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.

On the Cutting Edge of Shear Madness

There is a venerable phrase many of us have heard countless times in our lives:

Doveryai, no proveryai.

Or if your Russian is a little bit rusty, Trust, but verify.

It’s an old proverb American writer Suzanne Massie passed on to Ronald Reagan before he began traveling to Russia to discuss U.S. and Soviet relations during his presidency.

It became for him somewhat of a trademark phrase.

It became a lodestar for many of us, a crutch for a few, but sage advice for all.

A week ago, my hound, Haggis, had none of the typical skepticism that normally washes across his face unless spotting a jar of peanut butter, his leash, or the hind leg of a freshly shot deer in my hands. But this was because he could no longer spot anything.

Literally. His hair had grown to a length where it could serve as an emergency ladder should he be close to a second story window and we had a fire.

So, when he finally heard the hair-raising snippets of my hair-cutting scissors, that skepticism shifted straight into suspicion and finally parked itself at defiance.

I had never cut his locks before, and he believed it was best if we left it that way.

Today, we find a great swath of our population experiencing a crisis of trust.

And why is that? The reasons are many. Understanding them is paramount and will likely shift the way we think, plan, behave, and move forward.

Together, this globe is redefining what life upon this planet is like. We are forced to assess our work, our relationships, our lifestyles, and the unforeseen shape they will morph into down the road.

Over the next several days I employ great determination during my time of internationally urged self-isolation to convince myself and my great hairy hound that I can accomplish the Herculean task of carving through his shrubby mane in the same way most of my fellow humans try to muddle their way through the maze of subterfuge, pretext, and great gobs of misinformation clouding our sight of the truth.

Daily, I place him in an unnatural position and beg him to be still as I scissor away for the space of an hour. I listen to the news: the practitioners, pundits, the press, and the president—each one with a decreasing sense of belief.

I feel Haggis tremble beneath the sound of sharp shears, and I put the scissors down and soothe him with all the ridiculous cooing tones meant to bring forth some ease. But I echo his same tiny twitch of skin when I’ve nipped him with the tip, or when they broadcast some new tally.

Every day certain numbers shoot up, and others slide down. We are warned by some and encouraged by others. Who do we trust? Who should we trust?

With boastful reassurance, I tell Haggis that he’s going to look fine—don’t gaze in the mirror, don’t question my actions, don’t think about it too hard. Trust me.

Each afternoon I hear about people who have heeded and those who’ve just balked. About those who have saved lives and those who have risked them. I wonder if, when this is all over, and I’m face to face with strangers, will I look at them with a fresh question: can I trust you?

And each afternoon I stand from my work, look at the dog, take a deep breath, and exhale with despair.

Good lord, what a mess. I’ve never done this before. And clearly it shows.

I fill him with flattery and maudlin praise, hoping he can’t see through my bluster and swash. But he feels my inexperience. And he knows that whatever my actions, I’ll not feel them as keenly as he does. He discovers at some point—day four or day five—that I’m frustrated with this routine, I’m wishing it over, and I’m unhappy with the results.

But he also knows that there’s no turning back, and this is where his lack of trust in my skills begins to crystallize into disregard.

I am somewhat offended as each day he pulls away from me, refusing to hand me a hoof or his chin.

You’re going to slow.

You’ve made a right mess.

Look here, now I bleed.

I hear him.

I should have left this up to the professionals. Although this is not a choice. We work with what we have, and a large team of experts does not appear at my door.

Each day I scooch the hound outside, toward the mile-long stretch of road between us and the mailbox. I keep my fingers crossed, hoping no one sees as we walk along. Haggis is only mid-way through this pruning, sporting a thick Mohawk down the length of his back, a mop-head, and four legs that are shaved only three-quarters down, making it appear that he is a belligerent teen prancing about in dog-friendly Uggs.

A neighbor stops his truck and rolls his window down slowly. He eyes the two of us with suspicion.

Has he got the virus?

No, I answer. He’s in the middle of a haircut.

Looks like he’s got the virus.

It does my ego and my confidence no favors to receive yet more criticism, and I mope the rest of the way home.

But tomorrow comes, and after convincing Haggis to climb atop the coffee table/barber’s chair once more, I ask myself a critical self-esteem building question:

What would Vidal Sassoon do?

It’s true—it’s not particularly hashtag worthy, but it seemed relatively uplifting for the moment.

And when one is on one’s own, navigating uncharted waters and expecting choppy results, one will search for signs of inspiration, direction, and security wherever one may find it.

(I’m lookin’ at you Dr. Fauci …)

We muddle through and trudge along. We rise to the occasion and make a small difference.

We find places to put our faith: in facts, in evidence, in one another.

And until we emerge on the other side, knackered, shaggy, and injured, we offer kindness if not confidence.

A spoonful of peanut butter can go a long, long way.

Surely the Russians knew that.

~Shelley

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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.

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.

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

Photo by Mike Bird on Pexels.com

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

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

Where did they go, I wondered?

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

Ah. Now I know.

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

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

She made it.

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

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

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

Not much to be impressed by.

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

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

Lucky for him, anyway.

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

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

Gotcha.

Breakfast and exercise all in one fell swoop.

Nothing to do but sleep off the meal.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

How to Write Better Bad Guys

Six Tips to Scandalous Scoundrels

Superheroes, Supervillains

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

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

Like that of writing antagonists.  

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

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

But … not in theirs.

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

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

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

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

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

They are not evil for the sake of being evil.

Photo by Wendelin Jacober on Pexels.com

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

And I can live with that.

~Shelley

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

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

The Need for Meedful Media

The word social is not one I would use to describe myself with. Like, ever. As a writer, I am comfortably cloistered away, far from noise, or distractions, and, most disconcerting to many … people.

Yes, I prefer to be far away from people.

Primarily because people are noisy and distracting. Of course, it’s true, they are many, many other things as well. People are generous, and interesting, helpful and creative, some of them are good at balancing silverware on their faces and can be truly entertaining. And if they could be all those wonderful things without the not so wonderful things, I’d be hooked on people. I really would.

Now the word media is one I rely upon heavily for myriad reasons. My work must be transported through the “agencies of mass communication” in order to be utilized, to provide some worth for others, to be functional and purposeful.

My goal, as a writer, is to find words, string them together into a pattern that either entertains or informs, and move a reader of those words to either act upon or experience something.

It’s pretty simple.

Yet the action of putting the words social and media together, side by side, is anything but simple.

It’s an effortful act of interaction if one wishes to be significant. And that interaction requires the bonding of human beings—to relate, and to be relatable.

Without that engagement, every author’s efforts simply sit on a library shelf, or a bookshop discount table, or in a warehouse somewhere with a bucketful of other unloved, unknown books.

The clincher is, you cannot just shout at people to, “Look over here! Hey! I’m annoyingly loud!” without them giving you an eye roll and going back to grouting their tile with a lot more enthusiasm.

I have worked with people who are slick and savvy at social media. They have studied the art probably with more intense effort than a teenaged boy, who measures and charts the growth of his biceps after each twenty reps of push-ups.

And if you’ve ever been a mother to a teenaged boy, or been a teenaged boy yourself, you may recall that I am not kidding about the “intense effort” applied.

But these clever engineers of awareness campaigns are usually paid professionals. At times, it’s best to employ them. They can be expensive, and regrettably … a little impersonal.

So here is where the paradox lies for many.

One must understand just how important it is to truly connect with someone you’re trying to get the attention of. And oftentimes, anyone marketing a product or idea goes about grasping that attention with the success of a five-year-old relentlessly tugging on the pant leg of their mother while she’s soaking up juicy neighborhood gossip from her best friend down the street.

You will be ignored.

We, as consumers, learn to turn a blind eye against the overwhelming influx of info wash that can at times feel like a fire hose of detritus. We have to. To keep our minds and moods safely intact.

Unless … and this is a big, important word … unless we get a whiff of something that brings value to our lives. Then we pay attention. Then we find some focus. Then we see the worth. Then we spread the word.

Long ago, years ago, when I first started publishing—whether a blog post online, a book in solid form, an essay, a picture, a tweet, a vid—it didn’t matter so much on the format—what I realized quickly was that if I wished to stand out within the noisy, info-saturated platform I worked within, I would have to show up with two things: something fresh, and something urgent.

Fresh, in that you can take old ideas and sharply spank them into something vibrant and sparkly—to appeal to a new set of eyes and ears, and reinvigorate some older ones.

Urgent, in that the content one produces must fill the recipient with a need to share. This is the smartest way to spread one’s work: word of mouth. Same goes for any industry.

If what you offer is something old—something people already possess—they’ll vote you straight off The Gong Show. You’re an amateur with dubious talent.

Connecting to people on both levels—both in content and campaign—requires consistent attention to crafting one’s skill, but also developing sincerity. And you can’t fake that. It’s been tried. It’s transparent. And people feel like taking a hot shower with a bucket of bleach and a wire brush after they’ve been exposed to it.

The timeless and repeated counsel I’ve been given can be summed up thusly: The years, the schooling, and effort you put into your craft should first and foremost be evident. What you write (or make) should resonate. It should amplify the meaningful not the meaningless. If you find it cannot captivate an audience, either go back to the drawing board, or find other employment where you can succeed. Don’t reconcile with offering up poor output. We need noteworthy voices that refuse to settle with generating mind-numbing content.

Then, when that content has been spat upon and polished to an absolute sheen, find one person who believes in it. Then find another. Find two. Be patient. Find ten. Be diligent. Be gracious. Reciprocate. Give back. Be social.

Yes, be social.

Not in the gossipy, drink in hand, playlist in the background kind—the kind I struggle with endlessly. Rather the kind where you contribute to society. To culture. To humanity. To the betterment of someone, somewhere else.

If you’re reading this post, then you’re part of the overwhelming majority of people who are somehow touched and involved in social media. You don’t have to be selling a widget to find this essay applicable—because, widget or not, you are selling something: yourself.

Spread your ideas, pass on your work, share your vision. Just make sure it is worthy and worthwhile to pay attention to.

~Shelley

PS–(In case you missed it!) 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.

Wait a Second–or a Lifetime by Accident

It has been said that if you step back and actually look, you’ll discover that pets and their owners are remarkably similar.

Image result for people who look like their pets

Sometimes they share the same personality. Combative and pugnacious people rarely pick out a limp puddle of fur to come home to. And folks who flinch at the militant sound of wind chimes seldom pair themselves with a set of finely edged fangs and three lungs to power some vocal chords.

