Hairy, Huge & Unhappy: the Nature of the Beast

Nature is full of surprises.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a thank you in sight.

I’m not surprised.

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

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

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I can see how it could be confusing.

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

Yeah, that would be a total daymaker for him.

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

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

Yep. My super sharp instincts went blank.

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Make yourself BIG.

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

  1. Make noise like you’re in charge.

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

It did not have the desired effect.

010815notimpressed

HE charged.

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

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

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I scrambled for a big stick on the ground.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SURPRISE!

~Shelley

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click)

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

 

Eau de malodor; the perfume of pain.

Camphor (800x779)I smell like Bengay.

It’s the beginning of spring. I’m surrounded by sprouting blades of dewy, green grass, by fragrant hyacinth bulbs pulsating with their heady, honeyed perfume, by the woody, pulpy scent of sharp, cedar mulch, and by sweet petrichor—the scent of rain on dry earth. And what is it that fills my nose?

Muscle rub.

I am a mass of layer upon layer of analgesic heat ointment. Even after a shower, when I have loofahed and sandblasted down to the last stratum of penetrable dermis, I still emit the stench of crushed wintergreen. I am a walking tube of methyl salicylate, menthol and camphor. I tried to switch to “odorless,” but I’m convinced it has no effect. Therefore, I am stuck. I am odorfull.

Yes, I realize that’s not an actual word, but it is the exact description of my current cologne.

Even all of my food is beginning to taste like sports cream. The aroma molecules are circling around my body, and realizing that there isn’t enough room to hold all of them on my person, free falling and landing on anything that comes in close proximity. Like a banana I try to eat for breakfast, or the halibut I have for dinner. Believe me, I doubt you’ll ever find Fish sautéed in a pungent pool of peppermint oil, drizzled with a camphoric glaze and finished with a dusting of crushed and cooling antacids on any restaurant menu. Yum? No thanks.Halibut (800x559)

My flavor profiles have slimmed to nearly nothing and my sense of smell has given up the ghost, realizing that what lies ahead is simply a further assault on the delicate workings of the olfactory system.

If I could just get my muscles to cooperate, life could get back to normal.

–        I could smell spring

–        I could taste food

–        I could sleep comfortably

Currently, I’m giving up the first two in hopes that the third will return.

There was a time when I used to be able to sleep twisted like a badly made pretzel on the hard, rumbling floor of a bus for seventeen hours straight, or be thrown in the air by two pairs of hands and carelessly caught on the way back down by one and an elbow to break my fall, or get pitched off a spirited horse onto parched, cracked and unforgiving dirt, and then get up, dust off and move on without a glance backward.Horse (800x510)

Now, I merely see another human bump into a coffee table, hear a person trip up a staircase, or remember a former injury and I’m lining up the salves, the gels, the liniments and balms.

Why is it that merely sleeping crookedly for a small segment of six and one half hours should cause me two weeks of bodily indignation?

Strobist CTO exercise 2

Strobist CTO exercise 2 (Photo credit: Sami Taipale)

I practice yoga, I endure Pilates. I never slouch, and I’ve even stopped bouncing on the trampoline. Don’t I get points for that from the great Muscle gods? Does it count that I no longer bend from the waist? How about the fact that instead of loading up six bags of groceries on two arms and one slung around my neck, I now make three trips back and forth from the car?

I’m just getting used to the routine of seeing my general practitioner once a year, and after watching her wheel in a trolly holding my chart, hearing her say, “We’ve really got to get these things into digital format.” That’s her favorite phrase to make sure I get the picture of how much ink I use up in her office. The second would be, “I’ll add it to the list,” after I announce discomfort, strain or ache in a new area of my body. There’s no, “We’ll now … Let’s see what we can do about that.” There’s simply an understanding that they’re saving all the new magical therapy for a body that is significantly younger, stronger and will respond favorably statistic-wise in the trial.

I get handed a generic version of Icy Hot.

And when do I start qualifying for super discounts on the jumbo-sized bottles of acetaminophen and ibuprofen I purchase at the drug store?Stairs (800x550)Shouldn’t there be a sales receipt that pops out for the cashier identifying me as a serious, long-term customer who should be rewarded with loyalty points? Instead, I get a once over from the pharmacist behind the counter who mentions I’m beginning to look a little pale lately and maybe I should go in for a stool sample to make sure I’m not bleeding internally from growing too Motrin happy.

Sigh.

I would give my left lung for just one day when I could reach for my teacup or itch my nose and not come out of the movement with a slight sprain. Is it too much to ask for? It makes me sad with the realization that for quite some time, whenever I find myself blowing out candles, throwing a coin in a fountain, or wishing on a shooting star, the request is all the same: Let tomorrow be the day that I hear an anchorman broadcast that science has discovered a new plant that, when taken in pill form once a day, will make us all feel like we’re living inside the body of a healthy eighteen-year old. Oh, and how about the fact that it tastes like chocolate?

