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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Ready or not …

A long time ago I learned how to fly.

Lessons were thrilling, dazzling, mind-blowing and action-packed.

They were also exhausting, white-knuckling, petrifying and hair-raising. My knees knocked together with such precision and regularity, I’m certain they were sending out some sort of Morse code of panic.

But one of the most important lessons I took away from that experience was gaining the true definition of what it meant to fly by the seat of your pants.

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I think, at the time, I would have been fairly confident in admitting that I was not spontaneous. I’d been raised and trained as a musician and had been for many years making a living showing others that I could deliver results because I’d practiced and perfected (or close enough) what was expected and what I’d been paid to do. The shows I performed in were strictly timed and had no room for stepping a toe outside the margin for artistic license. In fact, artistic license was frowned upon. With microphone in hand and speaking to the audience, even the ad libs were practiced.

No surprises.

That was the point. Surprises meant panic—and these were not shows that invited outliers to mess about with the tried and true. Follow your cues, hit your mark, and take a big bow. Remove your makeup, cash your paycheck and wake up to do the whole thing again tomorrow.

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Piloting a plane was incredibly similar. Tick off the checklist, fly the plane, land the craft. Don’t skip procedure or you’ll NOT wake up to do the whole thing again tomorrow. You will also not wake up inside the pine box you’re now residing in.

Easy peasy. Simple and safe.

Accompanying my daughter to one of her shows is an entirely different experience. She too had been fed on the same diet of stable, steady and straight, but at some point, she spat that bunk out like it was a mouthful of cat hair.

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From then on, playing the part of parental roadie has been like riding a roller coaster without a safety harness, and knowing somewhere you missed the sign that said, “Temporarily shut down for repairs.”

I’m a planner. If I’m doing a road trip, I’m going to make sure my car is in tiptop shape, I’ve got gas, I have directions to the destination, I’ll have packed my bag, and I have emergency supplies for every conceivable calamity mankind has had to face.

My daughter will grab an armload of clothes off her bedroom floor, a jug of eyeliner and rely on a bra strap to use as floss before bed.

My computer copied directions turned out to be less than reliable as a split second after seeing the Google Map displayed beautifully on my screen and clicking the word PRINT, all the numbers seemed to have gone missing. I was told to turn left or right, but not onto what and never after how long.

But I’ve got a great sense of direction. So we fly by the seat of our pants, right?

WRONG.

Rule number 792 of flying: Never trust the seat of your pants.

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Trust your instruments. But only after you’ve checked your backup instruments to your instruments. And only after you’ve checked and double checked your original instruments and backup instruments.

Speaking of instruments. Do you have your violin??

The answer was: Probably.

We had to rely on my daughter’s iPhone, as mine is working better as a thick bookmark and a paperweight these days than it is as anything with intelligence—artificial or otherwise.

The problem with the above scenario was that the smartphone’s voice for directions only occasionally worked because the gadget was being overloaded with text messages from a hundred other teenagers and the necessary ‘study music’ needed to accompany somebody who was finally cracking open a few chapters for a massive physics test in 36 hours.

About 30 minutes before we arrived for sound check the question, “I wonder what I’m playing tonight?” floated through the car.

Flicking back through several weeks of old text messages revealed the set list: a few songs she sorta remembered, one she would wing, and two others she vaguely recalled performing nearly a year ago.

VAGUELY??

My ‘panic and puke now’ bells were rapidly firing off. I was only an audience member and I was beginning to hyperventilate, but the person riding next to me just pulled up one of the tunes on YouTube and started air violining her way through it.

“Oh my godfathers, you had better hope they’re going to let you Milli Vanilli the performance tonight.” I envisioned catastrophe.

“Chill, Mom—and shush.”

Fast forward to showtime and a last minute text that came before the lights went down.

MOTHER! Hair up or down?

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I thought about what could save her future. Down. Definitely down and see if you can’t hide most of your face.

And then I added, Which dress will you wear?

Her response: All of them.

