A Problem Shared is a Problem Halved (or not Felled if You’re Quick)

Currently, I’m in the middle of a fight with three people.

Well, they’re not actually people, they’re animals, but they are just as stubborn, unreasonable, and small-minded as some of my closest friends, so it’s easy to confuse the two groups.

There is a cardinal, who for weeks has been fighting with fisticuffs, or whatever feathered version there is of that, with nearly every window I have on my house.

And on my car.

And with my head if I’m outside and happen to have extra shiny hair that day.

 

Obviously, one must protect one’s nestlings from intruders—even if you mistake them for your own reflection. And I, obviously, must protect a smaller-brained organism from leaving his nestlings fatherless.

But my efforts are thwarted by the cardinal’s span of territory to patrol. I cannot blackout every window to diminish the glare, as I have limited supplies and a biological need for vitamin D.

He will have to take his chances with the likelihood of beak repair.

There is also a squirrel. One who suffers from great impatience.

The rule in my childhood neighborhood, adhered to by anyone with one season of vegetable growing experience was thus: plant 1/3rd for the deer, 1/3rd for the birds, and 1/3rd for your family.

For years this directive was sage and followed by all participating creatures.

This year, I cannot get the seeds in the ground without a squirrel—one I now recognize because of the prison art tattoo on his back—digging them up the second I’ve stepped away.

First, I tried netting the box. He must have opposable thumbs. He easily unnetted the netting.

Then I tried heavy-duty tree trunk wiring. He must have tools. Unwired, and again I am seedless.

Then I just put out half a pound of already grown green beans and a sign that said YOU WIN.

(*insert squirrel snickering here)

Lastly, there is a beaver.

He is industrious. He is relentless. And he has expensive taste.

He has already struck down and carried off three massive bayberry bushes and is now working on a beautiful thick oak that will take him years to gnaw through. Gauging his angle of approach, it will likely land directly on my house.

It’s okay. I’ve got time.

But to deter him from this great specimen of timber—which may or may not survive his insatiable appetite for cellulose and lignum—I have begun laying piles of thick branches and small logs at the base of the tree. A gift. An impediment. A message that suggests If you carry on with this task, you will soon become a part of my winter wardrobe.

Nevertheless, he persists.

My next step would be to enmesh that tree with the heavy-duty tree trunk wiring, but it’s still currently in use with my next squirrel-thwarting endeavor which involves a small makeshift catapult.

I know these minor skirmishes sounds like small potatoes as we’re all muscling our way through day after day of the pandemic which forces us to revisit and ration our daily wants and needs.

But might there be a silver lining out there for many of us? The substantial amount of people who have yet to experience the oh-so-real terror of scarcity?

Is it such a bad idea—despite the fact that it has been forced upon us—to reevaluate what the word need truly means? Or to press each of us into a state of deliberative ingenuity?

I’m not suggesting we all slap on a coonskin hat and become some version of Daniel Boone, but would it be so awful to think like an Italian nonna when facing the dwindling supplies on one’s pantry shelves and you’ve got thirteen hungry bellies to fill?

I think most of us would benefit from a few hours of bootstrap thinking.

Certainly, when I look at the microcosm of The Hunger Games event I’m involved in with Mother Nature and her brood, I can see that there’s more than one way to skin a cat—or a beaver, if you will.

I see them effortfully striving, every day, for the same things: food, shelter, and the protection of one’s progeny.

That’s the focus. And I don’t blame them.

That said, being the individual with slightly more gray matter, I find it’s possible for me to not only endeavor to achieve those same things, but maybe help a few of them in their pursuit as well.

Now is the time for inventiveness, resourcefulness, and innovation. Along with that comes the eye-opening bonus of gratitude.

We may never view the necessities—the essentials of life in quite the same light. Whether you’re handing out bags of successfully grown green beans to neighbors, or you’re delivering face masks made from the hairy hide of a befallen beaver, you’ve seized the chance to be a section of a solution and not part of a problem.

Most important, this is a critical time for self-reflection. The point is none of us have to be bird-brained about any of it.

~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.

Explaining the Birds & the Bees, But Mostly the Bugs

But before we begin …

A thousand squealing thank yous to Robin Gott — sorcerer of stage, screen, and scribbles — who has so kindly taken a few minutes off from work to sit in his dressing room and whip out a handful of his amazing cartoons to accompany this post. And for so much more of Robin, visit robingott.com

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I think we can all agree that we will never, ever truly be alone.

And for some that is a giant sigh of relief, as being alone is akin to losing your entire family and all your friends—even if they only existed on screen in the form of the cast of Downton Abbey.

But for others, no matter how hard we may try, we discover that we will shuffle on this mortal coil in the company of countless others who clearly have never been invited along.

They make quick assessment of who you are, but mostly where you live, and decide to take up residence—contributing nothing to the upkeep and maintenance, and only adding to your woes.

Bugs.

As I’m pottering about my new abode, discovering nooks and cramming things in crannies, I also discover a great variety of crammed in arthropods—either walking, flying, or in some cases, swimming, depending upon the nook or cranny.

It has been a cycle of either open up cupboard, glance toward ceiling, or focus in on floor followed by squeal, squeak, or shriek.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think bugs are interesting. Fascinating, even. Because who doesn’t want to know how a frustrated Australian seaweed fly finally gets some action from all the disinterested Sheilas around him?

Or how a green spoon worm, happily sitting at the bottom of the sea, can accidentally inhale her husband when she simply suffered from an itch on her nose?

Well, I certainly did.

I’ve read Olivia Judson’s Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation. I took copious notes about virgin births and about paralyzing would-be lovers so that your children can eat him alive. I scoured the sketches of detachable penises, and made sure I understood how one could go deaf from too much mite sex.

But seeing it in real life form, knowing that all that was happening right beneath or above my nose was something else altogether.

Hello, Pest Control.

The jolly folks on the other end of the line proved almost too happy to hear from me.

Infestation? Blight? Chiggery scourge and epidemic? How delightful! We’ll be right over.

Mere moments later, I greeted a six foot three, thin as a pine sapling fellow with a beaming face exuding pure celestial rapture, and instead of shaking my hand, he held up a framed 8 x 10 diploma.

Blessings on you and yours, ma’am. My name is Jebediah, and I just got my certs.

Well, uh … I stumbled, glancing up into the scalding hot sun where his head was haloed, Praise … be?

He beamed sunshine. Yes, ma’am. And then stood, turning to admire his freshly-inked degree.

It’s not been 24 hours yet since the family gatherin’ with coffee and a slice of pie to celebrate my good fortune, but I assure you—

He peered down at me gravely.

—I am fully in charge of my faculties despite sneakin’ that sip of Mama’s cookin’ sherry she hides behind the flour tin in the pantry. Ooowee!

He made to swipe at his brow, and I realized the pest company had sent over a reincarnation of Mayberry’s Gomer Pyle.

I suddenly wondered if this meet and greet should come to a quick end, as a few steps farther into the house he would be received by my own set of not-quite-choir-boy-bottles. Well over one hundred of all the Bens and Glens from Scotland, neatly lining an entire wall of shelving.

Come on in, Jebediah, I said hesitantly. Let’s see if we can’t cleanse this little dwelling of its demons.

Six steps into the house he did a three-sixty spin, his wide-eyed, slack jawed visage finding my uneasy one.

Ma’am? I saw all the wood from the outside as I was drivin’ up, but I had no idea there’d be all this wood on the inside too.

I looked at him, my head cocked with incredulity. I live in a log cabin, Jebediah.

He nodded soberly and whispered, This was not on the paperwork.

Might want to make a note of it for next time then, I suppose, but I’ll leave you to it for now. I’ll be in my little office if you need me. I pointed down the hallway.

For the next ninety minutes I heard precious little and finally decided to hunt down the biblical bug butcher.

Jebediah? I called out, and then spotted him crouched on the floor in a corner, his hand cradling an iridescent blue-winged dead wasp.

He glanced up at me, his eyebrows crinkling as he sighed. Real butes these guys are, ain’t they? This here is Chalybion californicum—what you all commonly call the Blue Mud Dauber.

Then he held out his other hand with another bug that looked exactly like the first—including the whole dead part. This here should not be confused with his cousin, the Chlorion aerarium—the Steel-Blue Cricket Hunter—as although the same size, one has a longer pedicel, and the other is much more hairy.

Also, he went on, these fellers are worthy specimens, as some of them will rid the environment of crickets and others of the vicious black widow.

I studied the young man for a full thirty seconds as he sighed long and sorrowfully once again, his head bent low over the bugs he was in charge of destroying.

Jebediah? Are you sure this is the right job for you?

He looked up at me and then swept an arm in a circle over his head. You live in a tree, ma’am.

I sniffed. Well … a dead one, really.

He nodded. Exactly. It’s the natural habitat for nearly all of these creatures. It seems … he paused, … it seems a little unnerving that there has been so much death here today. I did not expect such a high body count on my first day of work.

I walked to my bookshelf and then returned to Jebediah on the floor, holding out Dr. Tatiana’s sexpert advice for all bugs.

Here. Read this. Chances are you’ve been far too immersed in the end of the life cycle for all your many legged friends.

Jebediah read the title slowly and out loud, and then looked up at me dumbstruck. A slow smile crossed his face as he tucked the small book into his back pocket and headed for the door.

Word of warning, Jebediah, I added, you might want to keep this behind the flour tin in the pantry too.

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

Photo by Mike Bird on Pexels.com

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

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

Where did they go, I wondered?

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

Ah. Now I know.

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

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

She made it.

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

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

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

Not much to be impressed by.

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

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

Lucky for him, anyway.

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

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

Gotcha.

Breakfast and exercise all in one fell swoop.

Nothing to do but sleep off the meal.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

How to Write Better Bad Guys

Six Tips to Scandalous Scoundrels

Superheroes, Supervillains

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

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

Like that of writing antagonists.  

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

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

But … not in theirs.

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

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

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

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

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

They are not evil for the sake of being evil.

Photo by Wendelin Jacober on Pexels.com

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

And I can live with that.

~Shelley

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

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

How One Dog’s Bladder Changed my Life Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bully for you.”

Don’t you have a mental map by now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

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

September; the Gathering and Gleaning

There is something about September.

