In Memory

Dear Reader,

I pause this month from my normal scribbles to share the sad news of my sweet hound’s passing. Haggis has been the inspirational source of countless essays within this blog, as only a dog that is either full of devilment or saintly radiance could provide. He possessed the latter in spades and will be dearly missed. My heart is crushed, an unabating anguish is my new familiar—an indifferent timekeeper I must walk beside but yearn to part with. As deep as the blistering pain is—the price to have shared a path with him—it is one I will pay, as I was lucky to have known him at all.

The Power of the Dog by Rudyard Kipling 

There is sorrow enough in the natural way

From men and women to fill our day;

And when we are certain of sorrow in store,

Why do we always arrange for more?

Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware

Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy

Love unflinching that cannot lie—

Perfect passion and worship fed

By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.

Nevertheless it is hardly fair

To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits

Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,

And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs

To lethal chambers or loaded guns,

Then you will find—it’s your own affair—

But… you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,

With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!).

When the spirit that answered your every mood

Is gone—wherever it goes—for good,

You will discover how much you care,

And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,

When it comes to burying Christian clay.

Our loves are not given, but only lent,

At compound interest of cent per cent.

Though it is not always the case, I believe,

That the longer we’ve kept ’em, the more do we grieve:

For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,

A short-time loan is as bad as a long—

So why in—Heaven (before we are there)

Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

~Shelley

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.

Success Has Many Fathers … and Mothers, Teachers, and Mentors.

My daughter sent me a cartoon today, the day after she and many others participated in the successful and somewhat unfathomable feat of landing a rover on Mars.

Countless people have reached out to congratulate me with phrases like—Proud Mom, Rockstar Applause, or #dreamcometruekudos. They are all lovely and wholly touching sentiments that are full of genuine warmth and well wishes. And I have received every single one of them with the same affection they have been delivered.

But I also understand now more than ever, and certainly see crystalized in the cartoon above, how each one of us is such a small part of the larger picture. Our accomplishments are a composition of all the people who have touched our lives in big ways and small.

And although there are no moments when her and her team have a red-carpet opportunity to say thank you to the countless individuals who helped land them where they are today, I have been lucky to hear myriad conversations where endless individuals unrelated to the team have been singled out with gratitude and admiration.

If we live with fortune on our side, we may traverse down a long path where we first begin in need of great assistance—and it is provided—then turn the bend where we become part of a team, helping to shoulder the load, and finally, march at the head of the herd, leading with confidence birthed from experience.

I think most of us would agree there are few people who claim they deserve solo credit and are entirely self-made, as we simply need to reflect for mere moments to discover that at some time, somewhere, someone opened a door for us—even if just a crack.

Perseverance, the Mars 2020 rover, and the red planet’s newest resident is an ideal example of how collective desires came together to create something extraordinary. It was first envisioned, then built by loving hands, meticulously developed for a far-reaching and incredibly ambitious purpose, and finally unleashed, propelled forward with trepidation, but ultimately with immeasurable fingerprints of hope attached to it. We wait with bated breath and watch from afar, occasionally offering support, but mostly crossing our fingers that Perseverance will do what she was always meant to.

It’s true, not every child is built by loving hands, or has the opportunities we know would be most profitable and rewarding for them, but the model is there. And reaching one’s potential is a much more arduous challenge, if not an impossible accomplishment, if one is faced with a solo journey.

As our planet swirls with the ebb and flow of prosperity and unrest, we are continuously reminded about the importance of the investment in our future. And our children are clearly our future. They need us to dream them into reality, to nurture them toward potential, and open the doors to their success.

Each one of us has something worthy of contributing to this planet’s collective children whether we are their earliest preschool mentors, the physics instructor who hinted you might not be capable of work in his classroom knowing it would be used as a motivating phrase to prove him wrong, or the person who gave them a summer job in a field they had no idea they’d soon develop an interest in. We are all teachers in some realm. Big and small, positive and negative, impactfully lasting or eventually forgettable.

And it is with these words that I am encouraged. Our roles in life may differ, as we may never be the individual who wins the contest, who is elected to the post, or who discovers the earthshattering cure, but we are part of the journey where others reach those heights. Every rung on the ladder makes the toilsome climb less cumbersome and more realizable.

Therefore, not only do I send a massive congratulations to all who made this spectacular and otherworldly feat a reality, but I cast a wide net of gratitude to all the people who helped to develop my child’s dreams and earthly purpose.

Thank you for your loving hands, as it is up to all of us to play our part, wherever we are on our individually calibrated path of life, to participate in the projects of building great things, or maybe more importantly, building great people.

~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.

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Singles Club

There is one area in my life where I prove I’m a walking dichotomy. It’s the space that divides how I write, and then … everything else.

