Life is like a Box of Chocolates: Sealed, Stolen, & Seeing the Countryside without You

A bazillion years ago—let’s call it seven—I went on a trip to the United Kingdom, crisscrossing the country to view university after university, accompanying my then seventeen-year-old daughter as she scoped out her next big chunk of education.

The recollection of big cities and ancient villages have long been swallowed by the fuzziness of time and now reside in my head the same way one retains precise memories of a colonoscopy. And although I can appreciate the anesthetic delights of anterograde amnesia for some experiences in life, the one long-cached, souvenir stilled lodged firmly in my hippocampus is that of stumbling across a tiny shop on the high street of Oxford.

Hotel Chocolat.

It’s not a hotel, although I’d have no issues with setting up camp in a corner on the floor if I should accidentally get locked in after hours. Rather it’s a luxury chain of the ultimate chocolate shopping experience.

There is no trickery involved in drawing customers off the cobblestoned streets—just an open door, where the aromas of ground and sweetened cocoa beans snake invisibly around your wrists and appear beneath your nose, tugging you inside and fastening the lock behind you.

When I first saw the shelves lined invitingly with countless bars and baskets filled with creamy brown confectionery, I remember turning to my daughter and saying, This is where I’d liked to be buried, please.truffles

In keeping with the traditional facial expressions of young adults, I was immediately silenced with a practiced and perfected eyeroll.

We silently moved about the shop, but apparently with each new peak into the burgeoning baskets and careful scanning of each shelf, Chloe finally turned to me and sighed.

What? Her gaze was stern, her tone was clipped. Why do you keep clucking your tongue, Mother?

I hadn’t realized I was, but it was likely true.

I just don’t understand why they’ve chosen to mash all the extra bits into the chocolate, I’d said. The chocolate looks perfect on its own. It doesn’t need fruits and nuts or brownies and gingerbread in it. You can’t improve upon perfection.

It was then that she held out a square box with six small globes within it.

Oh yeah? Are you telling me that you will not put aside your ridiculous rule for this?

In her hand was milk and dark chocolate, swirled together in an eddying ripple, apparently each orb pillow-casing a teaspoon of whisky.

My knees weakened a tiny bit as I envisioned what two of the dreamiest comestibles would taste like as clearly betrothed companions.

I shook my head with fixed determination.

Too expensive, I said as an excuse, when what I was thinking was, Surely disappointing.

Christmas came a month later, and the gift of truffles filled with single malt scotch came from the outstretched arms of Chloe, smugly determined to win the category of Best Gift Ever.

I was elated. Excited. Curious. And worried.

I put them in the refrigerator for safe keeping.

For six- and one-half years.

I couldn’t bring myself to try them. Too expensive, surely disappointing.

I know I’d frustrated her, as I recall a few years after that holiday, I’d received a beautiful box of chocolates in the mail. Chocolates all filled with other things other than more chocolate.

box celebration chocolates decoration

 

I put the box aside, deflated. But Chloe simply texted the sender and said, Obviously, you do not know my mother. Your lovely gift will be mothballed in cold storage indefinitely. But thank you, nonetheless.

She then proceeded to eat them on my behalf.

Last month, I traveled by train again across the UK. To my utter delight, the port of origin held a Hotel Chocolat shop. I spent a few harried minutes and far too precious pennies on a doppelganger box of whisky-filled truffles, an identical box that not four months earlier–as I cleaned out the fridge to move houses–finally found its way out of the back of the fridge and regrettably into the waste basket.

Thrilled with the chance to redeem my unappreciative behavior, I placed my pungent package on a shelf above my bunk and dreamed of the soon-to-receive declarations from family that I had at last lost my persnickety fallibility.

The next morning, I promptly exited the train, mindlessly leaving that little package filled with chocolate and whisky, and the expensive opportunity to salvage some respect.

I’d also left my reading glasses. Another thing I’d rebuffed for years.

It did not occur to me that I’d left these things until I began rooting around for an aid with map reading.

My heart raced, followed quickly by my feet. Ten minutes had passed since I’d exited the train, and dashing back out onto the platform, I saw nothing but Scotch mist.

The train was gone.

With panicked flapping limbs and the alarm of a woman who left her baby in a taxi, I managed to locate and communicate my loss to a white-haired train attendant whose Scottish dialect was as thick as the slabs of solid chocolate I would have preferred to have purchased in the sweet shop.

Fifteen minutes later, the elderly man returned, a broad smile stretching the road map of wrinkles across his face. He handed me my reading glasses.

I peered at him. Did you happen to find the chocolate? The whisky-filled truffles?

Oh aye, he stated grimly, but all edibles are immediately binned if left behind. That’s the policy. But if ye want my opinion, lassie, yer far better off wi’out them, as nothing foreign but yer lips should touch a single malt scotch. Any addition is like two trains colliding into a crash.

He looked at me sternly and pointed at my glasses. Perhaps use your wee spectacles before making such a purchase next time. After all, ye canna improve upon perfection. Some things are just more sacred when separate.

blur book book pages close up

~Shelley

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

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

Climb Every Mountain (even those without cell service)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or

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

Or

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

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

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

Her: Good point. I’ll pack a scarf.

Me: How will we communicate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Either way. It’s all out of my hands.

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

~Shelley

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

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

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

Batteries, Boyfriends, and VW Bugs

This last month I learned a few new things about cars:

  • Jump starting a car battery is dark and semi-dangerous magic nearly anyone can do.
  • Wrestling out and replacing certain car batteries is a little bit like squishing a bloated elephant into a shoebox.
  • YouTube can teach you how to do both and come out mostly alive on the other end of it.

It all started around the time finals were happening for most college students in my neck of the woods with my own college student up to her earballs in textbooks, tests, and giant tubs of Ben & Jerry’s. Nothing alleviates an overheated thermogenic thought process like two pints of Hazed and Confused on a daily basis.

I received a text from said college student’s boyfriend:

When’s the last time you started Chloe’s car?

I scratched my head. Six weeks ago? Eight? It didn’t really matter because that thing was dead. Like unrevivably dead. It would be like digging up Beethoven or Mahler or Schubert and fist pounding on their chests screaming, “NONE OF YOU HAVE FINISHED YOUR SYMPHONY NO. 10!”

Yeah, that kinda dead.

I texted back an emoji shrug.

I could hear Ben’s eyes roll to the back of his head, and I don’t blame them for doing so.

He finished off: I’m coming over with a new battery. It would be nice for her to have a working car when she gets home from school.

I agreed. I also thought that it didn’t really matter if all the car parts were functioning if one did not have money enough to fill it with “go juice.” It kind of puts you in a position where you’re All Hat No Cattle.

But they’re college kids. They’ll figure it out.

I was working at my desk when Ben popped in. “I’m here. I’ve got the battery. I’ll be in the garage.”

“Need help?” I asked.

“Nah. Easy peasy.”

Super. I could keep writing. And I did.

For about sixty seconds.

“Do you have any gloves?”

Got Ben gloves. Went back to writing.

For about sixty seconds.

“Flashlight?”

You betcha.

Work … sixty seconds.

“How bout a magnet?”

Search for magnet: Old toy boxes. Drawers. Next to credit cards, computer hard drives, people resting in my living room with pacemakers.

“Nope. Sorry.”

Ben shrugged. “Never mind. I’m sure that piece will fall out of the engine block eventually.”

I looked at Ben with eyebrows that reached to my hairline.

Back to work. I counted to sixty twice.

“How small are your hands?”

Oh dear lord. I pushed back from my desk. “Let me find some shoes.”

I entered the garage and saw Chloe’s little VW bug with its hood popped. A miniature PAC-MAN of motorcars. Ben, whose height most telephone poles will nod with deference to, was almost in a downward facing dog yoga pose, hovering over the engine block.

There was a lot of grunting going on, but it might have been coming from the bug, as whatever Ben was trying to tug out of it seemed super important for that little roadster to cling to.

Apparently, it sensed the ongoing, effortful labor of disassembly and finally decided to put up a fight. It’s a little bit like going to the dentist for one defunct tooth to be removed and when you finally have a moment of anesthetic clarity, hear, “Oh, good lordy there’s another one. Well, she really doesn’t need that guy for chewing anyway.”

Yes, I think in a blind panic, but what about for maintaining social norms like speaking without sounding like I’m an eight-year-old whose face just met a tree trunk after a bike crash?

“What can I do?” I asked.

Ben explained to me that we just needed to slide the battery into place and then voilà, back to work I go and he’s outta here. Easy peasy.

Except he was finding it just a teensy bit tricky to slide this particular battery into place.

“How come?”

He gestured at the ground which held oddly shaped bits of plastic, metal, screws, caps, and hoses. It looked like the car had thrown up onto the garage floor. “A lot of stuff had to come out in order to remove the battery.”

“I assume all that stuff is essential?”

Ben shrugged. “Yeah, it all has to go back.”

I looked at the disassembled engine parts. I really really hoped he remembered where all the bits and pieces originally lived because none of them were color-coated, or Post-it note labeled, and there were no IKEA directions to be found anywhere.

If it were me, I would have labeled everything with Garanimal tags—like the clothing line my mother used to buy for us when we were little kids. Each piece of clothing had some anthropomorphic animal code attached to it so you could find something that matched to make a set. Make sure the alligator shirt is not paired with giraffe shorts and then feel confident sending that child on off to school.

Yeah, there were a lot of things on the ground that looked like they needed to be remarried to their original partners.

“You’ve done this before, right?”

Ben flashed me a smile and held up his smartphone. “YouTube.”

Oh, good heavens.

For the next three hours we battled with that little bug, trying to slide, shove, inch, hitch, and bang that new damn battery into place. It was like trying to get a cat to swallow a pill. That battery refused to go down.

We, as instructed by the warning words of the World Wide Web, did not tip the battery. Which would have made things so much easier. At one point I suggested to Ben that if we couldn’t tip the battery, maybe we should tip the bug. Seriously. It would have been so much easier.

He did not agree.

At long last, we did manage to get that SOB back into place. In fact, we managed to do it twice, because after the first time—once we’d reconnected all hoses, screws, and pulleys—we discovered a small piece we’d left out on the garage floor. Something akin to an OR nurse tapping an open-heart surgeon on the shoulder just as he’s tying off the last stitch of flesh together and pointing to the pan that still held an essential organ.

But we did it.

Easy peasy.

~Shelley

This thing ready to go??

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 Grave Danger of Being Silent

“Okay, you’ve got to choose one word. And one word only that will describe you and a representation of your life to be carved on your tombstone.”

I was at a writer’s meeting. And this was one of those wretchedly “fun” exercises we did to stimulate creativity, or imagination, or brain damage.

It was my turn. Everyone looked at me.

“Umm … whisky?

NO! was the general shout from all corners of the circle. Most of these people knew me well enough.

The host looked at me with a full measure of pity. A little bit like how I look at the dog after he’s eaten an entire stolen loaf of bread and he’s all swollen and gassy but still looking for more: pathetically.

“No, not whisky,” the host said in patient tones. “Whisky is something more of your life preference rather than your life portrayal, Shelley.”

Yup. Same look.

“Okay,” I said, determined to get this one right. “Then I choose voice.”

That answer got a woefully polite round of applause.

But the more I thought about it, the more I grew certain that it should have received a standing ovation. Because, in essence, it really has been the central theme threaded throughout my entire life—and every day, it grows more paramount.

In about two weeks, my next book will be published. (The Freemason’s Daughter) (disclaimer: Publicists and marketing departments get super cranky if you do not provide easy links to readers or refuse to say the phrase, “In my new book, The Freemason’s Daughter” as the start to every conversation. And let me tell you, it was a monumental challenge to work that one in with my seventy-four-year-old garbage man whilst handing him one more bag full of cat poop from the litter box.

“There are men in it,” I said lamely. Yeah, he was going to love my young adult novel about a sixteen-year-old Scottish girl.)

Anyway, again, in about two weeks, my next book will be published. I can hear all of you muttering the word finally.

And although this book has all the crucial motifs that appear in every coming of age story—the challenges of youth, friendship, love, relationships with six burly smuggling Scotsmen—the keynote theme that rose above all others was this: Where the hell do I fit in?

Now, granted, the voice that uttered this query at least one time in every chapter classed it up a bit with a lilting, girlish British accent, but it is, beyond a doubt, a central examination that needs answering by the end of the book.

And maybe it does get answered and maybe it doesn’t. I ain’t gonna spoil it for all of you. Especially ol’ Cooter Covington who promised he’d buy the book as long as I somehow managed to have the cat experience a fatal accident before he came back next week. But to find out … (The Freemason’s Daughter).

Funny enough, that question was present in my middle grade contemporary novel, DEAR OPL (Dear Opl – You’re welcome), about a thirteen-year-old American girl suffering from prediabetes and obesity who struggles with loss everywhere in her life except on her body.

Before that, I voiced that question as I made the transition from mandatory mother to partially needed parent to occasionally sought guidance counselor who receives messages like, “I’d like to schedule a major meltdown on Thursday evening after my class on linear algebra. Could you clear your schedule and send me a bucket of chocolate so I can have it there while you talk and I cry?”

My job status was shifting. And I needed to redefine some new position I could find fulfillment within.

And, quirkily enough, before all of that, my actual voice was the focus of my entire life. I got paid to sing. Once or twice I got paid not to sing.

The point is, “voice” has been stamped all over my forty-seven years of life.

Which brings us up to the present and the future—to my love for soothsayers and crystal ball gazers.

Because now, in recent months, voice has become a ubiquitous word. Rare is it a solitary strain, buried beneath the weight of larger, louder bodies that attempt to silence it. Rather now, it is a growing collection, a chorus, a rising refrain.

It is the sound of town hall meetings, the chant of protests, the carefully crafted question in a press corps meeting. It is the debate across the aisle, the conversations in the coffee shop, and the gossip over the garden fence posts.

It is the struggle to parse fact from fiction as myriad voices crow with what they believe to be true—or what they want you to believe as true. It is the concerted effort to eliminate the noise, to brush away the flashy and distracting so that you can uncover the naked, unvarnished reality.

Yes, it does exist.

And when we are able to do that—when we are finally able to hear inside our own heads, we will hear that sound that many of us have spent a lifetime ignoring. Our inner voice. The one that never lies to you. The one that says, Do not go out wearing those pants under any circumstances.

Yeah, that one.

The amazing thing is, is that all of those voices are asking the very same question—that one about inclusivity. Where the hell do I fit in?

We all want our voices to be heard, our words to matter, our existence to count. Whether we’re a president determined to believe we are the greatest, largest, tallest, (insert-superlative-here) guy to draw breath. Or we are the lowly chap who’s still trying to muster up the energy to clap as loudly for that president as we watch him wave from one of his golf courses and we finish the leftovers from last night’s TV dinner.

Forecasting the future is dicey work. Asking the hard questions about that future needs to be done—despite the unwelcoming off the cuff response of an extra tiny pointy finger barking at you to “Be quiet!”

Don’t. Don’t be quiet. Find your voice. Raise it. And use it.

Because I’ve kind of grown fond of the idea of having voice on my tombstone. Otherwise, I will have to resort back to the original epitaph of whisky. Although maybe I’ll spiff it up a tiny bit with that lilting, girlish British accent.

She saw the beauty and necessity of hard liquor.

~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.

In Good Spirits

I needed help.

Professional help.

It’s a phrase I utter at least a dozen times a day it seems, and not every episode is referring to the fact that shock therapy might be just the thing.

271116shock02

This time I was searching for answers to questions that did not reveal the meaning of life, or my purpose in the universe, or even advice on how to handle the creepy guy at the grocery store who is always asking if he can hold my melons while I search for apples.

Ah … Security??

No, this time I needed help with my new book. The writing “fiction” part is always so much fun. But the “researching the fiction I just wrote and discovered wouldn’t even be remotely believable” part is always a little hard to choke down.

Best to do them in tandem.

And as my new book takes place in a distillery, and there’s one nearly spitting distance from my house, it would be foolish of me not to immediately take advantage of the expertise within grasp.

So I pleaded my case, called the joint, and set up an interview to make sure that my new manuscript wasn’t going to entirely fit into the genre of fantasy.

Or an oval shaped file under my agent’s desk.

At first I thought Ian Thomas, the new director of operations at the Virginia Distillery Company, was worried about the time—because he was always checking his watch.

271116ian02

And then I thought for a second that maybe the fellow I was standing across was fairly new to the concept of wristwatches, as when he did look down at it, he stared at it with intense focus for at least four or five seconds.

And then I realized that I was the actual idiot.

Ah. An Apple watch.

271116apple02

Ian was getting about as many requests for attention as if he’d had a tiny toddler tugging at his pant leg—which, coincidentally, he’ll have in a few short weeks as he’s expecting his first child.

271116expectant02

So perhaps coaxing a fledgling whisky distillery through its beginning years full of growing pains is exactly the kind of training a soon-to-be dad should be having.

If nothing more than to reinforce recognizing the blissful joy of losing consciousness for more than ten minutes in a row.

That, and maybe to discover what a bazillion new parents come to realize during the agonizing teething phase of their tiny tot: whisky can act as a damn fine benumbing agent …

For the parents, of course.

And this man is sitting on a gold mine.

The questions I needed answering were specifically related to the running and operating of a single malt distillery:

How much does each ingredient contribute to the overall end product flavor profile?

How much does the temperature and humidity in your warehouses play a part in the maturation process?

How many times have you tried to roll a full wooden cask of spirit into the back of your car to sneak home and feigned surprise when one of your coworkers discovered you struggling with the back hatch of the trunk?

271116barrelo2

Yup. All relevant.

We spent hours walking through the facility, and Ian patiently explained every piece of equipment and component involved in the operation: the gristmill, the mashtuns, the washbacks, and stills. The miles of plumbing, the resourceful recycling, the freshly plowed and planted barley fields, and the mile-long list of government officials he had to converse with on a daily basis in order to make this American malt find its way from barley to bottle—or grain to glass—or field to finally in my hot little hands.

At one point, while talking in the warehouse that securely housed the seven hundred wooden casks snugly hugging their aging spirit, Ian received the equivalent of another toddler tug that needed attention and stepped out of the warehouse while I ecstatically and repeatedly filled both my lungs with as much of the intoxicating, spirit-drenched air as they could hold. And then, profoundly lightheaded from hyperventilating, I suddenly worried that I had inhaled enough of the whisky-dense atmosphere to register as too intoxicated to drive home.

Maybe Ian’s watch would keep him busy whilst I slept off the fumes and stretched out across a few ex-bourbon barrels.

I thought about the last jaunt I’d undertaken researching a book—an afternoon spent questioning an internist about all the effective emetics available in the 18th century. There were no heady, soothing scents of toffee and brown sugar, butterscotch and bananas encapsulating me like a giant embrace from the ancient gods of magical elixirs. Just half a dozen homeopathic textbooks opened to pictures of poisonous plants that could make you puke.

Yeah, this one was turning out to be a lot more fun.

We finished the day with Ian allowing me to further question him in hopes that he could provide answers for the stickiest parts of the book—things I was struggling with and that were critical to the book’s authenticity and success: the biology, the chemistry, the plot.

His answers were enlightening. And clarified that there were actually a solid handful of hugely capable, talented, and ingenious people who worked alongside him to craft this outstanding spirit that holds so much promise.

