Science is a Work of Art … and a Headache Full of Math

I have a love-hate relationship with physics.

I love the way it sounds as a word. It’s a pleasurable one to say—like cupcakery, flibbertigibbet, or I’ve just won the lottery.

Okay, that last one is not so much a fun word to say as it would be a fun phrase to shout.

But “physics” is lovely to pronounce.

I also love that it works the way people expect it to—airplanes alight, bowling balls roll, people don’t fall off when on the upside-down part of Earth’s rotation—stuff like that.

I appreciate—nay, love—that so many people on this planet understand the science that studies the nature and properties of matter and energy.

But what I hate … is that I’m not one of them.

It’s not that I haven’t tried, because I have. I really have. As in sat down, read books, attended lectures, asked questions, did experiments. All that jazz. Definitely not half-hearted attempts to crack the codes of complex concepts.

It was effortful work.

But it just didn’t stick.

It never does, and I feel entirely deflated with the results.

Currently, I’m working on an art installation project with someone whose background is both fine arts and engineering. We have a massive canvas which we’ve agreed to apportion and parcel between us, settling upon no theme other than some sort of Venn diagram of shared experiences.

My first outlined section involves a three-headed snake, slithering downward through the seven levels of celestial existence, depicting the metaphysical realms of deities and including the classical planets and fixed stars.

It’s pretty.

His is a physical representation of irrational numbers. It is lines both curved and precisely angled.

It is math.

I said, Can you see how mine shows the concept of the divine wrestling with—

I get it. He broke in, nodding. I’ve studied religious antiquity through art. It’s pretty straightforward. Now can you see how mine is the answer?

I squinted at the canvas. The answer to what?

To everything.

Everything? I echoed.

Yes. To the universe, to space, time, you, me, the existence and meaning of everything your mind can conjure.

My mind was not conjuring. My mind had stumbled to a cracking fat halt.

I don’t get it, I said, feeling a hot creeping blush move across my face. Where’s the formula part?

I received a look of incredulity. He pointed to the canvas. It’s right there. Where the lines and arcs intersect and join. It’s all present. It’s simple. It’s elegant. It’s beautiful.

He moved across the canvass, sweeping his hand from one point to another. Five or six minutes passed where words like “thermodynamics,” “quantum mechanics,” and “electromagnetism” were meshed with phrases like “the laws of motion” and “Bose-Einstein state of matter,” and “Are you truly not getting this?”

It made me worry. Again.

As I am currently on my way to see my daughter in her place of work. It’s a place that makes spaceships.

And everyone there comprehends all the words and phrases of physics to a point so deeply understood they can be trusted with millions of tax dollars that gets sent up to planets we all hope might one day hold a few Starbucks.

Her colleagues are the kind of people who could easily look at my art partner’s portion of our canvas and say, Yeah, man. That’s so beautiful.

They are the kinds of people who have pi tattoos, and blow-up dolls of Newton sitting a desks at work, and regularly visit therapists for anger management issues related to Flat-Earthers.

Chloe is, understandably, a little bit nervous, as in the past, when touring the facilities that educated her to qualify for her current place of employment, I apparently asked questions that left the occasional professor befuddled and giving her a second sideways assessment as to whether she may have been adopted.

Those questions usually involved time travel and multiverses—which at those moments were, in my defense, valid and being discussed by true blue scientists and not stripped from episodes of Star Trek.

And it’s not like I was asking whether all the orbiters and rovers we’ve been sending up were going to be interfering with my monthly horoscope.

Besides, I much prefer divination by means of flour. There is nothing more accurate than aleuromancy, as Chinese fortune cookies have yet to let me down.

So as I sit in my assigned seat on a fancy flying machine that surely neither Newton nor Galileo could have imagined, I am left staring out the window and wondering what I could possibly add to the art installation that could stand up to “the answer to everything,” whether I would find anything comprehendible when shortly visiting Chloe’s spacefaring factory, and whether my luggage would arrive at my final destination.

Pulling out my daily ration of much relied upon soothsaying, I cracked open my rice cookie and read today’s fortune:

A closed mouth gathers no feet.

Surely, this could be voted as a potential fourth law of motion.

I will consider 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.

Booze, Britain, & Maybe Someone’s Bride

If you’re asked any questions you can’t answer, just send those folks to me.

I looked at my boss. The one who brought me to the London Whisky Show with just barely enough information to sound like I was dangerously competent but not snarkily egotistical.

You mean like, “How many proof liters are you pulling off the still between noon and 6pm on every third Saturday of the month?”

Or how about, “Exactly what percentage of liquor are you extracting from that rare twenty-five year old rum cask you’re resting your bourbon in for two years?”

Or even this one. How bout this one? “Will you marry me?” *hic* Can I lob that one over to you as well?

He gave me a look from beneath his brow. Umm … no. You can deal with the drunken fan boy bits on your own.

Fab. Back to work.

And work it was, as setting up a booth in Old Billingsgate—one of London’s myriad iconic buildings, notably a venue that used to house the world’s largest fish market—was not just as easy as plunking down a few bottles of booze and then flipping a shingle to say ‘open for business’ as thirsty customers strolled by.

Instead, it was setting up the most eye-catching, magnetically plumaged display of all your finest award winning wares right beside hundreds of other eye-catching, magnetically plumaged displays of award winning wares.

And for most of us, all on the size of a postage stamp.

The festival brought distillers and whisky lovers from all over the world together to experience some of the most coveted, laurel wreathed drams begging to be savored. Participants wandered (and eventually stumbled) about from booth to booth over the two festival days with supremely developed palates and highly developed expectations.

Now there may only officially be listed just over 100 carefully selected global distillers, but each one of them had some version of, You think that was good … (pulls bottle from beneath hidden shelf) … wrap your tongue around this one!

Altogether, a patron had somewhere between 600-800 drams of whisky to filter through in 48 hours.

As did their liver.

Of course, there was recommended show etiquette.

Spit, don’t swallow.

Drink lots of water—hell, bring your own IV pole if it’s not too unwieldy.

And if you are officially documented by the patrolling Security Stewards to have asked more than three exhibitors for their hand in marriage, the last one has the right to hold you responsible for their children’s college fund.

Gamble as you may.

One of the most challenging aspects of the festival was to reel in the participants, convince them that Reservoir’s whiskies stood head and shoulder above most others because we were not a carbon copy of the vast menu list available.

Our ingredients are of the utmost importance.

We pride ourselves on those ingredients being local.

Our process is different, our distillate is unique, our people are unprecedented, and for Pete’s sake, every day we festoon our bosses’ office doors with balloons and thank you notes because we just frickin’ love working here!

PLEASE JUST COME TASTE OUR WHISKIES!

In truth, we may not have sounded quite so desperate, but you get my point. You have to stand out. And not in a gimmicky way. You have to present them with something that’s memorable, that’s meaningful, that matters.

You have to make them want to take you home in a bag.

Okay, that did not come out right, but again you get my point.

It was an opportunity to meet people who love whisky and who make whisky from every corner of the Earth. To share what we’ve made, to learn from others, and to come home filled to the brim with the vim and vigor of pursuing our future.

We also come home smelling a little bit of fish, but that’s beside the point.

We travel the world with our wares. Sometimes we come to you. Sometimes you come to us. Most importantly, we come together, our spirits aligned.

Now, agreeing whether you want to make monthly payments to the university or just one lump sum is where we might diverge, but we can always work that out over a dram or two.

~Shelley

My favorite customer …

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 Magical Tale of a Tail

The world is full of random flukes, right?

We’ve all experienced a flush of good timing, poetic justice, or quirky happenstance. Something we look back on and say, yeah, that was weird, but seriously, how cool.

As a writer of fiction, I know I can drizzle a bit of curious coincidence into my stories, but I treat it as though it was a ghost pepper hot sauce—a little goes a long, long way. And too much will kill my reader’s appetite for any more of my story.

I mention all of the above because my life would never be considered believable fiction.

My editor would toss it back and say it was filled with way too many unexplainable flukes. Events that appeared for no reason, simply to push the narrative arc along. It’s too farfetched, too fortuitous, too implausible.

And yet … this is the contents of my life.

I write about magic in some of my books. In one it is simply sprinkled about, in several others it is the main focus, widespread and thoroughly researched. As authors we are encouraged to write what we know. But I wouldn’t say I know magic per se, I’d instead phrase it as I experience magic—or what some would define as magic—nearly every day.