Often there are similarities to personal appearance. I’ve seen bucketloads of folks who could easily be mistaken for a poodle or a basset hound, but that’s usually because my supermarket is right next door to a bargain basement hair salon and a dilapidated liquor store that has long park benches in front of it.

I might add that many of us are beginning to take on the features of an overwhelmed puckered up pug from too many months of listening to the academics of our communities attempt to interpret the world of Twitter.

Yeah, if a Chinese Shar-Pei was capable of doing a killer eye roll, we’d be an identical match.

But recently, I’ve noticed that my own fetching Fido and I have yet another similarity: we are waiters.

I’m not suggesting that we both have a shift at the local greasy spoon bussing tables, but rather that our lives have been arranged around events yet to come.

I’m pretty sure you know where I’m going with this one, as no matter how old you are—if you are still inhaling breathable gases from a westward zephyr, you will likely have uttered something like this:

When I turn eight, I finally get to jump off the diving board.

Once I’m in college, I’ll open an IRA.

After I retire, I’m going to build an art studio.

I’ve got three years left in the slammer and then (or … you know … something similar).

Now although my trusty rusty trail tracker may not have as extensive a list of to-dos put on pause (paws?) as his human counterparts, there are undoubtedly enough things in his life that are worthy of comparison.

He’s always waiting for food. Not being blessed with opposable thumbs, he is dependent upon the memory of others to know that when the sun makes a certain shadow on the floor, kibble must appear in a bowl. I caught him once staring longingly at a possum sniffing around on the back porch—not because around here we consider possum to be the other other white meat, but because the creature had finely crafted digits that—if directed to do so—could pop the beer tab off a can of hash in under a minute.

The hairy hound is also forever waiting for someone to open the door. Any door. I think, during the last few years, that I’ve come to understand that his desire is not simply to go out, or come in, as he is fully aware of the fact that he has a dog door and uses it successfully and repeatedly. No … he’s too intelligent to have “forgotten” that he has free access. And he’s not making me get up out of my chair dozens of times a day to let him in or out just to be spiteful—or make sure I’m getting enough exercise.

I rather believe it’s due to his level of sensitivity. His inner Zen master bubbling up to the surface. I’m nearly convinced that, to him, a door is a blockage of Feng shui. Certainly this would explain the poster of Chinese Metaphysics on the back wall above his bed.

It’s probably just a phase.

But the thing that baffles me most about this perplexing pooch is the daily routine he puts himself through where he is waiting for his close of day constitutional. The long walk to the post.

We both go. Together.

Except the weird thing is, is that he doesn’t have to wait.

He can go. On his own. At any time.

There are no fences keeping him bound. No lead that needs to be strapped to his collar. No commands that have been drilled into him that indicate permission given to leave the premises.

Nothing.

And yet, every day, he waits.

He could take this walk a dozen times a day if his paw pads could withstand the demand. But instead, he paces the floor, nudges my elbow, and slyly glances at the clock upon the wall—which he has repeatedly requested be replaced with a sun dial as he argues them to be more accurate.

I look at him each day and ask the question, “What are you waiting for?”

And like each one of us—with all of the things we’ve hesitated to do, suspended until later, or sidelined until our plate has cleared—he’s got no answer.

Yes, part of that is because we’ve not spent as much time on speech as we have hands on the clock or really reaching into the corners with the vacuum to get a good clean—and he is making great progress in those departments. But mostly, it’s because there really is no good answer.

I’ve got a million things I wish to do, want to do, and long to do, but the waiting game is a familiar routine whose grooved path is so deep it’s nearly impossible to scale out of. The waiting game even has a waiting room filled with distractions that float across my field of vision with false urgency. It’s a cozy place that serves an endless hot cup of tea, countless food porn pics, and the head-spinning flush of dopamine text alerts.

There are so many things hijacking life that life is getting in the way of living.

That walk is the most important thing to my mollycoddled mongrelized mutt. He waits and waits and waits and never gives himself permission to make it happen of his own accord.

It’s frustrating that I can’t seem to communicate that message to him yet. Maybe he needs to watch the Wizard of Oz just one more time

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—to see Glinda burble up the phrase You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas—er the mailbox.

Or maybe … because we’re so very much alike, he simply needs to see me mirror that behavior.

Maybe … he’s really just waiting on 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.

 

Ask for the Moon, but Settle for a Star

“Really?” I said in a weak voice that imitated a woman who’d just been told that her mother-in-law was about to become her new roommate.

Or that new federal regulations on sleep had been voted into law and now five hours a night was the limit.

Or that the last glass of Chardonnay available to mankind had just been sold and there will be no more. Ever. Again. Period.

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In truth, none of these things would apply to me as I have no mother-in-law, I’m managing to squeak by with an average of 4.95 hours most nights, and as long as we don’t replace Chardonnay with the word whisky I can somehow manage.

But I still uttered the word with that same tone as I looked up at the old star perched atop the Christmas tree I’d just dragged into the house off the roof of my car.

It’s the first decoration that goes onto the tree every year. The equivalent to the commencement ribbon cutting. The thing that signals the official beginning. That object of honor.

But that object of honor decided that showing up for work this year was going to be a bit of a stretch. It refused to light when I plugged it in.

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“Do you know how much I count on you?” I asked it from where I looked up at it, lying on the floor, covered in pine pitch and prickly fir needles. “I put a huge amount of faith in your kind all year long. You cannot check out on me just yet.”

I let my head fall back onto the sticky floor and really thought about what I’d said. It was true. I counted on the existence of these heavenly bodies with about the same level of addiction and enthusiasm as my son’s belief that our freezer is the birthplace of frozen pizzas.

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They will always be there for us.

I wake up to the blinding crack of sunlight most days as our nearest star climbs above the wide stretch of horizon I see out my bedroom window. Ah, Death has not yet pointed a knurled finger at me and dragged me off in the middle of the night. Get out of bed.

Each night I make a point to make a wish on the first star I see in hopes that whatever tiny prayer I offer up might be met with a genie’s “Your wish is my command” kind of an attitude in the forthcoming days. And then I am told by my space-science savvy kid that in fact, the object I have been throwing requests up to is not what I believe it to be.

Apparently, I have been spending years wishing on a planet.

Dammit.

And in truth, half of my country has elected a “star” per se to lead, and run, and oh-my-godfathers represent our nation as it makes four more trips around the sun.

I looked around the room empty of everything except holiday decorations and echoed that one word I’d said just moments ago but this time to a box full of shiny red balls, “Really?” I half expected it to answer me back.

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I started to fine tune my worries as I stared hard into the face of 2017.

What can I count on?

Who will show up to do the work that needs to be done?

What are the odds that we will ever run out of wine or whisky?

Glancing back up at that decoration forced me to pull the lens back a bit and redefine things in a way that annoys the hell out of my children because it’s the only way I think: in metaphors.

This tree is our country. Everything hanging from it are the people who live in it and are trying to find a temporary place to perch. That star … well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?

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If there was any one thing that people have routinely criticized me for over the last many decades of my life, it would be that I’m too sanguinely spirited, too rose-colored glasses earnest, too naively hopeful.

Yes, genetically speaking, perhaps my default position on the optimism meter is a bit off the rails—like far enough off the rails to be considered beyond the ditch and somewhere halfway into the farm field full of corn.

But I have a strong belief in the system, in our series of checks and balances, and in some invisible hooded Monty Pythonesque figure called Fate who’s somehow keeping score. These are the things that keep me from joining throngs of others who are now so overwrought with how the year has taken shape they are looking at ways to buy their own island and make a fresh new batch of people.

I get it. This has been a year where most folks have been sleeping on a bed full of pins and needles. We’re asking ourselves some really tough questions. And what’s making it so damn difficult is parsing through the fictitious and fraudulent answers we keep tripping over.

It has been a challenging slog. An effortful climb. Things we’ve counted on as concretely dependable are crumbling, wavering unsteadily.

Things like how we define the truth.

Are we really being advised to get used to a “post fact” society? That this is the era of post-truth politics?

It was Heraclitus who is quoted as saying that “The only thing that is constant is change.”

I can get used to change—hard as it may be. But I don’t want to stretch the line of discomfort to say that I will grow used to immorality, or dishonesty. I still want to live in an evidence-based world. I spend all day long in a fiction-based reality, but I’d like to come home to a fact-filled planet.

I thought we were making progress. I thought we were making improvements. I thought we were making room for one another.

I wrap the white and multi-colored lights all about the branches of this tree and plug them in. Most of them illuminate. Some are blinking fast and furious, flashing dramatically for attention. Others are calmly swelling to their full intensity before dimming down and repeating their pattern of participation. And some have been snuffed out. Their years of service come to a quiet dark end. This is us. We are those lights and baubles, the trimmings and treasures.

I may like some of them more than others, but they all go on the tree. There’s space enough for every one of them. They all made it into my home somehow, destined for that tree—whether I fell in love with them, was gifted them, or took pity on them. There will be room.

I stare back up at the large unlit star. “Hey,” I say to it. “I’m asking … pleading that you show up for work. Everyone else is here and some are even trying to get along. You won that covetous position up there because of your fancy marketing and packaging. My first choice was to go with something rather homespun and a bit rough round the edges. You made a promise from the shelf and, even though I can’t recall ever putting you into my cart, you’re here, and now I’m expecting you to do the great grind.”

Lead.

Head.

Shine.

I turn out all the lights and lie back on the floor. For a brief second or two that big ol’ star flickers.

I am flooded with hope and watch it intently.

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I hear the sound of an ice cube drop into the tray in the freezer.

Or maybe it’s the sound of another frozen pizza being born. A post-truth fact I could easily get used to believing.

As tough as this year has been, I’m not ready to give up faith because, as the great English poet Sarah Williams said, I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

Happy New Year to you all. I wish you peace.

~Shelley

ONE LAST CALL: Robin has his annual calendar of curiously clever cartoons for sale and time is running out. 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! It may be the one bit of comic relief you come to rely upon to get you through 2017!  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.

 

 

 

Publishing; It Takes a Village (and some groveling)

Recently I had to write an acknowledgment page for one of my books.

You know what they are, right? They’re usually found at the back of the opus—the part so many folks gloss right over as the writing is mostly filled with names and one line quips about what these names did to contribute to the publishing process, and how life, the universe, and all of mankind could not have been birthed and evolved into what it is today without these sage and wondrous mortals.

Not terribly interesting for the average Joe—unless, of course, you happen to be one of those sage and wondrous mortals.

