The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Nature’s Turducken

Photo by Mike Bird on Pexels.com

Last year, I had a gazillion bunny rabbits gather on the lawn both at sunrise and sunset every day through the three beautiful months of spring—nibbling, lounging, fattening.

This year, I have been hard-pressed to see even one dash out in front of my car as I trundle down the mountain to run a few errands in town.

Where did they go, I wondered?

This morning, I watched a brawny and brutish red fox prance along the woodland’s edge, patrolling the perimeter, his ears and swishy full tail twitching with anticipation at any movement or sound from the grassy border.

Ah. Now I know.

There were a few brief, tense moments when the world virtually paused, my breath suspended, when with lightning quick speed, the fox sprung into the air in the direction of a fat rabbit, dashing from the safety of her brushy compound, making a run for it—out in the open.

Now, I know you’re all wondering what happened to that fat little bunny, and I could be cruel and tell you that’s not the point of this essay, but for the sake of keeping friends, I’ll relieve your suspense.

She made it.

But it won’t be for long, so let’s not grow accustomed to her furry little face.

Because bunnies are accidental survivors. Countless times, I have taken walks and come across one of them on the side of the path, and their method of life management is nothing more than freeze.

If they find they’ve fooled you into believing they’re actually a painting or statue, well … bully for them. They live another day of blissful clover grazing. If you are a predator and make your raptorial move, then their only hope is to outrun you, or “under-size” you by fitting in somewhere you cannot.

Not much to be impressed by.

A fox, on the other hand, is a planner. A plotter, a schemer, and wholly opportunistic.

Unlike a bunny, his nose is not focused solely on the floral fragrance of the tender shoots from the genus Trifolium, but also notes whether or not those herbaceous patches carry the scent of lucky rabbits’ feet.

Lucky for him, anyway.

Treading the path once or twice during the gloaming hours, he notes their playground and their warren holes, then takes a quick kip till just before the time sparrows fart and the sun’s rays creep over the dewy grass.

He positions himself in their familiar Don’t mind me, I’m just a figment of your imagination style crouch when muddle-headed bunnies womble out of bed and head to the clover cafeteria, and then waits until …

Gotcha.

Breakfast and exercise all in one fell swoop.

Nothing to do but sleep off the meal.

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And possibly be surprised by a sharp wake-up call in the middle of the night, as he is now surrounded by a ring of coyote—canines recognized for their ability to utilize deception and cheekiness to their benefit.

Obviously, our fox sees little comedy in his demise, but I can certainly appreciate the turducken style gallows humor and feel compelled to view life outside my window through these optics.

To do anything less would have me lamenting about the woodland hills, the smell of death thick in my nostrils, and an overwhelming feeling of despair and fatalism cloaked about my shoulders.

I cannot live life like this, mostly because I was raised on a diet rich with despair and fatalism, but wrapped up in a puff pastry crust of Monty Python humor.

I know some of you might be wondering where I’m going with this whole essay, and it would be crystal clear if you saw the books and articles scattered across my desk:

How to Write Better Bad Guys

Six Tips to Scandalous Scoundrels

Superheroes, Supervillains

This is a time period (in between books) I designate as “The Gathering.”

The collecting of ideas, the generating of plots, the reviewing of old writing habits that no longer serve and need to be replaced.

Like that of writing antagonists.  

We are surrounded by them in our everyday lives. They are the people who we intermingle with often and repeatedly: the guy who cut you off in traffic because he saw an opening and took it, your boss, who criticizes your work in front of a roomful of your coworkers which leads to you pull an all-nighter to prove her wrong, your ex, who tells every handyman in town that you don’t pay your bills on time and sometimes not at all.

Yeah, they’re evil, heinous, and diabolically sinister people in our minds.

But … not in theirs.

In their minds, they are doing what’s right. What’s right for the flow of traffic, the result of the project, and the protection of the local business owners who don’t deserve to get burned.

In their minds, why would they choose to do anything else?

A fox is never going to pass up the bunny buffet. The coyote would be harebrained to skip out on the freshly prepared “foxbunherb.” And the only thing missing now is what follows to bring down the sharp-toothed pooch.

I vote Monty Python’s Foot of Cupid. As there is nothing more satisfying then seeing your enemy squished by an animated sketch, followed by the juvenile sound of ripping flatulence. And truly, this is the Universe’s way of saying enough is enough.

It is an effortless exercise to read about creating great villains on paper, and then see the perfect example of them right outside my window. The thing that makes them perfect is that they are all relatable. We understand them. Their motivations. And can empathize with their actions.

They are not evil for the sake of being evil.

Photo by Wendelin Jacober on Pexels.com

Some of them, in the case of a humongous, hand-drawn heel are just evil for the sake of being hilarious.

And I can live with that.

~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 Magical Tale of a Tail

The world is full of random flukes, right?

We’ve all experienced a flush of good timing, poetic justice, or quirky happenstance. Something we look back on and say, yeah, that was weird, but seriously, how cool.

As a writer of fiction, I know I can drizzle a bit of curious coincidence into my stories, but I treat it as though it was a ghost pepper hot sauce—a little goes a long, long way. And too much will kill my reader’s appetite for any more of my story.

I mention all of the above because my life would never be considered believable fiction.

My editor would toss it back and say it was filled with way too many unexplainable flukes. Events that appeared for no reason, simply to push the narrative arc along. It’s too farfetched, too fortuitous, too implausible.

And yet … this is the contents of my life.

I write about magic in some of my books. In one it is simply sprinkled about, in several others it is the main focus, widespread and thoroughly researched. As authors we are encouraged to write what we know. But I wouldn’t say I know magic per se, I’d instead phrase it as I experience magic—or what some would define as magic—nearly every day.

And I don’t mean magic in the sense of ‘wand-casting-turn-you-into-a-toad’ type magic, nor would I lessen it to the side of the spectrum which might be confused with abundant gratitude. As in the warm rush of excitement at seeing a rainbow, or a water funnel, or a squirrel escape unharmed from the opposite side of your moving vehicle as it dashed out in front of you.

No. My magic is more the serendipitous kind and mostly the unexplainable. Unexplainable, as far as science is concerned. And I do believe science will one day have an explanation for my wonky situations. That chapter just hasn’t been written yet.

I don’t have rational answers for why, when visiting religious sites, or landscapes of great historic relevance, I am overcome with a physical dis-ease so great it can send me to my knees. Someone theorized that perhaps the pseudo-science stating the correlation between ley lines and magnetic fields might be an influence—and my body simply has an abundance of iron that interferes.

*shrug*

I have no reasonable explanation as to why I am forever running into self-proclaimed witches, soothsayers, mystics, and wizards. This week alone the tally is already up to three.

Surely, you think I jest.

I certainly would.

And it’s not like I belong to any covens, Wiccan moots, or regularly visit Renaissance festivals. These individuals just find me. Or, as I have heard explained to me numerous times, I find them. But I take issue with this declaration, as the last one I “found” was literally fifteen minutes ago—someone who marched up to my front door to say hello as I’ve been working on this article.

*sigh*

I know. It’s supremely absurd.

I feel like erasing this entire confessional essay, except that I’m writing to tell you about one of my most beloved repeating serendipitous occurrences: meeting my favorite people.

(The reveal is coming up, so hang tight.)

I was recently away at a massive book festival in Tucson, Arizona. Over one hundred and thirty thousand people attend this three day event each year, and I was lucky enough to be invited to participate.

A bazillion flights, ubers, panels, and tacos later, I lug my bags across the threshold of my home, my luggage filled with the contact info of countless authors, publishing reps, moderators, and book sellers.

I toss it all up on the kitchen counter and glance out the porch door where movement catches my eye. A wretched face glances up at me, curled up upon my swinging rocker. Two large chocolate colored eyes effortlessly convey the message of I’m cold, I’m hungry, I’m lost.

Unlike the countless other things up on the mountain where I live, this animal has no desire to fight me back for territory taken, and only wishes for a quick solution to his mounting problems.

I rush out to greet the sweet and gangly-legged hound and usher him into the warmth where aid is in abundance. “Sammy,” as his tags indicate, is one of the most grateful tail wagers I’ve yet to lay eyes on.

He tells me, in a way that only animals can, how the water has never been so thirst-quenching, the food has never been so filling, and yes, please scratch right there until I tell you to stop. I adore animals and their gratitude for simple needs met. I wish more people were so.

I quickly make contact with Sammy’s owner—a doppelganger of me, had I been on the receiving end of the phone call: thrilled, desperate, relieved. She is on her way.

Sammy and I find the warmest, sunniest room in the house to await her arrival, and many attempts at my poor human-to-dog speak message of, “I promise, she’s rushing here to get you,” prove unsuccessful. His eyes still say, Make my two-leg appear, please.

And minutes later when she does, I can see in her eyes the same urgency as was in Sammy’s, and my “chatty Cathy” habit is getting in the way of reunification.

Paula is clearly a perfect match for her companion—warm, gentle, intelligent, personable. It’s almost as if she was a …

“What do you do for a living?” I ask her.

“I’m a school librarian.”

I drop all pretense of politeness and inhibition. I hug her.

“You are my favorite kind of people!” I look at her hard. “Did you somehow know that I run a campaign to erect monuments to all librarians? Because I write that on the jacket flap of all my books!”

She shakes her head. She did not know. And eyes the door.

I thrust three of my books into her hands. “For your school, if you want them.”

We will be friends. I’m sure of it. I will make it happen. And I will try to tone down that unnerving affection.

But it comes naturally when you’ve been surrounded by all this wonky magic your whole life. I may look askance at all the other lunacy that regularly shows up, but I will never question fate or the three siblings in charge of it.

And if Clotho, Lachesis, or Atropos—the three Sisters of Fate—should toss a librarian onto my front door’s welcome mat, I will treat her the same way I would any lost and loved puppy: with open arms and great goodwill.

Also a big spoonful of peanut butter.

~Shelley

Sammy was lost in the forest for two long winter days. And because of his perseverance and suffering, I suggest he receives a spot at Paula’s feet within the mold of her bronze cast—once her school raises enough money from bake sales. Come on, Western Albemarle High School. Get baking!

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.

 

 

 

How One Dog’s Bladder Changed my Life Strategy

“Hurry up!” I shouted off toward the edge of the woods where my hound was having a pre-pee before getting in the car to go someplace he was going to unload his truck-like gas tank-sized bladder. “Why do you always have to pee before we go? The trail is literally a few minutes away.”

Haggis trotted back to me and the rover before easily leaping inside of it.

Vigilance, he said, settling down in the back. Anyone nosing around will note this place is well patrolled—and often.

I rolled my eyes, but put the rover in drive and started the two of us toward the four mile stretch of woodland path we regularly navigate about four times a week. It is a county park, but to me, it is a sanctuary.

Which is utterly ridiculous when I reflect on where I live, because where I live is as “sanctuary-like” as one can get and not actually inhabit an island, or live in the hut of a polar expedition, or within the capsule of a manned mission to Mars.

Yet, I feel this deep desire to go somewhere that isn’t home to do some serious pondering on all jumbled thoughts at the end of a day.

When I first discovered the trail, I was insanely excited—nearly matching the frenzy of joy Haggis expressed, as he too was beginning to mutter about the same dreadful slog up and down our homestead hillside, and craved the scent of other animals that hadn’t already been categorized into one of three tiresome classifications.

Hey, he’d say with a glance back toward me as he stood over a patch of tall grass. Newly discovered fresh death, or Meh … newly discovered old death, and lastly, Wherever this guy is, he’s about to keel over because I can smell death in his pee.

My excitement was generated more from the “new scenery” situation and although new scents were part of it, none of them, I assure you, emitted the odor of anyone’s demise.

The “Deep Creek Thinking” trail is a moniker given to my hikes of how I wish those treks were, but cannot truly claim to be representative of the actual experiences themselves.

In truth, the trail has proven to be a doppelganger topographical map of my life, and during the last four years, as I have governed a new straightaway section of independence, this trail repeatedly surprises me with its dead-on accuracy depicting all that I face, embrace, and fall flat with.

Yes, literally, a face full of dirt is a regular occurrence.

Like the landscape of my life, the terrain I was now exploring was not the proverbial “walk in the park” I was hopeful it might be—all philosophical and Walden-like. Tree roots leapt from the ground to snag at my feet continuously, new rocks were pushed to the surface of the trail in new places every day, and branches reached out to hinder hikers like an impatient toddler grasping at the pant leg of a parent, determined for attention.

It was impossible to look anywhere but down. Well, it was possible, it just wasn’t safe. I figured out that little pearl after my third sprawl.

“Hey!” I’d shouted farther up the trail, spitting out a mouthful of decomposing leaves still too crunchy to be called dirt. “Little help here, please?”

I waited and counted to thirty and focused on assessing any concerning bone or muscle damage as I lay with my cheek pressed against the earth.

A thin, eight inch femur landed inches from my nose. Look what I found, Haggis had said.

That was enough to have me leap up from my pity party position. “Eww, is that human?”

Haggis raised his brows to signal a shrug. You’d know better than me. Hurry up. I’ve cornered a rabbit and treed a coon. Time is of the essence.

Our early days were filled with these exchanges, and now, four years later, whenever I’ve taken a flying sprawl, they’re more representative of:

How did you not see that root? It’s been here for … Haggis would glance up to access the tree, sixty—seventy years?

“It was covered with leaves,” I’d barked back at him.

I have a mental map of the landscape. This never happens, he’d said with a roll of his eyes.

“Bully for you.”

Don’t you have a mental map by now?

“Don’t you have some dead deer’s carcass to roll in somewhere?”

But he was right. After four years, this trail remains just as challenging, as there seems to be something new continuously thrown into the mix that precludes me from getting too comfortable. For instance:

I’ve started running every uphill stretch because … ugh, exercise.

One day of solid rain turns the entire path into an exhaustive, cumbersome mud pit that will repeatedly suction my shoes right off my feet.

Fat trees with boundless branches fall upon the trail and need scrambling over, under, or sometimes the very long way around.

A swarm of thirty or forty bikers will suddenly come crashing around a curve, an unbroken swarm of brightly colored, helmeted bees relocating from one hive to the next, wholly unaware of the odd hiker and hound they’ve sent flying into the thorny bushes off the path.

The above obstacles on my footpath are perfectly mirrored by the impediments on my life’s path. They’re not unlike my grasp on healthcare—which is a never ending uphill marathon, or general home maintenance costs—which are exhaustive, cumbersome money pits that will suction the coins right out of my bank account. They’re nearly identical to all the hurdles that fall in front of me—testing to see if I have the meddle to maneuver my way around them. And are as stunning as the fast-paced, pitches and curve balls that send me diving for cover—usually one that can be identified as a quilt.

But as a result of a long ago developed mulish and stroppy mindset, I force myself to see the trail as an invaluable experience. The path is not so much a trail as it is a training ground.

I suppose as my “mental map” grows, I will stop playing offense and pick up more of a protective “I’ve got this under control” type of attitude like Haggis enjoys, peeing on vulnerable areas that need to be defended. And like it or not, anyway you look at it, his method somehow always provides relief.

~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.

Climb Every Mountain (even those without cell service)

One day, when my children were very young, I said to them, “Do not live a safe life.”

Over the years, they’ve come to understand what I meant by that. Be bold. Explore. Seek adventure. Leap!

And they’ve both taken those words to heart, and each in their own ways.

One has decided to live as far away from home as possible and still be considered a resident American. And the other has decided she’s not even entirely satisfied with the offerings of this planet, and is seeking to set up permanent dwelling on some other.

I’m fine with that. In a weird, No, I’m not taking it as indicative of how near you’d like to be to me.

Because that would be safety. Not the message I was pumping.

But I suffer the byproduct of all that, Go concur the world! flag waving. My fault. Entirely. And suffer I do. Because I was born a worrier. I have grown to become Olympic level competitive on that scale.

There are messages that come to me from both kids that fuel the scale of anxiety, like:

Wait, what day is it today? Oh, god, it’s July?

Or

A gift from you of one hundred dollars? Finally food!

Or

I’m heading to Patagonia for a hike. You won’t hear from me for at least a week.

That last one is what I’m going through right this very minute. And I’m not going through it very well. I think I’d go through it better if I’d not had exchanges like:

Me: You know it’s winter there now, right?

Her: Good point. I’ll pack a scarf.

Me: How will we communicate?

Her: Communicate? Mother, the whole point is to leave all people behind.

I have deep breathed my way through nearly twenty-four hours of her traveling to simply get to where nobody else is. And now, knowing that it’s pretty likely she has arrived at the base of some glacial fjord—because we lost communication five hours ago—it is simply a projection of my mind’s interpretation of her scrabbled together emailed itinerary that I will cling to.

Let’s take a peek into the inner workings of a somewhat neurotic, definitely overprotective mother’s brain as we view her schedule, shall we?

Day 1 – Something something Torres del Paine something something Estancia Sector. *shrug* I don’t know. It’s all in Spanish. I just filled in the proper names of places.

Day 1 (my take) – Hike from the lowest point of some fjord until you feel a torrential pain across your body, then point yourself toward Antarctica—from whence a stiffer cold wind is blowing—and stand in this section until the pain has subsided, and you can move forward again. Or the spring thaw arrives.

Day 2 – More Spanish words including Ascencio River, then Los Vientos, followed by Chileno Montaña, and finally, La Morrena.

Day 2 (my take) – Forge across river of ridiculously fridgid temperatures, lose your vientos, which could be food, or water, or all camping gear. I’m not sure here. Then lose the trail map and find yourself totally alone, cold, and without wifi.

Day 3 – Blah blah blah foreign words including Nordenskjöld Lake, Almirante Nieto Hill, and again, another word ending in something that sounds like it hurts, Cuernos del Paine.

Day 3 (my take) – She’s somehow found herself in a small area that Scandinavians have staked claim to, they give her shelter, and whatever that new untranslatable Norwegian word that defines coziness is, they watch a Danish drama, then put her in a sauna to thaw out, and finally roll her back out into the snow for a taste of compare and contrast—life, versus you wish life would end.

Day 4 – There’s something about the Francés Valley, words that end with the phrase The Italiano Campsite followed by other foreign text and the concerning location Hills Paine Grande, ultimately coming to an end with even more worrisome words placed side by side Paine Grande Mountain Refuge.

Day 4 (my take) – Clearly, she’s in Europe now. I saw nothing about flights or boats. I have no idea how she’s arrived on that continent. But the thing that disturbs me most is that she agreed to trek the ‘Hills of Great Pain’ followed by the ‘Mountain of Great Pain.’ The last word ‘refuge’ does little to assuage my anxiety, as being an American, I fear she may be shown the same kind of hospitality our country is currently offering others who are seeking shelter. Paybacks, baby.

Day 5 – I used Google translate. And I think all of us know exactly the sharp accuracy of linguistic interpretation available here, right? Using this fine tool, I have made out the phrases chunks of floating gray glaciers, catamaran dividing great blocks of frozen spears, and impossible to operate ice field.

 

Day 5 (my take) – I think Google did a fine job. I think if she has made it this far, she will make it no further. I think that this part of Chile is sending a message: Go ahead and just try. We love a good laugh. And we’re keeping you in this frozen tomb until climate change forces us to defrost.

I have stopped looking at her itinerary. I’ve come to realize that translating biblical Hebrew texts into Middle English and Old Norse would be a better use of my time, and I’d best get moving on learning all three dead languages. In another week’s time there will either be a phone call from my exhausted but exuberant child at the airport or an ex-band member of ABBA—now retired cliff dweller—in Patagonia with some unfortunate news.

Either way. It’s all out of my hands.

But it is a safe bet that my whole “do not live a safe life” series of lectures will continue to come back and bite me on the backside, for as I dropped this child off at the airport and shouted out at her receding figure, “Have a safe trip!” the last thing I heard was a fading cackle of irony.

~Shelley

PS–An important update to all the Robin Gott Doodle Devotees out there! Robin has opened a new site where you can finally and officially purchase some of his finest and funniest work via a website called Society 6. To quote the champ of chuckles, “I know it sounds like some kind of low-budget South African sci-fi film, but it’s actually an online market place for all sorts of design.” Don’t miss out. Check it out here: ROBIN GOTT

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 Best Worst Day of my Life

You know how you can have like … the best day of your life, and then suddenly the whole world just beams down on you with sunshine and flowers for days and days to follow, and you just bask in that glow?

Yeah, neither do I.

Except for the first part.

My child has finally finished school. The official kind. At least for a little bit. Seventeen years of schlepping to class nearly every day. She’s graduated. She’s now a fully-fledged rocket scientist and has permission from all her teachers to hurl stuff up into space.

I wish I understood what it is that she’s going to be doing. I only know it has to do with the subjugation of Mars, triumphantly wrestling that planet into servitude for us Earthlings who are apparently fed up with this planet and are ready to conquer another one.

Or maybe she just wants to plant flowers and make it less orange. I don’t know.

The point is, is that graduation day was a day where I thought my whole heart would burst with joy. She raced down the aisle, and I sped toward her too. I have never hugged someone so tightly before. I cried. And laughed. And sobbed. And explained to all the thirteen thousand other people around us that my child just graduated from college, in case they were wondering.

Then I went home.

And I brought her cat with me. Just for the summer.

I love this wily, scrappy, reckless cat. Except for when she is wily, scrappy, and reckless.

When she’s sleeping, she’s awesome.

First thing that morning following graduation, I opened the front door to grab a flower pot on the front porch and this streak of jet black fur flew past me and disappeared. I panicked. Like really really panicked. I was in charge of the care of this cat who did not belong to me—the tiny little champion that supported my child’s exhausted soul all through school—and now it had entered the on-location shoot of a National Geographic special about mountaintop birds of prey where she was likely going to be the tasty treat of one vulture shared by seven of his closest friends.

Oh, dear God, where was she?

For two hours I searched outside. Under porches, bushes, behind barrels, and up trees. For two hours my head raced with what I was certain would be the result: my child would ditch her dream of meddling with Mars because her cat died. How could I be responsible for this?

I was defeated. I had to make the call—let her know what had happened and how hard I’d tried.

I opened the front door and suddenly that brazen black streak blasted past me once more—straight into the house and under the first couch she found.

My heart refused to stop hammering against my ribcage for at least a full hour, and my brain could not think of anything apart from “that was too close a call to ever repeat.”

Which is why paying a tax bill directly afterward was a really bad idea.

When one’s body and mind are busy recalibrating its official duties, math does not appear anywhere on the Top Ten Most Important Things list. It’s nowhere close. In fact, it’s so far away, Math doesn’t even know that a Top Ten Most Important Things list is a running concern. Math is out there busy chewing the fat with its neglected neighbors: grouting tile and soap sculpting.

Math did not think to show up and shout, STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND DON’T PRESS THAT BUTTON! when I ended up mistakenly paying the IRS the equivalent of Lichtenstein’s GDP for 2017.

I’m pretty sure I heard the smack of a giant facepalm it made though once it heard what I accidentally did.

As it was Sunday, no accountant was going to come to my rescue. The accountant I’d hired to help me with my taxes was very good at math, and she made clear to me that she knew how to count hands on the clock. There were still twelve full hours of Sunday left, plus eight more after that before she was going to answer her phone.

But mine began ringing off the hook suddenly. My cell phone, my house phone, the radio, and my computer all simultaneously began belching out panic signals “Grab your children off their swing sets and flee to the root cellar!” A major storm was barreling down upon us.

Now normally I am quite capable of handling big booming, lightning filled thunderstorms up here on this big hill I perch upon, but this one was determined to be a record breaker—also a tree breaker, a window breaker, and a furniture taker. (That last one was close enough. Move on.)

One by one I saw the heavy iron patio furniture glide right off the deck and tumble across the lawn, the cushions becoming new nesting fodder for a local fox’s den or half of North America’s birds. The lightning strikes—spitting distance away—made my hair stand up on end and left the acrid whiff of soot and cinders. Likely it was the charred fragments of a few desperately needed synaptic connections still struggling for cognitive responsiveness housed within my head.

Hours later after clean up, the windows, doors, and roof leaks, the search and rescue for the outdoor furnishings, the weeping over losing every tomato, green bean, and budding cucumber, I told the hound we were taking a walk. We would breathe deeply, walk swiftly, and cry where no one could see or hear us. I mean me.

He agreed but refused to have more than two boxes of Kleenex strapped to his collar. He’s so fussy, as it hardly added to the five pound whisky keg he already had fastened to that spot.

We walked. It felt good. The rain having plunged the temperature down twenty full degrees. All that deep breathing was finally starting to bring my heart rate down to somewhere around “only mildly concerning.”

