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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go choke on it.

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

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

 

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

I’m in need of a drink.

And likely an exorcist.

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

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

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

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

Is there a problem, ma’am?

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

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

I scratched my head. But they’re dried.

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

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

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

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

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

I texted my daughter.

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

Dammit.

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

Apparently, the witches were watching.

And likely rubbing their hands together with glee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

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

 

Bones: Taking Stock of Life

It’s the end of the year. Time to take stock. And time to make stock, as my freezer is chock a block full of the bones of birds who’ve been spatchcocked and roasted to perfection, and of deer who have unfortunately wandered to close to a tree stand.

I’m grateful. Amazed. And exhausted.

Grateful in that twelve months have passed and not one of them has slipped by unnoticed as it spreads itself out on a buffet table full of things that taste sweet or bitter or rancid or divine. I believe in a well-balanced life just as much as a diversified diet. Nothing can quite put one’s perspective into sharp focus as much as having the two ends of life’s emotional spectrum—joy and sorrow—battle each other daily like the climax of a Marvel superhero film.

I’d never wish for a life that was as supine as a flatlining monitor, but this year, both my brain waves and heartbeat have tested the vertical space allotted them. I wouldn’t mind tweaking the master switch just a tad so that the next 365 days might not have quite so much ear-splitting, heart-wrenching feedback.

Amazed because one can go through a year of peaks and valleys (or as I like to refer to it in whisky terminology—glens and bens) and still come through the other side not only thankful for another day to draw breath, but indebted to life with a capital L for an additional chapter in the rulebook of survival and longevity.

Shock therapy—not in the literal sense, but rather a sharp realization after the fact—can be crisply defined and utilized by simply asking the question: So how much did this really matter?

My answers have spanned the gamut of So much more than you thought it would to Meh, it’s only money.

The point is, without truly delving into that question, you carry a lot of weight around that serves no purpose other than to stress your aching joints and increase the profits of pharmaceutical companies. I’m learning that instead of my usual daily mantra of Never, never, never give up, I might be better served by trying a few How quickly can I kick this one to the curb?

Of course, millions of women around the world are now having to change their calming daily incantations to Wake up, kick sexual harassment’s ass, repeat.

And lastly, exhausted from all of the above. But let me be clear; it is not burnout.

Life is full of failure, and I get that. I get to taste from that big soup spoon frequently and sometimes unceasingly—especially since I’ve taken on Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to do something every day that scares me.

In fact, that prescription has forced me into the prickly awareness that I’m growing comfortable with being uncomfortable.

And discomfort can be taxing. It can plaster you to a prostrate position by the end of the day–sometimes from the work that requires effortful patience and tenacity but sometimes like the flick of a switch with the speed and tonnage of a freight train.

Samey samey. You’re either deflated or razed. But in the wee small hours of the morning you’re pretty much a puddle.

I’m a very omni-directional sort of person. When coming to the end of the year, I like to look back. I like to see where I’ve been, how I’ve changed, and how many bodies are littering the ground behind me.

I like to look forward. To see how far I’ve yet to go, how much grit I’ll have to muster up, and whether the tread on my shoes are up to the task in front of them.

And I like to look outward. Outward because—and this is a little meta so hear me through—it helps me see inward. I think you can’t really answer that question above—So how much did this really matter?—unless you can pull back the lens and get a bird’s eye view. 30,000 feet gives you broad objectivity. From this frame of reference, the roots of the Tree of Life you tripped on grow blurry with the landscape.

What sticks out are the things you built.

The work you thought important. The relationships you believed were relevant. The foundation you’ve chosen to stand upon.

Your attitude of interpretation.

I hate to be preachy. It makes me my own teeth itch. But the end of the year always finds me channeling my inner Glinda the Good Witch with her saccharine life coaching. Obviously, she’s been dying to come out periodically but just like the Elf on the Shelf, she’s usually boxed up until the month of December when my whole house becomes the set for a Hallmark Christmas romance movie.

Plus, with so many family feasts and holiday gatherings, liquor is in abundance. And with the first sip of spirit comes the unleashing of all those pent up, stuffed down wistful musings I try to keep a lid on because I actually like my teeth and don’t want anyone to remove them when their fist accidentally bumps into my face because they just can’t stomach me anymore.

So I go back to making stock. Bone broth is simply life in liquid form. It’s nourishing. It’s healing. It’s soul sustaining.

Make enough of it to buoy you through the next twelve months. There’s magic in that elixir. It is full of life from the past … and for your future.

Happy New Year everyone,

~Shelley

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

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

 

 

Oh Come All Ye Frugal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Chloe

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

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

 

Ask for the Moon, but Settle for a Star

“Really?” I said in a weak voice that imitated a woman who’d just been told that her mother-in-law was about to become her new roommate.

Or that new federal regulations on sleep had been voted into law and now five hours a night was the limit.

Or that the last glass of Chardonnay available to mankind had just been sold and there will be no more. Ever. Again. Period.

181216char02

In truth, none of these things would apply to me as I have no mother-in-law, I’m managing to squeak by with an average of 4.95 hours most nights, and as long as we don’t replace Chardonnay with the word whisky I can somehow manage.

But I still uttered the word with that same tone as I looked up at the old star perched atop the Christmas tree I’d just dragged into the house off the roof of my car.

It’s the first decoration that goes onto the tree every year. The equivalent to the commencement ribbon cutting. The thing that signals the official beginning. That object of honor.

But that object of honor decided that showing up for work this year was going to be a bit of a stretch. It refused to light when I plugged it in.

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“Do you know how much I count on you?” I asked it from where I looked up at it, lying on the floor, covered in pine pitch and prickly fir needles. “I put a huge amount of faith in your kind all year long. You cannot check out on me just yet.”

I let my head fall back onto the sticky floor and really thought about what I’d said. It was true. I counted on the existence of these heavenly bodies with about the same level of addiction and enthusiasm as my son’s belief that our freezer is the birthplace of frozen pizzas.

181216freeze02

They will always be there for us.

I wake up to the blinding crack of sunlight most days as our nearest star climbs above the wide stretch of horizon I see out my bedroom window. Ah, Death has not yet pointed a knurled finger at me and dragged me off in the middle of the night. Get out of bed.