I wake to the sound of rain splattering on the copper rooftop, slapdash and sporadic, its disordered pattern teasing and anticipatory.

The dove gray skies are a soft, woolen blanket the earth has loosely wrapped about her shoulders. She makes a tucking in gesture, paying no mind to the cold and endless black that surrounds her. Those slate-colored ceilings soften her edges and mollify the barbed tips of clacking seconds as they tick, tick, tick in the foggy background. They slowly morph into a muffled heartbeat. Is it mine, or hers?

My first whiff of wood smoke … I am transformed. A tendril that taps at a memory drawer, unopened for months and stiff with disuse. But once loosened, it spills, like cream over ripe berries, and I do little to halt the movement.

There is a tinge to the trees, too early to label as anything more than a lowering of the bright, green flame of searing summer life. The sun has merely stepped back a pace to eye her work in progress and rests on the handle of her proverbial rake. And like all avid gardeners, she finds that there are other projects that catch her eye as they rotate into her field of vision. And with that momentary lapse of intense attention, the products of her efforts soon yellow and wither.

No matter, she shrugs. Work will resume next circle round.

It’s now that I brood about in the pantry. I count the beans—for big potted stews which will fill chipped crockery and rumbling bellies. I measure the tea—for ample kettle-fulls that let slip soft wisps of steam carrying somnolent notes of ginger, cinnamon, and chicory. I eye the whisky—for the pure pleasure of the oncoming flush of heat. And then I eye the clock to determine how long I must wait for that sweet fever. It’s usually too long. And I re-busy myself with bean counting.

Each year, I am caught unawares when changing the calendar from the eighth to the ninth month. August is so spectacularly hot, so devoid of working people, so filled with the phrase, “We are off for three weeks.”

September is for ‘back to business,’ ‘back to school,’ or “Back to you, Bob, and that’s a look at our weather.”

It’s a transitional month, a swinging door from a sizzling, smoke-belching patio to a wood-paneled parlor, with hushed library voices where one’s mental bandwidth slowly revs into gear. It is a time for thinking, musing, simmering, and inventing—spoon-feeding one’s brain the rich broth where the flavors of creativity will meld and percolate, sluggishly dragging salient thoughts to the surface.

There is an observable change in the laundry basket, which once barely reined in an endless mess of cut-off jean shorts and paper-thin tank tops. It now houses fuzzy socks and zippered hoodies, displaying the return of layers—an unending circle of cloth discarded then desired—warm days and cool nights.

The printer churns a constant stream of schedules, documents, forms, and calendars, convulsing with updated information like a Morse code machine relaying movement of troops and coordinated attacks. Paperwork strewn across all available flat surfaces, requires signatures, filing, and the hopefully intended read-through.

And it is the time for reaping, for gathering the last, for the lifting of leaves, the peeking to see if one final fruit has found the finish line.

But there is also time for reflection and observance among the business of harvest. The long days of field work and preservation may still take place in the sweat of the last shafts of summer sun, but once she has set, there is a thinning of the air. The scent of woodsy autumn appears on a draught that slowly pushes summer’s plump stars off stage in preparation for the next act: a crisp set of patterns that will pierce the inky black skies.

Of course, intermission casts the bright light of the Harvest moon, and she will illuminate your path from field to home and back again. September bathes in that downy yellow glow, almost as if, aware of her age, she asks to be seen through a soft focus lens.

Be busy, be effortful, be thoughtful.

Be here now, in the last of September. Before she says goodbye.

~Shelley

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

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

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

Climb Every Mountain (even those without cell service)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or

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

Or

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

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

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

Her: Good point. I’ll pack a scarf.

Me: How will we communicate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Either way. It’s all out of my hands.

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

~Shelley

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

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

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

The Best Worst Day of my Life

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

Yeah, neither do I.

Except for the first part.

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

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

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

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

Then I went home.

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

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

When she’s sleeping, she’s awesome.

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

Oh, dear God, where was she?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deer are loud.

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

 

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

She was prepping for another go around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I opened them, I realized three things:

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

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

~Shelley

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

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

A Penny Saved is a Penny Saved

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

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

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

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

Let’s blame them.

Yeah. I’m all for that.

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

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

Then they kind of suddenly stopped.

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

Samey samey.

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. My old Ziploc bags.

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

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

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

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

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

And saving up for more indispensable expenses.

Like whisky.

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

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

I’ll be there.

For whatever they need.

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

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

~Shelley

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

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

Let’s Talk, Turkey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He looked at me blankly.

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

His eyes narrowed, smoldering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Coward!” I shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related image

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

~Shelley

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

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

 

Snake Slayer or Civil Serpent?

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

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

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

and that child was tutored by Joan of Arc,

and sung to sleep by her fiercely feminist nanny Beyoncé,

that would be Shelley.

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

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

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

But they still worry.

And I do not make it easy on them.

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

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

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

Next time I’m editing that last bit out.

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

I’m learning.

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

I love it this way.

They are not nearly as delighted.

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

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

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

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

I heard my mother shriek above me.

“How big is it?” he responded.

“Them,” I corrected.

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

How big are they?”

“Huge.”

“How big is huge?”

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

“So not so huge then?”

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

“What type of teeth?”

“The kind orthodontists would marvel at.”

“Did you actually see teeth?”

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

“They conveyed teeth? In what way?”

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

Kill them! (Again, not me or my dad.)

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

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

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

Duly noted.

I found an ax.

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

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

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

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

Who no longer require diligent dental detail.

~Shelley

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blowing the Lid Off … Well, Just About Everything

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

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

March2016_house (2)

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

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

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

March2016_wind (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet I read about community concerns as well:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(And here’s a little wind humor)

~Shelley

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

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

Hairy, Huge & Unhappy: the Nature of the Beast

Nature is full of surprises.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a thank you in sight.

I’m not surprised.

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

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

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I can see how it could be confusing.

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

Yeah, that would be a total daymaker for him.

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

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

Yep. My super sharp instincts went blank.

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Make yourself BIG.

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

  1. Make noise like you’re in charge.

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

It did not have the desired effect.

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HE charged.

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

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

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I scrambled for a big stick on the ground.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SURPRISE!

~Shelley

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click)

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

 

You Want to Step Outside?

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

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

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

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

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

I rarely fail to take a walk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love to walk.

But I love to breathe more.

~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

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

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Hell-bent, Bound and Determined

There are a few words in the English dictionary that I’m drawn to like gum to a shoe, or bugs to a windscreen, or women to Benedict Cumberbatch. Words that bring me joy, like Holiday, Free, and #BenedictCumberbatch. And there are words I crave that I want to see used to describe me, like Winsome, Adept, and ‘Admired by Benedict Cumberbatch.’

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There is one word that I can safely say I would pin upon myself like a nametag to a kindergartener:

PERSEVERANT.

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It has served me well for the time I’ve spent thus far in this world, although it is not an easy pageant sash to keep securely in place draped across from shoulder to hip, and the damn crown is forever attempting to slip off sideways if not topple from my head at every challenging bend in the road. Which is why you need an extra dose of perseverance to maintain a perseverant attitude. A bit of a Catch 22.

A couple of days ago, I returned from “Family Weekend” at my daughter’s university. I’d been invited to attend a lecture on campus the evening before the official weekend began, and thought it just might be possible to back up my eleven hour drive and make it there in time. Plus, the lecture was on a topic I knew nothing about, but was fascinated with. To top it all off, my daughter would be sitting a mid-term exam, so I’d be going it alone, and would hopefully be coming out of the experience with fresh, new and exciting science to dazzle her with.

Starting off a car journey at 3 am is somehow furtive and exhilarating—you’re leaving the house in the middle of the night, rolling down the long, dark driveway and hoping you’ve left all the other living, breathing creatures still tucked snugly in their beds.

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Somewhere about 6 am, furtive and exhilarating fly out the window as you’re imagining for the one hundredth time all the other living, breathing creatures at home still tucked snugly in the their beds.

By noon, the rain is no longer a gentle, soothing patter on my windshield, but a ragged dermabrasion effort by Mother Nature who apparently does not like the olive green paint on my car and is hoping something else lies beneath it.

I reach my hotel a few hours later and have just enough time to dash into the shower to untangle a few long-journey knots that have left my spinal cord resembling a larger version of my iPhone earbud’s cord.

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With my newest and now most coveted app—Google Maps—ready in my hand to direct me to the lecture hall—an easy 1.2 mile walk away—I head out of the hotel lobby and immediately note that it’s still raining. I sprint to my car and grab my umbrella. Off we go.

Google Maps tells me to turn right on Third Street. I love how the sweet little app also vibrates the smartphone in your hand to let you know that new directions have been given, so you don’t have to stare into your phone whilst walking.

Clever Google Maps.

I admire the neighborhood’s historic architecture, looking up at some of the snug brick homes and their heavy-lidded windows. My tiny umbrella is suddenly pulled from my hands—a gusty updraft—and I snatch at it just before it leaps into the air, but not without seeing it turn inside out.

An everted umbrella has got to be one of the most side-splitting images to come across as you’re walking down the street. Holding an everted umbrella is definitely one of the most humiliating ordeals. Seeing an individual, or being the individual who is in custody of an umbrella that repeatedly turns itself inside and out is to realize that your rain gear is possessed.

I search for a Catholic church along my route, hoping for a quick exorcism before I reach the lecture hall.

No such luck. I will have to purchase another ticket for the demonic banshee and hope he will be still during the power point presentation.

The rain pelts down, and cascades in cold rivulets along the undersides of the brolly. It flows down the spindly handle, over my hand and puddles at the tip of my elbow, soaking the arm of my raincoat, sweater and skin. It waterfalls onto my head and finds all available avenues to sneak beneath my collar. The wind batters at me from every direction, leading passersby to believe I am holding on to the legs of a massive black crow, flapping and thrashing, determined to take flight.

I am the antithesis of Mary Poppins.

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Google Map’s app vibrates, and threw squinting, rain pummeled eyes, I follow its directions to turn left. I walk and clutch at the edges of the umbrella waiting for the next buzz. Several blocks later, it comes, and directs me straight into the concrete barricades of impenetrable road works. There is no way around them. I must backtrack.

