wrapped around the celestial north pole—forever spinning, addled and delirious, and a horrifying hydra, snaking its way through the heavens.

It’s one thing to be the child, bewitched and wide-eyed with little knowledge to draw from, but an entirely unexpected feeling to be the adult, still in awe, but from the truth rather than mythology. As alluring as my world of made-up fable and folklore is, my own daughter—drawn by an unquenchable thirst for answers—is determined to pull the thin veil from my fiction to reveal the facts.

The Eagle Nebula M16 Peering Into the Pillars ...

The Eagle Nebula M16 Peering Into the Pillars Of Creation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At times, it’s been easy to resist, as attempting to wrap my head around the concept of dark matter, bits about space/time continuum, or even something as basic as gravity has made my head spin and sucked the joy from learning. Although, I will admit there have been moments when I was caught up in the heart-swelling, soul-stirring splendor of seeing the birth of new stars or solar systems caught on camera by the type of paparazzi that come complete with PhDs in astrophysics or aeronautical engineering.

I can’t even pretend to follow my daughter when she begins waxing lyrical about the transit photometry program she’s involved in and will sheepishly admit she lost me on the first sentence of her explanation somewhere just after the word The. And when she grabs my hand and drags me out into the dark, insisting that we can’t miss the August Perseid display, I feel relief wash over me after she points to the heavens and alters her words to “meteor shower.”

As we lie on our backs and wait for the unearthly concert to begin, the soft chirp of crickets is a constant murmur like an audience rustling their programs and shuffling their feet. The waiting is similar to holding your breath under water and viewing the liquid world; so foreign and seductive, but temporary because you must resurface. Likewise, while stargazing, one can only go so long searching and studying before you absolutely must blink.

And a blink can be the entire lifespan of a meteor.

Perseus and Perseid Meteor

Perseus and Perseid Meteor (Photo credit: Dominic’s pics)

We lie side by side, quiet, but expectant. I hear her breathe and wonder if she’s counting the minutes until she, too, can join the rest of her people—those who have long ago figured out the secrets of their home and have grown tired of living there. Like a pining teen who longs for the sweet taste of independence, this teen’s first solo abode would be elsewhere in the universe rather than elsewhere in a university. It’s the same, but different.

I treasure those moments of unfettered joy when a streak of light with a tail half the length of the sky shoots past us; a snowball in space determined to break new records for both speed and allure. I am bereft of speech and look to my daughter. There are no words to describe such visions.

Except the ones that come to her easily. Like stumbling upon a book of illusions, the secrets are exposed with revealing illustrations and strip you of future goose bumps. I try to see the science as she does: a language sweet as poetry to her ears. But I miss my warriors, my dragons and sisters.

Vincent van Gogh: Starry Night Over the Rhone ...

Vincent van Gogh: Starry Night Over the Rhone Arles, September 1888 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The two of us view the same stars, the same sky, the same vast and wondrous world.

It’s the same, but different. And beautiful.

~Shelley

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

 

I see dead people.

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

Monterey Wax Museum -US Govt. in Monterey

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

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

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

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

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

81/365: Reflections of Jefferson

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

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

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

Again, that ain’t gonna happen.

civil_war_actors

civil_war_actors (Photo credit: Tom Gill (lapstrake))

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Washington

George Washington (Photo credit: Joye~)

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

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

For instance:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old books

Old books (Photo credit: Maguis & David)

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

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

~Shelley

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

 

The modest virgin, the prudent wife and the careful matron

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

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

I see a mess in need of sorting.

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

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

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

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

Rijkmuseum Library, Amsterdam

Rijkmuseum Library, Amsterdam (Photo credit: leafar.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isabella Beeton (1836-65).

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

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

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

Fashion plate from The Englishwoman's Domestic...

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

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

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

But I’d bet the domestics would love it.

~Shelley

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

 

The Other Mothers

Blanche Fisher Wright's cover artwork for the ...I know you’re probably pretty tuckered out from all the egg scrambling, Elmer gluing and flower arranging you’ve been doing for the big event, but in honor of Mother’s Day, let us take a moment to recognize those mothers who rarely wake up to breakfast in bed and a construction paper card.

