The Din of December

There is something magical about the word December.

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

December has a sound all its own.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

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

Don’t Wait for a Chance … Take it

A couple of days ago I did a yet to be published interview for a bourbon organization geared specifically to women. Not surprisingly, its name is Bourbon Women.

The first question I was asked was When did you realize your life’s path was leading you to whiskey?

I have answered this curious query a thousand times over the last twenty-five years, and yet I never tire of telling the tale.

My first sip of whisky was in Scotland where after I’d finished a tour of the Oban distillery—situated on the frothy west coast—I’d been handed a dram of their prized product to try. A mirror would have reflected the female doppelganger of the green Mr. Yuk face, and I immediately declared this liquid foul, poisonous, and something that needlessly dirtied a previously clean glass. I was 22.

I had been touring Scotland for the first time and was perpetually aware of the countless fragrant assaults on my nose and the repeated exposure of jaw-dropping vistas. This country was leaving its indelible thumbprint all over my senses. The whisky was one I was trying to rub off.

The following evening, our hotel barkeep asked if I’d like a wee dram before dinner. With a tongue more acerbic than the whisky I’d tasted, my then husband clarified how it would be a wasted pour, as my palate was rebellious to the drink.

Feigning some chest-clutching cardiac arrest, the barkeep asked what I’d tried, and then knelt beside me, lamenting over the fact that my tongue had been assaulted with the deep end of the whisky flavor spectrum. As a neophyte, I should have been introduced to the various “flavor camps” that existed within single malt scotch.

With deft speed, the barkeep returned with an elegantly shaped nosing glass filled with an ounce of straw-colored gold—a whisky my tutor described as a “Lowland Lady.” I tentatively took a sip and held the liquid in my mouth for a few seconds as my counseling barkeep instructed. The memory of the Oban’s feisty smoke, oak, and cloves was replaced with a glass of something delicate, sweet, and custardy.

Everything about today filtered through my mind. The aroma of embering peat fires. The leaden smudge of sky that dispensed a drizzly mist. The pub with its heavy meat pies and patrons with their heavier dialects. The woozy-inducing beer—leaving me heavy-lidded and inarticulate. The muffled rustlings of the ancient hotel with faint whispers of its past inhabitants. The towering mountains, the ravaged castles, the gleaming lochs.

I swallowed and felt transported. This elixir was as bewitching as promised.

Thereafter, I found every new adventure with whisky fused onto the myriad ingredients that made up this country. The citizens, their tales, their villages and pubs, the distilleries and warehouses, the landscapes that unrolled in front of me, and the inescapable flavors and scents that soaked the air and earth. Whisky was no longer simply a high proof spirit, but a potion that unfurled in story form, revealing the magical elements of countless distinctive times, places, craftsmen, and skill.

Had I remained steadfast and insular—unwilling to accept the proffered hand holding out a second chance—I would have missed the thrill of a career where I now find myself writing, researching, and lecturing about whisky, as well as selling it, making it, and most importantly, enjoying it. I would have been blind to a magnetic pull that existed right beside me, shunned from view because of one unfortunate first impression.

And haven’t we all had this experience? One where we make a quick judgement, assess prematurely, haphazardly dismiss something or someone and then march on our way, never realizing the potential impact of possibility.

In a time where we are inundated with choice, where so many of us are surrounded by an embarrassment of riches, the tapping for our attention ubiquitous and inescapable, do we owe it to ourselves to slow the speed?

Should we study and take more time to contemplate before we move with haste on toward the next decision needing to be made?

I often wonder how many times I may have made this very blunder, erroneously rushing beyond the now and into the what’s next.

Of course, it’s likely we all have a handful of things we attempt with repeated effort, and for one reason or another, failure is what we face. We may never develop a taste for that food, or that book, or that person. And if we are impartial with those efforts, not sabotaging the outcome beforehand, it is easier to shrug and move on.