And surprisingly, if not somewhat disappointingly, not one of them were alchemists or felt the need to invoke a series of sorcerous spells to turn this water into wine—er … whisky.

Apparently Gareth Moore,

271116gareth02

Chairman and CEO of Virginia’s newest spiritus frumenti emporium, really knows how to hire his nine-to-fivers and reviews of their work are about as glowing as the cheeks of those who imbibe in their product.

“Okay,” I said to Ian back in his office, “just in case this post goes viral and the only way you can fend off the sudden surge of paparazzi at the distillery is by locking yourself in the waste management warehouse and hiding behind a tank full of lye and caustic soda, is there anything else the world should know about Ian Thomas, young whisky maker hailing from Tennessee?”

“Ah,” he said, glancing at his wrist again and staring at it intensely for about four seconds, “Well,” he chuckled self-consciously. “I like casual strolls along the beach, I’m a good husband, I love my family and Virginia … and I’m working hard to make a world class whisky.”

I don’t doubt for one second all these things are true. Ian is a busy guy with a full life that’s only going to get fuller in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. A new dad. A new home. A new job. Yeah, he’s got his fingers in a lot of pots.

Copper ones to be precise.

And I think the world of ‘world class whiskies” is lucky to have it so.

~Shelley

HEADS UP Y’ALL: Robin has his annual calendar of curiously clever cartoons for sale starting now. If you’re hoping to take a peek a tiny bit farther into his unfathomable brain, then I suggest you head on over and order yours tout de suite! They won’t last!  Robingott.com

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.

Crashing and Burning; It Takes Practice

I think three of the most frightening and exciting words spoken together in the English language are: three, two, one.

And the space that comes right after it? The silence where we then announce the outcome? Talk about a pregnant pause. Talk about stress and hope and anticipation—and the new physical knowledge of the phrase gut twisting.

Sometimes you hear the word Liftoff!

Or Action! Or Go!

What nobody wants to hear is Three, two, one … uh oh.

But it happens. And it’s said. With a lot more regularity than many of us would believe—or admit to.

I think most of us regular folks can probably scare up a decent quote or two from marvelous, mind-blowing space moments, right? Things like:

“Uh, Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

180916fish01-2

Or “That’s one small step for man …”

Or “Failure is not an option.”

Or is it?

The whole failure thing, I mean.

180916_failure01-2

Winston Churchill said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” I think the old British Bulldog would have loved to take a peek inside one of the many locations dedicated to our American aeronautics and aerospace research to see his words in action.

I’m talking about NASA, folks.

Space has long been an interest of mine. And parenting. I’m super dedicated to the act and art of parenting. Also writing. I can’t imagine my life without writing.

180916writingspace01-2

But this is where I’ll stop with that whole list because any further and it’s going to sound like I’m generating some sort of online dating bio—and that is not where this essay is heading.

It’s mostly about space and parenting. The writing part is simply my way of communicating to your eyeballs the beautiful connection between the two.

And they are connected. Magically. And ordinarily.

Okay, so actually, my interests are space, and parenting, and writing … aaaand failure.

Although there is some bewitching halo that’s thrown over the beautiful bubble of someone’s great achievement, there is nothing sparkling or spellbinding about a person’s failure. When seen up close, it’s usually unsightly and has us cringing but unable to turn away. A lousy result is a big pile of rubble we tend to shove underneath the nearest sofa and not show our friends by outlining it on the floor with glitter.

Failure hurts. It’s distressing and insufferable. It is your demanding and troublesome Aunt Gladys showing up on your doorstep and expecting attention and accommodation forthwith.

180916gladys01-2

You cannot turn her away. She is there. Staring you down with two leather satchels in her hands expecting a cushioned chair and a hot cup of tea immediately. The only thing one can do in a situation like this is …

Prepare for it.

NASA rehearses for surprise Aunt Gladys visits relentlessly and gravely. When every single penny of your budget is scrutinized, questioned, and arm-wrestled for and, more important, when human lives are a big wager in the game, you cannot afford a whoopsie poo from out of the blue.

Last month, I went to pick up my daughter from her summer internship with God—or rather, her god—at one of NASA’s facilities. She was building space rockets—well at least that’s what chose to believe because every time I asked what she was up to she rolled her eyes and reminded me about this little piece of paper she signed called a non-disclosure agreement.

This is a euphemism for the phrase, tell anyone what you’re up to and we’ll slice off your legs at the kneecaps.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t entirely that bad, but it was close. Maybe they’d only slice off her legs at the ankles, but she really wasn’t budging.

Anyway, I was given a glance at that amazing level of preparation NASA employs with its projects. Their walls were lined with pictures, graphics, renderings, and sketches of accomplishments and failures.

Yeah, you read that right. Failures.

I’m not saying it’s a gallery of shrapnel and explosions meant to terrorize and paralyze—it’s more like the “Mars Exploration Family Portrait.” There are a lot of pictures and footnotes that say, Stranded in Earth orbit, Crashed on surface, or Destroyed during launch.

How many of us would actually snap a selfie as we stand in front of an epic bungle and then nail it to the wall, poster-sized, right outside our office so that a couple dozen times a day we get to eyeball the lead balloon bombs that are our past?

I think not many of us.

180916spelfie01-2

But with each new person I met, read about, or simply saw beavering away in their government issued lung compressing cubicles that day, I began to wonder if maybe these people’s parents might have peppered their bedroom walls with exactly that kind of décor.

Not to be cruel. But to be … constructive.

Imagine this: right next to their American Mathematics Competition medal, their National Latin Exam Award certificate, and their Presidential Physical Fitness badge, there are two school exams—also pasted up on that wall. One is a Latin essay with whatever Latin words are the equivalent to this paper is atrocious scrawled across the top of it, and the other is a math exam with a big bold red F next to their name.

Next to that is a pink slip from Burger King with the explanatory words Malt machine too complicated for employee to master. This is just above a snapshot of a text reply to the request for a date revealing the response, Uh, Seriously? You’ve got to be joking.

Yep. Victories and defeats.

Achievements and downfalls.

Wins and washouts.

It is rocking horse manure rare to have one without the other. And yet as parents, we typically practice buffering our kids from these missteps and wrecks because …

Well … who wants to see our offspring suffer, or struggle, or return to us bleeding and holding out the handlebars of their new bicycle in one hand and three teeth in the other? Who routinely places their descendants in some Houdini hindrance and says, “Don’t forget to hold your breath,” just before their ears are submerged under water? Who leaps up from the bleachers and fist pumps the air, hollering, “I got it on tape!” to their kid who just did a major face plant onto the asphalt just as the one hundred meter dash shotgun went off and then explained to surrounding parents that the rest of the night was going to be spent watching that film a thousand times and taking notes?

180916faceplant01-2

It’s just not something we regularly do.

But NASA does.

And I vote NASA raises our kids from now on.

I know that sounds a bit extreme, and I’m not saying we just shove them all over their security gate in the middle of the night, dust our hands of the whole situation and then drive home.

No.

We can visit.

We’ll gauge their progress and applaud their efforts. We can wander the facilities hallways and see their scrubs and scratches, identifying the technical names for efforts that had to be scrapped because NASA has an abort procedure for everything: pad, launch, ascent, in-flight, and even the one everybody wishes they had in their car for an annoying passenger—ejection. Some plan for every phase of the course lest something goes wrong. And it will.

Our kids don’t have to stay there very long. Just until they get the hang of the new mindset, this unusual framework for their labors.

And that framework is: You will get it wrong. And then you get it right. Errors are normal. Mistakes are natural. Failure is fated. But what it doesn’t have to be is THE END.

In no short amount of time, they’ll be well rehearsed for life.

I know it can work. I heard the setup after I’d dropped my daughter off at the beginning of the summer. This was gist of the conversation:

Mentor: “Here’s what I want you to do. Make blank do blank.” *

Daughter: “Umm … That’s not very specific.”

Mentor: “Don’t I know it. That’s life. Now off you go.”

Results? Plenty. Loads of them. Usable ones? Not so many. Lots of failures. An endless amount. Embarrassing ones, time consuming and hugely frustrating ones.

Except one.

And really, truly, ultimately—that is the point. Don’t fall at the first hurdle.

Because what people often misunderstand is that right up until the moment of the wreck is not a colossal waste of time or effort. The result may be called failing, but the rest … is called learning.

There’s a lot to be said for scars and skinned knees. Our war wounds can be epic and extraordinary tales. They show we’ve done battle and that we made it through to the other side. They can prepare and instruct and inspire our kids to reach for the stars.

To fly to the moon. To land on Mars.

And maybe more important, to come back again.

chloe-nasa-photo

~Shelley

*(sigh … nondisclosure agreement thingie)

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Foot-Slogged Journey from Zero to Hero

According to Google, the definition of the word hero is:

A person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. A warrior, a knight, a lionheart.

Or we could go with Google’s second definition:

Another term for a submarine sandwich.

I am surrounded 24/7 by heroes. Their voices ring in my ears in pitches that reveal their age and dialects that unmask their country of origin. Occasionally, their speech is so foreign to my mind, I find I must consult etymological dictionaries to make sense of what they say.

Most of these heroes I conjure up myself.

It’s a writer’s process that involves a mixed bag of tools: a few shovels and brushes for the archeological dig to uncover the bones, or a hammer and chisel to chip away at “whatever isn’t the angel,” or, my favorite, the ability to sit with a mental stereogram—where you purposefully lose the eye’s traditional and automatic ability to focus—and then suddenly, mind-blowingly, find a new depth of perspective.

Something magical emerges from something quite ordinary.

I’m used to following these heroes through some journey.

We meet the hero. Something happens to him that forces him to change—despite the fact that he is resistant to change. He’s drawn into some crisis. Things go to hell in a handbasket for a brief period of time. Some metamorphosis occurs, impacting our guy and allows him to respond to the call. And then …

BANG!

He saves the day.

Amen.

I am drawn to these people like a needle pointing north and with the same urgency as when anyone cracks open the door of an oven filled with chocolate chip cookies.

My above definition is a super-simplified explanation of a complex, universal storytelling form called …

The Hero’s Journey.

(Please note: In my head, anytime this phrase is said aloud, its audio quality is enhanced by some impressively epic reverb.)

According to many who’ve studied the great stories of mythology and the broad swath of tales that fit beneath the umbrella of the monomyth, there are a few things necessary in each of these sagas:

A situation, a protagonist, an objective, conflict and disaster, and very important—an opponent.

Hero02

My list is by no means complete, but just an “around about” example to further my unfolding tale.

But the hero I’m going to tell you about is not one of mythology or conjured up by my writerly imagination. She is a regular Joe. A flesh and blood body. A mortal, a maiden, and amusingly, mine.

Okay, that last part may no longer really be true, as she leapt from the nest two years ago, but the ownership part isn’t the important bit. It’s the journey. It’s one I was given the privilege to watch close up and from all angles.

You know those first words we record as proud parents in the biblical baby books of unprecedented infant achievement? This is found in hers:

Airpane.

Yeah, not a typo.

One tiny fist with one tiny finger extended upward and continuously, unrelentingly, irritatingly pointed toward the sky. One tiny mouth was forever uttering what two tiny eyes could see and two tiny ears could hear.

Airpane.

Airpane02

Rare was the day when I had the time to track each one of her identifications—and I certainly did not possess the keen eyesight and impressive auditory range that she seemed to have been born with—but I breezily verified each one of her chirps with some form of response like,

“Wow, good for you, Toots. Keep your eye out for more.” Or,

“Clever girl. How many is that this morning? One hundred? One thousand? I’ve lost count.” Or,

“Okay, I get it. You were a pilot in a previous life. I’ve got to fold laundry.”

When my daughter was about five, two common career themes emerged and spilled out into her everyday life. She was heavily into deciding between becoming a ballerina or an astronaut.

Ballerina02.

One day, I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for her. She was going to have a few follow-up booster shots for some prior vaccinations. Knowing her intense hatred and fear of needles, I tried to plan something fun to follow that doctor’s appointment that would keep her mind off of the wretched shots:

We were going to have lunch … WITH AN ASTRONAUT IN TRAINING!

A family friend was delighted to hear of my daughter’s early interest in space and eager to encourage her tiny spurts of enthusiasm. It was exactly what we needed to follow that pediatrician’s appointment—which was …

Awful.

She hid, she screamed, she threw tongue depressors at the man as if she was barricading herself inside an ice cream truck with nothing but popsicles to use as weapons. She told him she was going to hunt him down in the middle of the night.

Yeah, it was appalling.

Anyway, back at lunch, our astronaut friend began to fill my daughter’s head with all the details involved in becoming “an astronaut,” and at one point launched into the myriad medical tests and examinations one must undergo in order to determine if one is even physically fit enough for space.

My daughter inquired about inoculations.

“Yep,” he said. “Plenty of needles.”

She then turned to me and asked, “Do ballerinas need shots?”

Well, I thought we were finished with our miniature hero’s journey into space and that life would finally return back to normal. I would no longer have to feign interest in her long conversations about the complex water systems aboard the International Space Station which provided astronauts drinking water made from a filtered mixture of recycled shower water, old astronaut sweat … and pee.

Except I was wrong.

Because every day that space interest grew. Whether she was curious about rocket fuel, or space shuttle tiles, or the physics of learning how to fly.

At one point, she said to me she would happily accept a one-way ticket to Mars if it was available and she qualified, and then gave me permission to give away everything in her bedroom to Goodwill.

“What?” I said. “You’re still interested in space?”

Apparently, this was the equivalent of asking, “What? You’re still interested in breathing air?

She struggled with physics like it was some Minotaur she’d regularly sword fight with each night before bed.

Minotaur02

She spent countless, frustrating hours with her teachers in order to understand—not memorize—the facts in front of her.

One of her teachers—a Japanese physicist, whom I swear was the prototype for Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid—threw countless roadblocks in her way.

“Why waste your time with space?” he’d ask her. “Space is for boys. Dolls are for girls.”

She would march from his classroom and turn to face him just before leaving and flip him the bird.

He, on the other hand, would smile with smug contentment after she left, knowing he’d lit a fire beneath someone’s nettled knickers.

Word had it, that this man had come to America with the impassioned notion that the world needed more girls in math.

But apparently, he didn’t want ones that crumpled when facing adversity.

Walking into her bedroom was a bit like being a detective who opened the door belonging to a guy whose crazed neural network encompassed all four walls of the freakishly alarming one room apartment he lived in. Where equations were sprawled across every square inch of space, and yarn connected one spot to another, making the entire room feel like it was a massive, but not yet completed, macramé pot holder.

Understanding that this was a language I would never have the codes to decipher, I’d offer up encouragement from the safest quarters of my own comfort zones—stories.

Seeing her bleary eyes each morning, and the small, but growing bald spot patches where she would regularly grasp at fistfuls of hair—I first assumed out of frustration, but after taking into account the amount of information she was trying to consume, I came to believe it was in an effort to expand skull space—I would offer up my suggestions. I didn’t want her to give up.

“Why don’t we head to the library and check out some super stories about space adventure? Stories like Aliens Love Underpants, or The Martian Chronicles, or Ender’s Game, or (most important) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?

But with each book I brought home and encouraged her to read, they ended up buried beneath printed out specs of some new rocket booster. Or NASA flight mission reports. Or CDs that declared, you can learn how to speak Russian and Chinese in under ten minutes a day!

She didn’t want to read a space story.

She wanted to be a space story.

Countless times in this child’s life, I’ve stepped back and looked at the path she was traveling. It’s been riddled with potholes, roadblocks, detours, and burnt bridges. But it has also been abundantly sprinkled with mentors: sensei sword masters, Yodas, Gandalfs, and Dumbledores. Guides who have handed her a sword, a light saber, a wand.

Repeatedly realizing how out of depth I was, the best I could hope to do was step out of her way. I was not going to be the antagonist in my very own child’s heroic journey. I did not want to be her conflict, her disaster, her apocalyptic Death Star.

But I could keep her sword shiny, her lightsaber full of batteries, and her wand connected to Wi-Fi at night whilst she slept.

I looked for the places I belonged in her story. Many times I found it was on the sidelines taking notes. It’s what we writers do to nudge a story into place. It’s what we cheerleaders do to rally our heroes. It’s what we parents do to encourage our children.

Today, this child of mine studies aerospace engineering at MIT and is in the middle of her first summer internship with NASA.

It is a beautiful thing to realize that Thank God, you did not get in the way of someone else’s dream and hopefully, instead, pruned back the prickly path a tiny bit to make the journey a little bit easier.

I celebrate both of my children’s achievements as they come, and tell them about the importance of embracing each one of their failures along the way as well. There is no rising without falling.

Bungee02

Today we celebrate. Tomorrow we may bring back the bandages and antibiotic ointments that come with life’s splashdowns and spills. It is all part of the hero’s journey and there are no shortcuts around facing your dragons.

Today I am so happy for this child I find myself nearly bursting with joy. I seriously just want to take a bite out of her.

I’m guessing she will taste something like a submarine sandwich.

~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.

Why I Wrote DEAR OPL- Part 3

*Just a heads up to anyone new joining in–this is not my typical blog post. This is part 3 of 3 for a speech I’m preparing and posting here to get valuable feedback from my community. If you’re interested in joining in (and I so hope you are), and you’ve not had a chance to read part 1 or part 2, you might want to take a minute and get up to speed. I look forward to hearing what all of you have to say. It’s been wonderfully worthy and I thank every one of you for participating!

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

What’s in it?

My sleuthing skills progressed mainly because food labels showed up. I, therefore, became obsessed in the pursuit of truth.

I suspected that every chemical I read about on the back of a label and couldn’t identify was likely a form of my mother’s mystery ingredients I had to watch out for. The only things I could trust were foods in their whole and original form. And this is something our culture has removed us from in a very real and dangerous way.

Despite the higher intake of calories our western diets have had us adopt, people are hungry. We’re now eating more food than ever before yet we are starving for nutrients. And our bodies are yelling this fact out to us. We’re struggling with these massive and overwhelming cravings for sugar. It’s hugely addictive and, in fact, scientists have discovered rats will work eight times harder to get sugar than they will to get cocaine.

Our average modern diet is not providing the nourishment our bodies require for good health, and because of it, our bodies are suffering more insulin spikes than a tumultuous day on Wall Street.

Basically, we have an abundance of calories, but a shortfall of nutrients.

200615OPL_07 (800x688)

I find this to be a shocking and saddening state of affairs, but if you really want to hear something that will make the hair on your arms stand at attention, here’s another one of those eye-popping statistics I alluded to earlier:

The junk food industry spends about 2 billion dollars each year targeting children. One scary study found that elementary school kids in the US see an average of 254 ads from McDonalds each year. That’s just ONE company in the sea of junk food advertisers.

We are bombarded with media that dictates what we want, what we’re hungry for, what gadgets we’re desperate for, what will make us feel better about ourselves or our lives, and what will make us feel included. Kids are targeted even more so. It’s overwhelming and impossible for them to filter these messages or tune them out, and certainly challenging for them to interpret and identify how they are being subtly and not so subtly molded.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now reports that around 12.5 million children aged 2-19 are obese. And this is just in the United States. If you need a mental graphic that’s like nearly the entire population of Ecuador. Or how about this one—two Norways, a Botswana and a Liechtenstein. Worldwide we’re talking about 43 million kids.