Each night I make a point to make a wish on the first star I see in hopes that whatever tiny prayer I offer up might be met with a genie’s “Your wish is my command” kind of an attitude in the forthcoming days. And then I am told by my space-science savvy kid that in fact, the object I have been throwing requests up to is not what I believe it to be.

Apparently, I have been spending years wishing on a planet.

Dammit.

And in truth, half of my country has elected a “star” per se to lead, and run, and oh-my-godfathers represent our nation as it makes four more trips around the sun.

I looked around the room empty of everything except holiday decorations and echoed that one word I’d said just moments ago but this time to a box full of shiny red balls, “Really?” I half expected it to answer me back.

181216really02

I started to fine tune my worries as I stared hard into the face of 2017.

What can I count on?

Who will show up to do the work that needs to be done?

What are the odds that we will ever run out of wine or whisky?

Glancing back up at that decoration forced me to pull the lens back a bit and redefine things in a way that annoys the hell out of my children because it’s the only way I think: in metaphors.

This tree is our country. Everything hanging from it are the people who live in it and are trying to find a temporary place to perch. That star … well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?

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If there was any one thing that people have routinely criticized me for over the last many decades of my life, it would be that I’m too sanguinely spirited, too rose-colored glasses earnest, too naively hopeful.

Yes, genetically speaking, perhaps my default position on the optimism meter is a bit off the rails—like far enough off the rails to be considered beyond the ditch and somewhere halfway into the farm field full of corn.

But I have a strong belief in the system, in our series of checks and balances, and in some invisible hooded Monty Pythonesque figure called Fate who’s somehow keeping score. These are the things that keep me from joining throngs of others who are now so overwrought with how the year has taken shape they are looking at ways to buy their own island and make a fresh new batch of people.

I get it. This has been a year where most folks have been sleeping on a bed full of pins and needles. We’re asking ourselves some really tough questions. And what’s making it so damn difficult is parsing through the fictitious and fraudulent answers we keep tripping over.

It has been a challenging slog. An effortful climb. Things we’ve counted on as concretely dependable are crumbling, wavering unsteadily.

Things like how we define the truth.

Are we really being advised to get used to a “post fact” society? That this is the era of post-truth politics?

It was Heraclitus who is quoted as saying that “The only thing that is constant is change.”

I can get used to change—hard as it may be. But I don’t want to stretch the line of discomfort to say that I will grow used to immorality, or dishonesty. I still want to live in an evidence-based world. I spend all day long in a fiction-based reality, but I’d like to come home to a fact-filled planet.

I thought we were making progress. I thought we were making improvements. I thought we were making room for one another.

I wrap the white and multi-colored lights all about the branches of this tree and plug them in. Most of them illuminate. Some are blinking fast and furious, flashing dramatically for attention. Others are calmly swelling to their full intensity before dimming down and repeating their pattern of participation. And some have been snuffed out. Their years of service come to a quiet dark end. This is us. We are those lights and baubles, the trimmings and treasures.

I may like some of them more than others, but they all go on the tree. There’s space enough for every one of them. They all made it into my home somehow, destined for that tree—whether I fell in love with them, was gifted them, or took pity on them. There will be room.

I stare back up at the large unlit star. “Hey,” I say to it. “I’m asking … pleading that you show up for work. Everyone else is here and some are even trying to get along. You won that covetous position up there because of your fancy marketing and packaging. My first choice was to go with something rather homespun and a bit rough round the edges. You made a promise from the shelf and, even though I can’t recall ever putting you into my cart, you’re here, and now I’m expecting you to do the great grind.”

Lead.

Head.

Shine.

I turn out all the lights and lie back on the floor. For a brief second or two that big ol’ star flickers.

I am flooded with hope and watch it intently.

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I hear the sound of an ice cube drop into the tray in the freezer.

Or maybe it’s the sound of another frozen pizza being born. A post-truth fact I could easily get used to believing.

As tough as this year has been, I’m not ready to give up faith because, as the great English poet Sarah Williams said, I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

Happy New Year to you all. I wish you peace.

~Shelley

ONE LAST CALL: Robin has his annual calendar of curiously clever cartoons for sale and time is running out. If you’re hoping to take a peek a tiny bit farther into his unfathomable brain, then I suggest you head on over and order yours tout de suite! It may be the one bit of comic relief you come to rely upon to get you through 2017!  Robingott.com

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.

 

 

 

Twas the Night Santa Ditched Us

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with Earl

by Shelley Sackier (and a little help from Mr. Moore)

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and throughout our old post
Not a creature was stirring, ‘cept our dead plumber ghost.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
To hide the big crack in the masonry there.

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The children were splayed on the couch, all serene,
While visions of Family Guy flickered on screen.

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And me in my apron, the dog at my feet,
Made bourbon soaked bonbons, a Christmas Eve treat.

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When out on the lawn there arose such a noise,
I sprang up to shout at some loud redneck boys.
Away to the window, full of anger I flew,
And stared down the barrel of my 22.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
proved Earl and his snowplow were now a “no show.”
When what should I see like a cast of buffoons,
But our Earl on a sled pulled by seven old coons.

With a burly old driver, so mean for no reason,
I saw in a flash Earl’s new job for the season.

More rapid than eagles his complaints rumbled out,
While he pointed an old grizzled finger to shout.

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“Now Bubba! Now, Merle! Now, Otis and Wyatt!
On, Buford! On, Farley! And Vernon be quiet!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now git goin’! Git goin’! Dammit y’all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
My thoughts flew about asking, “Santa Claus, why?”
So up to the front door the hound dogs they slogged,
With the sled full of moonshine and old Earl in a fog.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the stoop,
The grunting and griping of the grumpy old poop.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Through the front door the old codger came round.

He was dressed all in flannel and coon hunting gear,
And his clothes still held bits from skinning some deer.
A bundle of bottles he had flung on his back,
And he glanced all around for a lawman attack.

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His eyes were all wrinkled, his face worn and weathered,
His hands were quite scared and his skin rough and leathered.

His crooked lips snarled, never smiled like a winner,
And the beard of his chin showed canned hash for his dinner.

Some spit on my polished old floor he did spew,
Revealing that Earl had a mouthful of chew.
He had a broad face that was washed clean of dirt,
But a nose that he wiped on the sleeve of his shirt.

He was chubby and plump, a curmudgeonly churl,
Who never said, “Hi”– his lips wouldn’t curl.
A grunt from his girth and a scratch on his bum
Made me ask why it was Santa gave us the thumb.