But in writing my page of “thanks yous,” I can easily see just how out of hand one of these notes of gratitude can become.

It’s critical that one includes the upper echelon of those who ultimately gave your book bound words a chance to be seen.

For instance, you must absolutely never forget to flatten yourself to the floor with a giant thanks to your editor—el supremo persona, le meilleur, un eroe—whatever language you choose to describe one of the most erudite, patient, resourceful, and good looking people you’ve ever met. Even if you’ve never “met”.

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Without your editor you are toast.

Maybe less than toast.

You’re just one slice of bland bread among dozens stacked in front and behind you and all the way down the shelf from side to side.

Your editor lifts you out of the endless mass and puts a fire beneath your feet—or whatever body part is molded to the anchor that’s producing your fairly vapid, stale, lifeless literary efforts. They then carefully tease out the aromatic notes, the visually enticing imagery, and the tantalizing flavors of your story while expertly identifying the exact dressing you need, applying a perfect layer of topping that will make the meat of you shine.

Yes, one must thank one’s editor profusely, and all your lucky stars if you have a truly divine one. And then eat, because just writing about editors and their skills makes one unreasonably hungry.

Your agent—should you have one of those as well—is also on the list for high-priority praise. They are the sleuth who, when first presented with your writing, siphoned out the thread of ability that wove itself in and out of the tapestry of clunky words you put down on paper. They are the individual who gets a first look glance at your work before bravely putting their name to an email that is then cast widely out into the pool of editors who are fishing for something new the public is hungry to bite on.

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Or they are the one who picks up the tab at a gulp and go lunch where they pitch your work to those same bleary-eyed editors in hopes of convincing them to take on the task of giving up another night’s sleep in favor of reading one hundred thousand of your best and shiniest words.

Don’t forget the copy editors. These folks examine your one hundred thousand words, parse them, and then reconstruct them into more appropriate linguistic elements that will have true value to the reader. They will leave you dumbstruck with awe to realize that there are individuals out there in the world who truly understand all the principles and rudiments of grammar. They should be given many basketfuls of cookies for their efforts and patience.

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The marketing department, the art department, the line editors, the assistant editors, and publicists—where does one begin? Each of them, inundated with so much work and so little recognition, really should have a small shrine erected in their names.

So I have.

I’ve built a large altar in a separate room in my house—a temple where I’ve placed magic stones, a dozen candles, tiny false gods, myriad pagan symbols, and any other sorcerous talisman I can collect for my ritualistic moments of devotion and homage. It is a room filled with smoky incense and funneled in melodramatic and lamenting bagpipe music. It is the best I can come up with to replace what I believe they all probably truly deserve over my feeble prostrations: a cruise.

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I just don’t make enough money to make that happen. Sorry.

But you really should see the altar I’ve set up for you guys. It’s amazing.

And scares the hell out of the cat.

And lastly are the people who truly know you. Like—know you know you. The ones who had to read all those diabolically dreadful first drafts. The folks who see you drinking three-day old coffee and eating mac and cheese that you made for an end of school potluck last month. The family members who have had to learn to wash their own laundry, make their own lunches, write their own college essays, and attend their own parent-teacher conferences because you were “just finishing that last sentence,” or “editing that final paragraph,” or passed out on your keyboard.

Speaking on behalf of many writers, we know who you all are, and are so incredibly surprised to look up and discover that not only are you not in the house where we were certain we last spotted you, but are now living in another, entirely different city from us and have taken all of our pots and pans with you.

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We thank you too. Except for the theft of our housewares.

Lastly, as the orchestra music swells over our words, we thank our fifth-grade teachers, or librarians, or fairy godmothers. It’s that one individual who told us we had promise, we had potential, we had possibility.

It’s that one special person who started this whole domino effect of thanks and recognition: the one who gave us that first nod of acknowledgment.

So to all those sage and wondrous mortals—whether they see you as a product or a parent, family or a friend—the thanks are endless and the gratitude unfathomable.

Now it’s probably time to acknowledge the fact that there is no food in the house and the cat litter seriously needs to be addressed. Life goes on—even after The End.

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~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.

Don’t Rock the Boat (or Car or Truck)

When asked to make a list of my least favorite things to do, I’d likely answer in this order:

— Walk barefoot across burning coals to prove my physical courage as a warrior and gain the approval of any ancient Native American spirits that still linger on my land, as they occasionally show their displeasure with how I’m running my summer vegetable patch by simply shutting down the water well I depend upon.

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— Go through the ritual of my yearly facial tattoo—again, to please these demanding land spirits, but also because this has proven a very effective way of remembering my New Year’s Eve resolutions and ensuring my efforts toward completion.

— Keep up with the scarification task I’ve placed upon myself, as long ago, I realized this was the most effective way to keep an accurate score for how many crocs I have wrestled into submission while trekking through the tropics of Africa and Asia. People ask for my tally all the time. I don’t know. It’s a Virginian thing I guess.

I would not admit this list out loud to anyone, simply because their jaws would slacken in disbelief that I did not answer as they surely would have.

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Their least favorite thing to do?

GO TO THE DMV.

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That’s right. The Department of Motor Vehicles – or Transit Authority – or Licensing Agency. We all have our country’s version of it.

It doesn’t matter what time of day you come in, there is always a line. A line that rivals a Disney queue back in the pre-measles break out days. Yep. You can now ride the thrills of Space Mountain twice before you can make it to the head of the line that brings you to the information desk clerk—whose job is simply to hand you all your forms and a ticket that now states, “You’re in line.”

But I don’t fear the DMV—I welcome any notice in the mail that states I have to pop back in to title, register, test or renew. But it’s not because I’m a glutton for punishment—as I believe I’ve made abundantly clear with my “least favorite things to do” list—it’s simply because I have an advantage:

My dad used to work there.

Back in Wisconsin growing up, I could cross the threshold of many a DMV location and simply state who I was, and then get stellar service. They recognized the last name.

Now in Virginia, I have to surreptitiously slip it into conversation. It’s challenging, because you can’t just blurt something like that out—the state employees will see you as an entitled gasbag and ignore you. One must use stealth and cunning conversation to bring it around to the big reveal.

I start off with all forms filled in correctly, and clearly—because I think we’ve all had an experience or two where we’ve gone to some government staffed window only to be handed a fresh stack of forms to redo because we did not write in BLOCK CAPITALS, or because we used blue ink instead of black. Or we discovered we had spinach in our teeth from lunch and were deemed unfit for service by whatever Ministry of Mightiness we happened to have offended.

If the individual sitting behind the window I am assigned does not immediately shower me with a, “Good afternoon! And how may I help you on this fine day we’ve been blessed with in the great universe we happily share? And here … have a cookie I baked last night,” I jump in with something to soften their day.

Ooh, gorgeous earrings.

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Or, My goodness, your perfume is heavenly. Or, That is a truly striking tie.

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Something, anything to get some eye contact. If I can manage eye contact, then I can unleash the smile I had melded into my person from years of media training. The kind of training that made you impervious to pinches, the ‘wayward hand,’ snarky put downs, and the surprise ice bucket challenge.

Thereafter, I am usually able to find some object placed around the staffer with which to bring on my shock of delight:

Well! Will you look at that? You folks are still using pens for writing—just like my dad did when he worked at the DMV for thirty years.

Again, subtlety and canniness is crucial for success.

After I gracefully lob a comment like this across the counter that reveals I am not one of the countless, faceless masses they must service today, and it expertly lands in the lap of our staffer, he or she brightens with a smile worthy of a successful laxative commercial. I am golden. I am in.

You say your dad worked at the DMV? For thirty years? Lord Almighty! Hey, Shirley! This here young woman’s dad managed to make it through thirty years at the department. I bet you’ve got the scars to show for it, doncha, honey?

This is where I cleverly turn to speak to the audience behind the camera that follows me everywhere, and that is imperceptible to all living, breathing beings around me, and reveal that I have no idea how many years my dad worked with the department, but with each visit, the number goes up substantially.

Yes, I do, ma’am. Then we laugh and I continue. He certainly saw his fair share of folks who drove him right up the wall. Some of them so demanding, so ungrateful, and certainly the majority ill-prepared. But it was his greatest pleasure to help and serve. I think the DMV must attract that kind of staff.

It’s at this point where she is supposed to turn to me and reach over the counter to motheringly caress my cheek.

But she doesn’t. Instead she peers at me through squinted eyes. I must have taken it a hair too far today.

She smiles tightly, bends over to open a seventy-five pound drawer, and scoops up eight pounds of it. She hands me a stack of forms.

Fill these out CORRECTLY.

I head back to my chair, but then make a quick detour to the lady’s room. I’m going to be here a while. I gaze at my reflection in the mirror. What went wrong? I ask myself. It’s then that I notice two things:

I’ve got spinach in my teeth.

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And I forgot to put my latest facial tattoo of “I love the DMV” all in block capitals.

~Shelley

*BONUS CARTOON FOR THIS WEEK’S 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.

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I’ve Learned My Lesson

The other day I mentally took inventory of the most important people in my life. Strangely enough, Ben & Jerry did not quite make the short list. They were close, but had to be cut in order to make room for all the Glens and Bens in my whisky cabinet.

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Some of these folks would be surprised to know that they’re on my list—like Leonard, the weary technician who repeatedly shows up at the door to fix my defunct internet service.

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Or Jimmy, the eighty eight-year old Baptist preacher who sits on a bench outside my tiny, local gas station, intent upon connecting with his flock or passing strays with nothing more than a broad, toothless grin and an embracing hello. And then there’s the sourpuss-faced librarian who I greet two or three times a week. I am determined to see her smile at least once before I die, and I’m guessing the only way that will happen is if I purchase her a pair of shoes that are two sizes larger than the ones she’s currently wearing.

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The interesting thing I discovered while thumbing through the short list was that nearly everyone on it was a teacher.

The teachers I have had could be divided even further into subcategories: the good, the bad, and the under investigation. It has been said that kids cannot learn from teachers they don’t like—that one would realize a far better outcome for a student if they highlighted the three correctly answered quiz questions out of twenty rather than stapling a fast food restaurant application to the top page.

If I were to take a hard, calculating look around and behind me, from the present moment back to my first flash of sentient thought, I bet I could easily say that I have spent most of my life swimming in a pool of teachers. In fact, I believe we could all say that, because we have lessons to learn from every person we interact with—if you look deeply enough.

The lessons are constant and subtle, or intermittently gargantuan, but they are present whether we recognize them or not, and ride in on the coattails of folks we might never have considered to be those in charge of our lives’ direction.