Until I heard the fearsome, high-pitched scream of an unholy banshee—or it could have been a baby fawn being stepped on.

And one would remember that very particular sound because believe it or not, I too, have stepped on a fawn.

They hide. Beneath the grasses. Because apparently for a few tedious hours after being born they struggle with actually walking. Damn them.

And the hound had come upon one in his sleuthy, ferretting way. He scared the bejeebies out of both of them simultaneously.

And upon hearing the baby banshee holler, her mother—freshly finished from birthing—came shrieking down the ridge from above us. Barreling her exhausted body like a freight train straight toward her baby’s clueless predators, this doe was sending the message that she had not spent the last umpteen hours pushing out this bag of gangling bones and four sharp hooves for nothing.

Deer are loud.

And fast, and big, and really scary when plowing straight for your head.

 

She lept from the side of the hill and landed on the driveway where, because of the rain, her hooves skittered right out from beneath her big bloated body, and she slid across the road just like all my heavy iron lawn chairs. Then she scrabbled her footing on the other side and raced back up to the top of the other ridge mirroring the first.

She was prepping for another go around.

I screamed for the hound. And the little banshee squealed. The doe barked or roared or boarked (it’s a weird sound). There was just so much noise.

The second pass from Bambi’s furious guardian was apparently enough to jar the hound out of his muddled state of mind as he hightailed it straight up the hill and out of sight.

Which still left one large angry doe careening down a mountainside with anger and physics on her side. I was the remaining target.

Dumbstruck, I had no plan of action. I had bear spray on my belt loop, but that was about as useful as telling a Mac truck at full speed that he’d better “hold up there, buddy, can’t you see I have some Q-tips in my back pocket?”

She hurtled past me, again leaping and splattering on the driveway to slide straight across it like an ice cube.

I closed my eyes and clicked my heels together three times real fast.

When I opened them, I realized three things:

  • If I made it home alive, I’d best cloak myself in bubble wrap for the rest of the day.
  • If I made it home alive, there should be no “rest of the day.” Go to bed.
  • If I made it home alive, realize that the universe does not like imbalance. For every high there is a low. And taxes. There are always taxes that somehow don’t count on the universe’s balance sheet.

I just really hope there won’t be taxes on Mars. Let’s not forget … I saved a cat that might be vital in allowing that to become a reality. Surely the universe will count that in my favor.

~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.

A Penny Saved is a Penny Saved

There are a lot of things about me that my kids would love to see change:

  • Maybe I could fill my fridge and pantry with something they don’t identify as squirrel or bird food. To them, seeds, grains, and nuts are strictly meant for feathered friends and fluffy rodents. Real food, that real people eat, comes in brightly colored boxes with easy instructions as to how to marry its contents with your microwave.
  • Maybe I could stop talking to inanimate objects like trees, and my car, and strong gusts of wind. Also, my kids would suggest most forest animals might voice the same request and would prefer if I left them to get on with the business of gathering all the seeds, grains, and nuts that still remain outside of my pantry.
  • Stop with the whole ‘Franny Frugal’ routine.

Knowing that the first two are practically impossible for me—as both the temple of one’s bodily realm and the earthly realm of one’s body cannot and should not fall into neglect and disregard in my opinion—makes it even more improbable that I could alter complaint number three.

I have morphed into this woman. Largely by the original and most influential of sculptors—my parents.

Let’s blame them.

Yeah. I’m all for that.

It is mostly their fault that I have sprouted, slowly and surely, into the penny-pinching person that I am, as I long ago memorized their valuable equation of Time + Effort = the good fortune and necessity of Food.

It was a tricky one to wrap my head around at first because in the beginning said parents were providing most of the A and B inputs.

Then they kind of suddenly stopped.

Well, maybe not suddenly, maybe slowly over a decade of handouts, loans, and last minute saves.

Samey samey.

The result is that I have come to realize that ditching anything before its true expiration date is a behavior that should be rewarded with a sharp and head-clearing slap upside the head. It’s akin to walking up to your great grandmother and saying, “Despite the fact that you can still top and tail three pounds of wax beans faster than Paul Bunyan can fell one tree, Granny, your maintenance requirements are a bit of a downer. We’re getting an upgrade and have voted you off the island.”

I’m roundly and repeatedly criticized for my endeavors to not buy new things.

My phone lasted nearly five years. My car is approaching ten. My clothes are from the seventh grade. And yes, that milk is fine to drink.

Although I may live in a society of great abundance, I actually exist in a mindset of scarcity.

I’m not a hoarder, I’m a saver. Why would I throw out perfectly good plastic Ziploc bags and deli Tupperware when they have countless uses in front of them? One never knows when one’s small patch of land could be suddenly jolted and buffeted by some unforeseen earthquake, where all the recycled spaghetti sauce and jam jars holding my seeds, grains, and nuts will come crashing to the ground from their shelves—and then what’s going to contain those items until I’ve accumulated more saved glass?

Yes. My old Ziploc bags.

I’m resourceful, not crazy. It’s not like I wash and dry my tin foil, right?

Okay, I actually do, but that does not point to lunacy.

Okay, maybe it does just a tiny bit, but hey, it too has plenty of life in front of it. And I am a lover of life. Of life, and longevity, and coupons, and scraping the inside of every single mayonnaise, ketchup, and peanut butter jar.

I learned that tip from my dog. He knows the value of a crafty tongue that can find one last lick-full of anything and does not mind putting in the effort to obtain it.

I would argue against anyone who characterizes me as cheap, as that is not wholly accurate. I am … thrifty, fuel-efficient, prudent.

And saving up for more indispensable expenses.

Like whisky.

Although I am working on the skills needed to one day make my own supply, fleshing out a plan to ensure I not only never have to purchase any more, if I should find that my recipe far surpasses all others, but also that I’ll have enough in supply for when I run out of Ziploc bags and tinfoil and must begin bartering to restock the shortage.

Yes, my kids would love to see me with a smartphone that actually touted an IQ of anything higher than the number of chocolate chips I allot into each homemade granola bar, or a car I didn’t first have to give a five minute pep talk to before putting the key into the ignition. But I imagine eventually, they will see the soundness behind the “insanity,” when, like me, they too may need an extra hand with rent, or groceries, or my ability to purchase an airline ticket to see them accept some award and thank me up on the podium.

I’ll be there.

For whatever they need.

And now, if you’ll all excuse me, I’ve set up a small “Wilderness Whisky Tasting Event” for a few forest friends. We’ve all agreed to a minor trade agreement pact with no tariffs imposed.

We’re now just negotiation how many sunflower seeds can pay for a dram.

~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.

Let’s Talk, Turkey

Haggis, the great white hairy hound, ran into a wild turkey yesterday. And by ran into, I mean literally.

I was hiking down the mountain, en route to get the post and suddenly, in front of me, I saw a spray of pine needles, dead leaves, feathers, and an old empty bucket of vanilla ice cream.

Then I saw Haggis skedaddle out of the copse of trees, and run for the hills like the lily-livered, yellow-bellied beast that he is.

Chasing him out of the thicket was a monolithic, wholly indignant wild turkey—a wing-flapping, eye-popping, larynx-screeching pile of feathers.

Apparently, we had disturbed the monarch of the mountain, as one could nearly hear all the other animals in the forest take a giant step back and suck in a lungful of air.

The woods were filled with the whispered words, “I’m puttin’ fifty on the turkey.”

Or something like that. It could have just been the wind.

But this guy was a plumage-covered boulder of muscled meat that had made it through more Thanksgivings than Mother Nature normally allows. And he didn’t mind displaying the reason why.

Surely no gratitude could slip from the mouths of any ‘pack-as-much-poultry-in-your-gob’ feast-goer if that shindig had this brute on their platters. It’d be one forkful of anger right after another.

And anger tastes … well, not terribly optimistic about the future.

I think—and forgive me if I get this wrong, as there is little research on buzzard brains to delve into—he had a real twist in his knickers about winter.

As I could see it, it was the end of March, and his bones were aching, his feathers were waterlogged, the webbing between his toes were cracked, red, and itchy, and lastly, there was nothing to eat in this god-forsaken wretched house—err … forest.

All the good seeds were gone. Not a berry in site. Damn squirrels finished off the last of the beechnuts. And there hasn’t been a hatch of palatable pests in months.

Not that anything tasted good anymore anyway. His taste buds were nearly as old as the pilgrims he’d first started running from.

I felt for him—once I sussed out all possible escape routes, cuz he weren’t finished with his beef just yet.

I put my hands up and said, “You’re screechin’ to the choir, buddy. Remember yesterday? When you just sat from your lukewarm lair and watched me walk up and down this mountain three times? I had that book festival, and an authors’ panel? And because I would rather peel back my own toenails than ever be a no-show for work, the car had to be stationed at the bottom of the mountain—one big fat long mile away. Not even unplowed roads and eight inches of snow was going to be an impediment, remember?”

He looked at me blankly.

“Yeah, well, it was cancelled. And at the last minute. After I’d trekked through all that snow.”

His eyes narrowed, smoldering.

“You’re right, it should technically have only been two trips up and down the mountain, but the extra one was because of Haggis. Walking through snow is really noisy, and I had no idea he was following me until the very end, and of course had to march him back up the mountain because the Barnes & Noble folks are super prickly about which snow-clodden, fur-covered creatures get to drool over their stacks of bestsellers. But mostly, because I couldn’t trust that he could find his way back up to the house, as this guy can get lost in a paper bag.”

Even after that, old Testy Tom gave me the stink eye.

“Really? Still no sympathy?” I said, standing with arms akimbo. “How about two weeks before? Remember the three-day windstorm? The Nor’easter that felled twelve trees—each one across the damn driveway? That first day I was supposed to be one hundred miles from here, chatting to a bazillion beautiful fifth graders, being treated like the celebrity I’ve lead them to believe I am, but instead, I spent that day dragging logs.

“Not one of those trees asked me for my autograph. Or gave me a piece of warm, lint-filled butterscotch candy that had been sitting in its pocket since last Halloween. Not one of them bought my books. As in none.”

I glanced up around me at the trees. “Okay, there is a chance that’s because some of their ancestors are my books, but still. Not fair.”

Haggis peaked out at us from behind a large oak tree, far, far away.

“Coward!” I shouted.

The foul-mouthed fowl took one long step in my direction. I put up my hands. “Listen,” I said, “If the hairy hound over there interrupted your much needed afternoon kip, then I apologize on behalf of him. We’re still working on manners. And forming the words I’m sorry. Dog lips are tricky.”

The bird took another step toward me, and suddenly my mind was filled with images of the long, but surely award-winning documentary made by a group of New Englanders who’d advanced human knowledge and awareness on the dangers of engaging with belligerent wild turkeys.

It was two and one-half hours of watching these creatures savagely peck at the Subaru that always seemed to hold the camera man.

Yeah, at the time I laughed, but now I grew a measure of respect for their message.

“What is it you want?” I shouted at him. Well, not so much shouted as begged in a super high-pitched voice.

He said nothing. He just turned and walked slowly back toward the thicket of trees he’d flown out of, using one thick-sticked leg to bunt kick the ice cream bucket out of his way.

I stared until he was out of sight. Haggis came back and sniffed around the area of our standoff. I picked up the old ice cream bucket and read the label. Turkey Hill.

Related image

Clearly, like me, he just wanted a taste of summer.

~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.

 

Snake Slayer or Civil Serpent?

I like to think of myself as a fairly capable woman.

Okay, that’s a lie. I’d give my left lung to have other people think of me as a fairly capable woman.

Uh … okay that needs even further correcting. I’d give my left lung to have other people think of me as a kickass master virtuoso in most all areas, wielding life skills that leave my friends and family open mouthed with astonishment. I’d like people to look at me and say, now if Thomas Jefferson and Hildegard von Bingon had a child,

and that child was tutored by Joan of Arc,

and sung to sleep by her fiercely feminist nanny Beyoncé,

that would be Shelley.

All right, I may have gone beyond the beyond with that one.

Because the reality is far from that equation. No offense to the parental units as they worked their backsides off trying to encourage the mass of reluctant neurological connections I housed within my skull.

They did their best. Working with what they had to make a human being as independently capable as they could before they sawed at the fraying tether between us and cast me off to manage my own life raft.

But they still worry.

And I do not make it easy on them.

Sometimes purposefully, because that, in and of itself, can be fun. I like to push the boundaries a teensy bit to show them just how much their overall disappointment with me should lessen each day. Oftentimes this backfires.

Like when I announce to my dad that I’ve successfully replaced the flapper in a toilet.

He’s thrilled. Then I announce that in doing so I accidentally broke the overflow tube and the fill valve. He’s less thrilled.

Next time I’m editing that last bit out.

Or when I told my mother about how I just spent the last thirty minutes fertilizing all of the gorgeous spring bulbs she spent an entire day planting last fall. She was elated. I did not tell her that there was a 50/50 chance that I “fertilized” all the bulbs with weed killer because I’d recently transferred both liquids into unmarked spray canisters and neglected to label them before putting them away.

I’m learning.

Usually, most of their wide-eyed panic comes from my retellings of the Wild Kingdom episodes that regularly occur where I live: all alone, in the woods, up on a mountain, with not a stitch of people to borrow a cup of sugar from anywhere close.

I love it this way.

They are not nearly as delighted.

My latest run in with one of nature’s more hellish horrors (my mother’s words not mine) actually occurred on their property and not mine. So they were both there to witness the depth and breadth of my bravery and level of skill.

They live in a house that occasionally has indoor plumbing. But when functioning, those pipes can be fractious. They require me to regularly crawl under the house in order to beg and cajole (read: bang) those pipes into cooperation (read: submission).

Under a house is not a place most folks like to spend their free time. Sure, it’s got a variety of puzzles that will either entertain or flummox your synaptic connections for a spell. Like miles of wiring, or ducting, or hosing. And myriad dead things that cursed their curiosity that led them to a glue board. But maybe it’s the poor lighting. I never feel the urge to hang out longer than I have to.

Shortly after I announced to my parents my intention to have a “come to Jesus” meeting with the water filter in the crawl space, I decided to rethink my handyman chore list and shouted up into the house, “Hey, Dad? Can you give me a quick list of bullet points on venomous snakes?”

I heard my mother shriek above me.

“How big is it?” he responded.

“Them,” I corrected.

Kill them! (I think we all know who shouted this.)

How big are they?”

“Huge.”

“How big is huge?”

“At least 18 inches give or take a foot. Maybe take.”

“So not so huge then?”

“Well, not so huge but in a really big way … And they have a lot of teeth.”

“What type of teeth?”

“The kind orthodontists would marvel at.”

“Did you actually see teeth?”

“No,” I shouted, “But they conveyed teeth.”

“They conveyed teeth? In what way?”

“In the way women do when they are elbow to elbow in a shoe sale.”

Kill them! (Again, not me or my dad.)

I looked around for something to use as weapon. Not because I really wanted to end the life of some sad beasts that happened to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, but because I recognized the same look in these snakes’ eyes as the big black bear I’d recently encountered at home that conveyed the identical message of One of us is going to wish we could back up and start this day all over again with a whole nother path.

I found a shovel. I quickly realized two things. One—shovels are not the most ideal deterrent to use against a pile of snakes. Two—snakes are springy.

Yeah, that whole coiling thing is not just to keep warm like dogs and cats practice. That’s a preparatory pose.

Duly noted.

I found an ax.

Now we’re talking. An ax is an immediate confidence boost. An ax shouts, “You have no idea what century I come from and the talents I possess. But go ahead and roll the dice, buddy.”

I’m going to assume we can all deduce the outcome. After all, I’m still here and spinning this yarn.

I am also a newly minted superhero in at least one person’s eyes.

I may not be a proficient plumber, nor a great gardener, or even capable of bullying back a black bear, but as of today I stand proudly before you as … slayer of serpents.

Who no longer require diligent dental detail.

~Shelley

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

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor (NOW FOR HIRE- so do go check out his gallery!)–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blowing the Lid Off … Well, Just About Everything

I have often thought about how nice it would be to have a welcome sign painted and sprawled on a thick, arched board between two great posts on either side of my driveway, somewhere about two-thirds up the mile long haul. At first, I thought it would have the name of the house, all majestic and proud. I ditched that idea after about a year of living up here. People who reached the front door were usually either too breathless or concerned about the health of their car’s engine to be enamored with a pretentious house announcement.

Then I toyed with the idea that something encouraging would be appropriate. Like, Don’t give up now! You’re almost there! Or We’ve got cookies!

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I ended up posting a speed limit sign—at one of the most dangerous curves. The fact that it says 55 mph is usually enough to crack the tension of any new delivery man or technician who has to scale the driveway in a bulky, workhorse truck. Some make a gallant effort, but realize anything beyond 17 will have them losing a lug nut.

So now, I’ve made the decision that I’ll simply give a clear statement and folks can take it as they want. Sadly, it’s not mine, but rather a quote from Catherine the Great, yet I figure if anyone points this out, I’ll confess I could not give her credit because I ran out of room or paint or both.

The new entrance sign will say, A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache.

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And this great wind? It blows directly over my house from the beginning of January through the end of March.

Most definitions of “wind” I find too tame to adequately represent that which passes over the land up here. Some say “moving air,” others “a current blowing from a particular direction.” I think Wikipedia has it closest with their, “the flow of gasses on a large scale,” or “the bulk movement of air.”

It’s challenging when one is not raised in the Dust Bowl’s Great Plains, or on Neptune, to get used to living in a house that, for the better part of three months during winter, creates nerve-racking unease. The sounds are howling and shrill, at times something of such biblical force I’m often peering outside for signs of a burning bush.

Inundated with wind advisories during this time period, I’m left wondering—usually as I’m hunting for stray lawn chairs, flower boxes, or small children that have gone missing down the hillsides—just how possible it would be to harness this orchestra of sounds for the usage of our house.

If outfitted with the right equipment, could I make enough to run the washing machine, or power the computers, maybe even the seven alarm clocks needed to rouse my son from the four or five hours of slumped unconsciousness he racks up each night? No, maybe that last one is asking too much.

I know that wind energy is a spectacular idea, a no-brainer when presented with many of the pros:

  • it’s free
  • permanent
  • doesn’t generate pollution
  • readily available most anywhere in the world

Yet I read about community concerns as well:

  • harm to birds
  • unsightly
  • possible noise pollution
  • attracts lightening
  • reliability

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For years, I have followed the clever brains in this industry and continue to be amazed discovering how scientists around the globe are trying to capitalize on the pros and eliminate the cons.

Supporting this industry and furthering design work resonates with the ‘quinoa grain granola/save the purple pig-nosed frog/every day eat your body weight in probiotics’ kind of green thinker I’m trying to be. Of course, no matter how much wind I’d be able to harness and contribute to the energy grid, I will still not be able to:

1.)   Grow trees that do not look like they belong in a Dr. Seuss book.

2.)   Light a birthday cake outside during the first three months of the year.

3.)  Reconfigure my patio furniture as it’s all nailed down.

4.)   Remove the four ankle weights on the dog when we go for our daily constitutional.

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On the flipside, I can fly a kite 24/7, I can easily record an award winning horror film soundtrack, and I get all the free dermabrasion I could possibly want.

There you have it. Pros and cons. I’m going to work hard to keep seeing the wind as a true attractive quality to living up this close to the mesosphere. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? Although up here, if you’re hoping to see anything, you’d better wear protective goggles to keep the sand out of your eyes.

With all that in mind, I leave you with this dictum.

Tis an ill wind that blows nobody good, but a silent wind that lets everybody get a few hours of uninterrupted shut-eye.

(And here’s a little wind humor)

~Shelley

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

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

Twas the Night Santa Ditched Us

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with Earl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haggis Jingle Bells

~HAPPY HOLIDAYS~

~Shelley

 

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

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

Hairy, Huge & Unhappy: the Nature of the Beast

Nature is full of surprises.

There’s the kind of surprise where you trip over a small nest that the wind inadvertently tossed out of a tree and discover it’s full of bluebird eggs. Love that one.

You might also experience the wonderment of learning that the deer and bunnies have a finely tuned vegetable patch timer that coincides with your garden’s peak completion—except they receive a notice about three hours before you. This is another type of surprise. Not nearly as keen on this one.

And one can’t forget the bombshell astonishment of the occasional black bear chase surprise. Not looking forward to repeating this one at all.

Nature especially loves that last one as I’m pretty sure I’ve heard her laughing her tuchus off while it was happening.

And I took it personally. So Nature and I are not really on speaking terms this week.

I’m holding an especially big grudge as a couple of weeks ago I saved one of her tiny bunnies from drowning in my pool and I’ve spent weeks on my hands and knees freeing the garden of the less tasty varieties of weeds so that the hordes of woodland creatures can easily spot the juicy blueberries, the antioxidant jam-packed tomatoes and the clusters of sweet as sugar lettuce leaves.

Not a thank you in sight.

I’m not surprised.

But the day I took on the ‘mother of all grudges’ against Mother Nature unfolded on one of those swampy, thick as molasses afternoons Virginia forgets to advertise in the brochures that highlight the hay bale dotted farms, the winding mountain roads and more Civil War re-enactors than were probably involved within the original cast.

The hound always takes the lead on our daily hike as if he’s the canine equivalent of Ernest Shackleton and we’re racing to plant the flag at the bottom of the mountain. I’m guessing he picked up this idea from the many times he’s seen me bring letters down to the mailbox and raise the little red standard to shout out to ol’ Earl that he needs to stop and pick up some post.

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I can see how it could be confusing.

But this time we hadn’t made it quite halfway down the hill when I see the dog running back up with a giant smile on his face, as happy as if he’d just discovered that his vet wrote a prescription for one jar of peanut butter per day for optimal health.

Yeah, that would be a total daymaker for him.

I followed him down the hill to see what all the fuss was about, and turning the corner we come upon—not the vet with his prescription pad in hand—but rather the largest bear I’ve come to see up on this little mountain of mine.

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WHOA! Big Bear! my super sharp instincts reported. Now you need to …

Yep. My super sharp instincts went blank.

This is soooo not a good feeling when you know at that very moment you really should be on your game.

I scrambled through the cluttered files in my head. What to do, what to do, where the hell did we put that bit of info!

I wondered, do I run? Play dead? Run? Climb? Run? Charge? Ha! Charge. What an idiot for thinking ‘charge.’

RUN was definitely flashing up on the screen more than anything else, but I remembered something from my several years ago ‘what happens when you spot a cougar?’ training I had to do after I’d spotted a cougar on the mountain.

Okay, we’ll go with the rusty cobwebbed cougar manual.

  1. Make yourself BIG.

I did. I raised my arms above my head. The bear—maybe 50 feet in front of me was not impressed. He started walking toward me.

  1. Make noise like you’re in charge.

Seriously? Like I’m in charge of the bear? I did. I roared and waved my hands around above my head.

It did not have the desired effect.

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HE charged.

That whole RUN! piece of advice leapt in front of everything else again, but so did the tiny piece of info that I recall reading from my brother’s boy scout handbook that said, You can’t outrun a bear.

But another thought kept screaming, CAN’T WE EVEN TRY??!

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I scrambled for a big stick on the ground.

He stopped and then made a wide circle around me. It was a bluff. Or maybe my stick was super impressive as far as weaponry is concerned.

I started walking away sideways, watching this big hunk of fur and claws and teeth keep pace with me.

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My next thoughts were: Shoot, I did not finish my new last will and testament. And Damn, there are dishes in the sink and I forgot to make my bed this morning. Whoever comes to search for me will rethink my cleanliness benchmark. And lastly, I wonder if he will kill me and THEN eat me, or if he’ll start the eating part first. But hey, on the bright side, I will now finally see a turkey vulture up close.

It’s amazing and alarming to discover what your “last thoughts” truly are. I’m hoping I can rectify mine for my next near death encounter—should there be one.

Thankfully, the big bully lost interest and wombled the other way. It may be due to the fact that I reeked of DEET, and that is a marinade he found unpalatable.

Or it could be the fact that he bumped into a tree and inadvertently knocked over a bird’s nest and discovered it was full of bluebird eggs.

SURPRISE!

~Shelley

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click)

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.

 

Uncivilized Wildlife: One Big Bloody Battle

I’m a creature of habit.

A couple of them I like and have come to depend upon—like sleeping, eating, and general brain function reliability.

One or two have stuck around that I’m not terribly fond of—like hitting the hay too late, forgetting where I’ve parked the car, and stalking Neil deGrasse Tyson in hopes that he’ll change his mind and finally decide to co-author a scientific paper with me on the plausible objectives of time travel through human-sized, uncooked rigatoni noodles.

