The Meticulously Precise and Non-Magical Way to make Whiskey

I’m nearly finished writing another book.

This one won’t be published for the public though. It’s a technical manual.

I’d never done a technical manual before; therefore, this genre has been entirely new to me.

I was at one point reminded, Technically speaking, technical manuals do not fall into a “genre,” Shelley.

Disappointing news.

I was also at one point informed that my other skills of fiction writing were, although appreciated, inapplicable with this work.

“What do you mean?” I’d asked, halfway through the job.

Please do not allow the machinery to have any “dialogue.”

Hugely disappointing news.

In my mind, everything is conversing with anything beside it. Refrigerators hum, clocks tic, boats roar, trees creek, tea kettles whistle, grills hiss, frying pans spit, drains gurgle—I could go on.

There is conversation with their purpose, with their function, and it is our choice to tune in to hear it if we choose to do so—or maybe it’s just a special type of non-worrisome derangement those of us who practice anthropomorphizing inanimate objects experience every day.

So, okay, the mash tuns, the fermenters, the stills, and bottling equipment will not be engaged with any discourse. Fine.

Also, no need to “set the scene.”

Wait. What? No “Once upon a time”? No “In a galaxy far, far away”?

No.

No “Imagine if you can, a farm field in Virginia filled with rows of waving grain. Corn so tall, so yellow, so sweet. Wheat so soft, so feathery, so—”

No. Also, just list the manufacturer of each piece of equipment. No need to give colorful backstory that creates a uh … biography for them.

Damn.

But the still is an old copper Armagnac pot which surely, if you’d allow me to research, has the most fascinating history, connecting it to a village in Gascony, and likely to some illicit brandy making where people’s lives were at risk for defying the king’s orders and skirting around the excise men, right?

No. Louis XVI died in 1793. The still was made in 2006. Write that down.

No excise men?

*insert cold stare here

Fine. Hard facts only. It has been an arduous road to travel. It has been serial numbers, maintenance schedules, standard operating procedures, operator responsibilities, quality controls, ingredient specification sheets, safety protocol, system malfunction detection. It has been measurements, sampling data, testing methods, recording methodology, and out of the realm of tolerance identification.

No language describing the invention of any equipment, the trials and tribulations of the inventor, the recognition, the accolades, the race between rivals to patent first, to reach the market, to make a name and reap rewards.

No timeline of history, the tales of great machinery malfunction and mishaps that caused strife, or injury, or daresay … death.

Nope. Just operator files.

It’s ‘if blank, do blank.’ Or ‘when this, then this.’ It’s ‘measure now, record here.’

There’s no beginning, middle, or end.

It is not a story, not a narrative, no plot.

None of the machinery barely scrapes by, screeches to a halt, or belches out for attention.

The manual is meant to be informative. Concise. Crystal clear. It is meant to provide a “just in case” scenario for an event like a catastrophic pandemic wiping out all previous operators’ ability to fight through throngs of apocalyptic zombies to appear at the facility, allowing any stranger to eventually walk in off the street, discover the book and easily, effectively, and effortlessly pick up where we left off.

No, Shelley. It is meant to use as a teaching guide for new employees.

Yeah, that too, but my take could be plausible (I mumble quietly).

So, I study each piece of equipment. I learn its function. I define its specifications. I describe its purpose. It is thirsty work as I crawl around, beneath, above, and inside many of them. I watch them perform. I study their mechanisms. I research their optimal modes.

And I learn … they are still magical.

I learn it from listening to the operators as they describe their years of experience working with each station.

The grain will stubbornly clump and ball if you don’t chase it with the paddle in the cooker. It likes to hide right in that corner.

If you don’t clamp down the hose securely, the impellor pump turns into a raging snake that’ll spit hot mash on every square inch of the production room floor.

You see that steam rising from the strip still’s parrot spout? We call that the dragon’s breath.

I did find a story. The story of waking up the yeast before releasing it into its comforting, warm bath, of performing the tightly timed choreography between pieces of machinery as they demanded immediate attention to avoid calamity, of discovering that the general consensus for many of the processes was that you just had to feel it, smell it, taste it, gauge it. The machinery had its tells, and a good operator was sensitive to them and could anticipate results because of the accumulated years of a bonding relationship.

Making whiskey requires procedural care, yes. It’s a recipe. It’s a step by step adventure that when timed perfectly churns out a salable product.

But to me, and to others, the machinery is responsible for the alchemy, the head-spinning potions, the conjuration that leads grains to glass, this honeyed, headying elixir.

But the manual will not reveal that magic. The manual will not even hint at it. The manual conceals the story.

Except it’s there. We just don’t capture it within the pages that keep the secret safe. It is for others to read between the lines, to unearth the buried story within it.

If they find it after the zombie apocalypse.

~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.

 

You Cannot Teach An Old Cat New Tricks … Or Anything Really

“What do you think you could do? For your part in the program?” I heard the voice ask.

I looked around my desk. Papers, sticky notes, a leftover bowl of quinoa the cat was extremely interested in exploring.

“Umm …” I hesitated and tried to buy some time. I glanced at my phone, hoping it would ping with some notification that I could cleverly read out.

The phone was not helping. And the person on the other side of the line was waiting for my answer.

Yes. Yes, I very much wanted to be part of an evening called Women In Whiskey, hosted by a distillery I held in the highest of esteem. And Leslie, their head of PR, was offering me just that opportunity IF … I could create a marketable angle for why I should be there—and a persuadable reason people would feel inclined to attend because I was part of it.

The cat pulled a paw out of the bowl of quinoa, now coated with the sticky red grain.

She stared at it intently. She nosed it. Then stuck a tiny pink tongue out and gave it a tentative taste.

Shaking her head to rid herself of the apparently foul flavor, I sighed and frowned.

She didn’t even really give it a try. Judged it unpalatable without truly knowing anything about it.

If only cats were teachable … and not obligate carnivores.

“Whiskey Tasting 101,” I blurted out. “I can do an introductory course.”

There was a short pause on the other end of the line. “In ten minutes?” Leslie asked.

“Fifteen. I will squish four lessons into fifteen minutes.”

“Hmm … what kind of lessons? Remember, you’re going to be working with a food and spirits critic, a mixologist, and a distiller. You’ll have to bring something different to the table.”

Leslie knew I wrote books—middle grade, YA literature, non-fiction essays, and a lot about whisky. She knew I’d apprenticed in Scotland—studied with distillers and people who were hugely passionate with their work—all because I’d eventually developed a great love for the spirit and a yearning to make it. But my main labors were simply writing about it.

How many people would want to come to an event to hear women speak about their work in the industry and find out my part was just “Lemme tell you about my books.”

Can’t imagine that would fly.

But for the past twenty-five years I had done something that morphed accidentally into a profession. I became a teacher.

Enthusiasm can do that to a person.

Or fanaticism. Samey samey.

My history was one that was both typical and atypical of a person first introduced to brown spirits.

Typical, in that I thought it was the most disgusting thing ever to touch my lips—save for Jeremy Krazinski, who, in fifth grade, tried to plant a big one on me just beneath the monkey bars when I had no idea it was coming.

Atypical, in that only a few short years later, after having traveled repeatedly to Scotland and gaining a depth and breadth of appreciation for everything falling between the barley and the bottle, I found myself determined to make it. To understand the craft, the science, and the magic of that spirit.

My longing for a deep dive found fulfillment because of a great distillery, but my love for whisky blossomed because of a great teacher—one who discovered my first handshake with the spirit had been an avoidably painful one. I’d learned incorrectly and had a good bit of erasing ahead of me. From that moment on I’d grown resolute to not allow the same “first time flop” unfold for other people. I wanted them to love whisky as much as I did.

“What will you teach?” Leslie repeated.

I recalled a series of essays I’d long ago written called Belly Up to the Bar. “Eyeing, Nosing, Tasting, and Finish,” I said with more confidence than I felt.

Indeed, the more pertinent question going through my mind was, Sure, I can write about it, but can I aptly teach it?

I thought about the most proficient instructors in my life thus far. The ones whose lessons have left the greatest indelible imprint on me had no degrees in education—nor fancy lettering following their names. They had instinct, purpose, and need.

A cat has schooled me in the necessity of paying attention to the most muted of reverberations as much as any sound engineer. You wish to catch a prey? Listen like your life depends upon it. Hunger can tutor the stupid right out of you.

An elderly Polish neighbor repeatedly walked me through the woods as a child, revealing what will taste good raw, what will taste good cooked, and what will outright kill you if you so much as lick it.

And no doubt my parents have left me with life lessons near impossible to accumulate from anyone else: Do what you love, love what you do, and please pay attention goddammit to what Mrs. Sobieski warns you not to lick.

We are surrounded by teachers. Many have a desire to give you what they already possess: comprehension of the world. And oftentimes for free—simply because of the passion they possess with the subject.

“Okay, you’re hired,” Leslie decided.

I was thrilled. Most times in life I’ve found myself as the student—the hungry pupil desperate for know-how, happy to be on the receiving end of it. But on this night, I would get to be that teacher.

That teacher who teaches what she loves, and loves what she teaches.

Likely I will start off the session with an introductory phrase such as: “Thank you all for coming, thank you for being willing to learn, but mostly I’d like to thank Mrs. Sobieski for allowing me to be here tonight.”

The Reservoir Distillery’s “Women in Whiskey” event.

(Robey Martin, Beth Dixon, Mary Allison, and Shelley Sackier)

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.

~Shelley

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.

 

 

 

The Best Worst Day of my Life

You know how you can have like … the best day of your life, and then suddenly the whole world just beams down on you with sunshine and flowers for days and days to follow, and you just bask in that glow?

Yeah, neither do I.

Except for the first part.

My child has finally finished school. The official kind. At least for a little bit. Seventeen years of schlepping to class nearly every day. She’s graduated. She’s now a fully-fledged rocket scientist and has permission from all her teachers to hurl stuff up into space.

I wish I understood what it is that she’s going to be doing. I only know it has to do with the subjugation of Mars, triumphantly wrestling that planet into servitude for us Earthlings who are apparently fed up with this planet and are ready to conquer another one.

Or maybe she just wants to plant flowers and make it less orange. I don’t know.

The point is, is that graduation day was a day where I thought my whole heart would burst with joy. She raced down the aisle, and I sped toward her too. I have never hugged someone so tightly before. I cried. And laughed. And sobbed. And explained to all the thirteen thousand other people around us that my child just graduated from college, in case they were wondering.

Then I went home.

And I brought her cat with me. Just for the summer.

I love this wily, scrappy, reckless cat. Except for when she is wily, scrappy, and reckless.

When she’s sleeping, she’s awesome.

First thing that morning following graduation, I opened the front door to grab a flower pot on the front porch and this streak of jet black fur flew past me and disappeared. I panicked. Like really really panicked. I was in charge of the care of this cat who did not belong to me—the tiny little champion that supported my child’s exhausted soul all through school—and now it had entered the on-location shoot of a National Geographic special about mountaintop birds of prey where she was likely going to be the tasty treat of one vulture shared by seven of his closest friends.

Oh, dear God, where was she?

For two hours I searched outside. Under porches, bushes, behind barrels, and up trees. For two hours my head raced with what I was certain would be the result: my child would ditch her dream of meddling with Mars because her cat died. How could I be responsible for this?

I was defeated. I had to make the call—let her know what had happened and how hard I’d tried.

I opened the front door and suddenly that brazen black streak blasted past me once more—straight into the house and under the first couch she found.

My heart refused to stop hammering against my ribcage for at least a full hour, and my brain could not think of anything apart from “that was too close a call to ever repeat.”

Which is why paying a tax bill directly afterward was a really bad idea.

When one’s body and mind are busy recalibrating its official duties, math does not appear anywhere on the Top Ten Most Important Things list. It’s nowhere close. In fact, it’s so far away, Math doesn’t even know that a Top Ten Most Important Things list is a running concern. Math is out there busy chewing the fat with its neglected neighbors: grouting tile and soap sculpting.

Math did not think to show up and shout, STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND DON’T PRESS THAT BUTTON! when I ended up mistakenly paying the IRS the equivalent of Lichtenstein’s GDP for 2017.

I’m pretty sure I heard the smack of a giant facepalm it made though once it heard what I accidentally did.

As it was Sunday, no accountant was going to come to my rescue. The accountant I’d hired to help me with my taxes was very good at math, and she made clear to me that she knew how to count hands on the clock. There were still twelve full hours of Sunday left, plus eight more after that before she was going to answer her phone.

But mine began ringing off the hook suddenly. My cell phone, my house phone, the radio, and my computer all simultaneously began belching out panic signals “Grab your children off their swing sets and flee to the root cellar!” A major storm was barreling down upon us.

Now normally I am quite capable of handling big booming, lightning filled thunderstorms up here on this big hill I perch upon, but this one was determined to be a record breaker—also a tree breaker, a window breaker, and a furniture taker. (That last one was close enough. Move on.)

One by one I saw the heavy iron patio furniture glide right off the deck and tumble across the lawn, the cushions becoming new nesting fodder for a local fox’s den or half of North America’s birds. The lightning strikes—spitting distance away—made my hair stand up on end and left the acrid whiff of soot and cinders. Likely it was the charred fragments of a few desperately needed synaptic connections still struggling for cognitive responsiveness housed within my head.

Hours later after clean up, the windows, doors, and roof leaks, the search and rescue for the outdoor furnishings, the weeping over losing every tomato, green bean, and budding cucumber, I told the hound we were taking a walk. We would breathe deeply, walk swiftly, and cry where no one could see or hear us. I mean me.

He agreed but refused to have more than two boxes of Kleenex strapped to his collar. He’s so fussy, as it hardly added to the five pound whisky keg he already had fastened to that spot.

We walked. It felt good. The rain having plunged the temperature down twenty full degrees. All that deep breathing was finally starting to bring my heart rate down to somewhere around “only mildly concerning.”

Until I heard the fearsome, high-pitched scream of an unholy banshee—or it could have been a baby fawn being stepped on.

And one would remember that very particular sound because believe it or not, I too, have stepped on a fawn.

They hide. Beneath the grasses. Because apparently for a few tedious hours after being born they struggle with actually walking. Damn them.

And the hound had come upon one in his sleuthy, ferretting way. He scared the bejeebies out of both of them simultaneously.

And upon hearing the baby banshee holler, her mother—freshly finished from birthing—came shrieking down the ridge from above us. Barreling her exhausted body like a freight train straight toward her baby’s clueless predators, this doe was sending the message that she had not spent the last umpteen hours pushing out this bag of gangling bones and four sharp hooves for nothing.

Deer are loud.

And fast, and big, and really scary when plowing straight for your head.

 

She lept from the side of the hill and landed on the driveway where, because of the rain, her hooves skittered right out from beneath her big bloated body, and she slid across the road just like all my heavy iron lawn chairs. Then she scrabbled her footing on the other side and raced back up to the top of the other ridge mirroring the first.

She was prepping for another go around.

I screamed for the hound. And the little banshee squealed. The doe barked or roared or boarked (it’s a weird sound). There was just so much noise.

The second pass from Bambi’s furious guardian was apparently enough to jar the hound out of his muddled state of mind as he hightailed it straight up the hill and out of sight.

Which still left one large angry doe careening down a mountainside with anger and physics on her side. I was the remaining target.

Dumbstruck, I had no plan of action. I had bear spray on my belt loop, but that was about as useful as telling a Mac truck at full speed that he’d better “hold up there, buddy, can’t you see I have some Q-tips in my back pocket?”

She hurtled past me, again leaping and splattering on the driveway to slide straight across it like an ice cube.

I closed my eyes and clicked my heels together three times real fast.

When I opened them, I realized three things:

  • If I made it home alive, I’d best cloak myself in bubble wrap for the rest of the day.
  • If I made it home alive, there should be no “rest of the day.” Go to bed.
  • If I made it home alive, realize that the universe does not like imbalance. For every high there is a low. And taxes. There are always taxes that somehow don’t count on the universe’s balance sheet.

I just really hope there won’t be taxes on Mars. Let’s not forget … I saved a cat that might be vital in allowing that to become a reality. Surely the universe will count that in my favor.

~Shelley

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

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

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

Dear Reader,

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

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

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

Dear Chloe,

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

So I won’t.

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

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

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

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

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

But you’re finished with all that right now.

For about a minute.

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

But it’s the truth. Because …

Life is school.

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

Money in the bank?

Title at work?

Rovers landed?

You decide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, and yes, they’re lucky.

But more important, we’re lucky.

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

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

Every single one.

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

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

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

The call was strong, and so are you.

Welcome here, honey.

Make yourself at home.

Love, Mom

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Please … Let Me Explain

I glanced across the line of shelves filled with eye-catching boxes and broad-shouldered bottles, occasionally pulling one from the line-up to scrutinize with envious enthusiasm.

“I can’t confidently say that I’m an expert at this time, as it’s only been six months, but I figure another year and a half and most customers who walk through that shop door will find me to be a connoisseur of the craft—a malt maven, if you will.”

I glanced up at the twenty-four-year old soon-to-be scotch scholar and gave him an encouraging smile.

“I hadn’t envisioned finding myself in this position years ago when in school in Finland—working as Mr. Worrall’s apprentice—but”—he ran his hands through his buzz-cropped, fair-colored hair—“it seems the puzzle pieces just fell into place.”

“I see,” I murmured, pivoting from one tight space in the tiny London whisky shop to move past the long and lanky Finn toward another shelf filled with other amber liquids I’d yet to see or taste.

I picked up a bright canary colored box. “Huh,” I breathed out, twisting the carton in my hand to view all sides. A whisky made in New Zealand. I’d traveled to the country maybe a decade ago and had been disappointed to discover that the only distillation I came across was the furtive kind—with kerosene cans and rubber tubing. Nothing I could find on the shelves of duty free at the airport to take home. The box in my hand provided scant details.

“Where is this?” I twisted to glance up at The Lad McFinnland.

His eyebrows rose, and then quick understanding flooded his face. “Ah yes, New Zealand is a small chain of islands—two mainly—off the south eastern coast of Australia. Known for its mountains and glaciers generally.”

I stood silent. Then I looked around for something that would cost less than one hundred pounds to throw at his head, as this was a rare malt whisky shop that carried nothing one wouldn’t have to consider auctioning off a kidney in order to buy.

I sighed and rolled my eyes at the American distiller sitting in the corner, wrapping up business with the shop owner. We had developed a few signals during this trip to subtly communicate.

I was tagging along on his travels across the UK, helping him navigate his unpretentious and ballsy bourbon around a country filled with its exclusive, gentry-filled single malt scotch drinkers.

He’s a Virginian, whose teeth were cut on grits and grand plantations. I’m currently a Virginian—by way of a million little detours—who’s spent twenty-five years soaking up the Scottish, the Irish, and everything English.