For instance:

My yoga teacher, whose classes I’ve attended twice a week for the last decade, has become my personal Jiminy Cricket—her voice, a constant presence of gentle encouragement and sage advice. Because of her, I listen to the obvious: what my body can and cannot do, what my body should and should not do, and also the blatant reminder that yoga is not a competitive sport.

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One Hollywood music producer brought into sharp focus two things I would never forget: 1) I am quite agile at dashing around furniture in order to stay away from groping hands, and 2) a well-placed kick can do wonders for sending the message Back off, Buddy, but sucks for career advancement.

The small bewhiskered feline I have been placed in charge of enlightens me daily with the knowledge that sitting still does not necessarily equate with being still, and that the magic of sensory perception will blossom if you practice distilling life down to the minute and overlooked. She has also illuminated the fact that my reflexes suck, and that unless I am approaching her with food, I had best do a one eighty and rethink the value of ungrazed flesh.

I have had music instructors who have encouraged me, following a performance, with their assessment that I played all of the notes and some even in the right places, and others who have sat back laughing, and then after wiping away the tears in their eyes said, “Okay, play it for real now.”

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I have had teachers who unintentionally cut me to the quick with nothing more than their desire to help. Like the time I received a graded English assignment, still wet with its shellacking of red ink, and a note at the top that said, SEE ME, which I interpreted to be a disapproving nod toward my undeserved confidence with the previous day’s lesson. Consequently, I slunk into the background and never really internalized the rule of It’s I before E except after C

I have even learned some of life’s greatest lessons from the string attached to my tea bags, where dangling from the end is a tiny truism worth remembering:

Experience is a comb which nature gives us when we are bald.

You cannot get to the top by sitting on your bottom. 

And lastly,

The problem with the gene pool is there’s no lifeguard.

We’re all in need of instruction. And finding a good coach to guide you through life is a gift we may not recognize we possessed until after we’ve had our ‘aha’ moment.

Our teachers are there to build up our skills, to broaden our mindset, and to prepare us for the future as it unfolds before us. On the flipside, the old definition is also true: a teacher is simply a person who helps you solve problems you’d never have without them.

But for now, I shall leave you with my favorite life lesson from my pilot instructor of long ago. He quoted Douglas Adams, and said the words applied to nearly everything: Flying is learning how to throw yourself to the ground—and miss.

Now edge on out there to the end of the branch, safe with a parachute holding all your life’s lessons, and leap.

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~Shelley

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Gridiron Chef; we shopped, we chopped, we smoked, we seared.

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Somehow … my brother met an incredibly bright woman.

Somehow … my brother realized she was Tier One Talent and that he had happened upon a gold mine.

Somehow … my sister-in-law answered yes to his proposal of marriage.

I believe she may have been clubbed over the head, dragged back to his cave and denied food and water until she agreed, but that’s just a theory. (And for proof as to why I developed this hypothesis, last week’s post gives a rough outline that might illuminate.)

Regardless, this lovely woman gave her husband a plane ticket for his birthday, sending him off to mess up other people’s kitchens for a long weekend. I owned kitchen number one, but before we could put any floured fingerprints on my counter tops, we first needed staples. Therefore, we went to the place where both my children’s college funds have been spent.

Whole Foods Market.

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Shopping with a chef is a heady experience. Shopping with a chef is an expensive experience. Shopping with a chef and no precise grocery list is a mistake.

My initial idea of arriving at the store for a “spontaneous” menu creation was born after a few weeks of seeing my email inbox overflow with my brother’s dazzling bill of fare ideas and the suggestion that I begin hunting down local food purveyors who could source out needs.

Huhu (800x640)Panic set in when I realized I was going to have to make some long term promises and exchange money under the table. We were probably better off not knowing who could locate Huhu grubs, boiled duck embryo and sheep back fat. Okay, I could locate sheep back fat, but it was still very much in use by its current owners, so I had to put the brakes on. Whatever was in the bins and behind the shiny glass cases at the grocery store would source our needs.Backfat (800x412)

While in the shop, a common occurrence was turning my back for thirty seconds and then pivoting to see my brother surrounded by people—both shoppers and stockers—who were wholly absorbed by whatever my brother held in his hand and the sagacious, culinary-infused words that came from his mouth. Within moments, folks were raising their hands to share a personal story—both ebullient and tear-jerking—of some meal that moved them. My sibling is a Pied Piper of the gastronomic world.

The plan was to purchase ingredients for two evening dinners. The cart held enough for two evening dinners and all the essentials needed for making our way through The Joy of Cooking twice. (Our chef is used to things coming into his kitchen by the forklift load.)Shop (800x568)

Once back at the ranch, it’s all business. Aprons donned, knives honed, hands scrubbed, patient prepped. (And by patient, I mean “deceased bovine.”)

We made steak fajitas. Except these didn’t taste remotely close to my original version—the one I’ve perfected over years and years of practice. Mine were no longer perfect. But the fact that I took mental notes and then called my brother because my mental notes had massive gaps in them means my steak fajitas will now be perfect again. That is, until he comes back to visit.

We pummeled avocados, chopped onions, diced tomatoes, gutted peppers, shaved cheese, seared skirt steak, shredded greens and peeled garlic. Bushels of garlic. There is no vampiric activity within miles of the house. In fact, we can’t even get Twilight to play on TV.

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But here’s the big chef secret free giveaway: VANILLA.

Yep, you read it right. The stuff we put in ice cream and cookies. The chef says to take about 1 ½ — 2 lbs of skirt steak and marinate it in the juice of four freshly squeezed limes (toss the lime halves in as well), 1/2 cup of olive oil, an entire head of garlic (don’t worry about chopping, just peel and smash each clove with the back of a knife), salt, pepper, oregano, and 1/4 cup of high-quality vanilla. Let it burble away for an hour on the counter or for the day in the fridge. Grill it. Slice it. Eat it. Beg for more.

The other big meal was an experiment that came to us on the fly. We were going to smoke short ribs, but decided to use a slightly unconventional wood. In fact, it wasn’t wood at all. It was PEAT. My favorite flavor in the world.

DSC09747 (800x450)Last summer, I got myself a birthday present. Two forty pound bags of peat. They arrived in two canvas sacks, housed within a large cardboard box and handed over by one irate UPS guy. “You shipped eighty pounds of dirt to yourself?” he asked me, rubbing his back.

“Yes. But it’s really old dirt,” I explained.

Then at Christmas, I received another eighty pounds of it. I didn’t order it. No one in my family ordered it. And I know the UPS guy didn’t order it. It was a mistake from the company. Thank you, Irishpeat.com. Sorry, UPS guy.

So we smoked these beautiful grass fed short ribs for about three hours and then made a one pot meal by layering the ribs on the bottom, covering them with mirepoix, beer, beef broth and eventually adding potatoes and greens to finish. Click here for the full recipe.DSC09761 (800x540)

Lest it need to be spelled out, the grub was good. Damn good. What phrase is more potent than damn good that I can use to explain the awesome quality without offending sensitive ears? You’re right. There is none available.

But to sum it all up, we acquired, we cooked, we conquered. The kitchen, although scarred, is grateful to have been included.

Thanks, Bro.

~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.

Sibling revelry

My brother is a liar.

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

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

Except when I wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

on ya bike...

on ya bike… (Photo credit: deer_je)

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

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

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

Angry squirrel

Angry squirrel (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

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

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

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

They call him “Chef.”

I call him lucky.

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

Still sticks, no matter how you look at it.

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

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

O Brother, where art thou brain?

Toot & Puddle I spend a lot of time looking outside the windows. The views are truly spectacular: mountains, trees, silos, cows, woodland creatures, fairies and llamas.

Okay, I took it too far. Everyone knows we don’t have llamas, we’ve got sheep.

Funny enough, the windows I’m most drawn to are the ones that look over the sheep pasture. I’m so curious to know what keeps those mammoth woollies busy all day long. Occasionally, I’ll try to sneak up on them, to catch them by surprise. They never seem surprised. They’ve got the Art of Zen down pat. They even blink in slow motion, although it might be the arctic temperatures that are slowing down that bodily function.

Stamp owned by Swollib

They’re brothers, even though they look nothing alike. But heck, I’ve got three siblings and none of us resemble one another. However, there was a high turnover rate of postmen on our lonely stretch of road while I grew up.

Our sheep, Toot and Puddle—named after two fairy tale pigs—refuse to be farther than a three hoof stride from one another. They wander the meadow, chew grass, get caught up in the search for better tasting grass, raise their heads and snap back together in some strangely choreographed rubber band dance.

At times, I see them both with heads high, still as statues, staring in the same direction. I crack the window and listen. Wile E. Coyote? Bumbling bear? Livestock snatching Scotsman? I am regularly left with no answer and they simply both return to the heads bowed position. Perhaps it’s sheep yoga. The stretching of tired neck muscles.

And that brings me to their favorite pastime. Ramming. Talk about needing beefy necks. Or would that be lamby necks?

Whatever the terminology, it remains unfathomable to my brain that they continue to sustain this brutal level of continuous impact, a collision so violent I’m left hearing birds tweeting carousel-style. But as is customary, they both seem to agree that the best thing they can do after a good head bashing is … repeat the experience.

Ad nauseam.

Ram speed ahead!The sound alone is volatile enough to crush the tiny bones of my inner ear. It is a thudded clunk, a muffled wallop, a thwack that only the crunch of bone jarring against bone can create. But to them, it is akin to the tinkling tones of the ice cream truck coming up the street, for it sends them leaping into the air with glee, bouncing with legs like springs.

I’m guessing the only thing saving their brains— what little they do possess—from spilling out of their ears, is the giant cloud of wool they are encased in. I suppose it’s a little like taking two large cement blocks, wrapping them in pillows and forcing them to merge at breakneck velocity. Or magic. It’s the only other explanation.

But it is quite the show. And I think it’s my squeals of protest and elevated anguish that ratchets up their fun factor. They’re showing off. By having a pillow fight with their heads.

The other thing I find unendingly fascinating is that one of them refuses to talk anymore. Now, lest you think I’ve been joining the ramming riot, I’m not suggesting these yahoos can string a sentence together and quote Shakespeare. They hate the bard. Especially Leonardo’s version of Romeo and Juliet when we showed it on Movie Nite last week.

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No, what I mean is that Toot used to be vocal, and being the bigger brute of the two, we thought he’d be raucous and unruly, an intemperate bulldozer.

But as we’ve come to realize, size isn’t everything.