  1.  Mother Goose. She brought us nursery rhymes and highly principled stories where we were warned through misguided heroes in richly hued drawings to be careful, be quiet and behave. The alternatives were that you’d be eaten by a wolf, crack your crown, lose your sheep or find your tail chopped off by some farmer’s wife. She wasn’t particularly good at rhyming, but we were five or six. What did we know? Someone else read while we sucked on our big toes.~~~~~~~~~~Windswept Bush near Bryngwran Wherever you go ...
  2. Mother Nature. She’s fickle and dangerous, breathtaking and startling. We count on her to perform to our standards and bend to our whims. She gets a little snippy with this, and one of these days she’ll backhand all of us with such vengeance we’ll find ourselves not only knocked clear into yesterday, but we’ll also probably wake up in a new zip code.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    This is the portrait of Mother Teresa
  3. Mother Teresa. Now if anyone could have used brunch and a spa day, she would have been my number one choice. I’m hoping she received enough thank you cards, whether they were scribbled on a goat hide or simply drawn in the dirt with a stick, because Mother Teresa truly deserved a collective standing ovation from all the planet’s inhabitants. Sadly, her work on earth is not done, as the Catholic Church is still waiting for her to perform a second miracle in order for her to be recognized as a saint. Personally, I’m hoping she’s taking a nap.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~The A8N VM CSM, an ASUS microATX motherboard
  4. Motherboards. Each of our mobos rarely gets the absolute crazed adoration they truly merit. Hours on top of hours are spent in front of our computers, and just like the ideal mother, they are a central hub. Through them we create vital ideas, broadcast them, and retrieve a great deal of indispensable information. Our motherboards hold the keys to our access. If you are unkind to them, they will deny you everything. Exactly like your real mother.~~~~~~~~~~Nacreous shell worked into a decorative object.
  5. Mother of Pearl. Just like the most ideal mother, mother of pearl—an iridescent composite material that makes up the lining of some mollusk shells—is a substance that is very strong, very resilient and reflective of colors so mixed and dramatic, rainbows are green with envy at their permanence. It’s what many of us mothers strive to achieve, but often fall short of.**********************Mother Marianne Cope (1838 January 23 – 1918 A...
  6. Mother Superior. Chief cook and bottle washer of all that goes on in any abbey, the abbess has the authority, like most mums, to send her charges to their rooms to pray, study or get out from underfoot (except for Maria, who slips away to some mountaintop to sing). She can also shove them out of the nest and elsewhere into the world to fend for themselves and do good for others—every mother’s hope and dream. We could all use a Mother Superior. Especially if she broke into uplifting and inspirational song from time to time.*******************
  7. Mother tongue. Twój język ojczysty. Strasznie ważne, ponieważ dostarcza namnarzędzi potrzebnych do komunikowania się z innymi. Niestety, nikt nie wie gdzie wysłaćkartę z podziękowaniami, ale jeśli znajdziesz adres fizyczny dla ewolucji, należy upuścićnotatka z potwierdzeniem. Not your mother tongue? Click here.****
  8. Mothership. Popularized in UFO lore, we all know the concept. Viewing whaling ships, aircraft carriers and moon landings may not be an experience most of us can taste first hand, but no one is turned away at Apple Headquarters in Cupertino, California.
    Cali Mill Plaza in Cupertino, California.

    You can even take home a t-shirt that says you visited the mothership.

    ************

  9. Motherland. Where it all began. Just as vital as recognizing the woman who claimed you at birth is honoring the country you claimed by birth. It’s reminiscent of the unsolved debate that questions whether you are who you are because of nature or nurture. Did you become a famous horror film director because your mother allowed you to keep her company late at night while she sat numbly through Dawn of the Dead, or were you raised in a Korowai tribe where cannibalism was practiced, and you’re still suffering from the aftereffects of eating one too many dead relatives? Are you valedictorian of your graduating class because your parents made a hefty donation to the school’s new building fund or because the mailman your mom’s been so fond of for the last two decades is a member of Mensa? Ok, technically that last one doesn’t really fit, but … the question remains; to whom do you owe your thanks or shame? Deutsch: Frühlingsblumenstrauß English: Spring...

So, in the end—and this is by no means an exhaustive list of all things motherly—we may have a slightly improved (if not skewered) appreciation for that and those who could really do with a day of no dishes. Also we may find their faces filled with silent hope that tomorrow’s laundry is not entirely pink. Stop and think for a minute. Send some thanks out into the world for not only those that bore you, raised you, nurtured and loved you, but also for the silent and unrecognized.

The other mothers.

~Shelley

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

 

Man Jam

Ian Fleming's image of James Bond; commissione...