“Your whisky tastes of marmite and ribena,” one distributer had said.

I’d leaned over to translate. “Yeast paste and black currents.”

“I’m getting a touch of candy floss.”

“That would be cotton candy,” I whispered.

“This one tastes of a water closet’s urinal cake.”

I looked at the distiller. His furrowed eyebrows halted my words. “Yeah, I got that one.”

I’m also here, immersing myself in a side of the whisky world I’m usually not swimming in—all for the sake of research. My newest novel in progress—a book about a suffering distillery on the verge of falling apart—has me seeking more than just the drinking of a dram. The more I know about the inside industry, the better the believability factor.

So, once again I’ve entered the world of spirits where the main players erroneously assume I have as much understanding and interest about the subject as I do about prostate cancer.

“We’re talking about brown spirits, darling,” one Englishman pointed out to me at a tasting event. “An utterly foul habit to the gentler sex.”

“Mansplaining is something we find even fouler,” I looked up innocently.

“Surely not,” he put a hand on my shoulder. “Perhaps we should get you a white wine?”

“A single malt, please.”

“That’s the spirit,” he said with another wry, all-knowing pat. “I’ll order you my favorite lest you find it distasteful. Then I’ll drink it myself.”

This industry has been slow to change. Like the pivoting of a large ship, the whisky world protects its stability. Women can make things tipsy—both literally and figuratively. And parts of the world I travel to are reticent to allow the hand of time to tick as quickly as it wishes to. But there is a growing number of “that gentler sex” that persevere, and for that I’m wholly grateful. As I believe it’s an alcoholic arena that many find too intimidating to enter, and we need a few to boldly clear the path in front of us.

I crave standing in the intersection of the two things I love most: writing and whisky. My aim for the last two decades has been to make it into an explosive crossroads, adding food and nature, folklore and peat smoke. To me, this is the best definition of scotch—purely Scotland in liquid form. It finds me weak in the knees and often at a loss for language.

Despite the heavy hand of doubt I’m usually greeted with on this male-dominated turf, I’d be remiss if I neglected to point out the bright moments where I’m caught by surprise and filled with delight.

“So,” a tall, Welsh actor beside me starts, “have you been dragged here by a companion you’re unfortunately in debt to, or are you as besotted with this juice as much as the rest of the poor SOBs at this whisky tasting?”

I turned and glanced up. I wanted to hug him. “Definitely not dragged. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

“Ah,” he nodded grimly. “Then I feel doubly sorry for you, as I’m sure like us, you’re continually searching for and finding the next Holy Grail, only to discover after a taste from that chalice, that it’s usually just a few too many precious pennies out of our budgets.”

I laughed and took a sip of the pricey elixir in my hand. Finally, a true compatriot.

He continued. “So what have you been dying to try that seems a little out of reach?”

I thought back to yesterday, in the rare malt shop. “Oh,” I breathed out dreamily. “A new single malt from New Zealand.”

His eyes lit with interest. “Really? Where’s that?”

I couldn’t help myself, and I snorted with laughter as the words tumbled out. “Ah yes, New Zealand is a small chain of islands—two mainly—off the south eastern coast of Australia. Known for its mountains and glaciers generally.”

~Shelley

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In Good Spirits

I needed help.

Professional help.

It’s a phrase I utter at least a dozen times a day it seems, and not every episode is referring to the fact that shock therapy might be just the thing.

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This time I was searching for answers to questions that did not reveal the meaning of life, or my purpose in the universe, or even advice on how to handle the creepy guy at the grocery store who is always asking if he can hold my melons while I search for apples.

Ah … Security??

No, this time I needed help with my new book. The writing “fiction” part is always so much fun. But the “researching the fiction I just wrote and discovered wouldn’t even be remotely believable” part is always a little hard to choke down.

Best to do them in tandem.

And as my new book takes place in a distillery, and there’s one nearly spitting distance from my house, it would be foolish of me not to immediately take advantage of the expertise within grasp.

So I pleaded my case, called the joint, and set up an interview to make sure that my new manuscript wasn’t going to entirely fit into the genre of fantasy.

Or an oval shaped file under my agent’s desk.

At first I thought Ian Thomas, the new director of operations at the Virginia Distillery Company, was worried about the time—because he was always checking his watch.

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And then I thought for a second that maybe the fellow I was standing across was fairly new to the concept of wristwatches, as when he did look down at it, he stared at it with intense focus for at least four or five seconds.

And then I realized that I was the actual idiot.

Ah. An Apple watch.

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Ian was getting about as many requests for attention as if he’d had a tiny toddler tugging at his pant leg—which, coincidentally, he’ll have in a few short weeks as he’s expecting his first child.

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So perhaps coaxing a fledgling whisky distillery through its beginning years full of growing pains is exactly the kind of training a soon-to-be dad should be having.

If nothing more than to reinforce recognizing the blissful joy of losing consciousness for more than ten minutes in a row.

That, and maybe to discover what a bazillion new parents come to realize during the agonizing teething phase of their tiny tot: whisky can act as a damn fine benumbing agent …

For the parents, of course.

And this man is sitting on a gold mine.

The questions I needed answering were specifically related to the running and operating of a single malt distillery:

How much does each ingredient contribute to the overall end product flavor profile?

How much does the temperature and humidity in your warehouses play a part in the maturation process?

How many times have you tried to roll a full wooden cask of spirit into the back of your car to sneak home and feigned surprise when one of your coworkers discovered you struggling with the back hatch of the trunk?

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Yup. All relevant.

We spent hours walking through the facility, and Ian patiently explained every piece of equipment and component involved in the operation: the gristmill, the mashtuns, the washbacks, and stills. The miles of plumbing, the resourceful recycling, the freshly plowed and planted barley fields, and the mile-long list of government officials he had to converse with on a daily basis in order to make this American malt find its way from barley to bottle—or grain to glass—or field to finally in my hot little hands.

At one point, while talking in the warehouse that securely housed the seven hundred wooden casks snugly hugging their aging spirit, Ian received the equivalent of another toddler tug that needed attention and stepped out of the warehouse while I ecstatically and repeatedly filled both my lungs with as much of the intoxicating, spirit-drenched air as they could hold. And then, profoundly lightheaded from hyperventilating, I suddenly worried that I had inhaled enough of the whisky-dense atmosphere to register as too intoxicated to drive home.

Maybe Ian’s watch would keep him busy whilst I slept off the fumes and stretched out across a few ex-bourbon barrels.

I thought about the last jaunt I’d undertaken researching a book—an afternoon spent questioning an internist about all the effective emetics available in the 18th century. There were no heady, soothing scents of toffee and brown sugar, butterscotch and bananas encapsulating me like a giant embrace from the ancient gods of magical elixirs. Just half a dozen homeopathic textbooks opened to pictures of poisonous plants that could make you puke.

Yeah, this one was turning out to be a lot more fun.

We finished the day with Ian allowing me to further question him in hopes that he could provide answers for the stickiest parts of the book—things I was struggling with and that were critical to the book’s authenticity and success: the biology, the chemistry, the plot.

His answers were enlightening. And clarified that there were actually a solid handful of hugely capable, talented, and ingenious people who worked alongside him to craft this outstanding spirit that holds so much promise.

And surprisingly, if not somewhat disappointingly, not one of them were alchemists or felt the need to invoke a series of sorcerous spells to turn this water into wine—er … whisky.

Apparently Gareth Moore,

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Chairman and CEO of Virginia’s newest spiritus frumenti emporium, really knows how to hire his nine-to-fivers and reviews of their work are about as glowing as the cheeks of those who imbibe in their product.

“Okay,” I said to Ian back in his office, “just in case this post goes viral and the only way you can fend off the sudden surge of paparazzi at the distillery is by locking yourself in the waste management warehouse and hiding behind a tank full of lye and caustic soda, is there anything else the world should know about Ian Thomas, young whisky maker hailing from Tennessee?”

“Ah,” he said, glancing at his wrist again and staring at it intensely for about four seconds, “Well,” he chuckled self-consciously. “I like casual strolls along the beach, I’m a good husband, I love my family and Virginia … and I’m working hard to make a world class whisky.”

I don’t doubt for one second all these things are true. Ian is a busy guy with a full life that’s only going to get fuller in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. A new dad. A new home. A new job. Yeah, he’s got his fingers in a lot of pots.

Copper ones to be precise.

And I think the world of ‘world class whiskies” is lucky to have it so.

~Shelley

HEADS UP Y’ALL: Robin has his annual calendar of curiously clever cartoons for sale starting now. If you’re hoping to take a peek a tiny bit farther into his unfathomable brain, then I suggest you head on over and order yours tout de suite! They won’t last!  Robingott.com

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

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

Definitely One For the Books

One sticky August Virginia day, my boyfriend and I sat on an open tailgate, snacking on apples and trying to beat the heat while a legal representative from a nearby bookstore read us a subpoena. What kids get up to these days, right?

This is the story of my mother’s book launch,

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featuring a bunch of literature-loving yogis, an overdose of sugar, and a bookstore that doubles as a law firm. After a couple years of arduous editing and nearly two decades of subjecting her children to her foodie Frankenstein kitchen persona, my mother’s first book (of many), Dear Opl, was published. (Shameless plug: go buy it if you haven’t already. If you have children, they will find it funny. If you don’t, the cover art is pretty. Also, my name is in the dedication. So, it’s worth it.)

Flash back four hours. I sat in the kitchen, next to the carefully packed box of 100 apples that the glorious Whole Foods–health grocery store supreme– had kindly donated to support the fresh fruit cult. Mom waltzed in and asked if I thought 9-13-year-olds, the intended audience of her book, would find her look approachable. I told her to maybe switch out the “eat good food or you will die alone” shirt, and with that, we were off, rocketing along the back roads with a box of books and apples.

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We got to the bookstore, (I won’t name names, so let’s just call it Yarns & Global), unpacked and settled into the throne that had been allocated to the signing. My mother immediately began walling herself inside a fort of brightly colored books while I set up the box of scrumptious apples. Two minutes later, a wild customer service employee appeared, eyeing the apple box skeptically. Apparently, in the kingdom of Darns & Mobile, only packaged food may be served at events. Especially when the event in question centers around replacing packaged food with fresh food. But hey, who doesn’t love a bit of legalistic irony with their grassroots campaign? And my mother, being the resourceful person she is, simply relocated me to right outside the kingdom’s borders, where I was to sit, with a stool and a box of apples, to reward purchasers with a healthy snack.

Inside Narnia & Bobbles:

My mother greeted arriving family members and tried to prevent my grandmother from stuffing half of the gardening section into her purse.

Outside Narnia & Bobbles:

I was just preparing to cart out the apples when curses, foiled again by customer service. Apparently, the kingdom’s borders extend beyond its four walls. I reassured them I would move farther out into the wrath of the burning hot sun with my fifty-pound load of poisoned apples.

Inside Brawns & Foibles:

Half of my mother’s yoga class stood in line for a signed copy of the book. People purchased copies for their grandchildren, nieces and nephews on the other side of the country. Mom signed and signed, making up a different spelling of “Bon Appétit” each time.

Outside Brawns & Foibles:

Another genius idea: relocate to the back of Mom’s car in the parking lot, in plain view of exiting customers. I recruited the loyal boyfriend to keep me company as I sat on the tailgate, handing out free little parcels of arsenic while the sun threatened to knock me out.

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Inside Narnyness & Boblitude:

Small, eager children swarmed around my mother, attracted by the scrumptious chocolate bar on the cover. One child told her about the mermaid novel she was currently engrossed in while another inquired about library availability and stuffed his pockets with some signed bookmarks – prime merch. If she keeps this up, she’ll have the weirdest little fan club of third graders sporting “think global eat local” bumper stickers on their lunchboxes.

Outside Narnyness & Boblitude:

Some poor guy sent by the evil overlord of the kingdom’s legal department stood in front of me, hands shaking, reading me a cease and desist. With heavy hearts, we conceded the victory of World War III to our enemies. May we live to solicit another day.

When the lady could sign no longer, we piled into the car, down a bucket of books, and headed off to a celebration dinner of burgers and milkshakes. Then additional festivities ensued where Grandma provided a massive fondant cake in the shape of the book. And finally we landed in our kitchen, where I test-baked three batches of different cookies. Her campaign slogan may have been “connect with your inner good food dude” but mine (and Grandma’s) was “free the free sugars.”

(BRAG TIME: I MADE PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE STUFFED MOLASSES COOKIES, NUTELLA STUFFED OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES, AND THE BEST %$#*ING BROWN BUTTER OATMEAL WALNUT COOKIES STUFFED WITH PEANUT BUTTER AND CARAMEL. OPEN FOR DISCUSSION – SHOULD I DROP OUT OF COLLEGE AND OPEN A BAKERY?)

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*dons serious face*

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It is a truly marvelous thing to see a community united in support of a well-intentioned project and its pioneer. If I know my mother, I know that she will never stop engaging everyone she meets in good books and good food. I hope to see all of you at her second book launch, which will most likely take place upon an actual launching rocket ship and … there will be cookies.

On an unrelated note, if anyone would like some freshly made applesauce, we have a few tanks to spare.

~Chloe

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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.

 

Hairy, Huge & Unhappy: the Nature of the Beast

Nature is full of surprises.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a thank you in sight.

I’m not surprised.

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

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

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I can see how it could be confusing.

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

Yeah, that would be a total daymaker for him.

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

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

Yep. My super sharp instincts went blank.

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Make yourself BIG.

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

  1. Make noise like you’re in charge.

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

It did not have the desired effect.

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HE charged.

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

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

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I scrambled for a big stick on the ground.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SURPRISE!

~Shelley

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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.

 

The Road to Hell is Paved With Snowplows

I’m having one of those days.

Everybody has them. Everyone is familiar with them. Nobody likes them. And we all nearly collapse with gratitude at the end of them.

I call them: Good For Nothin’ Days.

Or: Why Me Why Now? Days.

And even: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DOES ANYONE STILL MAKE CALGON?! Days.

I am having one of the last category days today. And I would like to get off the bus at the next stop and call an end to the day in general. Go no further on this ride.

I am a big list maker.

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I believe in the effectiveness of lists like most folks believe in the effectiveness of vitamins, or prayer, or eggs. The jury is still out on whether or not many of these things actually contribute benefit to our lives, but loads of us are diehard fans who will shoot down any negative data and cling to that which we know and are comfortable with. Because it’s safe.

And … change sucks.

The problem with today, and my list, is that nothing is getting crossed off. And the anxiety of having a day without the satisfaction of putting a line through tasks is much like having a warm heart to heart with an innocent, furry little lab mouse and telling him that today he will not be receiving his ever-available, always-flowing drip tube of liquid cocaine, and that he should just try to shake off the upset he’ll likely begin to feel at some point.

LIKELY??

I am in total sync with the bewhiskered wretch. His tears are my tears. We pace the same cage. We are tormented by the same misery.

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It’s not like I am making no effort to accomplish things today, but rather I am dependent upon other people, and although I have what feels like a bottomless pit of enthusiasm to spur on the lackluster drive of others, I cannot throw two or three or a half a dozen folks onto a sled and drag them up to the top of the hill to plant our collective flags.

One reason is because a snowplow is blocking the way.

Yes, I know it’s the end of March for you, but for me it’s smack dab in the middle of February. See? Time travel does work. Or rather, that’s how an editorial calendar works.

Part of the beauty of living where I do is that it’s remote.

Part of the bane of my existence, living where I do, is that it’s remote.

I prefer NOT to have interaction with most human beings because they interfere with my ability to work. But on the flipside, when I do need assistance, I can hear folks on the other end of the line all drawing straws to see who’s the unfortunate sod who will be assigned my work request order.

Usually I hear something like, “Uhhh … yeah, you should expect to see Jimmy—”

NO!

“I mean Buck—”

NUH UH!

“Hold on a sec …” (insert muffled growls) “Vernon’s comin’ by tomorrow sometime after lunch, God willin’.”

*sigh*

I’m not surprised. Or offended. I get it. It takes forever to get here, and the getting here part is usually rife with treacherous debacles waiting ‘round every bend—and by every bend I’m talking about the driveway. The first thing out of everyone’s mouth is always, “Seriously?” followed closely by a “ooohWEE!”, or a deleted expletive, depending upon what part of the county they were coming from.

My answer to the seriously? question was to have a 55 mph sign installed at the most dangerous and impossible part of the drive. I figured this was a surefire way of eliminating any person with an IQ that fell below that of leaf mulch from making it to the top and thus to my doorbell.

The ditches on either side of my driveway have housed more automobiles than many car dealerships around here. Tow trucks almost always call for backup tow trucks, which result in calls back to the shop for specialized winches, axles, and ratchet straps, and when they realize they’re both in a bind, someone usually phones David Copperfield to get a quote on levitation.

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If there’s even a whisper of frozen precipitation in the forecast for my local area, it’s generally guaranteed that all packaged mail delivery folks will leave a note on the gate at the bottom of the hill saying they dropped by, three days running, and go figure, no one was ever home. Anyone scheduled to head up here for maintenance suddenly has a “family emergency” and will have to reschedule. For some time in June.

For some time in June.

Snowplow drivers, on the other hand, are a fearless breed. Those that do not get hired by the county are the ones that generally have been weeded out because although they may lack fear, they usually also lack sound judgment. Most drivers will recognize the difference between pushing a load of snow, and say, taking down a small grove of fruit trees, or clearing the road of pesky fire hydrants and mailboxes.  The ones who feel it’s pretty much samey samey, hang up a shingle come wintertime and are up for private hire.

Lucky us.

And luckier me, I’m going to head down the mountain’s deadly driveway for the third time today to find out if this fearless fellow would finally like for me to call for backup to get him back on the road and out of the grove of solid trees he mistakenly took for the route we normally use with our cars.

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“Yeah,” he says, kicking a tire that just can’t seem to get a purchase on the air it’s spinning in. “I’ve tried and tried,” he waves his cell phone at me, “but I can’t get no service up here on this mountain.”

Tell me about it.

~Shelley

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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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Don’t Rock the Boat (or Car or Truck)

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

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

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

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

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

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Their least favorite thing to do?

GO TO THE DMV.

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

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

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

My dad used to work there.

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

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

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

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

Ooh, gorgeous earrings.

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

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

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

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

Again, subtlety and canniness is crucial for success.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fill these out CORRECTLY.

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

I’ve got spinach in my teeth.

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

~Shelley

*BONUS CARTOON FOR THIS WEEK’S POST!* (click)

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

Related articles

 

 

Rockets and a lot of Red Glares (part 4)

My patient Peakers, I promise the end is in sight. Episode Four is bringing us nearly to the end of Hopefully Not a Waste in Space. For those of you who are joining us for the first time, I beg you—nay I beseech you–to unite with your fellow readers in space exploration anxiety and find out what the hell I’m talking about, as only by reading Episode One, Episode Two, and Episode Three will you bask in the full-fledged experience of this tale.