And I don’t mean magic in the sense of ‘wand-casting-turn-you-into-a-toad’ type magic, nor would I lessen it to the side of the spectrum which might be confused with abundant gratitude. As in the warm rush of excitement at seeing a rainbow, or a water funnel, or a squirrel escape unharmed from the opposite side of your moving vehicle as it dashed out in front of you.

No. My magic is more the serendipitous kind and mostly the unexplainable. Unexplainable, as far as science is concerned. And I do believe science will one day have an explanation for my wonky situations. That chapter just hasn’t been written yet.

I don’t have rational answers for why, when visiting religious sites, or landscapes of great historic relevance, I am overcome with a physical dis-ease so great it can send me to my knees. Someone theorized that perhaps the pseudo-science stating the correlation between ley lines and magnetic fields might be an influence—and my body simply has an abundance of iron that interferes.

*shrug*

I have no reasonable explanation as to why I am forever running into self-proclaimed witches, soothsayers, mystics, and wizards. This week alone the tally is already up to three.

Surely, you think I jest.

I certainly would.

And it’s not like I belong to any covens, Wiccan moots, or regularly visit Renaissance festivals. These individuals just find me. Or, as I have heard explained to me numerous times, I find them. But I take issue with this declaration, as the last one I “found” was literally fifteen minutes ago—someone who marched up to my front door to say hello as I’ve been working on this article.

*sigh*

I know. It’s supremely absurd.

I feel like erasing this entire confessional essay, except that I’m writing to tell you about one of my most beloved repeating serendipitous occurrences: meeting my favorite people.

(The reveal is coming up, so hang tight.)

I was recently away at a massive book festival in Tucson, Arizona. Over one hundred and thirty thousand people attend this three day event each year, and I was lucky enough to be invited to participate.

A bazillion flights, ubers, panels, and tacos later, I lug my bags across the threshold of my home, my luggage filled with the contact info of countless authors, publishing reps, moderators, and book sellers.

I toss it all up on the kitchen counter and glance out the porch door where movement catches my eye. A wretched face glances up at me, curled up upon my swinging rocker. Two large chocolate colored eyes effortlessly convey the message of I’m cold, I’m hungry, I’m lost.

Unlike the countless other things up on the mountain where I live, this animal has no desire to fight me back for territory taken, and only wishes for a quick solution to his mounting problems.

I rush out to greet the sweet and gangly-legged hound and usher him into the warmth where aid is in abundance. “Sammy,” as his tags indicate, is one of the most grateful tail wagers I’ve yet to lay eyes on.

He tells me, in a way that only animals can, how the water has never been so thirst-quenching, the food has never been so filling, and yes, please scratch right there until I tell you to stop. I adore animals and their gratitude for simple needs met. I wish more people were so.

I quickly make contact with Sammy’s owner—a doppelganger of me, had I been on the receiving end of the phone call: thrilled, desperate, relieved. She is on her way.

Sammy and I find the warmest, sunniest room in the house to await her arrival, and many attempts at my poor human-to-dog speak message of, “I promise, she’s rushing here to get you,” prove unsuccessful. His eyes still say, Make my two-leg appear, please.

And minutes later when she does, I can see in her eyes the same urgency as was in Sammy’s, and my “chatty Cathy” habit is getting in the way of reunification.

Paula is clearly a perfect match for her companion—warm, gentle, intelligent, personable. It’s almost as if she was a …

“What do you do for a living?” I ask her.

“I’m a school librarian.”

I drop all pretense of politeness and inhibition. I hug her.

“You are my favorite kind of people!” I look at her hard. “Did you somehow know that I run a campaign to erect monuments to all librarians? Because I write that on the jacket flap of all my books!”

She shakes her head. She did not know. And eyes the door.

I thrust three of my books into her hands. “For your school, if you want them.”

We will be friends. I’m sure of it. I will make it happen. And I will try to tone down that unnerving affection.

But it comes naturally when you’ve been surrounded by all this wonky magic your whole life. I may look askance at all the other lunacy that regularly shows up, but I will never question fate or the three siblings in charge of it.

And if Clotho, Lachesis, or Atropos—the three Sisters of Fate—should toss a librarian onto my front door’s welcome mat, I will treat her the same way I would any lost and loved puppy: with open arms and great goodwill.

Also a big spoonful of peanut butter.

~Shelley

Sammy was lost in the forest for two long winter days. And because of his perseverance and suffering, I suggest he receives a spot at Paula’s feet within the mold of her bronze cast—once her school raises enough money from bake sales. Come on, Western Albemarle High School. Get baking!

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.

 

 

 

When Everyone Tells You You’re a Witch, Eventually You Try on the Hat

I don’t feel well¸ I’d whispered just loudly enough for my own ears to register.

I reached out for the wall beside me, steadying quivering knees, and felt my hand slide southward until it came to touch the floor. I wrapped both arms around my bent legs. In this custodial cocoon, I closed my eyes and searched for a thread of clarity as a new anchor of support.

Another sound my ears captured—their scattershot proficiency even further impeded by the thump of my resonant heartbeat—was a half growl, half moan, also coming from me.

I spoke again in a whisper, directing my words to both recently and long-passed female relatives, If you all think this is funny, I will find a way to make you pay for your merciless amusement. Leave. Me. Alone.

I looked up and scanned the room. It was rich with excavated artifacts—urns, beakers, swords, and tools, skins, sketches, baubles, and bowls. Relics unearthed from the very ground I stood upon—or hunched over, as it were.

The Kilmartin Museum was perched atop a small ridge that ran along the edge of Kilmartin Glen—a stretch of prehistoric sites through the valley of a tiny village in western Scotland. It was here I was suddenly sinking with the feeling of lassitude—which I’m certain brought a smirk of self-congratulations to many of my female ancestors, as the words they shared with me when alive were of the variety that would bring great alarm to most, but were banal and eye roll-worthy to me during my youth:

You’re an old soul—you simply can’t recall your past lives. The tarot cards show this.

Open your ears to the goddesses, don’t put up such walls to their speech.

You are but a vessel—and willing or no, your spirit is an empath and draws the needful toward you.

I’d believed none of it. But partly wished it were true. They believed all of it. And impatiently waited my surrender to their truth.

I’d come for research—to resurrect not only the tangible details I’d need for my story, but the perceptible ones as well. One provided a sense of touch, the other, palpable only by the mind. Many storytellers find that if one can stand in the spot where the tale unfolds, and utilize all one’s senses, countless doors of creativity swing open with ease.

The problem I was encountering was not so much the onset of malaise but discovering that the long distance travel had not shaken the long buried voices of my own dead relatives—those who regularly muttered around me—and they now intermingled with the voices of those I wished to hear more clearly and singularly.

The book I was writing steeped within a warm soup of Celtic mythology and village mystics. The book I’d just finished was fraught with warring witches and fear-filled kingdoms. Death snaked its way through both narratives, just as my familial undead featherstitched their presence uninvitingly through more of my calendric cycle than I wish were true.

Their calls—which were clearly an unmistakable theme in both books—repeatedly stressed, You are one of us. Do not be deaf to the obvious and inevitable.

And although I may have purposefully shut out the opinions my more eclectic family members layered on, I have never been deaf to great books, as they speak to me with more than mere words. They leave countless overarching impressions. When you are the reader of any story, the author prays they have cannily articulated some message to you, and you leave feeling moved by the experience. When you are the author, you hunt for that affecting message. It is oftentimes a slow sweeping away of debris that reveals the structure: the bones, the skull, the spine.

And standing in a multi-roomed hut, jammed with primitive curios, or upon a battlefield, the acrid smoke charred deep into the soil, or beside a cairn, the stones heavy with the grief of thousands of tears, I can barely pick out the tone of my own long ago voiced youthful complaints as I stymie the growing sound of history’s vocal barrage.

I’m not like all of you. I’m my own person, I’d said to some auntie, eyeing me with pity through the wisps of the exotic smoke from her cigarette.

She’d shaken her head. You see it wrongly. You are not tethered to this hallowed ground with an anchor, but rather a tube. One that can act as a channel.

She is right. There is a hurricane of chronicles waiting to be heard. And countless times in my life I have been in the right place and present at the right time where the valves have twisted open. At these moments, I am usually caught unawares and overwhelmed.

Fighting off a chorus of narrators, rich with the urgency of untold tales is akin to skittering down an icy, rock-laden hill. You will not come out unscathed.