I am fully saturated at this point, with only my sense of humor remaining dry. I am positive the universe is sending me the message that I am not welcome here. Perhaps it knows something I do not? That the lecture will be disappointing? That the reception will be dull? That the entire auditorium has been swallowed up in a massive burp of earthly indigestion?

Perhaps it’s just that there’s a rerun of Sherlock playing on the television back in my hotel room, and wouldn’t I prefer sharp and caustic Sherlockology to abstruse and befuddling scholarship?

Well …

NO! I say to myself. I carry on. We carry on. Me, my bedeviled umbrella, and my Google Map app, which at this point is now shrugging rather than vibrating, communicating that despite all of the advancements in technology and space to earth communication, the elements have won, and I am on my own.

I shove my phone down my shirt and inside my bra, hoping this, at least, is not as underwater as the rest of me, and toss the bewitched brolly into the bushes. I stop a student, scurrying from class and look pleadingly into her eyes.

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“Where is the Koch Institute Auditorium?”

She casually points across the street.

Sure enough. There it is. Right behind the shuttle with the name of my hotel on it.

~Shelley

PS – Next week: I do actually get to the lecture!

PSS — This is the last week for ordering a Gotta Have a Gott calendar. The deadline is December 12 and Rob has TWO LEFT!

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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Falling Off the Map

I am a big fan of maps. I am a big admirer of spontaneity. The two are not usually found holding hands. But recently, I spied them making come hither looks at one another and decided to watch an unlikely romance blossom.

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Being a timely planner, getting my hands on the ultimate map for purposes of accurate and expeditious routing is a must. There is nothing more satisfying than showing up someplace not simply on time, but early. I’m fairly sure this is a byproduct of my childhood, as I was the creation of someone who lived life with an elevated sense of urgency, namely because she was invariably late. For the longest time I thought the proper way to enter a room and greet someone was with a sincere apology.

Eventually I figured out that my mother and clocks were rarely in sync with one another. She was a frenzied woman of four and the fact that we all made it safely into adulthood speaks volumes of her ability to pull it all together at the last minute. It could easily have turned out that the least vocal of her brood would still be outside on someone’s curb waiting to be picked up from piano lessons.

To further embed the trait of timeliness, I studied for a year with a teacher whose motto was:

To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is unforgivable.

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She would shut and lock her classroom door one minute before instruction began. Punctuality was not a casual dialogue with her. In fact, dialogue was something she found tedious and rife with excuses, and it was not even a safe bet to make eye contact with the woman. But she did impress upon me the need for speed. And no less than four alarm clocks.

Over the years, I found that knowing where I am going and how long it takes to get there is an essential element to scoring a mental high five with myself. Cue my love for maps. The colors, the words, the numbers, the grids—it all adds to the magic of orienting myself in some vague spot in the universe.

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As a child, I paid a great deal of attention to the sage words of an elderly neighbor who frequently took my brother and me on deep woodland walks, showing us which plants and berries we could safely eat, which would slay us on the spot, and which would provide a magic carpet ride like Walt Disney could never imagine.

On the back of her ‘Stalking the Wild Asparagus’ lectures were the general outlines of her ‘Navigation 101’ classes. Finding north, reading shadows, and leaving a non-edible trail behind you were all necessary skills she felt worthy of passing on to two children who were nearly as intelligent as the psychotropic fungus she made a wide berth of on the trails. We did our best to take her schooling with us, and throughout the years found that some of it actually stuck.

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It’s really nothing more than paying attention to your surroundings and making a mental map. Clues as to your location are around you everywhere. She likened our walks to a giant Candy Land board game. Shake the dice, move your marker, land near the licorice sticks—or in our case, the giant marsh filled with cattails. Easy as pie.

Today, satellite guided imagery squished down to the size of a fingernail on your smart phone nearly takes all the fun out of going on a journey. Some mild-mannered voice is pleased to guide you with well-timed and repetitive instructions if you are hoping to go from point A to point B and not be bothered with the pedantic details of topography and mile markers.

But this is where I get a small hitch in my britches. Having been fooled one too many times with outdated and malevolent automobile equipped GPS systems, I’m not terribly keen to give total control to anything that requires a continual “update” in order to fix the latest “bugs” in its system.

091114goldfish (708x800)But I was assured that this newest directional diva would not only get me where I wanted to go, but would find the path of least resistance as well. That is a tall order to believe when one is determined to head north, but hearing an announcement of interminable congestion yonder down the road, you are encouraged to head south.

I look. And see no congestion.

I eyeball the device and give it a thunk on the dashboard in case there’s a wire loose, but am told by my companion that, no, the information is not only correct, but is being gathered by the bazillion of other cell phone users around you—not satellite. Trust it. Be spontaneous and go for it. Let go of “The Planned Route.”

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I do. And then cheerily wave at those stuck in the hour long delay I am passing via another well-kept secret route. Amazingly, I will still be on time. I lift up my phone and shout to the other cars, “You all should get one of these!”

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Yet as magnificent as modern technology is in assisting folks by guiding us over hill and dale, I slowly realize I am left with an emptiness of accomplishment. Deep down inside I still believe there is something worthy of retaining those rusting aptitudes for course-plotting. And passing that proficiency on to others.

Knowing and identifying where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there are crucial life skills. Ultimately, they might just save you from getting lost or being late, but maybe—just maybe—they will bless you with a blissful magic carpet ride.

~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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Bug Off!

Three nights ago something crawled into my bed that did not belong there. It was invisible and had fangs. Well, it felt like fangs, but because they were invisible teeth, I couldn’t be sure.

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Half a dozen times I flipped back the covers, flicked on the lights and scoured the bed.

The cat gazed at me like a therapist stares at his patient—the kind of assessment that lets you know they’re actually going through the latest chapters of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in their head to see where you fit in.

The dog raised his head and blinked at me, continually wondering if it was time for breakfast.

“Something is biting me,” I explained to them both, “and since neither one of you are within teeth reach, it must be beneath the duvet.”

I looked at my skin: my stomach, my legs, my arms—nothing. I must have been dreaming. I squinted hard at the mattress and the sheets. Empty.

Just to be on the safe side, I rootled around in one of the bathroom cupboards and came up with some mosquito repellant. This would be like camping, I told myself.

Now smelling like I’d accidentally fallen into a vat of DEET, I crawled back into bed and flipped the light switch. But with each passing hour, my eyes flew open immediately after I felt a pinprick of pain. I leapt up and repeated the same tiresome routine until exhausted from trying to get some sleep, I gave up and got up.

It wasn’t until that afternoon that I noticed I was beginning to itch—absentmindedly at first. And then, because I was in a meeting with other people who were over the age of four and would notice one of us lifting up her shirt to scratch uncontrollably at an itch that refused to be satisfied, I had to be surreptitious. Except that it’s hard to be sly when you are desperate to rip off your clothes and tear off your skin. That takes stealth. Or a room full of blind people.

It was not a good night. After showering, I noticed that it looked like my entire torso had sprouted polka dots. I looked like an early Jackson Pollock painting—like really early—probably the time period when he was still in a highchair and figured out how to whip cranberry sauce from his spoon to splatter onto the kitchen wall—that early. Nothing artistic about it. And I highly doubt any of his artwork requested he give it a good solid scratch in a hard to reach place.

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I covered myself in outdated hydrocortisone cream and crawled wearily into bed after first checking to make sure that the clean sheets hadn’t somehow become infested with last night’s fang festival fellows. I saw nothing.

But I felt creepy crawly.

It was as if something was under my skin.

I slept with the covers off. Okay, I lied. The covers were off, but there was no sleeping. Just noticing of the constant urge to itch.

Chicken pox? Nope – I felt fine.

Poison ivy? Nuh uh – the spots were too spaced out, and not in the right places.

Fleas? Bed bugs? Chiggers? Small as those fellas are, you can still see them, and I found NOTHING.

We were back to invisible fangs.

The next day I worked, sat, walked, talked and drove about, but all I thought about was how badly I wanted to scratch. And the problem with scratching in one place is that it stirs up the histamine response to activate all the other parts of your body that up until then were somewhat silent, and encouraged them to scream, “ME TOO, ME TOO!”

Since we don’t live close to town, and I’m stubbornly stoic, I was thrilled to hear my daughter was heading out to pick up a few things and would I like her to stop at the pharmacy? Would I? Oh boy, I would.

I sent her in with a list of everything known to man and medicine that might alleviate the desire to make a crosshatch of scars over my body. She came back with soaps, and creams, ointments and oils—even the words to a magic mantra one has to chant that she purchased from the local health food store. She had come at just the right time. These bites were rising to a fevered pitch of a frenzy.

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Every hour I showered, dried off and tried something that came out of the magic pharmacy bag. Relief was subtle, but even subtle was a miracle. Looking in the mirror, I reminded myself of a Dr. Seuss character, but I’m fairly certain that I’d frighten even pint-sized fans of The Cat in the Hat if I showed up at a public beach. Swim suit season was over for me. Well, truth be told, I never held a parade for the opening day either, so it was no real loss.

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This, the third day of purgatory, has me looking back over the last seventy-two hours and attempting to tally up the total amount of water used in boiling all sheets, clothing and any furniture I could stuff into the washing machine. Then I computed the amount of money I handed over to the pharmacist for each promised cure. And lastly, I added up how much it’s going to cost for a full torso skin graft. I’m working out a deal with a plastic surgeon tomorrow. I may have to sell a few things. Like any extra internal organs not pulling their weight.

Yeah, I know, call me crazy.

But it’s okay, the cat already does.

~Shelley

August 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. 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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Breaking my silence

I owe my ears to a bug and a meditative master. Well, maybe more so to the meditative master because he’s the one who gave me a gift.

He taught me how to listen.

I don’t mean he advised me in the art of paying attention to people’s words and the message they endeavored to convey. I mean he instructed me to hear sounds, and tone, and vibration.

In absolutely everything.

At the time, I thought I had a fairly well-developed ear. I was a musician, trained to hear intonation and pitch with a considerable degree of competency. But he had a level of attention to sound that was mystifying to me. His auditory skills were on par with most owls and marine animals. Mice feared for their lives around him. Beluga whales bowed down in his presence. I just wanted a little piece of that magic.