Or … I can summarize:

Daughter has massive senior project (Project SkyHAB – sky high altitude balloon).

Daughter chooses to launch a balloon the size of Rhode Island into space to see if she can make science happen in something called a Cloud Chamber. Cloud Chamber actually looks like a piece of stolen Tupperware from my pantry.

Costly cameras and GPS units are accompanying THE PAYLOAD. No one at Mission Control is clear on what THE PAYLOAD contains, but it must be retrieved or the world will end as we know it.

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A well-crafted, highly skilled team is assembled on launch day for lift off on site in central Virginia and a half-assed team (including two very sane, last minute volunteers) is cobbled together at HQ.

Launch team is in charge of … launch.

Half-assed team is in charge of GPS tracking the balloon and THE PAYLOAD via the computer, the occasional bit of laundry, and creating a giant ice sculpture on the front lawn that spells out WELCOME NASA.

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Launch is a success. Balloon becomes itty bitty dot in the firmament. Tracking team is befuddled with screens across Virginia that report nothing to track.

All teams feel failure as they have never felt before. Lead scientist is catatonic with grief.

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Four hours later the balloon comes crashing down to Earth and rises from the dead on radar.

The lead scientist and HQ are unhinged with happiness.

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The lead scientist and HQ then realize that the balloon has landed in a body of water made by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries specifically to obliterate the advancement of space knowledge directed by hopeful teenage researchers.

 

And now … the rest of the story.

Recovery of any launch is probably just as harrowing as the launch itself, as we came to realize. And constructing a recovery team after having exhausted the list of folks we knew who could help in the building phase, the launch phase, and the expensive therapy phase, we were left with three and one half units of aid:

The chief scientist (daughter)

Mission Control team specialist (me)

Technical support (Google Earth)

And some scary redneck dude who might be a serial killer.

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Not as impressive as we’d hoped, but it was better than a sharp stick in the eye—although a sharp stick in the eye may be a pleasurable alternative to that serial killer fella. We did not tarry.

On the road in her tiny VW bug, my daughter drove and I navigated—again from my chair at HQ while consulting with technical support. SkyHAB had purportedly gone down somewhere in the middle of 740 acres of the Sandy River Reservoir. We were going to get her as close to it as possible, but it looked like that might require a team of lumberjacks and a VW that could transmogrify itself into a pontoon.

Once I had remotely piloted her vehicle to the end of all paved roadage, the rest of the journey was to be traversed on foot. We were connected via smart phones, but the transmissions were not unlike those of the United States’ first mission to the moon. We lost contact repeatedly and found binoculars to be insufficient paraphernalia for reading hand gestures from that distance.

“Alrighty, Google Earth says you need to move southwest with a heading of 238°. Don’t forget to lock your car. And take a bottle of water. And find a stick.” This was as high tech as we could get.

“Hold on, Mom. Some guy is coming toward me.” (Insert muffled voice and …) “Nope, I’m not lost … uh … (muffled voice) okay, sure.”  (Sound of tiny rover engine coming to life.) “Apparently, I can’t park here.”

“What?” I say, looking at the earth map. “It’s a dead end dirt road. What are you blocking?”

“Whatever.” (Rover rumbles to new spot. Car door slams. Sounds of footfalls through underbrush and forest.)

“Chloe?”

“He’s still watching me.”

“He’s what?”

“Oh brother—hold on.” (Sounds of cracking sticks, muffled forestry, and running footfalls. Silence.)

A minute ticks by. Two. (HQ’s clock ticks grow louder and morbid.) Is he speaking to her? Has he captured her and thrown her in the back of his pickup truck? Will I never see the chief scientist again? “Hey, kiddo? Chloe? CHLOE!!”

(Strangled, obscure sounds.) “Chill, Mom. I had to pee. How much farther do I have to go to get to the edge of the reservoir?”

(HQ breathes sigh of relief.) “About a mile and a half, and tech support reports it’s all uphill. Is the guy still around? Maybe you ought to come back with a team of friends. And all my kitchen knives.”

“Yeah, there is no way I can get through this underbrush. We may have to find someone with a boat.” The chief scientist muscles through the forest back to her car. “Crap! There he is.”

“What? Chloe, get in your car!”

“F**K! He’s running over here!”

“Hurry up! Get in your car! And watch your damn language!”

“I’m in it—I’m in it!”

(Sound of little rover rumbling to life and gravel spray.)

“Chloe??”

(click)

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Oh my godfathers. I panic and look on Google Earth to see if I can spot my daughter and this potential child abductor. And remember that Google Earth images are not in real time. Great. In about three hours I will know what tragedy befell my child.

And in about one week, so will you.

~Shelley

July Gotta Have a Gott winner

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Jump on over to see the cartoon winner for July!

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.

Related articles

 

Thomas Jefferson is full of beans.

Old chocolate is amazing.

And I don’t mean old as in you found last Halloween’s leftover bag of miniature Snickers bars, and after removing both the fake and the real cobwebs, you classified it as … edible-ish.

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I mean old chocolate as in 250 year-old chocolate.

Okay, maybe I mean a 250 year-old recipe for chocolate, but I’m hoping that might be implied.

Regardless, I recently had a chance to taste this luscious libation when I last visited one of my fathers’ homes. Forefathers that is.

Although not technically related, I do feel a special kinship with Thomas Jefferson in that he and I share a lot of commonality:

Thomas Jefferson was the first United States Secretary of State. I was the first United States Secretary of Stately Housekeeping in the ramshackle kindling fort my brother and I made when we were kids. Both Jefferson and I argued endlessly with the Secretary of the Treasury over fiscal responsibility and where we would spend our combined allowance—I mean finances.

Thomas Jefferson was a leader in enlightenment. He brought about awareness and understanding to millions on a plethora of subjects. I am a leader in de-lightenment. I bring about awareness and understanding to my children on the cost of keeping a room lit with no one in it to enlighten. (Hold your groans, it only gets worse from here.)

We shared a great love of books, both played the violin, and astonishingly enough, it appears we employed the same hairdresser for much of our adult lives.

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But it’s the love of Colonial chocolate that brought me closest to Jefferson on my last visit to his shiny little shanty. The architecture of Monticello could not compete with the spindly legged table set up in his yard that was used to demonstrate a ‘made from scratch nectar’ enjoyed by our late president and many lucky citizens of the 18th century.

The event was the Heritage Harvest Festival. Coined as America’s First Foodie, Mr. Jefferson invited friends and family to one of his annual backyard BBQs. He’s good like that, allowing folks to trample through his garden and kids to climb his trees. I bet if he were alive today, he’d have been right out there on the West Lawn with the rest of us, eating a pulled pork sandwich and washing it down with a local brew.

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Or he might have been standing behind me as I attempted for the third time that day to pass myself off as a curious newcomer to the demonstration of ‘How the colonials made their chocolate drink.’ Free samples in miniature Dixie cups were handed out after you watched someone explain the roasting of cocoa beans, the process of de-shelling the beans by hand and the grueling work of grinding the cocoa nibs via mortar and pestle.

Yes, arduous work.

Thank you for the sample.

Delicious.

(Wait for 30 minutes behind a tree)

Get back in line.

There were a million things to learn about at this historical heritage happening. We were encouraged to Celebrate the harvest and the legacy of revolutionary gardener Thomas Jefferson who championed vegetable cuisine, plant experimentation and sustainable agriculture.

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And to Taste a bounty of heirloom fruits and vegetables and learn about organic gardening and seed-saving during this fun, affordable, family-friendly festival.

But I’ve had bushels full of fabulous fruit and veg this summer already, and was plum up to my earballs in articles and lectures on sustainable farming and gardening.

I WANTED THAT CHOCOLATE.

Okay, yes, every day I make sure to eat a fistful of mahogany magnificence, but this is not the point. The point is that what I usually have in my fist did not measure up to what I saw casually proffered to passersby via cherub-faced young ladies. What they held out on their trays should have been deemed illegal. It was addictive, enslaving—I was hooked.

It was cocoa bean crack.

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At one point in 1785, Thomas Jefferson penned that chocolate would surpass American love for coffee and tea—just like it had happened in Spain. Clever, clever Spaniards. I’m guessing over there, little kids had set up chocolate stalls and kicked the idea of lemonade stands to the curb.

Even Benjamin Franklin understood the importance of this ambrosia. Somehow, between his good looks and charm, he arranged six pounds of chocolate to accompany every officer, termed “a special supply” for those who marched alongside General Braddock’s Army during the French and Indian war. I’m guessing most Americans today would be asking for a refill after a week and a half tops.

Back up top at Monticello, I finally succumbed to guilt and temptation and forked out the twenty some dollars for the small tin of the American Heritage Historic Chocolate drink. It will sit on my desk for months as I gaze longingly at it, but I will repeatedly tell myself it should be saved for something monumental like a presidential election, or something worthy like passing a test, or a kidney stone.

Likely, next September will roll around and I will receive another invitation to visit the grandpappy of our population. I will rootle around on my desk searching for my tickets and come across the tin, having been buried beneath overdue Netflix movies, bills and yes, last year’s Halloween candy.

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I will head to the hill for some history (okay, we all know I’m just going for the chocolate) and try to soothe the guilt that bubbles up admonishing me for wasting money on something I didn’t even consume.

But then I will remind myself that the chocolate is 250 years old already, so what’s one more year. In fact, I’m totally with Mark Twain on the subject: Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

~Shelley

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

The Rocket’s Red Glare

“Mom. Mom. Mother! LOIS!”

The last one always gets my attention. Yes, I know it’s not my name, but if I’m in a crowd and hear someone shout Mom, a thousand women turn around. This is the pattern of words/bird calls that my kids find necessary to stimulate my consciousness—my awareness of their presence (read demand for attention).

“Yes?” I raised my head to see my daughter standing beside my desk, her face a mixture of annoyance and impatience.

“Let’s go. Hurry up.” She held her iPhone in her hand and beckoned me. A man’s voice chattered through the speakers.

“Who’s on the phone?” I whispered.

She rolled her eyes. “NASA. We’re waitin’ on you now.”

GNC systems are nominal, another iPhone voice chirped.

I looked at my computer’s clock. 11:10 pm. Finally, I was awake for some big aerospace worthy event and not simply going to hear about it the next morning because it took place at 3:52 am and I chose sandman over spacemen.

I leapt from my chair and followed my daughter to the mudroom where we popped on our boots and jackets. Outside, the air nipped at any spots of exposed skin, so I did a little running in place to warm myself. I got shushed for bouncing too loudly and interfering with the crackling sound of our NASA Wallops men. They were ticking off boxes on a long checklist of things that could easily make a team of scientists fall to their knees and weep like children who lost a game of checkers if one of them didn’t get a ‘Thumbs up and go for it.’

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SMA?

SMA is Go.

SMD?

SMD is Go.

NAM?

NASA Advisor Team is ready.

Copy that.

My daughter ran in the house to shut off the kitchen lights, which gave me ten seconds of bouncing to myself. Kinetic energy converts to thermal energy, right? I was trying to think like a scientist. Then I heard her and the Wallops men float down the back porch steps in the dark.

I looked up into the inky black. The stars were crisply sharp tonight. It was as if NASA had done a last minute vacuuming of the sky, ridding it of any dusty bits that might interfere with seeing the rocket launch.

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“What’s our rocket called?” I asked.

“Shhh.”

LADEE is Go for launch.

“Ladee?” I nearly shouted. “As in Bruichladdich? Wahoo!”

“SHHHH!!!”

T minus 90 seconds.

I was thrilled. They named the rocket after my favorite distillery in Scotland. And suddenly I was in desperate need of a dram to celebrate—if not just to warm up.

“I can’t believe they named the rocket after a whisky.”

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Even though it was too dark to see my daughter roll her eyes, I knew it accompanied the tsk sound that came from her mouth. “Mother … *sigh* … the rocket is not named for an alcoholic beverage. LADEE stands for ‘Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.’ Now be quiet.”

“Poetic.”

“SHHH!!”

T minus 35 seconds.

RCO report range go for launch?

Range is Go.

SSC hydraulics internal?

Hydraulics Go.

“Where do we look?” I whispered.

She thrust a sharp finger eastward to the tree line. Even her fingers were shushing me.

I stood on tiptoe to see Wallops Flight Center. It was about one hundred miles away as the crow flies (or the rocket hurls). It turns out that I cannot see one hundred miles away. At that moment, Haggis, my hairy hound, hurled himself out of the house and—keenly aware of the heart-palpitating excitement and the need for speed—ran circles around us while barking.

“MOTHER!”

I grabbed at his collar and pulled him nose to nose. “Be. Quiet.” I pointed at my daughter. “Can’t you hear that her god is speaking?”

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T minus 20 seconds and counting … T minus 15 … T minus 10, 9, 8,

A rocket was hopefully going to the moon. It was so exciting.

5, 4, 3,

I held my breath. I really wanted to bounce.

2, 1, 0, ignition and liftoff of the Minotaur V with LADEE, pursuing a mission about moondust and the lunar atmosphere …

We saw nothing.

Six (static) naught copy (static) mach four … pressure is nominal.

“Where is it?” I whispered, fingers crossed. I really wanted to see my rotgut rocket. My Bruichladdich LADEE. My moonshine heading to the moon.

Pressure is nominal.

What the heck is “nominal?” I don’t want nominal … I WANT VISUAL!

An orange ball rose from beyond the tree line, and I grabbed my daughter’s hand. “There it is! There it is!”

We watched the fire from this tiny toy rocket blaze through the sky, like a slow moving falling star going the wrong way. It was breathtaking.

Our NASA men kept us informed how all the flight instruments and power systems were performing, how the attitudes and flight paths were spot on, to watch for a separation, ignition and burnout because they were all part of the show. It was marvelous.

“How long will it take to get there?” I asked, thinking we might see pictures of its successful arrival online in the morning.

“October 6th.”

“Wha??” I balked at the thought of it. “But the moon is right there.” I pointed to the area I saw it hovering the night before. “It’s like … spitting distance. Are you sure?”

“I’m sure,” was her answer.

“When are they going to learn that unmanned missions are a waste of fuel? They should have just asked Tom Hanks to drive. He knows the way.”

My daughter turned to face me and sighed. “Goodnight, Lois.”

I blew a kiss at the tiny orange dot. “Good luck, laddie.”

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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.

The Gates of Hell

I live on top of a mountain. It just barely counts as one as far as qualifying height is concerned, but hey, a med school graduate at the bottom of her class is still called doctor. You pass. Congratulations. Hang up your shingle and warm up your stethoscope.

Back to my big hill.

The road up to the house measures a solid mile long—and a thousand feet up. Most cars chug up to the top with the old engine standard of ‘I think I can’ grunting from beneath the hood. If a car, on route to the top, should give up before reaching its destination, the choices for its passengers are either to roll backward along a death-defying series of dead man’s curves, or secure chalks beneath all four wheels and limp along on foot the remaining distance.

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The county decided they had no interest in claiming responsibility for road maintenance, and the post office, who still delivers mail via horse drawn carriage or carrier pigeon out where we live, said PETA would be all over their sorry arses if they had to consider our address as part of their route.

Together, the two organizations colluded and decided to call the road … our driveway.

In order to gain access to the stretch of road that has more animal encounters than a National Geographic Special, you must pass through a set of gates. They are formal looking, sharply pointed, black and menacing. Iron bars meant to intimidate. In fact, I’m fairly certain they are possessed. I feel as if they should brandish a sign with a giant skull and crossbones, displaying blood-scrawled words, “I’d turn back if I were you.”

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Growing up in Wisconsin farm country, gates were a part of life. They served a functional purpose. They kept animals off the road, animals from eating the crops, and teenagers from making crop circles in the corn fields on late night sprees. Of course, the last one was the hardest to control, and that’s pretty much my point: it was rare to find a gate we couldn’t outwit.

But this gate …

I’ve given up on the programming manual. It requires a degree in electrical engineering and more brain space than my head can provide.

The gate is electric and attached to a phone line—and although we pay each bill on a monthly basis, juice to both services is supplied only on every other Thursday as long as it falls on a combination bank holiday and Catholic saint day. Seldom do they all align.

More often, the box providing electricity is just a small metal house that offers shelter to either an enormous ant colony or a den of mice–whoever stakes claim to the space first after it receives its monthly cleaning. If the box does happen to hum with some form of voltage, it is only a matter of hours before someone inside becomes fed up with the incessant noise and chews through a wire. And if they’re a little slow with work that day, then surely lightening will come to the call of duty and strike the box with a massive bolt, rendering all residents inside to simple carbon atoms.

I’m positive the “antenna” meant to catch the signal of our remote control devices was accidentally switched out with a lightening rod. Pressing the remote control never works. You can point it at the gate, level it at the aerial, or even put it under your rear tire and back over it to make sure you’re pressing down hard enough, but I’ve found it ain’t up to the job.

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It does, however, change the channel on our dish receiver and it usually messes with the cockpit info in overhead planes.

Handy in some cases, I suppose.

Folks coming to visit who do not have one of our remote controllers meant to lull you into a false sense of consumer product reliability must depend upon their savvy skills of speaking into a box to gain entrance. This box is occasionally hooked up to our phone line which will dial up to our house, but only after you figure out a complex math equation and punch your results onto a keypad. This was done to ward off the mass of hunters who often show up and ask permission to track the land with their coon dogs.

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I don’t have any problem with hunters. I just want to make sure that if there’s a guy and a gun walking the woods where I live, he has to have passed fifth grade math.

It’s usually not such a big problem anyway, as the phone line is habitually broken and we’re on a week long waiting list to have someone from Appalachian Power come and take a look at one of our many issues. It might be just as effective if we simply tied two tin cans to the ends of a mile long string. I’m willing to give it a go.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run down to the bottom of the driveway to help someone get in, or arrived home to find the damn thing on the blink again. Either way, my car is usually parked on one side of the barrier or the other while I’m unlocking padlocks, pulling out circuit breakers, wrenching out lynch pins and roping back the gates to allow entrance or exit. Frequently in a downpour.

I have proposed we get rid of the whole system, but the three other adults who live up top are all English and find the gate reassuringly British, so I am outvoted.

Therefore, I’ve decided to think tactically. I’m now researching the cost of hiring a beefeater. Safe, traditional, and classy.

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I sure hope he doesn’t come with a manual.

~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.

A fairly faithful fairy tale

For the last two months I’ve been feeling like I belong in a Beatrix Potter tale. Maybe lodged somewhere in the index between The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and The Tale of Two Bad Mice. In fact, there are days where I’m so prickly from doing endless loads of laundry that I actually see the bristly, Scottish hedgehog Potter penned into the role of Animal Laundress of the Lake District gazing questioningly back at me from the mirror above my bathroom sink.