He ended up sounding like Mike Tyson with a case of croup. Raspy, high-pitched attempts to communicate generated uncontrollable laughter from the crowds we sold tickets to. And herein may lie our mistake. We may have overscheduled him with shows.

I thought he possessed more confidence, but I’m guessing he took much of our mirth to heart. I feel terrible. So I’ve decided to start a rehabilitation fund with the proceeds. Of course, we first had to pay for the overhead, because bleachers and popcorn vendors don’t just build themselves, but everything remaining thereafter went straight into his account. Mostly.

I’m determined to make it up to him. And to the folks I’m refusing a refund.

Regardless, the sheep have taught me a lot over the last couple of years and in no particular order:

–        Once hay has fallen out of the hay rack and touched the floor, it is inedible. They’re worse than me with the ten second rule.

–        Everything is a scratching post. Fences, trees, the bookcase that holds all of their favorite poetry … everything.

–        Wool is waterproof, soundproof and nearly bulletproof. And I mean nearly. It’s super close to being there.Bullet_proof_wool_200213 (800x543)

–        Sheep hold a grudge. Forget to feed them for one measly week and they stop talking to you. Won’t even get up to greet you at the paddock door.

–        There is no lamb language for, “Excuse me.” Head butting gets the message across super quick and you don’t even have to stop chewing whatever’s in your mouth to communicate this.

–        I would like pajamas made entirely out of sheep lips. Seriously, it’s like a new fabric made of jelly and velvet.Sheep_lips_200213 (800x636)

–        Sheep have no teeth in the front part of the upper jaw, which for the first year I found incredibly upsetting and thought was a result of the barnyard brawling, but apparently, this is considered normal.

–        Sheep refuse to fetch.

In closing this week, I leave you with an old bit of farmer wisdom, handed down through many a family: Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. And always drink upstream from the herd.

~Shelley

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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.

A hairy situation.

The “Académie de Coiffure”

The “Académie de Coiffure”

Ask any woman What is one relationship you’d likely sword fight to the death over before giving up? and somewhere in the top three would likely be her hairdresser.

Ask any man What’s the difference between a $200 and a $20 haircut? and they will likely answer “24 hours.”

Maybe it’s simply the case of ‘Mars & Venus.’

Maybe it’s incredibly effective marketing campaigns.

Maybe all men have cataracts.

The jury is out, but in this household, a quarterly pilgrimage is made from the sticky, drawling, verdant Virginia up toward the wilds of Washington, D.C. I face unruly traffic, road rage, a state police force determined to spoil a few days, and several potentially awful audio book selections in order to find myself firmly ensconced in a chair where magic happens on an hourly basis. And I’ve been doing it for the last fifteen years.

The experience is much the same each time–and obviously, one worth repeating.

I am greeted as if I was the one millionth lucky customer to walk through the storefront door, whisked to the closet where a winsome, black plastic drop cloth is draped around my shoulders and ushered into a soft, leather swivel chair where my guru will assess, with a keen and critical eye, the damage done to my previous do. He will agree and nod knowingly to my list of excuses.

Porcupine at Mer Bleue

Porcupine at Mer Bleue (Photo credit: Robbie’s Photo Art)

– My hairbrush was stolen and all I’ve had available is the old pelt of a porcupine.

– My ancient hair dryer blew out and I’m now left with hanging my wet head out the car window like a drooling golden retriever.

– Our pool water is rancid/our tap water has a dead plumber floating in it/acid rain falls directly over our house.

– The thousands of dollars I’ve spent on hair products have failed to deliver stellar and promised results, although I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with the fact that they’re all at least a decade old. Shampoo that’s turned the color of meatloaf and smells like turpentine surely still has some benefits in it, right?

-I’m guessing my pillow is likely hooked up to some sort of anti-gravity device hell-bent on creating some wonky cowlick.

Mistress and Maid / Lady with Her Maidservant ...

Mistress and Maid / Lady with Her Maidservant Holding a Letter – Jan Vermeer van Delft

– I recently had to fire my longtime chamber maid–the one whose sole job was to simply complete the 1000 daily strokes my hair requires for luster and shine.

Most women will know what I’m talking about. Most men will assume I’m in need of psychiatric treatment.

He will then reassure me that my explanations are justifiable, my absence felt, but forgiven and my fears unfounded. Life is cruel to all of us. Of course, our schedules are grueling. And yes, he will return me to my former self, only better. Just wait and see.

Who in their right mind would NOT pay a measly $200 dollars for absolution and the promise of some kick-ass magic?

Now, I’m plied with restorative drinks and a selection of the dishiest gossip rags available in print. My wizard returns with a large vat of bleach, a roll of tin foil and some spackling tools. “Try not to make direct eye contact with any of the equipment, darling. This is not for the faint of heart and ignoring my advice may put you in therapy.”

I learned this early on. No woman wants to see herself turned into a cell phone reception tower. And it’s traumatizing when you realize that your hairdresser has a backup team hovering on the periphery. They’re quiet, they’re good at slight of hand and they can impressively suture and staple anything that can’t be glued back on.

There is a great flurry of hands, mostly used to aid conversation. There is diabolical laughter when speaking of our enemies, reverent tones when touching upon our idols. To accompany it all is the requisite sharp intake of breath, peppered at agreed upon intervals. We are aghast, delighted, disturbed, moved, enthralled. We create our own Oscar-worthy dialogue.

English: The hairdresser making a call, Japan,...

English: The hairdresser making a call, Japan, 1905 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Foil is flung aside, bleach is hosed off, scissors are sharpened on a whetting stone, old tresses fall in small nests to the floor and hot air is purposefully and artfully directed in areas researched and studied. Gel, wax, oil and unsalted butter is spread and warmed between expert palms and decidedly placed onto individual locks. Hairspray or non-stick Pam is the last device used to shellac everything into its place.

The moment of unveiling arrives after 120 minutes fly by. There is the flourish of black cloth, the spinning of a chair, a gasp from onlookers in nearby seats, and an enthusiastic round of applause from everyone in the theater … I mean salon.

The room is saturated with the sounds of a thousand air kisses, like a giant sink sucking the last swirl of water down its enormous drain.

Old farmer with pitch fork full of hay

Old farmer with pitch fork full of hay (Photo credit: Boston Public Library)

I dash off my signature and leave in a spotlight of admiration and envy. Everyone wants my hair. I get in my car, fight traffic for three ungodly hours and finally pull into my garage at home.

I step out of my car, gaze at my reflection in the car’s back window and then hop up on the tractor and pull my John Deere cap over my head.

That was fun, but I’ve got sheep stalls to muck out.

~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)!

Sleepblogging.

Sleeping

Sleeping (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

I cannot write if I cannot sleep.

I even find it too taxing to breathe if I’m deprived of undisturbed slumber. My mindset is basically, Why bother? Just end it all now. And by end it all, I mean leap off a cliff, not leap out of bed.

Last night I nearly came to the end of my tether, and all because of something no larger than a raisin. To be frank, a squished raisin was what I had in mind come morning, if only I could locate the culprit.

Falling into bed, exhausted from a day in which I crammed more hours than nature traditionally allows, I was prepared to lose consciousness before my eyelids fully closed. And I would have, if the dog wouldn’t have started a low rumble, indicating a breach of territory.

It was just the two of us in the room that night, as Sir Sackier was already starting a day in the UK that hadn’t been given a thought to in the US. I told the dog to give the first shift of night duty to the cat. She could handle the job, seeing that most of the deadly nocturnal action around our house didn’t begin until our two sheep, who act as if their meadow is the ultimate nightclub and they’re the self-elected goons guarding its entrance, have announced last call and locked up for the evening.

Well, the dog gave up reluctantly. Maybe reluctant isn’t the right word. He remained suspicious, as if he were going to be judged on the cat’s performance. Therefore, he made sure I knew that even though his eyes were closed, his ears were on high alert, and he made a small test woof about every fifteen to twenty seconds lest I forgot.

His act probably lasted no more than three minutes before the cat leapt up on the bed and did a tight rope routine across the length of my body. Her message was clear. Oh Captain, my Captain! Something is amiss in the control room.

I listened for a blurry five seconds before asking her to get off my head and then, taking my non-response for lack of leadership, she approached my second-in-command. The dog followed her out the bedroom and down the hall, reminding me I needed to remove his toenails come daylight.

I’m guessing I must have been asleep for about sixty seconds before my alarm clock went off. Well, I thought it was my alarm clock, but after I hit it three times and then finally threw it across the room, it kept going. I was forced to open my eyes and reacquaint myself with consciousness.

Somewhere, somebody’s weird alarm was going off. And since neither the dog nor cat has made it that far in my How to manipulate household appliances training manual, I was going to have to handle this one myself. I did, however, make a mental note to skip to that chapter with my furry on-call staff first thing in the morning.

alarm clock, bought from IKEA

I walked toward the kitchen, hearing the piercing little siren grow louder with each step. In my head, all I could think about was how both my kids were always showing me new tricks with their iPhones, programming their devices to chirp, whistle, rattle, and purr. This is the language of “teen speak,” which most adults usually mistake for embarrassing bodily noises they’re too polite to address or faulty air-conditioning units.

When I flipped on the kitchen light, ready to rewire some Apple hardware, the knife-like distress signal immediately halted. The dog and cat stood looking up at me, blinking back at the sharp, bright light of that which is needed for human eyesight.

“What is going on here?” I asked my night watchmen. No one uttered a word. “This had better not be a prank, because there will be hell to pay, and remember, only I know how to unscrew the lid from the treat jar, guys.” They were tight. No one was willing to squeal.

I thought about organizing a witch hunt, but I’d need torches, some rope and a few hundred angry townspeople for that. I was too tired. I flipped off the light and went back to bed, leaving them both in charge.

My head just grazed the pillow when the miniature shrieking siren took up its wicked pitch. I wondered if I could sleep through it. I tried for sixty seconds. Too loud. I fumbled in my bedside table and found some earplugs from 1972 and shoved them in as far as the human ear canal allowed. Now the sound of my own breathing was keeping me awake. I pulled them out and flung back the covers, determined to find the source.

Returning to the kitchen and then whipping on the lights, the room went silent. The only things I saw were two furry bottoms sticking up in the air, while two furry heads were buried deep beneath the ovens, clearly pointing out where the distress signal was coming from.

I got a flashlight and added my bottom to the chorus line. We shined, we peered, we scoured. One tiny black-bodied cricket looked back at us from a cloud of dust bunnies and a few dried chickpeas that must have escaped from a dish I served last Thanksgiving.