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I think he’s afraid he’ll have to do most of the authoring. But I’ve assured him I will pull my weight. I will keep our coffee cups filled. I will keep all the pencils sharpened. And I will do my best to man our Twitter page and keep it filled to the brim with pithy, clever snippets that reflect our opinions on all things hyperspace bypass related.

This bad habit could turn into a big bonus for the both of us.

My creatures are creatures of habit too.

The cat is awake to eat.

And then isn’t.

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My hound has a slightly more varied routine, but he too keeps a predictable schedule, which is why at around 11:30 last night I was surprised to see him wander into my bathroom while I was finishing my evening ablutions.

“Shouldn’t you be outside making your last security rounds?” I asked him with a mouthful of toothpaste.

Ran into a tiny snag.

“Why are you bleeding all over my bathroom floor?”

The tiny snag had teeth.

“This does not bode well for my precious Italian faux marble tiling,” I said, wondering if the pooling blood would stain.

A little help here?

I sighed. “Go get me a bucket of bleach and a wire brush.”

A Band-Aid would suffice.

“And if I go into that housekeeping cupboard tomorrow and notice you’ve stolen all my camphor moth balls again, there’ll be a reckoning.”

I had a stuffy nose.

“Use the Neti Pot!”

And so it went.

I cleaned him up and noted the two deep puncture wounds on one side of his hind leg and the graze of teeth marks on the opposite side.

“Who did this to you?”

I didn’t catch his name.

“No. I mean what animal did this to you?”

Something massive that obviously hadn’t had dinner yet.

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“Well, it’s bedtime. No more prowling about tonight—got it?”

The look I got in return was one that suggested I had an IQ equal to that of tapioca pudding. We shuffled off to bed. But sadly not to sleep.

As is wont to happen round about this time of year, the whippoorwills make their annual appearance and settle in around the woods and meadows surrounding the house. From far away, they offer a dreamy, somnolent tune, echoing through the cool spring nights.

Sitting beneath your window, they are shrill, piercing, and an aberration of nature–as anyone would attest they surely have three lungs.

For thirty minutes I did my level best to ignore the siren song which was truly much more of an honest to God siren and less so a beautiful, mythical sea creature calling me out to the crashing waves and hidden jagged rocks.

I got up, opened the porch door and encouraged it to take its evening serenade elsewhere. “For the love of all things holy, I’m begging you, PLEASE BE QUIET!

I soon gathered that the bird balladeer and I did not speak the same language, or perhaps he interpreted my hand clapping as applause. He simply relocated to the space beneath another window.

The following thirty minutes was difficult to breathe through as I had my head beneath two pillows.

It was clear this bird was hoping to make it onto the Avian Olympic team and that his training facility was any perchable place within 12-24 inches of my house walls. The incessant aria, the rigorous, methodical whooping warble was worthy of a gold medal for effort. And a twelve gauge for the likeability factor.

I got up, went to the window and gave it a couple of good solid thumps. When this achieved nothing, I opened it and began shouting into the night. “I know where you live! I will not be fooled into looking skyward! I know you’re all ground nesting birds!

Silence.

I looked at the dog who was still tending to his wounds. “You’re wel—”

WHIPPOORWILL, WHIPPOORWILL, WHIPPOORWILL!

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And then there were three.

This bird had called in for backup. The flock now positioned themselves on all sides of the bedroom walls that faced nature. It was a trio of torturous, ill-timed tunes.

I groaned and found a pair of previously owned earplugs. I shoved them in so far they practically met behind my nose. I burrowed down beneath two pillows and a quilt. I hummed. I made ocean-like white noise.

After ten minutes, I got up and called for the dog. His head was firmly wedged beneath the bed.

“Okay, I’ve changed my mind. Go gettem, tiger.”

No, thank you, he said, glancing at the fang imprints he now sported.

We both spent the rest of the night being miserable and met up in the kitchen at breakfast—me fresh from a shower and him coming in from outside.

So, this might be of interest. He dropped a greeting card in my lap.

“What does it say?”

He snorted. You know I don’t read. But it was right outside my dog door.

I read it aloud for the both of us.

Hey, bud. Sorry about the bite. I thought you were a whippoorwill. Those things are driving me crazy.’

I looked up from the note. “Well, apparently some of Mother Nature’s brood has manners.”

~Shelley

*ROBIN GOTT’S BONUS CARTOON* (click)

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Want to Step Outside?

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they drive.

You can tell even more about a person by the way they drive AT YOU going 40 mph on a thin and curvy country road while you are out for a leisurely Sunday stroll.

Not everyone is paying attention, as is clear by the amount of drivers that will suddenly swerve when they finally identify that you are a person on the side of the road and not a woodland deer on two feet, or a slow moving tree attempting to make a break from the forest.

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And not everyone is particularly concerned about speed, or laws, or the fact that studies have shown it is easier to drive a vehicle if you are in charge of the direction you’d like for it to move. Pesky windshields and steering wheels. They so get in the way of reading emails.

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As a person who spends the majority of my conscious, upright hours in a chair, I have made a pact with myself (or Beelzebub) that states that if I fail to take a head-clearing, leg-stretching, lung-cleansing walk by the end of the day, I must refrain from breathing for a full thirty minutes as punishment before going to bed. Or for as long as the dog’s last nap divided by pi and rounded up to the nearest tenth. Whichever is longer.

I rarely fail to take a walk.

When at home, my routine is measured and predictable. There is no choice in direction living on the peak of a great chunk of rock. You are allowed to go … down. But then you have to come back up if you’re hoping to get dinner. As I never tackle this adventure without my trusty rusty hound by my side, and because it’s clear to anyone who has heard me wax lyrical about the animal (and declare I’d give him a kidney if he needed it), I am usually swayed to flip a 180 once we arrive back to base camp and trek down half the mountain again as a bonus for a little added caloric burn.

I have been warned that I am way too indulgent with this mound of fur on four feet, but as he assures me he would pull me out of a burning house fire, I feel I need to continually shore up our relationship—and his muscle strength—as a just in case insurance plan.

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If I’m visiting my parents, my walk is more residential, peppered by driveways, cars, and the containers holding last night’s dinner—a gift tossed out truck windows from a good chunk of folks who have yet to meet an area of the world that does not confuse them as being an extension of the county landfill.

Should I find myself in town and in between appointments, I make use of the tennis shoes I keep in my car for such an occasion and stroll in whichever direction the wind is blowing. Coincidentally, the wind seems to push me right to the nearest bakery, which I take as a sign from the universe that I need a lot more gluten in my diet.

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And I’m all about tuning into cosmic conversations. I’m like a fully carbed out Jodi Foster, only instead of sitting on the hood of my car surrounded by giant, rotating satellite receivers, I am standing in the city center, inhaling in all directions seeking the tiny refrains of active yeast strains.

I can smell otherworldly puff pastry creations from sectors of space that have yet to be mapped by astrological spectrographs.

There are countless things to learn on one’s habitual daily walk, like how much the winter snow contributed to the health of the burbling brooks, or how fast maple trees leaf out in spring, or how much porcupines do not appreciate being taken by surprise.

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Where folks are closer together I’ve discovered that neighbors like to communicate their personalities through mailbox and yard art. Perhaps as a way of scaring off any real forest critters from feasting on hedges, flowers and veggies, fake ones are strewn about the lawn. Most complete with bullet holes. Some driveways are so crisply outlined in nighttime headlight reflectors, one could safely guide a Boeing 757 into the garage at the end of it. And if one house has decided to grandly name their abode, you can bet your bottom dollar that ‘Ben & Jen’s Lake House’ will soon find it’s sharing the same street as ‘The Earl of Norfolk Hall,’ ‘Chateau Belvoir,’ and ‘Killkerny Castle.’

In closing, it doesn’t matter if I’m in the forest, with my folks or following the fragrance of fine French bread, I really love to walk.

My hope is that I will remain healthy enough to do it for years and years to come.

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Another hope is that I will continue to recover from all the ditch diving I have had to practice in order to avoid speeding vehicles driven by amateur multi-taskers.

And my last hope is that I will finish this post before the clock strikes midnight so that I can squeeze in my daily walk and not be forced to calculate how long the dog’s last nap was.

I love to walk.

But I love to breathe more.

~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

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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The Road to Hell is Paved With Snowplows

I’m having one of those days.

Everybody has them. Everyone is familiar with them. Nobody likes them. And we all nearly collapse with gratitude at the end of them.

I call them: Good For Nothin’ Days.

Or: Why Me Why Now? Days.

And even: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DOES ANYONE STILL MAKE CALGON?! Days.

I am having one of the last category days today. And I would like to get off the bus at the next stop and call an end to the day in general. Go no further on this ride.

I am a big list maker.

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I believe in the effectiveness of lists like most folks believe in the effectiveness of vitamins, or prayer, or eggs. The jury is still out on whether or not many of these things actually contribute benefit to our lives, but loads of us are diehard fans who will shoot down any negative data and cling to that which we know and are comfortable with. Because it’s safe.

And … change sucks.

The problem with today, and my list, is that nothing is getting crossed off. And the anxiety of having a day without the satisfaction of putting a line through tasks is much like having a warm heart to heart with an innocent, furry little lab mouse and telling him that today he will not be receiving his ever-available, always-flowing drip tube of liquid cocaine, and that he should just try to shake off the upset he’ll likely begin to feel at some point.

LIKELY??

I am in total sync with the bewhiskered wretch. His tears are my tears. We pace the same cage. We are tormented by the same misery.

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It’s not like I am making no effort to accomplish things today, but rather I am dependent upon other people, and although I have what feels like a bottomless pit of enthusiasm to spur on the lackluster drive of others, I cannot throw two or three or a half a dozen folks onto a sled and drag them up to the top of the hill to plant our collective flags.

One reason is because a snowplow is blocking the way.

Yes, I know it’s the end of March for you, but for me it’s smack dab in the middle of February. See? Time travel does work. Or rather, that’s how an editorial calendar works.

Part of the beauty of living where I do is that it’s remote.

Part of the bane of my existence, living where I do, is that it’s remote.

I prefer NOT to have interaction with most human beings because they interfere with my ability to work. But on the flipside, when I do need assistance, I can hear folks on the other end of the line all drawing straws to see who’s the unfortunate sod who will be assigned my work request order.

Usually I hear something like, “Uhhh … yeah, you should expect to see Jimmy—”

NO!

“I mean Buck—”

NUH UH!

“Hold on a sec …” (insert muffled growls) “Vernon’s comin’ by tomorrow sometime after lunch, God willin’.”

*sigh*

I’m not surprised. Or offended. I get it. It takes forever to get here, and the getting here part is usually rife with treacherous debacles waiting ‘round every bend—and by every bend I’m talking about the driveway. The first thing out of everyone’s mouth is always, “Seriously?” followed closely by a “ooohWEE!”, or a deleted expletive, depending upon what part of the county they were coming from.

My answer to the seriously? question was to have a 55 mph sign installed at the most dangerous and impossible part of the drive. I figured this was a surefire way of eliminating any person with an IQ that fell below that of leaf mulch from making it to the top and thus to my doorbell.

The ditches on either side of my driveway have housed more automobiles than many car dealerships around here. Tow trucks almost always call for backup tow trucks, which result in calls back to the shop for specialized winches, axles, and ratchet straps, and when they realize they’re both in a bind, someone usually phones David Copperfield to get a quote on levitation.

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If there’s even a whisper of frozen precipitation in the forecast for my local area, it’s generally guaranteed that all packaged mail delivery folks will leave a note on the gate at the bottom of the hill saying they dropped by, three days running, and go figure, no one was ever home. Anyone scheduled to head up here for maintenance suddenly has a “family emergency” and will have to reschedule. For some time in June.

For some time in June.

Snowplow drivers, on the other hand, are a fearless breed. Those that do not get hired by the county are the ones that generally have been weeded out because although they may lack fear, they usually also lack sound judgment. Most drivers will recognize the difference between pushing a load of snow, and say, taking down a small grove of fruit trees, or clearing the road of pesky fire hydrants and mailboxes.  The ones who feel it’s pretty much samey samey, hang up a shingle come wintertime and are up for private hire.

Lucky us.

And luckier me, I’m going to head down the mountain’s deadly driveway for the third time today to find out if this fearless fellow would finally like for me to call for backup to get him back on the road and out of the grove of solid trees he mistakenly took for the route we normally use with our cars.

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“Yeah,” he says, kicking a tire that just can’t seem to get a purchase on the air it’s spinning in. “I’ve tried and tried,” he waves his cell phone at me, “but I can’t get no service up here on this mountain.”

Tell me about it.

~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

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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Making your mark with indelible stink.

It all began with Brussels sprouts. As some adventures do.

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This one though, took an unexpected turn, a pungent hard left.

It was dinner time. I’d fed the hair-covered creatures and gleefully realized I had the house to myself for the evening. I’d been fighting a hankering for Brussels sprouts the whole week long and finally found an opportunity to indulge with abandon. One whole pounds worth if I found myself determined.

And I was.

The prepared bowlful in my lap, I surfed with the remote to find something mindless and mind-numbing to watch for an hour before heading back to work at my desk. It didn’t matter what: Modern Family, Outdated Family, All in the Family—anything that allowed somebody else to do the thinking for a few minutes. At that point, the Weather Channel would have sufficed.

The cat leapt up onto the couch and put a paw on my arm. “Sorry, sweets, you’re an obligate carnivore and tonight is ‘Veg Nite.’ I popped her down onto the floor.

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She leapt back up and re-positioned her paw, this time with newly sharpened claws getting a firm grip. “Ahem.” She glared at me.

“Hey, a little dining courtesy would be appreciated—and oh my godfathers, what is that smell?”

That cat rolled her eyes.

“Wait a second. It isn’t me. I haven’t even eaten any of these yet.” But within two seconds of saying that, there was no need to ask for further clarification. The smell was unmistakable, and it wasn’t Eau de Brussels sprouts.

I narrowed my eyes and looked at the cat. “Where is he?”

“I imagine he is stupidly attempting to run from the odor.” She began cleaning one of her mitts.

I put down my bowl and got up to search for the hound. With every step I took, no matter the direction, the pungent odor increased tenfold. I opened the kitchen door to the back porch and whistled into the blackened night. Nothing. I went to the front door and did the same. Nothing. I crossed the house to the laundry room, the room he’s been given access to with his own private entrance. I stepped outside, reeled back from the landslide of reeking air, and blew a piercing whistle.

“Right here.”

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I turned to see the dog in the corner of the porch, doing his utmost to disappear in the shadows.

“What have you done?” This was a stupid question which we both knew the answer to. My eyes were beginning to water.

“I was trying to make friends.”

“With whom?” I demanded.

“It looked like the cat.”

“But it wasn’t the cat, was it? Wasn’t even close to the cat.”

“Uh … yep.”

“Were you not given any warning?”

“It was dark.”

“Go sit in the shower. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Pepé Le Pew slunk off toward my bathroom and I ran to my computer, hoping I had whatever household ingredients necessary to create a deskunkifying poultice. And at that moment, fortune shined upon me.

It may be true that I have a teenage son who can bring me to my knees on a daily basis due to his typical teenage boy curiosities, but he has one particular saving grace which repeatedly saves his tuchus from being thrown into the giant abyss of THOU SHALT NOT COME OUT OF YOUR BEDROOM UNTIL YOU ARE TWENTY-FIVE AND RELIABLY PAYING TAXES:

He is kind.

And I don’t mean, “Hey mom, thanks for buying chocolate milk,” kind. I mean help the elderly cross the street, fold someone else’s laundry and asks how was your day every day kind of kind.

And just when I needed an act of kindness, he walked through the door.

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There are not a lot of people who will be willing jump in the shower with an animal who can make your nose turn inside out from the stench, and show uncommon compassion for what that animal is going through by ignoring their own discomfort, but this fellah is to be counted among that lot.

I owe him my thanks, and try to remember to say it in between the variety of vehement and vociferous tongue lashings he regularly receives.

Once the lengthy shower had finished—one that included more baking soda than a kindergarten room’s art cupboards full of Play-Doh—I thanked my son and turned to the dog who sat looking quite miserable, dripping on the bathroom mat.

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“And now we raid my cologne closet, to see what miracles my friends Chanel, Christian and Calvin can do with your … situation.”

I made a perfume soup and then threw in a dollop of two floral and one pine scented room sprays. It was an aroma nightmare, but slightly better than the assault we’d been experiencing pre-evening-ablutions.

The dog looked at me sourly, “This is awful.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers,” I said, wagging a finger.

“Okay, but can beggars have some Brussels sprouts if you’re not going to finish them?”

I suddenly felt really bad for the poor fellah. “You bet, buddy. Tonight of all nights, I don’t think anyone is going to notice.”

~Shelley

April Gotta Have a Gott winner

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Jump on over to see the cartoon winner for April!

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.

Related articles

 

Hell is empty and all the devils are here!

There is a plague on my house.

Or more aptly, there is a plague IN my house.

Even more aptly, there is a plague in BOTH my houses. (The hound has a tiny cottage just outside the dog door.)

It’s evil. It’s widespread. It’s pandemic.

Actually, it is a they.

STINKBUGS.

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These six-legged beasts have made themselves at home—without invitation, without cessation, and without a return trip ticket from whence they came.

A few years ago, the abominable scourge was the ladybug—or ladybird beetle. I can’t believe people complained about our overabundance of ladybugs. Growing up, you were lucky if a ladybug landed on you—it was a chance to make a wish, or count its spots to see if a good harvest was coming your way. And as is well known—a good harvest could make or break the day of a seven-year old.

California citrus growers released thousands of the beetles—purchased from our good friends Down Under—and kept their fingers crossed that the clumsy, crimson cutie pies would gorge their tiny bellies on as many aphids as they could muster. They were champions. Our desperate need to send grapefruit for the holidays was saved.

But eventually people complained. (Bet you didn’t see that coming, right?)

Rumor had it that the next idea was to release some parasitic wasp that would in essence sneak up on the ladybugs, inject them with venom, rendering them paralytic and zombie-like, and then lay eggs inside them. Our tiny beetles shortly found wasp eggs hatching and chewing their way out of their own belly.

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Yeah, love that fix. Let’s launch a battalion of those wasps to teach our ladybugs a lesson.

The lovely ladybugs are no longer an issue in our abode, but have now been replaced with these malodorous, marmorated, major pain in my backside bugs.

Stinkbugs, so true to their name, are now making a yearly pilgrimage to my neck of the woods to worship something found in all the creases of my curtains, along the crown moldings of my ceilings and embedded deep within my light fixtures. When not paying homage to their transcendental deity, they rejuvenate their shield-shaped bodies by guzzling any sweet, liquid libation they can locate. Gone are my plump figs, my peppers and thick, leafy greens. I am a mecca that provides a free for all service of food, lodging and late night vespers to these party animals. A one stop church and chow, a synagogue and sip, a temple and tipple—I could go on …

I suppose I would have a lot more energy to create a battle plan to reclaim my house and crops if only I were allowed a proper night’s sleep. I have challenged cognitive skills at the best of times, but when paired with a chronic sleep disorder—thrust upon me by the late night riot of cocktails and carousing that these bugs launch into once I’ve donned my nightcap—I am left droopy-eyed, sluggish, and just barely tuned in to the fact that one of them is crawling along the back of my neck as I’m trying to work at my desk. I’m guessing he’s attempting to peek over my shoulders to report back to the others of my annihilation strategy.

They fly, stumbling along in the air, drunk on fig juice and nectar of collard greens. Their buzz is analogous to that of a small child’s radio controlled flyer, and just like the barely airworthy kidcraft, the bugs are likely to fall out of the sky at a moment’s notice. I’m not sure if they suddenly tire of the effort their wings ask of them, or if they have a very low work ethic, or even if their tiny brains stopped focusing on the task at hand and gave up coordinating calculations for lift, thrust, drag and weight, but they plummet and hit the earth—or the person standing between them and the earth–with a crisp thwack. They then are stuck on their backs, stranded by their hefty bulwark, many unable to flip themselves over because Mother Nature did not take into account the overwhelming dullness of mind these creatures possess.

A good number perish this way. No funerals are held. I am both elated and repelled at the sheer number of dead stinkbugs lining the windowsills, scattered across the countertops, or that crunch underfoot when I’m lulled out of bed with the need to use the facilities. I’ve decided to wear combat boots to sleep so that I’m totally prepared should the need arise. Plus, battle waits for no man.

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They fall into my cup of tea, dive bomb into my pot of soup, squiggle their way into the folds of my face towel and I am fed up. I’ve lost sleep, my appetite and my appreciation for cilantro—for this is what they smell like when squished.

The only answer is suction.

I stalk these foul creatures like I would conduct a witch hunt—that is if I was an uneducated, fearful Protestant—which I am not. But for the sake of good plot, I pretend to be close. At least for this scenario. It is method acting.

It is me and my central vac hose. We suck them up one by one. Gleefully. Triumphantly. Like a woman possessed. Or getting rid of the possessed.

I fly about the room, cackling maniacally. The witch and her wand.

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I cast these evil creatures into the abyss with a parting quote: We are time’s subjects, and time bids BE GONE!!

~Shelley

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

Out of touch

Panic has set in at my house.

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

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

And … on a holiday weekend.

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

No, not alrighty.

Not alrighty at all.

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

No juice, no point in going on.

Find cliff. Leap off.

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

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

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

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

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No joy.

Perhaps I’ve done it incorrectly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He does not.

He issues “a ticket for service.”

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

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

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

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

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

They stare at me blankly, eyes wide and unregistering.

The phone rings. THE LANDLINE PHONE!

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

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

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

Ah, memories.

~Shelley

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

 

The Gates of Hell

I live on top of a mountain. It just barely counts as one as far as qualifying height is concerned, but hey, a med school graduate at the bottom of her class is still called doctor. You pass. Congratulations. Hang up your shingle and warm up your stethoscope.

Back to my big hill.

The road up to the house measures a solid mile long—and a thousand feet up. Most cars chug up to the top with the old engine standard of ‘I think I can’ grunting from beneath the hood. If a car, on route to the top, should give up before reaching its destination, the choices for its passengers are either to roll backward along a death-defying series of dead man’s curves, or secure chalks beneath all four wheels and limp along on foot the remaining distance.

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The county decided they had no interest in claiming responsibility for road maintenance, and the post office, who still delivers mail via horse drawn carriage or carrier pigeon out where we live, said PETA would be all over their sorry arses if they had to consider our address as part of their route.

Together, the two organizations colluded and decided to call the road … our driveway.

In order to gain access to the stretch of road that has more animal encounters than a National Geographic Special, you must pass through a set of gates. They are formal looking, sharply pointed, black and menacing. Iron bars meant to intimidate. In fact, I’m fairly certain they are possessed. I feel as if they should brandish a sign with a giant skull and crossbones, displaying blood-scrawled words, “I’d turn back if I were you.”

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Growing up in Wisconsin farm country, gates were a part of life. They served a functional purpose. They kept animals off the road, animals from eating the crops, and teenagers from making crop circles in the corn fields on late night sprees. Of course, the last one was the hardest to control, and that’s pretty much my point: it was rare to find a gate we couldn’t outwit.

But this gate …

I’ve given up on the programming manual. It requires a degree in electrical engineering and more brain space than my head can provide.

The gate is electric and attached to a phone line—and although we pay each bill on a monthly basis, juice to both services is supplied only on every other Thursday as long as it falls on a combination bank holiday and Catholic saint day. Seldom do they all align.

More often, the box providing electricity is just a small metal house that offers shelter to either an enormous ant colony or a den of mice–whoever stakes claim to the space first after it receives its monthly cleaning. If the box does happen to hum with some form of voltage, it is only a matter of hours before someone inside becomes fed up with the incessant noise and chews through a wire. And if they’re a little slow with work that day, then surely lightening will come to the call of duty and strike the box with a massive bolt, rendering all residents inside to simple carbon atoms.

I’m positive the “antenna” meant to catch the signal of our remote control devices was accidentally switched out with a lightening rod. Pressing the remote control never works. You can point it at the gate, level it at the aerial, or even put it under your rear tire and back over it to make sure you’re pressing down hard enough, but I’ve found it ain’t up to the job.

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It does, however, change the channel on our dish receiver and it usually messes with the cockpit info in overhead planes.

Handy in some cases, I suppose.

Folks coming to visit who do not have one of our remote controllers meant to lull you into a false sense of consumer product reliability must depend upon their savvy skills of speaking into a box to gain entrance. This box is occasionally hooked up to our phone line which will dial up to our house, but only after you figure out a complex math equation and punch your results onto a keypad. This was done to ward off the mass of hunters who often show up and ask permission to track the land with their coon dogs.