Yeah, it’s a lot. Want to elevate that arm fur another notch? The World Health Organization estimates that in ten years time, over 70 million children globally will be obese. And the most alarming surprise? This number is only including children from ages 0 to 5.

Diet-related diseases are the biggest killers of human life. Far bigger than homicides, pneumonia, kidney disease, accidents. The statistics are jaw-dropping.

It makes you want to curl up in a ball and cry, doesn’t it?

Or we can do something about it.

Which brings us to part three: WHAT WE NEED TO DO

  1. No amount of exercise is going to help you run away from a bad diet.

It’s really hard to recognize a problem despite the fact that it’s growing right beneath our noses, mostly because it’s a fairly unremarkable one. It’s not remarkable because it’s become common.

We all know what a dog looks like—we’ve seen gobs of them over our lifetimes. Nothing too terribly novel about them from where we stand right now. But if you woke up one morning and looked outside and spotted a flying dog, you’d probably pause and really study the anomaly … until it wasn’t an anomaly anymore. If pretty soon flying dogs were just as common as grass, then no one would really see them any longer—which is what’s happening to our children. Obesity is becoming familiar, universal and ordinary.

We can’t let this happen.

It would be incredibly easy to point our extra pointy fingers at the heart of the problem and scream until we’re blue in the face at the food industry, but if any of you have ever been in a situation where you’ve pointed a finger at someone and assigned blame, I think you’ll also recall that they didn’t offer either an apology or any available energy to help solve the problem.

200615OPL_08 (800x497)

More often than not they likely gave you back a pointy finger as well—but facing in a different direction.

A better response might be to ask for partnership in problem-solving. Our food industries can make food education a top priority of their business. Help us shop, teach us how to cook, educate us about nutrition. A win for the public and a win for their public relations. Besides, it does not show savvy business sense to kill off your clientele.

The restaurant and fast food industry, which have gotten us hooked on the drugs of sugar, fat and salt by targeting consumers with their persuasive advertisements, could help wean us off the extremely unhealthful amounts or face selective taxation from the government to cover the skyrocketing cost of healthcare: a price tag we do not have the funds to pay for—no matter how far down into our purses we dig.

We need restrictions on advertising to children who are most vulnerable to these campaigns. We need to protect those who are easy targets, those who are easily preyed upon, and those who will suffer the most.

Also, we need clearer food labeling—something effortless and easy so consumers don’t have to count grams or teaspoons. Something like the proposed traffic light label. Red for high amounts of free sugars, yellow for mid-level amounts, and green for Go for it, buddy.

We need to give our children LIFE SKILLS. We can get in the kitchen with them, teach them the basics of nutrition, educate them about what they’re eating and illuminate how it will affect the quality and longevity of their lives. It’s going to be a mess, but maybe architects can start making kitchens with a large drain in the middle of the floor which allow you to just hose down the walls after a family cooking session.

We can take the necessary steps to overhaul our school lunch programs. And currently there are a handful of people pioneering over this treacherous landscape who are battling to illustrate that pizza should not be considered a vegetable because it has tomato sauce in it. Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters, Michelle Obama and Congressman Tim Ryan from Ohio are a few familiar names who have been leading the campaigns of international food revolutions. These folks are shaking up government nutritional guidelines, instituting school garden programs, and proposing ways to lower the cost of healthy foods so that everyone can have access to them. But there are many, many more who are working in the trenches and mostly without a spotlight. We need to support their endeavors.

The three points I’ve highlighted—what we eat, what we know, and what we need to do—are part of a task we need to knuckle down and get busy with—a cause we need to champion. Creating and implementing solutions to our epidemic is a global obligation we owe ourselves, our children and our children’s children.

We need a new killer slogan for our planet. Not a slogan that will kill us.

I propose something like this:

Planet Earth: come for the food, stay for the fun, die when you’re old.

200615OPL_09 (786x800)

 

~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.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Text No Evil

Here’s a scary fact:

There are two people inside of me.

170515voices (641x800)

Okay, wait. That sounded much more alarming than I wanted it to. Let’s try that again.

I hear two voices.

Nope. That doesn’t really work either.

And this has nothing to do with the whole author thing where we train ourselves to get inside a character’s head and write from their perspective, which, when you really think about it could be considered a bit invasive and creepy.

170515head (573x800)

What I’m actually talking about are the conversations behind conversations. The things that come out of one’s mouth when in dialogue with another versus the things that get whispered, grumbled or screamed inside your head and nobody but the real you is there to hear.

We all do it, so there’s no need to fear I need a few week’s rest in the nearest laughing academy—although a softly padded rubber room and a nurse with a needle full of snoozing juice could be considered a worthy vacation at this point in time. I may reevaluate the idea.

It’s just that lately I’ve become more aware of how loud that inner voice is growing.

Maybe it’s the fact that I have teenagers and realize that no matter how hard I try, putting parental lessons in my best Disney Princess Voice is no longer a viable tactic, but my Nurse Ratched routine isn’t gonna fly either.

170515ratched (800x626)

Or it might be that I’m preparing a series of presentations to schoolchildren about food and have this desperate desire to get on my hands and knees, grab them by the shoulders and shout that “Scientists have discovered rats will work eight times harder to get sugar than they will to get cocaine!” Except this will have me escorted out classrooms and libraries faster than a gun fight in a phone booth.

The art of communication is tricky.

I think we all probably remember that well-drilled-in childhood lesson stating If you don’t have anything nice to say, maybe you’re not cut out for social media—or something like that. But I’m realizing that of late I’m growing quite desperate to allow my inner ‘best if kept caged’ thoughts to escape and run rampant.

Many of these urges happen when I’m texting. There’s the response I actually text, and then the response I actually say while typing out the text. Oftentimes they’re contradictory, or one is passable for the National Security Agency’s eyes and the other is my “air text” which is the message my fingers were itching to type.

And I’m getting pretty good at spotting the air texts written by other folks as well. Especially those of my kids. A typical conversation might go something like this:

Hey Mom?

Hi, Bud. What’s up? (read: Why are you texting me in the middle of the school day? You’d better not be in trouble. Is there a police officer standing next to you?)

I’m not feeling good. (read: I’m sick of school.)

And? (read: Ask the office for an Advil and head back to math, Mister.)

I think I need to come home. (read: I’m so not ready for the chemistry quiz.)

Sorry to hear that. (read: Suck it up, buddy.)

170515hydra (616x800)

I just need to get into bed. (read: I really want to watch the next five episodes of Archer.)

Are you sure you can’t stick it out? (read: If you think you’re skipping out on the rest of the afternoon to binge watch Netflix you’re about to be sorely surprised.)

No. Please call the office and get me excused. (read: Show some mercy here, Mom. I CAN’T TAKE THAT QUIZ!)

Fine. (read: Did you hear how loud my sigh was? It was deafening on my end.)

I have to stop and get gas on my way home. (read: I need snacks while I binge watch Archer.)

You’d better have a raging fever and be tossing your cookies once you open the front door. (read: There actually wasn’t any finger itching air text here. I sometimes actually write what I mean.)

I think it may be more challenging to squish a troublesome inner voice if you’re naturally a snarky individual, or determined not to be judged by the size of your brain but rather the size of a brain you’re convinced you deserve, or if you’re nearly certain there’s an 18th century sharp-tongued fisherman’s wife controlling your vocal chords—all of which are true, and do not make the task an easy one.

170515fishwife (586x800)

On the flipside, these growing urges to speak my mind may stem from a healthy diet of female empowerment slam poetry Youtube videos or maybe just an extra large serving of Beyonce lyrics—it doesn’t matter. The point is, the older I become, the more ankle I want to show.

Or perhaps it’s simply a matter of deciphering what are the most important messages I need to get across and what’s the most precise manner in which to do so.

Maybe those extra voices in my head fighting to be heard aren’t all brash and uncouth. Maybe it’s not tact I’m fighting for, but truth I’m fighting against. Maybe with each successive year I’m realizing the unbridled freedom of truly saying what I mean.

Or it could be that I forgot to take my meds this morning.

Time will tell I suppose. It will surely reveal if any of these musings are worthy and will likely determine where my next vacation will be.

~Shelley (or Sybil)

*ROBIN GOTT’S NEWEST 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.

Two Can Play at That Game

THWACK! is a beautiful sound.

So is SSLRP!

These are two noises I easily associate with my youth, and, in particular, my youth while around my dad. We’re playing softball. He pitches, I swing, he catches.

Rinse and repeat.

These buzzy, breezy, warm summer afternoons are all snugly tucked deep into the depths of my childhood memory treasure chest.

I’m also totally addicted to the sound of PING and PONG.

100515pingpong (800x354)

These tiny blips of sound snippets fill the space between my son and myself as we face one another and focus on the small, plastic white ball that rapidly zips between us.

It is an addiction we share—this undeniable craving to master the trajectory of an object in motion as well as the desire to outwit one’s opponent.

I’m not sure which one is more important to me—skill or sagacity.

Okay, maybe crushing my challenger ekes out smidge above pure talent, but surely I cannot be blamed for that. Perhaps that is Mother Nature’s way of saying, Genetically, this version of a person doesn’t totally suck. Let’s make her a fighter and see what happens in the wild.

Table tennis was another one of those gladdening games my father took the time to teach each one of his kids. It didn’t require an enormous amount of exertion, but rather focused on hand-eye coordination with a hefty sprinkling of on your feet, forward thinking dexterity. Not something your average nine-year-old has mastered, but if you set up a rigid, unrelenting schedule of early rising, all day training under the guidance of a brutal drill sergeant, your proficiency skyrockets.

Except, we didn’t do that.

My training was filled with way too much giggling to be taken seriously.

And it is what I love most about playing ping pong with my son.

When put into the same room with a sixteen-year-old boy, one often struggles—nay, labors with intense strain to find common ground—a place where he can hear my parental pearls of wisdom and I can be assured that his language skills still exist and are being exercised.

And one must toil in this manner if one hopes for a future where one is not surrounded by a group of unfortunate, drooling elderly who feast on antipsychotics for breakfast, sit for much of the day slumped in a wheelchair and chew on their hands for entertainment.

No. I’ve documented these last few years, and will continue to do so, in an effort to prove to my son that even though most psychologists agree there is no other reasonable explanation for why teenagers behave the way they do other than the fact that aliens have covertly swooped in one night and sucked out their brains,

100515straucers (800x677)exchanging it for the contents of a jar of Marshmallow Fluff, I will not resort to the easiest solution. I will not institutionalize him as long he will not institutionalize me.

Seems fair enough, right?

Therefore, through the rigors of trial and error, we have hunted to find a shared activity. I have discovered that getting our nails done together is out. Watching soapy chick flicks with a pitcher of margaritas between us is definitely out. And sharing the writing of this week’s flowery batch of rhapsodic fan mail to Neil deGrasse Tyson will likely be a flop as well.

We are left with sports.

Since one must bend to the lowest common denominator here— meaning my son cannot/will not attempt baton twirling or curling on ice, and I have more than a little bit of trouble throwing myself in front of a soccer ball traveling at breakneck speed, we are left with some softer athletic choices.

Ping pong it is.

We’ve spent a couple of months sizing one another up. It’s been years since I’ve played competitively … okay, I’ve never played table tennis competitively, but I am a very competitive player—and my son knows that. I usually don’t shy away from the ball, unless he is attempting to lodge it in the space between my eyes. And as much as I’ve requested that these games between us do not include any skeletal denting, I’ve also told him not to go all soft on me.

I aim to beat him.

Because the point of this endeavor is to teach him how to be a good loser.

Thus far, we have lost seven ping pong balls—four to the dog who sees them as neutral flavored, un-legged white mice,

100515mouse (800x767)two behind the ancient organ that magically sucks them up and transports them through a Wurlitzer wormhole into another dimension, and one to a full, crushing body slam that may have damaged a few internal organs, but was impressive enough to justify.

We have both lost a layer or two of some of the skin that protects our hands, arms, and hips, as the sides of the ping pong table are about as sharp as Winston Churchill’s rapier wit.

100515winnie (749x800)

And we have lost hours of precious playing time arguing whether or not a ball was on the line, off the line or possessed by a demonic spirit that should not be attributed to our skills or lack thereof.

If my aim was to teach my son how to lose graciously in life, I think I’d have to admit to having learned the same lesson.

When it comes down to it, we’ve lost ourselves … in the fun of it all.

~Shelley

*ROBIN GOTT’S NEWEST 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.

 

How to Get Off to a Flying Start

In the last two and one-half weeks, I’ve gone to three different airports, four times. None of them have been for any adventures penciled into my calendar. I’ve simply gotten to play chauffeur to the accumulation of sky miles for others.

Both happen to be my children.

Neither happens to be aware of a little thing the rest of us cling to—like a clock.

030515clock (676x800)

And although I may occasionally skate into appointments with barely five ticks before classified as officially late, commercial aviation does not provide a slushy window of time for takeoff, and therefore I don’t muck about with where they draw the line. In fact, it is rocking horse manure rare to find an airliner that will keep their engines running on idle for that one desperate passenger who is racing to the gate and will arrive in 8.2 more seconds.

030515horsyhuggies (800x626)

That’s right. I think we’re all fairly well acquainted with the gate agents that see you barreling toward them, child tucked under one arm, briefcase slung around your neck, one hand thrust out in front of you with boarding pass in full view and your mouth wide open, stretching out the word WAIT and who then quickly shut the mobile hallway just as you skid to a stop in front of them.

030515wait (628x800)

They didn’t hear you screaming wait?

Of course, they didn’t.

You were traveling faster than the speed of sound during that last thirty-yard dash.

Who could blame them?

Therefore, I make sure to leave plenty of time to arrive at an airport so I’ve got extra minutes enough to get to the gate and go to the bathroom. Or back through security and out to the car because I’ve forgotten my phone adapter. Or the 1 ½ hour trip back home because I may or may not have remembered to turn off the sprinkler.

I like to be prepared.

These last few trips to the airport had me rethinking my previous bubble of cushioned clock ticks against the departure hour. On each occasion, we pulled into the airport parking lot and dashed. After thanking any and all deities for allowing my kids to get through the snaking security lines, to their gates and into their assigned seats, I realized I needed to back up our EDT.

The problem was me—not them. They were behaving as teenagers behave. I, on the other hand, was behaving as if I was just me and not transporting teenagers.

Teenagers need extra time to do things like:

– drop off their car at a different airport because they are not flying in and out of the same one, or

– stop at the drugstore on the way because they made a last minute request for much needed refills on prescriptions, or

– squeeze in a quick shower, a meal and a minor outpatient surgery.

It could be any of these things.

Or all of them.

Since I was the driver, I was the one wearing the mantle of responsibility.

030515mantle (660x800)

 

And that is a hefty cloak that refuses to render you invisible when plans go pear-shaped—like in my latest adventure with my son.

“I’ll meet you after school and we’ll go straight to the airport from there.”

No, Mom. I have to drop my car off at the regional airport in town because that’s where my return flight lands.

“Huh. Okay. Well, that adds a few minutes to the trip, but we’ll still be fine. I’ll meet you in the parking lot.”

(On route, I come across a traffic snarl, backtrack and then phone my son.)

“Hey bud, there appears to be an accident at the intersection of Polo and Branchwater, so don’t take the main thoroughfare. Use the back route.”

Yeah, sure. Where are you?

“I just told you, and now I’m reversing my route because of the accident and will be about three minutes late meeting you. See you in the parking lot.”

(I arrive in the lot and surprise, surprise—no son. So I phone.)

“Where are you, kiddo?”

I’m in a long line of standing traffic, Mom! It looks like there’s been some accident up ahead.

“Where. Are. You.”

Not far from Polo and Branchwater.

“Did you not hear me say there was an accident there just five minutes ago?”

There was an accident? Why didn’t you tell me?

*face palm*

030515palmface (549x800)

These precious gems are all tucked away into the of ‘Let’s Laugh About Them Later’ album, but throw two or three of these in succession into the ‘Best Laid Plans of Moms and Managers,’ and you’ve got yourself the makings of minor apoplectic fit.

As I prefer my heartbeat to be one that mostly goes unnoticed, and I’m steadfast in my refusal to support the pharmaceutical industry any further with additional prescriptions meant to alleviate the harrowing conditions brought on by guiding one’s offspring through the last couple of treacherous years up to adulthood, I am girding my loins for the next teen interaction and request for transport before take-off. It will go something like this:

Hey, Mom? Will you drop me off at the airport next week? I’ve got an interview for my summer internship.

“You betcha. Let me just grab my purse and keys. I’ll meet you in the car.”

Mom, the flight doesn’t leave for three days.

“You’re right. We may be cutting it close.”

~Shelley

*ROBIN GOTT’S NEWEST 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.

We Need to Talk

I talk to my dog a lot.

Occasionally, I’ll exchange a few lyrical syllables with my cat.

190415syllables (516x800)

When my teenagers are around—and if you’ve ever owned a couple, you’ll know that the frequency of those events diminish exponentially in relation to the number of Facebook friends they acquire—I remind myself to listen instead of lecture. Well, that’s the plan anyway.

But ‘talking’ is something I’m going to have to get good at—and fast. Because if you publish a book, history tells us that the success of that book reaching the hands of interested readers only happens if you actually announce it exists.

And you have to announce this A LOT.

But this is a problem. For me anyway.

Public speaking is something I used to do and got paid for it. But three things were categorically different back then. One – I was pretty young. Two – this was the music industry. And three – I knew that most of the individuals in the audience were three sheets to the wind and wouldn’t remember what I’d said in the morning if they found themselves presented with a pop quiz at breakfast.

This time, it’s a whole new kettle of fish. Or ballgame. Or can of worms if you really love clichés—which I don’t, and avoid like the plague.

190415cliche (800x536)

As a young mother, I got used to the idea that repetition was key to remembering. I lived by the book of layering life skills—which is just a fancy way of saying that I came to realize what all newbie parents realize: gurgling, wobbling infants have precious little recollection of you spending an inordinate about of time warning them that they should never do drugs, discover what inspires them, and always check the expiration date on a quart of milk before drinking from it.

Therefore, I got really good at repeating myself. Ad nauseum. And this is pretty much what my children have decided is my name translated into Latin.

And speaking about my upcoming book would be a helluva lot easier if that was the only book I have written and was still steeped within its plot, characters, and setting. But I’m not. I am two and a half books ahead of it, and writing a blog, and critiquing other writers’ manuscripts,

190415books (800x742)

 

and continually in the process of creating new untraceable identities for myself in order to keep one step ahead of the British legal system that is in pursuit of an unpaid parking ticket. Yes, the sign said ‘Diplomatic cars only.’ But after a quick conversation with my rental car, I immediately surmised it was extraordinarily tactful. It qualified.

190415cars (800x568)

My point is, I can’t keep everything straight, and some things I’ve allowed to leak out of my head in order to make room for others. And not having a well-organized memory palace, I’ve forgotten in which rooms I’ve placed important people and data.