As writers in any genre will affirm, there are myriad ways to quilt the patchwork of a story together: spending months or years in a library while pouring over reference books, chronicling dream journals and cherry-picking threads of a narrative from within it, ferreting through new innovation and discovery via disrupters and thought leaders we interview. The list is endless.

But there are those that believe the stories are omnipresent, ubiquitous as the air we draw for each breath. And within our breath is the breath of others. Our task is to tap into the substance of it, the elements within it. We simply unveil that which keeps it muffled from others’ ears.

I had no inkling I would be a teller of tales one day, that I would find a snug fit of comfort stretching beyond the bounds of everyday humans and attempt to build worlds elsewhere. And for an unfathomable amount of time I stubbornly resisted seeing one of those unhuman worlds as it was repeatedly illuminated by others who believed they held access to it and wished to hand me a key.

Those experiences—the ones where I’ve been flooded with the emotions, or voices, or thrumming vibrations that did not belong to me specifically—have more often than not, not been welcome. I don’t know why they appear. Maybe those women are right. Maybe I am an empath. And welcomed or no, some unseen fingers may continue to twist open that wheeled handle despite my trying to plug the spigot. But lately … lately I have wondered why I would willfully eliminate a source of inspiration or guidance. Why would I dismiss a muse as it sits staring into my face, or whispering into my ear?

So for writing’s sake, for the enrichment of story, I will try on the hat—to see if it fits. Fits like a child’s head, warmly embraced within the arms and bosoms of women long passed, but refusing to be forgotten.

~Shelley

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

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

 

Climb Every Mountain (even those without cell service)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or

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

Or

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

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

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

Her: Good point. I’ll pack a scarf.

Me: How will we communicate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Either way. It’s all out of my hands.

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

~Shelley

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

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

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

My Mother, Thief of Goat’s Milk Products

There was no freaking way she was going to redecorate my room. No way on earth. She had that power at one point in my life, and as a result, I spent my teenage years in a sunflower yellow room adorned with far too much poppy imagery.

I finally had my own space – of sorts. I spent the first week of my summer in Boston scrubbing the floor, spackling the walls and maneuvering the biohazardous excuse for a mattress gracefully out of the window. Then I painted everything brown. And threw the entirety of my wardrobe on the floor. The space was officially mine.

230815clothes

A few days earlier, on the phone with my mother regarding the upcoming visit: “OH IT WILL BE SO MUCH FUN WE WILL GO TO THE CUTE LITTLE WHOLE FOODS BEHIND YOUR CUTE LITTLE ROOM IN YOUR CUTE LITTLE HOUSE AND BUY CUTE LITTLE GROCERIES AND FIX UP YOUR ROOM WITH CUTE LITTLE CUTE THINGS.”

No.

NO POPPIES. OR BRIGHT COLORS. NOT HERE.

Such interference must be prevented at all costs. So I crammed every minute of the weekend with plans to explore the revolutionary and overwhelmingly Italian parts of Boston. (Distinct neighborhoods, albeit.) No time for redecoration.

But first, she had to climb five flights in the sweltering evening heat, only to be greeted at the top by a bathroom that was literally growing hair out of every drain. (She got that part right.) However, no challenge is insurmountable when one equips my mother with a little red wine and stolen fans from the communal living spaces.

230815fans

We were awakened the next morning at sparrow’s fart by the music of hundreds of trucks idling outside my window. (Two seasons in New England – winter and construction! Hahaha… so funny …I want to burn this city to the ground. Just kidding. Maybe.)

We embarked on a grand adventure to see libraries and historic churches – basically my mother’s favorite things – and she attempted to “check out” books from a library she does not belong to in a city she does not inhabit. No, Mom, published authors don’t get automatic librarian rights. Don’t listen to Grandpa.

We toured a historic art museum famed for the world’s most expensive and currently unrecovered art theft – I think my mother gave off a slightly suspicious vibe, as we were followed around by a number of guards from room to room. Either she didn’t notice or was intentionally messing with them by standing a hair’s too close to the artwork and exclaiming loudly “This Rembrandt would go perfectly with the bathroom color scheme!” Regardless, they broke a sweat.

We explored a booming Farmer’s and Artist’s Market in South Boston – I have never seen her accumulate so many samples so quickly. She had it down to a script too  – “Yeshihello, how are you, marvelous, I live in the area and will definitely be back to buy more of your product, may I try a sample of your local deliciousness thankyougoodday.” We made it out of there with literally enough food to last the rest of my collegiate career.

(If you’re not picking up on a theme here – my mother is a klepto. Of library books, priceless works of art and artisanal cheese samples. I plead unknowing and accidental accomplice.)

We hiked Boston’s Freedom Trail, a winding path through the tumultuous history of the Revolutionary War- it also happens to wind through the North End, where overstuffed cannoli and fresh, cheesy pasta distract from the patriotic quest. And I do not say “hike” lightly – after repeatedly climbing the five flights up Dante’s inferno to my place, we decided to also climb the Bunker Hill Monument at midday. We basically climb stairs now. It’s a hobby.

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Finally, a surprise I had meticulously planned – an evening on a sailboat and a visit to the best improv club in town. But the good old public transportation system, essentially comprised of turtle-drawn buggies, had different plans. Hence the running three miles in flip flops, tearing through a quaint harborside party reception waving my arms and screaming “CATCH THAT SAILBOAT!” Not gonna lie, probably one of the most epic things I’ve ever done.

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Now, just to complete the picture, here are some pictures.

Chloe and Shelley on sailboat
Conducting business on the sailboat. (I.e. dealing with the homefront crisis in which Grandma forgot where the cat food is. Classic Grandma.)
She knocked over an encyclopedia right after this was taken. I kid you not. It was so loud.

Shelley in library

Washing the kleptomania from her hands in Boston’s picturesque Frog Pool.

Shelley at Frog Pool

Apparently a proud supporter of the internment of Samuel Adams.

Shelley at Sam Adams tomb

The face of a woman who is done with my preposterous selfies.

Shelley selfie

A preposterous selfie. That stone circle behind us marks the location of the Boston Massacre. A lack of tea makes everyone cranky, apparently.

Chloe and Shelley Boston Massacre

At the end of the weekend, she departed, leaving me with a mountain of nut cheese and crackers made from seaweed harvested by mermaids. I’ve already started to plan the next adventure, which will involve more racing to reach ships in time and less opportunities for my mom to get thrown in federal. And, most importantly, at the dawn of the next week, my room was still clothes-strewn and completely bare of poppies.

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SUCCESS.

~Chloe

*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.

Daze of Wine and Poses

There is no better comparison than to say I was like an accordion.

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Stretched to my limits.

Occasionally wheezing.

And still trying to belch out cheerful sounds.

I think I was fairly successful on that last bit despite the prior two burdensome grievances. And damned if I was going to put any damp, dark marker on my one weekend in Boston—my three days with Chloe. A mother/daughter weekend extraordinaire like none I’ve ever had.

I thought it would be 72 hours of us fixing up her new tiny flat—a space Harry Potter would have called a snug fit when compared to his hovel beneath the stairs. And I also thought we’d be shopping for groceries. I was pretty determined to make sure she had all the necessities since her miniscule weekly shopping budget seemed just about right as long as she had the appetite of a two-pound gerbil.

But my visit turned out to be time spent doing neither of these.

Chloe had planned for every minute available to us—and, as it turned out, many more that weren’t. She’d booked activities requiring the precise timing that would have made a Swiss watchmaker glow with pride. But I think we’re all pretty familiar with the old adage If you want to make God laugh, plan a picnic.

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Now just apply this to public transportation timetables and you’ll have just revealed the fat glitch in her ‘planned down to the second’ schedule of events. I can still hear the echo from the cackling deities.

The first thing she said upon meeting me at the airport, and snapping the first of a million selfies to catalogue our time together, was that she hoped I’d clocked a few extra hours in my sleep bank, as nightly rest was not something she’d taken into consideration before writing out the agenda—a roster of events I was guessing would be taped up on her bedroom wall in the form of several pie chart diagrams, bar graphs and schematic flowcharts.

My response to this was to ask her where the nearest wine store was in relation to her apartment, as I was likely going to want to purchase a bottle to help get me through the breakdown of the activities lecture surely awaiting me once we arrived at her flat.

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She then told me that Boston was expecting an uncharacteristically intense heat wave for the next three days, that her room was on the top floor of a five floor building, and that air conditioning was for wusses—or that they just didn’t have any. It could have been either. I couldn’t hear over the roar of the subway station we’d entered.