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I don’t have any problem with hunters. I just want to make sure that if there’s a guy and a gun walking the woods where I live, he has to have passed fifth grade math.

It’s usually not such a big problem anyway, as the phone line is habitually broken and we’re on a week long waiting list to have someone from Appalachian Power come and take a look at one of our many issues. It might be just as effective if we simply tied two tin cans to the ends of a mile long string. I’m willing to give it a go.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run down to the bottom of the driveway to help someone get in, or arrived home to find the damn thing on the blink again. Either way, my car is usually parked on one side of the barrier or the other while I’m unlocking padlocks, pulling out circuit breakers, wrenching out lynch pins and roping back the gates to allow entrance or exit. Frequently in a downpour.

I have proposed we get rid of the whole system, but the three other adults who live up top are all English and find the gate reassuringly British, so I am outvoted.

Therefore, I’ve decided to think tactically. I’m now researching the cost of hiring a beefeater. Safe, traditional, and classy.

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I sure hope he doesn’t come with a manual.

~Shelley

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

A fairly faithful fairy tale

For the last two months I’ve been feeling like I belong in a Beatrix Potter tale. Maybe lodged somewhere in the index between The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and The Tale of Two Bad Mice. In fact, there are days where I’m so prickly from doing endless loads of laundry that I actually see the bristly, Scottish hedgehog Potter penned into the role of Animal Laundress of the Lake District gazing questioningly back at me from the mirror above my bathroom sink.

But in addition to being Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle’s doppelgänger, I have, as of late, been boldly playing the role of Mr. McGregor.

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He and I share the same love of growing veg, and the same dream of wrapping our soil-stained hands around as many fluffy bunnies as we can throw into a gunny sack.

Real nature lovers, he and I.

First thing in the morning, I am woken by the night patrol shift. Smudge, the charcoal colored streak of flying fur I see only at mealtimes, waits at my shoulder, staring intently at whichever eyelid she is closest to and waits for lift off (or lift up in this case). Now is when she announces, in a slightly bitter tone, that according to the always accurate clock in her belly, breakfast is late. Then, as she leaps from the bed, she throws a quick, “oh, and bee tee dubs, there are rabbits in the garden.”

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Covers are jerked off, the back door is flung open, and I sprint in a “Why are my legs not working??” kind of brain fog to scare off those wascally wabbits.

I get there too late and see nothing but cotton ball tails scurry back to their safety zone of immunity in the woods, or the fields, or Russia.

Disgruntled, I trudge down to the sheep barn to further fatten two defunct lawnmowers with a couple handfuls of grain. And by defunct lawnmowers I mean both sheep have decided they do not like the taste of our meadow grass and refuse to eat any more of it. Period.

I have never met, nor ever seen sheep go on a grass strike. And I feel if I were to admit this to any other farmer I would see tears spring to their eyes, and be later billed for the small hernia operation I forced them to have because they split a gut laughing over my fiascos in the fields. Yes, I can hear everyone telling me that I’m further complicating the matter by giving into their demands, that if I refuse them their cereal they will eventually give in to hunger and start mowing again, but I have SEEN these guys hold their breath—and I have no doubt that they would pass out just to prove a point.

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Replacing the lid on the grain bucket, I catch movement out of the corner of my vision and turn to see two black pearled eyes blinking back at me on a shelf beneath the barn window. A fat field mouse, pink nosed and whiskered, stands up to his jelly bellied middle, surrounded by tiny shreds of paper towel, pine shavings and my latest issue of The New Yorker. He has made himself a cozy bed in a pocket betwixt wall and shelf. His eyes go wide.

“What?” he says. “I smell winter.”

“Get out,” I poke a rake at his nest.

“Fine, but can you leave the lid off the grain bucket? Now that I have to relocate, it puts a dent in my foraging schedule.”

I sit on the bucket. “Out.”

I watch him scuttle away and my faithful hound and I finish mucking out the barn. As I’m making my way back up the hill to the house, Haggis turns to me and says, “You know there are rabbits in the garden, right?”

“What?” I look at him. “How do you know?”

“I saw them when we came down to feed the sheep.”

I am miffed. “Why did you not run after them?” I shout.

“I was helping you muck out the barn.”

“YOU WERE EATING SHEEP POO!”

“I was helping.”

I stab a finger in the air toward my vegetables. “Go. Run. Now!”

Haggis gives me one of his, You’ve gotta be kidding me looks and says, “I am way too full to run. I could get a cramp.”

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Doubly miffed, I march into my garden to see what fresh new destruction has occurred while both my well-fed, well-watered, overly indifferent protectors of the potagé have been enjoying the posh life.

As we near the beds, crows scatter from the blackberry bushes, a mole buries himself beneath the mulched pathway having munched his way through an entire cantelope, and a spindly legged fawn leaps in surprise and springs in misdirected flight toward the trees, still clutching a bright red, juicy tomato in his tiny mouth.

I lean on my trowel and look at the crops.

I think about the endless nagging I do with my children to eat more fruits and vegetables. I write about making good food choices, trying to illuminate the spectacular flavors from the garden and benefits from natural food sources.

I sigh and take down my Peter Rabbit scarecrow and replace it with a Welcome to the Salad Bar sign.

How can I chase away the collective few who have been following my advice all along? It’s absurd, right? I finally have an audience who are all ears and eager to eat what will make them big and strong. It’s now crystal clear to me … my forest friends have been reading my writing.

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Social media is amazing.

~Shelley

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

Well, well, well.

The well broke again, the hot water heater has a failed joint and there’s a leak in the basement.

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Apparently, no one has been feeding our dead plumber ghost.

This guy is cranky and cantankerous, moody as a teenager, and when determined to send home the message of I dont like being ignored will shut us down, skillfully coordinating it with a heat spell, a sand storm and a family reunion. He’s crafty, that’s for sure.

Roger (our nearly resident handyman/polymath friend and neighbor whom you can read more about here or here) has a new theory he suggested I consider. My original hypothesis—the one that suggested our continual plumbing calamities were the result of our construction contractors enacting an ancient building rite where one man is sacrificed and buried within the foundation walls to pacify the gods by dedicating a life in exchange for future good fortune—is one that I feel has explained most of our lamentable lack of liquid setbacks. But Roger has spent a great deal of time on our little haunted homestead and has suggested this:

The natives are restless.

One in particular.

And a powerful one at that.

Roger believes the land we currently inhabit was at one time occupied by many Native Americans, and that their burial grounds are scattered among these mountaintops where they settled. He also suspects that when we began poking around in the ground to divine a water source, we may have accidentally driven the shaft of the well right through the heart of a powerful chieftain.

Sauk Chief Makataimeshekiakiah, or Black Hawk

And now we’re in for it.

This makes a mind-boggling amount of sense to me as well (no pun intended). And because of this new theory, I’m left wondering if there is something I can do to right this wrong. Can I alter a few things around the property in order to set straight that which has been askew? Is it possible to mend fences with the dearly departed?

Looking over my daily life, I believe I’ve come up with a few things that may be irritating our wronged warrior. For instance, if you’ve gleaned anything from prior posts, it may be apparent that I have a slight affinity for everything that reminds me of Scotland—and for the sake of full transparency, I suggest you replace the word “Scotland” with the phrase men in kilts. The fact that I’ve been blaring bagpipe music across the mountaintop is likely enough to rouse him from a settled slumber.

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I’m switching to wooden flutes. Nothing but melodies that are healing, plaintive and meditative. I myself will simply have to envision the musician as more of an evolved clansman. Maybe one with well-manicured hands who writes Gaelic poetry on the side. I’ll try to get used to it.

Or it could be that the scent of food emanating from my kitchen is so foreign and unpleasant that he occasionally puts a full stop on my practice of culinary arts. Yes, it’s true that I am somewhat overzealous with my enthusiasm for fermented foods and that in every dark and draftless corner I have something covered in cheesecloth, quietly brewing. But surely our wandering, tribal spirit would appreciate that I attempt to bar entrance to the pantry any foodstuffs that come across my threshold in a colorful cardboard box rather than strung together through the gills or bound collectively by foot and thrown inside a gunny sack.

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Yes, you’re right, I got a little carried away with that last part, but it seriously sounded so authentic in my head. Thankfully, the fishmonger at Whole Foods takes care of the scaling and the butcher removes most remnants of hoof and paw, head and hair. And I thank them for it.

Again, in my defense, I cook a lot of ancient, ancestral grains, but I’m wondering if perhaps he has noted that most of my seeds have traveled a great distance to find a space in my cupboard. Is it likely that my passion for sprouted, Aztec super grains has stirred his wrath over my carbon footprint?

English: Alexandria City, MO, July 9, 1993 -- ...

How do I delicately communicate my aversion to corn after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, where Michael Pollan effectively told me that many Americans are now highly processed walking corn because of poor diets? I look ashen in yellow, so no thanks.

Having given it a great deal of thought, and having come up with two very viable possibilities as to what nettled my supernatural Native American, I have to admit I believe it is neither one. The third option is not one of music, or food, but worship.

It is so easy to take what we have for granted. I rarely give a thought about the ease of access to my water, the process others labored to bring it to me, and most importantly, the source from which it came. water faucet (600x800)I am reminded of these things when I’m denied that ease, when it is I who must labor and when the source withholds. Every drop to wash my hands, every dab to cool my brow and every sip to slake my thirst is counted, is measured, is honored.

This is his message, isn’t it? To be careful, to be mindful and to be grateful.

And that if I don’t turn off the bagpipes, he’ll turn off the water pipes.

~Shelley

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

A little night music

Victorian-era Engraving of the Man in the Moon

Victorian-era Engraving of the Man in the Moon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve not been sleeping well lately. The temporal length of night stretches endlessly, a slow, measured awareness of time. I close my eyes and try to center on my breath, but my active mind is unwavering and demanding.

Many nights I’ve given up the pursuit of sleep. I find the more I struggle, the more energy I expend. And energy has a way of creating energy. Therefore, it’s often best I slip into this fine-spun, cottony existence: a night shift form, a continuance of nocturnal wakefulness.

I find I am never alone. There are others who occupy these hours and regularly show up for the anchor watch.

What is it that wakes me? It could be the moon.

At the moment, it’s fully round and luminous, as large and potent as a Hollywood spotlight advertising a movie premier. It peers through the glass door to my bedroom balcony, illuminating the room as if the dinner party was finished, all the guests have left and we were preparing to search for a woman’s lost earring.

Sometimes I’ll wander outside, amazed at the clarity of night, convinced this might be an opportune time to bend down and finally weed a patch of garden I regularly ignore. But then I am distracted by the fireflies.

And what are their briefly kindled bodies if not a wink meant to tease? Like a child drawn to the sound of the tinkling ice cream truck, I too must chase these will o’ the wisps, to catch one maybe, or simply be close enough to see their alluring alchemy up close.

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Maybe it is the forlorn owl, woebegone and patient in his solicitous appeal to be answered, that rouses me from my listless state. I’ve heard his beseeching notes seep through the stone and wood and plaster meant to protect me from such invasive intrusions. But perhaps his degree of desolation is one that travels in a way yet undefined, but innately known.

The whippoorwill converses with friends. He is persistent with his practice, determined to perfect a call with nuance so subtle, only the finest and truly dedicated of musicians would recognize this desperate quest for perfection. I hear the same pursuit from the scales and arpeggios of my daughter’s violin–often at that bewitching hour–late and lonely and languid. To me, it’s up and down and up again. To her, it’s day and night, oil and water, thick and thin. The differences so palpable, so sharp, and so lonesome a club membership.

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Oftentimes, I’m brought out of my light stupor by the chorus of coyotes at a rowdy clan gathering. Their yipping, crazed cries for action depict a bloodthirsty plan, and its poorly written code is broken by my nervous sheep. They send their own secret slang that easily reveals their fearful tally of the numbered enemies. At this point, my faithful hound lifts his sleep-laden head and rouses to the call of duty. He takes one moment to listen intensely for classification of intruder and direction of the assailants and then he blasts through his door like a bullet out its chamber.

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There is a forceful announcement of the acknowledged trespassing–a warning shot thrown over the bow–and a detailed promise of injury to come, his amplified version of Don’t make me come down there.

Then again, it’s nearly impossible to sleep through the din of amphibious pining. Once the Festival of Frog has begun, nothing but a cold snap will freeze their lips shut, and this is a long way off. Yet their summer sonata is a resonant one where the cold-blooded instruments move with ease from croak to peep to trill. They are an orchestra sans conductor, impromptu with timing, but lyrically musical with their swampy cadence.

It may easily be the sound of the crickets keeping sleep at bay. They punch in for work as soon as the afternoon shift of cicadas clocks out, one choir replacing another. Except their tune melds effortlessly into mind-numbing Muzak. That is, until there is one lone fellow, desperately lost and forever separated from his family, who seeks sanctuary beneath my bed, calling for reinforcements.

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More likely it is the sound of a stirring breeze that catches my ear. This is the intro to the flutter of leaves, which whirl in a tiny, tight panic. Another nod to the wind section excites the wind chime section, which announces the herald of the low timbalic register of thunder. Distant and rumbling at first, it can quickly crescendo to clashing blows and a tremulous, foundation shaking finale. No lullaby, indeed.

When the performance is finished, I envision the remaining debris: leaves scattered like discarded paper programs and sticks tossed like spent sparklers from an Independence Day display.

But it is still night, and I am still awake.

Alleyoop (472x800)The only remaining sounds are that of the tired dog, tasting something yet uncaught in his drowsy moment of rest between patrols, and the sleuthing cat, who cannot manage a leap up onto furniture without uttering the human equivalent of an “alleyoop,” and cannot come down from any without allowing a forceful grunt of air to audibly demonstrate the effort as well.

No matter. I choose to look at this misfired attempt at sleep as a mere rehearsal: one meant to work out the squeaks and missed notes. It’ll all be fine come show time.

Practice makes perfect.

~Shelley

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

Sinning saints make red letter days.

Green Beer!

Green Beer! (Photo credit: garrettc)

Great gobs of people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. And although this is a fine day to indulge in Emerald City colored food and drink, I think we’re missing the bigger picture here:

WE NEED MORE SAINT’S DAY HOLIDAYS.

Yes, it’s likely that most of us will have at some point come in contact with or been a part of the making, baking, chewing and spewing Saint Patrick’s Day grub that would send most nuclear plants’ managers straight to the alarm panel. Yet not all of us are entirely sure why we’re compelled to do so.

It’s true that Patrick has been a shining example of how just about anyone can turn their life around right after they’ve been kidnapped, purchased by a Druid and worked as a slave for half a dozen years. But Patrick would be the first to push away the parades and shamrock-shaped cakes baked in his honor. I’m guessing he’d be happier if we all just sat in a circle and shared stories from Bible camp. He’d probably also confess that a lot of unnecessary hype has been drummed up over the years about him driving out every snake in Ireland. It’s all stuff and nonsense. There are no snakes in Ireland. There are, however, a few slow worms in County Clare, but as we’ve come to find out, those guys are actually legless lizards.

Tropical Island Paradise

Tropical Island Paradise (Photo credit: sebr)

Apart from St. Nicholas and St. Valentine, the only other saints’ names we tend to truly utter with voices expressing pure thrill and anticipation are when we’re boarding an airplane and ensuring our bags are checked to one of a few tiny islands in the Caribbean.

I think we can do better than that.

Why not consider a St. Augustine’s Day? Twenty-four hours where we celebrate our youthful transgressions of stealing, cheating and scoffing at the banality of common education. We recall our addictions to the lowest vices, remember fondly the concubines we once embraced, and retell the story of Augustine’s childhood misdemeanor where he and his posse climbed a neighbor’s pear tree and stripped it bare of fruit—not to eat, but just for the pure joy of vandalism. As a general act of penance and goodwill, we can send friends and neighbors a fruit basket from Harry & David’s. We can even send a Hallmark card off to any children we sired and abandoned along the way, wishing them well with therapy. It’ll be cathartic and remedial at the same time.Pear-stomping (684x800)

In addition to making amends for Augustine’s negligence with the fruit of the tree, we could also minister support to the discarded fruit of his loins. Well, not his in particular–it’s a little late for that–but we could easily create a St. Margaret of Cortona Day. Margaret is the patron saint of the orphaned, reformed prostitutes, single mothers, sexual temptation and the mentally insane. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest there may be a connection of sorts.StMargaret (494x800)

Margaret won this supporting role through diligence and research. There were plenty of other women lining up with the hopes that the Catholic Church might give them recognition for playing a similar role, but Margaret’s character really seemed to shine through and connect with the Academy members—I mean, the Vatican panel of theologians. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she was tremendously photogenic and looked good on stained glass.

Regardless, we could make this day one of good deeds rather than self-indulgence. Instead of holding a parade or making swanky dining reservations, we could all drop a quarter into a mass fund for the college education of the offspring of single mothers. Or those of you who regularly patronize the local den of iniquity might want to consider donating that night’s “fee” toward this good cause. It’s just one night. We could put the charity boxes on the counter at gas stations. I think the American filling stations called Sheetz would be an apt partner.

Another possibility might be a St. Catherine’s Day, because any woman who can write a treatise on purgatory is going to find a slew of females prepared to help her through it with a pot of caffeine and a large chocolate-laden coffee cake dished out at someone’s kitchen table.

Having been rejected by the nunnery, married off to a tightfisted, violent-tempered husband, and given the no-go by her reproductive system, it’s not surprising that poor Catherine sunk into a state of melancholy.

Oprah Winfrey, The Queen

Oprah Winfrey, The Queen (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

And since she didn’t have Oprah to turn to, she was left with the only other form of psycho-therapy available at the time: confession.

Suddenly pierced with Divine clarity in the confessional, Catherine apparently lost consciousness with an overwhelming eureka moment. And that might be why Oprah’s shows were so popular. Those thunderbolt episodes where you slap yourself on the forehead can lead to a lot of folks jiggling life back into focus. Like it did for Catherine. From then on out, this woman had purpose.

And couldn’t we all use a day like that? When we celebrate waking up from the fog? Maybe we’d all participate in a giant world detox. We could share, purge, take a quick nap and wake up refreshed. Think of the possibilities.

I’m sure there are endless candidates for further Saint Day holidays, as there are over 10,000 glorified souls currently inked in on the Catholic ledger, but maybe you can mull over the potential martyrs while having a pint at the pub today.saint bob And let me know if you stumble upon any winning ideas, because if there’s one thing history has taught us, it is that it can be a lot of fun to celebrate dead people.

~Shelley

*As a Saint Patty perk for today, click on this 4 minute Oscar-nominated short film and learn about our guy from one of the most edible authorities out there. Enjoy!

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

O Brother, where art thou brain?

Toot & Puddle I spend a lot of time looking outside the windows. The views are truly spectacular: mountains, trees, silos, cows, woodland creatures, fairies and llamas.

Okay, I took it too far. Everyone knows we don’t have llamas, we’ve got sheep.

Funny enough, the windows I’m most drawn to are the ones that look over the sheep pasture. I’m so curious to know what keeps those mammoth woollies busy all day long. Occasionally, I’ll try to sneak up on them, to catch them by surprise. They never seem surprised. They’ve got the Art of Zen down pat. They even blink in slow motion, although it might be the arctic temperatures that are slowing down that bodily function.

Stamp owned by Swollib

They’re brothers, even though they look nothing alike. But heck, I’ve got three siblings and none of us resemble one another. However, there was a high turnover rate of postmen on our lonely stretch of road while I grew up.

Our sheep, Toot and Puddle—named after two fairy tale pigs—refuse to be farther than a three hoof stride from one another. They wander the meadow, chew grass, get caught up in the search for better tasting grass, raise their heads and snap back together in some strangely choreographed rubber band dance.

At times, I see them both with heads high, still as statues, staring in the same direction. I crack the window and listen. Wile E. Coyote? Bumbling bear? Livestock snatching Scotsman? I am regularly left with no answer and they simply both return to the heads bowed position. Perhaps it’s sheep yoga. The stretching of tired neck muscles.

And that brings me to their favorite pastime. Ramming. Talk about needing beefy necks. Or would that be lamby necks?

Whatever the terminology, it remains unfathomable to my brain that they continue to sustain this brutal level of continuous impact, a collision so violent I’m left hearing birds tweeting carousel-style. But as is customary, they both seem to agree that the best thing they can do after a good head bashing is … repeat the experience.

Ad nauseam.

Ram speed ahead!The sound alone is volatile enough to crush the tiny bones of my inner ear. It is a thudded clunk, a muffled wallop, a thwack that only the crunch of bone jarring against bone can create. But to them, it is akin to the tinkling tones of the ice cream truck coming up the street, for it sends them leaping into the air with glee, bouncing with legs like springs.

I’m guessing the only thing saving their brains— what little they do possess—from spilling out of their ears, is the giant cloud of wool they are encased in. I suppose it’s a little like taking two large cement blocks, wrapping them in pillows and forcing them to merge at breakneck velocity. Or magic. It’s the only other explanation.

But it is quite the show. And I think it’s my squeals of protest and elevated anguish that ratchets up their fun factor. They’re showing off. By having a pillow fight with their heads.

The other thing I find unendingly fascinating is that one of them refuses to talk anymore. Now, lest you think I’ve been joining the ramming riot, I’m not suggesting these yahoos can string a sentence together and quote Shakespeare. They hate the bard. Especially Leonardo’s version of Romeo and Juliet when we showed it on Movie Nite last week.

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No, what I mean is that Toot used to be vocal, and being the bigger brute of the two, we thought he’d be raucous and unruly, an intemperate bulldozer.

But as we’ve come to realize, size isn’t everything.

He ended up sounding like Mike Tyson with a case of croup. Raspy, high-pitched attempts to communicate generated uncontrollable laughter from the crowds we sold tickets to. And herein may lie our mistake. We may have overscheduled him with shows.

I thought he possessed more confidence, but I’m guessing he took much of our mirth to heart. I feel terrible. So I’ve decided to start a rehabilitation fund with the proceeds. Of course, we first had to pay for the overhead, because bleachers and popcorn vendors don’t just build themselves, but everything remaining thereafter went straight into his account. Mostly.

I’m determined to make it up to him. And to the folks I’m refusing a refund.

Regardless, the sheep have taught me a lot over the last couple of years and in no particular order:

–        Once hay has fallen out of the hay rack and touched the floor, it is inedible. They’re worse than me with the ten second rule.

–        Everything is a scratching post. Fences, trees, the bookcase that holds all of their favorite poetry … everything.

–        Wool is waterproof, soundproof and nearly bulletproof. And I mean nearly. It’s super close to being there.Bullet_proof_wool_200213 (800x543)

–        Sheep hold a grudge. Forget to feed them for one measly week and they stop talking to you. Won’t even get up to greet you at the paddock door.

–        There is no lamb language for, “Excuse me.” Head butting gets the message across super quick and you don’t even have to stop chewing whatever’s in your mouth to communicate this.

–        I would like pajamas made entirely out of sheep lips. Seriously, it’s like a new fabric made of jelly and velvet.Sheep_lips_200213 (800x636)

–        Sheep have no teeth in the front part of the upper jaw, which for the first year I found incredibly upsetting and thought was a result of the barnyard brawling, but apparently, this is considered normal.

–        Sheep refuse to fetch.

In closing this week, I leave you with an old bit of farmer wisdom, handed down through many a family: Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. And always drink upstream from the herd.

~Shelley

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

Learning your anatomy; it’s heart work.

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

February fluff is everywhere.

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

I’ve even come across chocolate flavored chocolate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Daddy, my tummy hurts.”

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

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

That just wasn’t my bailiwick.

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

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

Baby's Blue Eyes

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

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

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

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

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

Puppy Love

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

Huh.

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

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

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

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

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

Laugh with the poetry.

Smell the roses.

Sparkle with trinkets.

Just make a wide berth of the chocolate flavored chocolate.

~Shelley

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

The Oaths We Take, The Rules We Break.

Promises170113 (800x632) (2)January is supposed to be a fresh, new start to the year, right? Full of promises we make to ourselves and one another, and we most often hear them at the end of a liquor-swilled dinner. People resolve to make themselves thinner, exercise and meditate, swear off cigarettes, stop burying Fed Ex drivers in the backyard …

Regardless, along with all the “New You” promises made sits a quiet, smug, don’t-need-to-be-flashy-because-that’s-not-what-we’re all-about campaign. It’s the “Simpler You,” the “Par Down to the Core You,” the:

“Barely there, but so aware” promise you make to yourself.