He spoke not a word, but grumbled with work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And shuffling past me, he dragged down the hall
The rest of the moonshine toward his next port of call.

He slumped in his sled, to his team gave a holler,
And away the dogs pulled, straining hard at the collar.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“I’m raising my fee for each plow, now good-night!”

Haggis Jingle Bells

~HAPPY HOLIDAYS~

~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.

A Reversal of Fortune

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

What do I get my Mum for Christmas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure! Fine!” I said.

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

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

“Great!” I beamed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Twas the Night Before Finals

I have been on both sides of a performance since way before I can mentally remember, and likely somewhere around the time I was first forming eyelids.

My mom was a musician.

Her children all became musicians.

She married a man who was not a musician, but was a better musician than many musicians I have come to know.

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Sitting in the audience is hard if you go to a concert and you are “a musician.”

You really, really, REALLY want the performance to go well. Better than well. Spectacular. You want to be moved in a way that would have you offering a kidney to any one of the participants afterward as a way of saying thank you for sharing their skill, talent and soul with you.

I know very few musicians who actually attend other people’s concerts with their fingers crossed that the show will suck and it will get slammed by the press. Yes, I know a few, but they’re miserable, unhappy people who are constipated and suffer from halitosis. They have no friends. It’s a sad life, but they deserve it.

I went to a concert last night. It was a holiday concert I attend nearly every year. And it’s something I look forward to with as much excitement as the first winter snowflake, the first winter hearth fire, and the first moment I realize it’s futile to keep fighting my body’s desperate need to bulk up for the upcoming season. Winter pudge is a fact of life, and I’ve come to heartily embrace it.

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Almost as much as I relish this annual concert.

Every year, this particular performance spotlights the talents of our local university’s divine male voices, corralled into polished control. It must be a massive undertaking, as these dulcet tones are more accustomed to swilling caustic liquids and belching out the alphabet when not rooting for their home sports team like caterwauling hooligans. The transformation is magical. But I imagine they convert to factory default settings faster than a taxed rubber band snapping back to form.

Two hours of intense and focused concentration is a lot to ask of a young lad aged 18—22. Especially as it was finals week. The fixed determination on these collegiate faces revealed the end of a long semester with nothing more than one more toilsome week in front of them. They were tired.

But the boys sang on.

On top of everything else, they were required to decorate the hall before the event. It really should have come as no surprise to anyone then that having asked said young men to make the hall look festive, they would use whatever adroit ingenuity they could scare up. To describe the auditorium as merry and bright would be accurate, but deficient. More precise would be to point out that much of the décor was likely nicked from neighborhood lawns and secured with whatever supplies found in the hallway janitorial cupboard.

Strings of lights were pinned up with duct tape. Plastic garland was tossed around podiums. Miniature multi-colored trees were plopped in random places across the stage and plugged in with long extension cords that snaked to available outlets. And large pink flamingos stood guard like stand-ins for the life-sized nutcrackers that never quite made it for Showtime.

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It was award worthy.

For a frat house.

And yet, strangely, this was part of the charm.

They walked in like tuxedo draped monks, holding candles and chanting O Come O Come Emmanuel, and filled the darkened hall with an incantation that transferred goose bumps from one arm rest to the next.

What also seemed to be contagious was the persisting, remarkable coughing that rippled through the crowd. With each new piece, another audience member began clearing their throat, hacking through a tickle, and then hawking up something demonic. At one point I began to wonder if the entire hall was coming down with croup.

I thought that perhaps at intermission I should dash out to the nearest drug store, buy a few bags of cough suppressants and hand them out as folks filed back in. The war cry of windpipes continued.

But the boys sang on.

Directed by a man who was world weary himself, whose lines to the audience were as deeply ingrained as a piece of old driftwood, and who struggled to recall the names of the soloists, simply relying upon a finger to point them out among a sea of youthful faces, the boys did their best to follow the slushy command of their leader.

At any given moment, something was always falling, burning out, or beginning to smolder and spark. Not one singer’s head turned, no one dashed out to catch the collapsed trimming, and the new sound of a tittering crowd accompanied the carols, canticles and chorus.

But the boys sang on.

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Angelic and earnest, exhausted yet joyful, those young chaps persevered, delighted to share and be part of the university’s 74 years of bestowing song to those who were hungering to hear it. Clearly their intent was to lay their acoustic offering at the foot of the stage, gift wrapped in a bright and festive bow.

They finished their celebrated recital as they had begun it; candles in hand, they drifted out single file, ignoring the buckled adornments and the coughing crowd, and on toward a long night of study. With the last haunting notes of the Dona Nobis Pacem round disappearing behind the stage, the audience sat still for the first time in two hours, holding on to the precious musical moments as they lazily slithered away.

But thankfully, the boys sang on.

~Shelley

PS. Rob and I would like to wish everyone the very happiest of holidays! Next week, all will be silent and dark, as Rob’s hands will be filled with grog and nog, and I’ll likely be buried beneath four months’ worth of laundry that came home from “someone’s” dormitory. We’ll be back the first week in January with a very SPECIAL EDITION of Peak Perspective and look forward to seeing all of you upon our return. Happy New Year, Peakers!

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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Unfettered freedom; America’s elbow room.

Tis the week we Americans begin getting a sprightly gleam in our eyes. It could be suggestive of our massive appreciation and gratitude toward our forefathers—the ones who gave their lives for our liberties. Or it may simply be a reflection of all the illegal fireworks we’re setting off in preparation for the big day: the one where we’re supposed to be showing massive appreciation and gratitude toward our forefathers, but end up losing focus due to the overabundance of burgers, beer and bad behavior.

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Therefore, this year I am determined to explore the theme of freedom before my brain becomes befuddled.

Summertime is a season where typically we are encouraged by the onslaught of complimentary commercials to enjoy the hot, sunny days and wear the attitude of one who is footloose and fancy-free. And I think that works brilliantly if you have a trust fund and are allowed free rein with someone else’s credit cards. Sadly, this is not the case for most of us.

If you are a regular Joe, with a “regular Joe” debt, any day that you are offered a free lunch, or a free ride, or heck, even a Freemason, you’ll likely feel some appreciation—especially if  you’re hoping to understand anything Dan Brown has written.

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So although we attempt to conjure up a free spirit on our off hours and break free from the hectic work week mentality, it can be challenging to toss off the shackles that bind us and view our good fortune.