Take the blue pill...

Take the blue pill… (Photo credit: Smallbrainfield)

That would be a total day maker.

Until then, I have to stop wrestling with the dog in order to keep healthy whatever muscle groups are still functioning, sleep with no pillow to encourage spine, neck and head alignment, and increase my daily intake of single malt scotch, which I assure you is for medicinal purposes only.

Last on my list is to either develop a long-lasting fetish for all things related to the mint family, or find some industrial strength perfume. Either way, it’s the dawn of a new era. Or odor.

~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.

The Mayas were dead wrong; yes, dead, but most importantly wrong.

English: matchstick arithmetic problem

Although any statement I make in my house involving science is automatically tossed aside with a giant hearty laugh, I really thought I had a decent handle on math.

I announced in my first post that because someone threw down the gauntlet and challenged me to catalog the absurd things that either take place in my brain or on top of our mountain, I had agreed to write about them for one year. And one year equals fifty-two weeks, does it not? But this will be my fifty-fourth post for a once a week blog.

And seeing as the Mayas had many of us convinced we needn’t have set our alarm clocks for Friday, the 21st of December—and because of that I was late for yoga—I’m guessing that those fellas were working off the same abacus I’ve been using.

Mine seems to have an extra bead.

Description unavailable

Description unavailable (Photo credit: Tim.Deering)

Not entirely sure what their excuse is though, which is really bothersome, as I have a basement stocked with canned goods, ammunition and wearable sleeping bags. Plus, I’ve skimmed through every survivalist handbook I could check out from the local bookmobile lounge, which has to take every other Saturday off to transform into the Mammogrammobile. It turns out I’ll need to return my borrowed books, as they now have a noteworthy due date. Fingers crossed it’s next Saturday. (Kill two birds with one stone.)

I suppose in truth, the rest of my end-of-the-world provisions will come in handy, because one simply needs to add a vat of Crisco to have all the essentials for a full day up here on Hootenanny Hillock.

And that is ultimately my theme here today. We’ve been issued a continuance.

An extension. A prolongation. A get-a-bloomin-move-on.

Worldly scholars warned us all about this unhealthy habit we as a society have fostered—the one where we’re all constantly looking for Armageddon. But perhaps worldly psychologists would roll their collective eyes at us and tell us to just schedule a Giant Day Off.

21.12.2012 _DDC4514

21.12.2012 _DDC4514 (Photo credit: Abode of Chaos)

Maya historians have attempted to explain the whole calendar phenomena: the big hand on the clock finally ticking over to the thirteen b’aktun, the terminology and explanation of the Long Count and the Maya’s penchant for keeping track of celestial cycles, but I guess many of us were too absorbed by the phrase, “Marks the end,” to follow along and hear the rest of the words that completed the sentence. It could have been, “—of how far into the future they were willing to schedule dentist appointments.” Or, “—date when all the perishables in the lowest cave should finally be tossed.

It could have been anything.

In fact, there are more Maya dates on cave walls that are still being unearthed today. And nobody’s got a clue as to what they all mean—except maybe Mel Gibson, who I’m pretty sure speaks ancient Mayan, right?

Devil's Tower Wyoming as in close encounters o...

Devil’s Tower Wyoming as in close encounters of the third kind (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My fear is that this date was of cosmic importance. Perhaps the Maya were pointing out the lining up of some planetary, spherical or solar dynamics and that at the precise date of December 21, 2012, 6:12 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, a portal would open, something would unlock, a gate would unhinge.

All I know is that at that particular moment, Sir Sackier nudged me from sleep and told me to put my arms down and stop mumbling. Apparently, I’d been speaking to the Mothership and was reaching out for a leg up. Now we’ll never know. I might have been the key that unlocked this huge mystery.

Or it might be time for me to stop drinking so heavily before bedtime.

English: Chromolithograph print of a tobacco l...

The point is, I’ve got no other choice than to Keep Calm and Carry On.

I know… the signs are everywhere—and quite probably a message from the Maya. They knew this would happen.

Therefore, I’m taking the message to heart. I shall persevere with the blog. The perspective from up here on my peak is that, in looking back over the past 53 essays, it’s clear I’ve still much to do. There are stalls to muck out, gardens to destroy, teenagers to aggravate, letters to be written just for the sheer pleasure of annoying bureaucrats, roasts to scorch and above all, arithmetic to master.

In light of this announcement, I’d like to wish you all a Happy New Year and hope you’ll return to read about life up here from my perspective.

The air may be a little thin, but the future is fat with ample tales.

~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)!