It’s hard to think of James Bond having anything but a dry martini to act as a quaffable accessory to his perfectly tailored tuxedo and a stunningly undernourished girl. You’d never see him handling a drink with an umbrella in it. (Of course, he would have no issue handling a girl who has a drink with an umbrella in it.)

And how often do you see men load up on yogurt? Especially something like Activia, which claims to “improve digestive transit?” I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a gaggle of guys at the soccer field water fountain moaning while clutching their bellies, wishing they weren’t so bloated.

Sure, there are foods that are typically eaten by more females than males, and if you sit through five minutes of a football game on TV, you’ll find yourself fighting the urge to belch the alphabet along with the guys in the beer commercials. Although many get stuck on the letter B when the Beer, Beef & Babes subliminal advertising kicks in.

But what of cooking? Are there gender preferences there, too? I know plenty of women who handle the grill, but how many fellas make cake pops? Or madeleines? How many guys garnish? Author note: I do not.

portrait of Fanny Cradock

portrait of Fanny Cradock

But my husband does—and with great flare–but I attribute that to the fact that he’s English, grew up watching Fanny Cradock, and lived to tell of it.

Whether garnishing, soufflé-ing, quiche-ing, or mousse-ing, I’ve come across plenty of men who jump into the arena of artful technique and extreme creativity. However, it’s a little more unusual to come across one who will dip his toe into the pond of preserves. Seeing the average male come through the front door with an armload of Ball jars, a 33 quart enamel stockpot, and a basket full of freshly picked berries would make you look over his shoulder to see if he was carrying in June Cleaver’s groceries. Hearing the guy say, “Where’s my apron? Now clear out the kitchen, I’m about to bring Smucker’s to their knees,” is something many women would pay money to experience.

Is this so unusual? Not to G. Tilton Pugh II. He is a lineman at our local airport, drives a massive fuel truck, and probably performs his own tooth extractions. To top it off, this guy has made canning cool. He makes what I call MAN JAM. The jellies contain your average fruit, but he pitches in a load of jalapeños, allowing the more timid males at your breakfast table the opportunity to enjoy fruit preserves without fear of anyone eyeing his pinky when lifting a cup of tea.

Statements like, “Hey, pass me that kick-ass curd at your end of the table,” and “This stuff needs to be on a hunk a meat!” will likely float through conversation.

I expect folks will go through their closets, tossing shoes over their shoulders in the hunt for that old pair of cowboy boots gifted to them the year the whole high school thought them fashionable.

You’ll be greeted each morning with a quick nod and a, “Mornin’, ma’am.” Your husband may forego shaving for a day or two as it fits nicely with his new rough 24/7  five o’clock shadow. There may even be talk of trading in the minivan for a truck with a flatbed.

Visage de cowboy en profil

As heart-palpatatingly pleasant as it may be to find you’re suddenly living—if only temporarily—with the Marlboro Man, my point is that not only can fellas take it on their toast, but now they can make it for their toast.

All the raised eyebrows alone may be enough to encourage any guy to take a crack at it. Seeing the impressed faces at work as you leave a jar on someone’s desk with your own brand name like Men’s Meteoric Marmalade or Joe’s Jawbreaking Jelly can also become addictive.

The point, and I do have one, is that labeling activities as gender specific is wrong. Labeling jars by flavor and fire is fun! (If only as a cross off your bucket list activity.)

Men? Head on out to your local berry patch during the next month or two, or hunt the produce isles of your neighborhood Piggly Wiggly, and mosey on into the kitchen.

Pop some Dwight Yoakum, Johnny Cash, or any guy who’s spent some time in prison and came out the other side with a record deal into the CD player. Now make some MAN JAM.

Burning Bush Jams

Don’t forget the jalapeños. This stuff should scrape the tartar off your teeth.

Click here for MAN JAM recipes and ideas on how to use it elsewhere, or click here for G. Tilton Pugh II’s website, selection and order form.

Happy cooking, cowboys!

~Shelley

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

No Joke!

Gigantic beer stein. According to its display,...

Gigantic beer stein. According to its display, it was made in Germany, weighs 35 lbs empty, holds 8.45 gallons of beer, features the scene of a Flemish country wedding on the stein, and Gabrinus on the lid; it includes a German phrase translating to “He who can empty this stein is truly a man”. Located at the Pine Cheese Mart and Von Klopp Brew Shop, Pine Island, Minnesota, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This just in: It turns out human beings have more than five senses. Yes, there’s hearing, touch, taste, smell and sight, but it appears we also own a sense of humor.