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I’m trying to encourage this holiday of independence to become as meaningful as I can possibly make it. One needs only read the headlines or hear the top of the hour news to gain crisp perspective on how fortunate many of us are—irrelevant to the number of dollars, pounds or shekels we have in our respective bank accounts. A good number of us are granted the license of self-government—to an extent. Wear what you want to wear, say what you want to say, love whom you want to love. These are prime examples in our culture of where we are encouraged to think and act freely. And folks make an impressive practice of it.

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Unfortunately, not many follow through with an all important end clause: think and act freely, and then pick up all the garbage that may have been the result of your thinking and acting freely. That’s the hard part. Because as I see it, sometimes the privileges we’ve come to bank on crumble, and from then on it’s a slow, tortuous game of pass the buck in search of a clean-up crew. You can ascribe these words to politics, to education, and even to something as trivial as whomever chose the “meh” food, horrific service, and over-priced restaurant you all dined at last night.

As I sit in wonder this week, hearing the pop and crack of homemade bottle rockets, cherry bombs and Roman candles, and as I gaze with awe watching the professionals set off specialty fireworks–particularly, certain explosions that leave me wondering how anyone was able to make a massive Bundt cake appear in the sky, I want to evoke my many definitions of the concept of independence.

Self-reliance falls under that umbrella. Realizing that yes, maybe for much of your life someone else is in the driver’s seat, but understanding that at any point you are allowed to ask your chauffeur to pull over and let you drive, let you out, or let you toss your cookies on the side of the road before you continue on. And all free from guilt. You are more than capable of deciding your own compass heading.

Self-determination is another idea I gravitate toward, as well as the easily linked word autonomy. The world is full of people with ideas. Some are masterful and well-thought out, some are sparked ‘in the moment’ by inspiration, and some are bound together within the pages of The Darwin Awards—a wonderful series of books that salute the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who accidentally remove themselves from it.

My point is, is that it takes courage to strike out. It takes confidence and pluck and a bold arrogance that you are right. And sometimes, all it takes is an excess of liquor.

If there is one thing in particular that I will focus on during the celebration of this country’s independence, it will be bravery. Robert Anthony is quoted as saying, “The opposite of bravery is not cowardice but conformity.” It’s clear that history is rife with examples of those who chose to liberate themselves from an incompatible life. They faced a daunting task. And it took grit.

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Freedom is not free. It comes with a price. And I believe that the higher the price you pay for something the dearer it becomes to you.

This is not a free ride, it is not a free-for-all, and we are certainly not home free. There are people who need our strength, children who need our voices, and causes that need our leadership.

Stand up and fight. Like those before you.

I want to see you be brave.

~Shelley

(And for your viewing and listening pleasure, watch this vid and get motivated!)

June 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. Click on June 30th to see the cartoons in competition and to cast your vote.

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

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Real rabbit rotten luck

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

Be kind. (check)

Be clean. (check)

Be prepared. (double check)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One hundred strokes—and hurry!

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

There was a talking animal at my front door!

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

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

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

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

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To this day I suffer.

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

To this day I seek revenge.

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

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

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

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

Jellybean, anybody?

~Shelley

 

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

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Waist management: detest detox

I am having one of those days.

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

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

Stuffed.

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

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

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

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

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Maybe if it’s coated in peppermint bark first.

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

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

Unless it’s coated in peppermint bark.

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

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

Stress needs to be cushioned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pass me the peppermint bark.

~Shelley

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

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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.

All alone on Christmas Eve …

For as far back as I can remember, Christmas Eve—not Christmas Day–was the most revered twenty-four hours in our house.

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I was never sure if it was just our family who did this or if it was a world-wide experience. I spent little time thinking it over as I was much too busy growing limbs and forming consonant/vowel combinations to really pay attention. Then it was too late and it was simply taken for granted.

I could also never understand why no one in my elementary school got unduly excited over December 5th rolling around each year, and could not comprehend why this day was not discussed on the playground, at the lunchroom table and across the chalkboard.

Then I eventually figured it out.

We were Polish.

Now before you all get your knickers in a twist over this statement, let me explain. I don’t mean, ‘We were Polish’ in the sense of the phrase where people poke fun at one ethnicity for lack of intelligence in comparison to theirs. I mean it in the sense that everyone else I went to school with was German, Scandinavian or Lutheran.

Okay, and to be honest, yes, the first sense of the phrase also applied, but that was strictly an explanation offered up by my science teacher who simply hated that in the three years time he taught me, he never got the hang of pronouncing my last name and blamed his chunky tongue on my ancestor’s abhorrence for brevity.

Regardless, even though I grew up in a community in Northern Wisconsin where multitudes of Poles had settled their weary bones, bought land and then found out seconds after the ink had dried on the bank loan that the summer season lasted about seven days on any generous year, none of them went to my school. And hardly anyone was Catholic except a handful of ‘on death’s door’ elderly folk. All the cool Catholic Polish kids lived in the next town over.

And if you look at all the adjectives in that sentence, you’ll realize just how closeted I really was from the rest of the world.

Basically, this all meant that none of my friends or classmates hung up their stockings on the eve of December 5th in order to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day, and none of them had their big family dinner, opened presents and went to midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

I remember the day in fourth grade when I brought in my long, stretched out knee sock, plum full of nuts, fruits, chocolates and Christmas sweets to compare what St. Nick brought me with what he brought my friends, only to be greeted with the look on those friends’ faces that, when lined up, collectively spelled out the word OUTCAST.

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From then on, it was something I felt our family did clandestinely, like a shameful secret, and as if at any moment someone might pound on the door at night and shine a flashlight on the saggy, pendulous hose hanging close to the wood stove, rousing us out of our beds and demanding to see our holiday papers.

Christmas Eve was another matter though. Waking up that day was something that occurred because of smells rather than sounds. When I think of the meticulous preparations my mother launched into at the crack of dawn in order to create the evening’s spread, I can only liken them to the monumental effort it requires each year to coordinate the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Or a full length reenactment of the American Civil War. Somewhere around the first of February she had to begin the entire cycle of rudimentary groundwork all over again.

While my mother labored in the kitchen, the rest of us scattered to all corners of the house, sealed ourselves behind closed doors and began the arduous but giddy process of wrapping our Christmas gifts to one another, only coming out to either peek beneath the lid of a pot or beg someone to part with their roll of Scotch tape.

