If You Can’t Take the Heat, Don’t Lie Beneath the Wood Stove

There are three introductory phrases I begin sentences with that truly define who I am:

The First—I can’t believe I have to repeat this, but …

The Second—If you truly want my opinion …

And the Third—When I was growing up in Wisconsin …

It’s the third, well-practiced utterance that we shall focus on today, as I feel this introductory remark is cemented in my daily speech and appears as often as the hourly Early Black Friday deals have been emerging in my mailboxes.

That said, when I was growing up in Wisconsin, it was an unremarkable experience to walk into anyone’s house—specifically in Northern Wisconsin where I was raised—and immediately feel the blast of a workhorse of a wood stove’s heat hit your face before the door slapped you in the ass.

This was rather welcoming, as most folks were more than happy to have something begin deicing their beard or eyebrows and eyelashes so they could again experience the pleasure and necessity of facial expressions.

Living for the last several years in a log cabin that is about as snug and as well-chinked as a pasta colander, I have finally decided to fork over several thousand dollars to a local dealer of what I’m certain is a large smelting furnace. I now join my childhood brethren in creating creosote worthy of the number of railroad ties needed to get from one end of the state to the other on an hourly basis.

I jest.

I hope.

As I do not venture into unfamiliar territory lightly, a great deal of research has gone into this decision. Yes, I may have grown up with an iron beast that tamed the North Pole snows that spewed down upon us for nearly nine months of the year, but I was merely a cog in the wheel of warmth creation, and not the true operator of the equipment.

My job, as was my three other siblings, was to chop, maul, haul, and stack. Four cords of wood were not going to magically emerge, wood stove ready, from the forests surrounding us. Hence, the true purpose for having a large family: woodworking.

And dishwashing.

Weeding rounded out the trifecta of those drudgeries, but again, as one can decipher from above, it was a small spot of three-month labor which, in truth, provided variety.

Having grown up in Wisconsin (yes, just another variety of the catchphrase from above), you get used to the cold very quickly. Note, I did not say agreeable to because bitter cold is a most lamentable backdrop to the everyday ordinary experiences of life, but one is quickly absolved of the notion that you are free to voice your complaints because, and to quote my dad, “It is not a personal experience.”

I forget, though, how temperate humans will not only note how frosty my home is in the winter but will not give a second thought to the unspoken but undeniably communicative action of refusing to take off their winter gear once entering the house.

Sitting around a table eating dinner with guests who remain clad in their parkas, hats, and mittens is discomfiting, to say the least. Hearing one of them whisper I think I can see my own breath was a sharp but inaccurate poke I was biting my tongue to address—firstly, because the house was currently at a balmy 64 degrees Fahrenheit, and secondly, because that temperature was a full 19 degrees above the true temperature for when one does actually see one’s breath.

Photo by Simon Berger on Pexels.com

I would know. As my Wisconsin childhood bedroom was the farthest away from the wood stove and, come morning, I could see my breath when first waking up. One could not blame the wood stove though, as it was attempting to fend off the typical 40 degree below winds whipping about outside.

First things first. After settling in with the pricey plan to purchase a humdinger of a heater, a few minor details needed to be addressed.

Where would it go?

Where would the things go that used to be there go?

Do I really need that out of tune grand piano any longer as I hardly ever play it, it’s in the way, and it IS made of wood?

Much shifting of furniture ensued.

Countless pictures flew through the ether for a woodstove salesman who refused to do a site visit.

Perilous ventures on to the rooftop followed to provide yet more pictures for a woodstove salesman who refused to do a site visit.

This was a familiar routine of mine until said woodstove salesman and I agreed we had at last found a suitable home for my forest eating friend.

Piano could stay … for now.

Next up, must find food—for the woodstove.

I called my local Paul Bunyan and inquired about pricing—after all, a looming factor pressing me to switch from electric to wood was the announcement from my local electric company that this year, because of price increases, we all may have to decide which days of the week we’d like to be warm, and which days we’d prefer to be fed.

Lord Lumberjack said, that because I shared the same namesake as his new bride, I’d get a special deal for his delivered logs—only twice as much as last year, but only because I was ordering twice as much.

Not much of a head scratching statement out here where I live, I assure you. In fact, rather standard.

Two cords of freshly hewn oak showed up on my driveway a few days later, and the days of fawning about with nothing to do and no sawdust in my hair came to an abrupt halt.