Okay, except for Germany. Oddly enough, in several international polls, Germans collectively rank at the bottom in number of office pranks, comedy clubs and pictures with finger antennae sticking up behind people’s heads.

They do however find themselves at the top position for number of hemorrhoids per person in any given month.

I’m thinking both may be fixed by an increase in fiber and the occasional light beer.

(To be fair, I know a good handful of Germans and have witnessed firsthand their uncontrolled belly laughs with or without the additions of heavily flour laden food.)

Back to my point; what is it about April 1st (or March 32nd in many circles) that brings out such tomfoolery in many of us? Is it the desperate reversal of seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? The whole ‘the sap is running’ syndrome?

Seal of the United States Internal Revenue Ser...

Or maybe we’re mistaking raucous laughter for the mad hysteria that usually grips people when realizing they have two weeks left before the government makes fools of all of us.

Not everyone finds the same things funny. But on the whole, most of the world can agree that mocking their bosses is a personal pastime that will help make the work hours fly by. Sadly, mocking their bosses in front of said bosses will make the work hours nonexistent.

Unless you are a military family and moved around the bases with the same speed as either Jose Reyes in baseball or Hugh Hefner with women, it’s easy to shrug with confusion over what makes people in other countries giggle with glee.

The French like to secretly attach a paper fish to a person’s back.

Flemish kids lock their folks out of the house.

Polish kids lock their folks and themselves out of the house.

joanie loves chachi

(Photo credit: Rakka)

It’s a weird world, but maybe no nation is as weird as the land of the free, the brave and the willing to dress their pets in miniature Star Wars costumes. Yes, maybe America takes the cake for the most head scratching forms of humor created. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when our funny bone fractured and warped, but I’d guess it started when the TV series Joanie Loves Chachiaired.

Worldwide, we’ve never been looked at quite the same.

Although science has not been able to manufacture humor into pill form, and there’s still that sticky bit about double blind trials, research and proof, laughter has been known to cure what ails us—if only temporarily.

Chuckling obviously makes you more attractive and approachable, but it also boosts the immune system, releases endorphins and protects the heart. It does not, however, aid digestion when you do it upside down after a full meal. Best case scenario: no one is beneath you on the monkey bars after Thanksgiving supper. (Been there, done that.)

We crave laughter. We seek out comedians, forward knee-slapping jokes and tune in regularly for the President’s State of the Union address. I know one woman who says she won’t consider anything funny unless it makes her lose control of her bladder—just a little. (I’m sorry, but even with the qualifier that statement makes the top of my eww list.)

And what of pranks? April Fool’s Day presents an opportunity to show your loved ones, if not the world at large, just how far you’re willing to take a hoax to pinpoint a posse of prize saps.

Photograph of a woman harvesting spaghetti in ...

Photograph of a woman harvesting spaghetti in the BBC programme (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you participate? The BBC does. In fact, I suspect they may have a department solely formed to organize and plan for just this one day of the year. Who can forget the clever Swiss Spaghetti Harvest Hoax where broadcaster Richard Dimbleby revealed that an early influx of warm weather across Europe resulted in an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop?

Do you remember in 1980 how the BBC reported that in order to keep up with the times, the face of London’s Clock Tower (which houses Big Ben) was going digital?

Animation of the act of unrolling a circle's c...

Animation of the act of unrolling a circle’s circumference, illustrating the ratio π. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My favorite has got to be from 1998 when it was rumored that the Alabama state legislature was in the process of changing the mathematical value of pi from 3.14159 to the Biblical value of 3. I’m still choking on my Cheerios over that one.

Whether you’ve waited all year to hoodwink your homeboys or you palpitate with paranoia at being the targeted prey, have a hearty hoot at the hilarity others have pulled on a few unsuspecting victims. Here’s a list of the top 100 April Fool’s Day Hoaxes of all time.

http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/aprilfool

Now tell me … have you got something to add to the list?

Happy fooling around!

~Shelley

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

 

Fake, Folly or For Real?

For all my talk these last couple of weeks about the wicked wind and how it’s left my brain addled from its overzealous quest to uproot any unnecessary trees from the mountaintop, personal safety has never been an issue. As long as we stay indoors. In fact, I sometimes even get a little smug about it.

The wolf blows down the straw house in a 1904 ...