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But be careful what you wish for, right? Because a boon can just as easily become a blight.

I cannot find silence. I can’t remember the last time I have heard … nothing.

This man was a sound engineer, someone my music producer had hired to mix the final cuts of the album we were making, the film score we had finished and the commercials we whipped out. My job was done. I was excused and told to go work on the next project, but sometimes I’d plop down on the studio couch, make myself as invisible as possible and watch what unfolded.

And what unfolded was a brain twisting mystery. This man would sit in front of the sound board console and hold his breath. He was as still as the Buddha, who probably would have slapped him on the back with a thump of well done! Then he would crawl around on the floor, beneath the equipment, searching for an elusive something-or-other. Sometimes it would be hours before he actually played our music.

When I finally dredged up enough courage to ask him what he was doing, he’d answered, “I’m noticing.”

“Noticing what?” I asked.

“A lot,” he said.

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And during the next year I began ‘noticing’ too. He showed me how to find the buzz in each cable, the hum in all the machinery and the layer upon layer of sonance everywhere.

I went a little wild with my practice and drove my producer crazy with my newfound enthusiasm and belief that we would both benefit from this exciting auditory adventure I pulled him along on. At one point when recording the vocals for a lush and abundantly orchestrated song, I made him stop and pull out track after track after track, positive I could “hear” something that didn’t belong there.

We found it. It was a cricket in the recording booth. Finding the cricket to pitch him out proved impossible. Finding the musicians to bring them back in proved expensive.

No one was happy with me.

Except the sound engineer.

But now I can’t go anywhere without listening for the layers. It’s not as if I’ve developed the auditory capability to hear dog whistles, but rather I’ve stopped tuning things out. And I practiced this for so many years now I can NEVER tune them out.

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I lay awake at night, and hear the usual things.

The clock ticking, the dog breathing, the cat licking, the stinkbugs flying … and then smacking into walls and dropping onto the floor.

There is the sink dripping, the toilet running, the wind rattling, a coyote howling and an aircraft droning.

And when I have categorized these sounds, I am left with others that pull me out of bed and ask me to hunt them down.

The fridge has a little hum. The freezer has a funky hiss. The DVR has a purring motor that churns and roils, keeping something tiny inside of it cool and protecting it from combusting.

Down the hall in the family room I find two speakers, softly throwing out sound in the key of A. I bend down along the floorboards and hear muffled scratching—someone is busy making a tiny nest in the wall. I crawl beneath my desk and trace a treble tone to my computer’s hard drive. I start at an unexpected sound and bump my head, taken by surprise at the vibration above me where my smart phone was set to silently buzz with an incoming email.

I hear the heat vent whir to life, the soft whooshing of air, spongy and constant. Then the generator which lives halfway down the hill to the sheep barn clicks on for its weekly test drive. I open the back porch door and stand on the icy cold steps to count the multilayers of sound the generator is generating.

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Far off, on the other side of the house, the wind chimes chingle.

And then I hear the birds chirping and something high-pitched and tiny. The sound takes me up the porch steps and back into my bedroom.

And right next to my bed.

It’s my alarm clock.

It’s time to start another day. Another day filled with sound.

I’m thinking the sounds will most likely be my yawns.

~Shelley

February Gotta Have a Gott winner

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

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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Old Man Winter has been nothing but a snow job.

People are fickle when it comes to the weather. And Mother Nature could give one whit about what we all think.

You can pray to the sun gods, shake your fist at the rain clouds and keep your fingers crossed for as many white Christmases you care to, but in the end … it’s a crap shoot.

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Okay, that’s not true. It’s actually magic.

Not true again. Yes, I know it’s science, but it is, in essence, a mysterious mishmash of all three combined.

It’s one of few phenomena that we all share at the same time—at least all the folk in your neck of the woods. And most everyone has a prediction on how much we’ll get, a story about how they got stuck, and two cents worth regarding how come this is happening.

I have raised one child and still have a couple of years left on my contract with the second. The thing they share—apart from my genetic code—is their desperate wish to be fully immersed in the season 182.5 days away from the one they are currently steeped in.

We may be splashing in a lake and taking sips from the hose, but they’re talking about how wonderful it’ll be when they can finally get their snow pants on and head to the slopes. Or as the last crimson leaves float to the ground leaving the bare-boned beauty of our forest foundations, I hear talk of jelly beans and spring break follies.

One cannot pop into a grocery store, a drug store, a shop or a showroom without being immediately transported away from the moment we’re in and hurled toward a place in the forthcoming future. I don’t want to be in next month. I don’t want to jump to next season.

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I’m not counting the days till I can shed my big coat, or ditch my fur boots, locate my trowel or pluck my first berry. It is winter. It is blustery. It is cold. And tonight …

IT WILL SNOW.

I want to kiss the screen where the meteorologist gesticulates toward the cold mass of arctic air meeting head to head with the looming expanse of precipitation. I get goose bumps when my radio program must interrupt their regular broadcast for a report from the National Weather Service. I dance a little jig when I see a red banner stream across my computer that changes from a watch to an advisory and then finally a warning.

Of course, I’m aware of the dangers—the folks who get caught, or those who must clear, and worst of all, those with no choice—but in an ideal world, a world where everyone stops and misfortune pauses, the aftereffects of a snowstorm create a silence so palpable, so resonant, so clear, it is breathtaking.

Who can help but look out their window and gaze, slack jawed, at the snow globe landscape?

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Okay, we may not all be feeling that warm fuzzy #let’s-make-hot-chocolate-and-build-a-fire-while-we-stay-in-our-pajamas moment. Some folks might be slack jawed and glaring at the snow with the #how-the-hell-am-I-supposed-to-get-to-work-for-a-boss-who-allows-no-excuses-except-death panic. I get it. And I’m sorry. Bosses are awful, awful people.

All of them.

Except for the ones who aren’t.

But I live for snow days and the cancelling of school. I have repeatedly been shortchanged in the snow department this winter. And I am growing desperate. In my mind, snow days are cozy, book-filled, nap-saturated hours where you dip your mug into an overflowing pot of lush hot chocolate, ladle up rich lamb stews and wait for the magic whisky hour.

In reality, I am the one making the hot chocolate and having to clean up the bubbled over, stove scorched milk because I was busy chopping veg for the stew and didn’t catch it in time.

I am sore from walking up the one mile, thousand vertical feet driveway after parking my car at the bottom of the mountain so that come the next day we are not stranded with nothing but a 5000 lb metal-encased toboggan to ride downhill in.

I am the one making the fire, stoking the fire and feeding the fire.

In reality, a nap never happens, a book is never read and I pass on the calorie-sodden brown liquid goo so I won’t feel the guilt later on. But the whisky is a must. I shall never say no, thank you and I shall never feel the guilt. If there is snow, there will be Scotland in liquid form to follow.

It really doesn’t matter, I’ll take the day in whatever form. Busy or not, just bring on the snow.

But living here where I do, it’s not just the people who are fickle about the weather, but the weather that’s fickle about the weather. No matter how sure, how certain, how promising a forecast is foretold, there have been scores of times where I am left holding a carrot and two pieces of coal with no place to shove them. Well … I do glance back at the TV and radio frequently, but that usually offers no satisfaction.

If the earth communicated to our earthly magicians that it was a sure thing to let the audience know we would soon see something magical, then by golly, somebody better be pulling a rabbit out of a hat in short order. I need an equal dose of each beautiful season.

Spring must spit out flowers.

Summer must blister with heat.

Fall must burst into flames.

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And winter … well, at this point, I’d settle for winter to just show up and answer during roll call. Just one day this year, show up for class.

But maybe he won’t because school has been canceled. Sadly, no one knows why.

~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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Hell is empty and all the devils are here!

There is a plague on my house.

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

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

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

Actually, it is a they.

STINKBUGS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The only answer is suction.

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

720 hours hath September

There is something about September.

I wake to the sound of rain splattering on the copper rooftop, slapdash and sporadic, its disordered pattern teasing and anticipatory.

The dove gray skies are a soft, woolen blanket the earth has loosely wrapped about her shoulders. She makes a tucking in gesture, paying no mind to the cold and endless black that surrounds her. It softens her edges, mollifies the barbed tips of clacking seconds as they tick, tick, tick in the foggy background. They slowly transform into a muffled heartbeat. Is it mine, or hers?

My first whiff of wood smoke … I am transformed. A tendril that taps at a memory drawer, unopened for months and stiff with disuse. But once loosened, it spills, like cream over ripe berries, and I do little to halt the movement of either.

There is a tinge to the trees, too early to label as anything more than a lowering of the bright, green flame of searing summer life. The sun has merely stepped back a pace to eye her work in progress and rest on the handle of her proverbial rake. And like all avid gardeners, she finds that there are other projects that catch her eye as they rotate into her field of vision. And with that momentary lapse of intense attention, the products of her efforts soon yellow and wither. No matter, she shrugs. Work will resume next circle round.

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It’s now that I brood about in the pantry. I count the beans—for big potted stews which will fill chipped crockery and rumbling bellies. I measure the tea—for ample kettle-fulls that let slip soft wisps of steam carrying somnolent notes of ginger, cinnamon and chicory. I eye the whisky—for the pure pleasure of the oncoming flush of heat. And then I eye the clock to determine how long I must wait for that sweet fever. It’s usually too long. Always too long.

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Each year, I am caught unawares when changing the calendar from the eighth to the ninth month. August is so spectacularly hot, so devoid of working people, so filled with the phrase, “We are off for three weeks.” September is for ‘back to business,’ ‘back to school,’ or ‘Back to you, Bob, and that’s a look at our weather.”

It’s a transitional month, a swinging door from a sizzling, smoke belching kitchen to a plush-lined parlor, with hushed library voices and our mental bandwidth slowly revving into gear. There is an observable change in the laundry basket, which once barely reined in an endless mess of cut-off jean shorts and paper thin tank tops and now houses prim white shirts and pleated skirts, ordered and homogenous.

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The printer churns a constant stream of schedules, documents, forms and calendars, convulsing with updated information like a Morse code machine relaying movement of troops and coordinated attacks. Paperwork lies across all available flat surfaces, requiring signatures, filing, and the hopefully intended read-through.

