Please … Let Me Explain

I glanced across the line of shelves filled with eye-catching boxes and broad-shouldered bottles, occasionally pulling one from the line-up to scrutinize with envious enthusiasm.

“I can’t confidently say that I’m an expert at this time, as it’s only been six months, but I figure another year and a half and most customers who walk through that shop door will find me to be a connoisseur of the craft—a malt maven, if you will.”

I glanced up at the twenty-four-year old soon-to-be scotch scholar and gave him an encouraging smile.

“I hadn’t envisioned finding myself in this position years ago when in school in Finland—working as Mr. Worrall’s apprentice—but”—he ran his hands through his buzz-cropped, fair-colored hair—“it seems the puzzle pieces just fell into place.”

“I see,” I murmured, pivoting from one tight space in the tiny London whisky shop to move past the long and lanky Finn toward another shelf filled with other amber liquids I’d yet to see or taste.

I picked up a bright canary colored box. “Huh,” I breathed out, twisting the carton in my hand to view all sides. A whisky made in New Zealand. I’d traveled to the country maybe a decade ago and had been disappointed to discover that the only distillation I came across was the furtive kind—with kerosene cans and rubber tubing. Nothing I could find on the shelves of duty free at the airport to take home. The box in my hand provided scant details.

“Where is this?” I twisted to glance up at The Lad McFinnland.

His eyebrows rose, and then quick understanding flooded his face. “Ah yes, New Zealand is a small chain of islands—two mainly—off the south eastern coast of Australia. Known for its mountains and glaciers generally.”

I stood silent. Then I looked around for something that would cost less than one hundred pounds to throw at his head, as this was a rare malt whisky shop that carried nothing one wouldn’t have to consider auctioning off a kidney in order to buy.

I sighed and rolled my eyes at the American distiller sitting in the corner, wrapping up business with the shop owner. We had developed a few signals during this trip to subtly communicate.

I was tagging along on his travels across the UK, helping him navigate his unpretentious and ballsy bourbon around a country filled with its exclusive, gentry-filled single malt scotch drinkers.

He’s a Virginian, whose teeth were cut on grits and grand plantations. I’m currently a Virginian—by way of a million little detours—who’s spent twenty-five years soaking up the Scottish, the Irish, and everything English.

“Your whisky tastes of marmite and ribena,” one distributer had said.

I’d leaned over to translate. “Yeast paste and black currents.”

“I’m getting a touch of candy floss.”

“That would be cotton candy,” I whispered.

“This one tastes of a water closet’s urinal cake.”

I looked at the distiller. His furrowed eyebrows halted my words. “Yeah, I got that one.”

I’m also here, immersing myself in a side of the whisky world I’m usually not swimming in—all for the sake of research. My newest novel in progress—a book about a suffering distillery on the verge of falling apart—has me seeking more than just the drinking of a dram. The more I know about the inside industry, the better the believability factor.

So, once again I’ve entered the world of spirits where the main players erroneously assume I have as much understanding and interest about the subject as I do about prostate cancer.

“We’re talking about brown spirits, darling,” one Englishman pointed out to me at a tasting event. “An utterly foul habit to the gentler sex.”

“Mansplaining is something we find even fouler,” I looked up innocently.

“Surely not,” he put a hand on my shoulder. “Perhaps we should get you a white wine?”

“A single malt, please.”

“That’s the spirit,” he said with another wry, all-knowing pat. “I’ll order you my favorite lest you find it distasteful. Then I’ll drink it myself.”

This industry has been slow to change. Like the pivoting of a large ship, the whisky world protects its stability. Women can make things tipsy—both literally and figuratively. And parts of the world I travel to are reticent to allow the hand of time to tick as quickly as it wishes to. But there is a growing number of “that gentler sex” that persevere, and for that I’m wholly grateful. As I believe it’s an alcoholic arena that many find too intimidating to enter, and we need a few to boldly clear the path in front of us.