My next response was to amend my prior request for one bottle of wine. Yelling out that I’d likely need a heftier supply of vino to soften the weekend’s unexpected challenges was probably not a great idea as I had no clue how far a voice could carry in the cavernous tunnel of a tube station—especially after that roaring train instantly disappeared.

We did, however, find ourselves with a little more elbow room after that so I suppose it wasn’t a total loss.

She wasn’t kidding about the heat. Nor the size of her room. So, as a consolation prize, she informed me that she shares a bathroom with about six other girls, although after using it I updated her description of “girls” to mean two Yetis, a Sasquatch, the band members from ZZ Top and the showering rights of Chewbacca.

Hair is really important to college women.

Losing it, not so much.

Reclaiming it, not at all.

So instead of doing a rundown of every activity we managed to squeeze in, I will give you the highlights I thought most important to share:

Boston has a lot of public libraries. Some of them have books you can check out. Unless you’re hoping to take them back to Virginia.

Or into the women’s bathroom for an extended, relaxing read.

There is a bucketload of beautiful churches in this city. Almost all of them are locked. Especially when you need to use the bathroom. Even if you’re not sneaking a “keepsake” from the Boston public library beneath your sundress.

Museums are no longer free. Unless you’re a college student.

I can no longer pass for a college student.

Museums are not terribly wine friendly.

The subway is filled with people. But oftentimes surprisingly bereft of trains.

The subway has no issues with beverages of any description.

People who go to the Improv are usually people who auditioned for the Improv but were rejected by the Improv.

I can still run three miles in flip flops. Especially when told that the world as we know it will end if we don’t make it to a reservation we were supposed to have shown up for thirty minutes earlier. And “TWO WEEKS’ WORTH OF SOMEONE’S PITIFUL HOURLY WAGES WILL GO OWN THE DRAIN FOR NOTHING, MOTHER!”

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Wine is essential after running three miles in flip flops fueled by nothing more than guilt.

The Farmer’s Market in Boston was filled with booths belonging to painters, sculptors and photographers.

And one farmer who sold goat yogurt.

Goat yogurt tastes surprisingly good with wine.

Boston’s Freedom Trail is a 2 ½ mile long path that highlights the patriots’ determined fight for liberation from the British.

It must have been a path littered with booby traps as it is filled with scores of cemeteries along the route. Haley Joel Osmond could never survive in Boston.

Apparently, folks are generally discouraged from taking selfies with the tombstone of Paul Revere whilst making a duckface.

If you’re going to be visiting the dead all day long, the only way to rouse yourself from the incredibly somber mood you’re falling into is to agree to make duckfaces whilst snapping selfies.

Making duckfaces while snapping selfies as you stand behind national monuments is so much easier if you’ve first had some wine.

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I’m fairly sure Boston has placed a moratorium on air conditioning.