But in addition to being Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle’s doppelgänger, I have, as of late, been boldly playing the role of Mr. McGregor.

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He and I share the same love of growing veg, and the same dream of wrapping our soil-stained hands around as many fluffy bunnies as we can throw into a gunny sack.

Real nature lovers, he and I.

First thing in the morning, I am woken by the night patrol shift. Smudge, the charcoal colored streak of flying fur I see only at mealtimes, waits at my shoulder, staring intently at whichever eyelid she is closest to and waits for lift off (or lift up in this case). Now is when she announces, in a slightly bitter tone, that according to the always accurate clock in her belly, breakfast is late. Then, as she leaps from the bed, she throws a quick, “oh, and bee tee dubs, there are rabbits in the garden.”

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Covers are jerked off, the back door is flung open, and I sprint in a “Why are my legs not working??” kind of brain fog to scare off those wascally wabbits.

I get there too late and see nothing but cotton ball tails scurry back to their safety zone of immunity in the woods, or the fields, or Russia.

Disgruntled, I trudge down to the sheep barn to further fatten two defunct lawnmowers with a couple handfuls of grain. And by defunct lawnmowers I mean both sheep have decided they do not like the taste of our meadow grass and refuse to eat any more of it. Period.

I have never met, nor ever seen sheep go on a grass strike. And I feel if I were to admit this to any other farmer I would see tears spring to their eyes, and be later billed for the small hernia operation I forced them to have because they split a gut laughing over my fiascos in the fields. Yes, I can hear everyone telling me that I’m further complicating the matter by giving into their demands, that if I refuse them their cereal they will eventually give in to hunger and start mowing again, but I have SEEN these guys hold their breath—and I have no doubt that they would pass out just to prove a point.

250813sheep (800x789)

Replacing the lid on the grain bucket, I catch movement out of the corner of my vision and turn to see two black pearled eyes blinking back at me on a shelf beneath the barn window. A fat field mouse, pink nosed and whiskered, stands up to his jelly bellied middle, surrounded by tiny shreds of paper towel, pine shavings and my latest issue of The New Yorker. He has made himself a cozy bed in a pocket betwixt wall and shelf. His eyes go wide.

“What?” he says. “I smell winter.”

“Get out,” I poke a rake at his nest.

“Fine, but can you leave the lid off the grain bucket? Now that I have to relocate, it puts a dent in my foraging schedule.”

I sit on the bucket. “Out.”

I watch him scuttle away and my faithful hound and I finish mucking out the barn. As I’m making my way back up the hill to the house, Haggis turns to me and says, “You know there are rabbits in the garden, right?”

“What?” I look at him. “How do you know?”

“I saw them when we came down to feed the sheep.”

I am miffed. “Why did you not run after them?” I shout.

“I was helping you muck out the barn.”

“YOU WERE EATING SHEEP POO!”

“I was helping.”

I stab a finger in the air toward my vegetables. “Go. Run. Now!”

Haggis gives me one of his, You’ve gotta be kidding me looks and says, “I am way too full to run. I could get a cramp.”

250813gorunnow (800x624)

Doubly miffed, I march into my garden to see what fresh new destruction has occurred while both my well-fed, well-watered, overly indifferent protectors of the potagé have been enjoying the posh life.

As we near the beds, crows scatter from the blackberry bushes, a mole buries himself beneath the mulched pathway having munched his way through an entire cantelope, and a spindly legged fawn leaps in surprise and springs in misdirected flight toward the trees, still clutching a bright red, juicy tomato in his tiny mouth.

I lean on my trowel and look at the crops.

I think about the endless nagging I do with my children to eat more fruits and vegetables. I write about making good food choices, trying to illuminate the spectacular flavors from the garden and benefits from natural food sources.

I sigh and take down my Peter Rabbit scarecrow and replace it with a Welcome to the Salad Bar sign.

How can I chase away the collective few who have been following my advice all along? It’s absurd, right? I finally have an audience who are all ears and eager to eat what will make them big and strong. It’s now crystal clear to me … my forest friends have been reading my writing.

250813gourmetbunny (644x800)

Social media is amazing.

~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.

Well, well, well.

The well broke again, the hot water heater has a failed joint and there’s a leak in the basement.

Leek (717x800)

Apparently, no one has been feeding our dead plumber ghost.

This guy is cranky and cantankerous, moody as a teenager, and when determined to send home the message of I dont like being ignored will shut us down, skillfully coordinating it with a heat spell, a sand storm and a family reunion. He’s crafty, that’s for sure.

Roger (our nearly resident handyman/polymath friend and neighbor whom you can read more about here or here) has a new theory he suggested I consider. My original hypothesis—the one that suggested our continual plumbing calamities were the result of our construction contractors enacting an ancient building rite where one man is sacrificed and buried within the foundation walls to pacify the gods by dedicating a life in exchange for future good fortune—is one that I feel has explained most of our lamentable lack of liquid setbacks. But Roger has spent a great deal of time on our little haunted homestead and has suggested this:

The natives are restless.

One in particular.

And a powerful one at that.

Roger believes the land we currently inhabit was at one time occupied by many Native Americans, and that their burial grounds are scattered among these mountaintops where they settled. He also suspects that when we began poking around in the ground to divine a water source, we may have accidentally driven the shaft of the well right through the heart of a powerful chieftain.

Sauk Chief Makataimeshekiakiah, or Black Hawk

And now we’re in for it.

This makes a mind-boggling amount of sense to me as well (no pun intended). And because of this new theory, I’m left wondering if there is something I can do to right this wrong. Can I alter a few things around the property in order to set straight that which has been askew? Is it possible to mend fences with the dearly departed?

Looking over my daily life, I believe I’ve come up with a few things that may be irritating our wronged warrior. For instance, if you’ve gleaned anything from prior posts, it may be apparent that I have a slight affinity for everything that reminds me of Scotland—and for the sake of full transparency, I suggest you replace the word “Scotland” with the phrase men in kilts. The fact that I’ve been blaring bagpipe music across the mountaintop is likely enough to rouse him from a settled slumber.

Wakingthedead (689x800)

I’m switching to wooden flutes. Nothing but melodies that are healing, plaintive and meditative. I myself will simply have to envision the musician as more of an evolved clansman. Maybe one with well-manicured hands who writes Gaelic poetry on the side. I’ll try to get used to it.

Or it could be that the scent of food emanating from my kitchen is so foreign and unpleasant that he occasionally puts a full stop on my practice of culinary arts. Yes, it’s true that I am somewhat overzealous with my enthusiasm for fermented foods and that in every dark and draftless corner I have something covered in cheesecloth, quietly brewing. But surely our wandering, tribal spirit would appreciate that I attempt to bar entrance to the pantry any foodstuffs that come across my threshold in a colorful cardboard box rather than strung together through the gills or bound collectively by foot and thrown inside a gunny sack.

Pantryclub (800x592)

Yes, you’re right, I got a little carried away with that last part, but it seriously sounded so authentic in my head. Thankfully, the fishmonger at Whole Foods takes care of the scaling and the butcher removes most remnants of hoof and paw, head and hair. And I thank them for it.

Again, in my defense, I cook a lot of ancient, ancestral grains, but I’m wondering if perhaps he has noted that most of my seeds have traveled a great distance to find a space in my cupboard. Is it likely that my passion for sprouted, Aztec super grains has stirred his wrath over my carbon footprint?

English: Alexandria City, MO, July 9, 1993 -- ...

How do I delicately communicate my aversion to corn after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, where Michael Pollan effectively told me that many Americans are now highly processed walking corn because of poor diets? I look ashen in yellow, so no thanks.

Having given it a great deal of thought, and having come up with two very viable possibilities as to what nettled my supernatural Native American, I have to admit I believe it is neither one. The third option is not one of music, or food, but worship.

It is so easy to take what we have for granted. I rarely give a thought about the ease of access to my water, the process others labored to bring it to me, and most importantly, the source from which it came. water faucet (600x800)I am reminded of these things when I’m denied that ease, when it is I who must labor and when the source withholds. Every drop to wash my hands, every dab to cool my brow and every sip to slake my thirst is counted, is measured, is honored.

This is his message, isn’t it? To be careful, to be mindful and to be grateful.

And that if I don’t turn off the bagpipes, he’ll turn off the water pipes.

~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.

O Brother, where art thou brain?

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

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

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

Stamp owned by Swollib

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

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

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

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

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

Ad nauseam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–        Sheep refuse to fetch.

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

~Shelley

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

Hurry up and slow down!

Rusher_300113 (800x523)I come from a family of “Rushers.”

This is not some ethnic inside slang for a relatively unknown Slavic country, but rather a perpetual state of physical being. One we have practiced, but not perfected.

We rush. A lot.

Because …

we’re always LATE.

It’s a weird club to belong to. Most folk don’t want to admit they’re a member and in fact deny any connection. Rusher_family_300113 (800x380)Of course, we’re not quite organized enough to formally meet yet —to create some sort of support group that gathers in the basement of the Moose Lodge on Sunday nights and comes clean about the somewhat sordid high we all feel when we make it to any destination with thirty seconds to spare.

The sound of a door clicking shut behind you while you pull the tail of your raincoat out of the way in the nick of time brings a zing of euphoria to anyone living in this category.

I don’t want to be in this category.

I want to be a measured planner.

I want to arrive places with my hair done, my shirt buttoned, everyone fed and no shortage of breath.

I want to eat breakfast, brush ALL of my teeth, walk, not race out to my car, and avoid running over that squirrel because he realized there was enough time to make a lovely nut loaf for dinner and chat with a neighbor just over the yellow line and finally scamper off to safety before my car came upon him.

Mouse_in_can_300113 (800x631)Instead, I am buried so deeply beneath my duvet that I sleep through my alarm clock. I wake only because the cat has tightrope walked along the ridge of my body and has started kneading my head to remind my brain where I have buried her breakfast.

When I squint at the time, I catapult out of bed, tweaking my back, limp to the shower, wash my hair with someone’s Super Juicy Cherry Bubble bath by accident, race wet-headed into my closet to filter through old laundry to find a pair of yoga pants with the least amount of sheep slobber on it and leap out the front door minus coat, the correct car keys and usually still sporting my highland cow slippers.

And if you’re a rusher, then you’ll know exactly what happens next.

I zoom down the driveway in my getaway guzzler, pop that puppy into a gear its manufacturers didn’t even know existed and race past herds of befuddled bovine, allowing the wind to dry my hair into what I imagine will be something convertible commercial sexy, but will end up hairdresser’s horror.

And that’s when it happens.

Tractor. 

English: A modern 4-wheel drive farm tractor. ...

English: A modern 4-wheel drive farm tractor. New Holland tractor somewhere in the Netherlands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe this word was birthed from the term intractable, because these guys are simply buildings with wheels.

Where I live, the roads are built like coiling, slithering snakes. No straight lines, no sharply cut angles. Just curves, bends, hills and loops. You must go around, up and down mountains. There is no “as the crow flies” here. Even crows don’t get to do that. And any flat land found between those prodigious heaps of rubble is covered with crops or cattle.

We love our farmers.

Except when we’re behind them in their John Deeres.

After working up a lathered frenzy and recalculating just how fast I will have to go to make up for lost time, taking into account all the usual lawmen lairs hiding troopers who are waiting to protect and serve, I blow a kiss to the harvester as he turns down another dirt road for work.

I fly.

Hairdresser_300113 (545x800)And I wonder why the inside of the car smells like a giant bag of Starbursts.

Moments later, I am jammed in morning traffic.

I find myself tapping my fingers on the wheel, drumming a frenzied beat and talking to the red light I wait beneath, pleading with it to change its mind.

I press on the gas, slam on the break, switch lanes, give a wave, shout a sorry, press on the gas. Rinse and repeat.

I find a parking spot. Grab my phone. Run from the car. Run back to the car. Grab my purse. Run from the car. Zip through the door. Scan in my keycard. Race to the bathroom. Recoil in the mirror. Bolt from the bathroom. Return to the bathroom. Snatch my damn purse. Sprint to my classroom.

I roll out my yoga mat.

Detach. Escape. Focus. Breathe. Relax. Loosen. Release.

Namaste …

(sound of pistol)

And we’re off!

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~Shelley

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

SILENCE!

Writer'sRock_240113 (800x684)I … can’t concentrate.

Everywhere I go there’s too much noise. A plethora of distractions. An abundance of chatter. Multiple—what? No, you may not make a pizza. We just finished dinner.

I need a space where no one is allowed. An opaque bubble unpoppable by anything apart from spurting blood, ravaging flames, or—I’m not sure. Ask Dad, but I think it’s your turn to feed the sheep.

 My space is not sacred to anyone but ME.

A propaganda cartoon of the arrest of Governor...

The act of writing does not come easily to me. In fact, it’s much like hiding under the bed and trying to gather dust bunnies. Suddenly, I’m holding my breath, desperately hoping not to be discovered by the serial killer who’s broken into the house and is hunting me down. If I don’t move, if I’m very still and shut my eyes to the scariness around me, I just may make it to the other side. If I let a squeak of surprise escape my lips at seeing the shoes of my killer slip through the door and bonk my head on the bed frame, he then drags me by my feet out from under the bed and poof–that’s the end of that.

Okay, let me try and explain. I am me. Under the bed is my dark, safe, quiet haven. It’s full of ideas in the form of gossamer, almost intangible substances. And the rest of the world’s occupants are the killers of my creativity. Bam! It’s over.

I don’t know how people do it–how to think through noise.

English: "Discussing the War in a Paris C...

I’ve had to alter my schedule this week and have been forced out of my dark cocoon. I’m set up in a coffee shop. I hate it.

First of all, I’m forced to buy something I don’t even want in order to justify taking up space and bandwidth. I could make five or six cups of tea at home for the price of one that I had to purchase here. And it’s not my kind. It’s not my anti-stress/full-of-zen/conquer-the-keyboard kind of tea.

Secondly, the chairs are horrible. Like sitting on rocks. I miss my chair. It swivels. It has padding. It’s got wheels. And I’ve changed my mind. These chairs should take lessons from rocks. They aspire to be as comfortable as rocks.

Next, I can’t even keep track of the number of conversations taking place around me—none of them interesting. I’ve eavesdropped on them all. Wendy is having another baby. Pranav doesn’t think this semester’s anatomy class is moving along fast enough. Jared is finally quitting his job because his boss, Alicia, keeps cornering him in the men’s bathroom demanding—shhh … wait … that one is interesting.

 Someone’s cell phone twinkles with silvery, sparkly twiddly bits every twenty-two seconds, which is what I’m guessing is the exact amount of time it takes two teenagers to text a conversation that involves words like:

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘Sup?

Dude

Heya, Bro

WUU2

Nothin ATM U?

i hate my life

Lol

JK

LMAO

OMG

T2UL

k

Riveting, right? WRONG.

It’s distracting.

But only for me, apparently. Everyone else is still able to focus on reading their emails, memorizing great swaths of soon-to-be tested-on material in their textbooks and most importantly, following Jared as he struggled to politely pull his tie out of the sharply filed, dragon lady red fingernailed fingers attached to the breathy and threatening Alicia.

The espresso machine hisses and sputters. The earphoned man next to me watches The Office on Netflix and laughs like he’s sitting in his boxers on his apartment couch. He even belches impressively and doesn’t take notice of the fact that three people around him recoil in disgust. Okay, it was just me, but I did it twice in case he didn’t see me the first time. It doesn’t matter. Steve Carell rules.Rock_solid_240113 (800x612)

I put my earbuds in. Should have done this a long time ago. I tune into Pandora—Native American flute music. But it’s too close. The flautist’s breath is right in my ear, making my hair flutter. The earbuds are massive, built for someone with an ear canal the size of an elephant. It’s painful. On top of everything else, every two minutes an announcer reminds me I’m too cheap to spring for the full paid version and maybe I should consider this for the sake of uninterrupted sanity.Zen_tea_240113 (800x566) (347x323)

I know what will save my mental health, and it ain’t forking out more moola. It’s just me. Back home. In my chair. With my tea. And no earbuds. And no one else.

Okay, except for Jared, but just until I find out if he finally gave in.

~Shelley

 Don’t forget to check out what was cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here)!

*And another big thanks to Robin Gott for his perfectly accurate penned depictions of  how my words look in pictures. To see more of his humor, click here and here.

The Oaths We Take, The Rules We Break.

Promises170113 (800x632) (2)January is supposed to be a fresh, new start to the year, right? Full of promises we make to ourselves and one another, and we most often hear them at the end of a liquor-swilled dinner. People resolve to make themselves thinner, exercise and meditate, swear off cigarettes, stop burying Fed Ex drivers in the backyard …

Regardless, along with all the “New You” promises made sits a quiet, smug, don’t-need-to-be-flashy-because-that’s-not-what-we’re all-about campaign. It’s the “Simpler You,” the “Par Down to the Core You,” the:

“Barely there, but so aware” promise you make to yourself.

Juices

Cleanse. Purge. Sluice. Expunge. Clarify. Erase. (Somehow, I still get the unnerving feeling this can loop back to the Fed Ex guys.)

It doesn’t matter what words you use to define it, but it makes most sense to me with this word:

DECLUTTER

(Funny enough, that word is overstuffed with a mess of letters.)

It’s a word that has to elbow its way to the front of my hippocampus where it muscles past all my other short-term memory “to-dos” and insists—nay, screams—for immediate attention.

Post-It Note Art Collage (PINAP)

Post-It Note Art Collage (PINAP) (Photo credit: Adrian Wallett)

I write myself a Post It note to remember.

There’s a lot that needs sorting. My desk, my closet, the pantry, the fridge, the barn and at some point I’d like to find where I last left the kids.

I find it near impossible to weed through my email inbox. It’s filled with hundreds of self-motivating subject lines like:

2013 will be my most manageable year yet!

A chaos free mind = a chaos free me!

Ransom negotiations.

Sorry. That was a copy and paste mistake, but I think you get my meaning. And if it isn’t mail that apparently came from my higher evolved, totally zenned out self from a future dimension, then it was a forward that probably came from my mother, who has seen my desk, closet, pantry and fridge. And it’s likely she’s the one holding the kids until I can see past all my Post It notes—hence the last email title.

clutter

clutter (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

There are several others—okay, who am I kidding, there are hundreds of others—all with similar messages:

6 Steps to Realizing Your Resolutions—which I would read if I could remember where I put my list of resolutions.

Conquer Clutter!—another great idea apart from the fact that there’s not enough space to lay out the blueprint for battle plans.

Becoming Minimalist—that’s one of the longest emails I’ve ever read.