I crave standing in the intersection of the two things I love most: writing and whisky. My aim for the last two decades has been to make it into an explosive crossroads, adding food and nature, folklore and peat smoke. To me, this is the best definition of scotch—purely Scotland in liquid form. It finds me weak in the knees and often at a loss for language.

Despite the heavy hand of doubt I’m usually greeted with on this male-dominated turf, I’d be remiss if I neglected to point out the bright moments where I’m caught by surprise and filled with delight.

“So,” a tall, Welsh actor beside me starts, “have you been dragged here by a companion you’re unfortunately in debt to, or are you as besotted with this juice as much as the rest of the poor SOBs at this whisky tasting?”

I turned and glanced up. I wanted to hug him. “Definitely not dragged. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

“Ah,” he nodded grimly. “Then I feel doubly sorry for you, as I’m sure like us, you’re continually searching for and finding the next Holy Grail, only to discover after a taste from that chalice, that it’s usually just a few too many precious pennies out of our budgets.”

I laughed and took a sip of the pricey elixir in my hand. Finally, a true compatriot.

He continued. “So what have you been dying to try that seems a little out of reach?”

I thought back to yesterday, in the rare malt shop. “Oh,” I breathed out dreamily. “A new single malt from New Zealand.”

His eyes lit with interest. “Really? Where’s that?”

I couldn’t help myself, and I snorted with laughter as the words tumbled out. “Ah yes, New Zealand is a small chain of islands—two mainly—off the south eastern coast of Australia. Known for its mountains and glaciers generally.”

~Shelley

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Presidential Partying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Well, this little tidbit:

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

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

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

~Shelley

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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.

Humble Heroes

There is a guy I know—and I’ve known him for an awfully long time—who has managed to squish a plethora of memories into an area of my brain that surely should hold less than a plethora.

I am assured by doctors that this overabundance—due to the nature of said memories—is not taxing me to the point where they would create health concerns and elevate the need for antidepressants, blood pressure meds, or an overwhelming amount of double fudge ice cream.

In fact, they have advised I use these memories in place of other treatments in order to stabilize, recalibrate, and maintain a healthy weight.

So, in times of particularly high stress, like my weekly trips to the gas pump, instead of feeling the anxiety-ridden squeeze of my pocketbook as I press the gas hose handle, I play the game I used to play with this man on a Saturday morning getting fuel after my piano lessons. The bet was this: if he could stop the hose dead on ten bucks, I owed him a candy bar. Anything above or below was my win, and I got the goods. There was no slowing down, no easing off the pump, just full fledge pressure and then—WHAM!—let go.

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I always won.

The game might have been worked in my favor so the other player could avoid seeing the welling of my tears.

So now, I do that same game with myself. Squeeze, wham, note the fact that I rarely nail ten bucks, and then carry on to somewhere around sixty. Then I pay the fee and glance toward the candy bars and wave hello. I can’t afford a candy bar these days after paying for gas. And no one there is particularly concerned with the welling of my tears.

Next up? How bout the countless times I find myself in a situation where I struggle to hold my tongue, hold my words and hold my breath from releasing negativity? Displeasure directed toward my kids. Impatience aimed toward the traffic. Or outrage at my finances.

At these moments I conjure up the recollection of this man who would toss four kids, a hound, and a woman desperately in need of a break into different compartments of a station wagon and release us all onto the sharply pine-scented shores of a Wisconsin lake no one else seemed to have discovered yet.

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You were allowed to grab hold of his shoulders with the quick warning of, “Let go when you must,” just before he would immerse himself beneath the water and swim with you on his back. Deeper and deeper he would plunge, until you felt your little ears pop. And when you could hold on no longer, you’d panic, bob to the surface, gasping for breath–your underwater dolphin game over. But he … would not appear. For what seemed like hours.

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You would scan the waters, heart pounding. Waiting. And worrying.

And then he would materialize, quietly, smoothly—in the middle of the lake.