I’m incredibly grateful that the patriots chose to toss the crates that held all the tea and not the barrels that held all of the wine.

~~~~~~~

So, all in all, my trip to Boston was chock a block full of a bazillion activities where we made some serious memories. Although I may have to review each of our pictures in order to remember them all.

Or any of them. *hic*

~Shelley

PS. Next week. It’s Chloe’s version of the very same 72 hours.

Oh, goody.

*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.

 

 

 

 

How to Get Off to a Flying Start

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

Both happen to be my children.

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

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

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

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They didn’t hear you screaming wait?

Of course, they didn’t.

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

Who could blame them?

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

I like to be prepared.

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

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

Teenagers need extra time to do things like:

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

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

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

It could be any of these things.

Or all of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, sure. Where are you?

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

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

“Where are you, kiddo?”

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

“Where. Are. You.”

Not far from Polo and Branchwater.

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

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

*face palm*

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

*ROBIN GOTT’S NEWEST POST!* (click)

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

Falling Off the Map

I am a big fan of maps. I am a big admirer of spontaneity. The two are not usually found holding hands. But recently, I spied them making come hither looks at one another and decided to watch an unlikely romance blossom.

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Being a timely planner, getting my hands on the ultimate map for purposes of accurate and expeditious routing is a must. There is nothing more satisfying than showing up someplace not simply on time, but early. I’m fairly sure this is a byproduct of my childhood, as I was the creation of someone who lived life with an elevated sense of urgency, namely because she was invariably late. For the longest time I thought the proper way to enter a room and greet someone was with a sincere apology.

Eventually I figured out that my mother and clocks were rarely in sync with one another. She was a frenzied woman of four and the fact that we all made it safely into adulthood speaks volumes of her ability to pull it all together at the last minute. It could easily have turned out that the least vocal of her brood would still be outside on someone’s curb waiting to be picked up from piano lessons.

To further embed the trait of timeliness, I studied for a year with a teacher whose motto was:

To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is unforgivable.

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She would shut and lock her classroom door one minute before instruction began. Punctuality was not a casual dialogue with her. In fact, dialogue was something she found tedious and rife with excuses, and it was not even a safe bet to make eye contact with the woman. But she did impress upon me the need for speed. And no less than four alarm clocks.

Over the years, I found that knowing where I am going and how long it takes to get there is an essential element to scoring a mental high five with myself. Cue my love for maps. The colors, the words, the numbers, the grids—it all adds to the magic of orienting myself in some vague spot in the universe.

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As a child, I paid a great deal of attention to the sage words of an elderly neighbor who frequently took my brother and me on deep woodland walks, showing us which plants and berries we could safely eat, which would slay us on the spot, and which would provide a magic carpet ride like Walt Disney could never imagine.

On the back of her ‘Stalking the Wild Asparagus’ lectures were the general outlines of her ‘Navigation 101’ classes. Finding north, reading shadows, and leaving a non-edible trail behind you were all necessary skills she felt worthy of passing on to two children who were nearly as intelligent as the psychotropic fungus she made a wide berth of on the trails. We did our best to take her schooling with us, and throughout the years found that some of it actually stuck.

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It’s really nothing more than paying attention to your surroundings and making a mental map. Clues as to your location are around you everywhere. She likened our walks to a giant Candy Land board game. Shake the dice, move your marker, land near the licorice sticks—or in our case, the giant marsh filled with cattails. Easy as pie.

Today, satellite guided imagery squished down to the size of a fingernail on your smart phone nearly takes all the fun out of going on a journey. Some mild-mannered voice is pleased to guide you with well-timed and repetitive instructions if you are hoping to go from point A to point B and not be bothered with the pedantic details of topography and mile markers.

But this is where I get a small hitch in my britches. Having been fooled one too many times with outdated and malevolent automobile equipped GPS systems, I’m not terribly keen to give total control to anything that requires a continual “update” in order to fix the latest “bugs” in its system.

091114goldfish (708x800)But I was assured that this newest directional diva would not only get me where I wanted to go, but would find the path of least resistance as well. That is a tall order to believe when one is determined to head north, but hearing an announcement of interminable congestion yonder down the road, you are encouraged to head south.

I look. And see no congestion.

I eyeball the device and give it a thunk on the dashboard in case there’s a wire loose, but am told by my companion that, no, the information is not only correct, but is being gathered by the bazillion of other cell phone users around you—not satellite. Trust it. Be spontaneous and go for it. Let go of “The Planned Route.”

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I do. And then cheerily wave at those stuck in the hour long delay I am passing via another well-kept secret route. Amazingly, I will still be on time. I lift up my phone and shout to the other cars, “You all should get one of these!”

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Yet as magnificent as modern technology is in assisting folks by guiding us over hill and dale, I slowly realize I am left with an emptiness of accomplishment. Deep down inside I still believe there is something worthy of retaining those rusting aptitudes for course-plotting. And passing that proficiency on to others.

Knowing and identifying where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there are crucial life skills. Ultimately, they might just save you from getting lost or being late, but maybe—just maybe—they will bless you with a blissful magic carpet ride.

~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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Twelve years a slave to satellites.

There are a million things I know with absolute certainty that I have no talent for:

1. Numbers. If there are more than three, and something is required to be done to them, other than the elementary operations one practices in school up to about the age of twelve, then I am the last person you want to consult. Okay, maybe the penultimate person, because kindergarteners are notorious for making up answers where I would at least try to get it right.

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2. Cutting hair. I’ve cut my own, I’ve cut my children’s and I’ve cut my dog’s. It’s amazing how quickly a crowd will scatter if I walk into a room with a pair of scissors.

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3. Squeezing my entire body through the head of a tennis racket. It’s impossible. I’ve tried a million times. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up, I’ve just got to study a few more Chinese circus children before I try again.

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But if asked what skill I can claim an aptitude for, I would not hesitate to point out that I possess a great sense of direction.

That is, unless I’ve programmed my car’s satellite with an address, or I’ve handed a map to my mother.

For this particular journey, I mistakenly did both.

As is usual for this time of year, I headed northward toward the big city lights to attend my annual writers’ conference and hoped that I should walk away inspired, incisive, but not in a fog as to how much work I would have in front of me once I got home.

Also, as is usual, I brought my mother along—not only for the company, but because her birthday always falls within this week. And as my father feels that recognizing birthdays is a surefire way to spoil the people you love or live with, leading them into a false sense of security, I’ve taken it on as my duty to make sure my mom gets to have a dinner out once a year that doesn’t get ordered at a counter.

This year, I thought we’d see a film before heading to the restaurant. After listening to nearly a dozen NPR programs, interviewing everyone from the director down to the steadicam operator, I was wholly keyed up to see the film Twelve Years a Slave. I felt it was a hugely important film, and even though I usually lose out during the voting round when suggesting we view a story that could be classified as political, controversial, or requiring the skills of a second language to truly understand its nuance, I thought my mom would find kinship with the hero because he too was a violinist, and string players just understand one another like no one else can. It might have something to do with inhaling too much rosin while preparing your bow hair, but that’s just a stab in the dark.

It’s taken me a while, but I now know better than to program my car’s sat nav because after initially feeling the thrill of having it installed in a car of mine around a dozen years ago, I soon came to realize that it was full of bugs. And I’m not referring to the kind I wrote about two weeks ago.

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These are the wonky bugs that require attention from a team of computer programmers. Surely they’d look at my car’s software—supposedly teamed up with one of our Earth’s satellites—glance at the jumbled stream of letters, numbers and characters within the code, and then sit back to laugh in their chairs because they’d soon recognize what I have: my operating system is overwhelmingly archaic and probably manufactured by Toys R Us. It doesn’t matter what I program into the device at the beginning of the drive, because according to my GPS map, my destination is always in the middle of a lake.

I refuse to trust the voice guidance, who has confidentially admitted to me that regardless of my request for the quickest route, she will direct me through every tiny town, as many intersections as possible, and throw me onto a toll road for a quick drop of a few coins before pulling me off again and back into the thick of traffic. I despise that woman.

Handing my programmed iPhone to mother proves just as pointless. I must confess it’s not entirely her fault. My smart phone has lost several IQ points over the last couple of years and being one of the first models of Apple’s handheld devices, it continues to plummet at a rate of knots.

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Some applications refuse to participate any longer, texts sit there until I’ve pressed ‘send’ the requisite magic number of times, and the maps icon acts like an obnoxious delinquent—a rascally miscreant who takes great pleasure in changing the address of my arrival destination on route when I am not paying attention.

My son calls my phone buggy.

I call my phone … a few other names.

