Lads & Lassies, Pipers & Poets

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

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

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

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

Scotish dirk

The whisky I love, but somewhere during the third hour of monotonic homemade poetry, I’m looking for anything I can surreptitiously light on fire so we can all leave the building. Consequently, I appreciate the whisky with more enthusiasm than I probably should. Of course, this is what everyone else is doing and why they believe they’re channeling Laurence Olivier.

A typical Burns Night, or Burns Supper, as it is both commonly known, used to be (and I’m sure remains in some stuffy circles) a “boys only” getup held on the anniversary of Rabbie’s birth (or in many cases the Saturday night closest to it, as no one is getting up for work when the sun rises next). Gathering that Burns himself likely preferred the company of women and wouldn’t have missed the chance to gaze upon the legs of a lovely lassie, a few welcome mats have been placed at the feet of the fairer sex. It seems to have spiced up the evening for many a current soirée and is gaining popularity, as more women begin to view whisky as something more pleasurable than a root canal.

The supper components make or break any Burns celebration. Sadly, I have attended too many events where I’ve found countless guests sleeping with their eyes open at the table, making frequent lavatory trips, or curled up in a fetal position in the cloak room, arms cradling a depleted Lagavulin bottle.

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

The guest list is key to success. Have a gathering of bashful introverts or pontifical windbags and your evening feels like watching the “next up for service” numbers at the DMV slowly tick by would be a treat. Be sure to invite a thespian or two and maybe throw in a fire eater or sword swallower in case the evening plummets.

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

homemade haggis, scotland food stock photo

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

The liquor is straightforward. Buy booze people will drink. Scotch is the typical liquid in hand, but feel free to branch out with any of the globe’s magnificent whiskies.

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

The Scottish Piper - Victorian print vector art illustration

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

My suggestions for you? Start small.

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

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

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

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

Slàinte!

~Shelley

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.

The Din of December

There is something magical about the word December.

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 patch of earth, it is 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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)

The Impossible Job of Thanking Your Barista

I’m sure you’re up to your earballs in leftover turkey right about now. That is, if you overestimated how much turkey only you and one other person plus your dog could wolf down in two days’ time. Or maybe you were like me and decided that come hell or high water, you were going to make five gallons of bone broth with that carcass, and needed all 14 pounds of the turkey you ordered last year—pre-Covid—when you found that super-duper farm that said they would raise the bird to your specifications.

For Pete’s sake, that farmer read Harry Potter to your poultry from the the end of June onward. And he played it Vivaldi before bedtime. And he regularly fed it a posh protein diet of sautéed shredded lizard sprinkled with dried grasshopper powder, delicately placed atop a bed of tender shaved young bulbs. On special occasions, old Tom got a soup pureed with snails, slugs, and worms, swirled with a small dusting of sand and gravel for grit to aid with his proper digestion.

Yeah, you really can’t go back on someone’s efforts like that.

So, a lot may have changed from last year’s big food festival, and this year’s attendance level might have been reduced to only those you regularly sneeze on and don’t apologize to. But the one thing that has remained a steady and dependable guest at all of our tables is the necessary presence of gratitude.

We are reminded of it everywhere. We may be feeling rather down in the dumps about not scarfing down half of Aunt Marge’s Rum Chiffon Pie this year, but all we need do is read the headlines to remind ourselves about how many Aunt Marge’s are no longer around to make such a treat.

It’s an effortless endeavor to see that we are not alone in our suffering or sadness, and there are countless others who may be experiencing greater loss than we are.

It reminds me a little bit of growing up in Wisconsin. One was not allowed to indulge in the wholly justifiable complaining about how cold one was. Because it was not a personal experience. Everyone was cold. Chin up. Shut up. Get up. And get on with it.

But back to the gratitude.

Typically, I am the type of person who nearly falls on my knees in appreciation for anyone who’s kind enough to even hold open a door for me, let alone ease some significant burden. And I’m annoyingly delighted to see every sunrise or sunset, every flower bloom, or bird in flight. I get an absolute thrill even hearing my dog belch as I’m confidently assured he loved the meal I prepared for him so much that he snarfed it down too quickly and ate a bucket of indigestible air.

Yeah, uber grateful person.

So, it came as a bit of a head-scratcher when I recently heard an interview with A.J. Jacobs, an author I adore, as he spoke about his latest book, Thanks a Thousand.

Knowing how seriously he plunged into his research when writing something new—like The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, where he took it upon himself to obey the divine suggestions to “Love thy neighbor,” “Be fruitful and multiply,” and of course, “Stone adulterers,” I had no doubt his newest book would be as intricately studied.

Mr. Jacobs takes the elemental concept of exploring how gratitude can enrich our lives and produce countless experiences where we are more thoughtful and grounded by using his morning cup of coffee as the chosen object of his determined efforts to thank everyone who was a part of making it materialize before him.

Seems rather effortless really, but in truth … it is impossible.

From the clerk who rang up your bag of beans, one can move to the roaster, the trucker, the airline, the packagers, the bean harvester, the farmer, the mechanic who fixed the tractor the farmer needed to use to plant the beans. The manufacturer of the tractor, the countless companies that created the parts for that manufacturer, the construction workers who built those plants, the people who made lunch for those construction workers. I think you get my point. The list is exhaustive.

Jacobs speaks to and visits miners and biologists, goatherds and smugglers, and that travel required trucks and airplanes, boats and motorcycles. He realizes the myriad materials that went into the making of that sip—the rubber, wood, steel, and bat guano. His assessment is that it required thousands of human beings collaborating across dozens of countries.

To make one cup of coffee.

In an era when we feel so disconnected from one another, A.J. Jacobs illuminates the miracle of human cooperation. Togetherness. Relationships. Synergy. Support.

It is not unlike the super-human efforts that have gone into the research and development of one of many vaccines our planet is desperately and impatiently waiting upon. We have discovered that it takes the whole world to help the whole world.

And as the world and all its many inhabitants do what they can to heal our planet and our people, let’s take a moment to realize just how connected we really, truly are and need to be.

This year we may be apart. But it is so that next year and for countless years following we can be together, closer than we’ve ever been before, because gratitude became the cream in our coffee.

~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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

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

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.