 

Men in plaid. Aka Highland Games

For some people, a work of nature can make their hearts sing: a sunrise or sunset, a full moon, a double rainbow, a field of poppies. For others, it might be the music of Debussy, an African children’s choir, or the ocean as it rolls with breaking waves across the sand.

English: The Bagpiper

For me, as glorious as these things are, nothing comes quite as close to filling me with awe as seeing a man dressed in a kilt. If he’s blowing a set of pipes, all the better.

Alright, so my “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” viewpoint might be a little different than most.

I’ve been to Scotland many times. Not as many times as I’m hoping to go, but more times than my children wish to recall. When the strains of a bagpipe seep past me, I spot a flash of plaid, or I walk into my pantry–overrun with single malt scotch–I am transported back, if only for just a moment.

To remain there longer, I need do one of a few things: get on an airplane and head to the Highlands, strap some whopping big horns on to my dog and beg him to release his inner Highland cow, or go to one of Virginia’s many Highland Games.

Highland Cow

Highland Cow (Photo credit: Vanessa (EY))

Are you with me on the theme here?

Last week I went with door number three.

A few thousand others did too.

Thankfully, when the second George of England requested that the Scots kindly exit the United Kingdom for a permanent vacation, they (at gunpoint) willingly agreed and took one of the original cruise ships over the pond to set up a few tents in Canada and America. I say thankfully simply because one of their camper sites turned out to be Virginia. Apparently, the welcome was warm enough to encourage putting down a tap root. They stuck around.

And since the crabby English didn’t like seeing the Scots in their party clothes, or hearing their party music, or following their party leaders, the Scots took all of that with them and dumped it on the front lawn of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Celtic riffraff, but really lyrical riffraff.

But even having spent the last couple of centuries sliding away from a Scottish burr and into a southern drawl, these folks have held tight to their customs if not their castles.

Virginia Highland games, while not as raucous and cutthroat as those I’ve become acquainted with in Scotland, still retain the one thing that binds them no matter which land you’re visiting.

PRIDE.

The clan system is strong.

And they keep reminding each other of just how strong their clan system is. The Camerons are stronger than the McDonalds. The McDonalds are mightier than the Fraziers. The Fraziers kick the butts of the Buchanans. And the Buchanans think the only thing the Camerons show superior strength in is body odor. So there you have it. Clan competition.

Pipers piping.

Caber throwers cabering.

Archers arching.

Leaping lassies leaping.

Stone putters putting.

Sheep herders picking out the prettiest sheep.

Cattle smugglers pointing up at an eagle to throw you off the fact that you’ve just lost half your herd.

Fun and games.

And whisky.

And haggis.

And then more whisky.

Gun and fames.

You’re never as thunk as you drink you are, but the drinker you sit there’s, the longer you get. Hic.

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Although seeing the men toss their cabers is an absolute thrill, the true highlight for me is always the electrifying, heart-quickening rush of the pipes. Hearing the combined sounds of one hundred pipers pouring every ounce of their spirits into music that will shred your soul is an addictive experience, and one that will likely leave a tiny tattoo on your heart.

They’re lined up in formation, silent and prepared, mist swirling about them like smoke from a long ago battle. They’re given the cue and collectively send skyward the chilling notes of bloodshed, crusade and struggle mixed together with grit, guts and glory. It leaves you shattered and breathless.

The gathering audience is silent, struck dumb with the power of the ghostly cries of voices silenced by graves. You can feel the crowd shiver. A big blowzy woman next to me breaks the sacred moment with, “Oh aye, I’d like to squeeze one of them there pipes myself.”

A few tender-conscious women make a swift sign of the cross and one man chokes on the pint of Guinness he’s swilling. The games have truly begun.

After a full day of watching the descendants of my favorite country duke it out Hazard/Highland style, we leave and drive home. I am left satiated for the moment, but know the feeling won’t last. As we wait at a stoplight, I see in the car beside me the swaying hips of the sweet figurine–the Hawaiian Hula girl.

11-22-09

11-22-09 (Photo credit: idovermani)

My only wish is that somebody, somewhere will create the Scottish equivalent of the kilted man. I think back to the pious women and what they’d make of my new dashboard saint.

I bet if they had one, they’d take the long, curvy road home from church. And then have to go back for the second service.

~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)!

 

Lights, Camera … Wait. Where are the lights?

Candles Flame in the Wind by Photos8.com

In addition to blowing out my hair, our lawn chairs, the flower boxes and a handful of shingles from the rooftop, our Herculean wind, blasting January through March across our mountaintop home, never forgets to tick off the last item on its ‘to-do’ list as a parting gift: it blows out the power.