We arrive at the theater only to find out that although technically this theater shows films, it does not show the film we chose to be directed to, and our real destination is on the other side of a ten-lane freeway. I ask my mom to give me a number, from a scale of 1 to 10, as to how athletically agile she is feeling today.

We get back into the car.

My mother redirects me to another theater, which is actually a state park.

Our next, “You have arrived,” moment has us turning onto an old dirt road having passed several police vehicles before I pull off to the side and announce, “Something evil has happened down there, and I’m damn sure they are not selling popcorn to folks who dare to come view the events unfolding.”

It’s now that my mom pulls out her brand-spanking new iPhone and says, “Let’s use Siri.”

I let my head clunk onto the steering wheel.

Finally, we arrive at the correct theater. We watch the film. I gasp, I am struck with horror, I am fixated, I am appalled, I weep. The lights come up and I turn to my mother, my eyes streaked with mascara.

“Well?” I ask hopefully.

She says, “He really wasn’t a very good violinist, was he?”

*sigh*

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~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.

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Cash flow

This was a hugely busy week.

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

– We told him how to navigate through the airport.

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

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

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

Damn.

I knew we’d forgotten something.

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

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

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

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

Easy enough. So we thought.

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

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

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

*Cue head falling on desk.*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Passport

– Sleeping bag

– Bug spray

– A gift for the villagers embodying a hallmark of America

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

It’s catchy stuff.

~Shelley

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

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

English: The International Space Station as se...

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

But let’s go back to me.

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

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

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

1. I should not have allowed her to pack.

Suitcases

Suitcases (Photo credit: masochismtango)

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

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

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

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

She came back with a floppy, cloth hat.

Roadtrip (800x687)

Fine. Off we go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest of our time was spent hunting for bedbugs.

Bedgugs (800x505)

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

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

WIB (800x470)

Next stop: the moon!

~Shelley

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

 

Dazed & Confused; the crackpot college tour.

Steam train

Steam train (Photo credit: eckenheimer)

My only defense is that I dipped into my ‘sanity jar’ one too many times, came up empty and proceeded to agree to something everyone is still shaking their heads at. Yes, I jumped onto the caboose of the crazy train.

Borrowing the oft spoken words from my fourteen-year old son, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Selecting the phrase I should tattoo on my forehead: “Beware. Thick-witted woman.”

English: Hester Prynne & Pearl before the stocks

English: Hester Prynne & Pearl before the stocks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Okay, perhaps my deeds do not deserve a Hester Prynne blood-red letter on my chest, but maybe I should be forced to wear silver “I” for idiot earrings over the next couple of months for believing that my husband, my daughter and I could shove twelve university visits into five and a half days.

The COLLEGE ROAD TRIP became a blasphemous phrase, uttered in pure frustration on a regular basis. It’s now moving up the ladder for hashtag trends on Twitter.

Where did I go wrong? Somehow I convinced myself that both my seventeen-year old and I could muster up the ungodly amount of energy Sir Sackier generates for an hour’s worth of work and spread it out evenly in one day. Times six.

And we would have succeeded had neither one of us needed to eat, sleep or pee. I’ve discovered a strain of camel in my husband’s genetic makeup.

He diligently put together our itinerary. It began at MIT in Boston and finished at King’s College in London. In between, we squished Edinburgh, Saint Andrews, Strathclyde, Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, Cambridge, Oxford, University College London and Imperial College. The UK looks so much smaller on MapQuest.

Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries, South West ...

Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries, South West Scotland (Photo credit: iknow-uk)

I would love to say I perched forward excitedly in my seat as our car sleekly swept past rolling green hills, lush with heather, sheep and historically preserved castles. In truth, I was drunk with exhaustion, alarm and angst as we either barreled down the motorway, unable to see anything but the hazy red glow of the tail lights two feet in front of us—momentarily visible between swooshes of overwhelmed windscreen blades—or idled on the same road, waiting for yet another accident to be cleared, so we could all carry on barreling until the next snarl brought us to a screeching halt.

I now know the precise shape of my heart and what it tastes like as well, for it spent a goodly amount of time residing in my mouth.

It didn’t matter how hard we tried, we were an hour late to everything. It became surreal. No matter when we left, we ended up cursing the weather, the road, the GPS, the parking, the underground or just people we randomly bumped into as we dashed passed them on our way to an office that was numerically ordered by folks who surely thought they were picking lotto numbers.

Sorted White Paper Pile

Sorted White Paper Pile (Photo credit: Walter Parenteau)

Once locating an office, one thing became crystal clear to both my husband and me. Every one of these professor’s tiny lairs looked EXACTLY like our daughter’s bedroom. How could this be true? Does everyone who studies physics have the same ability to compute the science of matter and motion, but find themselves puzzled by the form and usage of drawers? Papers, folders, letters and documents were everywhere: covering every surface, propped against the walls, stacked up on the floors. And if there was an area that had any white space showing, it was heavily scrawled upon, revealing either the country’s launch codes or the cipher to Cypro-Minoan syllabary. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that some of these folks have decoded all sorts of Bronze Age scripts, but simply can’t remember where they put them.

My daughter is looking forward to fitting in with her people because brain function lost on laundry is brain function lost forever.

Math Wall

Math Wall (Photo credit: trindade.joao)

Meeting after meeting, I found myself sitting in a chair, desperately trying to follow the conversation and line of questioning. Symbols were used in place of words and squiggly lines formed a foreign alphabet. I felt my eyes glaze over repeatedly, only briefly registering when I recognized some part of speech. Sadly, it was usually an article like and, the or at. It was humiliating.

Occasionally, I ventured to open my mouth and realized I shouldn’t have. More often than not, my seventeen-year old gave me the wide-eyed glare that silently shouted, “KEEP SHTUM!” And after a while I could see that same face on many of the faculty. Okay, maybe they were all getting tired of my questions about time travel, but it wasn’t like I was announcing that I believed in unicorns.

I’d definitely save that declaration for a follow up meeting … should there be one.

Regardless, I did try to participate. I echoed back many of their statements by simply shifting their words into a slightly different order, but after a while, I realized I’d taken a peek into the other hemisphere of my brain and found it cold, dark and nearly empty. I quickly slammed that door shut and hustled back into more familiar territory.

The highlight for me was taking the laboratory tours. I saw folks doing research on optics, gravitational waves and solar wind using Star Wars lasers and vacuums that could suck the dirt off anything down to an atomic level of clean.

In one massive lab, I swear I was on a revealing backstage tour of a David Copperfield magic show.

space

space (Photo credit: Sweetie187)

One person made a whiteboard diagram of outer space and told us how he was involved in mapping newly discovered stars, planets and solar systems. I asked if I could snap a quick photo to send to my eighth grade science teacher. Finally I had proof that my leaving a giant question mark in the space provided for the question asking ‘how large the universe was’ should not have been checked wrong.

Yes, it was a crazy week. No, I’ll never agree to do anything like it again. But in the end, we all lost a little weight, met some amazing scientists and discovered the true limitations of our individual bladders. My daughter came back home more confused than clear about what she’s searching for in a university, but I’m fairly certain I unintentionally lessened the number of offers coming from across the pond, so ultimately that might help narrow down the choices.

Finding the right school can be a heart-palpitating hunt, but honestly, finding the right vacuum is more of a true achievement.

At least everyone knows what I want for Christmas.

~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)!

Planes, trains and Oh my god, I left the stove on.

The holidays of November and December usually bring an overwhelming amount of excitement with their fast-paced, fun-filled, family-crammed events.

Mural in Brown Palace Hotel

Mural in Brown Palace Hotel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They also bring an eventual headache that accompanies the ample opportunities for overeating, over drinking and over my dead body arguments.

The least fun out of all the “I’ve Had My Fill” holiday experiences is one that creates such tension in the neck and shoulders, it alone keeps massage therapists flush with cash through somewhere around mid-March. (That’s usually when the last lingering relatives decide to head home and check on the cat.)

Coming in at the number one spot would have to be:

TRAVEL

Do I hear an amen?

Most of us would prefer to apparate a la Harry Potter or be zapped by Willy Wonka’s Wonkavision rather than spend hours, if not days, in our cars, at the train station, or in the airport, where it seems the deck is always stacked against us.

–        Got to the airport on time for once? Doesn’t matter. Your flight will be delayed because the pilot is required to take a 15 minute nap in between two 24 hour shifts. Pansy.

–        Got the kids out of school three days early, packed up the car for the nine hour drive to Granny’s and pulled out of the driveway in the middle of the night to beat the traffic? Tough luck. So did everyone else. You’ll still get there in time, but now you’ll have a few extra days to make new friends on some jam-packed, horn-crazed highway where you’ll continue to bump into one another at the same rest stops and petrol stations.

English: Leavitt's Farmer's Alamanac, 1875, by...

–        Read the farmer’s almanac and decided this was the big drought year with no snow in sight that would finally make it possible for you to make that trip to the Big Apple to see Cats like you’ve been promising your wife for the last two decades? Uh oh. Don’t you remember when the economy tanked and you decided to pare down to the bare essentials, so you canceled all magazine subscriptions? Yep. You read last year’s, which no one bothered to throw away. This year’s almanac had a major spread telling us all how we should have listened to Al Gore. You’re headed toward Superstorm I Told You So.