How many folks will be willing to sit in front of me at the podium and patiently wait while I attempt to recall if this was the book where I wrote about my passion for all things related to the US Postal Service, or if it was the one where I canonized the inner workings of college dormitory laundry facilities and the secrets withheld by the Dean of Sanitation? I think we can safely assume I’ll be offered a short grace period of substance summoning.

That said, my desk is becoming littered with sticky notes, wall pasted pages, and 3D models made from deli plastic spoons all meant to keep fresh in my mind the topics I will soon be rattling on about. And these desperate attempts to solidify needed data in my head are bleeding over into more areas than just my workspace.

I’ve got a chart of bullet points in the bathroom.

Opening up the fridge reveals a list of statistics that illustrates the bullet points.

Turning back the duvet on my bed uncovers the twelve most helpful and amazing memory tricks—three of which I am capable of remembering—and it also uncovers cat hair. Apparently someone else in my household is determined to ward of dementia.

Or maybe she’s got a lecture coming up and our calendars have not yet synced.

I’ve also forced myself to listen to a lot of podcasts about public speaking and body language, because apparently even if you have the most dynamic ability to recall your sparkling speech, it can be wholly disconcerting if the only things barely moving are your upper and lower lips and you’re in a death lock gripping stare with the coffee pot on the refreshment table.

I get it.

Move about. Engage in eye contact with the entire room. Make sweeping arm gestures, but not ones that will leave folks wondering if you’re signaling for help or attempting to land a Boeing 757.

And change the pitch of your voice but don’t display any vocal fry. Not too high, nor too low, don’t swallow your words, nor over pronounce them. Use the mic, try to project, speak from the diaphragm, make sure you’ve got all your teeth in—the list goes on.

Preparing to speak in front of a crowd is about as nerve-wracking as being an intern who is allowed into your first surgical experience and handed the job of holding onto the life-preserving clamped aorta just before being warned by the nurse opposite you that you should be careful because Nigel, the anesthesiologist, is quite the practical joker and loves to sneak up on first year residents and catch them off guard by tickling them under the armpits.

So I’m trying to get prepared. For all the upcoming talking.

At the rate things are going, with all the hazards, pitfalls, and potential snags, I may just talk myself right out of talking altogether.

~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.

Related articles

 

 

 

 

 

Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate

When hearing the term “spring break” many of us easily conjure up the images of families taking off for that one last round of late winter skiing, or finding a child-friendly cruise, with wallet-friendly options. We see ourselves organizing the garage, and sifting through closets, a cathartic cleanse that gifts us new space. And it’s especially easy to picture a throng of college students making their way en masse toward sandy white beaches far removed from the cramped, windowless lecture halls they’ve occupied through dark winter months.

But this year spring break was anything but the above depictions. For me, that is. And I think for my daughter too.

This year I spent the time uneasy and restless, tense and observant. I spent it hoping to hear the words in someone else’s thoughts. I needed to measure the struggle, my daughter’s level of distress.

Her campus was in crisis mode, all parents on high alert. The same lamentable word refused to be muted, would not release its steadfast grip.

Suicide.

It is a word that strikes through the strength of a family and weakens the backbone of a community. It is an action that brings us to our knees with the senseless loss from an unheard cry.

Chronic stress is a familiar disease most every college student is acquainted with. Its unforgiving malady inflicts academic anxiety, depletes crucial sleep, and unleashes widespread social struggles, challenging our children to fit in somewhere new in someplace foreign.

A known and nerve-wracking fact among parents and educators, the leading cause of death among university students is suicide. The statistics are varied, and we brace ourselves to hear of the wretched news. One is horrifically tragic. A second is a spreading concern.

But five?

Five within one year? And all on one campus.

It left me desperate to talk to my child … and to hear my child talk.

I wanted her home, with me where I could see her. But I forced a stillness within myself, remembering that she was attempting to build herself a new home. To stretch and redefine who she was. To discover where she will next belong.

We’d speak on the phone. I’d offer her words. But words are paltry and may only provide an anemic effect. It’s nearly impossible to feel you are getting an accurate reading in a situation such as this. It is a terrible tug of war. The wanting. The wanting to rush someplace and fix something. But that is not always the answer.

Your answer is not always their answer.

In the last 19 ½ years I have known this child, a few things have bubbled to the surface to claim the top box if she were filling out an application profile, describing who she is. It’s likely she’d say:

A scientist

A musician

An activist

But there is a tiny little baker buried deep inside her that materializes when in desperate need to combat ironfisted stress.

When spring break arrived, I met her at the airport. Encased in a hug that I hoped echoed a million words of warmth, I breathed her in. I’d missed the spice of her hair, the honeyed notes of her perfume.

I took her home—and not to a beach, the garage or the slopes. To no great surprise her personal Pillsbury Doughboy punched in daily on his flour-dusted time clock. Within minutes of arriving, he had transformed my kitchen into a satellite city patisserie.

Dorms consider a communal kitchen to be a closet with a microwave from 1957. College cafeterias are considered fresh and contemporary if they could advertise they’ve been cooking ‘nose to tail’ recipes long before it was considered hip, and were nearly certain there was a fork somewhere in the utensil bin that was dedicated as “peanut free.”

Winters can be bleak and mournful if the closest you can come to home cooking are dorm room banned candles crafted to smell like meatloaf and chocolate chip cookies.

My kitchen became an invisible big-bosomed therapist, warm from the heat of the oven, smelling of Madagascar vanilla, and costing a considerable amount of money which insurance companies would never reimburse under the umbrella of preventative healthcare.

It didn’t matter.

I savored the fact that she was home. And day by day the smudgy, dark circles beneath her eyes—the circles I at first took for a potential dabble into a late teen Goth phase, but knew were the result of a schedule where sleep was rarely granted before 3am—slowly faded. I would not have been surprised to see her drop her bag at the end of her childhood bed, fall prone and not rise until I told her it was time to head back.

But there was that urge to bake. To turn the bitter into sweet.

Every day the pantry was scoured, the fridge was raided, and recipe books were consulted. Every day something fragrant appeared in finished form, its come hither whispers accompanied by an invisible finger, crooked and beckoning.

There were mounds of muffins and breads, cookies and tarts. Chocolate covered confections and lime zested pies. Graham crackers married sticks of butter and served as a crumbly hug for whatever they embraced. Coconuts and pecans toasted themselves beneath the fiery, wiry heat of a broiler set to suntan. Apples, dates, bananas and carrots had every gram of sugar coaxed out of them with the deep calm of an individual lazily spinning through the quiet hours of an unnoticed afternoon.

Day by day, ample perfumes mingled with each other to signify a steadily budding state of grace.

Taste this.

Eat that.

Try those.

Little words, big flavors, potential aid promising relief.

Every day I told myself, Okay, either she’s going to run out of steam, or I’m going to run out of ingredients. The end is near.

The “End” did not arrive until I returned her and her tiny duffle bag to the airport where she was soon whisked back to seven more weeks of muddling through those stressors she’d left; the disquieting uneasiness locked behind a dorm room door and strewn about a grief-stricken campus.

The list of things I have to offer this child may be rapidly diminishing in terms of parental care, but there is still comfort. I will hold what she cannot contain, I will hear what she cannot say, and I will eat what she cannot finish.

She may not have had a traditional respite from school this year, less spring break more spring bake. But I hope it was what she needed.

When I walk into a space that is filled with the heady aroma of caramelizing sugar, I am immediately reminded of my daughter. Transported to a nearly tangible encounter, it is at once comforting and then painful. It is something I wish I could return to those heartbroken parents—the unmistakable scent of their child.

120415springbreak3

~Shelley

Related articles

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.

Diabesities: Our Young Brood’s Battle with the Bulge.

Everybody loves surprises, right?

Well, I suppose it depends upon the kind of surprise. The Hey, you just won a year’s worth of dental hygiene! could be nice. A Mom, I passed physics! is pretty worthy. And Your book is going to be made into a movie! is a phone call I am so hoping will come one day.

The surprises many of us would rather not face down the pike are:

Yep, see that there crack, ma’am? Looks like you’re gonna need a whole new foundation.

070914crack (800x750)

 

Or: What? You’re pregnant with triplets … again?

 

And of course: Hey, honey. My mother is moving in with us. Surprise!

070914miliab (792x800)

Obviously these bombshell examples aren’t things we regularly have to get used to, but I’d like to make you aware of a few eye-popping truths that have become the new standard for normal around our planet.

1.) 43 million children under 5 are overweight or obese.

2.) 1/3 of kids born after the year 2000 will develop diabetes.

3.) The number one source of calories in the United States is from high fructose corn syrup.

4.)  43% of pilots admit to falling asleep during their flight. 33% of them wake to find that their co-pilot is out cold as well.

Yes, folks, the numbers are rising, just like those of the Earth’s temperature and most countries’ national debt. The stats I’m focusing on today are strictly numbers 1-3. Number 4 was thrown in simply for your armchair amusement, and your in-flight horror.

The bad news is that today’s generation of children will be the first to have a shorter lifespan that that of their parents.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

The great news is that it’s super easy to flip these numbers because the only thing standing in the way of our children’s health is our children.

Oh, and the media.

Oops, and their friends.

Yeah … and the school cafeterias.

Alright, maybe we ought to back up to the statement that simply reveals the good news bit, because once we realize what it is we’re up against, the odds for growing healthy human beings seems nearly insurmountable.

How do one or two parents launch an effective campaign for their children’s health that can stand up to billions of dollars in marketing, peer pressure and the common sense of legislation that states lunchroom pizza can be considered a vegetable because it has tomato sauce on it?

Go figure.

The food industry spends over two billion dollars a year with advertisements that target kids alone. TWO BILLION WITH A “B!”

And 98% of those ads are for foods that are high in fat, sugar and sodium—and fat, sugar and sodium are hugely addictive. They become things you can’t live without, like air and water and Facebook.

But unlike air and water and social media, those products of the food industry are nearly nutrition-less and only benefit drug companies who develop insulin related medications, Weight Watchers, and clothing manufacturers who charge by the square inch.

For those of you who are in command of stocking the fridge, I’m sure you’re familiar with the rule of thumb that one should never go grocery shopping while hungry. For those of you with children, there’s the extra add-on that one should never go grocery shopping with anyone who has learned to point and speak. With pointing and speaking comes nagging, and marketers have done studies to determine that it takes an average of “nine nags” for the typical child to convince a parent to give in and give over. Nine.

070914want (641x800)

That’s one above parental patience—where one disciplines while maintaining a princess Disney voice—and one below that combustible threshold I learned about in my daughter’s science project. Kaboom.

So while my kids were growing up, I found it was safer if they stayed home. A win win for all of us. They didn’t see the blazing, tantalizing come-hither advertisements placed directly at their eyeball level, and I didn’t get escorted out of the supermarket for hijacking the public address system, begging that anyone with a Xanax for me and duct tape for my kids would please come to aisle five for some serious cleanup.

Yep. Win win.

But this only lasts so long, because sooner than you know, the cat is out of the bag and your kids are off to school. This is where all the forces of good are overwhelmed by evil and your children declare you to be Satan.

They come home one day, slam the front door while tossing their tiny book bags to the floor and shout:

“Nobody else plants their own food!”

“None of the other kids have gone on monthly fieldtrips to local farms in order to watch dinner be chosen, slaughtered and butchered!”

“And not a one of them were told that they must study the stupid French technique of making duck confit because that helps with riding a bike!”

Oh? I say. And did you also crush their belief in all things sacred by telling them that chicken actually has bones?

070914cathat (501x800)

I have grown immune to their evil glares, but I refuse to ignore what’s happening to our kids and their declining health. It can be easy to shrug and wave the white flag of surrender, but I for one look awful in white and refuse to do so. I will continue to fight this worthy battle. And I’m doing it with my words.

Words are pretty powerful things. They move us, convince us, enrage us, and enlighten us. I’ve become so determined to help in the growing campaign for kids’ health that I wrote a book to tackle the subject, by tickling kids’ funny bones. I’m not sure if it will have an impact, but my fingers are crossed it will touch at least one or two folks. And if it helps one or two, that might have a ripple effect elsewhere.

But just to be clear, no one needs a book to make an impact. You just need to know you have a vote.

Folks are often surprised to remember their voice actually counts. The simplest way to do that is by deciding where your dollars, pounds and shekels will go.

And I bet the food industry will be pretty surprised to find a growing chunk of folks are fed up with the baloney they’re trying to feed our families.

It’s hard to initiate change—especially when you feel it’s a case of Muhammad and the mountain. But as I always say, if you’re going to eat an elephant, you’ve got to take it one bite at a time. And bringing better health to our kids is a battle I’d bet most of us are willing to fight.

That should come as no surprise.

~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.

Related articles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Get Found by Losing Your Way.

Orientation is a concept I spent a lot of time thinking about this last weekend as I helped move my daughter into her new digs at university. From the moment I put the key into the ignition and the car into drive until I parked my automobile snugly into the garage returning home, I was in a constant state of getting my bearings.

As a writer, one is schooled to continually practice the art of noticing.

The teenager sitting beside me rarely noticed anything that wasn’t coming into view on the flat screen of her smart phone.

070914teenager (800x762)

There is a vast difference between us. We orient ourselves in completely different ways.

We both learn about the world using our eyes, but mine make grand sweeping gestures east to west and north to south, taking in trees and buildings, street signs and faces, while hers make a minuscule movement barely left and right of center—just enough to absorb the bazillion articles on Reddit that tell everyone reading what’s happening in the world today.

070914reddit (800x427)

But at least we know what’s unfolding around us.

We both use our ears to scope out sound. As we sit in a lecture hall, in front of a panel of teachers, advisors, administrators and staff, I soak up the voices and what they say: the chief of campus police—serious and dour, the dean of students—confident and erudite, the chair of the physics department—stumped by all the befuddled faces, the university healthcare representative—thoroughly weary from repeatedly answering the same question, just posed in a different accent.  The incoming freshman I’ve placed in the seat next to mine has used her ears as a holder for two pieces of electronics and plastic in order to block out the ambient voices and welcome in somebody else’s streaming from iTunes.

070914befuddled (800x724)

 

I look at the distance we need to maneuver from one end of campus to the other and pull out a map; she hears the phrase lovely walk and clicks on an app to hail a cab.

We pass by groups of kids and I scan the clusters of faces from all ends of the earth and say, “It’s going to be wonderful getting to know so many new people from places you’ve never been.” She replies, “I already know most of them. We’ve all met on Facebook.”

070914cluster (551x800)

The list of activities–the get to know you parties–are poles apart from what would ease me into my new surroundings had I been the newcomer on campus.

Come build a rollercoaster!

Edible LEGO bricks. Let’s eat our architecture!

100 somewhat illegal uses for all your tech gadgets—shhh.

070914kfl (599x800)

 

Yeah, my university mixers were more of the sort that announced: We’re having a pizza party in the Student Union. Come meet your mascot.

I watched a kid zoom by on a ten speed bike powered by a chain saw. I heard music coming out of a speaker that looked like a small Oreo. I saw someone typing words onto a screen, which would have been fine apart from the fact that there was no keyboard beneath her fingers.

I was now completely disoriented.

By the end of the day I had amassed a file full of papers—everything from phone numbers to calendars, lecture notes to course requirements. I turned to my teen, “I’ve got spares for you too because I noticed you weren’t taking any.”

She waved her phone at me. “Got it all right here.”

Smart phone. A helluva lot smarter than me.

We bring the last of her gear up to her dorm room. “Do you want me to remind you how to do your laundry?”

“Nope. I’ll YouTube it.”

“Shall I walk you to the university’s clinic and campus police?”

“Already Google-Mapped it, Mother.”

“How bout I—”

Smart phone is waved in my face.

070914utube (580x800)

It is clear I have been replaced by an app. By copper and wiring and eye tracking and satellites. This is her world not mine. It is fast, it is immediate, it is clever and it is made for a group of brains that do not see the world as I see it.

I collected my things and we walked to my car. I looked at my daughter and thought about our positions in the universe, how I would find my way back home, how I would go back to what was familiar and well-worn, and how I’d be recalibrating life and adjusting to the “new normal.”

So much of the weekend was, in truth, an orientation meant for me. I watched this young woman and all her peers around us utilize unfamiliar signs, and oftentimes unreadable directions, leading them confidently down their new path.

There really was nothing left to do apart from stand aside and lovingly snip the last threads of that invisible umbilical cord between us. I let her go … wireless.

~Shelley

August 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 August!

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

Related articles

The story of your life.

As you read this, I want you to envision how I would probably appear if I were standing in front of you, holding out a cup of tea and offering up an appreciative smile for having the courage to come back after the massive five part series adventure of last month.

170814thanks (636x800)

I am probably bleary-eyed, brain-fogged, and dressed in the same war-torn, weed-hacking, stiff with mosquito repellant clothes I’ve been throwing on for the last four days simply because I’ve no time to take the extra few steps into my closet and find something fresh to wear. Time is ticking exponentially faster with each glance I make at the clock, and I can’t seem to stop it.

These are the last few days I’m helping to prepare (read—preparing) my daughter for her shove off from home and toward the land of her personal Edutopia.

University looms in front of us.

170814uni (591x800)

Hitching a ride with the rising buildings of academia are the rising fears of what lies beneath the phrases I’ve been shouting lately:

Have you finished your orientation registration forms?

Did you fax your immunization records to the Health Screening Office on campus?

What are all these boxes of clothes for? You’re moving into a dorm room the size of large broom closet. All you need are pajamas and a lab coat!

Yeah, there’s fear here. And excitement, and panic, and tenderness and uncertainty. Volumes of emotional exposure.

But these chapters are what make up life. The living part of life—not the hiding from it.

When I look back at the last few years of raising my children—no, these two young adults who still occasionally come to me for food, money, transportation and every once in a blue moon advice–I clearly see the one thing I wanted both of them to become:

Mistake-ridden.

This is a description I’ve encouraged them to develop for as many years as they’ve been drawing breath. I do not want a safe life for either one of them—nor for myself. I want them to acknowledge their fears, discover their weaknesses, and expose their raw and shatterable insecurities. I want them to stumble, to fall and to fail. And I want them to do this wholeheartedly with an openness to adventure and a liability for results.

And then I want them to repeat this process until they draw their very last breath.

For only by doing so will they touch upon the magnificence of courage.

I don’t want to see these two people standing on the sidelines. I want them inside the game. Sitting at the table. Winning and losing, losing and winning. I want them to show up, knees knocking with nerves, a heart hammering with upheaval and a stomach fluttering with butterflies. I want them to be brave enough to know that even though they may be rejected, they will never look back with ruefulness and self-reproach because timidity held them back.

170814showingup (703x800)

Another year of school begins for both of them next week. My messages have been steady and repetitive:

Be hungry, but feed others.

Listen and lead.

Don’t hide, unmask yourself and try.

Get up, get up, GET UP.

I know it’s a lot to ask. I know it’s fraught with embarrassment and pain and mounting self-doubt. It’s an accumulation of scabs and scars and long-healing wounds. But the alternative is bland. It will never leave them breathless. It has a bitter aftertaste. It is an all-encompassing folding in and shriveling up. It is effortless—and my coaching has been all about living an effortful life.

The world is a series of doors waiting not for a tentative knock, but for a hand that tries the latch. It is a succession of thresholds—those moments where you are on the brink of something, but only if you make the necessary, scary steps toward the edge of the precipice. Life is a giant leap of trust into a glistening pool of risk. It is cold and brutal, shocking and raw—yes, but it is also triumphant.