Juices

Cleanse. Purge. Sluice. Expunge. Clarify. Erase. (Somehow, I still get the unnerving feeling this can loop back to the Fed Ex guys.)

It doesn’t matter what words you use to define it, but it makes most sense to me with this word:

DECLUTTER

(Funny enough, that word is overstuffed with a mess of letters.)

It’s a word that has to elbow its way to the front of my hippocampus where it muscles past all my other short-term memory “to-dos” and insists—nay, screams—for immediate attention.

Post-It Note Art Collage (PINAP)

Post-It Note Art Collage (PINAP) (Photo credit: Adrian Wallett)

I write myself a Post It note to remember.

There’s a lot that needs sorting. My desk, my closet, the pantry, the fridge, the barn and at some point I’d like to find where I last left the kids.

I find it near impossible to weed through my email inbox. It’s filled with hundreds of self-motivating subject lines like:

2013 will be my most manageable year yet!

A chaos free mind = a chaos free me!

Ransom negotiations.

Sorry. That was a copy and paste mistake, but I think you get my meaning. And if it isn’t mail that apparently came from my higher evolved, totally zenned out self from a future dimension, then it was a forward that probably came from my mother, who has seen my desk, closet, pantry and fridge. And it’s likely she’s the one holding the kids until I can see past all my Post It notes—hence the last email title.

clutter

clutter (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

There are several others—okay, who am I kidding, there are hundreds of others—all with similar messages:

6 Steps to Realizing Your Resolutions—which I would read if I could remember where I put my list of resolutions.

Conquer Clutter!—another great idea apart from the fact that there’s not enough space to lay out the blueprint for battle plans.

Becoming Minimalist—that’s one of the longest emails I’ve ever read.

Don’t be a Stuffaholic—I bet there’s a support group which meets twice a week (which will eat up all my free time for decluttering)

*sigh*

And it’s not just emails. The messages are coming at me like bullets from all angles.

–        I’m in the car and the radio assures me that “Organizing the new you for the new year has never been easier. We’ll send someone to your house to do it FOR YOU!” I switch stations. I’ve already got a mother-in-law.

–        I walk into the gym for my yoga class and see message boards in bold and catchy coloring: Make a mindful New Year’s pledge. Find the real you buried beneath all those unnecessary pounds! Apparently, no one realizes the mindful minutes I put into selectively accruing those extra layers. It was deliberately done. It’s winter. Snowshovel? Check. Salt pellets? Check. Purposefully acquired figure of impenetrable, whale-like composition? Oh, yeah. Check.

English: Komondor

English: Komondor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

–        Even the dog, who at this point in the year has more hair per square inch of flesh than my 1970’s childhood home’s combined shag carpeting, has been sending not so subtle messages about his much needed spa day and haircut. I find him listening to books on tape instead of pouring over leather-bound tomes in the library.

Yes, I hear the messages. I need to reduce. Maybe I can live without the remainder of my wardrobe from junior high. It’s possible I will never reread all the cards I have received and saved since I was seven years old. I suppose some people draw the line at holding on to Halloween candy dated as ‘Best By 19-something-or-other,’ but it’s truly hard to let go of one’s thrifty nature.

fingers crossed

fingers crossed (Photo credit: cinnamon_girl)

So all I can promise is that I’ll try.

For the good of my family. For the benefit of my dog. For the relief of the Fed Ex guys.

I’ll do it.

I promise.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what was cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and most importantly this week, be sure to check out the awesome cartoon humor of Robin Gott (here)! He penned the above caricature of me (spitting image by the way), and will be sure to give you a giggle in the pub with his take on styles of kilts across the globe. Check him out!

Math; the cacophonous noise of numbers.

Archways

Archways (Photo credit: The Massie Boy)

The architect who designed our house was a fairly rotund fellow: sturdy, stout and elliptical. Perhaps because he was forced to face his oblong softness in the mirror each morning, he may have developed an aversion to curves. And this may be the reasoning behind his blueprint full of geometrical angles so sharp and precise it would be possible to surgically slice yourself if you weren’t careful rounding a corner from the kitchen to the laundry room.

We fought tooth and nail, my husband and I as a team, attempting to insert an arch here or there, or a hollow that suggested pliability. In the end, we were successful in sandpapering a lot of the inside edges away, and felt it would be safe enough for folks to walk through the house without wearing Teflon clothing.

But the roof … stayed as was first drawn.

I should rephrase that. The roofs stayed.

Gable roof

Most houses I’ve lived in have had two slopes for cover: front and back. A little like topping off four walls with a Hallmark card tipped on its side. Nothing fancy, just functional. Usually, it kept the rain from sliding inside and down to the basement. Sometimes the rooftop capped a little extra space where field mice were grateful and Christmas ornaments slept patiently. It was traditional and comforting—nothing too out of the ordinary that would cause folks to drive by and shake their heads in wonder–because where I grew up, if you weren’t regular, you were likely prayed for in church.

But the house I live in right now would be worthy of an entire diocese on their knees 24/7 for a month’s worth of assistance. Every time I go outside to look at it, I wonder if the house’s crowning design is even structurally possible. There’s a very good chance much of it was done with the aid of mirrors.

crazy calculationsRolling out the blueprints to familiarize ourselves with the architect’s vision, we’d find mathematical angles from algebraic equations that surely made Einstein pace. There were unfamiliar words like cross hip, trusses, soffits and underlayment sweat sheets. Some terms might have been written backward, just to keep us from asking about them.

Several of the planes would be done in copper, others would be shingled. Apparently, all of them would be connected. Regardless, the long tube containing the rolled two-dimensional version of our home’s pinnacle puzzle oftentimes remained in its safe scroll form.

Remarkable as the finished product is, and the mathematically improbable achievement aside, I tend not to think too much about the rooftops unless one of two things occurs.

1. My son traps a wayward radio controlled aircraft somewhere in the maze of cedar and ductile metal.

or

2. We have an ice storm.

English: A buildup of ice on a branch after an...

Living where we do, this is not an uncommon thing. The weather is fickle here in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where precipitation is capricious and Mother Nature is determined to throw as many weathermen under the bus as possible with the intent to increase their incoming mounds of hate mail and angry tweets.

If it’s a matter of unruly dirigibles, we wait for a good, solid Nor’easter to blow through and bring the airship back to earth. There’s nothing anyone can do without a crane, a tightrope and a harness. If the roof is brought to my attention via the weather, then it’s usually due to the fact that I can’t get to sleep.

Pellets of sleet or the pinging of hail resonate with precise metallic tonality—a common occurrence for those with tinny plates above their heads. Soft spring rains can lull you to sleep, but winter’s transformative temperatures makes the sound akin to that of a full onslaught of air attack with BB guns.

Crash part 3

Crash part 3 (Photo credit: andysternberg)

The true test determining one’s degree of torpor is the ability to snooze through the assault of sliding snow and ice. Because of the many pitched roofs, all built at a dizzying array of levels, pancake sheets of solidified snow slide down a steeply pitched plane, before crashing to the next grade. Here, knowing its jarring noise roused you from your fragile slumber, the arctic blanket waits until you’ve resettled yourself and then it melds with the newly met wedge of snow. It now carries on its domino-effect late night charades—ever increasing the clamorous intensity until the miniature iceberg finds its last slide and thunders down to crash upon a groaning, snow-filled deck below. The clatter can catapult you from a dead sleep and have you diving for cover, firmly believing there’s an air raid above you.

Yes, I now know the difference between a ridge and a gable, the flashing and fascia, the dormers and drip edge, but it’s the rioting in the rafters that leaves me bleary-eyed and bushed.

Next house, I shall live in a cave.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what was cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here)!

An epiphany on Epiphany

I have at last allowed myself a semi-week off from blogging.

1_G

1_G (Photo credit: Andrew Teman)

This week, instead of writing, I shall be busy with:

1. Twelve months of laundry.

2. Eleven pipes a’ leaking.

3. Ten floors worth sweeping.

4. Nine socks for darning.

5. Eight weeks of grouting.

6. Seven coons for skinning.

7. Six stalls worth mucking.

8. Five … chain-sawed trees.

9. Four shotguns cleaned.

10. Three squirrel stews.

11. Two brawling rams.

Sheep shows, sheep and wool industry / by Sam Hood

Sheep shows, sheep and wool industry / by Sam Hood (Photo credit: State Library of New South Wales collection)

12. And a snooze next to the Christmas tree.

After that, if there’s time, I may tune into the Presidential debates. But no worries, because I’ve taped them all. And don’t tell me how it turned out. I know I’m a little behind, but I love hearing Walter Cronkite announce the newly incumbent.

And that’s the way it is

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what was cookin’ in the Scullery one year ago (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here)!

The Mayas were dead wrong; yes, dead, but most importantly wrong.

English: matchstick arithmetic problem

Although any statement I make in my house involving science is automatically tossed aside with a giant hearty laugh, I really thought I had a decent handle on math.

I announced in my first post that because someone threw down the gauntlet and challenged me to catalog the absurd things that either take place in my brain or on top of our mountain, I had agreed to write about them for one year. And one year equals fifty-two weeks, does it not? But this will be my fifty-fourth post for a once a week blog.

And seeing as the Mayas had many of us convinced we needn’t have set our alarm clocks for Friday, the 21st of December—and because of that I was late for yoga—I’m guessing that those fellas were working off the same abacus I’ve been using.

Mine seems to have an extra bead.

Description unavailable

Description unavailable (Photo credit: Tim.Deering)

Not entirely sure what their excuse is though, which is really bothersome, as I have a basement stocked with canned goods, ammunition and wearable sleeping bags. Plus, I’ve skimmed through every survivalist handbook I could check out from the local bookmobile lounge, which has to take every other Saturday off to transform into the Mammogrammobile. It turns out I’ll need to return my borrowed books, as they now have a noteworthy due date. Fingers crossed it’s next Saturday. (Kill two birds with one stone.)

I suppose in truth, the rest of my end-of-the-world provisions will come in handy, because one simply needs to add a vat of Crisco to have all the essentials for a full day up here on Hootenanny Hillock.

And that is ultimately my theme here today. We’ve been issued a continuance.

An extension. A prolongation. A get-a-bloomin-move-on.

Worldly scholars warned us all about this unhealthy habit we as a society have fostered—the one where we’re all constantly looking for Armageddon. But perhaps worldly psychologists would roll their collective eyes at us and tell us to just schedule a Giant Day Off.

21.12.2012 _DDC4514

21.12.2012 _DDC4514 (Photo credit: Abode of Chaos)

Maya historians have attempted to explain the whole calendar phenomena: the big hand on the clock finally ticking over to the thirteen b’aktun, the terminology and explanation of the Long Count and the Maya’s penchant for keeping track of celestial cycles, but I guess many of us were too absorbed by the phrase, “Marks the end,” to follow along and hear the rest of the words that completed the sentence. It could have been, “—of how far into the future they were willing to schedule dentist appointments.” Or, “—date when all the perishables in the lowest cave should finally be tossed.

It could have been anything.

In fact, there are more Maya dates on cave walls that are still being unearthed today. And nobody’s got a clue as to what they all mean—except maybe Mel Gibson, who I’m pretty sure speaks ancient Mayan, right?

Devil's Tower Wyoming as in close encounters o...

Devil’s Tower Wyoming as in close encounters of the third kind (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My fear is that this date was of cosmic importance. Perhaps the Maya were pointing out the lining up of some planetary, spherical or solar dynamics and that at the precise date of December 21, 2012, 6:12 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, a portal would open, something would unlock, a gate would unhinge.

All I know is that at that particular moment, Sir Sackier nudged me from sleep and told me to put my arms down and stop mumbling. Apparently, I’d been speaking to the Mothership and was reaching out for a leg up. Now we’ll never know. I might have been the key that unlocked this huge mystery.

Or it might be time for me to stop drinking so heavily before bedtime.

English: Chromolithograph print of a tobacco l...

The point is, I’ve got no other choice than to Keep Calm and Carry On.

I know… the signs are everywhere—and quite probably a message from the Maya. They knew this would happen.

Therefore, I’m taking the message to heart. I shall persevere with the blog. The perspective from up here on my peak is that, in looking back over the past 53 essays, it’s clear I’ve still much to do. There are stalls to muck out, gardens to destroy, teenagers to aggravate, letters to be written just for the sheer pleasure of annoying bureaucrats, roasts to scorch and above all, arithmetic to master.

In light of this announcement, I’d like to wish you all a Happy New Year and hope you’ll return to read about life up here from my perspective.

The air may be a little thin, but the future is fat with ample tales.

~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)!

‘Twas the night Santa ditched us.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with Earl

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

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

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

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

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

A classic Western depiction of Santa Claus.

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

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

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

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

1914 Santa Claus in japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A&P, COFFEE, SANTA CLAUS

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

~HAPPY HOLIDAYS~

~Shelley

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

Saturnalia; good ole fashioned, naked fun.

Forest on a foggy winter day

Forest on a foggy winter day (Photo credit: follc)

Earth’s darkest days. It’s such a foreboding phrase, don’t you think?

And yet, on the upper half of the planet, it is a time of great merriment, benevolence and outright fuddled intoxication.

Long ago, that joy was attributed to the fact that the sun—a symbol of divinity—had decided not to abandon us. We’d been found worthy enough by the bright god for his return northward to heap another six months of favor upon us. And when one’s gods show munificence, one quickly dashes out invitations to local friends and neighbors to kick up their heels and enjoy a good shindig.

Of course, these long past party animals had to be Roman. When someone mentioned the word bash, it was either in reference to the use of one’s weapons or upcoming rampant Roman revelry. These guys lived life to its fullest—none of this ‘one day only’ deal. When it came to the close of December, a week’s worth of fun was considered cutting it short.

Paris - Musée d'Orsay: Thomas Couture's Romain...

Paris – Musée d’Orsay: Thomas Couture’s Romains de la décadence (Photo credit: wallyg)

And when sizing up all of the year’s fancy feasts and festivals, the blue ribbon winner had to be Saturnalia.

In the earliest of Roman ages, the age of Saturn, a festival was thrown in honor of Saturnus—the god of seed and sowing. The gala at first was held on December 17th, but because of a few folks fooling around with time tracking, things got muddled. Somewhere between then and Caesar’s changes to the calendar, the exact date grew hazy. Therefore, the Romans covered their bases and stretched the length of celebration to a few days before and after the new calendar’s official date. There were the usual gripes about no mail delivery and closed government offices, but seeing as most folks spent the week in a fog of alcoholic fumes, flaring tempers were easily dampened with an extra swig of grog.

The point of the festival was to recall that Golden Age, when innocence reigned and abundance was the norm. Once Saturn was ousted from his celestial throne by Jupiter, and time marched forward to the darker and despondent periods of the Silver and Iron ages, Romans did their level best to bring back snippets of that shiny era. Determined to experience a taste of the delicious decadence their ancestors once embraced as everyday ordinary, these normally gladiatorial warriors left their weapons at the door and started whipping up big batches of eggnog.

But showing a bit more gusto than their predecessors, these rowdy Romans took the lily-white past and ratcheted the level of excitement to new heights.

Designated Driver

Designated Driver (Photo credit: storyvillegirl)

You know how today we exercise caution with alcohol and warn folks not to drink to excess? No Roman would invite you back to their place if you were going to poo poo their fun and order a taxi for everyone come 10:30.

And think about how much time we usually spend picking out jubilant outfits for the many seasonal soirées. The sparkle and glitter, the festive colors of red and green, the merry messages spread across our chests to invite mirth and frivolity? Waste of time for these guys. Saturnalia was a function without formalities in that department. In fact, the dress code called for total nakedness. No black tie, just flesh-toned birthday suits.

Role reversal was a big hit in the party game department. Servants switched hats with their masters and led the feasting, while the lord and lady of the house spent their time serving food and washing feet. Ultimately, it really didn’t matter. They all ended up in bed together. That was pretty much the point. Ah, those rascally Romans.

Presents

Presents (Photo credit: Alice Harold)

Unchanged from past to present are the presents. Although those guys partied hard, Rome’s inhabitants were good about saying thank you in the form of sending one another small gifts. I’m guessing some of it had to do with replacing valuables broken the night before.

Thankfully, most of us have abandoned the crowning of a less-than-enviable position—the Lord of Misrule—for the whole bawdy affair. Yes, one can understand the ancient desire to appease the god of the week and make a solid sacrifice of love and loyalty by offering up some unlucky schmuck, but it can really put a strain on the rest of the partygoers. Anyone who’s placed next to the soon-to-be dead guy at the banquet table quickly realizes their efforts at holiday chitchat and cheerful musings are wasted efforts. Hence, we see the justification for the origins of seating charts.

Wenceslas Hollar - The Greek gods. Saturn

Wenceslas Hollar – The Greek gods. Saturn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, eyes open this week. Think about how things have changed. Make a toast to the dusty bones of a long dead Roman with a measured cup of mulled wine. Pull out that reindeer sweater and for once be grateful the weather necessitates head to toe clothing. Show some ancient gratitude for the folks who bag your groceries, bus your table or tutor your offspring. Put a cookie in the mailbox. Hand a stick of gum to the poor chump who has to stand for hours holding the Stop/Slow sign for roadwork. Thank your lucky stars we no longer choose the weakest link as the scapegoat for the culminating event of all December dos.

It may be dark outside, but the future looks bright from right here.

~Shelley

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

Untying the bow that holds December bound.

Rows of Candles

Rows of Candles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Come December 1st, there is a great unleashing that happens in this house. As the solemn, chilly solstice nears, and the days grow muted and bleak, we shift into winter gear. Several things happen simultaneously.

Candles appear on every surface. Their quivering, fickle flames are my attempts to create small suns to replace the deeply felt absence of their somnolent ancestor. Tiny altars illumine with twinkling incandescence. Most folks walk into the house and hope they’ve not entered a family coven.

Woolly sweaters pile up on the backs of chairs and mound in hairy clumps on the counter tops. I find myself repeatedly doing double takes thinking the livestock and woodland animals have mistakenly gained access to the living room and kitchen.

English: Cistercian monks at work

English: Cistercian monks at work

Celtic harps, penny whistles and sleigh-belled songs slither through each room—substitutes for the vanished, chattering birdsong. The dog is particularly fond of fourteenth century a cappella French motets. I know this by evidence of the number of deep barrel-chested sighs he emits while snoozing through each piece, content to such a degree that mere words will not suffice. Or perhaps this is his way of communicating to me that he’s tired of us acting like we’re living in a monastery and can you shut the damn thing off so I can get some shuteye? Maybe.

And speaking of animals, all of mine have responded to the grip of winter. The indoor ones twist themselves into tight, little knots of flesh and fur, noses tucked beneath the surface of nippy air or possibly removed from the bombardment of heavily scented candles mimicking balsam and clove and wood smoke. To them it’s likely an assault. The outdoor brood, the mammoth wool balls in the meadow, battle the frost fettered days with frenzied feasting. Rip, munch, chew, swallow. Shift to the left. Rinse and repeat ad nauseam.

I’ve asked myself if I’d be willing to be terminally cold if it meant I could constantly graze on food. I’ve answered myself with a qualifying question, We are just speaking hypothetically, right? Turns out I’d try anything theoretically, but draw the line at sensory.

The slow-cooking Crockpot is belching heat, steam—and occasionally when I forget enough broth—plumes of black smoke as it chugs along, working a full day of magic on raw ingredients. It releases an almighty “tadah!” when I remove the lid to reveal the results of the bewitching black arts it’s been known to use. I sold my soul to the devil when I purchased that cauldron. I bow down to it repeatedly and grow fat on its spellbinding triumphs.

Hot Chocolate

Hot Chocolate (Photo credit: mike and meg)

There is a hazy fog that settles over the kitchen from where the tea kettle, the stove or the faucet dispenser musters up bucket after bucket full of boiling water to fill mug after mug of tea, hot chocolate and mulled cider. The potions fill the air with a heady scent, but the dog complains the humidity wreaks havoc with his poodle ancestral hair. I tell him either I’ll ditch the Gregorian chants or pamper his pompadour, but not both. He moves outside and solves both his gripes.

And lastly, I’m left with an insatiable desire to unearth the words of those, who although silent in their graves, still move with great effect through their eternal works of pen and paper. Poems, essays and long told tales keep me agreeably disposed, passing the hardened air hours until the return of the sun and all it promises.

So through this dove gray December, I leave you with a verse to recall or read for the first time. Bundle up, fatten up and chin up. Let’s welcome winter.

~Shelley

Winter-Time

Robert Louis Stevenson (from A Child’s Garden of Verses, 1885)

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.

Hoar frost or soft rime on a cold winter day i...

Hoar frost or soft rime on a cold winter day in Lower Saxony, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 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)!

Feasts & Famine, Saints & Sinners.

English: Statue of a woman praying. Decoration...

English: Statue of a woman praying. Decoration of the Aedicule in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old city of Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a child, I went to church.

A lot.

It felt like every day.

It was probably no more than twice a week—services on Sunday and catechism classes on Wednesday afternoons. Except for when we had choir practice, which was often held on Thursday nights. Or when my mother had a National Council of Catholic Women Who Needed a Night Out meeting in the church basement with coffee and pie, and I had to tag along. Or when there was an “extra” service celebrating a special saint.

There are over 10,000 named saints in the Catholic Church. Folks have stopped counting because they lost track a few years back. I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere in the fine print of a contract that all saints are dedicated a special service.

We have more saints than we’ve had presidents, astronauts and American Idol contestants combined. Throw in the number of iPhone updates we get in a year and we’re getting close.

The nuns from my class would get testy over the fact that we had trouble recalling which saints we were honoring each week, which I felt was terribly unfair, as they’d clearly had more time to familiarize themselves with the Pope’s Picks.

Magnesium Crystal Cluster Close-up

Magnesium Crystal Cluster Close-up (Photo credit: Paul’s Lab)

Simultaneously, we were in the process of memorizing the Periodic Table of Elements in science and things could get really tricky there. Was there a saint named Vanadium or was that a material found imbedded within meteorites? Were Valerian, Niacrinus and Gordian martyrs or metals?

It was even harder to concentrate during classes when a service was taking place upstairs in the church. The shuffling footsteps, the thumping of the prie dieu—that’s the fancy name for the kneeler benches–the muffled sound of the organ whirling away and the faint smell of incense that smelled like a combination of decomposing cabbage leaves and burning bleach. Eye watering. Oftentimes, the nuns would collectively sigh and direct us all up the back steps to join the service. When asked why we had to sit through church again for the second time this week, this is what we were usually told:

–        It’s a day of Holy Obligation—which I eventually found out was not true. There are six Holy Days of Obligation each year, not counting Sundays, and the year I finally started keeping track we’d gone seven times and it wasn’t even the end of January.

Occasionally, they threw in this explanation:

–        God has big ears and is keeping track of your lack of enthusiasm.

Saint Martin and the Beggar

Saint Martin and the Beggar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The one Feast Day I did happen to like was St. Martin’s Day, or Martinmas. Yes, the saint had an intriguing story, but I was smitten by the cryptic, hocus pocus magic of the celebration’s numbers.

Although America chooses not to make a big deal of the day, many other countries in Europe have bonfires, sing songs, have a family feast and give presents on November 11th. The thrilling bit was that they begin their Martinmas celebrations at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of this eleventh day of the eleventh month.

As a kid, this blew my mind. How could something magical not take place?

As an adult, I continue to look everywhere for magic.

I find it on the early morning breath of the sheep, in clouds of pillowy warmth, surrounded by whiskers filled with grain dust from breakfast.

It’s in the family of whitetails, sporting their shimmering, thick autumn coats in the slanting November sunlight, surprised at the iron beast that roars past, pitching them into nimble-footed flight from their deep, grassy beds.

I cling to the sky at dusk, marveling at how the thin, streaky clouds grow stained and saturated with crimson flames and plush blue velvets.

English: White-tailed deer

I search the inky heavens to discover the return of Pegasus, his wings beating breath into the blustery, black cloaked winds, sweeping the papery leaves about and whispering with a whiff of arctic air as winter chases him across the sky.

The snap of crackling logs, the heady, wood smoke scent, and the flush of radiant flames make a brick box come alive and funnel the focus of attention, enticing the harried and rushed to come sit a spell.

These are my saints, these are my feasts. These are my days of holy obligation. To notice, to celebrate, to capture, to treasure.

This is my church.

I hope God notes my enthusiasm.

~Shelley

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

Slaughter & Mayhem. How I love November.

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

During the past couple of weeks, and throughout the next month and a half, I’ll have celebrated four family members’ birthdays. Okay, one family member was celebrated twice, but she really deserved it and wasn’t totally “present” for the first gala I threw for her.  Still, I figure the event counts no matter how you look at it.