I will practice holding things in with grace. And exercise a tranquil reentry.

There are myriad memories of walking into a room and finding this man with an open-faced book resting in his palms. It was his default position. I would need something. An answer, permission, a sip of his drink, but mostly just attention, and it would not be denied. My urgency was met with a raise of the eyebrow, a slipping in of a bookmark, but most importantly, nearly always with a smile.

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As a writer I have learned the wisest way to pen a tale is to steep yourself in other’s stories. My love for reading was one of example, fueled by someone else’s insatiable hunger for words. My love for my children is one of experience. The feeling of not being brushed off, ignored, or set aside because of inconvenience is an impressionable one, and one that has me swivel in my chair to greet whomever has called my name.

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These memories are the stuff of childhood, and yet they persist. Their tangible qualities are still felt, still practiced, and still admired. I have no idea what it’s like to be this man, but I have a million memories of what it’s like to be fathered by him.

Happy Day to you, Dad. Thank you for making so many of my days … Happy.

~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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Men in plaid. Aka Highland Games

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

English: The Bagpiper

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

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

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

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

Highland Cow

Highland Cow (Photo credit: Vanessa (EY))

Are you with me on the theme here?

Last week I went with door number three.

A few thousand others did too.

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

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

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

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

PRIDE.

The clan system is strong.

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

Pipers piping.

Caber throwers cabering.

Archers arching.

Leaping lassies leaping.

Stone putters putting.

Sheep herders picking out the prettiest sheep.

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

Fun and games.

And whisky.

And haggis.

And then more whisky.

Gun and fames.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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11-22-09 (Photo credit: idovermani)

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

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

~Shelley

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

 

Speak up!

English: 14th Dalai Lama, Dharasmala, India

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

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

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

Or are we?

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

Moose head

Moose head (Photo credit: elasticcamel)

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

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

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

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

Yeah, that’s probably going too far.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

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

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

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

Visualize me shrugging in defeat.

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

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

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

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

TED (conference)

TED (conference) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

Seth McFarlane

Seth McFarlane (Photo credit: Dex1138)

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

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

~Shelley

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

 

A Most Willing Bird

Pencils

Any wordsmith will wax lyrical on the importance of capturing the perfect text to convey meaning. When creating a story, penning poetry or adding snarky opinions online, we’re usually advised to read aloud that which we have written before it goes into print—a cardinal rule from any editor who critiques your manuscript.

It makes a big difference.

Rare is the time you pull away from your pages and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Usually, you re-sharpen your pencil and pour another glass of whatever is at your elbow.

Reading things aloud allows you another dimension of sensory input and opinion. Words have specific meaning in our heads when we rush over them with our eyes, but they have another element of breadth and measurement when pronounced.

Take for instance, the whippoorwill. This bird, I am convinced, was a writer in another lifetime. And one who needs a good long acupuncture session to get its qi flowing because it is stuck in a relentless repetition of clarification and examination.

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(Photo credit: jerryoldenettel)

Is this how I should sound?

Wait, I’ll try again.

Was that one clear?

Hold on, I’ll give it another go.

Practice makes perfect?

I’m so up for the challenge.

Writing is rewriting. And whippoorwilling is being willing.

Headstone A very old and unusual headstone in ...

Most of us would applaud the ‘try hard’ attitude, the ‘won’t give up’ mental muscle. Sadly, one member of my household is plotting against the breed, no longer shouting for an encore. In fact, he is planning …

a eulogy.

The Eastern Whippoorwill comes to visit us in early spring, takes off for cooler climates come mid-summer and returns with renewed vigor when it no longer fears the possibility of cooking to death while slumbering.

The call of the whippoorwill begins around dusk, after the bird snoozes all day. His ‘first out of bed’ routine varies slightly from ours. We do a few sun salutations, squats or jumping jacks to get the blood flowing, and he does scales and arpeggios.

The first time we heard him, I remember leaping out of my patio rocking chair, nearly spilling the first tangy gin and tonic of the season.