170814risk (800x458)

And what do our children truly need to accomplish these directives? This chalk talk for the game of life? These instructions that promise them a life profoundly lived?

Nothing more than vulnerability and curiosity.

Nothing more than pajamas and a lab coat.

~Shelley

PS. As shortly I shall be neck deep in all things dorm room and parent orientation related, and as Robin has worked his pencils down to the barest of nubs and is in search of replacements, the show will go dark next week. But we will return the following weekend, full of stories and full of life. Fully written and illustrated for YOU.

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

Related articles

Rockets and a lot of Red Glares (part 5)

This is it. The concluding chapter. The final phase of this fantastic tale Hopefully Not a Waste in Space. This is where our hero’s outcome and the outcome of her heroic journey are finally unveiled.

And in my attempt to liken this to a finely structured story, it’s broken down into bite-sized bits for ease of mastication.

We have had the Big Goal: This is where our protagonist—sweet child ‘o mine—launches her balloon—SkyHAB (sky high altitude balloon, carrying what I swear is nothing more than a giant cloud urinal) 100,000 feet upward, with fingers crossed, to capture space data – Episode One.

Next we came upon The Crisis: SkyHAB launched, but the GPS landlubbered. The balloon was untethered and unaccounted for. We petitioned the US Government for a reimbursement of paid taxes that went toward defective global spyware and are awaiting our refund which should arrive any day after the twelfth of Dream On – Episode Two.

Following that was the Recommitment to the Goal: WE LOCATED SKYHAB!  … sort of – Episode Three.

At last we came to The Climax: The hunt for SkyHAB was filled with deadly peril. It ended with a heart-palpitating car chase and potential capture by Lizzie Borden’s grandson. Was this the end for the balloon and our young scientist with behemothic book smarts but space cadet street smarts? – Episode Four.

And finally, The Dénouement or The Reveal: I’d spill the beans, but then you may never read further then the end of this sentence.

So much tension you could practically string this story between two toothpicks and walk across it.

Ah, the makings of a tale that falls a few levels below Dreamworks, but a notch above your average 9th grade history newsreel. And one we can wrap up tout de suite. Because I’m sure many of you are wondering whether or not my child is still alive.

100814toot (800x557)

I was too.

For twenty minutes I sat staring at the phone willing it to ring, wondering and panicking at the thought that my daughter had been nabbed by a child snatcher who was following her as she attempted to recover her balloon, parachute and THE PAYLOAD in the middle of no-cell-hell. And every three minutes I phoned her with nothing but her snarky voicemail message to taunt me.

Hi, you’ve reached Chloe. Leave me your details and I’ll call you back … if I like you.

I paced. Did deep breathing exercises. Stared at Google Earth and its wretchedly slow updates. I made an award winning sculpture of the Hubble telescope with nothing more than plastic spoons and recycled tin foil.

Twenty-two minutes after loss of contact the phone rang.

“Hey,” Chloe said.

“HEY???” I echoed. “Hey? I was about to phone 911! What happened?”

“Oh, him? Yeah, he was weird. We may need a sizeable back up team. No worries. I’m on my way. What’s for dinner? I’m starvin’ Marvin.”

*face palm*

Two days later was the big senior project seminar. My daughter had to give a couple of presentations to explain her adventures and unveil her results. Well … no balloon equals no data, as all the data was in THE PAYLOAD. And THE PAYLOAD was somewhere in the Sandy River Reservoir. Camera footage, statistical calculations, motherboard bits and pieces that tell you the secrets of the universe were all gone. There go your hopes and dreams. Science shakes its head at you, tsking.

Still, the presentations were stellar. A lot of telling, but no showing–yet somehow still stellar.

THEN …

The next day I received a phone call from some wild woman screaming. I finally recognized the dulcet tones of my child and asked her to pull it down a few decibels.

Someone found the balloon!

And not just someone. She said his name was Papa Smurf.

My mind immediately envisioned a small pack of blue forest creatures that lived near the reservoir where SkyHAB went down, and somehow, purely in the interest of furthering science, they managed to break their cardinal rule of no contact with humans and phoned the Department of Natural Resources to report a spacecraft landing.

Not really.

Actually, Papa Smurf, aka, “Big Mike” is a Virginia fisherman who, in the middle of doing a little afternoon big mouth bass hunting, landed himself something a little less delicious but definitely fishy.

100814bigmike (800x517)

The writing on the side of THE PAYLOAD was smeared, but our last name was visible. Enter Facebook.

The rest of the story goes a little like this: My daughter ignores friend request – stranger danger – and Papa Smurf/Big Mike must get creative.

Facebook says my daughter interns at the university’s aerospace research lab.

Papa/Mike hunts down a professor.

100814professor (800x782)

 

Describes to professor the reeled in riches. Our professor texts his industrious intern. His intern explodes with exultation.

100814kaboom (627x800)

His intern calls her mother and begs for bakery goods to reward the fisherman with multiple monikers in exchange for THE PRECIOUS PAYLOAD. The trade is made. Strawberry pie is swapped for a lunch box full of cryptic clues to the cosmos and a few bits of water weed.

We are thrilled.

It is finished.

I am exhausted.

She is planning her next mission: Definitely Not a Waste in Space! Where one young scientist attempts to discover if Silly Putty can be used as insulation on homemade sub-orbital spacecraft.

Me? I might just back out of this next one quietly. I think it’s pretty clear that I ain’t no rocket surgeon.

~Shelley Big Mike (450x800)

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

Related articles

Tireless teenage boys; the starter kit to lunacy and delirium.

I cannot count how many times I have had a gaggle of girls at my house for a weekend and the leftover results has been the usual scattered sleeping bags, towels and the heady, pervasive smell of nail polish after they’ve all gone home.

This last weekend, I have had a barrage of boys file through the house, and although I’m fairly sure there were only five or six teenagers in total, the result of their visit has been the depletion of all of my towels, all of my dishes, the food, bed linens, blankets, pillows, ice cubes, Q-tips (don’t ask), Band-Aids, cough drops, room spray, batteries, matches, gasoline, chlorine, anything chemically created that is often labeled with a skull and crossbones, all of the electricity our family was allotted to use for the month, and acetaminophen. The last entry was entirely depleted by me in trying to manage the depletion of everything else.

After they vacated, the house was also left with a heady, pervasive smell … of dirty socks.

It’s been a wholly different experience.

I rarely had to worry about the girls doing anything stupid or dangerous. I just had to make sure they would all leave as friends.

EVERYTHING the guys do is stupid and dangerous, and I just had to make sure they would all leave.

220614buried (800x605)

 

Leaving alive was also a primary concern.

Girls spend a lot of time in bathrooms and bedrooms prettying themselves up, and helping one another do it, all in the name of self-confidence boosting.

Guys spend a lot of time—no matter what room of my house they’re in—tearing one another to shreds, all in the name of self-confidence bashing.

At least the girls have the snarky decency to bash one another behind their backs after they’ve all left.

Okay, that last statement might not be entirely true, because girls can whirl a barbed compliment and land it expertly in between the shoulder blades of any of their friends. And they can do it with the precision of a skilled marksman better than most hired guns trained in the fine art of assassination. It’s perspective.

Ultimately, I might as well forget about getting any work done.

With the girls, it was usually Come up and see how we’ve henna-ed one another with these flowery designs and geometric shapes. Except your daughter, who chose only to ink herself with math equations.

220614girlselfie (607x800)

 

That would usually lead to a lot of girl talk and then baking of cookies.

With the fellas the distractions were more like:

Where do you keep the superglue?

Can we have more towels? And maybe a few shovels?

How fast can an ambulance make it here?

No one ever asked me to come up and see ANYTHING.

220614neenaw (403x800)

 

It’s better for all of us that way.

But it remains true that work is a luxury and realized in an odd grouping of ten seconds snatched here or there.

Apart from the face to face interruptions, which are plentiful, there is the cacophony of noises that draw my attention away from my words. Laughter is fine, giggling is good, thumping is nerve-wracking, but silence …

That is the scariest sound of all.

There are moments when I think the ceiling above me is barely holding the wannabe frat party from collapsing. I’m fairly certain that the vibration from the bass notes alone coming from the film score to the “Animal House Lite” reenactment upstairs can do some serious structural damage. If nothing else, the paint is peeling from the walls, but then again, there’s no need to dust the ceiling light fixtures this month. Again, perspective.

220614boyselfie (598x800)

But when there is no sound, when there is the absence of sound—especially right after a very large and earth shattering one—I hold my breath and count to ten. I mentally go through the list of first aid treatments I can capably do and calculate the distance to the nearest emergency room.

Then I think about drafting an apology letter to the parents of each boy and wonder what is the most tactful way of saying, “I did my best and realize now I should have hired an onsite paramedic and triage station for the living room. Whoops. My bad.”

In the end—at least for this particular episode—everyone made it out with injuries that are, according to the surgeon, non-life threatening, and supposedly will heal in such a way that will allow them to pursue the eventual dream of finding a wife and having a child.

That’s all one could ask for, right?

So I’m off to the shops to replenish my supplies—and then stopping off at the printer’s to whip up a little something for the next shindig to spontaneously combust at my house …

A waiver.

~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.

Related articles

 

 

 

Humble Heroes

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

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

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

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

150614shell (800x606)

I always won.

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

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

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

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

150614car (800x483)

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

150614ears (601x800)

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

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

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

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

150614pop (800x666)

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

150614swivel (485x800)

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

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

~Shelley

 

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

Related articles

 

 

Cap and gown; the costume of progress.

GRADUATION

Letter G (644x800)Gathering on long stretches of lawn, huddling inside church halls, or amassing in colossal gymnasiums, tis the season to honor and applaud young scholars who have climbed the slippery rungs of the academic ladder. Here they will be granted a view that skims the treetops toward their futures.

Letter R (633x800)Racing across a platform to grasp the pressed woody fibers that hold an inked seal of accomplishment, we watch the students sail forward, a breeze billowing beneath the graduates’ gowns; a tease of the winds aloft they’ll soon face full on.

Letter A (654x800)A speech is prepared, rehearsed and delivered, its words an urgent call to remember the past, but seize the future, grasp it with both hands, clutch it to your heart, embrace it with a fervor that will outlast the first, tiny taste of liberty.

Letter D (648x800)Dozens upon dozens of bright, earnest faces listen to microphoned wisdom: sage insight pressed upon the young and energetic meant to spur on bravery, incite tenacity, and goad some grit.

Letter U (638x800)Umbilical cords to home and school, friends and parents faintly snap as if the students, fidgeting for freedom in their seats, collectively give one last tireless tug to the tethered, fraying thread that holds them bound within a tapestry of the familiar.

Letter A (644x800)An abundance of flashes populate the air; crisp time-stamped moments, trapped in hand-held boxes that years later, will release a rush of recollection that will be both reflective and wistful.

Letter T (630x800)Tomorrow’s outlook is surmountable, and our cloth-draped cubs will rush on ahead, taking their place at the front lines of battle, determined, unflinching, valiant.

Letter I (626x800)I study these children, these long-legged, adult-bodied children, and hold my breath—inhale with hope that they may remain clear-eyed, clear-headed and clearly driven to find a conduit that will express their yet unknown ambitions.

Letter O (603x800)One day they will glance back to look at their younger selves, to study their pipe dreams, their castles in air, their pie in the sky, and they will know what it took to make them go from dream to possibility, from possibility to opportunity, and from opportunity to achievement.

Letter N (577x800)Never again will they find this footing, nor pass over this platform, but perhaps instead they’ll burn these bridges in order to maintain a steady, confident gaze toward a horizon we hope they will pioneer with backbone and boldness.

Be brave, be hungry, become.

~Shelley

May 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. Click here to see the cartoons in competition and to cast your vote.

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

Related articles

 

The Mother App

What is one thing absolutely every human being has from the moment they were born?

I know you’re tempted to say reflexes, or kneecaps, or a smart phone, and you’re close, but in this particular case, the answer is: a MOTHER.

I think we all know plenty of people with stories to tell of their mothers. Some of the anecdotes are fairy tales, but most of them are historical horrors that will curl your toes. Others will admit they have no memory of their mothers, no history with their mothers and were likely hatched in a Petri dish in a laboratory buried deep beneath the Swiss Alps.

I’m not here to argue, but I think we all know that the whole ‘babies hatched in Petri dishes beneath the Alps’ story to be totally false.

They’re beneath the Bernese Alps. Let’s be specific.

Regardless, if I were to hazard a guess, we’ve probably all spent a minute or two of our lives imagining …

THE PERFECT MOTHER.

And I would like to suggest someone in AppLand creates “The Mother App.”

There are bucketloads of “mother-like” apps available for purchase and downloading today. Assistance for the working mother, the single mother, and even the “Oh my God, I’m going to be a mother!” mother. Fancy apps will turn themselves into a baby monitor. They will track your phone, your purse, or your diminishing bank account. These apps can even wash and fold your laundry for you and keep it tucked up safe in cloud storage. They’re amazing.

But I think many of us dream about the day we can make our ultimate wish list on the mother menu a reality. Heck, Obamacare is all about tailoring our medical management and wellness programs, and we’ve got the options to modify everything from our choice in education to our online surfing experience, so why can’t technology whip up a workable version of exactly what everyone wants and needs? And then slip it into the palm of our hands for effortless access?

Easy peasy.

Some of us need The Coach. A constant slug of You can do it! slogans from the moment the alarm buzzer fires off to the minute the game is called, you finish the day and hit the showers. You’ll feel like a champ and likely complete the day with a medal around your neck.

110514coach (800x698)

Others require The Nudge. This app is for the individuals who without constant reminders will forget to have breakfast, misplace their gym shoes, waylay their keys and fail to keep appointments. They’ll even show up at the wrong address after work only to realize they don’t own a standard poodle, somebody moved the bathroom and the woman they just kissed hello at the front door was not their wife. They need that tiny tapping at the trap door to their brain that only a mother (the Nudge) knows how to access.

No one wants to feel like a total failure in this department so one would need an app that will fill your head not only with the necessary motherly memos, but also throw you a few bones in the format of Don’t you worry, honey. Your brain is filled with much more important things than recalling passwords and remembering birthdays. I’m here for you. Now eat some fiber like my good little tiger.

110514nudge (739x800)

A few folks desire Dr. Mom. Do you feel like you’re continually right on the edge of coming down with something? Achy, stiff, potentially feverish? This would be the Mother App for you. Just by holding your smart phone in your hand, or keeping it in your breast or back pocket, it will effortlessly monitor your heart rate, body temperature, and bowel movements. It will remind you when you need your next dose of pain killers, suggest you take a nap, and write an excused absence note for you to take to the office the next day. It will care for you better than you care for yourself. And you will sleep better for it. Now go eat some fiber.

110514drmum (730x800)

But maybe you’re seeking The Ear.

You don’t want any I could see this coming a mile away.

No thanks on the Here’s what I think you should do.

And a big fat nix on the I told you so, and this is the thanks I get for it?

Instead, you pay for silence. With the occasional Um hm thrown in along with a light sprinkling of You poor baby. Some people just need a place to unload and not have the eye-popping therapy bill to show for it.

110514theear (800x606)

There you have it. I know we can all think of gobs and wads more, but I’m going to suggest you have at it in the Chatty Cathy comment section. Let me know what would be available on your perfect Mother App.

And now folks, I’m off to attempt to be the best mother I can be, and will remember to send a huge hug of thanks to the best mother I model myself after—my own. There ain’t no app like her! (Thanks, Mom. ❤ )

Happy Mum’s Day to all our American mothers, but Happy Being a Mum Day to all the rest around our globe even if today isn’t the day you get served burnt toast in bed. (And if you’ve not seen this short and wonderfully special video yet, I promise you won’t regret it!)

~Shelley

Ten days left for the “Help A Teen Do Experiments in Space I Don’t Understand”  fundraising campaign on Indiegogo. If you think space is cool, give it looksee! And a massive thanks to all of you who have already contributed to science. You guys are awesome. 😀

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

Related articles

 

Ready or not …

A long time ago I learned how to fly.

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

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

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

230314Whoosh (800x653)

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

No surprises.

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

230314BigBow (516x800)

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

Easy peasy. Simple and safe.

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

230314Cathair (709x800)

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

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

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

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

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

WRONG.

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

230314Pants (550x800)

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

Speaking of instruments. Do you have your violin??

The answer was: Probably.

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

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

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

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

VAGUELY??

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

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

“Chill, Mom—and shush.”

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

MOTHER! Hair up or down?

230314Bighair (800x731)

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

And then I added, Which dress will you wear?

Her response: All of them.

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

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

And now she wants to learn to fly.

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

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

230314FlightofFancy (800x612)

~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.

Related articles

Quick! Hire a teenager now while they know everything.

Long ago I made a point of no longer saying, “I told you so,” to my kids.

But I NEVER promised to stop making the I told you so face.

And I make it a lot.

Sometimes several times a day.

020214toldyouso (556x800)

Occasionally, I just keep it there until the next needed time comes around to save my muscles the unnecessary exertion of popping them back into their default setting—which according to my kids rests somewhere between a scowl and the expression that suggests intestinal blockage.

Lately, I’ve been doing a little motherly worrying that I only have six months to go before one of my fledglings will fly the coop. Is six months time enough to impart those last bits of needed wisdom before I drop her and her bags off at the door of what every parent surely feels is the opening credits of Animal House?

After last week … I’m not so sure.

Yes, there are different definitions of intelligence—and for this I am extraordinarily grateful. Because measuring mine by what I’ve retained from my schoolroom days would send my past educators into a vortex of surround sound tutting so energetic it would be like sitting in the middle of a field full of judgmental crickets.

020214tut (691x800)

So, booksmart? … I ain’t so much none more.

Street smart? I’m fairly confident I’m making the honor roll. My daughter? Well, let’s just say she’s probably one or two notches above Elmo.

My daughter is a violinist. A very fine one. And she plays a fair amount of gigs, so she knows (with the occasional reminder from me) that instruments—like people—must have a maintenance schedule in order to achieve optimal results. Just before Christmas, she noticed one of her strings fraying badly and was about to play a three day running show. I swapped out the ready-to-snap bad string with an old spare, purchased her a set of new strings, and reminded her to bring her violin to the shop for its “annual.”

Amid a slew of, “Yes, yes, I’ll get to its,” I left it at that.

A couple of days ago she mentioned the headmaster of her school had asked that she play for an event he would be speaking at. Mentally calculating her holiday break activities, I could not recall her recounting a trip to the violin maker’s shop and raised an eyebrow at her.

“I’m fine. It’s fine. I’ll get to it.”

The night before curtain call, we were advised by our local newscasters to prepare for icy road conditions the next morning. In fact, we’d found all of the local public schools delaying a couple of hours to allow the frenetic worker bees to get to their stations ahead of the big lumbering school buses full of sleepy-eyed children. All schools, apart from my daughter’s.

As a freshly minted driver, I warned her that she must be prudent and give herself plenty of extra time to firstly, check road conditions before leaving, and secondly, drive slowly to be cautious of slick spots. Her mind was occupied with other things. Mainly, cramming for a calculus test the next morning.