In between all these cakes, candles and moments of merriment, I have to fit in a lot of dishwashing.

Oh, and the Festival of the Dead.

I might be a pagan at heart, but not wholly. I pick and choose all the parts of Samhain I deem acceptable to participate in, and blindly wave off the others.

For instance, I will drive my sheep up from the far reaches of the meadow toward the barn to be stabled for the cold winter months ahead, but once there, they will argue like two bloated barristers, insisting that as long as I leave the cover off the grain barrel, they’ll ration themselves and keep an eye on the forecast.

I draw the line at sacrificing horses. They’re meant to represent the fire deity, Bel (or Belenos the sun god), and apparently will win back the world come springtime. But equine sacrifice is such a messy job. Plus, if you’ve ever seen dead horses, they’re really not up to winning back anything for you after you slay them.

English: Wicker man, engraving

Next, I’m happy to extinguish my hearth fire and march through the fields alongside the rest of my townspeople with the intent to kindle a new blaze from some choice sacred oak, and then take my flaming torch back to relight my home fires. The snag is that usually somebody has issued a secret declaration to reinstate the ancient rites of human sacrifice to please a few disgruntled gods, and you won’t know till you get to the big bonfire if it would have been wiser to simply stay at home and grout some tile.

Worse still is when you arrive at the glowing gala get together and find yourself looking up at a massive effigy, The Wicker Man. You hazily recall something about the forcing of not just one unlucky fellow, but a whole slew of folks into giant wood and thatched cages, along with every flavor of farm animal, some bread and honey, and a few jugs of vino. It’s only after everyone and everything is stuffed in there nice and tight that the large light bulb in your head illuminates just as a rosy glow from below sheds some extra light on all of you—in the form of a giant pyre. There’s a lot of protesting at first, but things eventually quiet down.

Martel and van Over have friends for dinner an...

Of course, most of us know that on All Hallows Eve the veil separating the dead from the living is tissue thin—see through for many if you regularly make a habit of chatting up dead relatives. I’m totally fine with that. In the ancient days of Samhain celebrations, spirits were greeted warmly from their regular gloomy, dank haunts. Everyone scooched over a bit on the couch to make room round the hearth, and a few nibbles of barley cake were offered as well as a cup of grog. Most ghosts were grateful. A few remained mulish and curmudgeonly. But who can blame them with the months of back breaking chain clanking and heavy breathing they have to repeatedly practice for the Big Night? I’m sure there are times when The Other Side is no picnic, so one should be somewhat understanding of the occasional gripe.

It's that time of year once again, Halloween u...

On the other hand, I always get a bee in my bonnet with Trick or Treating. I appreciate the historical significance—the several explanations for the favorite activity. In days of yore, one had to deal with not only a few departed relatives, but also fractious fairies and spiteful sprites. Today, our children want to keep that memory alive by participating in the pranks of these wraiths. What’s the harm in frightening the neighbors into parting with a handful of sweets, cakes or coins, right? Your choice: a few tiny terrors or a couple of confections? To me, it’s just fancy begging.

Because of my disagreeable definition, my children hate me with a particular vengeance on Halloween. Or maybe it’s the fact that I refused to take them round the neighborhood beseeching comfits of any kind. One year, after so much bellyaching, I allowed them to dress up and run around the house a few times, ringing the doorbell when they reached the front door while I rummaged through the pantry shelves, determined to find some forgotten Easter candy. It worked for a year or two. Not so much anymore.

Lastly, I welcome anything that sheds light and warmth during the ever increasing dark days of oncoming winter. Stingy Jack, or Jack of the Lantern, proves to be a piece of folklore I’ve always found entertaining.

In this old Irish tale, Jack—a tightfisted farmer—manages to trick the devil twice, resulting in one livid Beelzebub. God, who apparently watches the entire event unfold, is thoroughly annoyed by Jack’s seedy character. In the end, neither wants his company in the afterlife. He’s given the boot by both and told to head back from whence he came.

Jack-o'-lantern

Jack-o’-lantern (Photo credit: wwarby)

Apparently, Jack is a bit of a baby and still carries with him a fear of the dark. Just to prove he’s got a heart of gold, the devil tosses old Jack his version of an Everlasting Gobstopper to light his way —a lump of burning coal from the fires of Hell. Jack hollows out a turnip and wanders the earth to this day, ready to pop out of the shadows of any porch that sports a carved out pumpkin.

Kids love that story.

So as much fun as reliving my last few days has been, I’ve got to run and make another batch of barely cakes. A few of my dead relatives refuse to leave the comfort of my couch.

~Shelley

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

The Party; prodigious promise, dismal delivery.

Car Fire

Car Fire (Photo credit: jasonbolonski)

I knew what I was going for last week when I started preparing my mother’s birthday dinner. Something warm, something autumnal, something that screamed, “Thanks for everything and I’m really sorry about setting the family car on fire that one Christmas when I was sixteen.” You know … a complete package message.

I go for the same theme each year, and each year I fall spectacularly short.

It usually starts with the number of attendees. When throwing a birthday dinner, it’s proven to be most readily appreciated if the individual whose birth you are celebrating is present (unless it’s something like Presidents’ Day or Christmas, in which one finds it unreasonable to expect the dead to appear).

This year, the number of invitees dwindled. It was only going to be my mom, my kids and myself: small, intimate, deflating.

I was going to have to cancel the big band swing orchestra and the caterer. I drew the line at calling off the inflatable moon bounce, because that has proven to be the highlight of the evening for my mom the last five years running.

Cab Calloway and His Orchestra, from the openi...

Cab Calloway and His Orchestra, from the opening credits of Max Fleischer’s Minnie the Moocher, which included a recording of the titular Calloway song. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I spent the entire previous day making this beautiful Gingery Spiced Cake with Sour Cherries and a Sour Cherry Glaze. And by the entire day, I mean the whole time between 3:30 and 4:45, but I shoved twenty-four hours worth of love into that labor.

The following day, I worked feverishly at creating a Smoked Turkey and Black Lentil Stew, filled with smoked turkey and black lentils.

There were a billion other things in there too, and it was supposed to be recorded and preserved for everyone to see under the Scullery section, but I forgot to take pictures until everything was already in the crockpot. It proved near impossible to separate the teeny tiny black lentils from the onions, Kuri squash and thyme leaves in order to set up individual photo shots of each ingredient–and I did try for a while–but there was a lot left to be done, so I gave up.

Champagne Fountain

Champagne Fountain (Photo credit: whatadqr)

I needed time to set up the champagne fountain and direct the newly arrived Grand Marshall as to the best route for the military parade later that day.

Once I finally unloaded the three vans full of white orchids, set up the fireworks and laser show outside, and emptied a room large enough to fit the shark tank in, I woke to the sound of the ringing telephone. (It turns out all those bits in between making the stew and filling up Shamu’s new digs were part of a lavish afternoon kip on the couch, but it didn’t make it any less real to me.)

The phone call was Chloe, announcing she and her brother were on their way home from his brutal soccer practice and her mind-numbing after-school job. They were hungry. Make food.

By the time they got home everything was ready: the stew, the cake, the set table , the small string quartet I’d settled for (okay, the CD player providing us with a little mood music). The problem was … we had no guest of honor.

I told the kids to have a light snack, which to them usually involves a bagel, a smoothie, a bowl of popcorn, some soup and an entire pantry shelf full of cookies. They were set for the next thirty minutes.

BomB   clip art by G.P. du Berger

BomB clip art by G.P. du Berger (Photo credit: HTML’S MAGIC)

After an hour and a half, I phoned my mother, who always answers her iPhone the same way: like it’s a small explosive device that could detonate at any moment, and therefore, she must handle it like plutonium.

“Hello?” came the tentative, faraway voice on the other end of the line. She usually holds it at arm’s length.

“Mom? What time are you coming for dinner?”

“My last student is late. I’m waiting for him.”

Note: my mother is a violin teacher who would rather be drawn and quartered, watching her intestines being roasted on an open flame in front of her, than miss instructing a small child of three or four how to properly take a bow.

“How late?”

“About an hour and a half, but he hasn’t phoned to cancel, so I’m assuming he’s still coming.”

“Mom. His lesson is a total of fifteen minutes. He’s missed it six times over. He’s not coming. Dinner is ready.”

“You go ahead and start without me. I’m just finishing up.”

I put the phone down and cradled my head. I am again in the situation where I must celebrate a birthday without the birthed celebrant.

“DINNER!” I called.

Stop eating animals

Stop eating animals (Photo credit: xornalcerto)

The dog and cat came running.

Ladling out the stew, the first question I get when handing it to my daughter is, “Is there meat in it?”

I answer yes, but remind her that the turkey was a vegetarian, so it should be okay in the end.

The next question is, “Are there guts in it?”

This is a question everyone asks if they know we’ll be dining with either one or both of my Polish parents.

“Not today, sweets. It’s guts-free gruel.”

We finish dinner, clean up and the kids leave to do homework. My mom’s car pulls up the driveway. She comes in looking exhausted. I place a bowl of stew in front of her, but then have to return half of it to the crockpot, because she insists it’s too much. I convince her to have a glass of wine from a very special bottle, pushing it into her hands. I sit across from her, watching as she nudges my stew around on the plate.

Finally, I call the kids down and we light the cake and bring it in. It looks beautiful. My daughter snaps photos, we pass out the pieces. My son takes a bite and announces in Spanish to his sibling that my chocolate cake tastes like mierda. I retort to my surprised fourteen-year old that firstly, it does not taste like poo and secondly, it is not chocolate and thirdly, I worked for hours on making that cake (75 minutes), and that I do not appreciate either his language or his lack of appreciation.

I turn to my mother. “What do you think? Do you like it?”

She shrugs her shoulders, “Truthfully, I can’t taste a thing. I’ve got a cold. I’m heading to bed.”

Moon bouncing!

Moon bouncing! (Photo credit: Zombies and Dinner)

I look at the dog and cat.

“You guys wanna go for a moon bounce?”

~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 root awakening in the garden of evil (I mean Eden).

I love the color green. I love wearing it, seeing it and eating it. I even strive to be it. It’s a lot to live up to, and more often than not, I end up falling back into my default color … brown.

I am basically a method of transportation for DIRT.

Living where we do, and how we do, I find life is a constant struggle between these two hues. Since there are animal chores to be done twice daily inside and out, you are likely to find yourself, come bedtime, with clods of clay, fragments of feed and patches of poop annoyingly clinging to clothes, skin and hair.

In anticipation of this, six years ago when we began building this barmy abode, I repeatedly requested that everything be earth-toned: floors, walls, furniture and fixtures. We currently sport every shade of muck and mud known to Benjamin Moore & Sherwin-Williams.

Seeing the wall calendar currently show the month of August, I know it truthfully to always be two months ahead. Signing checks and school permission forms with October in the date department throws a constant reminder under my nose that the chore list is changing.

romancing the garden glove

romancing the garden glove (Photo credit: curlsdiva)

Seeing the multiplying emails from our homestead’s chief strategist and tactician, Roger, arrive in our inbox, or guiltily acknowledging the growing stack of precisely laid out hacienda homework he has purposefully proposed, leaves no doubt with the message: get your gloves on, it’s time to tame the terrain.

Everyone in my family will attest that when it comes to gardening, my thumb is khaki-colored at best. I can successfully grow the fruit and veg needed to supply more than enough for my family’s culinary needs, with the extras pushed into the hands of our visiting Fed-Ex drivers, propane deliverymen and lawnmowers, as well as anyone who happens to accidentally come upon the house by taking a wrong turn. This particular garden is rich with offerings, and I’m beginning to believe, capable of enormous resilience after sessions of either my absence or mismanagement.

What is truly frustrating is that I’m surrounded by people who are incredibly capable landscapers, horticulturists and master gardeners. Give any one of them a sliver of someone’s fingernail and they can propagate the rootstock for a new human being. They have immeasurable talent, energy and knowledge.

Gardening equipment and tools, and grafting di...

Gardening equipment and tools, and grafting diagrams. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I, on the other hand, merely look at the garden and sigh with exhaustion. I immediately come to the conclusion that I need a nap.

When my mother arrives at the house, armed with a flotilla of tools, soil and a gleam in her eye, I detect the blood draining from my head and begin to feel woozy, realizing I’ve left things too late and will now have to pay for my negligence by sucking up forty-eight hours worth of nettled knees and a barking back. It’s my own fault. Somehow I’d hoped no one would notice the overabundance of choking weeds, smothering vines and disfiguring deadwood.

Not many people can appreciate the prairie look, but it does grow on you after a while … if not around you after laxity.

There is a massive difference between her glistening, well-oiled and surgically-sharpened gardening implements and my rust-covered, jagged-edged Ginsu knife picked up at a local county fair from a slick kitchen demonstration by a Brylcreem carnie.

My mother prods me through the gardens, requiring I take notes as she instructs what will need doing once she leaves me on my own. There are precise methods of pruning—“One can’t just hack!”

I like the satisfying sound of a good hack.

Believe it or not, not everything is a weed, which makes my efforts to weed whack tedious and tricky. Long tall green things look so much the same to me. The only reason I don’t rip most crops out of the potager is because I give them two months to get going and usually by that time there’s a berry or a bean hanging from it. Anything outside of the kitchen garden looks suspicious to me and if it does not sport a flower or has not been painstakingly labeled by Roger, my instinct is to cleave and yank.

There were multiple times this weekend when I heard sharp intakes of breath that did not come from my lungs. What followed were my mother’s masked attempts to cover an overwhelming urge to tsk. I don’t blame her. If I were her, I’d probably take a shovel to the back of my head. Trailing these negative assessments of my lack of familiarity was my insistence that duct tape is man’s best friend. Apparently, Mother Nature does not share this opinion.

Rip Van Winkle Illustration by NC Wyeth

Rip Van Winkle Illustration by NC Wyeth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still, we carried on, my mother pruning, snipping, coaxing and trimming, me … carving, lancing, docking, gashing, lopping, sawing, severing and slashing. Some of us did better than others.

Regardless, there is a small chunk of the garden that is now, thanks to the know-how and hard work of other people, ready for a winter snooze of around forty winks. Sadly, the rest of the garden will have to face certain insomnia until I can review all my notes. Seeing as though it’s only August, I’ve got plenty of 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)!

Nothing to fear but fear itself. (And the mic, the stage and the 800 people.)

Port-42

Port-42 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

October is full of things meant to scare you: ghoulish sites and hair-raising sounds, grisly stories and spine-chilling escapades. But if you have never had a case of stage fright, it means you still have a few degrees to finish up before rounding out the circle of fear.

For those of you who haven’t, chances are it’s simply because you have never been through a ceremony like marriage, a graduation or have been asked to carry the final torch to light the Olympic flames.

Have you never been the center of attention for a recital, a birthday or burial? (Hey, that last one could occur. People have been buried alive. And I would imagine it’s got to be somewhat stressful.)

Maybe you haven’t even given a toast or led a fascist movement.

For people who have experienced something akin to the above, they usually announce one of two things:

  1. I like having people watch me.
  2. Allowing people to watch me is creepy and should be illegal.

If you fall under the first category, you can choose to stop reading this essay, pat yourself on the back, and head back to your chair on the judges’ panel for American Idol. Of course, you’re welcome to continue reading and catch a rare glimpse at the other side of normal.

English: LED lighting instruments used on Radi...

English: LED lighting instruments used on Radiohead’s recent tour. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you find yourself assigned to group two … walk with me a minute. Let’s remember why it’s best to leave the spotlight for the big boys.

The first thing that happens is the invitation to walk on stage–an enticing summons that fills your head with mind-altering thoughts of flattery. Ah, this person sees in me that which I knew deep down was there: GREATNESS.

Apparently, the word is out. You need to be shared with an audience of more than just your bathroom mirror.

You accept the call. Wave it off as if it’s something you routinely do and hope to remember to jot it down in your calendar. Of course, details will come later. No worries. Loads of time to prepare. Yes, it’ll be fun.

The second thing that occurs is nothing.

That is, you do nothing for three months except occasionally see the penciled notice in your calendar and dismiss it from your mind with the same gesture one uses to swipe a mosquito from your vision.

Next, you’re sent reminders. They pile up on your phone and email account. A note is left on your car. Somebody hunts you down at the gym. Remember you said you’d perform? This suddenly translates to: You promised to give me your kidney.

Things begin to crystallize. Like the fact that you were a dolt for agreeing to do something like this in the first place.

You begin to practice at home.

You realize your material is best suited as an ingredient in the manufacturing of pellet packaging matter.

You make another choice. Anything will be better than doing what you originally thought would be acceptable. It’s awful.

It’s all you have.

English: The illustration shows the major sign...

English: The illustration shows the major signs and symptoms of heart failure. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You go back to the original. It’s not as bad as you thought.

The night before, you stay up until 2:30 debating whether or not you can pull off a sudden case of laryngitis, scurvy or congestive heart failure.

You wake in the morning to realize that sadly, you’re healthy, apart from a slight tremor you developed in the middle of the night.

You show up at dress rehearsal hoping for a large sign indicating the show has been canceled and participants will still be generously acknowledged in the local newspaper.

Instead, there’s a woman with a clipboard, a dour expression and a habit of glancing at her watch as you approach.

Your tremor increases, making your car keys jingle like tiny sleigh bells in your hand.

The stage manager tells you where to sit, where to wait, where to walk and finally where to point your mouth when the time comes. Smile up there. Don’t look down. Please don’t trip. This is reinterpreted as Wait a second. I can’t breathe. What’d you say?

 It doesn’t matter. You’re dismissed. You must come back in two hours.

Must you?

How much gas is in your car? How far can you drive if you start now?

You return out of guilt. And the fact that you have only a quarter of a tank and you’re fairly certain someone was tailing you the entire time. You hate accountability.

You sit. People filter in. The muddled noise of the crowd is a swooshy sound not unlike the fuzzy garbled reverberation of the one word echoing in your head: idiot, idiot, idiot.

An Austrian curtain.

An Austrian curtain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The curtain opens and the first act plays spectacularly.

The crowd applauds and your tremor is now sizeable enough to register on the Richter scale. The applause dies down apart from one person who continues on. Why won’t they stop clapping?

Wait a sec. That’s your heartbeat.

 You cannot feel your feet.

Person after person and group after group performs with eloquence, style and ease. These people belong here. Look at them. They don’t even wave to their parents in the crowd–that’s how practiced they are.

It’s your turn. You’re tapped on the shoulder and sure you would have felt it had your whole body not gone numb. Your vision grows tiny, two infinitesimal pinholes of light at the end of long dark tunnels.

English: Gemini V Prime Crew, Astronauts L. Go...

Are you onstage?

You wave to your parents.

Something happens and you wake up to applause.

Finally, you are in your seat, smiling ear to ear. You are given more pats on the arms and shoulders than a gazelle in a petting zoo.

“You were fabulous!”

You shake off the compliment with a nonchalant shrug. Aw shucks, it was nothing. I could do this in my sleep.

Apparently, you did.

~Shelley

PS. Watch two people who truly thrive under hot lights. (Chloe Sackier & Humberto Sales )

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 hairy situation.

The “Académie de Coiffure”

The “Académie de Coiffure”

Ask any woman What is one relationship you’d likely sword fight to the death over before giving up? and somewhere in the top three would likely be her hairdresser.

Ask any man What’s the difference between a $200 and a $20 haircut? and they will likely answer “24 hours.”

Maybe it’s simply the case of ‘Mars & Venus.’

Maybe it’s incredibly effective marketing campaigns.

Maybe all men have cataracts.

The jury is out, but in this household, a quarterly pilgrimage is made from the sticky, drawling, verdant Virginia up toward the wilds of Washington, D.C. I face unruly traffic, road rage, a state police force determined to spoil a few days, and several potentially awful audio book selections in order to find myself firmly ensconced in a chair where magic happens on an hourly basis. And I’ve been doing it for the last fifteen years.

The experience is much the same each time–and obviously, one worth repeating.

I am greeted as if I was the one millionth lucky customer to walk through the storefront door, whisked to the closet where a winsome, black plastic drop cloth is draped around my shoulders and ushered into a soft, leather swivel chair where my guru will assess, with a keen and critical eye, the damage done to my previous do. He will agree and nod knowingly to my list of excuses.

Porcupine at Mer Bleue

Porcupine at Mer Bleue (Photo credit: Robbie’s Photo Art)

– My hairbrush was stolen and all I’ve had available is the old pelt of a porcupine.

– My ancient hair dryer blew out and I’m now left with hanging my wet head out the car window like a drooling golden retriever.

– Our pool water is rancid/our tap water has a dead plumber floating in it/acid rain falls directly over our house.

– The thousands of dollars I’ve spent on hair products have failed to deliver stellar and promised results, although I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with the fact that they’re all at least a decade old. Shampoo that’s turned the color of meatloaf and smells like turpentine surely still has some benefits in it, right?

-I’m guessing my pillow is likely hooked up to some sort of anti-gravity device hell-bent on creating some wonky cowlick.

Mistress and Maid / Lady with Her Maidservant ...

Mistress and Maid / Lady with Her Maidservant Holding a Letter – Jan Vermeer van Delft

– I recently had to fire my longtime chamber maid–the one whose sole job was to simply complete the 1000 daily strokes my hair requires for luster and shine.

Most women will know what I’m talking about. Most men will assume I’m in need of psychiatric treatment.

He will then reassure me that my explanations are justifiable, my absence felt, but forgiven and my fears unfounded. Life is cruel to all of us. Of course, our schedules are grueling. And yes, he will return me to my former self, only better. Just wait and see.

Who in their right mind would NOT pay a measly $200 dollars for absolution and the promise of some kick-ass magic?

Now, I’m plied with restorative drinks and a selection of the dishiest gossip rags available in print. My wizard returns with a large vat of bleach, a roll of tin foil and some spackling tools. “Try not to make direct eye contact with any of the equipment, darling. This is not for the faint of heart and ignoring my advice may put you in therapy.”

I learned this early on. No woman wants to see herself turned into a cell phone reception tower. And it’s traumatizing when you realize that your hairdresser has a backup team hovering on the periphery. They’re quiet, they’re good at slight of hand and they can impressively suture and staple anything that can’t be glued back on.

There is a great flurry of hands, mostly used to aid conversation. There is diabolical laughter when speaking of our enemies, reverent tones when touching upon our idols. To accompany it all is the requisite sharp intake of breath, peppered at agreed upon intervals. We are aghast, delighted, disturbed, moved, enthralled. We create our own Oscar-worthy dialogue.

English: The hairdresser making a call, Japan,...

English: The hairdresser making a call, Japan, 1905 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Foil is flung aside, bleach is hosed off, scissors are sharpened on a whetting stone, old tresses fall in small nests to the floor and hot air is purposefully and artfully directed in areas researched and studied. Gel, wax, oil and unsalted butter is spread and warmed between expert palms and decidedly placed onto individual locks. Hairspray or non-stick Pam is the last device used to shellac everything into its place.

The moment of unveiling arrives after 120 minutes fly by. There is the flourish of black cloth, the spinning of a chair, a gasp from onlookers in nearby seats, and an enthusiastic round of applause from everyone in the theater … I mean salon.

The room is saturated with the sounds of a thousand air kisses, like a giant sink sucking the last swirl of water down its enormous drain.

Old farmer with pitch fork full of hay

Old farmer with pitch fork full of hay (Photo credit: Boston Public Library)

I dash off my signature and leave in a spotlight of admiration and envy. Everyone wants my hair. I get in my car, fight traffic for three ungodly hours and finally pull into my garage at home.

I step out of my car, gaze at my reflection in the car’s back window and then hop up on the tractor and pull my John Deere cap over my head.

That was fun, but I’ve got sheep stalls to muck out.

~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)!

Sleepblogging.

Sleeping

Sleeping (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

I cannot write if I cannot sleep.

I even find it too taxing to breathe if I’m deprived of undisturbed slumber. My mindset is basically, Why bother? Just end it all now. And by end it all, I mean leap off a cliff, not leap out of bed.

Last night I nearly came to the end of my tether, and all because of something no larger than a raisin. To be frank, a squished raisin was what I had in mind come morning, if only I could locate the culprit.

Falling into bed, exhausted from a day in which I crammed more hours than nature traditionally allows, I was prepared to lose consciousness before my eyelids fully closed. And I would have, if the dog wouldn’t have started a low rumble, indicating a breach of territory.