Picture the three little pigs and the big bad wolf. Look down the line from pig to pig until you see the porcine smile that I’ve come to perfect. It’s the last guy in the row. I’ve no snub-tipped turned up snout or floppy ears to frame my face. The thing we share in common—the thing that spreads the smirk of self-congratulations over our features—is that we both live in a pile of organized rubble.

Pig number three was, if you recall, a fairly suave fellow who chose to invest in the safety of his future. I’m not so sure we could say our choice to build the bastion we live in was so much a conscious one as it was one of opportunity. When we first investigated the land we hoped to build on, we all noticed the abundance of “unforgiving soil.” Using our available resources, building a stone house from the bedrock it would perch on seemed a very green thing to do, plus any locals we ran into who knew of our desire to build up here advised us to “build a brick sh*t house if we hoped to keep it standing.” Sound advice.

Well, when all was said and done, there were a few piles of leftover materials that I refused to have carted away. The look I received from most of the cleanup crew was akin to that when I tried to train my dog to sing in Spanish. Just a slight cocking of the head. 

“You sure you wanna have all them there rocks pilin’ up round the place? You got youngins and them piles is like puttin’ up a big ol’ welcome sign for a mess a snakes. What you tryin’ to build up here—Gibraltar?” (Insert snort here.)

I smiled, knowing that whatever I said would never sound sensible enough. “I’m sure we’ll figure out what to do with the rocks.”

“Rocks? Them’s no rocks, them’s boulders.”

I nodded and watched all the trucks slowly leave with everything except them boulders.

Then for the next six months I heard my husband make little tutting noises every time we passed by the piles or someone happened to mention them, wondering what they were for.

For the next year after that, I didn’t exactly see any snakes, but I sure felt them writhe around in my stomach when trying to hatch a believable plan for their future.

Landscapers secretly gave me the ‘crazy lady’ label and would turn to my husband to make sure he knew that if we expected their company to move the stones anywhere on the property, it would cost the equivalent of a new section for International Space Station.

Deutsch: Stonehenge, Großbritannien English: S...

In truth, my husband knew what I wanted to do with them. He’d spent enough time with me in the UK to realize any trip to his homeland would be structured around as many stone circles as I could manage to visit.

Yes, I’m thoroughly besotted with them, mesmerized beyond any other great wonder of the world. Put me next to the Sphinx, Chichen Itza, or the London sewerage system’s original Abbey Mills pumping station and I can’t help but wish I was standing instead amid the fragmented remains of a few jagged rocks specifically placed for a purpose no one can be quite certain of today.

Sure the other grand structures are jaw dropping and eye popping, but they’ve all been figured out. Their functions were described in great details by wall carvings, cave paintings and city architectural plans filed in drawers labeled possible cures for cholera. Stone circles are a planetary puzzle. It’s almost as if every culture that ever built one of them tossed the instruction pamphlets away after a couple of years during spring cleaning because to them it was totally obvious what the formations were for.

Cover of "The Lorax (Classic Seuss)"

One day, this conundrum that’s left so many folks either duplicating them in their back garden, or scratching the sides of their heads contemplating their purpose, will be solved by some young whippersnapper. He’ll make the grand revelation that actually these circles were simply each community’s recycling center, or chain coffee shop, or that here was the village’s last Truffula tree. Maybe it was simply a grand distraction from whatever people were not supposed to see. Who knows?

The things that are clear to me can fit into a tidy little list of Thing One and Thing Two.

  1. I have to do something similar, create my own Stonehenge—albeit on a very very small scale because even though NASA’s budget is now akin to my monthly grocery bill, I still cannot afford some grand landscaping extravaganza.
  2. The need to make some sort of stone arrangement is so strong and unexplainable it falls into the realm of curious. I can’t not do it.

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And maybe the architects of those ancient communities felt the same way. It’s a little like Alice in Wonderland once she fell down the rabbit hole. With or without the Drink me label, she’d probably have done it anyway. It was obvious and it needed to be done. Or just like the habit to both fish and foul the Thames, there’d be a giant “Aha” moment coming to somebody eventually. Until then, we’ll all just wait and make pretty stone gardens, hoping someone will discover the instruction pamphlet.

~Shelley

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

 

Know your Cupid, Stupid!

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

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

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

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

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

Cupid and Psyche

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

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

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

See if you can follow along.

Lupa capitolina al Campidoglio. Ne esiste una ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flagellants practiced self-flogging at the tim...

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

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

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

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

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

A 2 month old goat kid in a field of capeweed

So no kidding, Happy Lupercalia.