The lights went down, the show began, the numbers flew by. There was no panic on anyone’s faces—no sign of distress—my child did not leave the stage amid a flurry of booing and tomato throwing from the audience—no crashing and burning of aircraft because she forgot to do a fuel check before takeoff. She got fuel from applause. She got inspiration from the whooping and hollering. She got chord progressions from the guitarist beside her.

Was she lucky? Was she good? I think maybe both.

And now she wants to learn to fly.

Well, I may sit with her in a car using nothing more than the sun and a few shadows for directions, and I may sit in the audience for her holding my breath and hoping for the best, but I will not sit in a cockpit with her and be offered nothing but a wing and a prayer.

That is one flight of fancy that I’ll just have to ground.

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~Shelley

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

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A little Holiday Folly

I hope that all you “Peakers” out there are enjoying your December holidays, and that your homes are filled with cheer, your hearts are filled with joy and your sinks are full of dishes. And as is customary for and craved by most folks at some point during the year, a week off to rest the bones and curl up on the couch with the cat seems like a fine idea.

But just so you’re not left feeling empty and unloved, I’ve tossed you a good giggle to while away a few minutes in place of reading this week’s episode.

Hope you enjoy a little Morecambe and Wise skit. One of my favorites, and performed in their 1971 Christmas show.

Cheers to you all, and a very Happy New Year.

We’ll see you next week!

~Shelley (& Rob)

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 Din of December

There is something magical about the word December.

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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 world, it’s 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.

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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 when that cycle is no more, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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.

Twelve years a slave to satellites.

There are a million things I know with absolute certainty that I have no talent for:

1. Numbers. If there are more than three, and something is required to be done to them, other than the elementary operations one practices in school up to about the age of twelve, then I am the last person you want to consult. Okay, maybe the penultimate person, because kindergarteners are notorious for making up answers where I would at least try to get it right.

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2. Cutting hair. I’ve cut my own, I’ve cut my children’s and I’ve cut my dog’s. It’s amazing how quickly a crowd will scatter if I walk into a room with a pair of scissors.

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3. Squeezing my entire body through the head of a tennis racket. It’s impossible. I’ve tried a million times. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up, I’ve just got to study a few more Chinese circus children before I try again.

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But if asked what skill I can claim an aptitude for, I would not hesitate to point out that I possess a great sense of direction.

That is, unless I’ve programmed my car’s satellite with an address, or I’ve handed a map to my mother.

For this particular journey, I mistakenly did both.

As is usual for this time of year, I headed northward toward the big city lights to attend my annual writers’ conference and hoped that I should walk away inspired, incisive, but not in a fog as to how much work I would have in front of me once I got home.

Also, as is usual, I brought my mother along—not only for the company, but because her birthday always falls within this week. And as my father feels that recognizing birthdays is a surefire way to spoil the people you love or live with, leading them into a false sense of security, I’ve taken it on as my duty to make sure my mom gets to have a dinner out once a year that doesn’t get ordered at a counter.

This year, I thought we’d see a film before heading to the restaurant. After listening to nearly a dozen NPR programs, interviewing everyone from the director down to the steadicam operator, I was wholly keyed up to see the film Twelve Years a Slave. I felt it was a hugely important film, and even though I usually lose out during the voting round when suggesting we view a story that could be classified as political, controversial, or requiring the skills of a second language to truly understand its nuance, I thought my mom would find kinship with the hero because he too was a violinist, and string players just understand one another like no one else can. It might have something to do with inhaling too much rosin while preparing your bow hair, but that’s just a stab in the dark.

It’s taken me a while, but I now know better than to program my car’s sat nav because after initially feeling the thrill of having it installed in a car of mine around a dozen years ago, I soon came to realize that it was full of bugs. And I’m not referring to the kind I wrote about two weeks ago.

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These are the wonky bugs that require attention from a team of computer programmers. Surely they’d look at my car’s software—supposedly teamed up with one of our Earth’s satellites—glance at the jumbled stream of letters, numbers and characters within the code, and then sit back to laugh in their chairs because they’d soon recognize what I have: my operating system is overwhelmingly archaic and probably manufactured by Toys R Us. It doesn’t matter what I program into the device at the beginning of the drive, because according to my GPS map, my destination is always in the middle of a lake.