Norwegian roundhouses (this year’s being more of an oval house because of two cords) are standard in the Northwoods of my youth. Not so much the engineering aptitude required to make successful roundhouses, as this typically is accrued over one or two years where a great crumbling collapse will make you take pause in the whole worthiness of warmth, or life in general after you spent so much of it building a blunder to be.

But at last, site selected, money exchanged, wood stacked to perfection, it was now time to count the days until the crew arrived with my new climate controller.

But when I was growing up in Wisconsin, we never whistled before we were out of the woods.

Hence, next month: the install.

~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

This Too Shall Pass–Maybe Like a Kidney Stone

The moral of this story is that you should stop eating, and teeth are really just expensive chunks of enamel with an agenda of pure evil.

Or possibly it’s Go slowly.

Wait—no, it’s Research.

I don’t know. Maybe you can figure it out by the end. That all withstanding:

I love food.

Except when food doesn’t love me.

And except when food becomes a sharp and wicked thing that tries to eradicate pleasure, induces pain, and entertains eliminating the ability to draw breath altogether.

Every sip and each forkful begs the question Good? Bad? Russian Roulette?

I think my words are not hugely off the mark to a lot of people reading this essay, as most of us are likely aware of the relationship we have with sustenance. There are foods we are told to eat, many we’re warned to avoid, and some we’re scammed into giving over treasure troves of cold hard cash to with the promise that it is the answer to all that ails us and may even turn back time.

We scratch our heads in wonder at it all because the ground is always shifting. The data today is irrelevant tomorrow. The expert right now proves to be a charlatan in a week when we discover they’re funded by someone with a vested interest, or only attended half of medical school. The truth is ever evolving, and that evolutionary rotation is enough to make our heads spin and our stomachs swirl with nausea – which of course, requires some sort of comestible balm to repair it.

Recently, I made the switch from mostly vegetarian, to mostly vegan.

I did so for a variety of reasons; namely, I have a somewhat overzealous attraction (read addiction) to cheese (I believe this to be a spurious genetic mutation from being Wisconsin born), and because I want to eat less food that once had a face (or came from a source with a face). It’s complicated. And I think making that decision is a complex one for most people, as there is likely more than one reason to make these changes.

But the shift should not have gone as it did. The upgrade became problematic because of my all or nothing approach to life, and that “I can do it” attitude had me fall flat on my face and then kicked me in the butt to boot—er, maybe back (you’ll find out why in a sec).

As my life’s motto is CHANGE EQUALS DEATH, if I must make change, I do it swiftly, and wholly, and try to convince myself that I’ve always been in the boiling water—that there was no “dip in a toe and turn it up a notch bit by bit” type of scenario available. All or nothing.

Since I was in the middle of my second big bout with our planet’s plague, and couldn’t taste or smell a thing, I figured this was the perfect time to make that leap, as while food could not bring comfort, at least it might participate in restoring health.

I upped the ante on just how much kale and spinach, carrots and tofu I could muscle down my gullet. My meals were full of lentils and seeds, and broccoli and beans. Absent were all my friends from the dairy world—the melty, nutty, stinky cheeses, the shocking tang of sour cream, the soothing balm of silky gelatos. Bye-bye eggs. So long scrambles. Adieu my coddled, crepey, deviled friends.

I replaced them with versions that promised texture, that advertised congruence—we’re so alike you’ll never know! the packages of almond cheese or coconut yogurt, or cashew cream swore.

How would I know? I chewed, I swallowed, I sighed at the loss of sensory pleasure.

And the little pleasure I did possess was further lessoned because of the dastardly drilling from a wretched root canal. Make that TWO root canals. Masticate on one side, and don’t forget your meds!

Had I glanced across the landscape to view the turbulent churning clouds amassing, I may have given pause to question my participation in the rotation of said clusters.

Also, it would have been nice if someone told me about oxalate toxicity.

A weird little disorder I might not have ever uttered before had I continued on my merry veg and very lovely cheese routine, but apparently, I was untutored in the careful maneuvering many vegans must put into practice in order to retain renal health.

Mainly, make sure you have balance.

Many fruits and vegetables, nuts, and whole grains have high levels of oxalate acid within them—a naturally occurring compound within plants that use it to help protect themselves against predators—insects, grazing animals, and come to find out, vehement vegans. I think of it as seedling self-defense.

Humans are quite capable of eliminating the body of oxalates they ingest from their food, but these compounds are, in my mind, a little bit like having your errant 22-year-old son move back home and set up an apartment above your garage.

They contribute nothing, and they bleed you dry of essential elements.