Somewhere around sunset we were ordered to dress for dinner and then mass—something festive and church appropriate. Clothing that was too celebratory or battery operated was often shunned by our elders. Apparently, seeing a bright red glow bleed through your parka and hearing Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer accidentally spring on loudly from your novelty jewelry can mess with a few pacemakers.

Dinner was white. White tablecloth, white candles, white food–all except for that hidden almond in the rice pudding, which if discovered in your portion announced to the rest of the family that you’d be the next to wed. After a few years truly paying attention to this soothsaying recipe, and seeing that year after year none of my three siblings were married off or even promised to another family in exchange for a few animal skins to combat winter, I stopped believing. It’s a crushing blow when at the fragile age of nine you find you’ve wasted an entire year waiting for one of your classmates to get down on bended knee and there were no takers.

Following dinner—and a world record for speediest cleanup crews—we all sat down in the living room and exchanged gifts.

Yes, on Christmas Eve.

I didn’t realize this was weird until my own children boycotted the event in favor of doing it “the regular way like the rest of the world.”

But come to find out, there are a slew of others like us out there. I think at some point we were told we did the whole gift giving bit on Christmas Eve because we were imitating the three wise men and their generosity. For a long time I’d thought it was that we were so close to the North Pole we were basically the first stopover.

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After all the ribbons and wrapping were cleared enough to make a path, we bundled up and headed out for the grand finale: candlelight midnight mass.

As a kid, I’d always wondered what it would feel like to show up like 99% of the congregation–shuffling in a few minutes before mass, locating a seat and then finding myself enveloped in the soft glow of all the flickering flames and the concert of glorious music. It never happened. Our family was the concert of glorious music, although I usually didn’t think it too terribly glorious at the time. My mother was the choir director and myself and my three siblings were the church’s orchestra–not to mention half her choir. We were also a blight on her backside as we did our best to unionize and complain about the conditions we were expected to play and sing in.

But that’s another story for next year.

Suffice it to say, the ride back home after the food, the gifts, the candlelight and music, on snow-filled streets with a starry black night, was a heavenly experience I could not wait to repeat.

Polish or peculiar, it was perfect.

~Shelley

PS As a tiny gift to my favorite Grinch whose heart needed boosting, I leave you with a goodnight lullaby. I wish you all peaceful, somnolent, silent nights. (And an extra holiday hug to my children for playing the violin, mixing and mastering the music.)

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.

Holiday Shopping: a series of moments between meals.

I hate shopping.

There. I said it. And yes, I heard the collective gasp coming from a hefty portion of readers, who I believe (and this is strictly based on the pitch of each gasp) were largely female.

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I don’t like browsing for things I don’t need, but would love to have. It’s torture. It’s also a little like watching the cooking channel with an empty fridge.

I don’t like trying on clothing. Because who doesn’t need therapy and a support group after five minutes in a fluorescent-lit, warp-mirrored, foul-floored changing room?

And I don’t like having to leave my swivel chair, hairy hound and Everlasting Gobstopper cup of tea in order to wrestle with the rest of the world just for a parking spot. It’s times like these when I wish I had an old armored bank truck—you know, the kind that pull right up to the front door of any shop because they’re collecting bags full of cash from the overflowing tills, and everybody outside makes a wide berth of the truck so no one suspects them of foul play.

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Yeah, that could work.

Going shopping also means I have to change out of my yoga pants. Okay, that one doesn’t really apply, but it means I have to put on nicer yoga pants. And I’m trying to keep those for a special occasion. Like when I finally have to answer the doorbell.

HOWEVER, I do make one exception to my normally Grinch-esque disposition on retail therapy.

I give in for one day.

I dress up (as long as the definition of “dressing up” means spraying on perfume),

I get it my car (fingers crossed next year it’s an armored bank truck),

and I grab a fistful of colorful coupons I’ll likely not use (save the ones with the word chocolate in them) because once I enter into the world of Muzak-droning department stores, I lose all functioning memory. So many pretty sparkly things …

Some of you may be familiar with this one day of giving in to ‘mall madness.’ It’s known to many of us as Black Friday.

Where I grew up, it was simply known as the day when deer hunting season opened and 3/4ths of the town was in the woods and the remainder just met up at the mall for a cup of coffee.

But after many years, I’ve hung up my camo pants (just kidding, I still wear them) and have happily joined the throngs of others who have opened the door a few days early to the month of December. Here, at the massive galleria of glitz and gold, we bask in the twinkling lights, hear Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby harmonize with sleigh bells, and ride on the outdoor mall’s miniature kiddie train only because my feet are aching and it conveniently swings by the lot where I’ve parked my car and need to dump off a few heavy already purchased parcels halfway through the day. (Everyone does this, right?)

I’ve spent this day with my mom for a bucketload of years. And we have a set schedule that CANNOT BE VARIED.

We’re kinda traditional. Or set in our ways. Or totally uninventive.

It doesn’t matter because it works for us and we want to relive the experience each year thereafter. Although with each successive year, I have to fight harder to get a spot on that kiddie train. Last year, after I tried to wrestle a seat away from a seven-year old, she essentially flipped me the bird when I told her Santa was watching. Okay, that’s not exactly true. She was actually doing sign language, but it was close enough to a rude gesture that after telling the conductor about this child’s reprehensible behavior, he booted her off the train. Whew.

In truth, the day begins at Starbucks. And I’m fairly happy to spend it and end it there if I had my druthers, because once I’ve had one of their magical mind-blowing concoctions, I desperately want to try them all. It’s a good thing I only cross their threshold once a year. Likely I’d have to remortgage the house if I made it a daily habit. Some folks probably already have. I don’t blame them.

Next we jump to the calendar store. And this is where we stay for the next three hours. I really only need to buy myself next year’s calendar for the kitchen wall, but somehow along the way, I made the decision that I am now in charge of buying everyone’s calendar for the upcoming year. From the postman—who will “Love this!” because there’s a mailbox on the photo in the month of August, to the exterminator—whom I won’t see until March because he already came for the winter quarterly bug defestation, I cannot leave that store without picking out a calendar for nearly all the people in my village. I even found one for the woman who used to do the sheep’s weekly acupuncture sessions. I know, ridiculous, right? You’d think there’d be a huge section for animal acupuncturists, but no, only one wall.