If there’s one thing I’ve found harder than travel, I’d have to admit it’s the step that comes before it. That would be the one where you’re forced to decide what to bring with you.

Apparently, I cannot travel via Global Van Lines. I’ve been told the furniture must stay put.

Footwear is a nightmare for women. Sure, you may only be planning a casual sightseeing trip or family get together, but it’s likely you’ll need your sprinting shoes for the airport when you transfer from one plane at gate 3A to your connection in the next zip code.

Don’t forget evening shoes. Maître d’s have perfected the up/down glance, followed by a withering glare, if you walk in wearing a party frock and Nike Air Jordans.

I look at my closet and shrink at the task of finding three articles of clothing that can be combined to make thirteen different outfits. I’d be hard-pressed to come up with thirteen different outfits if I were standing in the middle of the Mall of America.

Barn

The real problem is that I only have two sets of wearable options: barn clothes and yoga clothes. And although the sheep could give a flying fig about what I come in wearing–as long as they can suck on it or rub up against it–the folks in my hatha class are looking for some Zen in their day. That requires some deep breathing. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this one. Eau de livestock makes it tricky.

Jewelry is foreign territory as well. I’ve got lots of it, but I never wear it at home. I guilt myself into thinking these special away days are precisely for ‘gettin’ gussied up,’ take it all with me and promptly forget what that heavy velvet miniature treasure chest at the bottom of my suitcase is holding.

It could be the three gallons of perfume I bubble wrapped and boxed. When one is used to getting sideways glances with the telltale sign of an accompanying twitchy nose, one begins to get paranoid. Especially when one usually smells like the remnants of a mucked out sheep stall or the inside of a gym bag. Therefore, I overcompensate.

Sans enfants and before I was married, I would be flabbergasted to discover an aspirin at the bottom of my purse. Now, of course, I must play the role of walking pharmacy. Sir Sackier will likely develop signs for the Ebola virus on an airplane, my daughter will get bitten by a new species of mosquito and blow up like a Macy’s Day Parade balloon float, my son will come down with Alien hand syndrome and I will be the only person in Mexico to become constipated.

Mexican pharmacies do not carry Ex-Lax. 

Keep 'regular'

Keep ‘regular’ (Photo credit: Christian Yates)

Mexican pharmacists advised me, “beber un poco de agua.” I now carry a vial of it slung around my neck like holy water.

Traveling is tricky. Deciding where to go, choosing what to take and forgiving fellow travelers for bringing more bags than brains with them on their journeys requires some devotion and pliability.

Deciding that next year you’ll host … requires only an effective dose of Prozac.

~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)!

Family Ties That Tug

Palace of Westminster.

Palace of Westminster. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I will be in London for Thanksgiving this year.

For me, it’s the second worst day of the year to be in London. The first, of course, is the Fourth of July. Sir Sackier made a practice of “accidentally” arranging family summer holidays so we’d be out of the country during America’s annual celebration of freedom from the British. We’d usually find ourselves ensconced within the warren of London’s streets, dazed from playing Follow the Leader where The Leader regularly forgot he had a family of three—jet-lagged and cranky—pulling up the rear.

One can’t expect the British to be all, “U-rah-rah!” over helping traveling Americans celebrate a page in the history books they might want to tear out and use as fire starter. Perhaps it’s the equivalent of picking at a scab. To Sir Sackier, it remains an open, festering wound.

550d - London - Churchill at Big Ben London

550d – London – Churchill at Big Ben London (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

To compensate, three quarters of the family were often found slumping against one another in cavernous museums, led by our own family monarch as he enlightened our weak-muscled minds about the hundreds of years of British invention and innovation. Surprisingly, there are quite a few dark corners in Churchill’s bunker where one can catch a quick kip.

Regardless, there’s an ever-increasing number of American expats living in the land of palaces and prisons. And because many of my countrymen have found it near impossible to be more than fifty feet from the big-boothed safe haven of chain restaurants, and because eateries find catering to the appetite of their diners a no-brainer in helping to pay their electric bills, locating an establishment willing to rustle up some Turkey Day grub is easier than imagined.

Whether they go for a dressed down sort of experience and order a McGobble-Gobble, or they get all gussied up and search out a big bird with all the trimmings, Americans are offered plenty of places willing to pull together the makings for a slice of comfort pie.

But it won’t be the same.

Line art drawing of Pteranodon.

Instead of man-handling a thirty-two pound turkey/pterodactyl into a Kmart kiddie swimming pool for a 24 hour soak in our own version of the Dead Sea, a tradition I’ve always cherished doing with my mom the night before, I will lie awake in bed knowing she’ll probably have chucked a three pound turkey breast into a salt-filled ziplock bag and tossed it to the back of the fridge. Likely she’ll still make a good dent in the fifth of scotch we would use to reward ourselves for slowly moving the bird from the back of the car and onto the back porch without breaking a wing or a leg or a sweat.

Instead of waking in the morning to find my parents in my kitchen, freshly scrubbed, aprons on, knives sharpened, coffee made and ready to discover just how many things I forgot to purchase at the grocery store and will need to send Sir Sackier back out for, I will sit quietly at a table with a cup of English Breakfast and nod consolingly toward the opposite end of the table where my husband grows increasingly shocked at the price of petrol, the loss of traditional values and how the American debt crisis could be solved if one English footballer simply donated three or four week’s pay.

Pie-Making - transferring the dough

Pie-Making – transferring the dough (Photo credit: CaptPiper)

Instead of kneading, rolling and crimping seven pie crusts using seven unique “no fail” recipes with the hope that at least two of them will “no fail,” I will contemplate the possibility that my mother will have decided to forgo pie altogether and simply give everyone their own pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a spoon in place of all the fuss.

Rather than hiding the salt from my mother just before she makes the gravy—who by late afternoon has lost all taste receptors that report salinity on her tongue due to her third jug of scalding coffee (okay, and maybe the cask strength single malt scotch, capable of scraping the tartar off of anyone’s teeth)–I will disembark from the bowels of an underground, blink back at the bright light of day, and scan across hundreds of heads rushing in and out of the Waterloo tube station, wondering which direction Sir Sackier dashed off toward.

Schlitz

Schlitz (Photo credit: fixedgear)

Instead of collapsing into a chair once we’ve finally gotten all the food to the dining room table and nearly allowing my head to slump forward to land in a pool of mashed potatoes larger than a pig trough full of slops, I will sit staring off into space in the back of a black cab wondering if my dad will have opened up a beautiful bottle of Beaujolais to compliment his can of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce or simply pulled back the tab on a can of Schlitz.

In place of gathering around the same table hours later after a post poultry nap to play Balderdash while we take turns shooing the dog out from under the table because of the nasally corrosive fumes he’s emitting, I will slip into a bed belonging to a crisply run British hotel and lie beneath covers so sharply starched I would not be surprised to find out they’d simply bleached off the words from last night’s Evening Standard.

Scène de l'Ordre de Bon Temps, Acadie (1606). ...

So although I won’t physically be in America for Thanksgiving this year, I’ll still be there.

But it won’t be the same.

~Shelley

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

The bus is here.

School Bus_HDR2

School Bus_HDR2 (Photo credit: tncountryfan)

Could there be a more depressing week than the one before school resumes in August?

I can’t even use the phrase “school begins” as is traditional, because for the last few years, it feels as if we never quite got into the “school’s out” phase. Graduation happened and then BAM!, we were off and running.

I look at this last week the same way I view the last brownie in the pan. Why did it have to come to this? I seriously need an Everlasting Gobstopper Summer. Just one, where I can join the loads of other parents who I eavesdrop on in the grocery store saying, “I cannot wait until I get these kids outta the house and back in the classroom.”

When I hear this, I mostly feel a great sense of shame. They obviously have been spending a bucketload of time with their kids—taking them to parks, swimming, friends, picnics, sports games and Disneyland. I, on the other hand, made mine weed.

I’m pretty sure that’s all they’ll remember.

That, and the fun family road trip. And I’m quite certain our definition of fun is far from similar.

Funny enough, I came across a list—a Summer Bucket List—thrown together by some breezy live life to its fullestmagazine, and figured, just for giggles, I’d see how many of these “suggestions” I was able to cross off between Memorial and Labor Day.

English: Bathing dress from 1858

English: Bathing dress from 1858 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.  Skinny Dip (Yes, but the sheep are incredibly pious and won’t hesitate to sling their pastoral opinions around as they complete their stations of the meadow.)

2. Take in a music festival. (As lovely as this idea seems, it’s never a restful one, as we’re usually on the stage. We are the music festival.)

3. Run through a meadow. (Live in one. Think of me as Julie Andrews only with a husband who no one wants to sing. And I would never think of making clothing from curtains. At least not before they served as bed spreads for a few years and then wrapping paper.)

4. Be the first one at the farmer’s market. (This requires stepping outside and into the garden. Viola. I’m first. And last.)

5. Take more pictures. (click here for proof)

6. Reread your favorite novel. (I’ve kicked it up a notch. I’m trying to write my favorite novel. Sadly, a few other people have already written my favorite novel, so now I’m just trying to use a thesaurus to substitute in a few words to make it truly mine. Seriously, there are only so many archetypal stories. The rest are variations on those themes. I bet no one will notice.)

7. Get caught in the rain. (An all-American favorite, until you have to do farm chores in a torrential downpour. Kinda sucks the romance right out of it.)

8. Wear your swimsuit all day. (This happens regularly when we run out of underwear.)

2 kittens taking a nap

2 kittens taking a nap (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9. Nap so long and hard that you can’t remember where you are when you wake up. (The last part happens frequently, but the first part is never long enough because the sound of a shrill and blaring horn from an oncoming car means the other driver is really picky about that crucial last half second before impact.)

10. Smell like saltwater all day. (Check. Except it’s not from the sea, but rather from the sea of sweat one accumulates from a sweltering Virginia summer. That layer usually peels off just after the first hard frost.)

11. Grow something green. (And red and orange and yellow and purple … done it. And, admittedly, brown and moldy green.)

12. Make a great picnic basket. (No basket needed. We just perch on the garden wall with a hose and a pocket knife.)

13. Hike to the summit of a mountain. (I hike to the bottom just to get the mail.)

14. Stargaze. (This is performed on a regular basis. I’m trying to memorize where it is I’ll need to look when having conversations with my daughter, who plans to live out the rest of her natural life in some space module on Mars.)