As a writer, one is usually tossed into one of two buckets. You can be defined as a plotter or a pantser. Plotter people are diligent with outlines, with creating the beginning, the middle, and the end of their story before penning any work on the manuscript, and they have a good sense of direction for the scope of the project when they first pull up that blank page and begin inserting the rest of the necessary details.

Pantser people (as in fly-by-the-seat-of) are more like archeologists who stumble upon a small protrusion of bone under foot. They then find their tools and carefully start digging, sweeping away all debris surrounding the bone until they’ve unearthed the complete animal that is their marvelous story. That story is mostly hidden from them until they’ve completed the dig. They typically have little to no idea as to the type of animal (the genre), the number of bones (characters, plot points, etc.), and whether the animal is whole (does this baby have a beginning, middle, and end or is it riddled with mind-boggling gaps?).

I’m a pantser with my writing and a plotter in life.

It is unexplainably weird.

One would think that with the freewheeling way I like a story to unveil itself, I would reflect that same sort of attitude in daily life. Except I cannot stomach the risk. Planning and organizing everything brings me the same level of calm as eating a giant blueberry muffin. When finished doing either, I just feel all is well with the world, and maybe a little bloated.

Which is why I struggled against the universe this month as it tried to make me switch hats without warning.

To set the stage, I am big on recycling. I am also a penny pincher and a teensy bit of a hoarder, but I think in healthy doses, these three can go hand in hand and not have people worrying you should be institutionalized. I’m more thrifty than anything else, saving things until I can no longer gain benefit from them. Like the four old computers and their accompanying monitors sitting in a corner and waiting for me to decide on their futures.

My county has a biannual “hazardous material and home electronics” recycling day at the dump. This would be my first visit participating in the festival, but I chose only one computer to do the test run with—as I wanted to assess the safety factor of handing over defunct equipment that had previously held all my life’s most protected information within it.

I thought it would be easy. As in, drive in, hand over, say thanks, drive off.

It was not. It actually was more like: drive in …

My county dump had opened its golden gates at 8 am. I arrived at 9. It wasn’t until 9:30 that I realized I’d possibly made an error in judgment. It wasn’t until 9:31 that I realized I’d definitely made an error in judgement.

Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

I had a whole plan for this day—a million things to do—and those things had each been assigned a very specific time slot. Today was all about efficiency, and the fact that I was inching forward in a line I couldn’t see the front of meant someone was messing about with my day’s plot.

After half an hour of waiting in a mostly idle position and spotting one car leaving the dump every five minutes, I began to study my surroundings and not just stare at the entertaining piles of refuse divvied up into appropriate heaps. I surmised several things:

  1. My county dump had obviously hired engineers from Disney World to create a snaking path toward the attraction we were destined for.
  2. That snaking path was going to take each car around the entirety of the landfill, circling its footprint so that all of us could see just how wasteful a county we actually were.
  3. The entire county had shown up to throw something away.
  4. I left my smart phone at home.

It was now 9:45 and I had inched five cars farther along the circumference of madness mountain. I was in the middle of doing a complicated mathematical spreadsheet in my head inputting data that included the number of cars I could see in front of me, a guestimate of how many lengths of the chain of cars in front of me it might require to circumvent the entire rock of rubbish, how long it took to empty out the trunk of each car, and a little side bet on when anyone would become angry and frantic enough to get out of their car and climb the trash tower and get a look on the other side.

Two things were certain—one was that you could not turn around and leave. It was one way only. And two was that I could not do a complicated mathematical spreadsheet in my head.

I looked longingly into the backseat and wished I could make that computer come back to life.

I had mail to answer. I had a book to edit. I had a lawn to mow. And somewhere around hour two I realized I had a bladder to empty.

I spent the time watching the girl in front of me and the guy behind me get out of their cars and start chatting. I cleaned out my glove box. I listened to the only radio station without static interview a famous Indian chef about the best traditional Diwali recipes one should cook. I watched the car in front of me run out of gas and the car behind me fill it up again from red plastic containers. I watched two people hug. I wondered how many people had left their kids at home with a “be back in a sec!” statement. I watched the girl in front of me and the guy behind me share an incredibly romantic picnic on the hood of one car. I meditated in 7-minute increments, in between each eight-foot leap forward. I panicked thinking about the nearly three hours sitting in my car, the potential to run out of gas, and the desperate need to pee. I cried during the makeshift wedding involving the girl in front of me and the guy behind me. I shouted out my window that I could cook them Gulab Jamun and Paneer Tikka if they needed catering for the reception.

At 1 pm—four hours after first getting in line to safely dispose of my one old computer, I pulled up to a guy dressed entirely in plastic. I assumed he was safe from Covid, from hazardous waste, and from freezer burn if he were to be improperly refrigerated.

The guy opened my trunk and said, “Just this?”

I rested my head on the steering wheel and muttered, never again.