Now it’s lunchtime. We eat at a fabulous American chain restaurant called The Cheesecake Factory. Just walking in and smelling what the factory is pumping out on its conveyor belt brings on the need to unbutton your pants to make room for the five pounds you’ve simply inhaled.

An inordinate amount of time is spent discussing what we should not eat because we’re busy saving room for dinner, which comes in about two hours. I remind myself that I’ll work it all off by walking around afterward, and then see the kiddie train chug by the restaurant window.

Following lunch, we pop into a furniture store so that we can sit in a few dozen armchairs we could never afford. Then we stretch out on the three or four sample beds made up with animals skins and furs and generally everything one would need to keep warm if living inside an igloo. It all helps with digestion.

After this, we’re feeling a little sluggish, so we make our way to the world’s greatest cooking emporium and spend time holding spatulas that will transform our future meals. We drool over table settings that one would expect to see on a buffet board laid out by God if there was anyone he was trying to impress. There are also a slew of edible samples that come from the store’s line of We’ll make you look like a pro. Just buy the box and add water. And don’t forget the spatula. We then browse through cookbooks in order to stimulate our appetites for dinner, which is a mere minute or two away.

And at last, we’re ready for the main event: Maggiano’s, the big family Italian restaurant whose menu theme is We hope you’re wearing your fat pants.

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God, I love yoga wear.

We are seated in a huge enveloping leather booth. We are surrounded by garland and greenery and silver lights. We hear every song that Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Tony Bennett ever recorded. We eat piles of pasta with cheese and cream and butter and that piece of parsley garnish because we need to be able to say we had some sort of vegetable. And then it’s time for a slice of their chocolate cake. I think they call it, Yeah, you wish you could make this. I don’t mind the slam. I bought the spatula in the last store, so I’m ready for the challenge.

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On the way home, we pull out the one thing we purchased besides half the calendar store, the spatula and four days worth of food squished into two meals: we put on the season’s first holiday album. Someone sings to us of faraway family, mistletoe and food. We sing along in the glow of the dashboard lights, nostalgic and doped up on carbs.

I get home and squirrel away my parcels, but pull out my new kitchen calendar. I put a big red circle around the day after Thanksgiving.

I can’t wait to go shopping.

~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.

The Din of December

There is something magical about the word December.

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And I think it’s more than the tingles I get from simply saying the word—a word that envelops me with a warmth containing decades of memories, all twinkling and glittered. I think it’s the hearing of all things December related.

December has a sound all its own.

For me, and where I live on this world, it’s the sound of swirling snowflakes, cotton soft and cushioning. It’s a muffling of the natural world, a bright white quilt under a blue-white moon.

It’s the sound of wind chimes chinkling, nudged by invisible fingers of a frost-laden wind.

It’s the whistle of winter’s breath as it races down the chimney shafts and rushes through the empty halls, a purring, fluid melody, so measured and hypnotic. Suddenly, it inhales and pulls all open doorways shut with slaps of sound that startle, breaking soothing silence.

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I hear the somber trees, brooding and contemplative. Rhythmic and slow, their drinking of the earth and drawing in the air allow them time for mindful reflection, and their meticulous planning of a spring that slowly creeps closer day by day.

And when that cycle is no more, I listen for the pop of seasoned wood, ensconced in flames and smoke. The tiny hiss from flickering tongues is the language of heat, a faint articulation of a promise against the bleak and bitter chill.

I warm at the thrum of mellifluous song, the trilling of carols, the honeyed blend of bright, buoyant voices. Whether it be the refrains of jubilant noise thrust toward the heavens of a brilliant starry night, or one single, hallowed melody, hummed quietly and kept in check, music seeps out into the air, whimsical, innocent and heady.

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This month is filled with the sounds of gratitude: the contented sighs slipping from souls who witness December’s darkness replaced with tiny, twinkling lights, the bright-eyed, gleeful shrieks from innocent mouths who point at storied characters come to implausible and colorful life, and the cheerful hail of reception that fills front halls, front porches and the faces of those behind front desks.

It is abundant with the thanks for a warm cup of tea, a filling cup of soup, a coat, some shoes, a toy, a bed.

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It is filled with a million wishes on the same bright stars, overflowing with countless dreams whispered deep beneath the covers, scratched in a letter to Santa, chanted in prayer over candlelight.

I hear the sound of sharp blades on ice, waxed sleds on snow, snowballs on parkas.

There is the noise of muffled feet on carpeted risers, the hum of a pitch pipe, a sharp intake of breath, and the strains of melody and harmony and dissonance braided throughout the next many minutes that make the hair across your arms quiver above goose flesh even though you are in an overheated room, squished into an undersized chair.

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Throughout the month there is the crunch of dry leaves, the cracking of gunshots and the grunt of effort when dragging home that which will fill the freezer. I hear the soothsaying of snow, the delightful patter of euphoric feet, and the collective groan from a city full of scraping shovels.

The sounds of December are those of rustling coats and the stomping of boots, the rubbing of hands against the numbing, wintery sting. They are the hushed prayers of voices in holy vigil, the retelling of sacred stories to fresh ears and hungry souls.

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The sounds I hear are those of glasses, clinking all in toasts. They are the wishes of warmth and the hope of fellowship, the thirst for triumph and the promise of change.

But most of all, I hear the plaintive yearning of my heart, voicing the wish that December won’t end, that January won’t come and that time will stand still.

December is a month of sounds that sounds so good to me.

~Shelley

Lastly, I leave you with a small gift from me to you. I sing Norah Jones’ song ‘December.’ A tune I feel is my holiday hug to the world.

(And a huge hug of thanks to my wonderfully gifted son for mixing and production.)

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

Out of touch

Panic has set in at my house.

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

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

And … on a holiday weekend.

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

No, not alrighty.

Not alrighty at all.

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

No juice, no point in going on.

Find cliff. Leap off.

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

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

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

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

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No joy.

Perhaps I’ve done it incorrectly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He does not.

He issues “a ticket for service.”

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

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

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

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

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

They stare at me blankly, eyes wide and unregistering.

The phone rings. THE LANDLINE PHONE!

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

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

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

Ah, memories.

~Shelley

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

 

Brass bands, the backwoods and bugle boys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lakesermon (800x568)

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

More important than fishing, pie or pickles.

This was freedom.

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

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

~Shelley

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

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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.