“Did you hear that?” I’d asked my husband.

He was looking at his Blackberry. “Yep. Bird.”

“No, not just a bird. I think that was a whippoorwill.”

“A whipper-what?”

“A whippoorwill. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a live one.”

One of his eyebrows rose. “As opposed to hearing a dead one?”

I tsked at him, sat down on the edge of the porch and sipped my drink, willing the sweet sunset concert to continue. And continue it did.

rooster Magyar: kakas

Every night.

And every morning.

For the next five years.

He was there for the setting of the sun, reminding us the day was coming to an end and to take note of it, and he was there well before the sun rose again, reminding us to prepare for it. It’s very romantic at 8 pm while you’re reminiscing over the day’s events that knocked the stuffing out of you, but goes a bit beyond the call of duty when showing up at 4 am while you’re still recovering from those same events.

The bird was auditioning for the role of an eager beaver rooster.

We experienced two weeks of this charming songbird’s pre-sunrise serenade. And for fourteen mornings my husband popped up in bed alarmed, confused and quickly transitioning to irate, as each night the bird found a perch closer to where we slept. I wasn’t surprised when our sleep roused conversations took a turn for the worse. In the beginning, it was something like:

Bugel player line art drawing

My husband: “Wha? What was that?”

Me: “Just the whippoorwill. No worries.”

My husband: “Grrrr …” Zzzz …

Shortly thereafter it was:

My husband: “Huh? What was that?”

Me: “The whippoorwill. Go to sleep.”

My husband: “Fat chance …” Zzzz …

And finally:

My husband: “What the bloody hell was that?!”

Me: “It’s the whippoorwill.”

My husband: “Oh no it whippoor-won’t!”

At this point, covers were thrown back, concrete shoes were donned (I swear he has a pair,) and the hunt for the happy alarm clock ensued.

I sat in bed with the lights out, eyes open, ears open even wider, listening for one of two sounds: a gunshot, or a lecture on civility and social convention. He’s an Englishman; it could go either way.

Five minutes later, the concrete shoes made their way back toward the bedroom with a flashlight guiding the way.

Macro shot of a box of clementines, Citrus ret...

My husband: “Did you know that a clementine fits into the mouth of an Eastern Whippoorwill? It acts as a very nice cork.”

Me: “You didn’t!”

My husband: “Wish I could say I did, but the son of a gun got away—not before I told him about the Al Capone Walk I’ve got planned for him next time he visits though, so I think we’re good to go.”

Me: “You tell ‘em, honey.”

Well, each year we go through this routine. We’ve got it so well rehearsed it’s beginning to feel like an old episode of I Love Lucy, only I get to play Ricky. And each year my husband thinks he gets closer to adjusting the manners of this bird or throttling his golden pipes.

So I hardly took notice when yesterday, as we sat outside to watch our first spring sunset, our willing warbler greeted us enthusiastically. The only difference was this time … he wasn’t alone.

My husband leapt from his chair. “Good God, he’s brought reinforcements!” He stormed off, probably in search of more clementines.

Personally, I think the whippoorwill is just teaching the next batch of trainees. Or maybe he truly is a writer and is simply getting his manuscript critiqued.

~Shelley

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

Man Jam

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

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

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

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

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

portrait of Fanny Cradock

portrait of Fanny Cradock

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visage de cowboy en profil

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

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

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

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

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

Burning Bush Jams

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

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

Happy cooking, cowboys!

~Shelley

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

Flyboys & Farmhands

No one needs to bring an airsick bag with them if they’re going for a ride on a tractor. It’s not one of those things you’d find on a “be prepared” list if you were fixing for an afternoon stroll in the grassy fields on a warm spring day.

On the other hand, tucking a barf bag into the pocket of your delicate calico dress—the one meant to impress the third date fellah you’re seeing—should be somewhat of a warning. Especially if the suggestion came from him.