I refuse to trust the voice guidance, who has confidentially admitted to me that regardless of my request for the quickest route, she will direct me through every tiny town, as many intersections as possible, and throw me onto a toll road for a quick drop of a few coins before pulling me off again and back into the thick of traffic. I despise that woman.

Handing my programmed iPhone to mother proves just as pointless. I must confess it’s not entirely her fault. My smart phone has lost several IQ points over the last couple of years and being one of the first models of Apple’s handheld devices, it continues to plummet at a rate of knots.

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Some applications refuse to participate any longer, texts sit there until I’ve pressed ‘send’ the requisite magic number of times, and the maps icon acts like an obnoxious delinquent—a rascally miscreant who takes great pleasure in changing the address of my arrival destination on route when I am not paying attention.

My son calls my phone buggy.

I call my phone … a few other names.

We arrive at the theater only to find out that although technically this theater shows films, it does not show the film we chose to be directed to, and our real destination is on the other side of a ten-lane freeway. I ask my mom to give me a number, from a scale of 1 to 10, as to how athletically agile she is feeling today.

We get back into the car.

My mother redirects me to another theater, which is actually a state park.

Our next, “You have arrived,” moment has us turning onto an old dirt road having passed several police vehicles before I pull off to the side and announce, “Something evil has happened down there, and I’m damn sure they are not selling popcorn to folks who dare to come view the events unfolding.”

It’s now that my mom pulls out her brand-spanking new iPhone and says, “Let’s use Siri.”

I let my head clunk onto the steering wheel.

Finally, we arrive at the correct theater. We watch the film. I gasp, I am struck with horror, I am fixated, I am appalled, I weep. The lights come up and I turn to my mother, my eyes streaked with mascara.

“Well?” I ask hopefully.

She says, “He really wasn’t a very good violinist, was he?”

*sigh*

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~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.

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A Rite of Passage with a Perishing Piper

I’m a sucker for tradition.

Anything that has a ceremony, a ritual or a rite of passage—I’m filled with goose bumps, my breath comes short and I’m often searching for some celestial choir of angels to swing down from the rafters to make it a massive biblical event. Maybe one worthy enough to throw a small epilogue onto the end of the New Testament. We can call it, ‘The Newest New Testament.’

I’m not saying it’ll ever happen, and maybe all those early years of repeated genuflecting and inhaling terpenic-scented incense has left me with a woozy, slap happy wit—one that expects seas to part, meals to multiply and the dead to rise.

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Except I’m not really like that.

I can appreciate lessons of morality, plus the necessary insight one must cultivate in order to apply time-tested and multi-authored philosophy. This education is critical. Much of it can be gleaned from the passages of great religious books. But it can be incredibly soul crushing to some—in particular to small children whose teachers are sharp tongued women covered nearly head to toe in billowing capes of all black, and whose weapons are heavy yard sticks that can reach up and ring the pearly gates’ doorbell to report all poor behavior.

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Soon, I learned that I preferred my religious lessons to come from Monty Python’s films and Flying Circus. A giant cartoon foot coming from the clouds to squish out all the evil below it was a mental picture I preferred to hang on to when needing moral guidelines. Hellish devils with demonic eyes—not so much. Therefore, I attribute my current gooey nature to a mix of my befuddling past and will leave it at that.

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Last week, I participated in a century long practice at my daughter’s school that has packed a yearly ‘one-two punch’ of heart-swelling sentiment whenever I attended. And for each one of those years, it has been the highlight of the academic season.

It is called Convocation.

And apart from the general act of convoking, the assembled mass is treated to a few dynamic moments all squished in to about 75 minutes worth of pomp and ceremony. It is the official opening commemoration of the school year, honoring the graduating class and their parents.

Firstly, the show starts off with a big bang—or a giant wheeze, if we want to get technical.

A bagpiper slowly ambles the huge perimeter of our giant gymnasium, blasting out a few golden oldies from the 1700’s.

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This guy is costumed head to toe. He looks like an authentic Scotsman pulled straight off the battlefield of Culloden—minus the spray of blood. But for some, you’d think there was blood pouring from their ears by the looks on their faces.