Jiminy Cricket

Jiminy Cricket (Photo credit: .Cromo.)

“Jiminy Cricket, are you trying to tell me that’s just ONE CRICKET?” I shouted at both of them. The dog gave me a roll of the eyes as if to say, “Yeah, right, tell me about it.” That cat refused to say anything because, of course, cats don’t talk. And seeing as I wasn’t about to get any shuteye, I set up my laptop on the floor, wrote my blog post and then played a few rounds of gin rummy with the cat and the cricket, who as it turns out, is a slick little card shark.

Okay, I’m not entirely sure that last part happened, but sleep deprivation wreaks havoc with your memory, and at this point, I’m not questioning anything. Stranger things have happened, but they usually happen somewhere around me.

(Yawn) 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)!

 

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)!

 

I vant to be alone …

Solitude is an achievement.

That’s a quote from author Alice Koller. It’s also my life tidily rolled up into four words. I continually search for those spaces where people are not present. I have difficulty thinking in the places where they are.

English: Molasses on a dairy farm in France (p...

English: Molasses on a dairy farm in France (probably used as “molassed sugar beet feed”, as an additive to cattle fodder) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve got one of those older version brains that goes into overload the moment it’s required to do more than one job. I cannot multi-task, instead I multi-focus. My head fractures into splinters and processing data becomes a bit like slogging through a vat of molasses. My mind is like one of the first PCs from back in the early 80’s; BASIC language and a memory of about 16 KB. That’s it. I’m a Commodore with floppy disc storage space.

However it is that this new generation of brains has developed—with the ability to effectively do homework, text, listen to music, Skype, paint their toenails and scarf down a burrito simultaneously—is an enigma. I watch them like they are zoo animals. They’re foreign and fascinating.

When I want to work, I want to be alone. Entirely. I’ve even asked the cat to find another place to settle because her breathing is distracting.

So when I found out I’d been granted almost five whole days to be alone in the house while the rest of the family was swanning around the countryside, I danced a tiny jig and relished the thought of spending the better part of 120 hours writing.

Except after about sixty of them, my eyes ceased to focus, and I was forced to leave my swivel chair and the nearly imperceptible hum of my monitor.

Français : Vignoble allemand en 1859

Français : Vignoble allemand en 1859 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I went a few miles down the road to the local winery.

What a beautiful day. What a gorgeous vineyard. What a jaw-dropping view.

What a mistake.

My intent was to spend a little time enjoying the vision of rolling hills filled with fruit-laden vines rising to verdant sloped mountains. With a glass of wine in my hand, I could sit transfixed and listen as the grape leaves, all broad and flat, soaked up the summer sun.

But as soon as I stepped out of my car in the graveled parking lot and looked around, I found several dozen others who’d targeted the same goal.

The winery had a tasting room both in and outdoors. Each was jam-packed. The chatter flowed as freely as the wine.

A young lady, packaged in the vineyard’s t-shirt and apron, flashed a marketable grin, handed me a menu and swept her arm across the crowded porch like Vanna White showcases contestant prizes. “Make yourself at home,” she said, gliding away.

I wandered, weaving through clusters of women dressed in flowy frocks and men sporting chunky watches. Chairs and tables seated twos and fours, and if occupied, people perched on any remaining flat surfaces.

I wanted someplace quiet, someplace with only one chair.

A Farmer Reading His Paper. Photographed by Ge...

A Farmer Reading His Paper. Photographed by George W. Ackerman, Coryell County, Texas, September 1931. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And I found it. Sort of.

Around the corner of the big wraparound porch, I spied a small nook with two white rocking chairs that matched nothing else, hidden away from the jostling trill of people in high social mode. Paradise.

I claimed the far rocker and noodled over the menu. I waited for Vanna. Three times couples poked their heads around the corner and pulled back saying, “Oops, taken.”

After fifteen minutes, I left my purse on the chair and hunted her down. I rounded the corner and we nearly collided.

“Oh, there you are,” she said, as if she’d truly been on a search. “I had no idea you’d be sitting way back here.”

I nodded. “Can I do your reserve flight and get a cheese platter?”

She gave me an uncomfortable glance. “Is that just for one?”

English: A glass of port wine. Français : Un v...

English: A glass of port wine. Français : Un verre de Porto. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I nodded again, she cocked her head as if I’d answered in Croatian.

She pointed to one of two outside bars. “Just order the wine from one of those fellows over there. And … good luck.”

Now my head mimicked her gesture. “I think I can find it.”

Once reaching the bar, I asked for the wine flight. Again, the response was, “Is that just for one?” I must have rolled my eyes because the bartender quickly put the glass up and moved into his spiel about prized grapes and stainless steel tanks.

I took the glass back to my rocking chair, sat down, took a sip, and before I could swallow, heard the strumming notes of my phone. Sir Sackier wanted to know why I wasn’t answering at home.

In the next sixty minutes, after burying my phone and returning to my wine, no less than twenty-five people peeked around my corner with comments ranging from, “Hidden away here, aren’t you?” to “You realize you’ve snagged the best spot today?” and “Waiting for someone?” I’m pretty sure I even heard one woman stage whisper, “What a shame.”

I answered yes to all of them. Some more forcefully than others.

When Vanna came for the third time with my last wine sample and another version of, “No winner yet?” I was about to ask for the manager to say how much I didn’t appreciate the staff pressuring me to buy their bottles.

But I did like the wine. I was just giving up on the solitude.

IfWeLiftOurSkirtsTheyLevelTheirEye-glassesAtOu...

IfWeLiftOurSkirtsTheyLevelTheirEye-glassesAtOurAnkles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I paid for my wine and tipped the barman on my way out, still flummoxed over Vanna’s last look of pity and the barman’s sympathetic gesture of goodbye.

It was a lovely place, and theoretically a great idea for claiming some quiet space. I got into my car and wound down the driveway, through the vines and hanging fruit. At the entrance, I glanced back once more and shook my head at the botched afternoon. That’s when I spotted the big placard I missed when coming in.

The sign read, The Single Mingle Sip & Supper.

Yep, solitude is an achievement, but for that to happen you have to find the key to success. For me, that’ll be right under my reading glasses.

~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)!

 

Who’s minding the store?

Yes. The rumors are true. My mother the blogger has run off to be a full-time trapeze artist.

PAR-TAAAAY!!!

With the parents out of the country, we have the place to ourselves, and there are, like, forty teenagers in the pool! And my brother’s on the roof! You’re invited! Bring more beer!

Ugh. The truth is far more boring. My brother and I are hanging out with my grandparents—like the cool kids that we are—and instead of inviting my whole high school to my pool, I’m commandeering the blog. (I’m the NASA nerd/terrible teenage driver/kicks Betty Crocker’s butt daughter, by the way.) My mother is not circusing with bearded ladies and vertically challenged people—she is off traversing Europe, recruiting confused Scots to staff her personal kilted bagpipe army. And my brother is not on the … well. That depends on your definition of ‘roof.’

A Hammock on a tropical beach.

My traveling family usually curses some foreign land come summertime, after the happy, cheery funfest of school finishes. Of course, the normal mentality of a family at summertime is to take a relaxing vacation, unwind and escape from stress. Birds flying high while you relax with a tall glass of lemonade and watch someone’s cotton be harvested.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, this unit of genetic code does travel a little differently. In fact, we completely screw it up. We take the saying “to need a vacation after your vacation” to a whole new, disturbingly accurate level. It’s not a vacation. It’s not an adventure. It’s a cruise down the River Styx. What I’m about to tell you leaves no room for doubt as to why my brother and I are choosing the take-out summer vacation option and setting our dearest darling parents loose on Dulles International Airport.

Here’s a snapshot of us on Day One, Hour One: We are standing outside our house, copious luggage in hand, ridiculous smiles plastered on our faces. We haven’t even left the house yet, and we still manage to reek of the hyper-infectious Eau de Tourist.

He’s a snapshot of us on Day One, Hour Two: We are riding in the car to Dulles. Look! Look at the two teenagers outside of their natural environment! They’re sharing iPods … This is not right. Something is about to go terribly wrong.

English: Main Terminal of at dusk in Virginia,...

Here’s a snapshot of us on Day One, Hour Three:We have just set foot inside the bustling airport. Mom’s hair is all over the place. Dad looks like he hasn’t slept in weeks. One teenager just twisted an ankle. The other is about to trip the fire alarm. Several pieces of luggage just spontaneously disappeared. All of the electronic devices brought along suddenly lose all battery power. Oh no! We completely forgot to turn off the water and stop the post and shut off the lights and lock the door and find someone to feed the sheep. And for some reason, there’s no cell service in here. All of a sudden, Mom realizes she accidentally packed half of Bath and Body Works, and they are definitely not in 3-ounce containers. My brother is checking the sign about which weapons are not ideal for airplanes, and counting on his fingers the number of items he’ll have confiscated. Dad comes back from an argument with the woman behind the counter—good news! We actually have four tickets on an airplane this time! But only Mom is booked in first class … Dad is seventeen rows back, in a fire escape seat in economy. I’m checked in as an animal traveling in the hold … and my brother is taking the red-eye to Zimbabwe.

Interior of a China Southern Airlines airplane.

Magical, isn’t it?

And we haven’t even left the state.

After doing some shady last minute dealing with an old couple that always wanted to sit in an animal hold/go to Zimbabwe, we’re all in possession of tickets representative of seats that are at least on the same plane. You’d think that maybe, if we were all strapped down for eight hours, no trouble could possibly ensue. Dad obviously thought the same, manifested in the telltale look of bewilderment that occupies his face when a flight attendant brings him the SkyMall lawn care maintenance system ordered from Zimbabwe by his credit card. Mom is getting ready to recline her seat to ease her aching back, but soon learns that she has “special” seat C2, the one that spontaneously lurches forward and then drops back if the plane experiences any turbulence. I want to watch a mindless movie, but my seat’s video screen will only alternate between a test pattern and an “adult” channel. The gentleman across from my brother is still being talked out of suing the airline/us for the dent in his head made by my brother’s improperly stowed duffel bag. The airplane quivers momentarily, and my mother is catapulted forward.

‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: Mange hadde sterke reaksjo...

A few hours into the night, my brother lies buried beneath a mountain of candy wrappers brought to him by affectionate flight attendants. Dad sits quietly working, his face lit by the laptop screen, and every few minutes, he expels a sneeze so boisterous it awakens the omnipresent devil-baby a few rows back. My mother has abandoned her amusement park seat and fallen asleep leaning against the lavatory door. Having exhausted the two good movies in the system, I’m learning about the importance of friendship from Barney.