Spraysay (800x612)

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.

Learning your anatomy; it’s heart work.

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

February fluff is everywhere.

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

I’ve even come across chocolate flavored chocolate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Daddy, my tummy hurts.”

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

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

That just wasn’t my bailiwick.

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

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

Baby's Blue Eyes

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

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

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

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

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

Puppy Love

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

Huh.

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

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

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

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

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

Laugh with the poetry.

Smell the roses.

Sparkle with trinkets.

Just make a wide berth of the chocolate flavored chocolate.

~Shelley

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

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)!

‘Twas the night Santa ditched us.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with Earl

by Shelley Sackier (and a little help from Mr. Moore)

English: Thomas Nast's most famous drawing, &q...

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and throughout our old post
Not a creature was stirring, ‘cept our dead plumber ghost.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
To hide the big crack in the masonry there.

The children were splayed on the couch, all serene,
While visions of Family Guy flickered on screen.
And Sir Sackier on his phone, and I on my Mac,
Still slogged on with work that would keep bills paid back.

When out on the lawn there arose such a noise,
I sprang up to shout at some loud redneck boys.
Away to the window, full of anger I flew,
And stared down the barrel of my 22.

A classic Western depiction of Santa Claus.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
proved Earl and his snowplow were now a “no show.”
When what should I see like a cast of buffoons,
But our Earl on a sled pulled by seven old coons.

With a burly old driver, so mean for no reason,
I saw in a flash Earl’s new work for the season.    More rapid than eagles his complaints rumbled out,
While he pointed an old grizzled finger to shout.

“Now Bubba! Now, Merle! Now, Otis and Wyatt!
On, Buford! On, Farley! And Vernon be quiet!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now git goin’! Git goin’! Dammit y’all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
My thoughts flew about asking, “Santa Claus, why?”
So up to the front door the hound dogs they slogged,
With the sled full of moonshine and old Earl in a fog.

1914 Santa Claus in japan

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the stoop,
The grunting and griping of the grumpy old poop.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Through the front door the old codger came round.

He was dressed all in flannel and coon hunting gear,
And his clothes still held bits of skinning some deer.
A bundle of bottles he had flung on his back,
And he glanced all around for a lawman attack.

His eyes were all wrinkled, his face worn and weathered,
His hands were quite scared and his skin rough and leathered.

January 3, 1863 cover of Harper's Weekly, one ...

January 3, 1863 cover of Harper’s Weekly, one of the first depictions of Santa Claus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His crooked lips snarled, never smiled like a winner,
And the beard of his chin showed canned hash for his dinner.

Some spit on my polished old floor he did spew,
Reminding me Earl had a mouthful of chew.
He had a broad face that was washed clean of dirt,
But a nose that he wiped on the sleeve of his shirt.

He was chubby and plump, a curmudgeonly churl,
Who never said, “Hi”; his lips wouldn’t curl.
A grunt from his girth and a scratch on his bum
Made me ask why it was Santa gave us the thumb.

He spoke not a word, but grumbled with work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And shuffling past me, he dragged down the hall
The rest of the moonshine toward his next port of call.

A&P, COFFEE, SANTA CLAUS

He slumped in his sled, to his team gave a holler,
And away the dogs pulled, straining hard at the collar.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“I’m raising my fee for each plow, now good-night!”

~HAPPY HOLIDAYS~

~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)!

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)!

Planes, trains and Oh my god, I left the stove on.

The holidays of November and December usually bring an overwhelming amount of excitement with their fast-paced, fun-filled, family-crammed events.

Mural in Brown Palace Hotel

Mural in Brown Palace Hotel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They also bring an eventual headache that accompanies the ample opportunities for overeating, over drinking and over my dead body arguments.

The least fun out of all the “I’ve Had My Fill” holiday experiences is one that creates such tension in the neck and shoulders, it alone keeps massage therapists flush with cash through somewhere around mid-March. (That’s usually when the last lingering relatives decide to head home and check on the cat.)

Coming in at the number one spot would have to be:

TRAVEL

Do I hear an amen?

Most of us would prefer to apparate a la Harry Potter or be zapped by Willy Wonka’s Wonkavision rather than spend hours, if not days, in our cars, at the train station, or in the airport, where it seems the deck is always stacked against us.

–        Got to the airport on time for once? Doesn’t matter. Your flight will be delayed because the pilot is required to take a 15 minute nap in between two 24 hour shifts. Pansy.

–        Got the kids out of school three days early, packed up the car for the nine hour drive to Granny’s and pulled out of the driveway in the middle of the night to beat the traffic? Tough luck. So did everyone else. You’ll still get there in time, but now you’ll have a few extra days to make new friends on some jam-packed, horn-crazed highway where you’ll continue to bump into one another at the same rest stops and petrol stations.

English: Leavitt's Farmer's Alamanac, 1875, by...

–        Read the farmer’s almanac and decided this was the big drought year with no snow in sight that would finally make it possible for you to make that trip to the Big Apple to see Cats like you’ve been promising your wife for the last two decades? Uh oh. Don’t you remember when the economy tanked and you decided to pare down to the bare essentials, so you canceled all magazine subscriptions? Yep. You read last year’s, which no one bothered to throw away. This year’s almanac had a major spread telling us all how we should have listened to Al Gore. You’re headed toward Superstorm I Told You So.

If there’s one thing I’ve found harder than travel, I’d have to admit it’s the step that comes before it. That would be the one where you’re forced to decide what to bring with you.

Apparently, I cannot travel via Global Van Lines. I’ve been told the furniture must stay put.

Footwear is a nightmare for women. Sure, you may only be planning a casual sightseeing trip or family get together, but it’s likely you’ll need your sprinting shoes for the airport when you transfer from one plane at gate 3A to your connection in the next zip code.

Don’t forget evening shoes. Maître d’s have perfected the up/down glance, followed by a withering glare, if you walk in wearing a party frock and Nike Air Jordans.

I look at my closet and shrink at the task of finding three articles of clothing that can be combined to make thirteen different outfits. I’d be hard-pressed to come up with thirteen different outfits if I were standing in the middle of the Mall of America.

Barn

The real problem is that I only have two sets of wearable options: barn clothes and yoga clothes. And although the sheep could give a flying fig about what I come in wearing–as long as they can suck on it or rub up against it–the folks in my hatha class are looking for some Zen in their day. That requires some deep breathing. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this one. Eau de livestock makes it tricky.