Yes, it may be true that he’s probably as old as the songs he’s pumping out of his ancient carpet bag, and that every year folks place bets as to whether or not he’s going to drop mid gasp before he reaches the podium, but for me, no matter how poorly his pipes are tuned and despite the fact that it’s difficult to tell if the bagpiper has started playing or the crowd spotted him standing at the door and groaned collectively, he is the most sublime part of the show.

And from my perspective it all goes downhill from there—they’ve opened with their strongest act.

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The large cast of faculty—decked out in their graduation gowns and scarves—follow behind the piper, and parents and their stripling scholars bring up the rear. It is a parade of high-powered proportions. Authoritarian, illustrious, and grand. It’s also surprising that the ceremony can be held indoors, as the massive amount of computing power represented in the collective brain tissue present requires an inordinate amount of oxygen to keep it running. And we all know the piper has used up more than his fair share, so traveling behind him can be dicey.

Thereafter, we hear the requisite speeches from lofty politicians, returning alumni, the headmaster and the senior class president. Some years have been livelier than others. There is always the hope that whoever the visiting dignitary is will spew out a soliloquy worthy of some fire and brimstone special effects, but more often than not it is polite and encouraging, a speech equivalent to raising a small colored pennant with the words, Go team, Go! printed on it.

Halfway through the show (ahem, ceremony), the choir tentatively releases a few uncertain chords, and the school orchestra makes a gallant attempt at playing a splashy piece. There appears to be an enthusiastic display of shiny cymbal work, which is likely a purposeful decision, as many of the musicians are still struggling with remembering how to tune their instruments this early in the year.

Nonetheless, it’s a marvelous display that chokes up even the stodgiest at heart. For me, it all contributes to the growing fervor and the knowledge that, for my daughter, it is the last time she can participate in the pageantry and fanfare.

It is a day to cherish, a memory to cement, and it leaves me with an overwhelming desire to scour the local papers for a bagpipe instructor.

Surely there’ll be an opening for work in that field fairly soon. But then again, the dead may rise.

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~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.

Cash flow

This was a hugely busy week.

We sent our fourteen-year old son off to Ecuador this afternoon to live and work for thirty days in a small village that needs help building a schoolhouse. We had an endless list of things we needed to tell him in order to help make his trip run smoothly.

– We told him how to navigate through the airport.

– We told him how to manage his way through customs and immigration.

– We told him when he’d need to take his typhoid and malaria pills.

But we forgot to tell him he’d be living at the bottom of an active volcano.

Damn.

I knew we’d forgotten something.

Ah well, he’ll figure that one out on his own in double quick time if he needs to.

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This whole shuffling your child from one continent to another seems so much easier on paper than it turned out to be. There was a plethora of little things that kept popping up along the way. Doctor visits, pharmacy pickups, packing lists and forms to fill out. Plane tickets, insurance policies, baggage rules and passports. There were emails and phone calls, interviews and consent forms. I spent more time at our local bank writing my signature in front of notary publics than I spent sitting in my childhood living room learning how to play the piano.

The largest of the pains was renewing an American passport. Just saying the last word makes my teeth itch.

Because my son is fourteen, it is deemed unreasonable by our government that we could renew his previous passport of nine years and a few months via the United States Postal Service, as one can conveniently do as an adult. Procedure for anyone not yet sixteen is to go through the entire passport application process in person.

Easy enough. So we thought.

We had just over three weeks to get it done. I showed up at our local post office, where there is a small passport agency the size of an airline toilet. In front of it is a snaking line that would rival the opening of a new Disney theme park, filled with people expecting to gain entrance into that toilet.

Showing up in person was the alternative to continuing my fruitless efforts at getting a hold of someone via the telephone. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the drill. You phone, an automated voice system answers, you are directed to punch buttons indicating your choice from the options—a lengthy series ranging from, “Press one if you’d like to hear us read the instructions for filing an insurance claim, and understand why we feel it’s pretty pointless on our end,” to, “Press nine to track and confirm a shipment that we’re not entirely positive matches the eleven digit number we gave you to begin with.”