I think of myself as a fairly prepared wanted-to-be Girl Scout, who, when throwing any kind of a dinner party—elaborate or no fuss—will write check lists in triplicate to make sure nothing is overlooked. Except it’s impossible to identify that one thing you overlooked when you’re looking at your list in the dark.

It happens with enough regularity to set a clock by, barring the fact that the timepiece I set repeatedly flashes twelve o’clock because the power has gone out yet again.

There’s nothing that ruffles my feathers more than the sound of silence where there was once the humming of my oven, six pots burbling on the stove top, Diana Krall crooning from the speakers and the tinkling of silverware as the table is decorated.

When I Look in Your Eyes

In its place is the, “Oof!” from my husband, falling up the stairs from the wine cellar—arms loaded for bear, the crash of glassware as my son who’s table setting loses sight of his work, my daughter’s cry of unheralded alarm at the loss of “IRRETRIEVABLE RELATIVISTIC QUANTUM FIELD THEORY RESEARCH!!” as she sits in front of a dark computer screen and a cackle buried deep within the roar of the demonic wind.

It is now that I consider the repercussions of snagging one of the bottles of wine still rolling down the hallway and heading straight for the comfort of my closet where I will shimmy out of whatever dreadful outfit I forced myself to wear for the evening and slip back into one of the umpteen pair of nonjudgmental-ever-forgiving yoga pants I own. I will curl up in a corner and if I’m truly lucky, find the wine bottle has a screw cap; otherwise, I’ll be forced to dig out shredded bits of cork with the back of an earring. (It’s been done before.)

Knowing I will never be forgiven if I pull that stunt, I take a deep breath, and use my mind’s eye to survey the damage in front of me. I’ve got hungry people coming to dinner and a dinner unfit for feeding said hungry people. And very shortly those folks will be arriving in front of an eerily dark house, believing they’ve got the wrong day, or we’ve changed our minds and went to bed early.

Downton Abbey

Just to add an element of apoplexy to my frenzied state, I remember my mother is staying with us, recuperating after some minor hand surgery, but so hopped up on Percocet, she continually mistakes me for either one of the servants from Downton Abbey or an old walnut armoire from her childhood bedroom. She will be trying to make it down the stairs solo or may have locked herself in a closet, believing it to be an elevator. If I don’t get to her straight away, I will soon find her at the bottom of the stairs needing substantially more Percocet.

Unfortunately, she’ll have to wait as I see a pair of headlights inching up the unforgiving driveway. Time’s up. Where the hell is my Plan B?

I hear my husband stub his toe on one of the spinning bottles and shout at the poor dog who’s announcing the arrival of our guests. I hear my despondent teen scientist sobbing at her desktop. And I hear my table setter holler, “Mom? Power’s out! Where are the candles?”

This last phrase is one that has repeatedly sent shivers down my spine. After every power outage I swear I will create a system of preparedness: memorable locations for flashlights, candles, matches and a corkscrew. And each time … I remember that sworn oath after the next power outage.

“In the apothecary chest,” I call back.

This goes on and on and on.

“Which drawer?”

“I can’t remember.”

I wait for it …

“WHAT?? WHICH DRAWER, MOM?”

Nobody sees me shrug in the dark, or cringe with self-loathing. I turn to speak in the direction of my young Marie Curie. “Please go help your brother find the candles.”

I can feel the rancor as she fumbles past me and know that it will mix with the already present hefty dose in the dining room. Nobody wants to search the apothecary chest. It has nearly one hundred drawers.

At last the blessed generator kicks on. It waits—an irritably long time—just to make sure that it’s truly needed, and that we aren’t simply testing circuits, or replacing fuses, or god-forbid seeing if it’s paying attention and ready to go.

roasting a marshmallow

Sadly, it’s too expensive to have the whole house wired to it. I remember the hot July day we had to pick and choose what we thought absolutely essential to have hooked up to the juice. Who needs heat? We laughed. Lights? Just the kitchen so we can find the marshmallows which we’ll cozily roast over our roaring fire. Microwave? Sure! We’ll make popcorn! Okay, that’s it, generator guys. Thanks for comin’ by and helping us ‘prepare for the worst’.

Idiot, idiot, idiot.

I hear peals of laughter from the front hall where my husband must have greeted our guests. I hear my mother introduce herself as Hyacinth Bucket from her favorite BBC series. I look at my no longer burbling pots on the stove and sigh.

Then I peek into the dining room to see the mellow glow of firelight on wood, candles covering every surface and effusing the room with a spellbinding sentiment. I squeeze my children and whisper thank you.

Someone comes up behind me for a hug, hands me a bottle of wine and sniffs the air. “Mmm …What’s for dinner?”

I laugh. “Popcorn, marshmallows …” I look down at the bottle of Merlot and smile at the screw cap, “And wine.”

~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).