“Did you hear me?” I asked.

“Mmm hmm.”

“How was rehearsal today?”

(Insert a series of mumbles that folks studying the fundamental notions of convergence of infinite sequences will understand) and then,  “My string snapped.”

“What? You mean you still haven’t taken your fiddle in?”

“I’ll play on my electric. I’m fine. It’s fine. I’ll get to it.”

Cue seven a.m. the next morning.

“Mother!”

I was still ten blissful minutes away from my traditional sounding alarm clock, but rose to this one instead.

“Well??? How are the roads?” she asked.

Normally full of pithy remarks at the crack of dawn, I was surprised when nothing but a croaky, “Huh?” came from my throat.

“MOM! I HAVE TO LEAVE! I HAVE REHEARSAL BEFORE SCHOOL AND I’M ALREADY GOING TO BE LATE!”

This did not sit well with me and had me out of bed, searching for my bathrobe and pulling on my wellington boots. The perfect choice for getting a firm foothold on frozen water.

The first step out of the house was slick and shiny. A little farther out, the pebbled courtyard of the driveway would have been a disappointment to most ice skaters, but was still capable of flipping you onto your backside. The blacktop driveway, for the few tentative steps I took, appeared safe. Ish.

“Well??? How is the driveway?”

I watched my daughter lug her electric violin and an amp nearly as large as her Volkswagen beetle toward the trunk of the ice cube she was about to drive.

I shook my head and looked at the crusted over windscreen. “The first ten feet are super. I cannot account for the remainder of the mile.”

020214mum (800x456)

Knowing that the remainder of that mile was pitched at an ungodly angle downward and included at least three or four deadman’s curves, if it was covered in ice, I could imagine her car would no longer be a car but instead a fancy toboggan. I hoped she’d changed her mind. But apparently, she was a potential casualty whether she stayed home or went, as not turning up for the rehearsal was in essence a fate worse than death.

She left for school. I left for the shower and brought with me the prickly panic that would accompany me until I’d heard she made it safely into her parking space.

Fifty anxiety-ridden minutes later (as she forgot to text me when she first made it to school and went straight to rehearsal), and mere moments before I called the school to hunt her down, I received a thumbs up text and then left for an in town appointment myself. Halfway there I receive a second text that said:

Hey, Mom? R u coming into town this morning?

Me—at a stop sign: Already on my way.

Her: Turns out I left the cable that connects my violin to the amp at home.

There is no I told you so emoticon for texting, but somebody should make one. So I substituted: It’s fine. You’re fine. You’ll get to it.

020214illgettoit (800x567)

Six more months and the roads are dicey.

~Shelley

It’s time to reveal January’s winner for the Gotta Have a Gott calendar! We hope you all voted, but if not, you’ll have another crack at it at the end of February (and all the months through November). For now, come see the past month’s winner.

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

Related articles

Food for thought, but rarely for dinner.

If there is one phrase that is more common than any other in my house, it has got to be …

101113grocerylist (800x738)

And I’m serious about it being all in capital letters, because I’m usually shouting that phrase to someone who either has their head buried deep within the fridge, or their body concealed within the cavernous room I had built to represent the pantry.

The pantry is really more of an averaged-sized dry goods store, and if I simply filled out a few pages of paperwork, it could easily qualify as a Stop n’ Shop for locals on their way home from the office. Those folks would really have to like tuna though, because that covers about half the pantry’s inventory. That and cat food. I’m guessing either the cat has convinced someone in the house that we’re running low and to write it on the list, or she’s finally passed the course with the daily YouTube videos I’m been making her watch on teaching yourself to write.

101113FatCat (800x629)

Either way, she’s hoarding. And that needs to be dealt with.

I grew up with a kitchen that was just slightly bigger than a coat closet, and oftentimes had the entire family rummaging around within it, so it’s no surprise that as an adult I’d want to create a canteen that might easily share the same acreage as that of the Mall of America. I’m not saying I achieved those numbers, but it was what I was going for.

The refrigerator is not your average size either, and although not a commercial walk-in like some restaurants, it could double as a garage for a few small farm vehicles if need be. Note that the design for the rest of the house was given much less thought. My office is large enough for my swivel chair to make only half rotations in, unless I expel all oxygen from my lungs and tuck my elbows in beneath my rib cage, and the other living areas were fashioned after cheap department store changing rooms and fast food restaurant bathroom stalls. Why? Because I wanted everyone to live in the kitchen.

101113office (588x800)

We eat when we’re happy and we eat when we’re miserable. We also eat when we’re bored and trying to avoid laundry. So in my mind, that about covered where we needed to spend the serious money.

In the kitchen of my youth, the pantry closet was large enough to accommodate two cans of soup and a nail file. Nevertheless, it fed half my school district. Yet the one I currently have apparently does not hold enough of what is deemed necessary for my two teenagers. Ditto for the fridge. The crackers I have are not the right kind of crackers. The granola bars I purchase are now in the “so yesterday and I’ve gone off them” category. The macaroni I get doesn’t have the right kind of cheese. The butter is not the soft, spreadable kind like Grandma has. And most every other complaint falls under the wretched umbrella of, “Stop buying the organic version of everything. It tastes weird and I won’t eat it!”

The grocery list has always held the possibility of being a vehicle filled with “teachable moments” for those who eat regularly at my house in that if you finished the OJ and didn’t put it on the list, then you’re the guy everyone will be sending the next day’s hate mail to. This sounds like it should work, right?

Nuh uh.

As is well known to most mothers, we are expected to have our act so well put together it could headline on Broadway. Yes, someone forgot to add milk to the list, but surely you knew it belonged there when at the grocery store, right? Somehow you sprouted those eyes at the back of your head that caught nearly invisible infractions, and you grew the superhuman ears that heard the cursing grumble from way out in the sheep barn, so are you telling me your telesthesia is on the fritz?

So not cool, Mom.

101113broadway (800x559)

Occasionally, my nagging about adding things to the grocery list has made a small impact on my at home diners. There have been days when I’ve arrived at the store, taken the first glance at my list and then had to physically stop myself from ramming my shopping cart repeatedly into the nearest bin full of asparagus and avocados. Why? Because the list is chock-a-block full of junk. Chocolate in every form has made its way onto the paper but is “cleverly” disguised by showing up in between other items so the requests don’t appear too gluttonous.

Collard greens

Apples

Chocolate milk

Navy beans

Salmon

Chocolate covered pretzels

Eggs

Tofu

Brown rice

Chocolate toaster pastries

Sparkling water

Miso paste

Brownies

At this point, I simply buy the things I intended to purchase for the meals I plan to make, but also plop down onto the dinner table a squirt bottle of liquid chocolate and tell the kids to have at it. I shudder to think how Hershey’s syrup can make delicate halibut in a corn and mung bean broth taste more appealing, but apparently it must.

So I’m trying to see this all from a different perspective. I suppose I should be grateful for the last few precious years of gathering round the table. Clearly our tastes at this point are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but thankfully our desires still meet in the most important room of my house. And no matter what everyone is eating, and what head-shaking requests show up on my next grocery list, I shall pull up a chair to the dinner table with a thankful heart. Because “Spending time together” is not something that can be purchased at any store.

101113foodmoods (786x800)

~Shelley

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

Cash flow

This was a hugely busy week.

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

– We told him how to navigate through the airport.

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

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

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

Damn.

I knew we’d forgotten something.

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

280713corre! (800x596)

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

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

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

Easy enough. So we thought.

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

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

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

*Cue head falling on desk.*

280713telephone (800x495)

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

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

280713Cash (800x638)

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

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

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

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

280713kidney (800x734)

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

– Passport

– Sleeping bag

– Bug spray

– A gift for the villagers embodying a hallmark of America

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

It’s catchy stuff.

~Shelley

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

Hashtag – Teen Talk

Sometimes it’s incredibly hard to connect with my teenagers.

Alright, let’s be honest. Just strip off the first word of the last sentence and give it a reread.

Even so, there are times where the sun and the moon and the stars align, and for a small window of time, conversation flows, laughter bubbles and no one ends up sporting a flesh wound.

And lest you think I’m using the astronomical expression in jest, I assure you I am not. This rare event of ‘togetherness’ occurred on the night of the “Supermoon.”

210713supermoon (588x800)

This is a name that was coined by astrologer Richard Nolle in 1979. Loosely defined, it’s a full (or new) moon that’s as close to the Earth as it will get without bumping into us. If the moon had arms and fingers, it could practically touch us at that point in its elliptical orbit.

210713moontouch (800x539)

And just for a second, I’m requesting all science and space-minded folks to please work with me here. The rest of us will surely struggle if I’m required to use correct terminology like perigee and apogee and syzygee. Maybe we can all agree that once every eighteen years the earth’s horizon births the largest chunk of lunar disk we can likely remember ever seeing. It’s like watching a cheese-colored growth sprout from the ground way off in the distance.

On this particular night, the three of us sat on the porch and ate a dinner none of us were particularly interested in. But we all agreed it might be nice to watch the sun set and listen to the transition of day sounds to night sounds. Day sounds around here are birds, tractors, cows and bees. Night sounds are whippoorwills, frogs, crickets and shotguns. For years, I’ve attempted to alter my mental interpretation of that last sound. I now simply classify them as … angry birds.

I have to admit that about fifty percent of the time, when in my kids’ company, I cannot understand what they are talking about. They’re mostly trendy topics I only begin to clue into after hearing about them on NPR—way after they’ve become moth-eaten and someone has written a book about them—or I Google them myself and realize that I’m so outdated, even my browser acts judgmentally and flashes me a quick subliminal message of, That was so yesterday.

There’s also a small percentage of the time when I find I cannot understand what my kids are talking about even to the extent that I cannot understand their words. Period.

210713ett (520x800)

But this usually happens when we’re all together, I’ve just finished speaking, and the two of them turn to one another and start talking–then laughing. It takes me a minute to grasp that they’ve switched to Spanish. Solely for the purpose of making fun of me.

Every time scenario number one happened on the night of the Supermoon, I excused myself and dashed to the other side of the house to check on the progress of the moonrise . I didn’t want to miss it, plus it gave me a little privacy to quickly Google whatever it was they were talking about.

Every time scenario number two happened, I excused myself to “check on the progress of the moonrise” but actually went into their bedrooms and programmed their alarm clocks to go off every hour from 3 am onward, and then next secured a piece of duct tape over their bathroom faucets with just a tiny gap at the front.

210713revenge (553x800)

 ¡Yo soy la madre de la venganza!

Eventually, on one of my return trips, I saw the moon begin to surface. I raced to get the kids, telling them to come to my bedroom balcony. Of course we made such a ruckus the dog insisted on joining us, and his added enthusiasm woke the sheep, who then wandered out the barn and into the meadow to add their bellowing two cents worth. And as is natural for farm animals, once one is awake and bawling, all animals on surrounding farms and within earshot join in the uproar, which then sends every local hound dogs in a tailspin and the only thing that can quiet the whole tumultuous pandemonium is a couple of rounds from the angry birds.

Once everyone had given the thumbs up indicating they were clear of gushing bullet holes, we were back to admiring the Supermoon. And it was super.

Massive and luminous, this sallow-colored ball rose through wisps of clouds, illuminating the hazy sky to glow with shades of cream, biscuits and buttermilk.

Moon gazing is hungry work.

Binoculars opened a vast new window of detail, leaving me amazed at the similarity between this orbiting satellite and an unpeeled orange. (Yes, dinner was totally unsatisfying.)

I’d never seen such clarity and true splendor. It was magnificent.

I could have stayed there all night, but a storm was brewing outside. Of course, it wouldn’t be long until lashing bolts of deafening thunder were unleashed inside as well.

210713lasuegra (586x800)

But I could live with that. It made a nice change of pace from the unsettling hashtag lingo and the growing flock of angry birds.

Shine on you crazy pearl.

~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.

Clockwatchers

Depending upon what job I have held in the past, I have at times classified myself as an early bird, a night owl, and sometimes just the slug that gets eaten by both.

Currently, I have entered into a phase of life many folks are well acquainted with. In fact, they have a face creased by lines of anxiety to show for it.

We are clockwatchers.

Clockwatchers140713 (800x624)

Why? I have teenagers. And they have lives, man.

It’s one thing when you’re the one they depend upon for rides into town, transportation to and from friends, and passage from one activity to the next. We perform a gratuitous service in exchange for the hopeful moment of mere eye contact.

But when they have access to fast moving, gas-guzzling, tune blaring vehicles that either they or their peer counterparts control, the parental mind bolts like dropped marbles, scattering across the floor in unseen, dangerous directions, and foretells life-altering hazards in things as typically innocent as mailboxes, squirrels and rain showers.

Teens are big on taking risks.

This is not news to any person who is in charge of their welfare, but it certainly curls the toes of many adolescents after the fact—or after the fall.

In fact, I vote all teens must wear a piece of clothing that marks them as pubescent and encourages the rest of the village to stop them at any moment simply with the phrase, “Are you sure you’ve thought this through?”

Pubescent140713 (575x800)

I bet we could lower the number of smacks on our furrowed foreheads by implementing this tiny technique.

It’s difficult to manage my regular routine when I’ve got two teens out of the house and both expected back at a specific time. Specific to me, but an ever-shifting time frame for them. Something always happens. This is the only predictable part of the outing. And it usually comes in the form of a phone call and a voice on the other end that speaks in dulcet tones reserved for Mother’s Day or my birthday.

I know very few parents who can head off to bed, knowing their teen is nowhere near theirs, and effortlessly lose consciousness. For me, it’s like cracking the spine of a chilling thriller, except for the fact that I’m not actually reading any words. I may be facing in the direction of the printed words on page, but a new author has taken over the invisible plot, rife with ideas meant to twist and churn my gut.

As an evil bonus, there’s a soundtrack.

If there’s wind—I’m dead certain one of the hundreds of overhanging limbs from trees they pass on the way home will come loose, crash upon the car and kill everybody.

If there’s rain—I’m convinced the oils on the road will coat a rising sheet of water, propel them into a ditch and kill everybody.

If there are animals that live on the route my kids take home, they are likely to be the equivalent of teenagers out too late at night, will be encouraged by their rowdy, pack mentality comrades to dart across the road in front of cars for a thrill, will be greeted by the Nerf Ball car my kids drive … and kill everybody.

Nerfcar140713 (800x591)

If you have teenagers, you are likely well acquainted with the movie reel running in your head that usually ratchets up to Technicolor vibrancy status every time you look at your watch or glance at the clock above the stove. You are waiting for the glide of headlights across the wall by the window, the sound of the car pulling into the drive, the bark of El Protector at the front door—anything that announces the safe arrival of the person or persons you invested umpteen years of energy, money and every wish you made, including those on falling stars, birthday candles, or the heads of a dandelions.

Why is it that no one has been able to push ahead the R & D for apparating? Yes, I know it would be expensive, but hey, JK Rowling has kids who will soon be teenagers, and since she planted the idea in everyone’s heads, I say she might be someone worth considering when petitioning for research funds.

I expect I should get used to the bleary-eyed, puffy-faced person who greets me in the mirror each morning and the slack-jawed, mascara-smudged woman whose reflection waves goodnight each evening. It’s inevitable, as my day starts when the racket of bellowing animal bellies rouses me from slumber, whereas my teens fall out of bed somewhere shortly before I shout out, “DINNER!” Bedtimes are slightly closer together—mine arriving when the sounds of their bedroom laughter, bass lines and Netflix all meld into the audio track of my dreams, and theirs happens when we’ve run out of post midnight snacks in the pantry.

And although I can actually consider myself both an early bird and a night owl at this point in my life, there is no doubt in my mind what category I look most like …

The slug.

Earlybird140713 (800x528)

~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 just can’t hack it.

My computer is possessed.

I’m nearly certain of it. I say nearly because this is strictly a gut instinct based on years of a Catholic upbringing, recalling bloodcurdling, spine-chilling words whispered by the nuns who taught our catechism classes and warned us of the imminent dangers when messing with the dark side. They listed all the classic signs of demonic domination:

Flickering lights? Check.

Erratic movement and activity—not by your hand? Check.

Bizarre and spasmodic sounds impossible to locate or predict? Check.

The ability to levitate of its own accord? … Not yet, but I’m totally prepared for this to happen and won’t be caught off guard when it does. Seeing that will explain absolutely everything else.

Most folk, in this modern day and age of tech talk, gadgetry and regularly giving birth to children who can reprogram satellites by the age of six, have grown accustomed to the idea that they either keep up or bite the dust. It’s like running alongside a train that’s picking up speed and every time you brush the fingers of the guy who’s reaching to pull you in, someone slams the door shut and slides open the entry to the box car in front of it. And instead of just somebody new reaching for you, they’re now also offering you a cool drink—which at this point you’re desperate for, but still can’t quite reach. And so it goes.

LastTrain (800x419)

Somewhere within the time frame of barely grasping word processing (plus a couple of DOS code commands) and grappling with the concept that someplace in the air above me floats everything on my hard drive, smart phone and tablet, there is another sector of computer practice that befuddles me to the core. Other people are using it. Let me make this clearer:

Other people—people I don’t know, have never met, and haven’t given permission—are using my computer.

GoogleRain (498x800)

I first recall seeing “remote” usage of my computer when, years ago, after unsuccessfully thumbing through the eight manuals that accompanied that dinosaur and holding on the phone for approximately the same amount of time it takes to make cheese, a pricey technician was granted access to fix some niggling problem. Seeing the arrow my mouse used to have control over being manipulated by a faceless operator proved fascinating. Sadly, it always moved to quickly for me to register what to click or unclick should my problem reoccur.

Shortly thereafter, I remember thinking the world was full of hackers. The news raged over them, spy novels were rife with them, Hollywood made blockbusters about them and I sat staring at the index to my “help” files wondering how in the world folks could overcome the quirks of their own computers and then manage to have leftover time to mess about with somebody else’s.

Hacker2 (646x800)

The whole hacking culture is a bit of a head-scratcher to me, and what defines this group is heatedly debated. There are classifications and subgroups that depend upon the attitude, the aim and ambition of each individual. Do you hope to breach security, make money, send a message or befuddle the Luddites? Then you might be a white or a black hat, maybe a script kiddie, a neophyte or a hacktivist, or even simply a cracker. If you’re going to be one of these, you will need a cutting-edge education of computers and their networks. There is no technical help line that will walk you through the steps of ‘How to hack into Twitter accounts.’

ComputerHacker (777x800)

In addition, there is another brand of hacker I came to admire simply from having enjoyed the college tour at MIT. Here, our guide told stories about the much loved school tradition of demonstrating technical prowess and jaw-dropping ingenuity in the form of institutional pranks. These are not your typical ‘Animal House’ fraternity shenanigans, but rather, “We’re going to need a crane and a squadron from the National Guard to fix this,” type of tomfoolery.

The one thing both of these groups have in common is what baffles me most.

Time.

Knowing how long it takes me to defrag my computer and run a simple disc cleanup, I’m wondering when these people have an opportunity to do laundry. It’s not surprising to find out that a sizeable chunk of these tech-savvy cool cats are young enough to still occupy a room down the hall from their parents—which explains my query regarding their dirty clothes.