They need something that will take them by the hand and lead them far away from that which houses your goods and assets—away from your bones, blood, muscles, and major necessary organs. They need a girlfriend. Let’s just call that girlfriend Calcium.

Calcium sees that your functionless freeloader is about to offer you the unreturnable gift of kidney stones. Not a particularly valuable set of gems, but I understand they’re still considered “collectibles.”

Sadly, I did not correctly appraise Calcium’s true value until it was too late, and she simply and casually gave me a shrug of, “He’s your problem now.”

Also, to ditch my allegory, it appears I set up my kidneys for a big one-two punch by utilizing the jumbo-sized container of Advil (as directed by my endodontist) to fist fight all the root canal carnage. It’s like I welcomed a battle with the bucket I was kicking. That offal feels awful if you pump it full of products that prove poisonous.

I just didn’t know.

Hours on the bathroom floor curled up in the fetal position, a costly trip to the clinic, a round of nausea-inducing antibiotics, and countless sympathetic conversations with nutritionists and vegan friends later I gleaned two things:

It might be time to donate to the National Kidney Foundation—maybe tip the karmic scale of good deeds in my favor.

And I do a piss-poor job of cleaning my bathroom floor—no pun intended.

Ultimately, kale and I have decided to go into therapy.

~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

Ask Me No Questions, I’ll Tell You I’m Out of a Job

Occasionally, as a writer and an educator, I get asked to speak about my books, do a reading, or hold a class.

Typically, I get asked questions during the end of those speaking sessions from the audience to whom I’m directing said speech.

Seldom are those questions worth sharing.

Except for the ones that make water squirt out your nose.

Below, a sampling, for your enjoyment, and as a reminder to me to always be prepared. I kid you not, I’ve been asked them all.

What sport would be the funniest to add a mandatory amount of alcohol to?

  • I’d say it’s a tie between toe wrestling and shin kicking.

What’s the weirdest smell you have ever smelled?

  • The inside of a teenaged-boy’s bedroom.

How many chickens would it take to kill an elephant?

  • The person who asked me this was definitely already three sheets to the wind.

What types of penises are typically found in Chinese three-penis liquor?

  • Unsurprisingly, I did not know the answer to this, also unsurprising, I will never research the answer.

How long can snakes survive in bottles of wine?

  • According to certain tabloids, snakes can survive the marinating in alcohol for about a year. According to anyone who knows anything about animals, it is believed that many tabloid writers are marinating in alcohol themselves when writing their drivel.

Are there real unicorn tears in Unicorn Tears Gin Liqueur?

  • Well, of course there are.

If whisky could no longer be called whisky—what would it be called?

  • It doesn’t really matter, but it would still be called “frequently.”

What would be the absolute worst name you could give a whisky?

  • Weapon of Mass Deception.

Do you think hobbits or elves would make better distillery workers?

  • Actually, yeast cells are the hardest distillery workers around, as long as they are kept warm and fed and not overcome by alcohol poisoning—which sadly happens to every single one of them.

If you could make one thing whisky-flavored, what would it be?

  • Kale. Maybe more people would find it palatable.

Do these stairs go up?

  • Today only.

What time is the midnight buffet?

  • *facepalm

If you could work anywhere, where would it be? (asked right in front of my employer)

  • “Ha ha ha, such a silly question. Where else could be better? So happy.”

Would you rather have no nose or no tongue?

  • This one resulted in simply giving security a nod and then the person was searched for a weapon.

If Cognac and whisky were having a punch-up, who do you think would win?

  • What biker bar did you just come from?

When does Oktoberfest start?

  • Seriously??

Does the U.S. Government still poison alcohol?

  • Thankfully, none of the manufacturers of alcohol that I personally am acquainted with have received any demands from the government to taint our products since the end of Prohibition, but hey, these are interesting times, right?

How many bottles of whisky are exported from Scotland every second?

  • 42

Is it true that Kentucky has more barrels of bourbon than people?

  •  yes

What about Scotland?

  • 4 casks for every citizen

Why did the NATO phonetic alphabet change the “W” position from William to Whiskey?

  • A handful of letters represented by names were booted from the original string, but maybe it was their PR department hoping to beef up their “cool” factor.

How many calories does a pour of whisky contain?

  • 65 – Fewer than a banana.

I really like educating people on whisky—or stairs, or how our current calendar system works. It’s all part of a profession that allows me to pass on countless bits of information that fall under the realm of science, engineering, and occasionally, alchemy.