Jewelry is foreign territory as well. I’ve got lots of it, but I never wear it at home. I guilt myself into thinking these special away days are precisely for ‘gettin’ gussied up,’ take it all with me and promptly forget what that heavy velvet miniature treasure chest at the bottom of my suitcase is holding.

It could be the three gallons of perfume I bubble wrapped and boxed. When one is used to getting sideways glances with the telltale sign of an accompanying twitchy nose, one begins to get paranoid. Especially when one usually smells like the remnants of a mucked out sheep stall or the inside of a gym bag. Therefore, I overcompensate.

Sans enfants and before I was married, I would be flabbergasted to discover an aspirin at the bottom of my purse. Now, of course, I must play the role of walking pharmacy. Sir Sackier will likely develop signs for the Ebola virus on an airplane, my daughter will get bitten by a new species of mosquito and blow up like a Macy’s Day Parade balloon float, my son will come down with Alien hand syndrome and I will be the only person in Mexico to become constipated.

Mexican pharmacies do not carry Ex-Lax. 

Keep 'regular'

Keep ‘regular’ (Photo credit: Christian Yates)

Mexican pharmacists advised me, “beber un poco de agua.” I now carry a vial of it slung around my neck like holy water.

Traveling is tricky. Deciding where to go, choosing what to take and forgiving fellow travelers for bringing more bags than brains with them on their journeys requires some devotion and pliability.

Deciding that next year you’ll host … requires only an effective dose of Prozac.

~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)!

Family Ties That Tug

Palace of Westminster.

Palace of Westminster. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I will be in London for Thanksgiving this year.

For me, it’s the second worst day of the year to be in London. The first, of course, is the Fourth of July. Sir Sackier made a practice of “accidentally” arranging family summer holidays so we’d be out of the country during America’s annual celebration of freedom from the British. We’d usually find ourselves ensconced within the warren of London’s streets, dazed from playing Follow the Leader where The Leader regularly forgot he had a family of three—jet-lagged and cranky—pulling up the rear.

One can’t expect the British to be all, “U-rah-rah!” over helping traveling Americans celebrate a page in the history books they might want to tear out and use as fire starter. Perhaps it’s the equivalent of picking at a scab. To Sir Sackier, it remains an open, festering wound.

550d - London - Churchill at Big Ben London

550d – London – Churchill at Big Ben London (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

To compensate, three quarters of the family were often found slumping against one another in cavernous museums, led by our own family monarch as he enlightened our weak-muscled minds about the hundreds of years of British invention and innovation. Surprisingly, there are quite a few dark corners in Churchill’s bunker where one can catch a quick kip.

Regardless, there’s an ever-increasing number of American expats living in the land of palaces and prisons. And because many of my countrymen have found it near impossible to be more than fifty feet from the big-boothed safe haven of chain restaurants, and because eateries find catering to the appetite of their diners a no-brainer in helping to pay their electric bills, locating an establishment willing to rustle up some Turkey Day grub is easier than imagined.

Whether they go for a dressed down sort of experience and order a McGobble-Gobble, or they get all gussied up and search out a big bird with all the trimmings, Americans are offered plenty of places willing to pull together the makings for a slice of comfort pie.

But it won’t be the same.

Line art drawing of Pteranodon.

Instead of man-handling a thirty-two pound turkey/pterodactyl into a Kmart kiddie swimming pool for a 24 hour soak in our own version of the Dead Sea, a tradition I’ve always cherished doing with my mom the night before, I will lie awake in bed knowing she’ll probably have chucked a three pound turkey breast into a salt-filled ziplock bag and tossed it to the back of the fridge. Likely she’ll still make a good dent in the fifth of scotch we would use to reward ourselves for slowly moving the bird from the back of the car and onto the back porch without breaking a wing or a leg or a sweat.

Instead of waking in the morning to find my parents in my kitchen, freshly scrubbed, aprons on, knives sharpened, coffee made and ready to discover just how many things I forgot to purchase at the grocery store and will need to send Sir Sackier back out for, I will sit quietly at a table with a cup of English Breakfast and nod consolingly toward the opposite end of the table where my husband grows increasingly shocked at the price of petrol, the loss of traditional values and how the American debt crisis could be solved if one English footballer simply donated three or four week’s pay.

Pie-Making - transferring the dough

Pie-Making – transferring the dough (Photo credit: CaptPiper)

Instead of kneading, rolling and crimping seven pie crusts using seven unique “no fail” recipes with the hope that at least two of them will “no fail,” I will contemplate the possibility that my mother will have decided to forgo pie altogether and simply give everyone their own pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a spoon in place of all the fuss.

Rather than hiding the salt from my mother just before she makes the gravy—who by late afternoon has lost all taste receptors that report salinity on her tongue due to her third jug of scalding coffee (okay, and maybe the cask strength single malt scotch, capable of scraping the tartar off of anyone’s teeth)–I will disembark from the bowels of an underground, blink back at the bright light of day, and scan across hundreds of heads rushing in and out of the Waterloo tube station, wondering which direction Sir Sackier dashed off toward.

Schlitz

Schlitz (Photo credit: fixedgear)

Instead of collapsing into a chair once we’ve finally gotten all the food to the dining room table and nearly allowing my head to slump forward to land in a pool of mashed potatoes larger than a pig trough full of slops, I will sit staring off into space in the back of a black cab wondering if my dad will have opened up a beautiful bottle of Beaujolais to compliment his can of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce or simply pulled back the tab on a can of Schlitz.

In place of gathering around the same table hours later after a post poultry nap to play Balderdash while we take turns shooing the dog out from under the table because of the nasally corrosive fumes he’s emitting, I will slip into a bed belonging to a crisply run British hotel and lie beneath covers so sharply starched I would not be surprised to find out they’d simply bleached off the words from last night’s Evening Standard.

Scène de l'Ordre de Bon Temps, Acadie (1606). ...

So although I won’t physically be in America for Thanksgiving this year, I’ll still be there.

But it won’t be the same.

~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)!

Bubba, Bass & BBQ

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

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

The Lake House.

The lake house is where my folks live.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The "Confederate Flag", a rectangula...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunset white lake 2006

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

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

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

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

We love it.

We hate it.

The lake house.

~Shelley

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

 

The 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)!

 

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).

 

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).

 

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).