The Historically Boozy Woozy Benefits of Hooch

As a person who works within the spirits industry (the drinkable not ghostly kind), I am often told of the detriments that accompany imbibing alcohol. We are reminded by our physicians, by our parents, by well-meaning, health-conscious friends, and by finger-wagging party poopers as to the many harms, dangers, and hazards that accompany a tipple or two, and are firmly advised to give hooch a wide berth lest we fall prey to its evils.

As a researcher by heart and by nature, I am always looking for an argument to counter the above—a dataset, a study, some persuasive proof that as long as one employs an element of good sense and restraint, one can find great joy and enrichment from the quaffing, the swilling, and the indulging of giggle water.

And I have found one.

In fact, I have found ten.

In truth, I have found more than ten, but I have narrowed the list to my ten favorites.

It takes a sturdy and determined nature to search through bland and archaically worded historical documents, but 15th century German physician, botanist, and alchemist, Hieronymus Brunschwig’s work deserves not only an unearthing, but a spotlight shined upon his analysis. So please, allow me to sing the praises of the unsung.

As Hieronymus sees it, the benefits to drinking alcohol are thus:

  1. It comforts the heart.
    • Agreed. Nuff said.
  2. It heals all old and new sores on the head.
    • Perhaps this is simply a slip of translation from German to English, but most of us might agree that alcohol is the cause of most sore-headedness and not the cure. *shrug
  3. It gives you good color.
    • This is no doubt true, as how many of us have sat across from an individual at a pub—one who’s all rosy cheeked and glossy-eyed from an elixir’s effect—and so much the better for it?
  4. It cures baldness, body lice, and fleas.
    • Currently, there is no data to support this theory, although perhaps we’re still in the infancy of further research.
  5. Dr. Brunschwig also believes it cures toothaches, bad breath, and cankers.
    • This, I believe, explains why my dentist always smells of hooch when I go in for my annual cleaning.
  6. It causes the tongue to become well-speaking.
    • Now who of us have yet to attend a party where some individual, perhaps having become a bit too free with the firewater, will toss off his tie, leap upon the nearest coffee table, and begin spouting off a soliloquy worthy of Shakespearian applause?
  7. It eliminates belching, farting, and the painful swelling of breasts.
    • As these were my late Aunt Marge’s three most vociferous daily complaints, I feel somewhat cheated in missing the opportunity to aid her ailments.
  8. It dissolves bladder stones.
    • Alas, I feel the Mayo may not be fully behind Herr Hieronymus on this one, but likely there exists one or two urologists out there who skipped this chapter in med school and would stand behind the tipple treatment versus cystolitholapaxy.
  9. It provides courage.
    • There is ample historical evidence to endorse this argument simply by counting the number of battles won and marriages proposed.
  10. And lastly, my favorite medicinal remark in favor of partaking in the boozy bevies is that “It cures the bites of rabid dogs and heals all stinking wounds.”
    • *sigh. Pure poetry, right?

And there we have it. Scholarly legwork is ongoing and appears to be just as contentious as the arguments for and against eggs, vitamins, and checking the morning headlines.

Surely at some point science will parse out the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to the advantageous effects of ethanol and not simply roll collective eyes when we argue with limp proof of merely the desirable ones. Until that time, may I suggest you take heed from the sage words of the late, great Johnny Carson:

I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, sex, and rich food. He was healthy right up to the day he killed himself.

So, cheers to you all, and to Heironymus Brunschwig for all his efforts. I toast to your good health with, Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says love your enemy.

~Shelley

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Lads & Lassies, Pipers & Poets

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

January 25th marked 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 Lang 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 the age of 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 monotonic homemade poetry, I’m looking for anything I can surreptitiously light on fire so we can all leave the building. 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 (or in many cases the Saturday night closest to it, as no one is getting up for work when the sun rises next). 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. Sadly, I have attended too many events where I’ve found countless 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 key to success. Have a gathering of bashful introverts or pontifical windbags and your evening feels like watching the “next up for service” numbers at the DMV slowly tick by would be a treat. Be sure to invite a thespian or two and maybe throw in a fire eater or sword swallower in case the evening plummets.

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 folklore wishes us to believe all Highlanders 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 straightforward. Buy booze people will drink. Scotch is the typical liquid in hand, but feel free to branch out with any of the globe’s magnificent whiskies.

When it comes to entertainment, people are coming for the piper. Don’t believe all the old bagpiper slights like If you took all the bagpipers in the world and laid them end to end…it would be a good idea, as all you need do is watch the faces of people as they stand wholly stunned by the power and potency of a piper bellowing out a tune. But also look behind them because this is typically when warring Scots of past would sneak up behind their enemies and practice a few solid broadsword techniques.

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, your partner or spouse—anyone you trust not to post damning TikToks about you the next day, and ask them to come to dinner prepared to recite a short poem, quote, or best yet, a 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

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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

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.

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

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.