With the onslaught of shifting our moods and modes, it does not surprise me that in 1752, when the British Empire adopted the Gregorian calendar, they cut nearly two weeks from their clocks by finishing September 2nd and then skipping straight to September 14th. Perhaps it was not simply a method of keeping up with the rest of the world, but also a way to wipe away exhausting obligations. But then again, Britain can be slow to give up commitment and tradition, and their participation in Gregorian reform was 170 years after the first memo landed on everyone’s desk. In fact, a law created in 1307 states that still, should any dead whale be found, washed ashore on the British coast, the head automatically becomes property of the king, while the lucky queen shall have its tail. One must have access to bones for one’s corset, yes?

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Thankfully, September is nowhere near the holiday party season, and there is plenty of time to hunt the shores for washed up whale.

But there should also be time for reflection and observance among the business of harvest. The long days of reaping, the field work and preservation may still take place in the sweat of the last shafts of summer sun, but once she has set, there is a thinning of the air. The scent of woodsy autumn appears on a breeze that slowly pushes summer’s plump stars off stage in preparation for the next act: a crisp set of patterns that will pierce the dark, blue skies.

Of course, intermission casts the bright light of the Harvest moon, and she will illuminate your path from field to home and back again. September bathes in that downy, yellow glow, almost as if aware of her age, asking to be seen through a soft focus lens.

Be busy, be effortful, be thoughtful.

Be here now, in September. Before she says goodbye.

~Shelley

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

A fairly faithful fairy tale

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

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

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

Real nature lovers, he and I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” he says. “I smell winter.”

“Get out,” I poke a rake at his nest.

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

I sit on the bucket. “Out.”

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

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

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

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

“I was helping you muck out the barn.”

“YOU WERE EATING SHEEP POO!”

“I was helping.”

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

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

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

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

I lean on my trowel and look at the crops.

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

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

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

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Social media is amazing.

~Shelley

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

Well, well, well.

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

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

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

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

The natives are restless.

One in particular.

And a powerful one at that.

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

Sauk Chief Makataimeshekiakiah, or Black Hawk

And now we’re in for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

A little night music

Victorian-era Engraving of the Man in the Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firefly (800x692)

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

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

Owl_love (800x765)

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

03 (578x800)

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

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

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

Woof_croak (800x347)

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

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

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

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

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

Practice makes perfect.

~Shelley

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

Wicked weeds sprout a change of view.

Evolutionarily speaking, we human beings often project an insufferable smugness about our superiority over other living creatures. We have developed the deft skills to communicate in complex and dexterous ways. We have the unique ability to reason—to make sense of information, to rationalize, to use logic and to determine cause and effect. And we discovered how to make ice cream. That alone is proof enough for most folks.

Earlyicecream (800x773)

But there are, of course, many things that other beings are capable of that we humans are not.

1. Spontaneously changing one’s gender.

2. Breathing under water.

3. Flying.

4. Seeing in the dark.

5. Throwing up one’s internal organs in order to scare off an enemy.

I’m entirely game for having skills 2 – 4, but I might pass on the bookends.

Breathing (800x712)

Regardless, being in the throes of gardening season, I was surprised to find out something remarkable about one of my constant companions among the berries and blossoms: bees are capable of making out patterns on flowers written in an ultraviolet language. This broad spectrum of color basically lights up like a landing strip for the pollinating aviators, leading them straight to a treasure chest of nectar.

Still, they can’t make ice cream, which keeps me firmly on the top rung of the evolutional ladder.

Hot, sweaty, stiff and aching, I made a sound decision yesterday while working in the flower beds to even up the stakes and make my partners in posies feel less inferior. Since green is just a blah background color to this hive of horticulturists, I’m joining their ranks—sort of.

I will no longer see or be drawn to WEEDS.Unrulyweeds (524x800)

I’m giving up. The weeds are winning. But who have I been weeding for? The bees aren’t fussed. None of them have tapped me on the shoulder and pointed me toward a patch of unruly intruders. They leave no map pinned to a bag of potting soil with an area of the garden circled in red that needs particular attention that day. So I figure I shall spend the energy elsewhere.

Like in the house, to navigate the extra steps around the pile of shoes at the front door. (Weeds.) Or on the kitchen counter, when trying to create an empty space for cooking in between mounds of my children’s textbooks and schoolwork. (Weeds.) Or on my desk, while I transfer one heap of library books, magazine recipes, calendars and Post It notes onto another. (Weeds.) I don’t see these things. They are blah background color and definitely not a treasure chest of nectar.

I’m also attempting to change my negative image of weeds altogether. I’ve been told that these invasive sprouts operate much like a diagnostic tool and can communicate information about the nutritional balance of the soil simply by observing each weed’s growth habits. And that in some circumstances, these plants are growing on my patch of earth because their job is to replace vital nutrients lost or absent. They can be telltale signs of something good to come.

With that in mind, I decided to reassess the indoor weeds.

A pile of shoes? Obviously, they are absent of the feet regularly wearing them, and therefore suggest there is an abundance of extra bodies laying about the house that can be accessed for manual labor. Extra shoes equal extra hands.

Extrashoes (800x525)

Mounds of textbooks and schoolwork? Brains have recently been at work, are increasing their knowledge base and are continuing along the path to financial scholarship since I have sadly spent most of the parental portion of the contribution toward college on potting soil and mulch. I will leave their education within easy reach.

Heaps of library books, magazine recipes, calendars and Post It notes? … Nope. I just sat here staring at the blinking curser for ten minutes. I’ve got nothin’.

So I searched my sources for quotes. I needed something positive, uplifting, determined … capable of “sprouting” a new perspective.

I found a few like-minded folk.

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.

~A. A. Milne

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What would the world be, once bereft

Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,

O let them be left, wildness and wet,

Long live the weeds and the wildness yet.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins

A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.  ~Doug Larson

Weeds are nature’s graffiti.  ~Janice Maeditere

Naturegrafitti (800x672)

I learn more about God
From weeds than from roses;
Resilience springing
Through the smallest chink of hope
In the absolute of concrete….
~Phillip Pulfrey, “Weeds,” Perspectives, www.originals.net

Crabgrass can grow on bowling balls in airless rooms, and there is no known way to kill it that does not involve nuclear weapons.  ~Dave Barry

After plastering some of these around my desk, I feel somewhat emboldened with my new interpretation of “going green.” From now on when I visit the gardens, I plan to embrace my past discomfort. I shall see the weeds for their message and potential: we are sturdy, we are tenacious, we can be beautiful, we are healing, and in some cases, we are tasty.

Evolutionarily speaking, these guys are contenders.

But they can’t make ice cream.

~Shelley

PS May all your weeds be wildflowers.  ~Author Unknown

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.

 

Sibling revelry

My brother is a liar.

Not only that, he’s a cheat, he steals things and he smells like he’s been wrestling inside a giant vat of rotting fish.Liar (800x653)

Okay, maybe I should have put all of that in the past tense or surrounded it with quotes and introduced it with, I announced to my mom when we were nine and ten. But then that takes all the fun out of knowing his face will go beet-red when he reads this. And I’d almost give my left lung to be there when it happens because that opening paragraph is a form of payback for popping all my Barbie dolls’ heads off, supergluing them together and then using them as a makeshift whiffle ball for batting practice. Barbie (800x597)I might have misremembered some of those exact facts, but the end result was basically the same: I was miserable.

Except when I wasn’t.

And that “non-miserable” status was actually a much more frequent state of mind.

My brother was my roommate, my playmate, and a very convincing Frederick the Great whenever we played war, which happened repeatedly. We agreed to rotate the games we played: we could build stuff with sticks in the woods, sword fight with sticks in a field, or pile up sticks and attempt to light them on fire.

The alternative was that I could get chased with a stick if I didn’t agree to one of the prior games.salkville,shell&steve001 (622x639)

It was a rare day when we got to play house, but when we did, it was Little House on the Prairie where I got to be Ma and watch him play Pa. He built us a “log cabin,” fought off warring Native Americans who wanted to run us off our homestead, and started a smoldering fire on which I could cook him his grub. Still sticks, no matter how you look at it.

There was one thing we heartily agreed upon though, and that was food. Everything we did was centered around getting, sneaking, stealing, making, hunting, fishing or feasting on grub.

on ya bike...

on ya bike… (Photo credit: deer_je)

If we wanted to get up early to bike through the woods to arrive in time for sunrise on the lake, we first had to fill plastic bags with cereal, grab two spoons and strap a thermos of milk to the handle bars. We’d make a quick stop to pick blueberries en route, then it was breakfast on the pier.

If we hoped to act like all the folks with big RVs and fancy tents who arrived at the local campground down the street and who got to eat Toni’s pizza, drink orange Fanta and play pinball while listening to the jukebox, we first needed to put our allowance savings plan into action. If we couldn’t scrounge up enough quarters to cobble together the price of the entire event, we’d settle for just the pizza. We had to have that pizza.

How stealthily could we sneak a fistful of pre-breakfast Oreos out of the booby-trapped cookie jar on a Saturday morning? How many weeds would we have to pull in our ancient neighbor’s vegetable patch before she’d call us in for sizzling fresh perch, drowning in home-churned butter and yanked out of the lake not an hour before?

Angry squirrel

Angry squirrel (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

How many blueberries could we stuff down our gullets while slyly creeping through the woods, hoping to ambush preoccupied squirrels, engrossed in nut gathering? How many wintergreen leaves did we scarf down, pretending it was candy? How many winter snowfalls had us tearing open a package of Kool-Aid or Jello in order to open our own professional snow cone stand with us as our only customers?

Things haven’t changed greatly, although supposedly he’s a grown up. He pays most of his taxes. He drives a truck now instead of a bike. His three beautiful daughters cling to him like ring-tailed lemurs on a mighty oak, so I’m gathering either he’s learned how a bar of soap works or his children have no sense of smell.Chef (551x800)

He has an actual job that pays more than his childhood allowance. And as sad as he was to give up playing Charles Ingles, he refused to give up centering life around food. Somehow, he learned to read and write while I wasn’t looking. And apparently muscled his way through the Culinary Institute of America.

They call him “Chef.”

I call him lucky.