Back up a few years to the day I first took a ride with my pilot boyfriend, back to when he was fresh off the boat from his homeland where lands are granted, titles bestowed and heads beheaded. And still far from any recent ideas about reclaiming rightful colonies.

“A flight with you? In a tiny aircraft? Okay, sure!” (Giggle giggle.)

“Bring a plastic bag? You bet!” (Apparently, there’d be leftovers from a picnic.)

“Aerobatic maneuvers? Nope, never heard of them.” (Batting of eyelashes.)

“Yes, an aileron roll would be great!” (Must be some kind of sandwich.)

plane's manuva:Aileron Roll

plane’s manuva:Aileron Roll (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Holy Mother of Pearl! The ocean is above us!” (Frantic pawing at flimsy, flirty dress in search of pocket and bag.)

“Breakfast does not taste half as good the second time around … Sorry about your ceiling … and the cockpit … here, just scrape that off and you can see outside … ugh.”

Fast forward two years. No pretty dress. No plastic puke bag. “No way, José. Move over. I’m left seat. You can read the charts and do radio.”

Fast forward further. “Hey, honey, building a house on a mountain would mean we’d be closer to the sky, wouldn’t it? And lookie there, it’s right on the flight path to the sweet little airport that’s your home away from home, isn’t it? I could follow you on Flight Aware and jump out of the kitchen with a sign telling you what to pick up at the market just as you zoom past  on your way home. Cool, huh?”

A 1948 Gambles Farmcrest by the Cockshutt & CO...

A 1948 Gambles Farmcrest by the Cockshutt & CO-OP tractor company. On display in Harvard, Illinois during Milk Days 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fast forward more. “I’m tired of looking up at the sky. Look down at the dirt. Hey, let’s dig in it.”

F.F. one more time. “We need a tractor.”

Yesterday. “Farmer tans are sexy, sweetheart.”

Present day discourse. “There’s a pile of sheep poo out there that ain’t gonna move itself!”

It’s true I became a pilot like my husband, but it was a long time ago and largely because one of us lacked a fundamental sense of direction. The thing most challenging for me is that radio talk is short. Purposefully short. Compulsorily short. I love words. I’m a writer. And even though I work very hard, attempting to find the best words to quickly convey my meaning to a reader, I’m super slow at it. Lots of extra words get thrown into my scripts before they’re weeded out. Flowery adjectives. Prosaic adverbs. Purple prose is in ample abundance. The words are sublime to my ears, but like fingernails on a chalkboard to Air Traffic Control.

ATC wants quick and informative. I like descriptive.

ATC wants: Montgomery tower Bonanza 422MA 5000 inbound runway 23.

What I’ve been known to do: Good morning Montgomery tower! This is the super sleek Bonanza November four two two Mike Alpha with you at five thousand glorious feet in truly blue skies requesting the newly paved and hopefully extra long runway two three in just a couple of quick minutes, okey dokey?

When I first learned how to fly, people were always asking me to state my position. Sitting down and facing forward was not the expected reply. I long ago learned a sense of humor is not appreciated up there—and that access to the airwaves did not grant me time to practice a hopeful stand up routine.

I am not allowed to do radios unless it’s an emergency now.

I’m not that fussed. Especially since I don’t work well under pressure. I was always asking ATC to hold on a sec so I could piece together the right code-like answer. It sucks to get shouted at while you’re desperately trying to remember what all the lighted buttons in front of you are for and why some of them are flashing and others are making siren-like sounds.

Which is why riding a tractor is so much easier and a whole lot less stressful.

And more forgiving.

If I forget to put the bucket down before making a pass at a pile of pine shavings, I back up.

If I forget to put the wheels down before making a swoop at the runway, no do-overs allowed.

If I forget to put enough gas into the tractor and get caught short way the heck down by the sheep barn, I trudge back up the hill and haul down the gas cans.

If I forget to put enough gas into the plane, there’s no trudging, just plunging. Big difference.