What I was searching for was, “Press eight to hear the committee notes revealing the reason we decided to choose the music icon Johnny Cash as the next face of our Forever Stamps series, and to listen to one of his ninety-six studio albums. And also, wait here if you want to talk to someone about a passport.”

*Cue head falling on desk.*

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After hearing and cataloguing the nearly fifteen hundred Johnny Cash songs, I was finally transferred to the passport office where an automated voice told me that if I pressed “one,” I would be treated to a fascinating history of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, and if I pressed “two,” I would be connected to an operator in order to schedule an appointment at the passport office. Of course I pressed “two.” And of course I was redirected to the beginning of the Johnny Cash Collection.

In the past, I have waited in that snaking Disneyesque passport office line for hours on end to no avail. As the office is open for a miniscule amount of time—from 10:30 until 2:30—and the one fellow who mans it has a lunch break from noon until one, the window of opportunity to make it to the front of the line only with the intent to make an appointment is slim to *insert maniacal laughter here*.

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The good thing though is the folks in my village really look after one another. Throughout the queue of waiting taxpayers and among the sleeping bags and hot pots, someone is always making a fresh batch of granola and finishing off the month long fermentation process of stewing a gallon of kombucha tea. There’s plenty of sustenance.

As this is an exhaustingly long tale that include chapters about eventually giving up on our local office, traveling to another city, paying vast sums of money to be given the privilege to “track” online our son’s renewing passport as it sat IN TRANSIT for two and a half weeks, only to hear the application is missing information that no one had the authority to relay to us, my husband finally gave up and was about to go postal.

He drove for hours to our nation’s capitol and started offering sacks of gold, the Holy Grail, or every internal organ that was medically extraneous in exchange for an audience with any person who could help.

Apparently, someone was in need of a kidney, and as you can see from the second line of my essay, our teenage son is now up to his kneecaps in adobe bricks (and hopefully not molten lava).

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It’s a frustrating process, having to slog through federally run organizations in order to obtain what you need, and we made it to the other side of this one only by the skin of our teeth. But we sent him on his way with everything ticked off on the packing list.

– Passport

– Sleeping bag

– Bug spray

– A gift for the villagers embodying a hallmark of America

Well, as far as the gift is concerned, I’m imagining that shortly, somewhere in Ecuador you will find a small schoolhouse whose students know all fifteen hundred Johnny Cash songs.

It’s catchy stuff.

~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.

Brass bands, the backwoods and bugle boys.

I grew up in a pint-sized town where we had one of everything: one post office, one school, one grocery store and a helluva lot of one-dimensional thinking.

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It’s not that I criticize the folks from my childhood home, because this was normal to me. We were a half-baked bunch of farmers and families with an unsevered umbilical cord that received a good, solid yank from the motherlands of northern Europe on a regular basis. Accents still sprouted through the soil even through years of plowing the old languages asunder. And my reference to half-baked couldn’t be truer, in that anyone who has spent some measurable amount of time in the upper parts of the Midwest will agree that the sun’s grace and efficacy was short-lived and insufficient. It usually left many of us looking like pallid, stodgy bakery goods with no leavening agent.

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It was a safe and dependable place to grow up. The cows were content, the back roads straight and you could set your watch after waving to Mr. Sobieski as he headed out in the morning to go fishing and came back in for meals. Betty’s Café always served pie, the Miller’s butcher shop had the best big pickles in a barrel, and the lake was either covered by ice or algae, but sometimes both—depending upon the season.

There was another thing that happened like clockwork in our village, and that was the annual Memorial Day parade. As a scabby-kneed kid, all I cared about was being close enough to the curb to scoop up a Tootsie-Roll or two as the 4-H float came rolling by, its riders tossing candy into the crowds. And maybe I wanted to catch a glimpse of the oldest Gold Star Mother as she was transported down Main street, likely wishing she was being honored for anything else other than having lived longer than every other mother in our town who lost a son or daughter in dedication to our country’s service.

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When I was old enough to ride the 4-H float myself, I only hoped my aim was sure and that I wouldn’t blind some poor elderly woman who was probably only there to show strong moral support to her Gold Star Mother best friend on the float behind me, and who was now weeping openly at having caught a Tootsie-Roll in the eye.