Yeah, maybe he no longer lies, cheats, steals or smells, but he still plays with sticks. He’s just swapped out those long, woody weapons for shorter, sharper blades.

Still sticks, no matter how you look at it.

~ShelleyBarrels (800x630)

*Next week, we’ll go shopping with our chef since he came out for a visit. And once we put the groceries away, chef and I did some sword fighting in the kitchen. Come back to see who wins.

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.

Daylight savings, nighttime losses …

Sleeping Baby

Sleeping Baby (Photo credit: Lisa Rosario Photography)

Sleep is important.

Personally, it’s more important to me than most anything I can think of. I would gladly give up my favorite meal, a thick wad of cash or even the spare fifty IQ points I tell people that I have if it means I could rid myself of the wretched sluggishness that comes after I’ve overdrawn on my sleep bank account.

In fact, I’d happily give my left lung to simply have back the one hour stolen from me every year in March.

I hate Daylight Savings Time.

Ohio Clock in the U.S. Capitol being turned fo...

Ohio Clock in the U.S. Capitol being turned forward for the country’s first daylight saving time in 1918 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Except when it works in my favor.

The present moment does not fall into that category.

We are a society so tightly wound, so minutely organized, that we refuse to acknowledge our animalism. Our train tables, our baseball games and our prime time television shows fight for an adaptable clock, while our bodily clocks question the strategy.

My bodily clock does not just ask, “Are you sure about this?”—it rebels.

For six months until it gets its way.

My body wants a solar clock. Rise when the sun smacks you in the eye, and start shutting things down right after dinner, dishes and a Downton Abbey.

I am so attuned to the tiny shifts in the astronomical hours that it no longer surprises me to crack open an eyelid ten seconds before a tiny pinprick of pink light nudges above the horizon, announcing an aurora worthy of watching. Of course, the precursor to that event might have something to do with the fact that fifteen seconds prior to sunrise, a weight of around eight pounds, evenly distributed across four tiny paws and wrapped in fur, has perched on my chest and willed my eyes to open, which they remarkably do. It’s uncanny. Or uncatty.

Still, miraculous, right?

Retailers generally favor DST. United Cigar St...

Retailers generally favor DST. United Cigar Stores hailed a 1918 DST bill. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And to be wholly pedantic with semantics, the official phrase is Daylight Saving Time, not Savings. And to be wholly persnickety with the phrase, there is no saving. It’s shifting, adjusting or simply sliding the assignment of a named hour to a slot that we like better than where it resided previously.

We’re control freaks.

We’re like tiny gods waving sticks up at the air and shouting, “Take that!”

And if Mother Nature happens to catch a glimpse of us, she’s probably shaking her head and she might even throw out one of our people’s best vernacular comebacks: Whatever.

 Yeah, that about sums up our collective human maturity when it comes to thinking we’ve got it all under control. We’re teenagers.

I understand the rationale behind the thinking, to make better use of daylight, but it seems absurd that we’re attempting to make the Earth bend to our will—our preferred and ‘set in stone’ tablets of behavior and time.

Thou shalt not golf in the dark.

I believe this absurdity (failure to coerce the Earth, not golf blindly) to be true only from past blundered experiments where my scientist daughter has repeatedly attempted to explain to me that no matter how hard I wish it to be so, no amount of positive thinking will change the laws of physics and discoveries of science. Mathematical equations will remain true to form no matter how many times you may cheer on the concept that 2 + 2 = 5. A four is a four is a four. Period.

Except when it isn’t.

Example? Some infinities are bigger than others. Thank you, 19th century mathematician Georg Cantor. Trying to wrap your head around that concept is likely to trigger a small brain hemorrhage. And since I covet every cell remaining in that gray amorphous matter residing between my ears, I can’t risk the possibility of injury. But if you’ve got extra, click here or here for more on Georg and his brain dissolving theory. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.Buzz (586x800)

But there’s more to this than math. There’s biology, which happens to be my main beef. Try to convince a dairy cow that, because the milk truck will arrive an hour earlier tomorrow morning, she’d better pump up the volume tout de suite, or worse, tell her to hold that bursting udder for another sixty minutes because you’re planning to hit the snooze bar for the next six months, and you will likely form a new theory all your own. Cranky cows like to kick.

I follow the sage advice of my yoga teacher who for countless years has been reminding me, and a throng of other zen-for-a-moment seekers, to “Listen to the wisdom of your body.” This mantra has been sewn into the very fabric of me. Every molecule. It’s found in the strain of my downward facing dog DNA.DogDNA (800x573)

I know there are countless reasons to support DST, but there exist just as many for why it interferes or doesn’t make sense. My favorite?

Allegedly, in order to keep to their published timetables, Amtrak trains must not leave a station before the time printed. Therefore, when the clocks fall back in October, all Amtrak trains in the U.S. that are running on time stop at 2:00 a.m. and wait.

For one hour before putting it into drive again.

Sleepy, confused passengers are surely scratching their noggins over the clever corporate decisions made in that boardroom.

There is so much more to say on this subject. Seriously, I could … yawn … go on and on with my argument.

Instead, I’m going to go take a nap. See you in an hour.

~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.

Maneuvering thru March Madness

Shamrock (695x800)

My favorite things to do in March 
• Count the days until April
• Make all food green and shamrock-shaped
• Try Irish whiskies
• Keep track of the number of days until the first day of Spring
• Realize that Spring break has begun
• Pretend that Fat Tuesday only happens on one calendar day of the year

My least favorite things to do in March

VonKrap (636x800)
• Count the days until April
• Eat green, shamrock-shaped food
• Pretend I like Irish whiskies
• Forget the first day of Spring
• Realize that Spring break has finished
• Come to terms with the fact that Fat Tuesday could easily be replaced with Chubby Wednesday, Bloated Thursday or I-Hate-My-Closet Monday

Chubby (800x777)

My favorite poem about March
“The sun is brilliant in the sky but its warmth does not reach my face.
The breeze stirs the trees but leaves my hair unmoved.
The cooling rain will feed the grass but will not slake my thirst.
It is all inches away but further from me than my dreams.”
~ M. Romeo LaFlamme, The First of March

j
My least favorite poem about March

pg 192 Human Skeleton

pg 192 Human Skeleton (Photo credit: perpetualplum)

Spring Treasure
by DAVID LAPIERRE

Spring arrives slowly…
Seeds begin to quiver from
their frosty sleep…

My steps on the still-hardened ground
Thump
With vibrations
That wake up the roots…

Wake up, little fellows, wake up…

The sun begins its vernal ascent,
And its rays grow stronger by the day…

I gaze upwards to bask
In the warm, golden light…

…and stumble…

Training my gaze

To the brunette forest floor –
A stick? No, a leg bone. A skull. A rib…

Yes! Yes!
I found a body!
I always wanted to find a body!
Yes! Yes!

j
My waxing lyric about March

The nighttime peepers sing in full chorus (toads not Toms), slick from the upward climb through layers of oozing mud, a brown butter gift from river banks and softening bogs.

Belching tractors with their curved teeth inch slowly across a crust of soil the earth hides beneath, protecting itself from Jack Frost’s sharp talons.

And the inky, pin-pricked heavens declare the entrance of Auriga, the charioteer—our cosmic copy of Ben Hur, who dashes across the sky each night. His race against whom and to what destination remains uncertain. It might be that in his haste, the sound of his voice is lost to us within the wind that still shrills across the land and rattles newly budded branches.

So much noise to announce new birth. A heralding indeed.

crocus

crocus (Photo credit: polkadotsoph)

There are softer sounds that go unheard, but not unnoticed, for who can hear the push of a crocus beneath its winter bedclothes? Can one measure in sound the growing length of daylight? Or the upward shift of mercury encased in glass?

Having been named for the Greek god of war, Mars, it seems fitting that March would be the month when Roman soldiers returned to service and revved up military campaigns. As it stands, holding off lovers’ quarrels for the full two weeks following Valentine’s Day would set records in our modern day world. I praise these ancient warriors for reigning in their tempers and the itch to decapitate anything with a tongue that speaks ill. We may want to revisit that page in history.

And as I am a devoted fan of any almanac—farmer or shepherd—I find myself nodding enthusiastically with the Middle Ages journaling wisdom of Ptholomeus, where he speaks of those who draw their first breath within the month of March:

Under this planet “is borne theves and robbers nyght walkers and quarell pykers, bosters, mockers, and skoffers; and these men of Mars causeth warre, and murther, and batayle.” *
~Compost of Ptholomeus.

*There could not be a more fitting description of my sheep.

Boster (800x700)

Yet the almanac foretells abundant pleasures around the corner if we simply bide our time. The slow and measured heating of the earth reveals new spears of green, a primrose-petaled face, a songbird’s sunrise narration, and a thawing creek’s reprise. A walk through mapled woods reveals the timid request for a share in the sweet, rising sap, one tiny, patient drop at a time. And just as we settle into that new patch of enticing sunlight, as we take off our shoes and point pale toes toward the warmth of our closest blazing star, fickle March inhales a lusty lungful and finds us with our faces tilted upward, our jackets tossed off and our eyes blissfully closed. The exhalation is a wicked one, a cruel one, a callous one. It is meant to catch us vulnerable.

It succeeds.

We recoil, grumble toward the sweaters we nearly put at the back of the closet, zipper up, hunker down and wait it out with a mug full of steam, a bowl full of broth, and a determined disposition.

Sure sign of Spring - Robin - Bird

Sure sign of Spring – Robin – Bird (Photo credit: blmiers2)

Spring will come.

It always does.

~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.

I needed climate change.

Beautiful-Ocean-Sunset

Beautiful-Ocean-Sunset (Photo credit: Jeffpro57)

I used to live in California. San Diego, to be precise. Del Mar, to be preciser. Yep, I know it’s not a word, but it fits.

I lived with what real estate agents referred to as a “blue water view.” Folks who bought houses with a “white water view” had an extra zero slapped on to the end of their house’s price tag.

Still, I thought the house was divine. It was at the top of a long ridge, less than a mile from the great Pacific Pool and an easy stroll down to bistros, boutiques and beaches.

A constant breeze blew from the sandy sidewalks straight up the hill and through our open windows. I can’t remember a day when we turned on the air conditioning or the heat.

A baby wearing many items of winter clothing: ...