Interestingly, both sadly and happily, some things just take time. I was not born with a penchant for historical fiction. It took me three false starts before finding myself sucked into the world of Tony Soprano. And I fervently avoided hip hop music until my son started writing it and Ellen DeGeneres began dancing to it.

Those flavor camps of Scotland? The vast spectrum of delicate to rugged, silky to abrasive, subtle to pungent? I embrace it all now. But now is a long way from 22.

And looking back over those decades, I am filled with such incredulity and joy over what taking that second chance brought me. Yes, maybe it won’t work out. But maybe seeing if it does will be the best adventure ever.

It was for me.

~ 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.

Wandering Off with Profound Purpose

There is a trail I’ve grown to love. A roughly kept path, both rutted with roots and covered in cobwebs, it’s a weekly venture I now refer to as six miles long and two hours deep.

I’m the only one on this stretch, just me and my hound. It feels abandoned and forgotten—or perhaps never discovered. As if prepared for footfall but neglected of promotion.

 

It’s divided into neatly portioned passages, each segment unique with temperament and attitude. To enter one is to be enrobed within that identity, where changes, both subtle and of magnitude, shift your focus and your vigilance.

A spread of one mile bears a perfect canopy, deciduous arms reaching to embrace and braid, the rustling sounds of leaf brushing leaf and branch chafing branch.

Another offers the heat of sun and great crunch underfoot, as in this landscape, only those forged in a fever can cope and thrive.

Along the route there are dens and burrows. Fallen trees extend the invitation to any fauna weary of their old abodes to nestle somewhere new, a chance to peak from behind still rooted tubers and discern if this view will suffice.

There sits a sanctum halfway through where modern day has not been given permission to bloom. A small, grassy clearing dotted with the remnants of those who lived on it first—or died on it last. A lichened crop of chimney stones resist the urge to collapse, to follow those who built it toward a soft grave of repose.

The surreally green colored moss floor muffles all that travels across or through it, a lush weighted blanket keeping history quiet, but comforted.

Three corner stones, the vestiges of walls, invite the visitor to conjure the past and evoke voices long suppressed by the quelling power of isolation. They still whisper though. But only if you listen.

And I do.

I listen more, hear more, breathe more, smell more. I feel the gnarly rough-skinned barely buried roots that spread beneath my feet, catch my shoe, stub my toe. I feel the sponginess of rotting trees as I traverse across them, the pliable composition of their cells. The crack of their forgiving nature resounds across the hollow or the hilltop, upsetting the status quo soundscape and thrusting a hush upon the busy conversation of all woodland tongues.

There is an unraveling that takes place when walking unencumbered. When untethered from manmade sound, sights, and people. This is a forum for the memory reels to unspool, for the strolling narrator to develop his tale, for soliloquy in all its unpracticed inelegance to gush forth without restraint.

This trail is where I find rebalance. Where presets are over-ridden, and recalibration transpires. It is where rejection is handled, malfunctions are tackled, and failures owned. Insight is sought—if one hopes to move forward—for there is little benefit to a walk such as this if deep and soulful pursuit of the truth is ignored.

Emerging on the other side is transcendent and electrifying. Revelatory in that the accomplishment of such a trek was as feasible as hoped, and wondrous with the fresh new mental space now unoccupied.

The trail stays with me only fleetingly, the feel of crushed pine needles beneath me, the scent of forest floor decay, the melody of life as it exists in that treasured space.

So, I soldier on until next time. I muddle through the concrete days, the desk-filled hours, the mundane and must-be-dones.

The path waits there for me … or for no one.

But it is there, and I have felt its wonder.

~Shelley

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

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

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

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

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

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

And on my car.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(*insert squirrel snickering here)

Lastly, there is a beaver.

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

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

It’s okay. I’ve got time.

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

Nevertheless, he persists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

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

An Address to a Girl in a Dress (and a Cap and Gown)

Dear Reader,

With permission from my daughter, I’m sharing my “personal commencement speech” given to her following her college graduation. I imagine it is kindred to a million other parental letters. But she is my kin and my one in a million. 

Plus, I really needed an essay for my monthly blog post.