When I was a teenager, my main focus was finding some way to gain membership to the high school marching band. Since I played the oboe, my instrumental participation was nixed. My suggestion of having an oral surgeon striding in scrubs a foot behind me was a solution no one agreed with, as it would mess with our formation and color coordination, That meant I could twirl flags or rifles. Since the flags were three times the size of the rifles and much easier to spot if you screwed up on the routine, it was a no brainer. I learned how to snap, twist and hurl a chunk of wood. It was incredibly impressive. And incredibly loud if it fell. Which was often.

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The coolest thing about the marching band—and in particular the flag and rifle corps—was that we were outfitted in full Scottish regalia. It was also the hottest thing about the marching band. Covered head to toe in folds, layers and bolts of heavy, tartan wool, we prayed it never rained during the parade, causing us to smell like fetid farm animals and creating a cavernous gap between us and the floats before or after the band. And we kept our fingers crossed it never got above fifty-two degrees, at which point you were beyond sweltering and marchers would start dropping like flies. As long as we could contain most of the drum section, folks didn’t seem to care. It wasn’t like we were throwing out candy or anything.

The parade lasted all of about five minutes, there being only the two floats and the marching band, but once you knew it was over, the whole town would follow behind and bring up the rear, walking in time to the remaining drummers until we reached our little town park and the local swimming hole, which was no bigger than a large rainwater puddle. Here, everyone would gather round the flagpole, listen to Pastor Anderson give his memorial sermon, see the wreath dedicated to our fallen soldiers be placed in position, hear the three or four men representing the American Legionnaires fire their arms in salute, and lastly, listen for the bugle player from the marching band—hidden somewhere distant in the woods—follow the gunfire with Taps. Our fingers were always crossed in hopes that he was not one of the members lost along the parade route. Our fingers were also crossed in hopes that he remembered to practice the night before.

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No matter how old I was, what part I played, or what accents murmured around me, I understood the message: This was important.

More important than fishing, pie or pickles.

This was freedom.

English: Members of the 86th Airlift Wing base...

My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing; land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims’ pride, from every mountainside let freedom ring!

~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.

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SILENCE!

Writer'sRock_240113 (800x684)I … can’t concentrate.

Everywhere I go there’s too much noise. A plethora of distractions. An abundance of chatter. Multiple—what? No, you may not make a pizza. We just finished dinner.

I need a space where no one is allowed. An opaque bubble unpoppable by anything apart from spurting blood, ravaging flames, or—I’m not sure. Ask Dad, but I think it’s your turn to feed the sheep.

 My space is not sacred to anyone but ME.

A propaganda cartoon of the arrest of Governor...

The act of writing does not come easily to me. In fact, it’s much like hiding under the bed and trying to gather dust bunnies. Suddenly, I’m holding my breath, desperately hoping not to be discovered by the serial killer who’s broken into the house and is hunting me down. If I don’t move, if I’m very still and shut my eyes to the scariness around me, I just may make it to the other side. If I let a squeak of surprise escape my lips at seeing the shoes of my killer slip through the door and bonk my head on the bed frame, he then drags me by my feet out from under the bed and poof–that’s the end of that.

Okay, let me try and explain. I am me. Under the bed is my dark, safe, quiet haven. It’s full of ideas in the form of gossamer, almost intangible substances. And the rest of the world’s occupants are the killers of my creativity. Bam! It’s over.

I don’t know how people do it–how to think through noise.

English: "Discussing the War in a Paris C...

I’ve had to alter my schedule this week and have been forced out of my dark cocoon. I’m set up in a coffee shop. I hate it.

First of all, I’m forced to buy something I don’t even want in order to justify taking up space and bandwidth. I could make five or six cups of tea at home for the price of one that I had to purchase here. And it’s not my kind. It’s not my anti-stress/full-of-zen/conquer-the-keyboard kind of tea.

Secondly, the chairs are horrible. Like sitting on rocks. I miss my chair. It swivels. It has padding. It’s got wheels. And I’ve changed my mind. These chairs should take lessons from rocks. They aspire to be as comfortable as rocks.