The climate was perfect.

I hated it.

I NEED WEATHER!

I never had goose bumps, never reached for a sweater. I passed up the deodorant isle at the drug store—didn’t buy it because I never broke a sweat. Every day was like the last: breezy, blue and beautiful.

And boring.

I moved out of perfection as fast as I could.

I craved brooding, roiling clouds filled with drenching sheets of rain.

I wanted booming thunder that would sometimes rumble across the skies like a stretched out line of levitating men playing timpani and at other times crack with such force I’d think the result was an irreparable rift in the sky.

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

I missed splits of lighting that charged the atmosphere with the smell of static electricity, and that made the hairs on my arms stand briefly at attention.

I needed dense, impenetrable snowfall to blanket and silence the earth.

I sought air so cold it crackled, bright and sharply blue.

I hunted for icicles sword-like and jagged.

I desired weather so far on one side of the climate pendulum it would require binoculars to see its contrasting position. Or maybe just six months.

The feeling of moving one’s body from one extreme to the other is addictive. Imagine …

Soaking in an outdoor hot tub, your skin so pink your face flushes like a bashful schoolgirl. On the count of three, you suck in your breath and leap out of the tub into a powdery drift of snow. You roll, you shriek, you shock your body. Rewind, redo and repeat. Now you’re Swedish.

Girl in midair during a swan dive into a lake

Girl in midair during a swan dive into a lake (Photo credit: UW Digital Collections)

How about this …

You’ve woken early, popped your broad brimmed hat atop your head, and squatted for hours under a blazing, unforgiving sun as you weed, trim, pick and prune. The garden is fragrant from spellbinding waves of heat. You smell the pungent, earthy soil and the heady and highly perfumed calling card of piquant petals. You hear the drowsy response of droning bumblebees, and the washing waves of cicadas who announce on a time warped loop that the weather is sticky and sizzling. Sweat trickles and stings in your eyes. You stand, strip and dive into the pool. For an instant you are stunned with the collision, your mind astonished at the clashing antithesis of intense opposition.

It’s worth it.

Worth broiling your body to quench an internal fire with frosty, sweet iced tea. Worth numbing the tips of your fingers, toes and sluggish tongue to spread infusing warmth that can only come from a cup of chocolate soup.

Ice cubes in a glass

Yes, it’s been a wild ride this summer. Dame Nature has given us a taste of fire and brimstone. It hasn’t been easy for many. For some it’s been downright cruel.

Within the face of triple digits I’ve tasted more sweat, but I’ve also tasted more ice cream, felt the drench of a hose and a sprinkler spray across my face and cherished every ice cube.

For me … this is living, this is life. This is weather.

~Shelley

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

 

Instant Grassification

English: Orlando, FL, September 12, 2004-- Oxy...

We have decided we need more oxygen.

And we’ve decided we’re going to become Gramineae farmers.

It’s not such a big deal. Millions of folks all around the world already are, so we won’t be the first. In fact, billions of dollars are invested in this farming. Every single year. And that’s just in America. The international price tag belongs in a number category I didn’t even know existed.

At the moment we’re dirt farming. But this is what you have to do before you can go green. Our in-house chief engineer of all things that grow, Roger, has attempted to explain to me (mostly in Latin) that Earth’s soil is almost as full of supernatural magic as a David Copperfield stage show. Almost.

English: The Northwestern High School Gospel Choir

Roger can wax lyrical on the health of our “growing medium” with as much enthusiasm as a southern Baptist revival preacher in a houseful of sinners. I’m trying to keep up, but with terms like fabricating terrain and paleo farming—and it’s mind boggling how much there is to know about them—my eyes start to glaze over involuntarily. When I attempt to learn about microbial life and the immune system of grains, everyone might as well be speaking in tongues.

Soldiers of the United States Army Criminal In...

I’m totally lost.

Roger tried to have us become grass farmers from seed—the old fashioned way–but it was a year of pure embarrassment on our part. The small patch we classified as “test ground” shortly became an agricultural disaster. I’m surprised the whole area wasn’t quartered off with yellow crime scene tape because death was littered all over that lawn.

I was ready to throw in the towel. Plus, I happen to think weeds are pretty. But Sir Sackier refused to admit defeat. How typically British.

For weeks I saw him out there, marching back and forth on the dead battlefield with Roger, pointing fingers, kicking earth and crunching numbers. He’s given himself a fierce unibrow from the entire endeavor.

Roger finally put two and two together and came to the conclusion that unless he was planning to relocate for the spring, set up a tent on the porch and coax every little blade out of the earth himself, he’d best bring out plan B.

Plan B was pay to have someone else grow it, install it in the middle of the night, and then have us smile broadly and feign ignorance if anyone subsequently complimented us on our tremendous grass growing skills.  

Hey, if I’d been put in charge of lawn control, and the only requirement was that it had to be green, it would be filled with arugula. This is a plant I cannot manage to kill. In fact, nearly every morning and every evening I come out to the garden and cut back the greens that within mere hours rocket skyward in search of a better view than the vegetables beside it. The weird thing is I’m beginning to suspect that the plant has taken on new battle tactics. For each consecutive salad I’ve made these last few weeks, the arugula has been getting spicier. It’s so fire-laden, I’d compare it to a mouthful of wasabi. It literally burns your tongue. The plant insists I leave it alone. And I’m actually growing a little frightened of it.

But as a lawn, it would be abundant.

No one else wanted this. Except the dog, who apparently gives no second thought to swallowing fire. He prefers his arugula kick-ass.

So men with trucks and wheelbarrows came and installed our Instalawn, and I’m pretty sure I saw them look up at the windows of the house a few times and shake their heads.

“How hard IS it?” is what I read off the foreman’s lips. But this is what people who already have the knack for doing something always say.

I opened up the window and shouted back, “IT’S HARDER THAN YOU THINK! DON’T JUDGE ME!

And then when they all looked at one another out the corners of their eyes and the foreman pointed out a crooked section to one worker and repeated his question, I realized my error and shouted down to the sheepish fledgling with poor directional sense, “Yeah, what he said.”

That made me feel a lot better about myself.

Now that everyone’s packed up and I can leave the house again, I’m taking advantage of the extra oxygen we’ve created. I’m guessing if I do enough deep inhalations, my brain will benefit enormously—maybe even to the point that I will begin to understand some of what Roger is trying to teach me.

English: A foal wakes up after a nap in the gr...

If I inadvertently slip from wakefulness because of one too many soporific Latin terms and find myself face down in the newly planted grass, I will admit I’d had a sudden overwhelming urge to study the microbial life of our fabricated terrain.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cooking this week in the Scullery (here) and what folks are talkin’ bout down at the pub (here)!

 

Pitchforks to fancy forks

Farm to table. It sounds so easy, so simple, so … no brainer, right? You farm your food, pick it, eat it.

Tah dah!

Except anyone who farms realizes there might be a few whoopsy-poos that can happen somewhere between dirt and dinner.

Yet surprisingly, you can’t turn around these days without bumping into somebody who is  ripe with success, making headlines in the food world.  Either they have a forthcoming book all about the way they turned a small third-world village into a new sustainable enterprise with nothing more than a tractor made from Legos, or they’ve opened five new restaurants which are run on recycled potato skins and leftover lemon rinds. I’ve even stayed in a hotel that stocked toilet paper made from sheep poo pellets.

I would love to be one of these people.

I am not.

James Shikwati, Kenyan economist, at the TEDGl...

So, until I come up with an ingenious way to run a dairy farm on methane gas, or discover an unknown symbiotic relationship between worms and non-recyclable plastic, I can only support the people who do find jaw-dropping ways to make the news and soon show up on stage at a TED talk.

One of those ways is to attend a farm dinner.

Farm dinners, also known as meals in the meadow, pitchfork to plate, farm to fork, or cowpie to peach pie (only kidding), are a growing trend inspired by the healthy locavore movement. Usually a local chef lends his name and talents to the community’s neighboring food producers and creates a memorable multicourse meal in a farmer’s barn, a field among the livestock, on the beach beside the roaring surf, or in the vineyards between the chardonnay and the pinot noir.

Oftentimes, diners get a farm tour and listen to the chef and farmers chatter about what Bessie had for dinner last night in the barn just before slaughtering time. They might even throw in her final words, surely a message of thanks to the farmers for a true quality of life experience. It was probably something like, “Moo,” but it might have been, “Mooove that knife. It’s too close to my throat.”

We’ll never know.

I actually went to my first farm dinner last night. It was held at the historic Virginia estate called Morven: a property with a pedigree that likely links back to biblical times when Moses was trying to rent a summer home to get out from under the skin-shriveling heat of the dessert. Okay, I totally made that last bit up, but click on the property link and make yourself a large pot of tea. There’s a bucketload to learn about the estate.

The dinner was held in support of the Charlottesville City Schoolyard Garden program that uses a garden-based curriculum to help promote health awareness, scholastic success, and neighborhood involvement. Math? Measure and chart plant growth. Science? Understand and view firsthand what chlorophyll is all about. Music? Tomatoes are said to be partial to Handel and The Rolling Stones. (I’m joking. They hate Handel.)

Chef Gay Beery of A Pimento put out a luscious spread for 90 + diners under the setting sun on an old Virginia farm, using food from at least five surrounding farms and one school garden.

Thomas Jefferson was no doubt smiling in his grave as folks sipped wines from the soil he’d first planted vines in shortly before the Revolutionary War.

The food, the farm and the fruit of the vines created a spectacular evening—one I think everyone should be able to take part in.

Go ahead. Look it up. Google farm to table and see what pops up in your neighborhood. Then make a reservation and see what happens. Shortly afterward you may find yourself:

-eating more vegetables

-buying local food

-starting your own garden

-heading up a community veggie patch

-solving world hunger

-writing a book about it

-giving a TED talk

Even if you only make it halfway down that list of exceptional accomplishments, you have done yourself and many others a great deed.

Now go forth. Grow. Eat green. Be green.

Get a farmer’s tan.

~Shelley

 

PS If you’re searching for seeds (from arugula to zucchini and everything in between), I’m recommending a company that not only has a worthy mission creed but a wonderful moral code. Give The Mauro Seed Company a looksee.