Things don’t improve much once we touchdown in jolly old England. Overcome with an exacerbated sense of “home-again,” Dad becomes the most English Englishman you can imagine, to the point where he’s confusing actual Englishmen. Furthermore, he walks through airports like he’s trying to inconspicuously escape a stalker. Weaving throughout crowds at a seemingly hypersonic speed, he never hears our aggravated calls of “DAD! We shook him off, promise! And we’ve lost Mom!” My brother does a remarkable job of impersonating a salt-caked slug that has the ability to softly moan “foooooood…” earning many pitying looks from passersby. Halfway through airport trekking, we’ll notice that we have each gradually offloaded all of our cumulative luggage onto Mom. And what she’s not carrying, we left on the plane.

This brings us to somewhere in the middle of Day Two. Even the formal act of traveling itself has not yet come to an end.

If I’ve done a descriptive enough job of relating the story, you’ll never want to leave the country again. And you thought I was exaggerating.

English: RAAF recruits leaving from Brisbane, ...

So this summer, the salted slug and I are living the easy, airport-free life. There is a pool out back, and a fridge within reach. For once, my father isn’t running around simultaneously holding arguments and trying to convince people of his nationality. My mother isn’t going mad trying to provide her offspring with “edutainment.” (She’s very proud of her sneaky hybrid educational system … because my brother and I definitely won’t know it’s a museum if it’s in another country.)

Right now, they’re off together, leaving a wake of destruction and destroyed luggage.

They could be in an animal hold.

🙂

Don’t forget to check out the new scullery recipe (here) and what I wrote about Whisky-wise (here).

Haggis; hairy hound, clever canine

I have been part owner of a dog for most of my life. Rare was the year I did not have daily canine company. The breeds have varied, the temperaments true to type. Some have been as thick as a brick, but luckily capable of putting on a good show.Others were intelligent, but unwilling to allow us to think we held top spot in the pecking order.

The dog who currently resides at my feet is by far the best hound I’ve ever shared a home with. I can’t claim to own him, because who can really own a friend?

And I truly do consider him a friend. He surpasses the definition on all fronts. Except I was recently forced to pause and question my interpretation after hearing someone recite a poem about a dead dog, returning to his owner with a message from the beyond.

If you’ve not come across Billy CollinsUnited States Poet Laureate, this is a fine place to get acquainted. His poem, The Revenant, is one every dog lover should read.

And consider.

And maybe commit to memory.

The Revenant 

I am the dog you put to sleep,
as you like to call the needle of oblivion,
come back to tell you this simple thing:
I never liked you–not one bit.

When I licked your face,
I thought of biting off your nose.
When I watched you toweling yourself dry,
I wanted to leap and unman you with a snap.

I resented the way you moved,
your lack of animal grace,
the way you would sit in a chair and eat,
a napkin on your lap, knife in your hand.

I would have run away,
but I was too weak, a trick you taught me
while I was learning to sit and heel,
and–greatest of insults–shake hands without a hand.

I admit the sight of the leash
would excite me
but only because it meant I was about
to smell things you had never touched.

You do not want to believe this,
but I have no reason to lie.
I hated the car, the rubber toys,
disliked your friends and, worse, your relatives.

The jingling of my tags drove me mad.
You always scratched me in the wrong place.
All I ever wanted from you
was food and fresh water in my metal bowls.

While you slept, I watched you breathe
as the moon rose in the sky.
It took all my strength
not to raise my head and howl.

Now I am free of the collar,
the yellow raincoat, monogrammed sweater,
the absurdity of your lawn,
and that is all you need to know about this place

except what you already supposed
and are glad it did not happen sooner–
that everyone here can read and write,
the dogs in poetry, the cats and the others in prose.

******

I am now forced to second guess my every move, his every thought, and the motivation behind his actions. I would have been happier being blissfully ignorant.

Maybe.

Maybe I still have a chance to make it all up to him.

Maybe I’ll write him some poetry.

~Shelley

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

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)

A Most Willing Bird

Pencils

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

It makes a big difference.

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

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

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

CAA07880a

(Photo credit: jerryoldenettel)

Is this how I should sound?

Wait, I’ll try again.

Was that one clear?

Hold on, I’ll give it another go.

Practice makes perfect?

I’m so up for the challenge.

Writing is rewriting. And whippoorwilling is being willing.

Headstone A very old and unusual headstone in ...

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

a eulogy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A whipper-what?”

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

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

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

rooster Magyar: kakas

Every night.

And every morning.

For the next five years.

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

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

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

Bugel player line art drawing

My husband: “Wha? What was that?”

Me: “Just the whippoorwill. No worries.”

My husband: “Grrrr …” Zzzz …

Shortly thereafter it was:

My husband: “Huh? What was that?”

Me: “The whippoorwill. Go to sleep.”

My husband: “Fat chance …” Zzzz …

And finally:

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

Me: “It’s the whippoorwill.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “You didn’t!”

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

Me: “You tell ‘em, honey.”

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

Man Jam

Ian Fleming's image of James Bond; commissione...

It’s hard to think of James Bond having anything but a dry martini to act as a quaffable accessory to his perfectly tailored tuxedo and a stunningly undernourished girl. You’d never see him handling a drink with an umbrella in it. (Of course, he would have no issue handling a girl who has a drink with an umbrella in it.)

And how often do you see men load up on yogurt? Especially something like Activia, which claims to “improve digestive transit?” I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a gaggle of guys at the soccer field water fountain moaning while clutching their bellies, wishing they weren’t so bloated.

Sure, there are foods that are typically eaten by more females than males, and if you sit through five minutes of a football game on TV, you’ll find yourself fighting the urge to belch the alphabet along with the guys in the beer commercials. Although many get stuck on the letter B when the Beer, Beef & Babes subliminal advertising kicks in.

But what of cooking? Are there gender preferences there, too? I know plenty of women who handle the grill, but how many fellas make cake pops? Or madeleines? How many guys garnish? Author note: I do not.

portrait of Fanny Cradock

portrait of Fanny Cradock

But my husband does—and with great flare–but I attribute that to the fact that he’s English, grew up watching Fanny Cradock, and lived to tell of it.

Whether garnishing, soufflé-ing, quiche-ing, or mousse-ing, I’ve come across plenty of men who jump into the arena of artful technique and extreme creativity. However, it’s a little more unusual to come across one who will dip his toe into the pond of preserves. Seeing the average male come through the front door with an armload of Ball jars, a 33 quart enamel stockpot, and a basket full of freshly picked berries would make you look over his shoulder to see if he was carrying in June Cleaver’s groceries. Hearing the guy say, “Where’s my apron? Now clear out the kitchen, I’m about to bring Smucker’s to their knees,” is something many women would pay money to experience.

Is this so unusual? Not to G. Tilton Pugh II. He is a lineman at our local airport, drives a massive fuel truck, and probably performs his own tooth extractions. To top it off, this guy has made canning cool. He makes what I call MAN JAM. The jellies contain your average fruit, but he pitches in a load of jalapeños, allowing the more timid males at your breakfast table the opportunity to enjoy fruit preserves without fear of anyone eyeing his pinky when lifting a cup of tea.

Statements like, “Hey, pass me that kick-ass curd at your end of the table,” and “This stuff needs to be on a hunk a meat!” will likely float through conversation.

I expect folks will go through their closets, tossing shoes over their shoulders in the hunt for that old pair of cowboy boots gifted to them the year the whole high school thought them fashionable.

You’ll be greeted each morning with a quick nod and a, “Mornin’, ma’am.” Your husband may forego shaving for a day or two as it fits nicely with his new rough 24/7  five o’clock shadow. There may even be talk of trading in the minivan for a truck with a flatbed.

Visage de cowboy en profil

As heart-palpatatingly pleasant as it may be to find you’re suddenly living—if only temporarily—with the Marlboro Man, my point is that not only can fellas take it on their toast, but now they can make it for their toast.

All the raised eyebrows alone may be enough to encourage any guy to take a crack at it. Seeing the impressed faces at work as you leave a jar on someone’s desk with your own brand name like Men’s Meteoric Marmalade or Joe’s Jawbreaking Jelly can also become addictive.

The point, and I do have one, is that labeling activities as gender specific is wrong. Labeling jars by flavor and fire is fun! (If only as a cross off your bucket list activity.)

Men? Head on out to your local berry patch during the next month or two, or hunt the produce isles of your neighborhood Piggly Wiggly, and mosey on into the kitchen.

Pop some Dwight Yoakum, Johnny Cash, or any guy who’s spent some time in prison and came out the other side with a record deal into the CD player. Now make some MAN JAM.

Burning Bush Jams

Don’t forget the jalapeños. This stuff should scrape the tartar off your teeth.

Click here for MAN JAM recipes and ideas on how to use it elsewhere, or click here for G. Tilton Pugh II’s website, selection and order form.

Happy cooking, cowboys!

~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).

Flyboys & Farmhands

No one needs to bring an airsick bag with them if they’re going for a ride on a tractor. It’s not one of those things you’d find on a “be prepared” list if you were fixing for an afternoon stroll in the grassy fields on a warm spring day.

On the other hand, tucking a barf bag into the pocket of your delicate calico dress—the one meant to impress the third date fellah you’re seeing—should be somewhat of a warning. Especially if the suggestion came from him.

Back up a few years to the day I first took a ride with my pilot boyfriend, back to when he was fresh off the boat from his homeland where lands are granted, titles bestowed and heads beheaded. And still far from any recent ideas about reclaiming rightful colonies.

“A flight with you? In a tiny aircraft? Okay, sure!” (Giggle giggle.)

“Bring a plastic bag? You bet!” (Apparently, there’d be leftovers from a picnic.)

“Aerobatic maneuvers? Nope, never heard of them.” (Batting of eyelashes.)

“Yes, an aileron roll would be great!” (Must be some kind of sandwich.)

plane's manuva:Aileron Roll

plane’s manuva:Aileron Roll (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Holy Mother of Pearl! The ocean is above us!” (Frantic pawing at flimsy, flirty dress in search of pocket and bag.)

“Breakfast does not taste half as good the second time around … Sorry about your ceiling … and the cockpit … here, just scrape that off and you can see outside … ugh.”

Fast forward two years. No pretty dress. No plastic puke bag. “No way, José. Move over. I’m left seat. You can read the charts and do radio.”