But whether it’s a question of biology or bullpucky, there’s a curious mind behind it. And I will always do my best (okay, almost always) to satiate that inquisitiveness. And to leave you with a quote from Roald Dahl: A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.

~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 Historically Boozy Woozy Benefits of Hooch

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

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

And I have found one.

In fact, I have found ten.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Kill No Weevil

Last week, one of my cats did something weird.

That statement, in and of itself, is a little unusual, as this particular cat is always doing something weird—talks to lamp shades, tests the running water temperature from a faucet before agreeing to drink from it, and as she’s left-handed, she insists on ergonomic southpawed Fiskars, so for me to notice … well, I think you get my point.

This new particularly weird thing was her staring at a small crack in the wall. A puncture wound of sorts, straight through the plaster. And then the next day, she put both her paws on either side of that wound, standing meercat style, and began a new phase of the “what’s behind the wall” festival.

I sat there with her for a while one day. Heard nothing, smelled nothing, and I certainly didn’t get any of the creepy, hair-raising, goosebump inducing feelings she’s produced in me before when discovering that she’s likely communicating with someone who died in that general vicinity (I spent a fair amount of time this last year in an old cottage that once served as a hospital for a Civil War arsenal compound, and this cat—along with all the house cats—spent countless hours with wide-eyed expressions, howling at a stairwell.).  

This time was still just a mystery waiting to be solved.

But as of last night, my dog joined her in the wall staring competition. Now two furfaces were trying to convince me that I should take a sledgehammer to that plaster work just to see what has taken up residence there.

Again, I sat with them both as they studied the inner cladding of my laundry room, its blinding whitewash lacquer revealing nothing and instead simply generating the occasional cock of one of their heads. Alas, we must remember, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

I would have agreed without argument that both could hear something my ears were not privy to—the pattering of mouse feet, the fluttering of insect wings, the terrifying audio NASA has just released from a black hole at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster—if it weren’t for the fact that one of them was stone deaf.

But maybe there is scent as well as sound, as the deaf hound can certainly still identify from three rooms away the fact that I ate a piece of bacon twelve hours ago.

I’ve called the pest company I have a quarterly contract with, and they gave me the choice of a visit from someone on their varmint team or a technician within their paranormal investigations department, but either way, they’ll be dressed in a hazmat suit and would be spraying some sort of exorcistical holy water. I’m still deciding.

At one point, during one of the bewhiskered gatherings, I joined in. I sat on the floor, stared at the plaster puncture, and focused. Things grew a little blurry and I began to feel like I was searching and waiting for a Magic Eye image to appear—some 3D illusion requiring patience and perhaps a lost instruction booklet to successfully view.

Image credit: Sally Flicker

Then I closed my eyes and simply focused on sound. The hound is barrel-chested; therefore, his breath is so audible, one can nearly hear all the pleural friction taking place in his ancient lungs. The cat has a habit of licking her lips and swallowing frequently, which to me indicates that whatever’s behind the barrier is either worthy of salivating over or she is fostering a nervous tick revealing how she’s trying not to freak out. It might also point toward dental disease, but that’s a next month’s problem.

While the three of us concentrated on something only two of us were truly aware of, a second cat slinked in. She looked about the room, quietly assessed the vibe, and then crawled into my lap, wedging one bony shoulder into the crook of my knee and keeping one eye open whilst the other took a break. The next few minutes of silence was equal parts unsettling and soothing.

The next afternoon I came upon the weird cat, again, simply paying homage to the drywall. I sat down, assumed the position, and waited for the wooden floor patter of the remaining eight softly padded paws to make their way to our small, shared space—which they shortly did.

And whether everyone was intrigued by the invisible entity, waiting with curious anticipation as to its reveal, or some were simply there to catch half a face full of shuteye, what was clear was that this chunk of fading linoleum was becoming a slightly sacred space.

And apparently, we were settling in for a spell.

And perhaps a spell is what we were under, as the next thirty minutes escaped unnoticed. Maybe this was the point—maybe that peaceful half hour was meant to be experienced in a state of heightened oblivion. Not asleep, not awake, just present, like the thing we could not see.

A ringing telephone brought us out of our stupor with the answering machine announcing, “Hey, this is Marvin from the Ratty Shack. I hear you’ve got a problem. Give me a call and we’ll get rid of it.”

I then stared down at the blinking, watery, and in some cases, cataract clouded eyes of my fur family and said, “I vote we wait on Marvin. Same time same place tomorrow?” We left in tacit agreement.

Life goes on. Pestful but peaceful.

~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.