~Shelley

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

 

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

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

Group shot of the Monty Python crew in 1969

the men who raised me

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

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

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

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

Numa Pompilius consulting Egeria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lads & Lassies, Pipers & Poets

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

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

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

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

Scotish dirk

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

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

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

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

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

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

homemade haggis, scotland food stock photo

 

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

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

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

The Scottish Piper - Victorian print vector art illustration

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

My suggestions for you? Start small.

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

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

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

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

Slàinte!

~Shelley

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

 

The waterworks. Except it doesn’t.

Sherpas in Nepal

Just about everybody who’s visited our house remembers at least three things:

#1. Book a Sherpa if they plan to return. Yes, it’s a little pricey, but GPS will land you at Huckabee Goober’s Moonshine Mill and Pit Bull Factory. Plus the Sherpas really need the work out here in the Blue Ridge. Most hikers are way too self-reliant these days.

#2. If you mention anyone in the public domain, alive or recently deceased, you will discover Sir Sackier (aka English hubby) has either gone to school with them, or shared a meal in a pub. It is amazing how many people in the world have gone to the City of London. Seriously. Google everyone.

#3. A plumber was buried beneath our house. Dead first, of course, or certainly soon thereafter. No one can last … what … six years since we moved in? Yeah, surely he’s dead now.

Phil the Plumber

Phil the Plumber (Photo credit: Badly Drawn Dad)

All right, we don’t exactly have proof.

Yet.

But if it is true, then chances are the guy came to an early demise and is now taking his wrath out on the lowly inhabitants of his prior workplace. Not one month passes without the excitement of some type of waterworks calamity. Pipes burst, the well runs dry, the water turns to sludge and comes out of the faucets reeking of the sulphuric gasses of hell. It’s quite possible we’ve built our home on top of a volcano. Or the house of Beelzebub. And he wants his front door back. Since neither fully explains our problems, we’re back to square one with the dead plumber.

It used to be, in times of yore, that a human was sacrificed in the construction phase of a building. They were meant to be the future guardians, the spiritual sentinels of the structure. Criminals placed in every posthole, drunkards dumped in boundary ditches, unlucky short straws clutched between phallangeal bones boxed in beneath door frames. Sadly, more often than not, this human was a child.

Knowing this, Sir Sackier and I have developed two theories. He thinks somewhere between framing and dry walling, some unlucky bloke, up to his chin in the miles of pipe length laid for this house, lost his balance, thunked his head and passed out. Noted as missing from his bar stool that night, he was sadly plastered up and around without discovery the next day.

I don’t buy it. Understanding Sir Sackier’s fondness for his history in Albion,  and desiring to bring some of the more purposeful of ancient rites here to the Old Dominion—in particular one that will protect his fortress, my theory makes much more sense.

I believe as the framing was in its final stages, Sir Sackier was having a congenial chat with some of the fellas during a lunch break and maybe passed on the old tales of foundation sacrifices. Of course they were threaded lyrically between lectures of how America doesn’t know how to build houses, “because only when you can see houses that are considered young at 400 years are you going to find solid craftsmanship!”

English: A crumbling farm building in Watlington.

This aside, maybe one of the workman took him seriously—as if interpreting some sort of “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” message. The only other problem was the other interpreting necessary when speaking with him. Sir Sackier doesn’t speak English. He speaks proper English. And not too many people are still familiar with that kind of lingo any longer.

Quite possibly, he might have thrown out a, “So if we’re going to do this thing by the book, we’ll need to find someone who still rides a toy motor scooter,” NOT someone who works for Rotor Rooter.

Not too difficult if you’re reading it, but full of potential trip ups if you’re hearing it and you’ve not taken any community college course credits for Proper English as a Second Language. It’s a bit like the old verse, “You say tomato, I say tomato …” It doesn’t make much sense when you’re reading it. His dilemma was the reverse.

And there you have it. I think it was accidentallydone on purpose. And now we’re cursed.

The Wicked Witch of the East as pictured in Th...

The only other small factor refusing to be overlooked is that it’s not just this house that has been plagued by plumbing potholes. It’s been all of them. Which means somewhere during the last twenty years of moving houses, a plumber died in the basement and was packed up by a moving company and we’ve been carrying around dead plumber bones for the last two decades.

Bones

I wouldn’t be surprised. And I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he’d gone to the City of London.

~Shelley

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

A countdown of sorts

Mayan Exhibit

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

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

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

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

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

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