Fast forward further. “Hey, honey, building a house on a mountain would mean we’d be closer to the sky, wouldn’t it? And lookie there, it’s right on the flight path to the sweet little airport that’s your home away from home, isn’t it? I could follow you on Flight Aware and jump out of the kitchen with a sign telling you what to pick up at the market just as you zoom past  on your way home. Cool, huh?”

A 1948 Gambles Farmcrest by the Cockshutt & CO...

A 1948 Gambles Farmcrest by the Cockshutt & CO-OP tractor company. On display in Harvard, Illinois during Milk Days 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fast forward more. “I’m tired of looking up at the sky. Look down at the dirt. Hey, let’s dig in it.”

F.F. one more time. “We need a tractor.”

Yesterday. “Farmer tans are sexy, sweetheart.”

Present day discourse. “There’s a pile of sheep poo out there that ain’t gonna move itself!”

It’s true I became a pilot like my husband, but it was a long time ago and largely because one of us lacked a fundamental sense of direction. The thing most challenging for me is that radio talk is short. Purposefully short. Compulsorily short. I love words. I’m a writer. And even though I work very hard, attempting to find the best words to quickly convey my meaning to a reader, I’m super slow at it. Lots of extra words get thrown into my scripts before they’re weeded out. Flowery adjectives. Prosaic adverbs. Purple prose is in ample abundance. The words are sublime to my ears, but like fingernails on a chalkboard to Air Traffic Control.

ATC wants quick and informative. I like descriptive.

ATC wants: Montgomery tower Bonanza 422MA 5000 inbound runway 23.

What I’ve been known to do: Good morning Montgomery tower! This is the super sleek Bonanza November four two two Mike Alpha with you at five thousand glorious feet in truly blue skies requesting the newly paved and hopefully extra long runway two three in just a couple of quick minutes, okey dokey?

When I first learned how to fly, people were always asking me to state my position. Sitting down and facing forward was not the expected reply. I long ago learned a sense of humor is not appreciated up there—and that access to the airwaves did not grant me time to practice a hopeful stand up routine.

I am not allowed to do radios unless it’s an emergency now.

I’m not that fussed. Especially since I don’t work well under pressure. I was always asking ATC to hold on a sec so I could piece together the right code-like answer. It sucks to get shouted at while you’re desperately trying to remember what all the lighted buttons in front of you are for and why some of them are flashing and others are making siren-like sounds.

Which is why riding a tractor is so much easier and a whole lot less stressful.

And more forgiving.

If I forget to put the bucket down before making a pass at a pile of pine shavings, I back up.

If I forget to put the wheels down before making a swoop at the runway, no do-overs allowed.

If I forget to put enough gas into the tractor and get caught short way the heck down by the sheep barn, I trudge back up the hill and haul down the gas cans.

If I forget to put enough gas into the plane, there’s no trudging, just plunging. Big difference.

I suppose I’m grateful to have gone through the experience of learning how to fly if for no other reason than simply because it impressed my high school science teacher who thought I’d probably go no further than learning how to master a weed whacker.

It really goes to show you just how far a plastic puke pouch and picnic can take you.

Roger and out.

Ten-four, good buddy.

Wilco.

~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).

Know your Cupid, Stupid!

English: THE TREATY BETWEEN THE SHEEP AND THE ...

Last night, as I was finishing mucking out the sheep barn, I paused mid-muck, and shivered at a sound that pierced the silence of this early February evening.

Coyotes: Virginia’s scraggly version of a sheep’s Freddy Kreuger and capable of causing such nightmares, no amount of counting themselves aid in a good night’s rest.

The sound of their yipping and howling was so primal, it brought images of ancient scenes: priests, rings of fire, sacrifices and savage rituals. And it’s merely a hop from all that to Lupercalia—perhaps the forerunner of our modern Valentine’s Day.

A lot of folks would have you believe our currently appointed Day of Love

Cupid and Psyche

developed from one of three sainted men possessing the surname Valentine, and that through his deeds of medical miracles/imprisonment and/or writing love letters sprouted a holiday simultaneously celebrated and feared by men and women around the globe today. Maybe it’s true. Maybe it’s hogwash.

But long before these fellas were martyred and thrown on to the Pope’s big calendar of feasts celebrating someone’s demise, another ritual existed. Lupercalia was one of those totally raucous fiestas that nobody in Rome pretends to remember—unless you’re a Wiccan, in which case, nobody pretends to notice.

Curious to get to the real meat of the history, I was surprised to discover the uncanny similarities between the old Roman shindig held February 13th -15th and our fresh take on love, sponsored by Hallmark, held on February 14th.

See if you can follow along.

Lupa capitolina al Campidoglio. Ne esiste una ...

The Romans: Two teams of Luperci (upper crust youths from Roman society) run a footrace around the Palatine Hill and end at the entrance to a cave—supposedly where Romulus (founder of Rome) and twin brother Remus were nursed by Lupa, the she-wolf. Please note that in some texts, Lupa is interpreted as another slang term for prostitute.

Us: Men, no longer in teams but rather solo, run through any series of mazes, hoops, fire and monetary ruin in order to arrive first at the front door of their “prize” for the evening. I doubt many of the women offer professional services, but wouldn’t be surprised to see them bear wolf-like fangs if the man is late.

The Romans: Now in the cave and upon a shrine, priests sacrifice a couple of goats and throw in a dog for good luck, then mix the blood and smear it on the foreheads of those quick-footed lads.

Us: Now at dinner—be it house or restaurant—some sort of meat is slaughtered and whatever wine is paired with the meal is often smudged on the tie of our skittish young stud.

The Romans: The blood is now wiped away with whatever is on hand, usually some milk sodden wool, and everyone has a hearty chuckle at the good-natured prank. You’re asking me why they laughed at this. I shrug; maybe it was akin to blacking out a tooth.

Us: The waiter comes running with a fresh napkin soaked with club soda and everyone inwardly rolls their eyes at the inelegant act of folly. It seems we’ve outgrown the hilarity of the wine on the tie routine, too.

Flagellants practiced self-flogging at the tim...

The Romans: The sacrificed goat’s skin was then divided and handed over to the youths to both wear as loincloths and make into hairy whips for later on.

Us: Upon leaving the table, many men forget they’ve tucked their napkin into the top of their pants and depart from the restaurant with their own special loincloth.

The Romans: Now the youths get to run through the city streets flogging semi-naked woman (requested to be so by their Roman priests) with those bloody, hairy, goat hide whips, all under the guise that by purposefully getting in the way of the thongs the women will gain newfound fertility.

Us: At last, dinner done, our young man has great hope and expectation to see at least one woman expose herself in some manner or form, although this is where the traditions divide. Nowadays, it is the woman who does the whipping at the end of the evening, usually in the form of self-flagellation rapidly followed by self-loathing. Of course the end result is oftentimes the same as those of the Roman women. Newfound fertility.

To wrap things up, it’s easy to see we’ve not changed much. Apparently, getting to thwack a girl on the backside with some shredded bits of goat is still a winning Valentine’s Day plan for most guys.

A 2 month old goat kid in a field of capeweed

So no kidding, Happy Lupercalia.

~Shelley

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

 

Pipers On Sale, Aisle Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bagpipes.

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

Wheezing up our driveway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Safehouse, or Madhouse?

Cows in the Mist

Image via Wikipedia

I grew up in Wisconsin. Cows. Cornfields. Cold. I loved it. Most of it. Okay, some of it. There was a lot I liked. Especially the no-nonsense, matter of fact sense of humor. Our bumper stickers read, Come smell our dairy air!

This was a place you could feel confident in getting a fair deal, a firm handshake and frostbite, the first two being something you sought and the latter, something inevitable.

Regardless, it was also a place most folks felt safe enough to leave their car unlocked, their house unbolted, and most of their valuables strewn across the front lawn. In hindsight, that last one might have been more of an excess of liquor vs. a laissez faire attitude about life in general.

But I grew up with the mindset that keys were for treasure chests, lime pies and leaving in the ignition. Then I married a city boy. London liked to lock things. Like bicycles in chains and people in towers. They’re big on things that signify no loss of control. Tight ship, tight smiles. (Tight underwear?)

Yeoman Warder ("beefeater") in front...

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It’s taken me a while to get Sir Sackier to loosen his cravat. I think it’s been too tightly notched for so long that the blood supply to his eyes throws floaters in front of his vision in the shape of men with sharp teeth and wicked intent.

“Was the UPS guy really delivering a legal document, or scoping out the joint? Let the dog bark a bit, just enough to register. But then tell them that this dog is a piece of cake in comparison to the nest of pit bulls out back we’re all trying to rehabilitate, but can’t drive the blood thirst from. Make sure he hears you shout to someone inside that you’ll be right there. Women alone in the house are an easy target.”

Which brings me to our new amulets to ward off evil.

English: Chord used as an amulet Nederlands: A...

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No, it’s not a special necklace made from the woven hair of our enemies. It’s called the Redneck Remedy. I think it was meant to be a joke from Roger, our resident Renaissance Man. Roger has been working with us for the last year and a half or so, and come to find out, there is nothing this man hasn’t developed a skill set for. Landscaping? Check. Woodworking? Check. Fireman, mountaineer, sorcerer’s apprentice? Check, check and very likely so. I wouldn’t be surprised if the man came up the mountain having wrangled a team of oxen as his vehicle of choice for the week. He is Paul Bunyan. (But sports a tux with quiet grace should the occasion call for it.)

Roger, master craftsman that he is, whipped up a few dozen benches over the weekend that would have Frank Lloyd Wright secretly making sketch notes on the back of a napkin had he been around to see it. One was destined for our front porch—a place to take off your boots. Roger used the bench as a vehicle to display his sense of humor—and now according to Sir Sackier, our new security system.

An old pair of work boots lay beneath the bench. Worn out work gloves rest on top. Scattered beside them are tins of possum meat and chewing tobacco. And to round things off while sending home the message, a man-handled copy of Guns & Ammo magazine. If this doesn’t send any nefarious, plug-ugly ruffian a-scattering, then he can pause a moment longer to read the hand-scrawled note held down with an old railroad spike nestled beside the chew. That is, if he can read. Scroll through the slide show and let me know what you think. Should I still be allowed to invite the Avon Lady in for a cuppa joe since she went to all the trouble of making her way up here? Should Sir Sackier be banned from outfitting the tower with a machine gun nest? Should Roger, the Renaissance man be contracted by Plow & Hearth? I’m curious to know what you think.

~Shelley

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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).