Don’t be a Stuffaholic—I bet there’s a support group which meets twice a week (which will eat up all my free time for decluttering)

*sigh*

And it’s not just emails. The messages are coming at me like bullets from all angles.

–        I’m in the car and the radio assures me that “Organizing the new you for the new year has never been easier. We’ll send someone to your house to do it FOR YOU!” I switch stations. I’ve already got a mother-in-law.

–        I walk into the gym for my yoga class and see message boards in bold and catchy coloring: Make a mindful New Year’s pledge. Find the real you buried beneath all those unnecessary pounds! Apparently, no one realizes the mindful minutes I put into selectively accruing those extra layers. It was deliberately done. It’s winter. Snowshovel? Check. Salt pellets? Check. Purposefully acquired figure of impenetrable, whale-like composition? Oh, yeah. Check.

English: Komondor

English: Komondor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

–        Even the dog, who at this point in the year has more hair per square inch of flesh than my 1970’s childhood home’s combined shag carpeting, has been sending not so subtle messages about his much needed spa day and haircut. I find him listening to books on tape instead of pouring over leather-bound tomes in the library.

Yes, I hear the messages. I need to reduce. Maybe I can live without the remainder of my wardrobe from junior high. It’s possible I will never reread all the cards I have received and saved since I was seven years old. I suppose some people draw the line at holding on to Halloween candy dated as ‘Best By 19-something-or-other,’ but it’s truly hard to let go of one’s thrifty nature.

fingers crossed

fingers crossed (Photo credit: cinnamon_girl)

So all I can promise is that I’ll try.

For the good of my family. For the benefit of my dog. For the relief of the Fed Ex guys.

I’ll do it.

I promise.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what was cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and most importantly this week, be sure to check out the awesome cartoon humor of Robin Gott (here)! He penned the above caricature of me (spitting image by the way), and will be sure to give you a giggle in the pub with his take on styles of kilts across the globe. Check him out!

Math; the cacophonous noise of numbers.

Archways

Archways (Photo credit: The Massie Boy)

The architect who designed our house was a fairly rotund fellow: sturdy, stout and elliptical. Perhaps because he was forced to face his oblong softness in the mirror each morning, he may have developed an aversion to curves. And this may be the reasoning behind his blueprint full of geometrical angles so sharp and precise it would be possible to surgically slice yourself if you weren’t careful rounding a corner from the kitchen to the laundry room.

We fought tooth and nail, my husband and I as a team, attempting to insert an arch here or there, or a hollow that suggested pliability. In the end, we were successful in sandpapering a lot of the inside edges away, and felt it would be safe enough for folks to walk through the house without wearing Teflon clothing.

But the roof … stayed as was first drawn.

I should rephrase that. The roofs stayed.

Gable roof

Most houses I’ve lived in have had two slopes for cover: front and back. A little like topping off four walls with a Hallmark card tipped on its side. Nothing fancy, just functional. Usually, it kept the rain from sliding inside and down to the basement. Sometimes the rooftop capped a little extra space where field mice were grateful and Christmas ornaments slept patiently. It was traditional and comforting—nothing too out of the ordinary that would cause folks to drive by and shake their heads in wonder–because where I grew up, if you weren’t regular, you were likely prayed for in church.

But the house I live in right now would be worthy of an entire diocese on their knees 24/7 for a month’s worth of assistance. Every time I go outside to look at it, I wonder if the house’s crowning design is even structurally possible. There’s a very good chance much of it was done with the aid of mirrors.

crazy calculationsRolling out the blueprints to familiarize ourselves with the architect’s vision, we’d find mathematical angles from algebraic equations that surely made Einstein pace. There were unfamiliar words like cross hip, trusses, soffits and underlayment sweat sheets. Some terms might have been written backward, just to keep us from asking about them.

Several of the planes would be done in copper, others would be shingled. Apparently, all of them would be connected. Regardless, the long tube containing the rolled two-dimensional version of our home’s pinnacle puzzle oftentimes remained in its safe scroll form.

Remarkable as the finished product is, and the mathematically improbable achievement aside, I tend not to think too much about the rooftops unless one of two things occurs.

1. My son traps a wayward radio controlled aircraft somewhere in the maze of cedar and ductile metal.

or

2. We have an ice storm.

English: A buildup of ice on a branch after an...

Living where we do, this is not an uncommon thing. The weather is fickle here in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where precipitation is capricious and Mother Nature is determined to throw as many weathermen under the bus as possible with the intent to increase their incoming mounds of hate mail and angry tweets.

If it’s a matter of unruly dirigibles, we wait for a good, solid Nor’easter to blow through and bring the airship back to earth. There’s nothing anyone can do without a crane, a tightrope and a harness. If the roof is brought to my attention via the weather, then it’s usually due to the fact that I can’t get to sleep.

Pellets of sleet or the pinging of hail resonate with precise metallic tonality—a common occurrence for those with tinny plates above their heads. Soft spring rains can lull you to sleep, but winter’s transformative temperatures makes the sound akin to that of a full onslaught of air attack with BB guns.

Crash part 3

Crash part 3 (Photo credit: andysternberg)

The true test determining one’s degree of torpor is the ability to snooze through the assault of sliding snow and ice. Because of the many pitched roofs, all built at a dizzying array of levels, pancake sheets of solidified snow slide down a steeply pitched plane, before crashing to the next grade. Here, knowing its jarring noise roused you from your fragile slumber, the arctic blanket waits until you’ve resettled yourself and then it melds with the newly met wedge of snow. It now carries on its domino-effect late night charades—ever increasing the clamorous intensity until the miniature iceberg finds its last slide and thunders down to crash upon a groaning, snow-filled deck below. The clatter can catapult you from a dead sleep and have you diving for cover, firmly believing there’s an air raid above you.

Yes, I now know the difference between a ridge and a gable, the flashing and fascia, the dormers and drip edge, but it’s the rioting in the rafters that leaves me bleary-eyed and bushed.

Next house, I shall live in a cave.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what was cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here)!

‘Twas the night Santa ditched us.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with Earl

by Shelley Sackier (and a little help from Mr. Moore)

English: Thomas Nast's most famous drawing, &q...

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and throughout our old post
Not a creature was stirring, ‘cept our dead plumber ghost.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
To hide the big crack in the masonry there.

The children were splayed on the couch, all serene,
While visions of Family Guy flickered on screen.
And Sir Sackier on his phone, and I on my Mac,
Still slogged on with work that would keep bills paid back.

When out on the lawn there arose such a noise,
I sprang up to shout at some loud redneck boys.
Away to the window, full of anger I flew,
And stared down the barrel of my 22.

A classic Western depiction of Santa Claus.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
proved Earl and his snowplow were now a “no show.”
When what should I see like a cast of buffoons,
But our Earl on a sled pulled by seven old coons.

With a burly old driver, so mean for no reason,
I saw in a flash Earl’s new work for the season.    More rapid than eagles his complaints rumbled out,
While he pointed an old grizzled finger to shout.

“Now Bubba! Now, Merle! Now, Otis and Wyatt!
On, Buford! On, Farley! And Vernon be quiet!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now git goin’! Git goin’! Dammit y’all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
My thoughts flew about asking, “Santa Claus, why?”
So up to the front door the hound dogs they slogged,
With the sled full of moonshine and old Earl in a fog.

1914 Santa Claus in japan

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the stoop,
The grunting and griping of the grumpy old poop.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Through the front door the old codger came round.

He was dressed all in flannel and coon hunting gear,
And his clothes still held bits of skinning some deer.
A bundle of bottles he had flung on his back,
And he glanced all around for a lawman attack.

His eyes were all wrinkled, his face worn and weathered,
His hands were quite scared and his skin rough and leathered.

January 3, 1863 cover of Harper's Weekly, one ...

January 3, 1863 cover of Harper’s Weekly, one of the first depictions of Santa Claus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His crooked lips snarled, never smiled like a winner,
And the beard of his chin showed canned hash for his dinner.

Some spit on my polished old floor he did spew,
Reminding me Earl had a mouthful of chew.
He had a broad face that was washed clean of dirt,
But a nose that he wiped on the sleeve of his shirt.

He was chubby and plump, a curmudgeonly churl,
Who never said, “Hi”; his lips wouldn’t curl.
A grunt from his girth and a scratch on his bum
Made me ask why it was Santa gave us the thumb.

He spoke not a word, but grumbled with work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And shuffling past me, he dragged down the hall
The rest of the moonshine toward his next port of call.

A&P, COFFEE, SANTA CLAUS

He slumped in his sled, to his team gave a holler,
And away the dogs pulled, straining hard at the collar.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“I’m raising my fee for each plow, now good-night!”

~HAPPY HOLIDAYS~

~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)!

A root awakening in the garden of evil (I mean Eden).

I love the color green. I love wearing it, seeing it and eating it. I even strive to be it. It’s a lot to live up to, and more often than not, I end up falling back into my default color … brown.

I am basically a method of transportation for DIRT.

Living where we do, and how we do, I find life is a constant struggle between these two hues. Since there are animal chores to be done twice daily inside and out, you are likely to find yourself, come bedtime, with clods of clay, fragments of feed and patches of poop annoyingly clinging to clothes, skin and hair.

In anticipation of this, six years ago when we began building this barmy abode, I repeatedly requested that everything be earth-toned: floors, walls, furniture and fixtures. We currently sport every shade of muck and mud known to Benjamin Moore & Sherwin-Williams.

Seeing the wall calendar currently show the month of August, I know it truthfully to always be two months ahead. Signing checks and school permission forms with October in the date department throws a constant reminder under my nose that the chore list is changing.

romancing the garden glove

romancing the garden glove (Photo credit: curlsdiva)

Seeing the multiplying emails from our homestead’s chief strategist and tactician, Roger, arrive in our inbox, or guiltily acknowledging the growing stack of precisely laid out hacienda homework he has purposefully proposed, leaves no doubt with the message: get your gloves on, it’s time to tame the terrain.

Everyone in my family will attest that when it comes to gardening, my thumb is khaki-colored at best. I can successfully grow the fruit and veg needed to supply more than enough for my family’s culinary needs, with the extras pushed into the hands of our visiting Fed-Ex drivers, propane deliverymen and lawnmowers, as well as anyone who happens to accidentally come upon the house by taking a wrong turn. This particular garden is rich with offerings, and I’m beginning to believe, capable of enormous resilience after sessions of either my absence or mismanagement.

What is truly frustrating is that I’m surrounded by people who are incredibly capable landscapers, horticulturists and master gardeners. Give any one of them a sliver of someone’s fingernail and they can propagate the rootstock for a new human being. They have immeasurable talent, energy and knowledge.

Gardening equipment and tools, and grafting di...

Gardening equipment and tools, and grafting diagrams. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I, on the other hand, merely look at the garden and sigh with exhaustion. I immediately come to the conclusion that I need a nap.

When my mother arrives at the house, armed with a flotilla of tools, soil and a gleam in her eye, I detect the blood draining from my head and begin to feel woozy, realizing I’ve left things too late and will now have to pay for my negligence by sucking up forty-eight hours worth of nettled knees and a barking back. It’s my own fault. Somehow I’d hoped no one would notice the overabundance of choking weeds, smothering vines and disfiguring deadwood.

Not many people can appreciate the prairie look, but it does grow on you after a while … if not around you after laxity.

There is a massive difference between her glistening, well-oiled and surgically-sharpened gardening implements and my rust-covered, jagged-edged Ginsu knife picked up at a local county fair from a slick kitchen demonstration by a Brylcreem carnie.

My mother prods me through the gardens, requiring I take notes as she instructs what will need doing once she leaves me on my own. There are precise methods of pruning—“One can’t just hack!”

I like the satisfying sound of a good hack.

Believe it or not, not everything is a weed, which makes my efforts to weed whack tedious and tricky. Long tall green things look so much the same to me. The only reason I don’t rip most crops out of the potager is because I give them two months to get going and usually by that time there’s a berry or a bean hanging from it. Anything outside of the kitchen garden looks suspicious to me and if it does not sport a flower or has not been painstakingly labeled by Roger, my instinct is to cleave and yank.

There were multiple times this weekend when I heard sharp intakes of breath that did not come from my lungs. What followed were my mother’s masked attempts to cover an overwhelming urge to tsk. I don’t blame her. If I were her, I’d probably take a shovel to the back of my head. Trailing these negative assessments of my lack of familiarity was my insistence that duct tape is man’s best friend. Apparently, Mother Nature does not share this opinion.

Rip Van Winkle Illustration by NC Wyeth

Rip Van Winkle Illustration by NC Wyeth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still, we carried on, my mother pruning, snipping, coaxing and trimming, me … carving, lancing, docking, gashing, lopping, sawing, severing and slashing. Some of us did better than others.

Regardless, there is a small chunk of the garden that is now, thanks to the know-how and hard work of other people, ready for a winter snooze of around forty winks. Sadly, the rest of the garden will have to face certain insomnia until I can review all my notes. Seeing as though it’s only August, I’ve got plenty of time.

~Shelley

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

A hairy situation.

The “Académie de Coiffure”

The “Académie de Coiffure”

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

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

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

Maybe it’s incredibly effective marketing campaigns.

Maybe all men have cataracts.

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

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

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

Porcupine at Mer Bleue

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mistress and Maid / Lady with Her Maidservant ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old farmer with pitch fork full of hay

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

Sleepblogging.

Sleeping

Sleeping (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

I cannot write if I cannot sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

alarm clock, bought from IKEA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jiminy Cricket

Jiminy Cricket (Photo credit: .Cromo.)

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

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

(Yawn) Shelley

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

 

NASA finally asks for my help.

“Hey, mom?” (daughter, Chloe, in kitchen)

“Uh huh?” (wordsmith, me, at desk)

“Would you like to do an experiment with me?”

One of my eyes strayed from my computer screen and glanced toward her school workspace. The eye noted no test tubes or beakers. The eye reported back to the brain a thumbs up sign.

“You bet.”

“Great,” she said. “You and I are going to go without chocolate for one week.”

“Sure thing … ” (type, tappity tap) “Wait—what?” Both eyes scanned kitchen. Found kitchen empty. “Chloe? … Damn.”

This has happened to me before. I have answered yes to buying a pony, sleepovers that require train travel across two states, the shaving off of one eyebrow and a small down payment on a developing goat herd in Uganda.

They know how to get me. As long as I’m writing, I’m cognizant of nothing apart from the cursor on the screen and how bitter my tea is becoming.

How in the hell was I going to survive without chocolate for seven days? I looked around my desk. There was chocolate everywhere. Having it near me brings a balm of comfort and serenity to my writing space.

Chocolate

Chocolate (Photo credit: EuroMagic)

I’d have to get rid of it.

Out of sight, out of mouth, right?

I could do this. It was probably for the good of science on the whole. I bet I’d be part of some study for NASA. Good for me. I’d show my support for Chloe, and science, and … space?

It didn’t matter. I loved challenge.

Day One: I made it through breakfast. In fact, I just ignored breakfast and got busy. Better not to think about food in general. I left the house for lunch. If I wasn’t at my desk, things would be a heck of a lot easier. After dinner Chloe checked in with me.

“How’d today go?”

“Not too bad. This might be pretty easy. I’m going to bed.”

“Mom? It’s 7 o’clock. The sun hasn’t even set.”

“Yep. But if I’m sleeping, then I won’t want to eat chocolate, okay? Goodnight.”

Day Two: Rising at 4 a.m. is fine if I have to catch a flight to a tropical island getaway, but getting out of bed simply to avoid dreaming about chocolate seemed somehow wrong. I ate a lot of brown food.

Day Three: “Mom?”

“Stop shouting at me!”

English: A small pad of Post-It notes.

English: A small pad of Post-It notes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Day Four: Post It Note: Dear Mom, It’s okay if you want to quit. You’ve made it through three whole days and I know that’s a lot for you. You’ve done great. Love, Chloe

Dear Chloe, Really? You’d just love that now, wouldn’t you? I’d be the laughing stock of everybody else who’s a part of this study. Chocoholic Mom can’t hack three days of deprivation. No way! I’m not going to be the butt of some joke down in Houston.

Dear Mom, I don’t know what you’re talking about. There is no study. It’s just you and me. Have a brownie.

Chloe, I don’t want a brownie. I want you to clean out the damn cat litter!

Day Five: Dear Chloe, I am writing this note to you on your bathroom mirror with your all-time favorite pink lipstick left in the pocket of your blue jeans, which I found just before washing them. I have repeatedly told you what to do before throwing things down the laundry chute, but it appears yo— … sorry, I ran out of lipstick and I’m now using the perfumed soap you got from G-ma at Christmas. CHECK YOUR POCKETS!

Day Six: Text from Chloe: Mom, there is no study. U r off the hook.

Text from me: Not on your life, kiddo! I refuse to abandon my duty to civilization. I know you’re supposed to be reporting back about my behavior and mood swings, and you’re probably going to tell all the people at the lab that your experiment had to be aborted because of some instability issues. That is not going to happen on my watch—NO WAY!

Text from Chloe: Can Dad pick me up after school?

Text from me: NASA just called and wanted to let me know I’m doing great as a test subject. They were ENCOURAGING. Unlike the scientist conducting the study.

Text from Chloe: Mom, u r delusional. There is no study.

Text from me: CONSPIRACY!!!

Text from Chloe: U need rest.

Text from me: I’ll tell you what I need. I need a family that’s going to pitch in when I ask them to! I need a cat that’s not going to vomit hairballs the size of Long Island! I need a dry cleaner that isn’t going to send me back a dress with two more stains on it than before I sent it in! I need an endless supply of orange juice pumped out of one of the kitchen faucets and hooked up to a pipe in Florida because I can’t keep up with the amount your brother is drinking! I need you kids to start picking up the books you toss onto every surface and leave for me to pick—

Message from AT&T: You have exceeded your monthly text allowance.

Semi-sweet chocolate chips

Day Seven: I did not get out of bed on day seven. Not even to pee.

Day Eight: My bowl of cereal was half a bag of Ghirardelli’s 60% cacao chocolate chips with chocolate milk poured over them.

I feel a lot better. Especially since I helped NASA figure out something space related. I’m sure it will eventually be revealed in a Reader’s Digest article, or I’ll see my results reported on the Discovery channel. I’ll probably be part of a documentary.

It was worth it if it meant I’ve aided mankind.

And you’re welcome.

~Shelley

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

 

Speak up!

English: 14th Dalai Lama, Dharasmala, India

English: 14th Dalai Lama, Dharasmala, India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The president came to town to have a chat with us a few days ago. Next month His Holiness the Dalai Lama is dropping in. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the Queen is popping over for a quick cup of tea right after that, because apparently the word is out: my village must be in need of a little pick me up.

