Not So Fit as a Fiddle, but Still Music to My Ears

This year for the holidays, I received a beautiful gift: a bow.

Not a knot tied with two loops and two loose ends to adorn my hair or embellish a box.

Not a weapon from which I would launch arrows to fend off foes or hunt whilst hungry.

Instead, it was a wooden rod, curved and carved, attached to horsehair, and meant to fill a room with sound once drawn across a set of strings.

I’ve been missing the bow to my violin for years.

I’m fairly certain it left of its own accord, for my skills as a violinist are thus that once revealed, fill any listener with more desire to have me cease, than the encouragement they first offered to have me begin.

I have been surrounded by musicians my whole life. It is not difficult to assess who was capable and who was simply fulfilling the chore affixed to their daily schedule by a parent who insisted that if they wished to see the dawn of the next day, they would accomplish the tasks assigned to them on the present one.

I wasn’t fond of practicing the violin, and I don’t really know what would have happened had I refused to play it. Or if I would purposefully create sound that would have others beseeching I never do so again. I was a rule follower. And more than a modicum of effort was expected to produce results.

I reached the great height of mediocrity and would still to this day firmly quibble with Elfriede Jelinek who stated that The middling level has no terrors, no anxieties. For no matter where I went—and at that time, I was going from stage to stage—I found I was hired on because “yes, you can sing,” but also “we need a violinist too.” Therefore, I was thrust into the limelight where others now shined a blistering focus on those lackluster skills. Terrors and anxieties accompanied me as if we were tethered triplets.

Once departing that domain and birthing two small humans who grew to the level of trust where they could hold an instrument and not simply utilize it as teething relief, I quickly, and astonishingly, discovered what true aptitude looked like. Smart enough to engage industrious tutors, and youthful enough to recall tutorial methods that did not resonate with me, the blueprint to build two true musicians began to take shape. The foundation of this construct required one element I insisted be present, lest the whole edifice collapse: joy.

I think most of us realize that to achieve any measure of competency, it will involve some elbow grease, and therefore, joy can be muffled when engaged in employing said grease. Muffled does not mean silenced. No pillow may be engaged in asphyxiating the necessary joy essential to furthering one’s abilities—no matter how downy soft it may be. Many would agree the joy emerges strengthened and intensified, but usually after great effortful endeavors. Learning that pattern is what’s most difficult.

Now although my skills did not improve greatly as I worked and learned alongside my children, my joy associated with my violin did. I think it was due to living vicariously through many of their advancements. Hearing someone tackle increasingly difficult passages and produce mellifluous sound was phenomenal not simply to experience firsthand, but also to feel the jubilant skipping of my own genes expressing the thrill of a job well done. I would never take credit for my offspring’s’ capabilities, but I take a small amount of satisfaction knowing I did not fully dampen them to the point of being mute.

Today, the two of them are magnificently masterful with their art, and I remain astonished at the heights they’ve achieved.

I also remain tethered to my own averageness and would love to shift the blame onto something as absurd as my personal fear of heights. Some ladders are not meant to be climbed, although I find myself at least brave enough to perch a few rungs above dirt level.

And the view from this spot, although not panoramic, feels purposeful enough to elevate the worthiness of my efforts—the energy put forth to revive latent skills for no one else’s benefit but mine, where a small bloom of satisfaction unfolds as ancient filaments of melodic line burble up to the surface from ink to brain and instrument to air. The fact that they stitched themselves to some part of my essence and found hush-hush housing, emerging when called–albeit dusty and brittle, does not dampen my pursuits. In fact, those efforts are made more profound because someone I love gave me the means to express myself. And although I wish that that which is expressed from those four tightly drawn strands sounded less strained than the method one envisions it required to create the catgut strings, there is still joy.

Joy that someone gave me the gift.

Joy that someone still absurdly believes I have the wherewithal to make use of the gift.

And the joy that on any given day I can simply announce, I am not going to practice today, so there.

From where I stand on the ladder’s rungs of talent, I’d have to say that’s a gift in and of itself and should be wrapped up in a bow.

~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.

Lads & Lassies, Pipers & Poets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Scottish Piper - Victorian print vector art illustration

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

My suggestions for you? Start small.

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

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

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

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

Slàinte!

~Shelley

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

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

The Din of December

There is something magical about the word December.

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

December has a sound all its own.

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

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

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

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

And I listen for the pop of seasoned wood, ensconced in flames and smoke. The tiny hiss from flickering tongues is the language of heat, a faint articulation of a promise against the bleak and bitter chill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

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

Magical, Musical, Maleficent Mayhem

Hello, Peakers.