Next, I can’t even keep track of the number of conversations taking place around me—none of them interesting. I’ve eavesdropped on them all. Wendy is having another baby. Pranav doesn’t think this semester’s anatomy class is moving along fast enough. Jared is finally quitting his job because his boss, Alicia, keeps cornering him in the men’s bathroom demanding—shhh … wait … that one is interesting.

 Someone’s cell phone twinkles with silvery, sparkly twiddly bits every twenty-two seconds, which is what I’m guessing is the exact amount of time it takes two teenagers to text a conversation that involves words like:

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘Sup?

Dude

Heya, Bro

WUU2

Nothin ATM U?

i hate my life

Lol

JK

LMAO

OMG

T2UL

k

Riveting, right? WRONG.

It’s distracting.

But only for me, apparently. Everyone else is still able to focus on reading their emails, memorizing great swaths of soon-to-be tested-on material in their textbooks and most importantly, following Jared as he struggled to politely pull his tie out of the sharply filed, dragon lady red fingernailed fingers attached to the breathy and threatening Alicia.

The espresso machine hisses and sputters. The earphoned man next to me watches The Office on Netflix and laughs like he’s sitting in his boxers on his apartment couch. He even belches impressively and doesn’t take notice of the fact that three people around him recoil in disgust. Okay, it was just me, but I did it twice in case he didn’t see me the first time. It doesn’t matter. Steve Carell rules.Rock_solid_240113 (800x612)

I put my earbuds in. Should have done this a long time ago. I tune into Pandora—Native American flute music. But it’s too close. The flautist’s breath is right in my ear, making my hair flutter. The earbuds are massive, built for someone with an ear canal the size of an elephant. It’s painful. On top of everything else, every two minutes an announcer reminds me I’m too cheap to spring for the full paid version and maybe I should consider this for the sake of uninterrupted sanity.Zen_tea_240113 (800x566) (347x323)

I know what will save my mental health, and it ain’t forking out more moola. It’s just me. Back home. In my chair. With my tea. And no earbuds. And no one else.

Okay, except for Jared, but just until I find out if he finally gave in.

~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 another big thanks to Robin Gott for his perfectly accurate penned depictions of  how my words look in pictures. To see more of his humor, click here and 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)!

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)!

Men in plaid. Aka Highland Games

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

English: The Bagpiper

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

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

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

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

Highland Cow

Highland Cow (Photo credit: Vanessa (EY))

Are you with me on the theme here?

Last week I went with door number three.

A few thousand others did too.

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

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

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

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

PRIDE.

The clan system is strong.

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

Pipers piping.

Caber throwers cabering.

Archers arching.

Leaping lassies leaping.

Stone putters putting.

Sheep herders picking out the prettiest sheep.

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

Fun and games.

And whisky.

And haggis.

And then more whisky.

Gun and fames.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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11-22-09 (Photo credit: idovermani)

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

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

~Shelley

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

 

Ears wide open

English: A square open cardboard box. Based on...

I live in a box.

Literally and metaphorically.

Within that box are many other boxes. One holds my thoughts—well, truthfully, that one is always spilling over, so I’ve had to invest in a few more.

Some attempt to contain my emotions (again, the previous statement applies, although those cartons explode occasionally with the heavy artillery they apparently house).

Some cradle my dreams—the ones where I somehow become a master distiller living off the grid with nothing more than the fuel created by sheep poo, and a certificate from Joe Salatin congratulating me for filling up more than half the food banks of Virginia with the excess of my prolific garden. (I said they were dreams.)

tiny uggs

tiny uggs (Photo credit: phil denton)

Other boxes support my curiosities. Much of those spill out into word form and show up on my blog, but there are others I’ve been advised not to share. Because how can you really explain the desire to seek out the price and possibility of making little boots for your sheep so their feet stay dry and don’t develop hoof rot without appearing to have lost your marbles? You don’t. That’s why this stays between us.

There are stacks of other boxes, but the container I’m cracking the lid on today is one that recently had its top pried off and its sides expanded. It’s the box I hold music in.

My early life was threaded with strains of virtuosic violinists, tobacco-spitting gitbox strummers, and tight horn sections swinging notes with the ease of trapeze artists.