Or maybe we’re in serious trouble and the bigwigs are making a beeline to our front door with a message of I told you, don’t make me come down there, and now we’ll collectively be sent to our rooms. Could it be that we’re a hotbed of folks all the higher-ups want to be seen rubbing elbows with? Yep, farmers, vintners and indie musicians—the real decision makers of the world.

Or are we?

Recently, my daughter asked me if I’d attended public rallies or observed and listened to any great civic speakers in my life. I had to think. Did a past employee of Disney World, who now toured high schools giving motivational speeches, count? Probably not. But I did learn how to walk with pep in my step and smile with my upper teeth.

Moose head

Moose head (Photo credit: elasticcamel)

I’d attended a good few Moose Lodge meetings as a kid, but that was because my school regularly sent a few of us there to practice our National Forensics League speeches before state level competitions. I guess that doesn’t count, as we were the speakers and most of our speeches weren’t so much practicing the art of debate and utilizing a public forum as they were taking credit for humorous articles ripped out of the pages of the New Yorker. Some would say we were getting the hang of practicing plagiarism. I swear I never attached my real name to anything—except maybe all the works of Tom Stoppard, because clearly, I had high standards, and I was hoping someone would recognize my talent and catapult me out of our small farming town.

The real reason for going was because the women in the Lodge’s kitchen laid out a potluck spread as if that night might be our last chance to eat. Ever.

As a teen, I’d once gotten swept up in a great mass of people, cheering on a guy who was shouting from the top of a wine crate, only to find out fifteen minutes into his speech that he wasn’t just hard to understand because of some funny accent as much as because of his foreign language. I traveled a lot. It can happen. It turns out, I wasn’t missing much. The rant was about public bus drivers and how there should be a city-wide ban on their cantankerous attitudes. Yeah, good luck with that.

Now this might be stretching it, but being married to a physician, I’ve attended more medical symposiums than a rapper has tattoos and sat captivated by speakers lecturing about the unhealthy state of my colon. Even though many might disagree, I do feel these folks are contributing to some civic duty by educating us on fiber choice availability from local farmers, or at least who’s doing the quickest colonoscopy in my area.

Yeah, that’s probably going too far.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (Photo credit: Cocoabiscuit)

Does it count that Sissy Spacek lives bang next door down the road and her last movie was plum full of historic civic leaders? No?

Not even if I watched the movie twice, listened to it on audio and advertised the must-read novel for three straight weeks in my yoga class?

Visualize me shrugging in defeat.

Then, no. I will have to tell my daughter that despite my efforts, I’ve failed in ticking off the box that classifies me as an attendee to the speech of a great statesman.

But how many living orators does this world contain? Are we still churning out Winston Churchills, Nelson Mandelas, Martin Luther King Juniors and Demostheneses? Are they still teaching rhetoric in schools today?

Maybe the use of a public forum has changed—more cable TV and less barking from atop a soapbox at the local park. The way we argue our points and sway others to join our team is both effectively and laughably delivered via YouTube.

It’s different, but is it any less admirable? Do we want to foster spellbinding spokesmen or create compelling ideas and find a reliable vehicle to communicate them?

TED (conference)

TED (conference) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Admittedly, I’m addicted to TED. And if you’ve not heard of it, TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a nonprofit dedicated to broadcasting the handiwork of great human heads. I think of it as my personal global brain—my access to the Big Giant Head. Watch one of these speeches and you, too, will be hooked.

I know I missed out seeing Barack Obama. And the ticket sales for squishing into a crowd of patchouli-scented vegetarians to hear some of the wisest, simplest ideas for a good life compete heavily with the desire to send my kids to college, so again, I have to opt out. And the queen? Heck, that’s an open invitation whenever Sir Sackier returns to the motherland, so no worries there.

Seth McFarlane

Seth McFarlane (Photo credit: Dex1138)

But I’d make an exception to see Seth McFarlane spew forth a homily. That is a man capable of wrapping up current events, political agendas, religious dogma and critical social issues all within twenty-two minutes of colorful animation. Misunderstood genius.

So, in essence, I can answer yes when quizzed by my daughter. Physical proximity aside, I make it a habit to seek out the great thinkers of our era. I just happen to be sitting at my desk eating a sandwich at the same time.

~Shelley

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

 

Ears wide open

English: A square open cardboard box. Based on...

I live in a box.

Literally and metaphorically.

Within that box are many other boxes. One holds my thoughts—well, truthfully, that one is always spilling over, so I’ve had to invest in a few more.

Some attempt to contain my emotions (again, the previous statement applies, although those cartons explode occasionally with the heavy artillery they apparently house).

Some cradle my dreams—the ones where I somehow become a master distiller living off the grid with nothing more than the fuel created by sheep poo, and a certificate from Joe Salatin congratulating me for filling up more than half the food banks of Virginia with the excess of my prolific garden. (I said they were dreams.)

tiny uggs

tiny uggs (Photo credit: phil denton)

Other boxes support my curiosities. Much of those spill out into word form and show up on my blog, but there are others I’ve been advised not to share. Because how can you really explain the desire to seek out the price and possibility of making little boots for your sheep so their feet stay dry and don’t develop hoof rot without appearing to have lost your marbles? You don’t. That’s why this stays between us.

There are stacks of other boxes, but the container I’m cracking the lid on today is one that recently had its top pried off and its sides expanded. It’s the box I hold music in.

My early life was threaded with strains of virtuosic violinists, tobacco-spitting gitbox strummers, and tight horn sections swinging notes with the ease of trapeze artists.

As a young teen, I clung to sappy lyrics and vocalists who’d grown used to audiences full of swooning females, allowing myself an occasional attachment to a collection of notes that could double as a big wad of pink bubble gum.

Eventually, when I hauled two extra lumps of squiggling arms and legs around with me, toing and froing from crib to car to couch, I threw in side-splitting comedy, although I think I discovered there’s a limit to the amount of humor one can musically squeeze out of a banana.

Cowboy

Cowboy (Photo credit: AngryGlock)

At present, my summers are filled with slick Aussie cowboys and gun-slinging, sharp-tongued women who are fed up with the men that have wronged them. My autumn days slither by with filaments of tunes all penned in places thick with thistles, the pain dulled with whisky. Winter months are warmed with somnolent crooners, antiquated motets and the soft, round notes of lap-held harps. Come springtime, I’m surrounded by singing bowls and Native American flutes mirroring my hopeful spiritual growth with the new green shoots in the garden.

I’ve been quite content with my steady routine—a life immersed in a melodic soup of simple ingredients that make for a merry musical meal.

But it’s not just me in this house. Or car.

There are other beats that bleed into this shared space.

Our musical preferences are vastly different. And by different I sometimes mean whatever Ive been forced to listen to cannot in anyway shape or form be mistaken for music.

Except, it appears I am the mistaken one.

Music is defined not by a set of words, prosaic and pleasing, but rather by a set of ears. Just one person’s.

Pink Floyd Experience

Pink Floyd Experience (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My husband is so deeply entrenched in songs from his impressionable youth that he cannot shake himself awake from the 70’s. We’ve tried. He ain’t budging. We can’t even get him to set a toe into the next decade. But who’s to say the answers to all of life’s problems are not buried beneath the lyrical lines of Pink Floyd?

My daughter has an appetite that spans the taste buds of thousands of tongues. She continually stuffs her earbuds into my head to share astonishing compositions from cultures that have nothing to make musical instruments from other than a goat hide and a handful of sand. It is heartbreaking, inventive and worthy of a plastic spy ring for the sleuthing she must do to uncover such gems.

English: Black & White photograph of Lil Wayne...

English: Black & White photograph of Lil Wayne taken by RJ Shaughnessy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My fourteen year old son has joined a tribe consisting of many of his white middle class peers. Somehow, a slice from this generation of children has responded to a constant tug toward the music of their “true” people. I’m guessing they feel they were torn away from the hood before concrete memory was possible. But genetics are hard to fight and we have a mass of angry rapping white kids thankfully speaking on behalf of those with no voice.

Truthfully, he has forced me to listen in order to connect with him. Ignore the lyrics. Listen to the rhythm. Find the themes. Search for the story. Feel the pain.

I do.

Occasionally the pain is located in my eardrums.

But I am surprised at how much (if I work at it—and I do because it’s important to me) I can find to absorb and sympathize with, if not actually enjoy. I have to admit, when we’re jamming to somebody with a first name like Lil, Killah, Busta or 2, I wish I was driving one of the souped-up bagged vehicles that bounce because of added hydraulics. It could be fun. For about five minutes.

poppies on a breezy day

poppies on a breezy day (Photo credit: jon smith.)

Of course, there are still the other occupants of this mountaintop that provide me with a type of music not typically recorded or heard in places other than a meditation retreat at Yogaville. Birdsong, rustling leaves and blades of grass, the morning rooster a mile down the road, the slow grunts of pleasure from sheep scratching against the fence, the sigh of my dog in the middle of the night and the purr of a waking cat who rouses minutes before the blare of the alarm clock.

This too, is worthy.

Harmonic and grand, melodic and winsome.

It’s all music to my ears.

~Shelley

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

 

Make a wish …

laying down on the job, in the middle of the r...

laying down on the job, in the middle of the road – _MG_0236 (Photo credit: sean dreilinger)

In memory of Neil Armstrong … our hero.

As a child, the most magical moments of my life were experienced lying flat on my back in the middle of a concrete road.

It was always pitch black, the night air cool, but you could still feel the warmth of the afternoon’s summer sun radiating from the asphalt below. I used to think the road soaked in the rays of sunlight during the day and held tightly to them until I spread out on its surface, and then offered up that heat to counteract the nip of nighttime air.

I’d bunch my hair behind my head, attempting a makeshift pillow so I could roll around comfortably on the gravely floor beneath me. Even so, after a moment or two, nothing short of someone wrenching an arm out of my socket in an effort to save me from becoming road pizza would bring me back to the present moment; that of four kids and their dad stargazing through the soft, magic nights of a Wisconsin summer.

English: This is a picture of Aurora Borealis ...

English: This is a picture of Aurora Borealis from canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mapping out the constellations, spotting faraway planets and staring slack-jawed at the aurora borealis, we swore we felt the earth spin and convinced ourselves how easy it could be to slide off and find our bodies propelled into the dizzy mess of twinkling stars.

I grew up with a thirst for the stories behind those skies: the tales of a fierce warrior chasing sisters across a width of space he would never lessen, a deadly scorpion hot on his heels, a great bear seeking revenge, a dragon wrapped around the celestial north pole—forever spinning, addled and delirious, and a horrifying hydra, snaking its way through the heavens.

It’s one thing to be the child, bewitched and wide-eyed with little knowledge to draw from, but an entirely unexpected feeling to be the adult, still in awe, but from the truth rather than mythology. As alluring as my world of made-up fable and folklore is, my own daughter—drawn by an unquenchable thirst for answers—is determined to pull the thin veil from my fiction to reveal the facts.

The Eagle Nebula M16 Peering Into the Pillars ...

The Eagle Nebula M16 Peering Into the Pillars Of Creation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At times, it’s been easy to resist, as attempting to wrap my head around the concept of dark matter, bits about space/time continuum, or even something as basic as gravity has made my head spin and sucked the joy from learning. Although, I will admit there have been moments when I was caught up in the heart-swelling, soul-stirring splendor of seeing the birth of new stars or solar systems caught on camera by the type of paparazzi that come complete with PhDs in astrophysics or aeronautical engineering.

I can’t even pretend to follow my daughter when she begins waxing lyrical about the transit photometry program she’s involved in and will sheepishly admit she lost me on the first sentence of her explanation somewhere just after the word The. And when she grabs my hand and drags me out into the dark, insisting that we can’t miss the August Perseid display, I feel relief wash over me after she points to the heavens and alters her words to “meteor shower.”

As we lie on our backs and wait for the unearthly concert to begin, the soft chirp of crickets is a constant murmur like an audience rustling their programs and shuffling their feet. The waiting is similar to holding your breath under water and viewing the liquid world; so foreign and seductive, but temporary because you must resurface. Likewise, while stargazing, one can only go so long searching and studying before you absolutely must blink.

And a blink can be the entire lifespan of a meteor.

Perseus and Perseid Meteor

Perseus and Perseid Meteor (Photo credit: Dominic’s pics)

We lie side by side, quiet, but expectant. I hear her breathe and wonder if she’s counting the minutes until she, too, can join the rest of her people—those who have long ago figured out the secrets of their home and have grown tired of living there. Like a pining teen who longs for the sweet taste of independence, this teen’s first solo abode would be elsewhere in the universe rather than elsewhere in a university. It’s the same, but different.

I treasure those moments of unfettered joy when a streak of light with a tail half the length of the sky shoots past us; a snowball in space determined to break new records for both speed and allure. I am bereft of speech and look to my daughter. There are no words to describe such visions.

Except the ones that come to her easily. Like stumbling upon a book of illusions, the secrets are exposed with revealing illustrations and strip you of future goose bumps. I try to see the science as she does: a language sweet as poetry to her ears. But I miss my warriors, my dragons and sisters.

Vincent van Gogh: Starry Night Over the Rhone ...

Vincent van Gogh: Starry Night Over the Rhone Arles, September 1888 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The two of us view the same stars, the same sky, the same vast and wondrous world.

It’s the same, but different. And beautiful.

~Shelley

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

 

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)!

 

I see dead people.

There is something so tantalizing about going into someone else’s home, especially if they’re not present. Even more so if the folks are dead.

Monterey Wax Museum -US Govt. in Monterey

Monterey Wax Museum -US Govt. in Monterey (Photo credit: Ed Bierman)

Not newly dead and outlined in chalk, but rather long ago buried and part of a history book and some schoolmarm’s lesson plan.

It has to be said, history remained stone cold if I simply read about it in Mr. Schook’s classroom. It did, however, find new life during visits to historical wax museums or abandoned ghost towns.

I can even stand in the waving tall grasses of a carefully preserved battlefield and strain to catch the cries of men slipping through some crack in time. My imagination runs rife with other people’s supposed memories, their hardships and suffering, the easy to imagine tweets they’d post on Twitter.

Okay, you’re right. I took it too far. There’s no way I could imagine their hardships.

81/365: Reflections of Jefferson

81/365: Reflections of Jefferson (Photo credit: Adam Franco)

But I count myself fortunate to live smack dab in the center of a triangle of three residences belonging to past American presidents. And by past, I mean expired to the point folks paste their likeness on our paper currency and coins.

Many Americans (a large chunk of them being schoolchildren) hate to be reminded of the past, but for some reason, they love to reenact it. Because I am married to Sir Sackier, Brit extraordinaire, I find myself in the not so enviable position of hearing just how much we colonists have made a muck of things as often as I’d care to tune in. I figure I’d tune in a lot more if he’d dress in period costume, but that certainly won’t happen unless I agree to play the wayward wench opposite his feudally monocratic role.

Again, that ain’t gonna happen.

civil_war_actors

civil_war_actors (Photo credit: Tom Gill (lapstrake))

Yet you can’t turn around in this state without accidentally elbowing somebody next to you who happens to be dressed like the Revolution is still taking place just yonder down the street. I have perfected the double take when caught off guard seeing a few regimental Civil War soldiers, bloody and bandaged from battle, purchasing a ticket to see Spiderman at the town cinema.

I think it would be easier if our local time travelers could remain in character.

A few days ago, I made my annual trip with some out of town friends to one of my favorite historic eateries. It has a name like Ye Olde Durty Bird or Red Coat Tavern; House of the Village Baker and Physic. We specialize in both baking and bloodletting.

I feel compelled to return year after year, because the food is unbeatable. You sit in a smoky, dark dining room brimming with tourists and the only sounds you hear are those of people weeping with pure culinary pleasure and groaning at the amount they’ve stuffed into their gobs.

The tricky bit is trying to maintain the feeling of having passed through the portal of time. Yes, the food is authentic, the crockery and cutlery realistic, the costumes genuine copies, but it’s the occasional slippage back to our current Twilight Zone that catches me.

When passing by the kitchens, it’s not uncommon to hear, “Shirley! Stop all that damn texting and get that cabbage in the kettle!” Or when someone at a nearby table mentions their black-eyed peas are stone cold, the scullery maid grabs the bowl and chirps, “No worries, I’ll just nuke it in the kitchen.” I wouldn’t be surprised to find the staff doing the Macarena out back while taking a ciggy break.

George Washington

George Washington (Photo credit: Joye~)

In fact, I’m certain, when auditioning for the role of one of these fine dead people, the one caveat they accept, and then promptly ignore before receiving employment, is to read George Washington’s classic best seller—the one he wrote before his sweet sixteen—Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation: a Book of Etiquette.

The book is a fascinating read, and I implore you to take a quick peek at just a few of his rules, but you’ll find that we—as a society in general—would discover the white-wigged man choking on his Cheerios to see how it is that we have “adapted” his suggestions to better fit our present lifestyles.

For instance:

His 3rd rule states: Shew Nothing to your Friend that may affright him. Umm … what are we going to do without YouTube?

12th  … lift not one eyebrow higher than the other, wry not the mouth … He’s just eliminated all the qualifications for a successful James Bond audition.

18th Read no Letters, Books, or Papers in Company but when there is a Necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave. Blackberries, iPhones, Androids … you guys are sol.

44th When a man does all he can though it Succeeds not well blame not him that did it. Obviously, Washington was portending rush hour traffic.

52d In your Apparel be Modest and endeavour to accomodate Nature, rather than to procure Admiration keep to the Fashion of your equals Such as are Civil and orderly with respect to Times and Places. Ahem, Lady Gaga.

64th Break not a Jest where none take pleasure in mirth Laugh not aloud, nor at all without Occasion, deride no mans Misfortune, tho’ there Seem to be Some cause. Looks like we’ll have to nix all reality TV.

72d Speak not in an unknown Tongue in Company but in your own Language and that as those of Quality do and not as the Vulgar; Sublime matters treat Seriously. This one will wreak havoc with our pubescent saplings.

81st Be not Curious to Know the Affairs of Others neither approach those that Speak in Private. There goes Facebook.

107th If others talk at Table be attentive but talk not with Meat in your Mouth. Never gonna happen in my house and at our table.

110th Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience. Someone needs to do a little housekeeping in the Capitol.

Old books

Old books (Photo credit: Maguis & David)

Now I’m not suggesting we catapult ourselves back to slave trade, revolutionists, and no underarm deodorant, but yearning for yesteryear’s grace and civility is a small spark that keeps my own celestial fire burning.

To sum up, it appears we’ve got some work in our future if we hope to live up to the past.

~Shelley

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

 

I vant to be alone …

Solitude is an achievement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Français : Vignoble allemand en 1859

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

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

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

What a mistake.

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted someplace quiet, someplace with only one chair.

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

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

And I found it. Sort of.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IfWeLiftOurSkirtsTheyLevelTheirEye-glassesAtOu...