English: Artist's rendering of a Mars Explorat...

Artist’s rendering of a Mars Exploration Rover.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

15. Make lemonade. (click here for proof)

16. Catch fireflies. (After a full day of catching and squashing squash bugs, the whole bug catching craze deflates.)

17. Have a water fight. (This usually happens when one of us draws the short straw waiting in line for a shower.)

18. Watch the fireworks. (It’s all on the front lawn and coordinated by Sir Sackier, which is fine, apart from the bit where we have to sit through another rendition of his waving a fistful of sparklers and singing God Save the Queen.)

19. Sleep in a tent. (Does a Motel 6 count? The walls are paper thin and you’ve got just as many “bed bugs.”)

20. Go to the donut shop for breakfast. (Now on the agenda for tomorrow morning!)

Woman's one-piece bathing suit, c.1920

Woman’s one-piece bathing suit, c.1920 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously, the list is endless. I still must squeeze in building a campfire, making s’mores and buying a summer bathing suit. Hence the reasoning behind activity numero uno.

Still, there are seven days left. And I can assure you, not one of them is going to be spent stooped over and pulling up weeds.

~Shelley

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

 

Fun family road trips; dead ends, dead fish and finding out you’re dead wrong.

1941 Packard Station Wagon advertisement

Family road trips.

They seem like such a good idea inside your head. Your husband is driving, you’re navigating and pointing out roadside America or quoting notable historical tidbits, the kids are in the backseat working diligently at car bingo, and collecting waves from sleepy truckers as they barrel past, and everyone has to pee at exactly the same time.

In reality, my fourteen-year old son has secretly programmed the GPS to avoid all major roads, in particular any that post a speed limit over 25 mph, both kids are plugged into their iPods, Netflix and the comedy station on Pandora, all while texting with such speed their thumbs are a blur, and I’m driving so that Sir Sackier can work on his laptop. This was how we’d spend the next three days doing a few college tours before dropping off my mini NASA scientist for her three week stint immersed in quantum physics and special relativity. I have no idea what any of that is; I only know that it’s incredibly expensive to study, and because of it, we can no longer afford airline tickets until the year 2017.

Currently, I am the only person seeing the magnificent scenery I championed as a bonus to car travel.

"World's Largest Walleye"

“World’s Largest Walleye” (Photo credit: jcarwash31)

They’re missing out.

Anyone interested in stopping by the world’s biggest bathtub? Or would you like me to snap a photo of you in front of the nation’s oldest septic tank? How ‘bout we drive through the giant Ukrainian sausage?

Lookee there, that’s the most Styrofoam anyone has ever used to make a walleye.

Did anyone see that house made entirely out of beer cans? I didn’t think so.

They’re missing out.

Who’s going to choose where we eat for lunch? And no, I swear, if anyone suggests The Cracker Barrel one more time they’re going to be running alongside the car for the next hour. I say we find someplace local and charismatic.

No. We are not eating at a place called Buns & Guns.

toilets of the world, unite!

(Photo credit: kalavinka)

Sorry, I’m drawing the line at restaurants that use toilet seats as dining chairs.

You’ve got to be kidding me. You want to eat at a place with a name like Pu Pu Hot Pot?

Ah, Sir Sackier? Are you listening to any of this? Have you heard the lunch selections?

(tappity tap tap tappity tap) Uh … anything is fine with me. Whatever you guys want. (tap tap tappity tap)

Alrighty then, Pu Pu Hot Pot it is.

Finding a hotel should be super simple, and it is. But finding a hotel that’s not indexed on BedBugRegistry.com is a near nightmare. Throw in the small wish for someplace where a wedding, bar mitzvah or middle school choir tour is not nesting is near impossible. With all the slamming doors, white kid rap and weeping, unmarried, middle-aged bridesmaids haunting the hallways, the only way one might manage sleep is if … nope, I’m coming up blank here.

Chicken Little

Chicken Little (Photo credit: damonj74)

One night I’d almost gotten lucky enough to be knocked unconscious by a small chunk of the bedroom’s ceiling.

“Oh my God, the sky is falling!” I shouted at my husband, who was fortunate enough to be one ceiling tile farther away.

“Can you still see?” he mumbled groggily.

“I have no idea! It’s pitch black in here.”

He grabbed the debris, flung it on the floor and reached over to sleepily pat my shoulder. “Well, at least you can still hear. We’ll check out your vision in the morning.”

Celebrating a teenage boy’s birthday on the road proved a little more challenging than I thought. Lugging the extra bag with his presents wasn’t too bad, but forgetting wrapping paper left me scratching the side of my head in search of creativity.

Hotel towels, restaurant napkins, my tie-died yoga t-shirt and public restroom toilet paper all managed to do the trick.

Tacky? No doubt.

Resourceful? You betcha.

aquarium

aquarium (Photo credit: cuatrok77)

Dinner was sushi, smack dab in the middle of land-locked Pennsylvania—fish capital of the U.S.

Entering the restaurant was somewhat surreal with the sleek and shiny, mirrored surfaces and the miles of neon light tubing filling up any space not occupied by a fish tank.

“I feel like I’m in a giant tanning bed,” my daughter whispered, her face glowing greener than Al Gore.

The food was first-rate, but it’s hard to get a good feeling about the authenticity of an Asian restaurant that’s run entirely by a couple named Abram and Sadie Hochstetler.

Much of the dinner discussion revolved around the colleges we’d spent the day touring and compiling a lists of the pros and cons of each school. How do you advise your child as to where they belong? Where they’ll find fulfillment and happiness in pursuit of learning? Where they’ll suceed in the search for a fine life?

We left the heavy dialogue behind and crossed the street to a place none of us had ever been, but each of us had poked fun at. Friendly’s. Where ice cream makes the meal. Or maybe where ice cream IS the meal.

Ice Cream Sundae

(Photo credit: Swamibu)

It seemed like a fine place to cap off a birthday celebration.

The menu was extensive, the wait staff, more than true to the restaurant’s name. How could people be that happy in a dead-end job, accomplishing nothing more than adding to the nation’s ever-expanding waistline? But it was hard not to notice our waiter’s genuine enthusiasm.

Before the bill came, we spent the last few minutes lecturing our children about the importance of a good education so that they’d have options and not be limited by low hourly wages.

Our waiter presented us the bill. Sir Sackier tilted his head and then pointed to the young man’s forearm. A Hebrew biblical verse was tattooed from wrist to elbow.

“That’s interesting,” my husband said.

The waiter pivoted to flash us his other arm. “I’ve another one here in English.”

“How come?” my son said.

The waiter smiled. “It’s a conversation starter. I like to talk about my faith.”

“Then why not go into the ministry?” I asked.

“I have. I’m a pastor, just like my father. I went to college to study religion and found I needed something more.”

My daughter looked at him and smiled. “And you found it at a Friendly’s?”

The guy beamed. “I sure did. Best job I’ve ever had. I really found where I fit in, but mostly, where I’m needed.”

Giant Ukrainian sausage ring (kielbasa) in Mun...

I think we all left that evening humbled, but more importantly, we carried home a few valuable lessons:

#1. Hard work is not hard work at all if you love where you are and what you do.

#2. The Amish really know their sushi.

#3. You’ve truly not experienced life until you’ve driven through a giant Ukrainian sausage.

~Shelley

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

 

Eataly!

Here’s something I learned in Italy:

There is NO such thing as Spaghetti Bolognaise.

Okay, maybe I should amend that a tiny bit:

Only tourists order Spaghetti Bolognaise. Italians would rather cut off their tongues with a rusty pen knife and pull out their own vocal chords with poison-dipped pliers than utter the name of this made up dish.

I uttered it a lot while in Tuscany this summer. Sometimes because it was on the menu and I wanted to eat it, and sometimes for the sheer joy of watching my waiter squirm with the discomfort of a man having a prostate exam. Capital eff-you-enn. FUN.

I didn’t start out this mean. I love Italy. I love Italians. What is there not to love about people who would bleed themselves dry and trade their blood for a taste of true balsamic vinegar drizzled on their sweet and juicy melon wrapped with thin sheets of salty Parma ham (instead of the alleged garbage the rest of us use to drown lettuce in)?

They’re devoted.

DOCG seal on a bottle of Chianti Classico Rise...

And obsessed with control.

Everything good has to be checked out by food police and given a stamp of approval before it can stake claim to any share of the thunderous applause coming from hands that have just put down a napkin. The DOCG label, the collection of letters guaranteeing quality, strikes fear into the hearts of those hoping to tattoo them onto their products and has them waking in a cold sweat with the great possibility they may not reach the gold standard.

But victorious or not, the Italians have a boatload to be proud of. I say, with hand on my heart, that I’ve had some of the best meals of my life in Italian gas stations.

On this particular trip … it was a truck stop.

It was the first meal of my summer journey after landing in Pisa and driving toward Siena, and sadly, every dish was judged against it from then on. Nothing could quite compare. Guess what I had?

Spaghetti Bolognaise.

The seven-table cookshack off the side of the road showed nothing more than a mass of semis clustering around its dirt parking lot and front door; beasts crowding a fresh kill. The group of grubby drivers corking the flow of movement at the door waited patiently while their hands were busy talking to other guys in the same line of work.

The tablecloths were pieces of fresh yellow paper, the wine … your pick—a jug of red or a jug of white–the food mostly family style. Whatever the cook’s making in the back we’ll bring out. You’ll like it.

Have you got Spaghetti Bolognaise?

Of course we do.

Stupid question, right?

The folks at the truck stop could have stopped me right there, could have told me, “Hey kid, here’s a tip; unless you plan to give the whole of Italy a giant cardiac arrest, don’t ask for that dish.”

Apparently, one never has Bolognaise, one has ragu. And one does not put spag with one’s ragu. Only tagliatelle. It’s Tagliatelle al Ragu. Capiche?

tagliatelle

But this fellow was just as nice as pie, or whatever the equivalent of pie is in Italy, and served me and all the truck drivers whatever we wanted without batting an eyelash. Everyone else, on the other hand, clutched hearts, clucked tongues and shook long, prodigious digits at me when I requested the combo.

Even if it was listed as such ON THEIR MENU.

Wouldn’t it be easier if they all agreed to not offer up a recipe that doesn’t exist and feign ignorance if it was asked for?

“Yes, but we put it on the menu for the tourists,” I would hear.

“That’s me,” I’d beam.

Usually, a sign of the cross was made, a few Hail Mary’s were uttered and once, even a couple of knuckles were cracked. These guys are serious.

I begged for an explanation.

“Spaghetti is from Naples. It’s made from semolina. It’s too slippery for ragu. Tagliatelle is egg pasta. This is what we serve with ragu in Bologna.”

“So you’re saying your pasta is like duct tape?”

Do not joke with Italians about food. They’re quite at ease with hanging meat for months at a time in cold dank storage facilities. It’s unnerving to see four thousand pig legs dangling from a ceiling and be told that you had to be a very special animal to find yourself in here.

So I guess I’ve learned a very important lesson. One I won’t ever forget. One that struck me to the core and left a deep impression upon me:

I want to be an Italian truck driver.

~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).