It is I, my mother’s nefarious, cupcake-baking daughter.

I have returned.

I know you missed me.

Even better: this is one of three guest blogs I’ll be writing over the next couple of months to give you a taste of our glorious summer adventures. I’m also subbing cause she’s been kinda busy with her book that will probably put an end to all sugar.

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Still not sure if that’s a good thing or not, but regardless, you should buy it immediately because the only college care packages she has sent me this year have been socks.

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(Shout out to my grandmother for secretly mailing me my massive stuffed rhinoceros pillow named James Franco when my mother scoffed at my childishness.)

Anyway.

The first installment of this epic adventure collection involves satanic worship, children in cults and good old fashioned family time. And it all began when my mother made the fatal mistake of agreeing to play the piano accompaniment for my grandmother’s music recital.

For those of you who didn’t grow up in a classical music cult, allow me to enlighten you about the Suzuki Mafia, or, What My Grandmother Does When She’s Not Gardening.

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She runs an illicit ring comprised of small children whose parents willingly give their time and money in exchange for pint-sized violins and children that can imitate chicken noises on a musical instrument.

These children are called “Twinklers,” owing to the omnipresent, haunting theme of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” that is repeatedly drummed into their heads. I believe it has hypnotic power, and that whenever its dulcet tones are imitated, the kindergarten sleeper agents are summoned to serve their evil overlord. In our story, their commanding officer is my grandmother, who goes only by the code name “Mrs. W.” Probably for tax evasion purposes.

These Twinklers are disseminated throughout their hometowns, and with their persistent chicken scratching, day in and day out, slowly work to break down the mental stability of those around them, converting them to the cult under the guise of “musical education.” And then, once every season, the ring coalesces in a local church to perform mass rituals and provide sacrificial offerings to Mrs. W and their parental network. Then, over brownies and fruit punch, they all discuss their progress on the front of world domination.

I know all this because I was once a Twinkler.

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I was one of the agents so deeply ensnared that it took me forever to escape. My childhood was a blur of itchy dresses, tightly braided hair, group bows, (“look at your toes and count to three!”) and broken strings. These mass rituals or “recitals” form some of my earliest memories, and so revisiting the scene to watch my mother play piano accompaniment for the tiny, unarmed yet powerful sleeper agents was quite the nostalgic experience.

The day before, my mother and I met Mrs. W in her underground fallout shelter (basement of the Music Emporium) to assess the readiness of the troops. Five of them, pigtailed and confused-looking, stood with their imitation Stradivariuses crammed under their arms, waiting by the piano for Mrs. W’s cue. On her mark, my mother sounded the first four chords that triggered the little ones to play.

As five bows collided simultaneously with five strings with the spirit and determination of invading Huns, I felt the earth open up beneath my feet and the welcoming satanic embrace of the underground climb up my chair. The little army of violin robots played on, sawing out their homage to Bach, Beethoven and Voldemort. Watching them rehearse, I felt the ability for and disposition to independent thought slip away, leaving me with the sole desire of joining their ranks and offering dissonant screeches to the evil overlord.

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The next day was showtime. Parents crowded the pews of the commandeered church, their faces worn with visible exhaustion from corralling their mind-warping musical maestros. My brother sat, skulking in the back, his face hidden by the flowers I forced him to bring, likely illegally streaming movies. My mother was attending to Mrs. W, addressing last minute crises like the fact that Tommy may have just stepped on Sara’s violin and now it doesn’t quite sound the same.

I sat in the front, readying my best snarkastic face to distract my mother while she attempted to accompany. I was prepared for a full, glorious 90 minutes of the audible equivalent of having teeth pulled. I watched as one of the tiny cult members took the stage, readied his violin and tried to reposition his knee-length tie. He tucked his violin under his neck, took a shaky breath, and with the bow hovering over the strings, hesitated for a moment. I saw his round puppy eyes glance at my mom, waiting for that magical, motherly look that is a combination of recognition, approval, and assurance.

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She smiled and nodded, and, with renewed vigor and purpose, he plunged into a hearty rendition of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Gently Down the Rivers of Blood of our Enemies and Stage Mother Tears.” No matter if he forgot a note, or a measure, or an entire half of the song, she would follow his musical diversions and remain a safe place to fall.