IfWeLiftOurSkirtsTheyLevelTheirEye-glassesAtOurAnkles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

The sign read, The Single Mingle Sip & Supper.

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

~Shelley

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

 

I needed climate change.

Beautiful-Ocean-Sunset

Beautiful-Ocean-Sunset (Photo credit: Jeffpro57)

I used to live in California. San Diego, to be precise. Del Mar, to be preciser. Yep, I know it’s not a word, but it fits.

I lived with what real estate agents referred to as a “blue water view.” Folks who bought houses with a “white water view” had an extra zero slapped on to the end of their house’s price tag.

Still, I thought the house was divine. It was at the top of a long ridge, less than a mile from the great Pacific Pool and an easy stroll down to bistros, boutiques and beaches.

A constant breeze blew from the sandy sidewalks straight up the hill and through our open windows. I can’t remember a day when we turned on the air conditioning or the heat.

A baby wearing many items of winter clothing: ...

The climate was perfect.

I hated it.

I NEED WEATHER!

I never had goose bumps, never reached for a sweater. I passed up the deodorant isle at the drug store—didn’t buy it because I never broke a sweat. Every day was like the last: breezy, blue and beautiful.

And boring.

I moved out of perfection as fast as I could.

I craved brooding, roiling clouds filled with drenching sheets of rain.

I wanted booming thunder that would sometimes rumble across the skies like a stretched out line of levitating men playing timpani and at other times crack with such force I’d think the result was an irreparable rift in the sky.

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

I missed splits of lighting that charged the atmosphere with the smell of static electricity, and that made the hairs on my arms stand briefly at attention.

I needed dense, impenetrable snowfall to blanket and silence the earth.

I sought air so cold it crackled, bright and sharply blue.

I hunted for icicles sword-like and jagged.

I desired weather so far on one side of the climate pendulum it would require binoculars to see its contrasting position. Or maybe just six months.

The feeling of moving one’s body from one extreme to the other is addictive. Imagine …

Soaking in an outdoor hot tub, your skin so pink your face flushes like a bashful schoolgirl. On the count of three, you suck in your breath and leap out of the tub into a powdery drift of snow. You roll, you shriek, you shock your body. Rewind, redo and repeat. Now you’re Swedish.

Girl in midair during a swan dive into a lake

Girl in midair during a swan dive into a lake (Photo credit: UW Digital Collections)

How about this …

You’ve woken early, popped your broad brimmed hat atop your head, and squatted for hours under a blazing, unforgiving sun as you weed, trim, pick and prune. The garden is fragrant from spellbinding waves of heat. You smell the pungent, earthy soil and the heady and highly perfumed calling card of piquant petals. You hear the drowsy response of droning bumblebees, and the washing waves of cicadas who announce on a time warped loop that the weather is sticky and sizzling. Sweat trickles and stings in your eyes. You stand, strip and dive into the pool. For an instant you are stunned with the collision, your mind astonished at the clashing antithesis of intense opposition.

It’s worth it.

Worth broiling your body to quench an internal fire with frosty, sweet iced tea. Worth numbing the tips of your fingers, toes and sluggish tongue to spread infusing warmth that can only come from a cup of chocolate soup.

Ice cubes in a glass

Yes, it’s been a wild ride this summer. Dame Nature has given us a taste of fire and brimstone. It hasn’t been easy for many. For some it’s been downright cruel.

Within the face of triple digits I’ve tasted more sweat, but I’ve also tasted more ice cream, felt the drench of a hose and a sprinkler spray across my face and cherished every ice cube.

For me … this is living, this is life. This is weather.

~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)!

 

Instant Grassification

English: Orlando, FL, September 12, 2004-- Oxy...

We have decided we need more oxygen.

And we’ve decided we’re going to become Gramineae farmers.

It’s not such a big deal. Millions of folks all around the world already are, so we won’t be the first. In fact, billions of dollars are invested in this farming. Every single year. And that’s just in America. The international price tag belongs in a number category I didn’t even know existed.

At the moment we’re dirt farming. But this is what you have to do before you can go green. Our in-house chief engineer of all things that grow, Roger, has attempted to explain to me (mostly in Latin) that Earth’s soil is almost as full of supernatural magic as a David Copperfield stage show. Almost.

English: The Northwestern High School Gospel Choir

Roger can wax lyrical on the health of our “growing medium” with as much enthusiasm as a southern Baptist revival preacher in a houseful of sinners. I’m trying to keep up, but with terms like fabricating terrain and paleo farming—and it’s mind boggling how much there is to know about them—my eyes start to glaze over involuntarily. When I attempt to learn about microbial life and the immune system of grains, everyone might as well be speaking in tongues.

Soldiers of the United States Army Criminal In...

I’m totally lost.

Roger tried to have us become grass farmers from seed—the old fashioned way–but it was a year of pure embarrassment on our part. The small patch we classified as “test ground” shortly became an agricultural disaster. I’m surprised the whole area wasn’t quartered off with yellow crime scene tape because death was littered all over that lawn.

I was ready to throw in the towel. Plus, I happen to think weeds are pretty. But Sir Sackier refused to admit defeat. How typically British.

For weeks I saw him out there, marching back and forth on the dead battlefield with Roger, pointing fingers, kicking earth and crunching numbers. He’s given himself a fierce unibrow from the entire endeavor.

Roger finally put two and two together and came to the conclusion that unless he was planning to relocate for the spring, set up a tent on the porch and coax every little blade out of the earth himself, he’d best bring out plan B.

Plan B was pay to have someone else grow it, install it in the middle of the night, and then have us smile broadly and feign ignorance if anyone subsequently complimented us on our tremendous grass growing skills.  

Hey, if I’d been put in charge of lawn control, and the only requirement was that it had to be green, it would be filled with arugula. This is a plant I cannot manage to kill. In fact, nearly every morning and every evening I come out to the garden and cut back the greens that within mere hours rocket skyward in search of a better view than the vegetables beside it. The weird thing is I’m beginning to suspect that the plant has taken on new battle tactics. For each consecutive salad I’ve made these last few weeks, the arugula has been getting spicier. It’s so fire-laden, I’d compare it to a mouthful of wasabi. It literally burns your tongue. The plant insists I leave it alone. And I’m actually growing a little frightened of it.

But as a lawn, it would be abundant.

No one else wanted this. Except the dog, who apparently gives no second thought to swallowing fire. He prefers his arugula kick-ass.

So men with trucks and wheelbarrows came and installed our Instalawn, and I’m pretty sure I saw them look up at the windows of the house a few times and shake their heads.

“How hard IS it?” is what I read off the foreman’s lips. But this is what people who already have the knack for doing something always say.

I opened up the window and shouted back, “IT’S HARDER THAN YOU THINK! DON’T JUDGE ME!

And then when they all looked at one another out the corners of their eyes and the foreman pointed out a crooked section to one worker and repeated his question, I realized my error and shouted down to the sheepish fledgling with poor directional sense, “Yeah, what he said.”

That made me feel a lot better about myself.

Now that everyone’s packed up and I can leave the house again, I’m taking advantage of the extra oxygen we’ve created. I’m guessing if I do enough deep inhalations, my brain will benefit enormously—maybe even to the point that I will begin to understand some of what Roger is trying to teach me.

English: A foal wakes up after a nap in the gr...

If I inadvertently slip from wakefulness because of one too many soporific Latin terms and find myself face down in the newly planted grass, I will admit I’d had a sudden overwhelming urge to study the microbial life of our fabricated terrain.

~Shelley

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

 

Bubba, Bass & BBQ

Each year, when I’ve found myself counting the days until school lets out, it’s been in anticipation of the muscle-clenching release I’ve been dreaming about for the last two months, fast approaching amid the flurry of finals, recitals, parties and projects.

Usually, there’s a list of purely mind-numbing activities to look forward to, and they all have to do with a place my family is both proud of and deeply embarrassed by.

The Lake House.

The lake house is where my folks live.

The lake house is where the rest of us want to live.

The lake house is where the summer unfolds itself like a giant picnic blanket, still holding all of last year’s ants and sandwich crusts. It’s beautiful. And horrible. And we love it.File:North Anna NPP retouched.jpg

Swimming is a big part of the summer escapades. The lake we swim in is manmade. Not for people, but for a rather large and unbecoming power plant. Apparently, nuclear power plants are big babies when it comes to getting just a little uncomfortable with the sticky Virginia heat.

The plus side to swimming in a lake that’s used to cool down a power plant is that you can basically pop on your swimming togs come mid-May and keep them sopping wet until just before Thanksgiving.

The downside is that in August, when the term sweltering takes on new meaning—and you swear you’ll never use it out of context again—the lake is actually warmer than your January bath temperature preference. The fish go deep.

But according to folks who’ve only heard about the lake and like to poke fun at it, it’s not much of an issue to find the fish in the first place, as all things residing in the water glow in the dark and are two headed. If you can’t see where to cast, at least you’ve improved your chances of catching something by 50% simply because if one head isn’t hungry, the next one might be.

The "Confederate Flag", a rectangula...

The “Confederate Flag”, a rectangular variant of the Battle Flag. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The fact that there are still plenty of folks who fly the Confederate flag is always a touchy subject. It’s difficult to admire someone’s ‘artful’ decision to do so from the perspective that they might truly believe it still is the national standard, and if you attempt correction, you’ll soon see an impressive array of shotguns that will have you dancing a quick two-step off their property.

Boats are judged not based on length, expense, or manufacturer, but rather decibel level. If you’ve the capability to make the experience of passing by your boat a duplicate to thirty seconds at a monster truck rally, you have finally tweaked your engine to its cherry spot.

The Fourth of July celebrations (most often starting the first of June) are always difficult to pinpoint. No one is ever certain if the neighbor a few docks down has a lawnmower that they’ve set to backfire just to spice up the weekly routine, is testing out a few homemade cherry bombs before the big event, or lost a hand of Mississippi Stud and is taking it out on the nearest beer cans in quick succession with whatever happened to be closest and loaded.

English: Two Pot-bellied pigs (Sus domesticus)...

Finding yourself inundated with BBQ shacks, smoke-filled and grease-splattered, will leave you with an experience that is both calorically impossible to work off until next spring and addictive enough to become habitual. I show absolutely no judgment on my face when waltzing the isles of the local Wal-Mart, as I know if I lived next to Bubba’s Pig Patio all year round, my photo would doubtless be included in one of the mass emails of the monthly Wallyworld Wonders.

Sunset white lake 2006

Watching the sun sink below the silky warm ripples of a quieting lake with a sweating glass of  highly-herbed gin, bitter quinine-spiked tonic water, and a puckeringly tart wedge of lime will leave you breathless and filled with childlike wonder as the fireflies flicker in the blades of freshly mown grass and beneath the eves of sharp, sappy pine boughs.

The end of the summer comes at the same frightening speed as one of the occasional stray bullets that whiz past the side of the house, leaving a fresh graze on an old paint job. But the open wound soon becomes just another tale to reminisce during Christmas break when you’re outside lacing bushes with a netting of twinkling lights and setting up a crèche that puts you in a forgiving mood.

Okay, I’m kidding about the crèche. We don’t actually have one, but most folks around the lake are so excited for the Christmas season to start, there’s barely a day between taking down the red, white and blue bunting before the nailing of rain gutter icicles begin.

Leaving the lake house is usually fraught with my kids’ somber faces and grumpy dispositions. My folks, on the other hand, have a slight spring in their step and find it difficult to hold back their gleeful anticipation, knowing that within days, frat boys will disappear, no longer leaping from the rooftops of neighboring boathouses into the water, rap music will cease being the echoing film score to each meal eaten outside, and shortly the lake will be filled with nothing more than old bass boats drifting quietly along the shorelines. Ah, bliss.

We love it.

We hate it.

The lake house.

~Shelley

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

 

Pitchforks to fancy forks

Farm to table. It sounds so easy, so simple, so … no brainer, right? You farm your food, pick it, eat it.

Tah dah!

Except anyone who farms realizes there might be a few whoopsy-poos that can happen somewhere between dirt and dinner.

Yet surprisingly, you can’t turn around these days without bumping into somebody who is  ripe with success, making headlines in the food world.  Either they have a forthcoming book all about the way they turned a small third-world village into a new sustainable enterprise with nothing more than a tractor made from Legos, or they’ve opened five new restaurants which are run on recycled potato skins and leftover lemon rinds. I’ve even stayed in a hotel that stocked toilet paper made from sheep poo pellets.

I would love to be one of these people.

I am not.

James Shikwati, Kenyan economist, at the TEDGl...

So, until I come up with an ingenious way to run a dairy farm on methane gas, or discover an unknown symbiotic relationship between worms and non-recyclable plastic, I can only support the people who do find jaw-dropping ways to make the news and soon show up on stage at a TED talk.

One of those ways is to attend a farm dinner.

Farm dinners, also known as meals in the meadow, pitchfork to plate, farm to fork, or cowpie to peach pie (only kidding), are a growing trend inspired by the healthy locavore movement. Usually a local chef lends his name and talents to the community’s neighboring food producers and creates a memorable multicourse meal in a farmer’s barn, a field among the livestock, on the beach beside the roaring surf, or in the vineyards between the chardonnay and the pinot noir.

Oftentimes, diners get a farm tour and listen to the chef and farmers chatter about what Bessie had for dinner last night in the barn just before slaughtering time. They might even throw in her final words, surely a message of thanks to the farmers for a true quality of life experience. It was probably something like, “Moo,” but it might have been, “Mooove that knife. It’s too close to my throat.”

We’ll never know.

I actually went to my first farm dinner last night. It was held at the historic Virginia estate called Morven: a property with a pedigree that likely links back to biblical times when Moses was trying to rent a summer home to get out from under the skin-shriveling heat of the dessert. Okay, I totally made that last bit up, but click on the property link and make yourself a large pot of tea. There’s a bucketload to learn about the estate.

The dinner was held in support of the Charlottesville City Schoolyard Garden program that uses a garden-based curriculum to help promote health awareness, scholastic success, and neighborhood involvement. Math? Measure and chart plant growth. Science? Understand and view firsthand what chlorophyll is all about. Music? Tomatoes are said to be partial to Handel and The Rolling Stones. (I’m joking. They hate Handel.)

Chef Gay Beery of A Pimento put out a luscious spread for 90 + diners under the setting sun on an old Virginia farm, using food from at least five surrounding farms and one school garden.

Thomas Jefferson was no doubt smiling in his grave as folks sipped wines from the soil he’d first planted vines in shortly before the Revolutionary War.

The food, the farm and the fruit of the vines created a spectacular evening—one I think everyone should be able to take part in.

Go ahead. Look it up. Google farm to table and see what pops up in your neighborhood. Then make a reservation and see what happens. Shortly afterward you may find yourself:

-eating more vegetables

-buying local food

-starting your own garden

-heading up a community veggie patch

-solving world hunger

-writing a book about it

-giving a TED talk

Even if you only make it halfway down that list of exceptional accomplishments, you have done yourself and many others a great deed.

Now go forth. Grow. Eat green. Be green.

Get a farmer’s tan.

~Shelley

 

PS If you’re searching for seeds (from arugula to zucchini and everything in between), I’m recommending a company that not only has a worthy mission creed but a wonderful moral code. Give The Mauro Seed Company a looksee.

Their motto? Grow One, Give One. I’m impressed. Maybe you will be too.

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

 

Driving me mad

I have a cranky back. I also have a daughter who is just learning how to drive. Can anyone else see how this is a combination that should generally be avoided? Yet, if I allow my husband to teach her to drive, there will be two people in the family whom I deem uninsurable.

As we sit in the boxy aluminum can hurdling down the local highway to and from town, I hear myself repeating the same phrase, only in varying degrees of pitch: “Stay in your lane.” Place an exclamation point after it, emphasize any of the four words, or put the whole thing in caps, and I’m sure the picture will become increasingly clear.

“I am in my lane,” is the usual response.

“Yes, you are, but you’re also in three others, and I can’t begin to understand the physics of how that can be, but let’s just stick with the lesson on courtesy for right now.”

The International Space Station is featured in...

This budding driver is a girl who understands all the functioning components of the International Space Station and squirrels away ideas on how to improve them, but somehow believes that if she says, “Whoa,” to the car, it will do her bidding.

“Hear the kathunk, kathunk, kathunk sounds beneath us?” I point out to her. “That’s called driving by Braille. We highly discourage people from doing that.”

“But isn’t that discriminating against the visually impaired?”

“Yep, in favor of supporting the continuance of life. Blind folks are not allowed to drive. And you are not allowed to use this vehicle like it’s a bumper car. Now pay attention and stay in your lane.”

I'm okay, you're... well, maybe not

I’m okay, you’re… well, maybe not (Photo credit: pdxjmorris)

Yes, it’s important for teens to learn how to drive. It fits nicely into the ‘teach them independence’ category. Yet I did not appreciate the length of time it takes to teach this skill. And I’ve come to realize that not all people make good teachers. In fact, I’m positive there will be no gift certificate to Barnes & Noble or the local teacher supply store as a thank you token at the end of this 45 hour teaching term. Chances are, if my daughter springs for anything, it would be a book with a message from the 99ȼ bin in Target, like Top 10 Ways to Avoid Your Intervention, or a tissue wrapped once-used unicorn soap from a fourth grade princess party. I’m not expecting much, because I really don’t deserve it.

I’m mostly grateful that my husband is not around when I’m in the passenger seat,

Justin Bieber at the Sentul International Conv...

Justin Bieber at the Sentul International Convention Center in West Java, Indonesia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

rolling my eyes and sighing with more emphasis than a thirteen-year old girl gazing at a Justin Bieber poster when I have to repeatedly bark out the phrase, “Watch your speed!”  This is because I’m forever chastising him for losing his temper with the kids at finding shoes on the stairs or sweatshirts strewn about. I wouldn’t blame him one bit for locking me out of the house the next time I utter the words, “Learning is layering, honey.”

Shamefully, I’ve become more than adept at creating believable excuses for why we can’t switch seats on any particular day. The better ones are:

  • We have to be there in twenty minutes and I don’t want you pressured by time. It’s an unnecessary stress. In fact, if we get there with time to spare, I’ll buy you a smoothie.
  • I can see that school has totally wiped you out this afternoon. Why don’t you put the seat back, close your eyes and I’ll play some Zen pan flute music from Pandora?

The worst ones are:

  • I took your driver’s permit inside to the kitchen to help scrape the frost off the freezer door and forgot to bring it back into the car with me. Sorry, it’s the law.
  • There’s something funky going on with the car’s alignment, so I’m going to run a few steering wheel tests on the way. Next time, okay?
Virginia's Capitol

Virginia’s Capitol (Photo credit: Thruhike98)

  • The Department of Transportation has just issued a Federal mandate announcing that no one under the age of 21 should drive today. They’re collecting safety data for some new research. Ah, the government. My hands are tied.