I suppose I’m grateful to have gone through the experience of learning how to fly if for no other reason than simply because it impressed my high school science teacher who thought I’d probably go no further than learning how to master a weed whacker.

It really goes to show you just how far a plastic puke pouch and picnic can take you.

Roger and out.

Ten-four, good buddy.

Wilco.

~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).

Holy Cow

Watching my husband cook is a little like being in a car with him as he’s behind the wheel. You’re never quite certain if you’ll be arriving at the intended destination. There’s a lot of closing your eyes to the sights in front of you and whispering prayers to any and all deities listening. 

Walking into the kitchen while he’s hard at work will have you looking for the yellow and black tape, for the room should be partitioned off as a crime scene. Pots are upended, knives scattered across countertops, drops of unidentifiable liquid are splattered across cabinets and walls, and inevitably, several things gave up their life in the making of this meal.

That said, you are drawn in by the smells emanating from the nine or ten pots burbling on the stove where rattling lids spew a torrent of steam that would make a Turkish bath nod with approval.

On one occasion, after closing the front door and hanging up my coat, I followed strains of Bollywood music to the kitchen. The scene unfolded to reveal Sir Sackier with a wooden spoon in one hand and a martini in the other.

“What are you making?” I asked, looking around at the contents of my entire kitchen spread out on the counters like we’re having a rummage sale. I’ve always told myself not to panic at this point; keep a calm face.

“If it is pleasing you, I am to be making the salt beef,” came the reply in a brilliant imitation of Peter Sellers in The Party.

Cover of

I looked at the glass in his hand to determine just how far into the martini he’d gotten. “How’s it coming?”

“Most fine it is, to be certain.”

Sadly, I was not.

I saw the prep work that went into the making of this salt beef. Yes, it had all the regular bits and pieces: brisket, bay leaves, peppercorns and garlic, but it had one extremely worrying component—something I’ve never used before, mostly because it should be outlawed. Salt petre. Also known as Potassium Nitrate.

Most folks don’t use it for cooking anymore—not because it’s ineffective, but rather because it raises a few red flags when purchasing. Not only does it help pickle your brisket, but if you have any leftover, you can make fertilizer, explosives or solid rocket propellants. The dream kitchen created by NASA.

I looked into the Crockpot. Yum, gunpowder stew.

Knowing how long this chunk of beef spent in a briny solution of salt, salt and more salt, I was fairly positive we would be sitting down to a dinner of a large brown salt lick with a side of carrots.

But holding a plateful beneath my nose, the smells of beef, onions, carrots, celery and aromatic spices pushed aside any misgivings I’d had. The taste was out of this world.

This was a dish only the perfect Jewish Englishman channeling another Jewish Englishman channeling a Continental Indian could pull off. Truly a miracle.

And just like Sir Sackier’s car journeys, which can only be likened to the psychedelic boat ride from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, his culinary destinations land you in a place unscathed, converted and more than willing to purchase a ticket for the next time.

For Sir Sackier’s Salt Beef recipe click here or go to the Scullery and scroll down to British, Brackish Brisket.

~Shelley

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

 

Know your Cupid, Stupid!

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

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

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

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

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

Cupid and Psyche

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

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

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

See if you can follow along.

Lupa capitolina al Campidoglio. Ne esiste una ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flagellants practiced self-flogging at the tim...

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

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

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

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

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

A 2 month old goat kid in a field of capeweed

So no kidding, Happy Lupercalia.

~Shelley

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

 

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

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

Group shot of the Monty Python crew in 1969

the men who raised me

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

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

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

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

Numa Pompilius consulting Egeria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pipers On Sale, Aisle Three

When you think about giving someone a gift, I’d bet most of you don’t entertain the idea of gifting a person. It seems a rather archaic bestowal, one reserved for a plantation owner increasing his human workforce, or a recently deceased pharaoh to accompany him into the world to come, except when you consider who is bestowing the gift. My English husband, Sir Sackier, considers himself—if the fates cooperate—the future royalty of reclaimed land (that would be America). Therefore, granting a human endowment would not make him pause, believing the token curious, or even illegal.