It was just the two of us in the room that night, as Sir Sackier was already starting a day in the UK that hadn’t been given a thought to in the US. I told the dog to give the first shift of night duty to the cat. She could handle the job, seeing that most of the deadly nocturnal action around our house didn’t begin until our two sheep, who act as if their meadow is the ultimate nightclub and they’re the self-elected goons guarding its entrance, have announced last call and locked up for the evening.

Well, the dog gave up reluctantly. Maybe reluctant isn’t the right word. He remained suspicious, as if he were going to be judged on the cat’s performance. Therefore, he made sure I knew that even though his eyes were closed, his ears were on high alert, and he made a small test woof about every fifteen to twenty seconds lest I forgot.

His act probably lasted no more than three minutes before the cat leapt up on the bed and did a tight rope routine across the length of my body. Her message was clear. Oh Captain, my Captain! Something is amiss in the control room.

I listened for a blurry five seconds before asking her to get off my head and then, taking my non-response for lack of leadership, she approached my second-in-command. The dog followed her out the bedroom and down the hall, reminding me I needed to remove his toenails come daylight.

I’m guessing I must have been asleep for about sixty seconds before my alarm clock went off. Well, I thought it was my alarm clock, but after I hit it three times and then finally threw it across the room, it kept going. I was forced to open my eyes and reacquaint myself with consciousness.

Somewhere, somebody’s weird alarm was going off. And since neither the dog nor cat has made it that far in my How to manipulate household appliances training manual, I was going to have to handle this one myself. I did, however, make a mental note to skip to that chapter with my furry on-call staff first thing in the morning.

alarm clock, bought from IKEA

I walked toward the kitchen, hearing the piercing little siren grow louder with each step. In my head, all I could think about was how both my kids were always showing me new tricks with their iPhones, programming their devices to chirp, whistle, rattle, and purr. This is the language of “teen speak,” which most adults usually mistake for embarrassing bodily noises they’re too polite to address or faulty air-conditioning units.

When I flipped on the kitchen light, ready to rewire some Apple hardware, the knife-like distress signal immediately halted. The dog and cat stood looking up at me, blinking back at the sharp, bright light of that which is needed for human eyesight.

“What is going on here?” I asked my night watchmen. No one uttered a word. “This had better not be a prank, because there will be hell to pay, and remember, only I know how to unscrew the lid from the treat jar, guys.” They were tight. No one was willing to squeal.

I thought about organizing a witch hunt, but I’d need torches, some rope and a few hundred angry townspeople for that. I was too tired. I flipped off the light and went back to bed, leaving them both in charge.

My head just grazed the pillow when the miniature shrieking siren took up its wicked pitch. I wondered if I could sleep through it. I tried for sixty seconds. Too loud. I fumbled in my bedside table and found some earplugs from 1972 and shoved them in as far as the human ear canal allowed. Now the sound of my own breathing was keeping me awake. I pulled them out and flung back the covers, determined to find the source.

Returning to the kitchen and then whipping on the lights, the room went silent. The only things I saw were two furry bottoms sticking up in the air, while two furry heads were buried deep beneath the ovens, clearly pointing out where the distress signal was coming from.

I got a flashlight and added my bottom to the chorus line. We shined, we peered, we scoured. One tiny black-bodied cricket looked back at us from a cloud of dust bunnies and a few dried chickpeas that must have escaped from a dish I served last Thanksgiving.

Jiminy Cricket

Jiminy Cricket (Photo credit: .Cromo.)

“Jiminy Cricket, are you trying to tell me that’s just ONE CRICKET?” I shouted at both of them. The dog gave me a roll of the eyes as if to say, “Yeah, right, tell me about it.” That cat refused to say anything because, of course, cats don’t talk. And seeing as I wasn’t about to get any shuteye, I set up my laptop on the floor, wrote my blog post and then played a few rounds of gin rummy with the cat and the cricket, who as it turns out, is a slick little card shark.

Okay, I’m not entirely sure that last part happened, but sleep deprivation wreaks havoc with your memory, and at this point, I’m not questioning anything. Stranger things have happened, but they usually happen somewhere around me.

(Yawn) 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)!

 

NASA finally asks for my help.

“Hey, mom?” (daughter, Chloe, in kitchen)

“Uh huh?” (wordsmith, me, at desk)

“Would you like to do an experiment with me?”

One of my eyes strayed from my computer screen and glanced toward her school workspace. The eye noted no test tubes or beakers. The eye reported back to the brain a thumbs up sign.

“You bet.”

“Great,” she said. “You and I are going to go without chocolate for one week.”

“Sure thing … ” (type, tappity tap) “Wait—what?” Both eyes scanned kitchen. Found kitchen empty. “Chloe? … Damn.”

This has happened to me before. I have answered yes to buying a pony, sleepovers that require train travel across two states, the shaving off of one eyebrow and a small down payment on a developing goat herd in Uganda.

They know how to get me. As long as I’m writing, I’m cognizant of nothing apart from the cursor on the screen and how bitter my tea is becoming.

How in the hell was I going to survive without chocolate for seven days? I looked around my desk. There was chocolate everywhere. Having it near me brings a balm of comfort and serenity to my writing space.

Chocolate

Chocolate (Photo credit: EuroMagic)

I’d have to get rid of it.

Out of sight, out of mouth, right?

I could do this. It was probably for the good of science on the whole. I bet I’d be part of some study for NASA. Good for me. I’d show my support for Chloe, and science, and … space?

It didn’t matter. I loved challenge.

Day One: I made it through breakfast. In fact, I just ignored breakfast and got busy. Better not to think about food in general. I left the house for lunch. If I wasn’t at my desk, things would be a heck of a lot easier. After dinner Chloe checked in with me.

“How’d today go?”

“Not too bad. This might be pretty easy. I’m going to bed.”

“Mom? It’s 7 o’clock. The sun hasn’t even set.”

“Yep. But if I’m sleeping, then I won’t want to eat chocolate, okay? Goodnight.”

Day Two: Rising at 4 a.m. is fine if I have to catch a flight to a tropical island getaway, but getting out of bed simply to avoid dreaming about chocolate seemed somehow wrong. I ate a lot of brown food.

Day Three: “Mom?”

“Stop shouting at me!”

English: A small pad of Post-It notes.

English: A small pad of Post-It notes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Day Four: Post It Note: Dear Mom, It’s okay if you want to quit. You’ve made it through three whole days and I know that’s a lot for you. You’ve done great. Love, Chloe

Dear Chloe, Really? You’d just love that now, wouldn’t you? I’d be the laughing stock of everybody else who’s a part of this study. Chocoholic Mom can’t hack three days of deprivation. No way! I’m not going to be the butt of some joke down in Houston.

Dear Mom, I don’t know what you’re talking about. There is no study. It’s just you and me. Have a brownie.

Chloe, I don’t want a brownie. I want you to clean out the damn cat litter!

Day Five: Dear Chloe, I am writing this note to you on your bathroom mirror with your all-time favorite pink lipstick left in the pocket of your blue jeans, which I found just before washing them. I have repeatedly told you what to do before throwing things down the laundry chute, but it appears yo— … sorry, I ran out of lipstick and I’m now using the perfumed soap you got from G-ma at Christmas. CHECK YOUR POCKETS!

Day Six: Text from Chloe: Mom, there is no study. U r off the hook.

Text from me: Not on your life, kiddo! I refuse to abandon my duty to civilization. I know you’re supposed to be reporting back about my behavior and mood swings, and you’re probably going to tell all the people at the lab that your experiment had to be aborted because of some instability issues. That is not going to happen on my watch—NO WAY!

Text from Chloe: Can Dad pick me up after school?

Text from me: NASA just called and wanted to let me know I’m doing great as a test subject. They were ENCOURAGING. Unlike the scientist conducting the study.

Text from Chloe: Mom, u r delusional. There is no study.

Text from me: CONSPIRACY!!!

Text from Chloe: U need rest.

Text from me: I’ll tell you what I need. I need a family that’s going to pitch in when I ask them to! I need a cat that’s not going to vomit hairballs the size of Long Island! I need a dry cleaner that isn’t going to send me back a dress with two more stains on it than before I sent it in! I need an endless supply of orange juice pumped out of one of the kitchen faucets and hooked up to a pipe in Florida because I can’t keep up with the amount your brother is drinking! I need you kids to start picking up the books you toss onto every surface and leave for me to pick—

Message from AT&T: You have exceeded your monthly text allowance.

Semi-sweet chocolate chips

Day Seven: I did not get out of bed on day seven. Not even to pee.

Day Eight: My bowl of cereal was half a bag of Ghirardelli’s 60% cacao chocolate chips with chocolate milk poured over them.

I feel a lot better. Especially since I helped NASA figure out something space related. I’m sure it will eventually be revealed in a Reader’s Digest article, or I’ll see my results reported on the Discovery channel. I’ll probably be part of a documentary.

It was worth it if it meant I’ve aided mankind.

And you’re welcome.

~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)!

 

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.

11-22-09

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)!

 

Make a wish …

laying down on the job, in the middle of the r...

laying down on the job, in the middle of the road – _MG_0236 (Photo credit: sean dreilinger)

In memory of Neil Armstrong … our hero.

As a child, the most magical moments of my life were experienced lying flat on my back in the middle of a concrete road.

It was always pitch black, the night air cool, but you could still feel the warmth of the afternoon’s summer sun radiating from the asphalt below. I used to think the road soaked in the rays of sunlight during the day and held tightly to them until I spread out on its surface, and then offered up that heat to counteract the nip of nighttime air.

I’d bunch my hair behind my head, attempting a makeshift pillow so I could roll around comfortably on the gravely floor beneath me. Even so, after a moment or two, nothing short of someone wrenching an arm out of my socket in an effort to save me from becoming road pizza would bring me back to the present moment; that of four kids and their dad stargazing through the soft, magic nights of a Wisconsin summer.

English: This is a picture of Aurora Borealis ...

English: This is a picture of Aurora Borealis from canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mapping out the constellations, spotting faraway planets and staring slack-jawed at the aurora borealis, we swore we felt the earth spin and convinced ourselves how easy it could be to slide off and find our bodies propelled into the dizzy mess of twinkling stars.

I grew up with a thirst for the stories behind those skies: the tales of a fierce warrior chasing sisters across a width of space he would never lessen, a deadly scorpion hot on his heels, a great bear seeking revenge, a dragon wrapped around the celestial north pole—forever spinning, addled and delirious, and a horrifying hydra, snaking its way through the heavens.

It’s one thing to be the child, bewitched and wide-eyed with little knowledge to draw from, but an entirely unexpected feeling to be the adult, still in awe, but from the truth rather than mythology. As alluring as my world of made-up fable and folklore is, my own daughter—drawn by an unquenchable thirst for answers—is determined to pull the thin veil from my fiction to reveal the facts.

The Eagle Nebula M16 Peering Into the Pillars ...

The Eagle Nebula M16 Peering Into the Pillars Of Creation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At times, it’s been easy to resist, as attempting to wrap my head around the concept of dark matter, bits about space/time continuum, or even something as basic as gravity has made my head spin and sucked the joy from learning. Although, I will admit there have been moments when I was caught up in the heart-swelling, soul-stirring splendor of seeing the birth of new stars or solar systems caught on camera by the type of paparazzi that come complete with PhDs in astrophysics or aeronautical engineering.

I can’t even pretend to follow my daughter when she begins waxing lyrical about the transit photometry program she’s involved in and will sheepishly admit she lost me on the first sentence of her explanation somewhere just after the word The. And when she grabs my hand and drags me out into the dark, insisting that we can’t miss the August Perseid display, I feel relief wash over me after she points to the heavens and alters her words to “meteor shower.”

As we lie on our backs and wait for the unearthly concert to begin, the soft chirp of crickets is a constant murmur like an audience rustling their programs and shuffling their feet. The waiting is similar to holding your breath under water and viewing the liquid world; so foreign and seductive, but temporary because you must resurface. Likewise, while stargazing, one can only go so long searching and studying before you absolutely must blink.

And a blink can be the entire lifespan of a meteor.

Perseus and Perseid Meteor

Perseus and Perseid Meteor (Photo credit: Dominic’s pics)

We lie side by side, quiet, but expectant. I hear her breathe and wonder if she’s counting the minutes until she, too, can join the rest of her people—those who have long ago figured out the secrets of their home and have grown tired of living there. Like a pining teen who longs for the sweet taste of independence, this teen’s first solo abode would be elsewhere in the universe rather than elsewhere in a university. It’s the same, but different.

I treasure those moments of unfettered joy when a streak of light with a tail half the length of the sky shoots past us; a snowball in space determined to break new records for both speed and allure. I am bereft of speech and look to my daughter. There are no words to describe such visions.

Except the ones that come to her easily. Like stumbling upon a book of illusions, the secrets are exposed with revealing illustrations and strip you of future goose bumps. I try to see the science as she does: a language sweet as poetry to her ears. But I miss my warriors, my dragons and sisters.

Vincent van Gogh: Starry Night Over the Rhone ...

Vincent van Gogh: Starry Night Over the Rhone Arles, September 1888 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The two of us view the same stars, the same sky, the same vast and wondrous world.

It’s the same, but different. And beautiful.

~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 bus is here.

School Bus_HDR2

School Bus_HDR2 (Photo credit: tncountryfan)

Could there be a more depressing week than the one before school resumes in August?

I can’t even use the phrase “school begins” as is traditional, because for the last few years, it feels as if we never quite got into the “school’s out” phase. Graduation happened and then BAM!, we were off and running.

I look at this last week the same way I view the last brownie in the pan. Why did it have to come to this? I seriously need an Everlasting Gobstopper Summer. Just one, where I can join the loads of other parents who I eavesdrop on in the grocery store saying, “I cannot wait until I get these kids outta the house and back in the classroom.”

When I hear this, I mostly feel a great sense of shame. They obviously have been spending a bucketload of time with their kids—taking them to parks, swimming, friends, picnics, sports games and Disneyland. I, on the other hand, made mine weed.

I’m pretty sure that’s all they’ll remember.

That, and the fun family road trip. And I’m quite certain our definition of fun is far from similar.

Funny enough, I came across a list—a Summer Bucket List—thrown together by some breezy live life to its fullestmagazine, and figured, just for giggles, I’d see how many of these “suggestions” I was able to cross off between Memorial and Labor Day.

English: Bathing dress from 1858

English: Bathing dress from 1858 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.  Skinny Dip (Yes, but the sheep are incredibly pious and won’t hesitate to sling their pastoral opinions around as they complete their stations of the meadow.)

2. Take in a music festival. (As lovely as this idea seems, it’s never a restful one, as we’re usually on the stage. We are the music festival.)

3. Run through a meadow. (Live in one. Think of me as Julie Andrews only with a husband who no one wants to sing. And I would never think of making clothing from curtains. At least not before they served as bed spreads for a few years and then wrapping paper.)

4. Be the first one at the farmer’s market. (This requires stepping outside and into the garden. Viola. I’m first. And last.)

5. Take more pictures. (click here for proof)

6. Reread your favorite novel. (I’ve kicked it up a notch. I’m trying to write my favorite novel. Sadly, a few other people have already written my favorite novel, so now I’m just trying to use a thesaurus to substitute in a few words to make it truly mine. Seriously, there are only so many archetypal stories. The rest are variations on those themes. I bet no one will notice.)

7. Get caught in the rain. (An all-American favorite, until you have to do farm chores in a torrential downpour. Kinda sucks the romance right out of it.)

8. Wear your swimsuit all day. (This happens regularly when we run out of underwear.)

2 kittens taking a nap

2 kittens taking a nap (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9. Nap so long and hard that you can’t remember where you are when you wake up. (The last part happens frequently, but the first part is never long enough because the sound of a shrill and blaring horn from an oncoming car means the other driver is really picky about that crucial last half second before impact.)

10. Smell like saltwater all day. (Check. Except it’s not from the sea, but rather from the sea of sweat one accumulates from a sweltering Virginia summer. That layer usually peels off just after the first hard frost.)

11. Grow something green. (And red and orange and yellow and purple … done it. And, admittedly, brown and moldy green.)

12. Make a great picnic basket. (No basket needed. We just perch on the garden wall with a hose and a pocket knife.)

13. Hike to the summit of a mountain. (I hike to the bottom just to get the mail.)

14. Stargaze. (This is performed on a regular basis. I’m trying to memorize where it is I’ll need to look when having conversations with my daughter, who plans to live out the rest of her natural life in some space module on Mars.)

English: Artist's rendering of a Mars Explorat...

Artist’s rendering of a Mars Exploration Rover.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

15. Make lemonade. (click here for proof)

16. Catch fireflies. (After a full day of catching and squashing squash bugs, the whole bug catching craze deflates.)

17. Have a water fight. (This usually happens when one of us draws the short straw waiting in line for a shower.)

18. Watch the fireworks. (It’s all on the front lawn and coordinated by Sir Sackier, which is fine, apart from the bit where we have to sit through another rendition of his waving a fistful of sparklers and singing God Save the Queen.)

19. Sleep in a tent. (Does a Motel 6 count? The walls are paper thin and you’ve got just as many “bed bugs.”)

20. Go to the donut shop for breakfast. (Now on the agenda for tomorrow morning!)

Woman's one-piece bathing suit, c.1920

Woman’s one-piece bathing suit, c.1920 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously, the list is endless. I still must squeeze in building a campfire, making s’mores and buying a summer bathing suit. Hence the reasoning behind activity numero uno.

Still, there are seven days left. And I can assure you, not one of them is going to be spent stooped over and pulling up weeds.

~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)!

 

I see dead people.

There is something so tantalizing about going into someone else’s home, especially if they’re not present. Even more so if the folks are dead.

Monterey Wax Museum -US Govt. in Monterey

Monterey Wax Museum -US Govt. in Monterey (Photo credit: Ed Bierman)

Not newly dead and outlined in chalk, but rather long ago buried and part of a history book and some schoolmarm’s lesson plan.

It has to be said, history remained stone cold if I simply read about it in Mr. Schook’s classroom. It did, however, find new life during visits to historical wax museums or abandoned ghost towns.

I can even stand in the waving tall grasses of a carefully preserved battlefield and strain to catch the cries of men slipping through some crack in time. My imagination runs rife with other people’s supposed memories, their hardships and suffering, the easy to imagine tweets they’d post on Twitter.

Okay, you’re right. I took it too far. There’s no way I could imagine their hardships.

81/365: Reflections of Jefferson

81/365: Reflections of Jefferson (Photo credit: Adam Franco)

But I count myself fortunate to live smack dab in the center of a triangle of three residences belonging to past American presidents. And by past, I mean expired to the point folks paste their likeness on our paper currency and coins.

Many Americans (a large chunk of them being schoolchildren) hate to be reminded of the past, but for some reason, they love to reenact it. Because I am married to Sir Sackier, Brit extraordinaire, I find myself in the not so enviable position of hearing just how much we colonists have made a muck of things as often as I’d care to tune in. I figure I’d tune in a lot more if he’d dress in period costume, but that certainly won’t happen unless I agree to play the wayward wench opposite his feudally monocratic role.

Again, that ain’t gonna happen.

civil_war_actors

civil_war_actors (Photo credit: Tom Gill (lapstrake))

Yet you can’t turn around in this state without accidentally elbowing somebody next to you who happens to be dressed like the Revolution is still taking place just yonder down the street. I have perfected the double take when caught off guard seeing a few regimental Civil War soldiers, bloody and bandaged from battle, purchasing a ticket to see Spiderman at the town cinema.

I think it would be easier if our local time travelers could remain in character.

A few days ago, I made my annual trip with some out of town friends to one of my favorite historic eateries. It has a name like Ye Olde Durty Bird or Red Coat Tavern; House of the Village Baker and Physic. We specialize in both baking and bloodletting.

I feel compelled to return year after year, because the food is unbeatable. You sit in a smoky, dark dining room brimming with tourists and the only sounds you hear are those of people weeping with pure culinary pleasure and groaning at the amount they’ve stuffed into their gobs.

The tricky bit is trying to maintain the feeling of having passed through the portal of time. Yes, the food is authentic, the crockery and cutlery realistic, the costumes genuine copies, but it’s the occasional slippage back to our current Twilight Zone that catches me.

When passing by the kitchens, it’s not uncommon to hear, “Shirley! Stop all that damn texting and get that cabbage in the kettle!” Or when someone at a nearby table mentions their black-eyed peas are stone cold, the scullery maid grabs the bowl and chirps, “No worries, I’ll just nuke it in the kitchen.” I wouldn’t be surprised to find the staff doing the Macarena out back while taking a ciggy break.

George Washington

George Washington (Photo credit: Joye~)

In fact, I’m certain, when auditioning for the role of one of these fine dead people, the one caveat they accept, and then promptly ignore before receiving employment, is to read George Washington’s classic best seller—the one he wrote before his sweet sixteen—Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation: a Book of Etiquette.

The book is a fascinating read, and I implore you to take a quick peek at just a few of his rules, but you’ll find that we—as a society in general—would discover the white-wigged man choking on his Cheerios to see how it is that we have “adapted” his suggestions to better fit our present lifestyles.

For instance:

His 3rd rule states: Shew Nothing to your Friend that may affright him. Umm … what are we going to do without YouTube?

12th  … lift not one eyebrow higher than the other, wry not the mouth … He’s just eliminated all the qualifications for a successful James Bond audition.

18th Read no Letters, Books, or Papers in Company but when there is a Necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave. Blackberries, iPhones, Androids … you guys are sol.

44th When a man does all he can though it Succeeds not well blame not him that did it. Obviously, Washington was portending rush hour traffic.

52d In your Apparel be Modest and endeavour to accomodate Nature, rather than to procure Admiration keep to the Fashion of your equals Such as are Civil and orderly with respect to Times and Places. Ahem, Lady Gaga.

64th Break not a Jest where none take pleasure in mirth Laugh not aloud, nor at all without Occasion, deride no mans Misfortune, tho’ there Seem to be Some cause. Looks like we’ll have to nix all reality TV.

72d Speak not in an unknown Tongue in Company but in your own Language and that as those of Quality do and not as the Vulgar; Sublime matters treat Seriously. This one will wreak havoc with our pubescent saplings.

81st Be not Curious to Know the Affairs of Others neither approach those that Speak in Private. There goes Facebook.

107th If others talk at Table be attentive but talk not with Meat in your Mouth. Never gonna happen in my house and at our table.

110th Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience. Someone needs to do a little housekeeping in the Capitol.

Old books

Old books (Photo credit: Maguis & David)

Now I’m not suggesting we catapult ourselves back to slave trade, revolutionists, and no underarm deodorant, but yearning for yesteryear’s grace and civility is a small spark that keeps my own celestial fire burning.

To sum up, it appears we’ve got some work in our future if we hope to live up to the past.

~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)!

 

I vant to be alone …

Solitude is an achievement.

That’s a quote from author Alice Koller. It’s also my life tidily rolled up into four words. I continually search for those spaces where people are not present. I have difficulty thinking in the places where they are.

English: Molasses on a dairy farm in France (p...

English: Molasses on a dairy farm in France (probably used as “molassed sugar beet feed”, as an additive to cattle fodder) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve got one of those older version brains that goes into overload the moment it’s required to do more than one job. I cannot multi-task, instead I multi-focus. My head fractures into splinters and processing data becomes a bit like slogging through a vat of molasses. My mind is like one of the first PCs from back in the early 80’s; BASIC language and a memory of about 16 KB. That’s it. I’m a Commodore with floppy disc storage space.

However it is that this new generation of brains has developed—with the ability to effectively do homework, text, listen to music, Skype, paint their toenails and scarf down a burrito simultaneously—is an enigma. I watch them like they are zoo animals. They’re foreign and fascinating.

When I want to work, I want to be alone. Entirely. I’ve even asked the cat to find another place to settle because her breathing is distracting.

So when I found out I’d been granted almost five whole days to be alone in the house while the rest of the family was swanning around the countryside, I danced a tiny jig and relished the thought of spending the better part of 120 hours writing.

Except after about sixty of them, my eyes ceased to focus, and I was forced to leave my swivel chair and the nearly imperceptible hum of my monitor.

Français : Vignoble allemand en 1859

Français : Vignoble allemand en 1859 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I went a few miles down the road to the local winery.

What a beautiful day. What a gorgeous vineyard. What a jaw-dropping view.

What a mistake.

My intent was to spend a little time enjoying the vision of rolling hills filled with fruit-laden vines rising to verdant sloped mountains. With a glass of wine in my hand, I could sit transfixed and listen as the grape leaves, all broad and flat, soaked up the summer sun.

But as soon as I stepped out of my car in the graveled parking lot and looked around, I found several dozen others who’d targeted the same goal.