DieHardDisc (592x800)

Recently, I walked passed my daughter’s laptop and stopped to watch what I thought was a pretty nifty screensaver. When I asked her about it, she informed me that, no, this was not some downloaded piece of fluff, but that she had actually loaned her computer to science. Apparently, when she’s not using it herself, she lends her computing power—along with multitudes of others—to analyze data while it scours the universe for intelligent life. Hers is part of a virtual supercomputer for SETI@home. Those pretty squiggles were simply an indication that her laptop was actively reading radio bandwidth.

And now I look askew at my own PC, wondering if she has rigged my computer to service science, if a huckster has hacked my doohickey, or if indeed a demon has bedeviled my data processor.

I’m just waiting on the floating keyboard. Call it an old Catholic stirring, but I’m pretty sure a phantom has floored my firewall.

~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.

Don’t kill a mockingbird.

My grandmother once said to me, “A girl should be like a diamond. The more facets she has about her, the more appealing she becomes.”

This came from a woman who had to leave high school to work the family farm, and then went to night school to get her GED so she could work her way through the accounting department at JCPenney’s. She was a whiz at math and took exceptional pride in the opportunity to beat any cash register when pitted against it. She owned a grocery store, was a caterer, spoke three languages, played a wicked golf game, took karate lessons and lastly, took a course in How to Build Your Own Bomb Shelter.

Karategran (800x506)

She was not your average mother’s mother.

I tell you this because lately, as I’ve been hunched over the ever-spreading, perpetually-broadening mass of weeds that infest my garden floors, I am accompanied by the cheer-infusing, thought-provoking song of a mockingbird.

This warbling, mimicking, capricious minstrel strikes me as one who’s still searching for just the right fit, testing the waters by dipping a toe into many a pool to satiate the desire for true fulfillment. He wears an array of caps, and within a minute or two, cycles through a search for the answer to, “Am I a blue jay? How ‘bout a cricket? Now I’m a blackbird. Let’s try a hawk.” Continually learning new songs and sounds to imitate, he is the quintessential skill builder.

Cockatoo (800x573)

History has taught us that typically, we had precious little time to attempt adding anything more to our daily calendar than hunting, gathering, breeding and fighting. Include all the hours we spent building alters and purification fires, creating feasts and paying homage to our many gods, and it’s easy to see how your whole day is shot. Worship is a full time job.

The Industrial Revolution altered our schedules, along with our standards of living, nutrition, life expectancy and for some, the ability to now get a table at trendy restaurants. Everything depended upon which rung of the social ladder your foot rested on.

But coal mining and factory work wasn’t for everyone. Especially, those who didn’t want to face a piece of equipment that made their prior skills irrelevant. It’s easy to see how a person who studied the fine art of lacework for the bulk of their life could be persuaded to join the League of Luddites and go all “John Henry” on a piece of machinery.

English: Frame-breakers, or Luddites, smashing...

English: Frame-breakers, or Luddites, smashing a loom. Machine-breaking was criminalized by the Parliament of the United Kingdom as early as 1721. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And then came the growth of mass education–reading in particular. At first, it was largely influenced by religion because holy books weren’t just there to make the coffee table in the parlor pretty and Books on Tape hadn’t had a chance to record that big guy yet, nor make the tape they’d eventually use for the project. So literacy was key. And now that we could read, we were given access into other people’s thoughts, opinions and experiences. Roughly speaking, it expanded our circle of campfire stories exponentially. The act of taking in new information usually has some measurable impact on the average Joe. It often shows up in the form of thinking. Thinking can lead to action, action could lead to dancing, and as some religious leaders of the world believe, it’s usually all downhill from there.

Slipperyslope (800x762)

But in a few other parts of the world, thinking led to the awareness of dissatisfaction. And that led to big action.

War.

Cue women to join us onstage in the giant chorus of the workforce. You know what happened then, don’t you? It was a tiny little thing, but it had a big impact on career aspiration. THE PILL.

Yep. Now women were growing bolder with the knowledge that they had choice in deciding when to have a family, if at all. Finding a vocation suddenly became a word dripping with possibility.

Sadly, many of us are encouraged to make those occupational picks at much too early an age. Facing a guidance counselor, who spreads out a dozen career pamphlets in front of you, or visiting a high school college fair often leads to hasty decisions. Now you find yourself propelled onto an ill-suited professional track from the idiotic act of putting your name down on a clipboard simply because they had a bowl of brightly-colored candy sitting beside it.

Vocation (800x766)

As a parent attempting to guide my firstborn through the highly stressful process of college searching, the one piece of advice I find myself repeating is this: Don’t specialize.

Over the last several years, hearing my children (okay, and let’s face it, a great chunk of children going through our current educational system) utter the words, “I’m never going to use this,” when referring to homework from a subject they detest, puts my mouth into automatic gear.

“That’s not the point,” I lecture. “The point is you are learning how to learn.” And until we modernize our schooling ideas, this is the best rationalization I can come up with.

I don’t think it’s a bad one.

It’s a critical process that will ultimately help each one of us attempt something new, or challenging, or death-defying. Who says we have to stick to only one career, one calling, one song? I admire my grandmother for her desire to not only plow the fields of her farm, but those of her heart’s ambition. And maybe that mockingbird is my grandmother reminding me, as I clear away the weeds, not to neglect planting a variety of seeds in their place.

English: The Strawn-Wagner Diamond, the only p...

So I say grow a little. Stretch out of that comfort zone. Whistle a new tune. Chip away at something new and hard. Be like a diamond.

Sparkle.

~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.

Blackboards, flipflops & bedbugs; the quest for knowledge, warmth & clean sheets.

English: The International Space Station as se...

Fifteen hundred miles! That’s the distance I drove—spread out over seven days—in order to fulfill my duty as the parent who drew the short straw and would have to leave home for the Crazy College Road Trip Part II. The other lucky parent had a vacation on Easy Street dealing with the livestock, any ravenous teenage boys who may decided to take up residence during spring break, a planetary-sized snowstorm (dumping a measly two feet of powder), and a few dozen downed trees, power lines and a minor release of radioactive material. At least the generator kicked on for ten minutes a day. And where’s the gratitude?

But let’s go back to me.

Fifteen hundred miles? Do you realize what that distance is equivalent to? If my car had a NASA hand stamp on it and was retro-fitted with a few rocket boosters, I could have taken my daughter back and forth from Earth to the International Space Station three and one half times.

And according to the Worldwatch Institute, that’s the distance an American meal travels to get from farm to table. It’s no wonder I felt like a shriveled peach by the end of the trip.

Regardless, I learned a great many things traveling with my daughter this time around that I was not aware of previously.

1. I should not have allowed her to pack.

Suitcases

Suitcases (Photo credit: masochismtango)

2. Having allowed her to pack, I should not have allowed her to pack five minutes before leaving.

3. Having allowed her to pack and do this five minutes prior to departure, I should not have allowed her to wake up six minutes before leaving and one minute before packing.

There is so much to learn about letting go of the ‘parenting your child’ routine I’ve grown accustomed to for the last 17.5 years. Thinking this was a grand opportunity to let her shine with blooming maturity, I came to the quick realization that I might have handed off the baton to a runner who hadn’t quite made it onto the racetrack.

Observing my daughter exiting the house wearing a pair of shorts, sneakers minus the socks, and no coat should have sent up a warning shot. The rest of her gear didn’t even fill her school book bag, which she slung into the trunk before collapsing into the passenger seat. The fact that it was just beginning to snow outside and that we were heading northward to New England and into the mountains forced me to send her back inside for some proper winter clothes.

She came back with a floppy, cloth hat.

Roadtrip (800x687)

Fine. Off we go.

The itinerary showed seven days stuffed full of engineering school visits, campus tours, physics labs and info sessions. When we weren’t walking through hallways lined with gold-plated patents, we were peering into glass encased rooms, so precisely sterilized, that all chemical vapors, airborne microbes and any aerosol particles present were required to don white suits. These folks were serious about being clean and I figure there’s a good chance I can encourage my daughter’s development of this skill simply by pasting a sign above her bedroom door that reads Dupont Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering. It could work.

Some of the schools we visited were clearly her kind of people.

Mars, 2001, with the southern polar ice cap vi...

Mars, 2001, with the southern polar ice cap visible on the bottom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of them wandered the halls, spines curved and sagging under the weight of backpacks that contained textbooks that eventually, when understood, will reorganize their contents into cures for cancer, blueprints for Mars housing developments and the prototypes for the first antimatter power plants. If you could see into their multitasking brains, there’d be a large bubble above their heads filled with mathematical equations with a tiny asterisk at the bottom and a symbol for “don’t forget food.”

Other campus appointments undoubtedly revealed she did not belong to the institution. It’s very bad form and often frowned upon to snicker through sixty minutes, listening to the school’s admissions officer and two students make known how celebrated they were when viewed wearing the college’s logo. Try not to judge us too harshly. I’m pretty sure that somewhere around the forty-five minute mark we were told that by the end of each student’s third term they were handed a wand and told they could levitate, but only if they repeatedly chanted the university’s Latin motto.

The rest of our time was spent hunting for bedbugs.

Bedgugs (800x505)

Not all of the public houses I reserved left us well-rested. One was perched atop an Irish pub, and all its occupants were in full swing dress rehearsals for Patty’s big day. Another spot left us doubtful the sheets had ever seen the inside of a washing machine and some of the stains in the bathroom were probably still under “crime scene” investigation. We debated whether or not we’d be better off sleeping in the car. It could be why the hotel was called a “motor lodge.”

But all’s well that ends well. I learned that the man/alien from Men In Black (Edgar the bug, but wearing his human form) actually runs a B&B in New Jersey and that his wife makes nice waffles, my daughter learned that whilst in the navigator’s seat, it is preferred by the driver to have directions given to them that are short, audible and presented before the car passes the off ramp, and we both learned that I packed more than enough clothes for the both of us.

WIB (800x470)

Next stop: the moon!

~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.

 

Learning your anatomy; it’s heart work.

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

February fluff is everywhere.

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

I’ve even come across chocolate flavored chocolate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Daddy, my tummy hurts.”

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

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

That just wasn’t my bailiwick.

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

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

Baby's Blue Eyes

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

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

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

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

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

Puppy Love

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

Huh.

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

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

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

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

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

Laugh with the poetry.

Smell the roses.

Sparkle with trinkets.

Just make a wide berth of the chocolate flavored chocolate.

~Shelley

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

NASA finally asks for my help.

“Hey, mom?” (daughter, Chloe, in kitchen)

“Uh huh?” (wordsmith, me, at desk)

“Would you like to do an experiment with me?”

One of my eyes strayed from my computer screen and glanced toward her school workspace. The eye noted no test tubes or beakers. The eye reported back to the brain a thumbs up sign.

“You bet.”

“Great,” she said. “You and I are going to go without chocolate for one week.”

“Sure thing … ” (type, tappity tap) “Wait—what?” Both eyes scanned kitchen. Found kitchen empty. “Chloe? … Damn.”

This has happened to me before. I have answered yes to buying a pony, sleepovers that require train travel across two states, the shaving off of one eyebrow and a small down payment on a developing goat herd in Uganda.

They know how to get me. As long as I’m writing, I’m cognizant of nothing apart from the cursor on the screen and how bitter my tea is becoming.

How in the hell was I going to survive without chocolate for seven days? I looked around my desk. There was chocolate everywhere. Having it near me brings a balm of comfort and serenity to my writing space.

Chocolate

Chocolate (Photo credit: EuroMagic)

I’d have to get rid of it.

Out of sight, out of mouth, right?

I could do this. It was probably for the good of science on the whole. I bet I’d be part of some study for NASA. Good for me. I’d show my support for Chloe, and science, and … space?

It didn’t matter. I loved challenge.

Day One: I made it through breakfast. In fact, I just ignored breakfast and got busy. Better not to think about food in general. I left the house for lunch. If I wasn’t at my desk, things would be a heck of a lot easier. After dinner Chloe checked in with me.

“How’d today go?”

“Not too bad. This might be pretty easy. I’m going to bed.”

“Mom? It’s 7 o’clock. The sun hasn’t even set.”

“Yep. But if I’m sleeping, then I won’t want to eat chocolate, okay? Goodnight.”

Day Two: Rising at 4 a.m. is fine if I have to catch a flight to a tropical island getaway, but getting out of bed simply to avoid dreaming about chocolate seemed somehow wrong. I ate a lot of brown food.

Day Three: “Mom?”

“Stop shouting at me!”

English: A small pad of Post-It notes.

English: A small pad of Post-It notes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Day Four: Post It Note: Dear Mom, It’s okay if you want to quit. You’ve made it through three whole days and I know that’s a lot for you. You’ve done great. Love, Chloe

Dear Chloe, Really? You’d just love that now, wouldn’t you? I’d be the laughing stock of everybody else who’s a part of this study. Chocoholic Mom can’t hack three days of deprivation. No way! I’m not going to be the butt of some joke down in Houston.

Dear Mom, I don’t know what you’re talking about. There is no study. It’s just you and me. Have a brownie.

Chloe, I don’t want a brownie. I want you to clean out the damn cat litter!

Day Five: Dear Chloe, I am writing this note to you on your bathroom mirror with your all-time favorite pink lipstick left in the pocket of your blue jeans, which I found just before washing them. I have repeatedly told you what to do before throwing things down the laundry chute, but it appears yo— … sorry, I ran out of lipstick and I’m now using the perfumed soap you got from G-ma at Christmas. CHECK YOUR POCKETS!

Day Six: Text from Chloe: Mom, there is no study. U r off the hook.

Text from me: Not on your life, kiddo! I refuse to abandon my duty to civilization. I know you’re supposed to be reporting back about my behavior and mood swings, and you’re probably going to tell all the people at the lab that your experiment had to be aborted because of some instability issues. That is not going to happen on my watch—NO WAY!

Text from Chloe: Can Dad pick me up after school?

Text from me: NASA just called and wanted to let me know I’m doing great as a test subject. They were ENCOURAGING. Unlike the scientist conducting the study.

Text from Chloe: Mom, u r delusional. There is no study.

Text from me: CONSPIRACY!!!

Text from Chloe: U need rest.

Text from me: I’ll tell you what I need. I need a family that’s going to pitch in when I ask them to! I need a cat that’s not going to vomit hairballs the size of Long Island! I need a dry cleaner that isn’t going to send me back a dress with two more stains on it than before I sent it in! I need an endless supply of orange juice pumped out of one of the kitchen faucets and hooked up to a pipe in Florida because I can’t keep up with the amount your brother is drinking! I need you kids to start picking up the books you toss onto every surface and leave for me to pick—

Message from AT&T: You have exceeded your monthly text allowance.

Semi-sweet chocolate chips

Day Seven: I did not get out of bed on day seven. Not even to pee.

Day Eight: My bowl of cereal was half a bag of Ghirardelli’s 60% cacao chocolate chips with chocolate milk poured over them.

I feel a lot better. Especially since I helped NASA figure out something space related. I’m sure it will eventually be revealed in a Reader’s Digest article, or I’ll see my results reported on the Discovery channel. I’ll probably be part of a documentary.

It was worth it if it meant I’ve aided mankind.

And you’re welcome.

~Shelley

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

 

Ears wide open

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

I live in a box.

Literally and metaphorically.

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

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

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

tiny uggs

tiny uggs (Photo credit: phil denton)

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

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

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

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

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

Cowboy

Cowboy (Photo credit: AngryGlock)

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

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

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

There are other beats that bleed into this shared space.

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

Except, it appears I am the mistaken one.

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

Pink Floyd Experience

Pink Floyd Experience (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

I do.

Occasionally the pain is located in my eardrums.

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

poppies on a breezy day

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

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

This too, is worthy.

Harmonic and grand, melodic and winsome.

It’s all music to my ears.

~Shelley

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

 

Make a wish …

laying down on the job, in the middle of the r...

laying down on the job, in the middle of the road – _MG_0236 (Photo credit: sean dreilinger)

In memory of Neil Armstrong … our hero.

As a child, the most magical moments of my life were experienced lying flat on my back in the middle of a concrete road.

It was always pitch black, the night air cool, but you could still feel the warmth of the afternoon’s summer sun radiating from the asphalt below. I used to think the road soaked in the rays of sunlight during the day and held tightly to them until I spread out on its surface, and then offered up that heat to counteract the nip of nighttime air.

I’d bunch my hair behind my head, attempting a makeshift pillow so I could roll around comfortably on the gravely floor beneath me. Even so, after a moment or two, nothing short of someone wrenching an arm out of my socket in an effort to save me from becoming road pizza would bring me back to the present moment; that of four kids and their dad stargazing through the soft, magic nights of a Wisconsin summer.

English: This is a picture of Aurora Borealis ...

English: This is a picture of Aurora Borealis from canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mapping out the constellations, spotting faraway planets and staring slack-jawed at the aurora borealis, we swore we felt the earth spin and convinced ourselves how easy it could be to slide off and find our bodies propelled into the dizzy mess of twinkling stars.

I grew up with a thirst for the stories behind those skies: the tales of a fierce warrior chasing sisters across a width of space he would never lessen, a deadly scorpion hot on his heels, a great bear seeking revenge, a dragon wrapped around the celestial north pole—forever spinning, addled and delirious, and a horrifying hydra, snaking its way through the heavens.

It’s one thing to be the child, bewitched and wide-eyed with little knowledge to draw from, but an entirely unexpected feeling to be the adult, still in awe, but from the truth rather than mythology. As alluring as my world of made-up fable and folklore is, my own daughter—drawn by an unquenchable thirst for answers—is determined to pull the thin veil from my fiction to reveal the facts.

The Eagle Nebula M16 Peering Into the Pillars ...

The Eagle Nebula M16 Peering Into the Pillars Of Creation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At times, it’s been easy to resist, as attempting to wrap my head around the concept of dark matter, bits about space/time continuum, or even something as basic as gravity has made my head spin and sucked the joy from learning. Although, I will admit there have been moments when I was caught up in the heart-swelling, soul-stirring splendor of seeing the birth of new stars or solar systems caught on camera by the type of paparazzi that come complete with PhDs in astrophysics or aeronautical engineering.

I can’t even pretend to follow my daughter when she begins waxing lyrical about the transit photometry program she’s involved in and will sheepishly admit she lost me on the first sentence of her explanation somewhere just after the word The. And when she grabs my hand and drags me out into the dark, insisting that we can’t miss the August Perseid display, I feel relief wash over me after she points to the heavens and alters her words to “meteor shower.”

As we lie on our backs and wait for the unearthly concert to begin, the soft chirp of crickets is a constant murmur like an audience rustling their programs and shuffling their feet. The waiting is similar to holding your breath under water and viewing the liquid world; so foreign and seductive, but temporary because you must resurface. Likewise, while stargazing, one can only go so long searching and studying before you absolutely must blink.

And a blink can be the entire lifespan of a meteor.

Perseus and Perseid Meteor

Perseus and Perseid Meteor (Photo credit: Dominic’s pics)

We lie side by side, quiet, but expectant. I hear her breathe and wonder if she’s counting the minutes until she, too, can join the rest of her people—those who have long ago figured out the secrets of their home and have grown tired of living there. Like a pining teen who longs for the sweet taste of independence, this teen’s first solo abode would be elsewhere in the universe rather than elsewhere in a university. It’s the same, but different.