He closed my trunk and shouted, “I hope you made some friends!”

I slowly followed the car in front of me out of the dump’s gates, watching the new happy couple with the “Just Married” words written from the contents of old fast food ketchup packets across their back window, and listened to the tinkling of a few metal gas and oil canisters they’d tied to the backend bumper.

It was rather surreal to look back at my plotter self and watch two pantsers unfolding life as it came to them. And driving home behind the newlyweds I couldn’t help from smiling. Who would have thought the county dump serviced residents with both drop offs and pickups?

~Shelley

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

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

The Impossible Job of Thanking Your Barista

I’m sure you’re up to your earballs in leftover turkey right about now. That is, if you overestimated how much turkey only you and one other person plus your dog could wolf down in two days’ time. Or maybe you were like me and decided that come hell or high water, you were going to make five gallons of bone broth with that carcass, and needed all 14 pounds of the turkey you ordered last year—pre-Covid—when you found that super-duper farm that said they would raise the bird to your specifications.

For Pete’s sake, that farmer read Harry Potter to your poultry from the the end of June onward. And he played it Vivaldi before bedtime. And he regularly fed it a posh protein diet of sautéed shredded lizard sprinkled with dried grasshopper powder, delicately placed atop a bed of tender shaved young bulbs. On special occasions, old Tom got a soup pureed with snails, slugs, and worms, swirled with a small dusting of sand and gravel for grit to aid with his proper digestion.

Yeah, you really can’t go back on someone’s efforts like that.

So, a lot may have changed from last year’s big food festival, and this year’s attendance level might have been reduced to only those you regularly sneeze on and don’t apologize to. But the one thing that has remained a steady and dependable guest at all of our tables is the necessary presence of gratitude.

We are reminded of it everywhere. We may be feeling rather down in the dumps about not scarfing down half of Aunt Marge’s Rum Chiffon Pie this year, but all we need do is read the headlines to remind ourselves about how many Aunt Marge’s are no longer around to make such a treat.

It’s an effortless endeavor to see that we are not alone in our suffering or sadness, and there are countless others who may be experiencing greater loss than we are.

It reminds me a little bit of growing up in Wisconsin. One was not allowed to indulge in the wholly justifiable complaining about how cold one was. Because it was not a personal experience. Everyone was cold. Chin up. Shut up. Get up. And get on with it.

But back to the gratitude.

Typically, I am the type of person who nearly falls on my knees in appreciation for anyone who’s kind enough to even hold open a door for me, let alone ease some significant burden. And I’m annoyingly delighted to see every sunrise or sunset, every flower bloom, or bird in flight. I get an absolute thrill even hearing my dog belch as I’m confidently assured he loved the meal I prepared for him so much that he snarfed it down too quickly and ate a bucket of indigestible air.

Yeah, uber grateful person.

So, it came as a bit of a head-scratcher when I recently heard an interview with A.J. Jacobs, an author I adore, as he spoke about his latest book, Thanks a Thousand.

Knowing how seriously he plunged into his research when writing something new—like The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, where he took it upon himself to obey the divine suggestions to “Love thy neighbor,” “Be fruitful and multiply,” and of course, “Stone adulterers,” I had no doubt his newest book would be as intricately studied.

Mr. Jacobs takes the elemental concept of exploring how gratitude can enrich our lives and produce countless experiences where we are more thoughtful and grounded by using his morning cup of coffee as the chosen object of his determined efforts to thank everyone who was a part of making it materialize before him.

Seems rather effortless really, but in truth … it is impossible.

From the clerk who rang up your bag of beans, one can move to the roaster, the trucker, the airline, the packagers, the bean harvester, the farmer, the mechanic who fixed the tractor the farmer needed to use to plant the beans. The manufacturer of the tractor, the countless companies that created the parts for that manufacturer, the construction workers who built those plants, the people who made lunch for those construction workers. I think you get my point. The list is exhaustive.

Jacobs speaks to and visits miners and biologists, goatherds and smugglers, and that travel required trucks and airplanes, boats and motorcycles. He realizes the myriad materials that went into the making of that sip—the rubber, wood, steel, and bat guano. His assessment is that it required thousands of human beings collaborating across dozens of countries.

To make one cup of coffee.

In an era when we feel so disconnected from one another, A.J. Jacobs illuminates the miracle of human cooperation. Togetherness. Relationships. Synergy. Support.

It is not unlike the super-human efforts that have gone into the research and development of one of many vaccines our planet is desperately and impatiently waiting upon. We have discovered that it takes the whole world to help the whole world.

And as the world and all its many inhabitants do what they can to heal our planet and our people, let’s take a moment to realize just how connected we really, truly are and need to be.

This year we may be apart. But it is so that next year and for countless years following we can be together, closer than we’ve ever been before, because gratitude became the cream in our coffee.

~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.