The winery had a tasting room both in and outdoors. Each was jam-packed. The chatter flowed as freely as the wine.

A young lady, packaged in the vineyard’s t-shirt and apron, flashed a marketable grin, handed me a menu and swept her arm across the crowded porch like Vanna White showcases contestant prizes. “Make yourself at home,” she said, gliding away.

I wandered, weaving through clusters of women dressed in flowy frocks and men sporting chunky watches. Chairs and tables seated twos and fours, and if occupied, people perched on any remaining flat surfaces.

I wanted someplace quiet, someplace with only one chair.

A Farmer Reading His Paper. Photographed by Ge...

A Farmer Reading His Paper. Photographed by George W. Ackerman, Coryell County, Texas, September 1931. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And I found it. Sort of.

Around the corner of the big wraparound porch, I spied a small nook with two white rocking chairs that matched nothing else, hidden away from the jostling trill of people in high social mode. Paradise.

I claimed the far rocker and noodled over the menu. I waited for Vanna. Three times couples poked their heads around the corner and pulled back saying, “Oops, taken.”

After fifteen minutes, I left my purse on the chair and hunted her down. I rounded the corner and we nearly collided.

“Oh, there you are,” she said, as if she’d truly been on a search. “I had no idea you’d be sitting way back here.”

I nodded. “Can I do your reserve flight and get a cheese platter?”

She gave me an uncomfortable glance. “Is that just for one?”

English: A glass of port wine. Français : Un v...

English: A glass of port wine. Français : Un verre de Porto. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I nodded again, she cocked her head as if I’d answered in Croatian.

She pointed to one of two outside bars. “Just order the wine from one of those fellows over there. And … good luck.”

Now my head mimicked her gesture. “I think I can find it.”

Once reaching the bar, I asked for the wine flight. Again, the response was, “Is that just for one?” I must have rolled my eyes because the bartender quickly put the glass up and moved into his spiel about prized grapes and stainless steel tanks.

I took the glass back to my rocking chair, sat down, took a sip, and before I could swallow, heard the strumming notes of my phone. Sir Sackier wanted to know why I wasn’t answering at home.

In the next sixty minutes, after burying my phone and returning to my wine, no less than twenty-five people peeked around my corner with comments ranging from, “Hidden away here, aren’t you?” to “You realize you’ve snagged the best spot today?” and “Waiting for someone?” I’m pretty sure I even heard one woman stage whisper, “What a shame.”

I answered yes to all of them. Some more forcefully than others.

When Vanna came for the third time with my last wine sample and another version of, “No winner yet?” I was about to ask for the manager to say how much I didn’t appreciate the staff pressuring me to buy their bottles.

But I did like the wine. I was just giving up on the solitude.

IfWeLiftOurSkirtsTheyLevelTheirEye-glassesAtOu...

IfWeLiftOurSkirtsTheyLevelTheirEye-glassesAtOurAnkles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I paid for my wine and tipped the barman on my way out, still flummoxed over Vanna’s last look of pity and the barman’s sympathetic gesture of goodbye.

It was a lovely place, and theoretically a great idea for claiming some quiet space. I got into my car and wound down the driveway, through the vines and hanging fruit. At the entrance, I glanced back once more and shook my head at the botched afternoon. That’s when I spotted the big placard I missed when coming in.

The sign read, The Single Mingle Sip & Supper.

Yep, solitude is an achievement, but for that to happen you have to find the key to success. For me, that’ll be right under my reading glasses.

~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)!

 

I needed climate change.

Beautiful-Ocean-Sunset

Beautiful-Ocean-Sunset (Photo credit: Jeffpro57)

I used to live in California. San Diego, to be precise. Del Mar, to be preciser. Yep, I know it’s not a word, but it fits.

I lived with what real estate agents referred to as a “blue water view.” Folks who bought houses with a “white water view” had an extra zero slapped on to the end of their house’s price tag.

Still, I thought the house was divine. It was at the top of a long ridge, less than a mile from the great Pacific Pool and an easy stroll down to bistros, boutiques and beaches.

A constant breeze blew from the sandy sidewalks straight up the hill and through our open windows. I can’t remember a day when we turned on the air conditioning or the heat.

A baby wearing many items of winter clothing: ...

The climate was perfect.

I hated it.

I NEED WEATHER!

I never had goose bumps, never reached for a sweater. I passed up the deodorant isle at the drug store—didn’t buy it because I never broke a sweat. Every day was like the last: breezy, blue and beautiful.

And boring.

I moved out of perfection as fast as I could.

I craved brooding, roiling clouds filled with drenching sheets of rain.

I wanted booming thunder that would sometimes rumble across the skies like a stretched out line of levitating men playing timpani and at other times crack with such force I’d think the result was an irreparable rift in the sky.

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

I missed splits of lighting that charged the atmosphere with the smell of static electricity, and that made the hairs on my arms stand briefly at attention.

I needed dense, impenetrable snowfall to blanket and silence the earth.

I sought air so cold it crackled, bright and sharply blue.

I hunted for icicles sword-like and jagged.

I desired weather so far on one side of the climate pendulum it would require binoculars to see its contrasting position. Or maybe just six months.

The feeling of moving one’s body from one extreme to the other is addictive. Imagine …

Soaking in an outdoor hot tub, your skin so pink your face flushes like a bashful schoolgirl. On the count of three, you suck in your breath and leap out of the tub into a powdery drift of snow. You roll, you shriek, you shock your body. Rewind, redo and repeat. Now you’re Swedish.

Girl in midair during a swan dive into a lake

Girl in midair during a swan dive into a lake (Photo credit: UW Digital Collections)

How about this …

You’ve woken early, popped your broad brimmed hat atop your head, and squatted for hours under a blazing, unforgiving sun as you weed, trim, pick and prune. The garden is fragrant from spellbinding waves of heat. You smell the pungent, earthy soil and the heady and highly perfumed calling card of piquant petals. You hear the drowsy response of droning bumblebees, and the washing waves of cicadas who announce on a time warped loop that the weather is sticky and sizzling. Sweat trickles and stings in your eyes. You stand, strip and dive into the pool. For an instant you are stunned with the collision, your mind astonished at the clashing antithesis of intense opposition.

It’s worth it.

Worth broiling your body to quench an internal fire with frosty, sweet iced tea. Worth numbing the tips of your fingers, toes and sluggish tongue to spread infusing warmth that can only come from a cup of chocolate soup.

Ice cubes in a glass

Yes, it’s been a wild ride this summer. Dame Nature has given us a taste of fire and brimstone. It hasn’t been easy for many. For some it’s been downright cruel.

Within the face of triple digits I’ve tasted more sweat, but I’ve also tasted more ice cream, felt the drench of a hose and a sprinkler spray across my face and cherished every ice cube.

For me … this is living, this is life. This is weather.

~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)!

 

Eataly!

Here’s something I learned in Italy:

There is NO such thing as Spaghetti Bolognaise.

Okay, maybe I should amend that a tiny bit:

Only tourists order Spaghetti Bolognaise. Italians would rather cut off their tongues with a rusty pen knife and pull out their own vocal chords with poison-dipped pliers than utter the name of this made up dish.

I uttered it a lot while in Tuscany this summer. Sometimes because it was on the menu and I wanted to eat it, and sometimes for the sheer joy of watching my waiter squirm with the discomfort of a man having a prostate exam. Capital eff-you-enn. FUN.

I didn’t start out this mean. I love Italy. I love Italians. What is there not to love about people who would bleed themselves dry and trade their blood for a taste of true balsamic vinegar drizzled on their sweet and juicy melon wrapped with thin sheets of salty Parma ham (instead of the alleged garbage the rest of us use to drown lettuce in)?

They’re devoted.

DOCG seal on a bottle of Chianti Classico Rise...

And obsessed with control.

Everything good has to be checked out by food police and given a stamp of approval before it can stake claim to any share of the thunderous applause coming from hands that have just put down a napkin. The DOCG label, the collection of letters guaranteeing quality, strikes fear into the hearts of those hoping to tattoo them onto their products and has them waking in a cold sweat with the great possibility they may not reach the gold standard.

But victorious or not, the Italians have a boatload to be proud of. I say, with hand on my heart, that I’ve had some of the best meals of my life in Italian gas stations.

On this particular trip … it was a truck stop.

It was the first meal of my summer journey after landing in Pisa and driving toward Siena, and sadly, every dish was judged against it from then on. Nothing could quite compare. Guess what I had?

Spaghetti Bolognaise.

The seven-table cookshack off the side of the road showed nothing more than a mass of semis clustering around its dirt parking lot and front door; beasts crowding a fresh kill. The group of grubby drivers corking the flow of movement at the door waited patiently while their hands were busy talking to other guys in the same line of work.

The tablecloths were pieces of fresh yellow paper, the wine … your pick—a jug of red or a jug of white–the food mostly family style. Whatever the cook’s making in the back we’ll bring out. You’ll like it.

Have you got Spaghetti Bolognaise?

Of course we do.

Stupid question, right?

The folks at the truck stop could have stopped me right there, could have told me, “Hey kid, here’s a tip; unless you plan to give the whole of Italy a giant cardiac arrest, don’t ask for that dish.”

Apparently, one never has Bolognaise, one has ragu. And one does not put spag with one’s ragu. Only tagliatelle. It’s Tagliatelle al Ragu. Capiche?

tagliatelle

But this fellow was just as nice as pie, or whatever the equivalent of pie is in Italy, and served me and all the truck drivers whatever we wanted without batting an eyelash. Everyone else, on the other hand, clutched hearts, clucked tongues and shook long, prodigious digits at me when I requested the combo.

Even if it was listed as such ON THEIR MENU.

Wouldn’t it be easier if they all agreed to not offer up a recipe that doesn’t exist and feign ignorance if it was asked for?

“Yes, but we put it on the menu for the tourists,” I would hear.

“That’s me,” I’d beam.

Usually, a sign of the cross was made, a few Hail Mary’s were uttered and once, even a couple of knuckles were cracked. These guys are serious.

I begged for an explanation.

“Spaghetti is from Naples. It’s made from semolina. It’s too slippery for ragu. Tagliatelle is egg pasta. This is what we serve with ragu in Bologna.”

“So you’re saying your pasta is like duct tape?”

Do not joke with Italians about food. They’re quite at ease with hanging meat for months at a time in cold dank storage facilities. It’s unnerving to see four thousand pig legs dangling from a ceiling and be told that you had to be a very special animal to find yourself in here.

So I guess I’ve learned a very important lesson. One I won’t ever forget. One that struck me to the core and left a deep impression upon me:

I want to be an Italian truck driver.

~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)!

 

Birthdays; a cacophony of cake, calamity and cadavers.

A pile of inflatable balloons.

Birthdays.

People often fall into one of two camps when theirs come around: the kind that want balloons, and the kind that pop them.

I tend to tell my family to save their breath–not because I don’t like balloons, but because Sir Sackier is a god-awful singer, and without doubt, everybody wants to sing the duet part. It’s a train wreck of a song, but that’s not it. It’s not even half over after the first rousing chorus because then it has to be sung in Polish, then Spanish, and finally, just to impress, someone might start a verse in Hebrew. That one usually peters out quickly as no one is ever quite sure they remember the words, and it feels almost sacrilegious to continue muttering and mumbling something that could be mistaken for clearing your throat of phlegm.

Ducks in macao

Also, I was raised in a household that eventually fostered a lackadaisical attitude toward birthday celebrations. Being Polish, all festivities required the slaughtering of some unlucky animal, and seriously, one can only stomach so much duck blood soup. Therefore, I’m left trying to explain to my own kids why I’m not fussed when no one from my family calls or shows up to wish me happy returns on the day.

“Aren’t you offended? Doesn’t it hurt your feelings?” they’d ask.

“Nope. We were raised not to have feelings. We couldn’t afford them. Plus, we’re not big on guilt. We’ve still got a mighty big bag of it left over from catechism classes, so I think we’re all pretty much set for life in that department.”

Happy Birthday!

Now it’s not that my family doesn’t ever recognize one another’s birthdays, it just happens a little later in the calendar year–like over the phone when someone has called to let you know that another ninety-year old relative has finally shuffled off this mortal coil.

“Hey, you just turned thirty, didn’t you?”

“Yep. ‘Bout seven years ago.”

“Cool. And Ciocia Grazyna kicked the bucket.”

“Who?”

“Dad’s Great Auntie Gracie.”

“Good heavens, I had no idea she was still alive.”

“Apparently it came as quite a shock to the rest of the family, too. Three people swore they attended her funeral two years ago.”

Nowadays, birthdays for me are much more about taking stock. I start the morning off in bed and go through a small, yet growing, checklist. Toes still working? Check. Breath coming in and out? Slow, but steady. Check. Right arm still capable of hurling wretched alarm clock across the bedroom? Let’s see …

Check.

I take stock of what hurts, and more importantly, what doesn’t, but normally does. I say a small prayer of thanks and then throw a few curses at the bits that are louder than usual.

I try to get up early enough to drag a lopsided lounge chair outside, or find an accommodatingly soft rock to perch on, in order to watch the sunrise. It’s sort of a gift I give myself. That and the two shots of tequila I bring out as a pre-breakfast tipple.

I’m only kidding. I don’t actually get up to see the sunrise.

Petra's Yoga Poses around the world

Let’s all pretend this is me, okay?

Ok, seriously, I usually pick some yoga pose and try to hold it for as many seconds as years I’ve lived all while watching the sun creep above the horizon. By the time I’ve finished, the squirrels are having a good laugh, and birds are pointing out to their young just what not to do.

It doesn’t matter, I’ll get them all back later. We used to eat a lot of squirrel while growing up. We called it tiny chicken.

Usually, I then come into the kitchen, where Sir Sackier has cooked up something that one would normally see on a twelve-course tasting menu, but all on one plate, and the kids are bustling about snatching things like my iPad out of my hands, telling me I shouldn’t be doing any heavy lifting today.

The day continues with me basically eating too much, laughing too hard, and worrying that my kitchen will never look as it once did a few hours earlier.

I spend time really focusing on things. The direction of my writing, the height of my children, the sagging of my–well, never mind that–the point is I look with fresh eyes. Okay, maybe the eyes themselves aren’t so fresh, but the perspective is.

The phone rings and one of the kids peeks at the caller ID and says, “Hey, Mom, it’s your second cousin Celia.”

“Don’t answer it,” I shout.

“Geez, Mom, they’re only going to wish you a happy birthday.”

“No, they’re not. They’re calling to tell me about somebody’s deathday.”

“Whatever,” they respond. “And just so you know, G-ma and G-pa’s car just pulled into the driveway.”

Herding ducks in the New Forest

“Quick! Somebody hide the ducks. Or we’re going to have two funerals to attend this week.”

“No worries. Dad’s already made dinner. He said you’d love it.”

“Great,” I sigh. “What did he make?”

“I’m not really sure … I think he said it was some kind of soup.”

~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 Distiller’s Handbook; the mirth of mixology.

Donuts.

People are crazy.

And inventive.

And did I mention crazy?

Traditionally, the drinks industry, namely the ever-expanding hip crowd of mixologists, follows close on the tails of bored—sorry, ingenious chefs who are always inventing new ways to get food down our gullets and hopefully a 3-page story in a gourmet magazine as a side bonus. I’m beginning to find chicken-flavored doughnuts infused with a pocket of vodka-spiked BBQ sauce laying on a bed of gently trampled reindeer moss a little cliché. You too? I’m not surprised.

Squash bug eggs on the underside of yellow cro...

Personally, most of my meals are consumed crouched over the raised beds of my vegetable patch and berry bushes. I don’t even hose anything off anymore before I eat it. If there’s dirt on it, I tell myself it’s Earth pepper. Speckled with microscopic bugs? Extra protein. Find out I’ve just bitten into a squirty cluster of copper-colored squash bug eggs? A two-fold bonus. 1- I’ve gotten to them before they’ve hatched and eaten all my zucchini and 2- I may have discovered the newest form of caviar. Bully for me.

foam

I love food. Will try most everything. Find I like a lot of it. And because of this obsession, I easily discover myself surrounded by paper walls of stacked magazines and cookbooks, staring at too many open tabs on my browser, each waiting patiently for my eyes to return to them.

I like learning about the industry trends and oftentimes I give them a whirl in my own kitchen. There were four entire seasons where no one ate anything solid because it was the year of foam food. I don’t think a body should hold that much nitrous oxide. I’m still witnessing the side effects.

Smoke

Following along with the cocktail crowd can be a full-time job for many. Lately, the brews are smoldering. You can order something on the drinks menu that sounds appealing and find it presented to you in a goblet worthy of a Harry Potter scene, white tendrils of smoke floating up and rolling over the brim due to a quick discharge of liquid nitrogen. Folks are smoking everything from their ice chips to Shirley Temples—cherries included.

One bar will even serve you water steeped in tobacco. Um … yuck.

Since I tend to take my liquor straight, the pioneering procedures in the cocktail world have not been catching my eye. That is, until I came across a book that was so simple and winsome, I had to work my way through it. (Not all at once, mind you.)

The Home Distiller's Handbook: Make Your Own Whiskey & Bourbon Blends, Infused Spirits and CordialsThe Home Distiller’s Handbook by Matthew Teacher is a guide revealing recipes and pictures of old jugs and mason jars filled with uncomplicated ingredients and straightforward infusions.

I like the word infusion. It’s a little hip without being pretentious. It suggests you might know what you’re doing and will raise a few eyebrows without turning any stomachs. Funky blends like Cucumber Gin, Raspberry Cognac, Sour Cherry Whiskey and Horseradish Vodka are just a few that I’ve dog-eared, but maybe you’re more the sort who’d gravitate toward Habanero and Mango Tequila, or Lavender Liqueur, or even Smoked Bacon Bourbon.

My first run was an effortless achievement. I made Blueberry Bourbon and Sour Apple Blueberry Rum. (Click here for the scullery recipes.) We’ve got such a surplus of blueberries in the garden that we’re all starting to look a little like Violet Beauregarde from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, so I’m thinking of chucking anything else that turns blue from outside into the freezer. We’ll thaw it all out come November’s pancake season.

I’ve also decided that everyone is getting hard liquor for Christmas—even the kids. By the time they turn 21, the flavors should have matured to perfection.

English: Exterior of the Maximus Minimus food ...

Once I’ve made my way through all the alcoholic infusion recipes that tickle my fancy, I’m going to need a new culinary project.

Maybe I’ll buy my own food truck and sell freshly grilled roadkill kebabs.

I might try to create a scratch and sniff app.

It very well might be the year of eating only foraged food.

I’m looking for ideas. So send me your thoughts!

The rest of the family is really excited too. Because inventive is my middle name … right after crazy.

~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)!

 

Who’s minding the store?

Yes. The rumors are true. My mother the blogger has run off to be a full-time trapeze artist.

PAR-TAAAAY!!!

With the parents out of the country, we have the place to ourselves, and there are, like, forty teenagers in the pool! And my brother’s on the roof! You’re invited! Bring more beer!

Ugh. The truth is far more boring. My brother and I are hanging out with my grandparents—like the cool kids that we are—and instead of inviting my whole high school to my pool, I’m commandeering the blog. (I’m the NASA nerd/terrible teenage driver/kicks Betty Crocker’s butt daughter, by the way.) My mother is not circusing with bearded ladies and vertically challenged people—she is off traversing Europe, recruiting confused Scots to staff her personal kilted bagpipe army. And my brother is not on the … well. That depends on your definition of ‘roof.’

A Hammock on a tropical beach.

My traveling family usually curses some foreign land come summertime, after the happy, cheery funfest of school finishes. Of course, the normal mentality of a family at summertime is to take a relaxing vacation, unwind and escape from stress. Birds flying high while you relax with a tall glass of lemonade and watch someone’s cotton be harvested.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, this unit of genetic code does travel a little differently. In fact, we completely screw it up. We take the saying “to need a vacation after your vacation” to a whole new, disturbingly accurate level. It’s not a vacation. It’s not an adventure. It’s a cruise down the River Styx. What I’m about to tell you leaves no room for doubt as to why my brother and I are choosing the take-out summer vacation option and setting our dearest darling parents loose on Dulles International Airport.

Here’s a snapshot of us on Day One, Hour One: We are standing outside our house, copious luggage in hand, ridiculous smiles plastered on our faces. We haven’t even left the house yet, and we still manage to reek of the hyper-infectious Eau de Tourist.

He’s a snapshot of us on Day One, Hour Two: We are riding in the car to Dulles. Look! Look at the two teenagers outside of their natural environment! They’re sharing iPods … This is not right. Something is about to go terribly wrong.

English: Main Terminal of at dusk in Virginia,...

Here’s a snapshot of us on Day One, Hour Three:We have just set foot inside the bustling airport. Mom’s hair is all over the place. Dad looks like he hasn’t slept in weeks. One teenager just twisted an ankle. The other is about to trip the fire alarm. Several pieces of luggage just spontaneously disappeared. All of the electronic devices brought along suddenly lose all battery power. Oh no! We completely forgot to turn off the water and stop the post and shut off the lights and lock the door and find someone to feed the sheep. And for some reason, there’s no cell service in here. All of a sudden, Mom realizes she accidentally packed half of Bath and Body Works, and they are definitely not in 3-ounce containers. My brother is checking the sign about which weapons are not ideal for airplanes, and counting on his fingers the number of items he’ll have confiscated. Dad comes back from an argument with the woman behind the counter—good news! We actually have four tickets on an airplane this time! But only Mom is booked in first class … Dad is seventeen rows back, in a fire escape seat in economy. I’m checked in as an animal traveling in the hold … and my brother is taking the red-eye to Zimbabwe.

Interior of a China Southern Airlines airplane.

Magical, isn’t it?

And we haven’t even left the state.

After doing some shady last minute dealing with an old couple that always wanted to sit in an animal hold/go to Zimbabwe, we’re all in possession of tickets representative of seats that are at least on the same plane. You’d think that maybe, if we were all strapped down for eight hours, no trouble could possibly ensue. Dad obviously thought the same, manifested in the telltale look of bewilderment that occupies his face when a flight attendant brings him the SkyMall lawn care maintenance system ordered from Zimbabwe by his credit card. Mom is getting ready to recline her seat to ease her aching back, but soon learns that she has “special” seat C2, the one that spontaneously lurches forward and then drops back if the plane experiences any turbulence. I want to watch a mindless movie, but my seat’s video screen will only alternate between a test pattern and an “adult” channel. The gentleman across from my brother is still being talked out of suing the airline/us for the dent in his head made by my brother’s improperly stowed duffel bag. The airplane quivers momentarily, and my mother is catapulted forward.

‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: Mange hadde sterke reaksjo...

A few hours into the night, my brother lies buried beneath a mountain of candy wrappers brought to him by affectionate flight attendants. Dad sits quietly working, his face lit by the laptop screen, and every few minutes, he expels a sneeze so boisterous it awakens the omnipresent devil-baby a few rows back. My mother has abandoned her amusement park seat and fallen asleep leaning against the lavatory door. Having exhausted the two good movies in the system, I’m learning about the importance of friendship from Barney.

Things don’t improve much once we touchdown in jolly old England. Overcome with an exacerbated sense of “home-again,” Dad becomes the most English Englishman you can imagine, to the point where he’s confusing actual Englishmen. Furthermore, he walks through airports like he’s trying to inconspicuously escape a stalker. Weaving throughout crowds at a seemingly hypersonic speed, he never hears our aggravated calls of “DAD! We shook him off, promise! And we’ve lost Mom!” My brother does a remarkable job of impersonating a salt-caked slug that has the ability to softly moan “foooooood…” earning many pitying looks from passersby. Halfway through airport trekking, we’ll notice that we have each gradually offloaded all of our cumulative luggage onto Mom. And what she’s not carrying, we left on the plane.

This brings us to somewhere in the middle of Day Two. Even the formal act of traveling itself has not yet come to an end.

If I’ve done a descriptive enough job of relating the story, you’ll never want to leave the country again. And you thought I was exaggerating.

English: RAAF recruits leaving from Brisbane, ...

So this summer, the salted slug and I are living the easy, airport-free life. There is a pool out back, and a fridge within reach. For once, my father isn’t running around simultaneously holding arguments and trying to convince people of his nationality. My mother isn’t going mad trying to provide her offspring with “edutainment.” (She’s very proud of her sneaky hybrid educational system … because my brother and I definitely won’t know it’s a museum if it’s in another country.)

Right now, they’re off together, leaving a wake of destruction and destroyed luggage.

They could be in an animal hold.

🙂

Don’t forget to check out the new scullery recipe (here) and what I wrote about Whisky-wise (here).