As a young teen, I clung to sappy lyrics and vocalists who’d grown used to audiences full of swooning females, allowing myself an occasional attachment to a collection of notes that could double as a big wad of pink bubble gum.

Eventually, when I hauled two extra lumps of squiggling arms and legs around with me, toing and froing from crib to car to couch, I threw in side-splitting comedy, although I think I discovered there’s a limit to the amount of humor one can musically squeeze out of a banana.

Cowboy

Cowboy (Photo credit: AngryGlock)

At present, my summers are filled with slick Aussie cowboys and gun-slinging, sharp-tongued women who are fed up with the men that have wronged them. My autumn days slither by with filaments of tunes all penned in places thick with thistles, the pain dulled with whisky. Winter months are warmed with somnolent crooners, antiquated motets and the soft, round notes of lap-held harps. Come springtime, I’m surrounded by singing bowls and Native American flutes mirroring my hopeful spiritual growth with the new green shoots in the garden.

I’ve been quite content with my steady routine—a life immersed in a melodic soup of simple ingredients that make for a merry musical meal.

But it’s not just me in this house. Or car.

There are other beats that bleed into this shared space.

Our musical preferences are vastly different. And by different I sometimes mean whatever Ive been forced to listen to cannot in anyway shape or form be mistaken for music.

Except, it appears I am the mistaken one.

Music is defined not by a set of words, prosaic and pleasing, but rather by a set of ears. Just one person’s.

Pink Floyd Experience

Pink Floyd Experience (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My husband is so deeply entrenched in songs from his impressionable youth that he cannot shake himself awake from the 70’s. We’ve tried. He ain’t budging. We can’t even get him to set a toe into the next decade. But who’s to say the answers to all of life’s problems are not buried beneath the lyrical lines of Pink Floyd?

My daughter has an appetite that spans the taste buds of thousands of tongues. She continually stuffs her earbuds into my head to share astonishing compositions from cultures that have nothing to make musical instruments from other than a goat hide and a handful of sand. It is heartbreaking, inventive and worthy of a plastic spy ring for the sleuthing she must do to uncover such gems.

English: Black & White photograph of Lil Wayne...

English: Black & White photograph of Lil Wayne taken by RJ Shaughnessy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My fourteen year old son has joined a tribe consisting of many of his white middle class peers. Somehow, a slice from this generation of children has responded to a constant tug toward the music of their “true” people. I’m guessing they feel they were torn away from the hood before concrete memory was possible. But genetics are hard to fight and we have a mass of angry rapping white kids thankfully speaking on behalf of those with no voice.

Truthfully, he has forced me to listen in order to connect with him. Ignore the lyrics. Listen to the rhythm. Find the themes. Search for the story. Feel the pain.

I do.

Occasionally the pain is located in my eardrums.

But I am surprised at how much (if I work at it—and I do because it’s important to me) I can find to absorb and sympathize with, if not actually enjoy. I have to admit, when we’re jamming to somebody with a first name like Lil, Killah, Busta or 2, I wish I was driving one of the souped-up bagged vehicles that bounce because of added hydraulics. It could be fun. For about five minutes.

poppies on a breezy day

poppies on a breezy day (Photo credit: jon smith.)

Of course, there are still the other occupants of this mountaintop that provide me with a type of music not typically recorded or heard in places other than a meditation retreat at Yogaville. Birdsong, rustling leaves and blades of grass, the morning rooster a mile down the road, the slow grunts of pleasure from sheep scratching against the fence, the sigh of my dog in the middle of the night and the purr of a waking cat who rouses minutes before the blare of the alarm clock.

This too, is worthy.

Harmonic and grand, melodic and winsome.

It’s all music to my ears.

~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)!

 

Pipers On Sale, Aisle Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bagpipes.

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

Wheezing up our driveway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lads & Lassies, Pipers & Poets

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

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

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

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

Scotish dirk

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

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

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

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

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

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

homemade haggis, scotland food stock photo

 

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

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

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

The Scottish Piper - Victorian print vector art illustration

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

My suggestions for you? Start small.

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

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

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

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

Slàinte!

~Shelley

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