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

Dear Chloe,

I’m sure by now a million people have said, Congratulations.

So I won’t.

Because I don’t like being like a million other people. And neither do you. Which is why I like you so much.

I’m lucky that way because I could have birthed a child who wanted to be on American Idol, or who wished to run a gelato shop, or who believed working as an accountant for the IRS could be a safe and super fun job.

But I did not birth that child. Instead, I landed a girl who rolled her eyes so often with impatience in her formative years, one of those times she was looking skyward actually revealed something that held her gaze. A star? An airplane? A celestial thought?

We may never know. The point is, is that everyone has vision. Whether through working eyeballs or simply one’s focused imagination, we all have some sort of direction. Yours just happened to be up.

Which must have been really frustrating for you for over sixteen years of schooling, as in order to achieve a position in that field where everyone else is looking skyward, you spent most of it looking down. At textbooks and exams.

But you’re finished with all that right now.

For about a minute.

I know. That was an awful thing to say. Especially to someone who still carries around the blood shot eyes of a student who just days ago was pulling her umpteenth all-nighter.

But it’s the truth. Because …

Life is school.

It is a giant campus with a million different teachers and a gazillion annoying classmates who are repeatedly flunking and succeeding right alongside you. It is countless classes where the only scores given are pass and fail, and you get to determine what your GPA represents.

Money in the bank?

Title at work?

Rovers landed?

You decide.

Yes, there are still exams. Yearly, you have a giant pain-in-the-ass one which the government insists you show up for, but it’s not as bad as it seems because you’re granted a cheat sheet—they’re called accountants.

The medical ones are some you start attending with greater frequency—and again, thankfully this is “group effort” problem solving, so rest easier in that department too.

There are the courses you enroll in that instruct you on home ownership, insurance policies, contract negotiation, and credit card debt. These are all core classes you’d best take a few notes in, but there are others—the humanities electives—where you can sit back and relax, maybe doodle in the margins.

There is, and never will be, a syllabus for yoga.

Likely there will be some mind-blowing field trips—maybe Mount Olympus, maybe Olympus Mons. Who knows? But it’s likely with your itch to run, your feet will tread across paths old and new, and you’ll Snapchat your way across every one of them.

When we, as a society, look out across the world at the sliver of individuals, the percentage of our population, who end up having truly amazing jobs, we usually first think about how lucky they are.

In truth, or after a moment of Googling just what amount of effort goes into getting that job, we realize that no, they’re not lucky—they’ve worked their backsides off to get to that place.

Okay, and yes, they’re lucky.

But more important, we’re lucky.

We get to benefit by tucking up close and drafting off your efforts, positioning ourselves within your slipstream as you push aside the rough winds in front of you. If you do it well enough and deftly, you may be awarded a few plaques or trophies with your name etched across a plate of gold. But those recognitions usually only happen at work. No one is going to erect a statue in your honor for cleaning out the cat litter, but it’s equally important work, and occasionally lives or marriages depend upon it.

I will miss this last past phase of your life, the video chats where you don’t want to chat, but instead simply want some actual parent to be your parental controls on all things technologically distracting. So we both work in silence companionably. Or where you text photos of your meals, or your dress, or your clean laundry, or proof the cat is still alive so that someone can give you a faraway hug of approval for those independent efforts. Those reach-outs will lessen, and I will mourn them. But I’ve cherished them.

Every single one.

So as I’m not prepared to offer you congratulations, maybe the better thing, the more fitting thing, is to say, “Welcome.”

Welcome to the new hallways, the bigger classrooms, the special buses, and to the many lounges that hold some kick-ass club meetings. It’s going to be great. And hard. But mostly great.

Maybe I’m wrong. About the start of it all. Maybe as a little kid the first thing that left an impressionable mark on you was the red clay of Virginia beneath your tiny bare feet, and when you finally glanced up, you recognized the kinship of a sister planet’s soil.

The call was strong, and so are you.

Welcome here, honey.

Make yourself at home.

Love, Mom

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.