Their motto? Grow One, Give One. I’m impressed. Maybe you will be too.

Don’t forget to check out what’s cooking this week in the Scullery (here) and what folks are talkin’ bout down at the pub (here)!

 

Arugula; Nothing to laugh about.

There are no fun facts about arugula. Period.

I’ve scoured the internet, intending to illuminate and entertain, but after having read everybody else’s idea of ‘fun,’ I have come to the conclusion that these folks need to get out more often.

For example: “Hey! We’re going to the dentist!”

“You are? You lucky ducks. Have a great time and tell us all about it later!”

This is not fun.

I need FUN facts about arugula in order to encourage others to buy it, plant it, grow it, eat it. It’s really difficult to sway folks–who are used to seeing their food handed to them through their car windows–to start eating something they think needs to be eradicated with a drenching douse of Round Up.

Yes, you can tell people about its history, the fact that it was around before the Romans conquered Rome, but so has dirt, and people aren’t tossing that into their tuna casseroles for dinner.

You can remind them that arugula is one of the only herbs that has made some interesting presidential headlines … oh wait, no, there’s another one.

Or how about I announce that arugula was once considered by many and used by scores as an aphrodisiac? Except for the fact that anything put next to flickering candlelight by default becomes an aphrodisiac. So it doesn’t count.

Since I could not come up with anything uproariously entertaining about the plant, I will divulge the few personal ‘fun’ facts I have encountered.

Beham, (Hans) Sebald (1500-1550): Hercules sla...

  1. I don’t remember planting it. It just showed up in my garden one day and we’ve been eating it as a science experiment ever since. No one seems to have been affected negatively.
  2. I cannot kill it. It’s like a Hydra. Seriously.
  3. I am competing in a one woman competition to see who can come up with the hottest, spiciest arugula leaf by leaving some of the plants to grow old, woody and leggy. Thus far, I am winning in that one of my plants may qualify as eligible firewood come fall.
  4. If you take one of the leaves and squish it between your fingers and then bring it to your nose while inhaling deeply, you will be reminded of the smell of … arugula. It’s amazing.
  5. Arugula leaves make wonderful bookmarks.
  6. I am trying to popularize my newest dance move called The Arugula. It intermingles nicely with The Funky Chicken and The Mashed Potato. This is best accompanied by Mozart’s only foxtrot.
  7. There are very few etchings and even fewer bronze carvings of the arugula plant.
  8. No one has ever recorded a song about arugula that has made it to the top of the charts.
  9. No one has ever recorded a song about arugula.
  10. Haggis, our resident hound, is addicted to it. He eats more of it than I do, and I’m writing this article … with his help.

Okay, so I hope this little pitch will have you all digging a small hole and tossing out a few seeds or snatching up a bunch at your local market. Or, if you find yourself in the neighborhood, come on up and I’ll load up the backseat of your car with some of mine.

Once you get home, here are a few ideas of what to do with your booty—er, bounty.

Arugula and Bacon quiche

Corn Macaroni with Asparagus, Fava Beans and Arugula Pesto

Penne with Turkey, Arugula, and Sun-Dried-Tomato Vinaigrette

Roasted acorn squash and gorgonzola pizza topped with arugula

Roasted Beet and Blood Orange Salad with Spicy Greens Recipe

Meatless Monday: Roasted Beet and Arugula Sandwich with Green Olive Tapenade

The Best Lentil Salad, Ever

Searching for the Best Arugula Pesto Recipe, Making Arugula Pesto Cream Cheese Spread, and Discovering Arugula Pesto Pizza

Now Go Forth and Arugulate!

~Shelley

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

 

A Most Willing Bird

Pencils

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

It makes a big difference.

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

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

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

CAA07880a

(Photo credit: jerryoldenettel)

Is this how I should sound?

Wait, I’ll try again.

Was that one clear?

Hold on, I’ll give it another go.

Practice makes perfect?

I’m so up for the challenge.

Writing is rewriting. And whippoorwilling is being willing.

Headstone A very old and unusual headstone in ...

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

a eulogy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A whipper-what?”

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

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

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

rooster Magyar: kakas

Every night.

And every morning.

For the next five years.

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

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

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

Bugel player line art drawing

My husband: “Wha? What was that?”

Me: “Just the whippoorwill. No worries.”

My husband: “Grrrr …” Zzzz …

Shortly thereafter it was:

My husband: “Huh? What was that?”

Me: “The whippoorwill. Go to sleep.”

My husband: “Fat chance …” Zzzz …

And finally:

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

Me: “It’s the whippoorwill.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “You didn’t!”

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

Me: “You tell ‘em, honey.”

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

Fake, Folly or For Real?

For all my talk these last couple of weeks about the wicked wind and how it’s left my brain addled from its overzealous quest to uproot any unnecessary trees from the mountaintop, personal safety has never been an issue. As long as we stay indoors. In fact, I sometimes even get a little smug about it.

The wolf blows down the straw house in a 1904 ...

Picture the three little pigs and the big bad wolf. Look down the line from pig to pig until you see the porcine smile that I’ve come to perfect. It’s the last guy in the row. I’ve no snub-tipped turned up snout or floppy ears to frame my face. The thing we share in common—the thing that spreads the smirk of self-congratulations over our features—is that we both live in a pile of organized rubble.

Pig number three was, if you recall, a fairly suave fellow who chose to invest in the safety of his future. I’m not so sure we could say our choice to build the bastion we live in was so much a conscious one as it was one of opportunity. When we first investigated the land we hoped to build on, we all noticed the abundance of “unforgiving soil.” Using our available resources, building a stone house from the bedrock it would perch on seemed a very green thing to do, plus any locals we ran into who knew of our desire to build up here advised us to “build a brick sh*t house if we hoped to keep it standing.” Sound advice.

Well, when all was said and done, there were a few piles of leftover materials that I refused to have carted away. The look I received from most of the cleanup crew was akin to that when I tried to train my dog to sing in Spanish. Just a slight cocking of the head. 

“You sure you wanna have all them there rocks pilin’ up round the place? You got youngins and them piles is like puttin’ up a big ol’ welcome sign for a mess a snakes. What you tryin’ to build up here—Gibraltar?” (Insert snort here.)

I smiled, knowing that whatever I said would never sound sensible enough. “I’m sure we’ll figure out what to do with the rocks.”

“Rocks? Them’s no rocks, them’s boulders.”

I nodded and watched all the trucks slowly leave with everything except them boulders.

Then for the next six months I heard my husband make little tutting noises every time we passed by the piles or someone happened to mention them, wondering what they were for.

For the next year after that, I didn’t exactly see any snakes, but I sure felt them writhe around in my stomach when trying to hatch a believable plan for their future.

Landscapers secretly gave me the ‘crazy lady’ label and would turn to my husband to make sure he knew that if we expected their company to move the stones anywhere on the property, it would cost the equivalent of a new section for International Space Station.

Deutsch: Stonehenge, Großbritannien English: S...

In truth, my husband knew what I wanted to do with them. He’d spent enough time with me in the UK to realize any trip to his homeland would be structured around as many stone circles as I could manage to visit.

Yes, I’m thoroughly besotted with them, mesmerized beyond any other great wonder of the world. Put me next to the Sphinx, Chichen Itza, or the London sewerage system’s original Abbey Mills pumping station and I can’t help but wish I was standing instead amid the fragmented remains of a few jagged rocks specifically placed for a purpose no one can be quite certain of today.

Sure the other grand structures are jaw dropping and eye popping, but they’ve all been figured out. Their functions were described in great details by wall carvings, cave paintings and city architectural plans filed in drawers labeled possible cures for cholera. Stone circles are a planetary puzzle. It’s almost as if every culture that ever built one of them tossed the instruction pamphlets away after a couple of years during spring cleaning because to them it was totally obvious what the formations were for.

Cover of "The Lorax (Classic Seuss)"

One day, this conundrum that’s left so many folks either duplicating them in their back garden, or scratching the sides of their heads contemplating their purpose, will be solved by some young whippersnapper. He’ll make the grand revelation that actually these circles were simply each community’s recycling center, or chain coffee shop, or that here was the village’s last Truffula tree. Maybe it was simply a grand distraction from whatever people were not supposed to see. Who knows?

The things that are clear to me can fit into a tidy little list of Thing One and Thing Two.

  1. I have to do something similar, create my own Stonehenge—albeit on a very very small scale because even though NASA’s budget is now akin to my monthly grocery bill, I still cannot afford some grand landscaping extravaganza.
  2. The need to make some sort of stone arrangement is so strong and unexplainable it falls into the realm of curious. I can’t not do it.

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And maybe the architects of those ancient communities felt the same way. It’s a little like Alice in Wonderland once she fell down the rabbit hole. With or without the Drink me label, she’d probably have done it anyway. It was obvious and it needed to be done. Or just like the habit to both fish and foul the Thames, there’d be a giant “Aha” moment coming to somebody eventually. Until then, we’ll all just wait and make pretty stone gardens, hoping someone will discover the instruction pamphlet.

~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).

 

Less than Blown Away

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

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

English: Funny Road Sign from New Zealand, &qu...

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

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

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

From his vantage point high above the earth in...

Directly over our house Jan. thru March.

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

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

A Dust Bowl storm approaches Stratford, Texas ...

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

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

I know that wind energy seems like a really great idea, a no brainer when presented with many of the pros:

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

Yet I read about community concerns with it as well:

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

The most amazing thing is following the clever brains in this industry and discovering how scientists around the globe are trying to capitalize on the pros and eliminate the cons.

Supporting this industry and furthering design work resonates with the hippie crack granola/save the lesbian whales/make kids work in air-conditioned sweatshops kind of green thinker I’m trying to be. Of course, no matter how much wind we’d be able to harness and contribute to the energy grid, I will still not be able to:

Suess Landing at Universal Studios' Islands of...

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

2.)   Light a birthday cake outside January through March.

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

4.)   Un-tether the sheep.

Of course, I do receive the ability to fly a kite 24/7, a soundtrack for throwing a great Halloween dinner, and free dermabrasion.

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

Tis an ill wind that blows nobody good, but a silent wind that let’s everybody get a few hours of uninterrupted shuteye.

(And here’s a little wind humor)

~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).