The rest of the recital was a whirl of Mrs. W’s recruits acting like adorable tiny humans and stepping on each other’s expensive horse-haired bows. Yet I remembered that quiet, singular moment of connection between a nervous little one and my mother. In my hectic tornado of lab work, laundry and cooking for myself, sometimes, those little reassurances that the accompaniment will always be there remain the strongest glue holding me together.

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That and Mrs. W’s magic Kool-Aid.

~Chloe (an ex-Twinkler)

*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.

 

 

Muscle memory; body magic

From the moment I crack an eyelid open at dawn, I am aware of my muscles. Some much more so than others. There are a couple I wish I’d never hear from again, but I’m guessing if you remove one, it’s a bit like pulling on a thread from an intricately woven blanket.

Part of the awareness has come from pain. Okay, initially much of it has come from pain. But thereafter, I found a subtle shift in regards to my cognizance—which turned into quite a seismic shift, and is now part of my every day, my every hour, and occasionally, my every minute mindfulness campaign.

Not having the money, I could not employ a parade full of PR people to follow me around and point out the miracles of muscles 24/7, so I had to go it alone and blow my own horn section.

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The effortless shift of muscle over bone, the smooth and fluid motion of movement is an occurrence I wish for, aim for, and relish. And although there are hundreds of muscles in the human body, all expertly doing their thang with little coaching from me, it’s an easy trap to fall into–barking at the one or two that are acting crankily without recognizing and praising the other bazillion that are following nature’s blueprints.

But it’s not just my muscles that I’m keenly aware of first thing in the morning, but those of my animals as well. Even before setting a toe onto the floor, I pull knees to chest and attempt to test the temperature of whatever waters my back muscles will be floating in today. As I do this, the cat joins in beside me and demonstrates what it would be like to live with a member of Cirque du Soleil. I stick out my tongue, roll out of bed and attempt to erase her morning routine from my mind. Instead I lower myself to the floor next to my hound and give his belly a good morning greeting. In sleepy response, his body elongates to three times its original form and I am in awe, again, as to somebody else’s muscular structure and granted request.

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Faces are washed—we each do our own—and a quick assessment is made in the mirror to measure soap and water’s ability to snap facial muscles back into shape. Everyone agrees it’s a bonus to have fur around your eyes and mouth. There is absolutely no need for wrinkle cream.

I’m the only one who chooses to brush the teeth I own, but while I do so, I start my morning yoga. Adding an extra mental challenge to the task, I fling a sock-covered foot onto the rim of the super-slippery porcelain tub. I attempt a few warrior poses and high lunges to open up my tightly bound hip-flexors in preparation for the day’s demanding task of sitting at my desk, or in my car.

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As I work on my canines, my feline uses the same thin, slick edge to pirouette upon, prance above, and vault from in yet another attempt to flaunt the wide gap between our talents.

She is such a braggart.

I move to an area where I feel my talents surpass hers: the keyboard.

It is here I am reminded of just how fascinating fingers can be. It goes like this:

I think.

Synapses snap.

Fingers fly.

Words are written.

I pause and look at my hands. I wiggle my fingers above the waiting jumble of plastic keys. I mentally applaud the collection of muscles in charge, as I don’t want them to have to generate the effort to praise themselves for the efforts they make.

This repeated pattern that I practice thousands of times a day is nothing compared with the bewildering curiosity that occurs when I take a brain break and slide onto the piano’s bench for a minute or two of ebony and ivory exercise. But it’s not really exercise. It’s more like a pit stop at my personal Ripley’s Believe it or not exhibition. I call it my Magical Manifestation of Muscle Memory. It is a stunt meant only to amuse me, but reminds me just how little I know about the complex world of physiology.

I crack open a dusty volume of Chopin’s Waltzes. I look at the delicate lines of nimble quick notes. I try to read, process and move my hands across the rows of keys. I stumble. I plunk. I make sour mistakes.

I close the book.

I close my eyes.

I disengage brain and let go of the handle bars.

Fingers fly. They know where to go—they need no help from me. Whether it’s a Rachmaninoff piece that requires an extra two fingers to manage a blackened page full of orchestral chords, or the slim, sylph-like melodies of delicate Debussy, if I learned it way back then, I know it still today.

It doesn’t matter if it’s walking, running, skipping, jumping, turning a page, or signing my name, stirring a pot, or stroking the dog, embracing my child or brushing my hair, all those bits that flex and extend amaze and astound me.

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The magic of muscles.

I prize them and praise them.

~Shelley

**Gotta Have a Gott**

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

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

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