I treasure those moments of unfettered joy when a streak of light with a tail half the length of the sky shoots past us; a snowball in space determined to break new records for both speed and allure. I am bereft of speech and look to my daughter. There are no words to describe such visions.

Except the ones that come to her easily. Like stumbling upon a book of illusions, the secrets are exposed with revealing illustrations and strip you of future goose bumps. I try to see the science as she does: a language sweet as poetry to her ears. But I miss my warriors, my dragons and sisters.

Vincent van Gogh: Starry Night Over the Rhone ...

Vincent van Gogh: Starry Night Over the Rhone Arles, September 1888 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The two of us view the same stars, the same sky, the same vast and wondrous world.

It’s the same, but different. And beautiful.

~Shelley

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

 

The bus is here.

School Bus_HDR2

School Bus_HDR2 (Photo credit: tncountryfan)

Could there be a more depressing week than the one before school resumes in August?

I can’t even use the phrase “school begins” as is traditional, because for the last few years, it feels as if we never quite got into the “school’s out” phase. Graduation happened and then BAM!, we were off and running.

I look at this last week the same way I view the last brownie in the pan. Why did it have to come to this? I seriously need an Everlasting Gobstopper Summer. Just one, where I can join the loads of other parents who I eavesdrop on in the grocery store saying, “I cannot wait until I get these kids outta the house and back in the classroom.”

When I hear this, I mostly feel a great sense of shame. They obviously have been spending a bucketload of time with their kids—taking them to parks, swimming, friends, picnics, sports games and Disneyland. I, on the other hand, made mine weed.

I’m pretty sure that’s all they’ll remember.

That, and the fun family road trip. And I’m quite certain our definition of fun is far from similar.

Funny enough, I came across a list—a Summer Bucket List—thrown together by some breezy live life to its fullestmagazine, and figured, just for giggles, I’d see how many of these “suggestions” I was able to cross off between Memorial and Labor Day.

English: Bathing dress from 1858

English: Bathing dress from 1858 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.  Skinny Dip (Yes, but the sheep are incredibly pious and won’t hesitate to sling their pastoral opinions around as they complete their stations of the meadow.)

2. Take in a music festival. (As lovely as this idea seems, it’s never a restful one, as we’re usually on the stage. We are the music festival.)

3. Run through a meadow. (Live in one. Think of me as Julie Andrews only with a husband who no one wants to sing. And I would never think of making clothing from curtains. At least not before they served as bed spreads for a few years and then wrapping paper.)

4. Be the first one at the farmer’s market. (This requires stepping outside and into the garden. Viola. I’m first. And last.)

5. Take more pictures. (click here for proof)

6. Reread your favorite novel. (I’ve kicked it up a notch. I’m trying to write my favorite novel. Sadly, a few other people have already written my favorite novel, so now I’m just trying to use a thesaurus to substitute in a few words to make it truly mine. Seriously, there are only so many archetypal stories. The rest are variations on those themes. I bet no one will notice.)

7. Get caught in the rain. (An all-American favorite, until you have to do farm chores in a torrential downpour. Kinda sucks the romance right out of it.)

8. Wear your swimsuit all day. (This happens regularly when we run out of underwear.)

2 kittens taking a nap

2 kittens taking a nap (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9. Nap so long and hard that you can’t remember where you are when you wake up. (The last part happens frequently, but the first part is never long enough because the sound of a shrill and blaring horn from an oncoming car means the other driver is really picky about that crucial last half second before impact.)

10. Smell like saltwater all day. (Check. Except it’s not from the sea, but rather from the sea of sweat one accumulates from a sweltering Virginia summer. That layer usually peels off just after the first hard frost.)

11. Grow something green. (And red and orange and yellow and purple … done it. And, admittedly, brown and moldy green.)

12. Make a great picnic basket. (No basket needed. We just perch on the garden wall with a hose and a pocket knife.)

13. Hike to the summit of a mountain. (I hike to the bottom just to get the mail.)

14. Stargaze. (This is performed on a regular basis. I’m trying to memorize where it is I’ll need to look when having conversations with my daughter, who plans to live out the rest of her natural life in some space module on Mars.)

English: Artist's rendering of a Mars Explorat...

Artist’s rendering of a Mars Exploration Rover.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

15. Make lemonade. (click here for proof)

16. Catch fireflies. (After a full day of catching and squashing squash bugs, the whole bug catching craze deflates.)

17. Have a water fight. (This usually happens when one of us draws the short straw waiting in line for a shower.)

18. Watch the fireworks. (It’s all on the front lawn and coordinated by Sir Sackier, which is fine, apart from the bit where we have to sit through another rendition of his waving a fistful of sparklers and singing God Save the Queen.)

19. Sleep in a tent. (Does a Motel 6 count? The walls are paper thin and you’ve got just as many “bed bugs.”)

20. Go to the donut shop for breakfast. (Now on the agenda for tomorrow morning!)

Woman's one-piece bathing suit, c.1920

Woman’s one-piece bathing suit, c.1920 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously, the list is endless. I still must squeeze in building a campfire, making s’mores and buying a summer bathing suit. Hence the reasoning behind activity numero uno.

Still, there are seven days left. And I can assure you, not one of them is going to be spent stooped over and pulling up weeds.

~Shelley

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

 

Fun family road trips; dead ends, dead fish and finding out you’re dead wrong.

1941 Packard Station Wagon advertisement

Family road trips.

They seem like such a good idea inside your head. Your husband is driving, you’re navigating and pointing out roadside America or quoting notable historical tidbits, the kids are in the backseat working diligently at car bingo, and collecting waves from sleepy truckers as they barrel past, and everyone has to pee at exactly the same time.

In reality, my fourteen-year old son has secretly programmed the GPS to avoid all major roads, in particular any that post a speed limit over 25 mph, both kids are plugged into their iPods, Netflix and the comedy station on Pandora, all while texting with such speed their thumbs are a blur, and I’m driving so that Sir Sackier can work on his laptop. This was how we’d spend the next three days doing a few college tours before dropping off my mini NASA scientist for her three week stint immersed in quantum physics and special relativity. I have no idea what any of that is; I only know that it’s incredibly expensive to study, and because of it, we can no longer afford airline tickets until the year 2017.

Currently, I am the only person seeing the magnificent scenery I championed as a bonus to car travel.

"World's Largest Walleye"

“World’s Largest Walleye” (Photo credit: jcarwash31)

They’re missing out.

Anyone interested in stopping by the world’s biggest bathtub? Or would you like me to snap a photo of you in front of the nation’s oldest septic tank? How ‘bout we drive through the giant Ukrainian sausage?

Lookee there, that’s the most Styrofoam anyone has ever used to make a walleye.

Did anyone see that house made entirely out of beer cans? I didn’t think so.

They’re missing out.

Who’s going to choose where we eat for lunch? And no, I swear, if anyone suggests The Cracker Barrel one more time they’re going to be running alongside the car for the next hour. I say we find someplace local and charismatic.

No. We are not eating at a place called Buns & Guns.

toilets of the world, unite!

(Photo credit: kalavinka)

Sorry, I’m drawing the line at restaurants that use toilet seats as dining chairs.

You’ve got to be kidding me. You want to eat at a place with a name like Pu Pu Hot Pot?

Ah, Sir Sackier? Are you listening to any of this? Have you heard the lunch selections?

(tappity tap tap tappity tap) Uh … anything is fine with me. Whatever you guys want. (tap tap tappity tap)

Alrighty then, Pu Pu Hot Pot it is.

Finding a hotel should be super simple, and it is. But finding a hotel that’s not indexed on BedBugRegistry.com is a near nightmare. Throw in the small wish for someplace where a wedding, bar mitzvah or middle school choir tour is not nesting is near impossible. With all the slamming doors, white kid rap and weeping, unmarried, middle-aged bridesmaids haunting the hallways, the only way one might manage sleep is if … nope, I’m coming up blank here.

Chicken Little

Chicken Little (Photo credit: damonj74)

One night I’d almost gotten lucky enough to be knocked unconscious by a small chunk of the bedroom’s ceiling.

“Oh my God, the sky is falling!” I shouted at my husband, who was fortunate enough to be one ceiling tile farther away.

“Can you still see?” he mumbled groggily.

“I have no idea! It’s pitch black in here.”

He grabbed the debris, flung it on the floor and reached over to sleepily pat my shoulder. “Well, at least you can still hear. We’ll check out your vision in the morning.”

Celebrating a teenage boy’s birthday on the road proved a little more challenging than I thought. Lugging the extra bag with his presents wasn’t too bad, but forgetting wrapping paper left me scratching the side of my head in search of creativity.

Hotel towels, restaurant napkins, my tie-died yoga t-shirt and public restroom toilet paper all managed to do the trick.

Tacky? No doubt.

Resourceful? You betcha.

aquarium

aquarium (Photo credit: cuatrok77)

Dinner was sushi, smack dab in the middle of land-locked Pennsylvania—fish capital of the U.S.

Entering the restaurant was somewhat surreal with the sleek and shiny, mirrored surfaces and the miles of neon light tubing filling up any space not occupied by a fish tank.

“I feel like I’m in a giant tanning bed,” my daughter whispered, her face glowing greener than Al Gore.

The food was first-rate, but it’s hard to get a good feeling about the authenticity of an Asian restaurant that’s run entirely by a couple named Abram and Sadie Hochstetler.

Much of the dinner discussion revolved around the colleges we’d spent the day touring and compiling a lists of the pros and cons of each school. How do you advise your child as to where they belong? Where they’ll find fulfillment and happiness in pursuit of learning? Where they’ll suceed in the search for a fine life?

We left the heavy dialogue behind and crossed the street to a place none of us had ever been, but each of us had poked fun at. Friendly’s. Where ice cream makes the meal. Or maybe where ice cream IS the meal.

Ice Cream Sundae

(Photo credit: Swamibu)

It seemed like a fine place to cap off a birthday celebration.

The menu was extensive, the wait staff, more than true to the restaurant’s name. How could people be that happy in a dead-end job, accomplishing nothing more than adding to the nation’s ever-expanding waistline? But it was hard not to notice our waiter’s genuine enthusiasm.

Before the bill came, we spent the last few minutes lecturing our children about the importance of a good education so that they’d have options and not be limited by low hourly wages.

Our waiter presented us the bill. Sir Sackier tilted his head and then pointed to the young man’s forearm. A Hebrew biblical verse was tattooed from wrist to elbow.

“That’s interesting,” my husband said.

The waiter pivoted to flash us his other arm. “I’ve another one here in English.”

“How come?” my son said.

The waiter smiled. “It’s a conversation starter. I like to talk about my faith.”

“Then why not go into the ministry?” I asked.

“I have. I’m a pastor, just like my father. I went to college to study religion and found I needed something more.”

My daughter looked at him and smiled. “And you found it at a Friendly’s?”

The guy beamed. “I sure did. Best job I’ve ever had. I really found where I fit in, but mostly, where I’m needed.”

Giant Ukrainian sausage ring (kielbasa) in Mun...

I think we all left that evening humbled, but more importantly, we carried home a few valuable lessons:

#1. Hard work is not hard work at all if you love where you are and what you do.

#2. The Amish really know their sushi.

#3. You’ve truly not experienced life until you’ve driven through a giant Ukrainian sausage.

~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)!

 

Driving me mad

I have a cranky back. I also have a daughter who is just learning how to drive. Can anyone else see how this is a combination that should generally be avoided? Yet, if I allow my husband to teach her to drive, there will be two people in the family whom I deem uninsurable.

As we sit in the boxy aluminum can hurdling down the local highway to and from town, I hear myself repeating the same phrase, only in varying degrees of pitch: “Stay in your lane.” Place an exclamation point after it, emphasize any of the four words, or put the whole thing in caps, and I’m sure the picture will become increasingly clear.

“I am in my lane,” is the usual response.

“Yes, you are, but you’re also in three others, and I can’t begin to understand the physics of how that can be, but let’s just stick with the lesson on courtesy for right now.”

The International Space Station is featured in...

This budding driver is a girl who understands all the functioning components of the International Space Station and squirrels away ideas on how to improve them, but somehow believes that if she says, “Whoa,” to the car, it will do her bidding.

“Hear the kathunk, kathunk, kathunk sounds beneath us?” I point out to her. “That’s called driving by Braille. We highly discourage people from doing that.”

“But isn’t that discriminating against the visually impaired?”

“Yep, in favor of supporting the continuance of life. Blind folks are not allowed to drive. And you are not allowed to use this vehicle like it’s a bumper car. Now pay attention and stay in your lane.”

I'm okay, you're... well, maybe not

I’m okay, you’re… well, maybe not (Photo credit: pdxjmorris)

Yes, it’s important for teens to learn how to drive. It fits nicely into the ‘teach them independence’ category. Yet I did not appreciate the length of time it takes to teach this skill. And I’ve come to realize that not all people make good teachers. In fact, I’m positive there will be no gift certificate to Barnes & Noble or the local teacher supply store as a thank you token at the end of this 45 hour teaching term. Chances are, if my daughter springs for anything, it would be a book with a message from the 99ȼ bin in Target, like Top 10 Ways to Avoid Your Intervention, or a tissue wrapped once-used unicorn soap from a fourth grade princess party. I’m not expecting much, because I really don’t deserve it.

I’m mostly grateful that my husband is not around when I’m in the passenger seat,

Justin Bieber at the Sentul International Conv...

Justin Bieber at the Sentul International Convention Center in West Java, Indonesia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

rolling my eyes and sighing with more emphasis than a thirteen-year old girl gazing at a Justin Bieber poster when I have to repeatedly bark out the phrase, “Watch your speed!”  This is because I’m forever chastising him for losing his temper with the kids at finding shoes on the stairs or sweatshirts strewn about. I wouldn’t blame him one bit for locking me out of the house the next time I utter the words, “Learning is layering, honey.”

Shamefully, I’ve become more than adept at creating believable excuses for why we can’t switch seats on any particular day. The better ones are:

  • We have to be there in twenty minutes and I don’t want you pressured by time. It’s an unnecessary stress. In fact, if we get there with time to spare, I’ll buy you a smoothie.
  • I can see that school has totally wiped you out this afternoon. Why don’t you put the seat back, close your eyes and I’ll play some Zen pan flute music from Pandora?

The worst ones are:

  • I took your driver’s permit inside to the kitchen to help scrape the frost off the freezer door and forgot to bring it back into the car with me. Sorry, it’s the law.
  • There’s something funky going on with the car’s alignment, so I’m going to run a few steering wheel tests on the way. Next time, okay?
Virginia's Capitol

Virginia’s Capitol (Photo credit: Thruhike98)

  • The Department of Transportation has just issued a Federal mandate announcing that no one under the age of 21 should drive today. They’re collecting safety data for some new research. Ah, the government. My hands are tied.

Maybe you’re shaking your head at my unforgivable deception. Maybe you’re jotting down notes for when it’s your turn. It doesn’t matter. I’m not terribly proud.

My only excuse is that it’s increasingly difficult to think clearly and rationally when so much of you is clenched and remains that way for a duration longer than the length of a sneeze. Our bodies are not meant for that kind of continuous trauma. Surely this is all a result of blood circulation failure to the brain.

1955 Virginia License Plate 1 of 2 Original an...

(Photo credit: bsabarnowl)

In the end, she’ll get her license, I’m fairly certain. And in the meantime, I have been reconnected with many of my dead relatives, who keep making pop-up appearances, smiling and open-armed, usually at busy intersections. Maybe it’s me, announcing my imminent arrival, as I’ve come to make a habit of shouting, “OH MY GOD, WE’RE GOING TO DIE!”

whoa

(Photo credit: Kimli)

Or maybe they’re just there as a gentle reminder, telling everyone else to Stay In Your Lane, so that won’t happen.

~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)

Food Fight

Perhaps it’s the same in your house, but come 7:22 a.m., two minutes past broadcasted departure time Monday thru Friday, my kitchen is ablaze with a mad panic rush of activity. Plastic tubs are flying from cupboard to counter. The cat shrieks from the pantry, and a voice bellows, “Move, Smudge!” from behind the door. The fridge door flies open with a force that suggests three times the power a 98 pound body can produce.

I make a mental note to check the hinges.

The dog, sensing the frantic energy, joins in at fevered pitch, snatching at swatches of loose clothing and dangling school bag straps. Someone shouts at the poor thing to Stay!as we fly out the front door and into the car, late and harried.

Given up

I rip out of the driveway, spraying gravel in a wide arc behind me and start the eye darting dance that is both necessary and routine when coming down the mountain. Whether deer, possum, raccoon, or hippo, they all know precisely when it is that we are in need of a clear runway, and usually choose to play chicken at that moment. If we are truly ill-fated, a posse of turkeys will band themselves together as if bowling pins waiting for the strike. They stare at my car, wild-eyed and frozen, a bowling ball of unprecedented proportions hurling toward them.

A flock of Eastern Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gal...

Turning onto the road and having woken half the surrounding hillside with a blaring horn of warning while pitching lightning fast down the mountain, I take a deep breath and ask, “What did you both pack for lunch?”

“Two Cliff bars and a Clementine,” is one response. “Water and a cheese stick,” is the other. The breath I’d inhaled rushes from my lungs, deflating my body and any hope I’d had for a stress-free day.

“What did you both have for breakfast?” I ask, a tiny bit of optimism pinned to their answers.

The responses, “I didn’t have time,” and “I wasn’t hungry,” quickly pierce that balloon.

The teenage stomach is one I can no longer fathom or recall. I am in a state of bewilderment when one begins to realize that this is the new normal. There is no going back. Now in charge of only one of their three (supposed) meals, I am forced to think strategically under pressure.

Flight Director Gene Kranz

Just like Gene Kranz when he gathered all the available engineers of NASA around a table and dumped a box of plastic hosing paraphernalia before them, telling them they needed to fit a large square through a small circle, I too, must pilfer through the items in my kitchen in order to squish a day’s worth of nutrition into a fork-sized bite to fit into a stomach that may or may not exist. When will they make a pill for this?!

Sound childhood nutrition is an obsession of mine—a cause I study, support and fight for. Now it’s also my sleep disorder.

Maybe I let the pendulum swing too far in my attempts to create children who strut out of the house each morning armed with a jar of kimchi, a cookie made entirely of quinoa and powdered stevia, and a sword to cut down any posters displaying golden arches or a stalk of corn.

English: Everlasting Gobstoppers candy made by...

I probably deserve it. In fact, chances are, my son will end up taking a position as an executive for Monsanto, tracking down and suing farmers for saving apple seeds from their lunch sacks, and my daughter will create the first workable prototype for Willy Wonka’s three course meal in a stick of sugar free gum. She’ll probably even get Congress to qualify it as a vegetable for school children because it has essence of carrot as one of its ingredients.

Dinner counts for a lot up here. The Family Meal is still important. We talk politics, debate religion and generally ignore anyone sliding food to the dog.

My hope is that one day, forty years from now, when my children are finally old (read wise) enough to have offspring of their own, my grandchildren will come to sit on my lap when visiting me at the Metamucil Relaxative Retirement Village, point to my Jell-O and say, “What is that? I’ve never seen that stuff before.”

I will smile and drool happily.

~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).