English: Don Quixote is knighted by the inn-ke...

Nonetheless, one of the nicest things he ever did for me happened on the day we’d moved into our newly built house on top of this mountain, a damp, misty December morning. Both my folks had come to help unpack boxes and direct a crew of moving men. Shortly after the moving crew left, I moved to the kitchen, burying myself in a box of newspaper wrapped crockery. Suddenly, I thought I’d heard somebody shout. I pulled my head out of the four foot deep box, hoping someone had finally discovered my favorite white platter that had gone missing two moves ago.

Sir Sackier hollered from outside, and my mom rushed into the kitchen, all a twitter, saying I’d better high tail it out to where he was. I expected the worst. Surely the man had fallen into an undiscovered well, or maybe he’d come upon a prickle of porcupines, a gang of angry elk or a cackle of hyenas. My mind whirled with all the unusual suspects when it came to the sceptred isle native.

I stepped onto the deck off the kitchen. Sir Sackier stood there with a ridiculous grin spread across his face. He looked like he was eight and had found his first frog.

“Do you hear something?” he asked, cocking an ear toward the mountains.

I leaned forward and scanned the horizon. What should I be listening for? The scream of a bobcat? The cry of an eagle? The sound of a bullfrog being squished behind his back?

“No,” I said, and then stopped. Because just then I did. I heard the magical sound my heart had suctioned itself to, years earlier when I first went to Scotland.

English: Piper James Geddes plays the most rec...

Bagpipes.

I looked out into the mid-day gloom, across the tree-covered slopes of the mountains, wondering how in the world I’d gotten so lucky as to pick a plot of land that was within earshot of a practicing piper. And then I saw him coming up our driveway.

Wheezing up our driveway.

Our driveway, which is one mile long and one thousand feet straight up.

“What do you think?” Sir Sackier asked me as both my parents joined us on the porch, a video camera in his hands and pointed at my face.

“Oh my God, the poor man!” I shouted, positive the piper was going to have a cardiac arrest before he made it to the top. “Did you do this?” I pointed at the asthmatic geezer in full Gaelic getup.

That eight year old face beamed and nodded. “Yep. Happy moving in day, Shell!”

I looked back toward the kitchen boxes. “Where is the carton that has our first aid kit? I need to see if we have a defibrillator in it.” I bit my lip wondering if there was going to be an eventual lawsuit, but hearing that beautiful sound in the most perfect setting made tears come to my eyes. A piper! To christen our new home.

After fifteen more blissful and painful minutes, the piper finally came through the front door without pausing for breath, and into the hallway—where I thought he’d surely collapse. Instead, he stood bellowing in the hollowed out foyer, perfectly centered beneath a space that rose a full forty feet above him. The blast of the pipes exploded through the house, puncturing the walls and paralyzing my parents. This is oftentimes the sneaky tactics of a military piper, who then signals the rest of the highlanders to sneak up behind their stunned victims and slice off their heads with a clean sweep of their broadswords. Although this probably wasn’t intended, loss of voluntary movement was a by-product of my husband’s housewarming gift.

Even if my folks were too polite—or too stupefied to put their fingers in their ears—I stood there, rooted to the ground, thrilled with the razor sharp melody piercing my bones. It was then Sir Sackier informed me that he felt we needed a house piper and this man was my gift. He could play at whatever events we hosted up here on the mountain. How could I say no? But it was necessary to make a clear distinction. I felt we owed the poor man as he nearly did himself in climbing the mountain to get here, not owned the poor man because he was idiotic enough to pick up the phone when harkened by this aspiring new monarch. I doubt Sir Sackier heard what I said. He had his fingers in his ears.

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

 

Lads & Lassies, Pipers & Poets

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

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

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

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

Scotish dirk

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

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

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

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

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

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

homemade haggis, scotland food stock photo

 

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

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

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

The Scottish Piper - Victorian print vector art illustration

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

My suggestions for you? Start small.

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

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

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

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

Slàinte!

~Shelley

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

 

The waterworks. Except it doesn’t.

Sherpas in Nepal

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

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

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

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

Phil the Plumber

Phil the Plumber (Photo credit: Badly Drawn Dad)

All right, we don’t exactly have proof.

Yet.

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

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

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

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

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

English: A crumbling farm building in Watlington.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bones

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

~Shelley

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

Safehouse, or Madhouse?

Cows in the Mist

Image via Wikipedia

I grew up in Wisconsin. Cows. Cornfields. Cold. I loved it. Most of it. Okay, some of it. There was a lot I liked. Especially the no-nonsense, matter of fact sense of humor. Our bumper stickers read, Come smell our dairy air!

This was a place you could feel confident in getting a fair deal, a firm handshake and frostbite, the first two being something you sought and the latter, something inevitable.

Regardless, it was also a place most folks felt safe enough to leave their car unlocked, their house unbolted, and most of their valuables strewn across the front lawn. In hindsight, that last one might have been more of an excess of liquor vs. a laissez faire attitude about life in general.

But I grew up with the mindset that keys were for treasure chests, lime pies and leaving in the ignition. Then I married a city boy. London liked to lock things. Like bicycles in chains and people in towers. They’re big on things that signify no loss of control. Tight ship, tight smiles. (Tight underwear?)

Yeoman Warder ("beefeater") in front...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s taken me a while to get Sir Sackier to loosen his cravat. I think it’s been too tightly notched for so long that the blood supply to his eyes throws floaters in front of his vision in the shape of men with sharp teeth and wicked intent.

“Was the UPS guy really delivering a legal document, or scoping out the joint? Let the dog bark a bit, just enough to register. But then tell them that this dog is a piece of cake in comparison to the nest of pit bulls out back we’re all trying to rehabilitate, but can’t drive the blood thirst from. Make sure he hears you shout to someone inside that you’ll be right there. Women alone in the house are an easy target.”

Which brings me to our new amulets to ward off evil.

English: Chord used as an amulet Nederlands: A...

Image via Wikipedia

No, it’s not a special necklace made from the woven hair of our enemies. It’s called the Redneck Remedy. I think it was meant to be a joke from Roger, our resident Renaissance Man. Roger has been working with us for the last year and a half or so, and come to find out, there is nothing this man hasn’t developed a skill set for. Landscaping? Check. Woodworking? Check. Fireman, mountaineer, sorcerer’s apprentice? Check, check and very likely so. I wouldn’t be surprised if the man came up the mountain having wrangled a team of oxen as his vehicle of choice for the week. He is Paul Bunyan. (But sports a tux with quiet grace should the occasion call for it.)

Roger, master craftsman that he is, whipped up a few dozen benches over the weekend that would have Frank Lloyd Wright secretly making sketch notes on the back of a napkin had he been around to see it. One was destined for our front porch—a place to take off your boots. Roger used the bench as a vehicle to display his sense of humor—and now according to Sir Sackier, our new security system.

An old pair of work boots lay beneath the bench. Worn out work gloves rest on top. Scattered beside them are tins of possum meat and chewing tobacco. And to round things off while sending home the message, a man-handled copy of Guns & Ammo magazine. If this doesn’t send any nefarious, plug-ugly ruffian a-scattering, then he can pause a moment longer to read the hand-scrawled note held down with an old railroad spike nestled beside the chew. That is, if he can read. Scroll through the slide show and let me know what you think. Should I still be allowed to invite the Avon Lady in for a cuppa joe since she went to all the trouble of making her way up here? Should Sir Sackier be banned from outfitting the tower with a machine gun nest? Should Roger, the Renaissance man be contracted by Plow & Hearth? I’m curious to know what you think.

~Shelley

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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).