Maybe you’re shaking your head at my unforgivable deception. Maybe you’re jotting down notes for when it’s your turn. It doesn’t matter. I’m not terribly proud.

My only excuse is that it’s increasingly difficult to think clearly and rationally when so much of you is clenched and remains that way for a duration longer than the length of a sneeze. Our bodies are not meant for that kind of continuous trauma. Surely this is all a result of blood circulation failure to the brain.

1955 Virginia License Plate 1 of 2 Original an...

(Photo credit: bsabarnowl)

In the end, she’ll get her license, I’m fairly certain. And in the meantime, I have been reconnected with many of my dead relatives, who keep making pop-up appearances, smiling and open-armed, usually at busy intersections. Maybe it’s me, announcing my imminent arrival, as I’ve come to make a habit of shouting, “OH MY GOD, WE’RE GOING TO DIE!”

whoa

(Photo credit: Kimli)

Or maybe they’re just there as a gentle reminder, telling everyone else to Stay In Your Lane, so that won’t happen.

~Shelley

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

Sheep; The long and short of shearing.

His Secretary

Well, it’s near the end of April. And you all know what that means: Administrative Professional’s Day. It used to be called Secretary’s Day.

I’ll tell you what else happens during April. Sheep shearing. It used to be called Make Your Farm Animals Hate You Day, but that was a lot to fit into the little calendar squares, so it was changed.

Now guess what else has changed? The way my sheep look at me.

Peter, our Welshman sheep shearer, gave me fair warning. But I didn’t listen to him. I was too busy snapping over 300 photos of what was happening to Toot & Puddle, our wide-eyed woolly lambs.

It took Peter 3 minutes and 29 seconds to undress each shaggy form, an eternity in sheep shearing standards, but these fellahs were the first two of his season. He normally whips them out a mutton a minute.

It wasn’t until I scanned through all the uploaded photos on my computer that I realized what really took place, what Peter attempted to communicate.

To our sheep, I was provider of food, water, shelter and a good nightly noggin scratch. The perfect shepherdess. After Peter had them spread, splayed and speechless, trust left their eyes as the fleece fell away. They stumbled back to the meadow, not recognizing each other nor understanding why I stood three feet away and did nothing but document the entire assault.

Peter said I’d likely never catch them again, that they have a memory like an elephant, and I think we all have seen how well most elephants remember our birthdays.

I’ve never seen sheep suffer from depression before, and for two weeks following what I’m betting they’re now considering the attack, I have been subtly shunned from their little flock. Hearing sheep sigh can kill you, just a little bit each day.

If you have never witnessed a shearing, I encourage you to pack a picnic and send out feelers to find out where you might be able to watch such an event. As displeased as my two little fellows were over the sordid ordeal, I think it was more than amazing and expect the pair of them will come to their senses in a few short weeks when the temperatures soar and the shade is nothing more than a variance in ground color.

Seeing a sheep get placed into what farmers refer to as the chair hold will make small children fall into fits of giggles and most adults sympathize with what it must feel like to have four stomachs and all of them stuffed right after a Thanksgiving dinner. It’s just … unnatural.

As soon as Peter had one of the guys in position, it was easy to see the animal register a few things in double quick time.

Not only was he unnerved and unprotected, but he also found out he was … unendowed. He looked at his barn mate and belched out a collection of sounds that I translated to, “I knew something didn’t feel right down there.”

He then turned to me with a look that said, “I’m assuming this was another one of your ideas?”

They must have thought I was hiding behind the camera, refusing to make eye contact or take ownership of what they clearly believed needed nothing short of an apology in triplicate, if not recompense.

After the Barber of Shearville left, I spent the next couple of weeks keeping tabs on the woebegone woolies. They either stood, with heads bent, barely touching each other’s foreheads, or sleeping their sorrows away in the barn.

Maybe it was their bulk that gave them bounce and vitality, their commanding identity. It appears I have stripped them of their Superman suits and revealed a couple of Clark Kents.  They are not impressed and want their capes back.

It’s a good thing their clumsy hooves cannot manage Peter’s shaving gear, for given the opportunity and shifty glint in their eyes, I’d not be surprised if they’d attempt to wrestle me into a chair hold and give me the exact hairstyle of who they really see me as …

LEX LUTHOR

Luthor in Superman: The Animated Series

Luthor in Superman: The Animated Series (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

 

A Most Willing Bird

Pencils

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

It makes a big difference.

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

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

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

CAA07880a

(Photo credit: jerryoldenettel)

Is this how I should sound?

Wait, I’ll try again.

Was that one clear?

Hold on, I’ll give it another go.

Practice makes perfect?

I’m so up for the challenge.

Writing is rewriting. And whippoorwilling is being willing.

Headstone A very old and unusual headstone in ...

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

a eulogy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A whipper-what?”

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

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

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

rooster Magyar: kakas

Every night.

And every morning.

For the next five years.

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

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

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

Bugel player line art drawing

My husband: “Wha? What was that?”

Me: “Just the whippoorwill. No worries.”

My husband: “Grrrr …” Zzzz …

Shortly thereafter it was:

My husband: “Huh? What was that?”

Me: “The whippoorwill. Go to sleep.”

My husband: “Fat chance …” Zzzz …

And finally:

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

Me: “It’s the whippoorwill.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “You didn’t!”

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

Me: “You tell ‘em, honey.”

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

Flyboys & Farmhands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

plane's manuva:Aileron Roll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday. “Farmer tans are sexy, sweetheart.”

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

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

ATC wants quick and informative. I like descriptive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And more forgiving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger and out.

Ten-four, good buddy.

Wilco.

~Shelley

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

Fake, Folly or For Real?

For all my talk these last couple of weeks about the wicked wind and how it’s left my brain addled from its overzealous quest to uproot any unnecessary trees from the mountaintop, personal safety has never been an issue. As long as we stay indoors. In fact, I sometimes even get a little smug about it.

The wolf blows down the straw house in a 1904 ...

Picture the three little pigs and the big bad wolf. Look down the line from pig to pig until you see the porcine smile that I’ve come to perfect. It’s the last guy in the row. I’ve no snub-tipped turned up snout or floppy ears to frame my face. The thing we share in common—the thing that spreads the smirk of self-congratulations over our features—is that we both live in a pile of organized rubble.

Pig number three was, if you recall, a fairly suave fellow who chose to invest in the safety of his future. I’m not so sure we could say our choice to build the bastion we live in was so much a conscious one as it was one of opportunity. When we first investigated the land we hoped to build on, we all noticed the abundance of “unforgiving soil.” Using our available resources, building a stone house from the bedrock it would perch on seemed a very green thing to do, plus any locals we ran into who knew of our desire to build up here advised us to “build a brick sh*t house if we hoped to keep it standing.” Sound advice.

Well, when all was said and done, there were a few piles of leftover materials that I refused to have carted away. The look I received from most of the cleanup crew was akin to that when I tried to train my dog to sing in Spanish. Just a slight cocking of the head. 

“You sure you wanna have all them there rocks pilin’ up round the place? You got youngins and them piles is like puttin’ up a big ol’ welcome sign for a mess a snakes. What you tryin’ to build up here—Gibraltar?” (Insert snort here.)

I smiled, knowing that whatever I said would never sound sensible enough. “I’m sure we’ll figure out what to do with the rocks.”

“Rocks? Them’s no rocks, them’s boulders.”

I nodded and watched all the trucks slowly leave with everything except them boulders.

Then for the next six months I heard my husband make little tutting noises every time we passed by the piles or someone happened to mention them, wondering what they were for.

For the next year after that, I didn’t exactly see any snakes, but I sure felt them writhe around in my stomach when trying to hatch a believable plan for their future.

Landscapers secretly gave me the ‘crazy lady’ label and would turn to my husband to make sure he knew that if we expected their company to move the stones anywhere on the property, it would cost the equivalent of a new section for International Space Station.

Deutsch: Stonehenge, Großbritannien English: S...

In truth, my husband knew what I wanted to do with them. He’d spent enough time with me in the UK to realize any trip to his homeland would be structured around as many stone circles as I could manage to visit.

Yes, I’m thoroughly besotted with them, mesmerized beyond any other great wonder of the world. Put me next to the Sphinx, Chichen Itza, or the London sewerage system’s original Abbey Mills pumping station and I can’t help but wish I was standing instead amid the fragmented remains of a few jagged rocks specifically placed for a purpose no one can be quite certain of today.

Sure the other grand structures are jaw dropping and eye popping, but they’ve all been figured out. Their functions were described in great details by wall carvings, cave paintings and city architectural plans filed in drawers labeled possible cures for cholera. Stone circles are a planetary puzzle. It’s almost as if every culture that ever built one of them tossed the instruction pamphlets away after a couple of years during spring cleaning because to them it was totally obvious what the formations were for.

Cover of "The Lorax (Classic Seuss)"

One day, this conundrum that’s left so many folks either duplicating them in their back garden, or scratching the sides of their heads contemplating their purpose, will be solved by some young whippersnapper. He’ll make the grand revelation that actually these circles were simply each community’s recycling center, or chain coffee shop, or that here was the village’s last Truffula tree. Maybe it was simply a grand distraction from whatever people were not supposed to see. Who knows?

The things that are clear to me can fit into a tidy little list of Thing One and Thing Two.

  1. I have to do something similar, create my own Stonehenge—albeit on a very very small scale because even though NASA’s budget is now akin to my monthly grocery bill, I still cannot afford some grand landscaping extravaganza.
  2. The need to make some sort of stone arrangement is so strong and unexplainable it falls into the realm of curious. I can’t not do it.

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And maybe the architects of those ancient communities felt the same way. It’s a little like Alice in Wonderland once she fell down the rabbit hole. With or without the Drink me label, she’d probably have done it anyway. It was obvious and it needed to be done. Or just like the habit to both fish and foul the Thames, there’d be a giant “Aha” moment coming to somebody eventually. Until then, we’ll all just wait and make pretty stone gardens, hoping someone will discover the instruction pamphlet.

~Shelley

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

 

Lights, Camera … Wait. Where are the lights?

Candles Flame in the Wind by Photos8.com

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

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

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

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

When I Look in Your Eyes

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

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

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

Downton Abbey

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

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

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

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

“In the apothecary chest,” I call back.

This goes on and on and on.

“Which drawer?”

“I can’t remember.”

I wait for it …

“WHAT?? WHICH DRAWER, MOM?”

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

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

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

roasting a marshmallow

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

Idiot, idiot, idiot.

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

Less than Blown Away

One day I’m planning to have a welcome sign painted and sprawled on a thick arched board between two great posts on either side of the driveway, somewhere about two thirds up the mountain. At first, I thought it would have the name of our house, all majestic and proud. I ditched that idea after about a year of living up here. People who reached the front door were usually either too breathless or concerned about the health of their car’s engine to be enamored with a pretentious house announcement.

Then I toyed with the idea that something encouraging would be appropriate. Like, Don’t give up now! You’re almost there! Or We’ve got cookies!

English: Funny Road Sign from New Zealand, &qu...

I ended up posting a speed limit sign—at one of the most dangerous curves. The fact that it says 55 mph is usually enough to crack the tension of any new delivery man or technician who has to scale the driveway in a bulky, workhorse truck. Some make a gallant effort, but realize anything beyond 17 will have them losing a lug nut.

So now, I’ve made the decision that I’ll simply give a clear statement and folks can take it as they want. Sadly, it’s not mine, but rather a quote from Catherine the Great, yet I figure if anyone points this out, I’ll confess I ran out of room or paint or both.

The new entrance sign will say, A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination, or a headache.

From his vantage point high above the earth in...

Directly over our house Jan. thru March.

Most definitions of “wind” I find too tame to adequately represent that which passes over the land up here. Some say “moving air”, others “a current blowing from a particular direction”. I think Wikipedia has it closest with their, “the flow of gases on a large scale”, or “the bulk movement of air”.

It’s challenging, when one is not raised in the Dust Bowl’s Great Plains, or on Neptune, to get used to living in a house that, for the better part of three months during winter, creates nerve-racking unease. The sounds are howling and shrill, at times something of such biblical force I’m often peering outside for signs of a burning bush.

A Dust Bowl storm approaches Stratford, Texas ...

Inundated with wind advisories during this time period, I’m left wondering—usually as I’m hunting for stray lawn chairs, flower boxes or small children that have gone missing down the hillsides—just how possible it would be to harness this orchestra of sounds for the usage of our house.

If outfitted with the right equipment, could I make enough to run the washing machine, or power the computers, maybe even the seven alarm clocks needed to rouse my daughter from the four or five hours of slumped unconsciousness she allows herself each night? No, maybe that last one is asking too much.

I know that wind energy seems like a really great idea, a no brainer when presented with many of the pros:

  • it’s free
  • permanent
  • doesn’t generate pollution
  • readily available most anywhere in the world

Yet I read about community concerns with it as well:

  • harm to birds
  • unsightly
  • possible noise pollution
  • attracts lightening
  • reliability

The most amazing thing is following the clever brains in this industry and discovering how scientists around the globe are trying to capitalize on the pros and eliminate the cons.

Supporting this industry and furthering design work resonates with the hippie crack granola/save the lesbian whales/make kids work in air-conditioned sweatshops kind of green thinker I’m trying to be. Of course, no matter how much wind we’d be able to harness and contribute to the energy grid, I will still not be able to:

Suess Landing at Universal Studios' Islands of...

1.)   Grow trees that do not look like they belong in a Dr. Seuss book.

2.)   Light a birthday cake outside January through March.

3.)  Reconfigure my patio furniture as it’s all nailed down.

4.)   Un-tether the sheep.

Of course, I do receive the ability to fly a kite 24/7, a soundtrack for throwing a great Halloween dinner, and free dermabrasion.

With all that in mind, I leave you with this dictum.

Tis an ill wind that blows nobody good, but a silent wind that let’s everybody get a few hours of uninterrupted shuteye.

(And here’s a little wind humor)

~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).

 

Food Fight

Perhaps it’s the same in your house, but come 7:22 a.m., two minutes past broadcasted departure time Monday thru Friday, my kitchen is ablaze with a mad panic rush of activity. Plastic tubs are flying from cupboard to counter. The cat shrieks from the pantry, and a voice bellows, “Move, Smudge!” from behind the door. The fridge door flies open with a force that suggests three times the power a 98 pound body can produce.

I make a mental note to check the hinges.

The dog, sensing the frantic energy, joins in at fevered pitch, snatching at swatches of loose clothing and dangling school bag straps. Someone shouts at the poor thing to Stay!as we fly out the front door and into the car, late and harried.

Given up

I rip out of the driveway, spraying gravel in a wide arc behind me and start the eye darting dance that is both necessary and routine when coming down the mountain. Whether deer, possum, raccoon, or hippo, they all know precisely when it is that we are in need of a clear runway, and usually choose to play chicken at that moment. If we are truly ill-fated, a posse of turkeys will band themselves together as if bowling pins waiting for the strike. They stare at my car, wild-eyed and frozen, a bowling ball of unprecedented proportions hurling toward them.

A flock of Eastern Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gal...

Turning onto the road and having woken half the surrounding hillside with a blaring horn of warning while pitching lightning fast down the mountain, I take a deep breath and ask, “What did you both pack for lunch?”

“Two Cliff bars and a Clementine,” is one response. “Water and a cheese stick,” is the other. The breath I’d inhaled rushes from my lungs, deflating my body and any hope I’d had for a stress-free day.

“What did you both have for breakfast?” I ask, a tiny bit of optimism pinned to their answers.

The responses, “I didn’t have time,” and “I wasn’t hungry,” quickly pierce that balloon.

The teenage stomach is one I can no longer fathom or recall. I am in a state of bewilderment when one begins to realize that this is the new normal. There is no going back. Now in charge of only one of their three (supposed) meals, I am forced to think strategically under pressure.

Flight Director Gene Kranz

Just like Gene Kranz when he gathered all the available engineers of NASA around a table and dumped a box of plastic hosing paraphernalia before them, telling them they needed to fit a large square through a small circle, I too, must pilfer through the items in my kitchen in order to squish a day’s worth of nutrition into a fork-sized bite to fit into a stomach that may or may not exist. When will they make a pill for this?!

Sound childhood nutrition is an obsession of mine—a cause I study, support and fight for. Now it’s also my sleep disorder.

Maybe I let the pendulum swing too far in my attempts to create children who strut out of the house each morning armed with a jar of kimchi, a cookie made entirely of quinoa and powdered stevia, and a sword to cut down any posters displaying golden arches or a stalk of corn.

English: Everlasting Gobstoppers candy made by...

I probably deserve it. In fact, chances are, my son will end up taking a position as an executive for Monsanto, tracking down and suing farmers for saving apple seeds from their lunch sacks, and my daughter will create the first workable prototype for Willy Wonka’s three course meal in a stick of sugar free gum. She’ll probably even get Congress to qualify it as a vegetable for school children because it has essence of carrot as one of its ingredients.

Dinner counts for a lot up here. The Family Meal is still important. We talk politics, debate religion and generally ignore anyone sliding food to the dog.

My hope is that one day, forty years from now, when my children are finally old (read wise) enough to have offspring of their own, my grandchildren will come to sit on my lap when visiting me at the Metamucil Relaxative Retirement Village, point to my Jell-O and say, “What is that? I’ve never seen that stuff before.”

I will smile and drool happily.

~Shelley

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

 

Pipers On Sale, Aisle Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bagpipes.

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

Wheezing up our driveway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The waterworks. Except it doesn’t.

Sherpas in Nepal

Just about everybody who’s visited our house remembers at least three things:

#1. Book a Sherpa if they plan to return. Yes, it’s a little pricey, but GPS will land you at Huckabee Goober’s Moonshine Mill and Pit Bull Factory. Plus the Sherpas really need the work out here in the Blue Ridge. Most hikers are way too self-reliant these days.

#2. If you mention anyone in the public domain, alive or recently deceased, you will discover Sir Sackier (aka English hubby) has either gone to school with them, or shared a meal in a pub. It is amazing how many people in the world have gone to the City of London. Seriously. Google everyone.

#3. A plumber was buried beneath our house. Dead first, of course, or certainly soon thereafter. No one can last … what … six years since we moved in? Yeah, surely he’s dead now.

Phil the Plumber

Phil the Plumber (Photo credit: Badly Drawn Dad)

All right, we don’t exactly have proof.

Yet.

But if it is true, then chances are the guy came to an early demise and is now taking his wrath out on the lowly inhabitants of his prior workplace. Not one month passes without the excitement of some type of waterworks calamity. Pipes burst, the well runs dry, the water turns to sludge and comes out of the faucets reeking of the sulphuric gasses of hell. It’s quite possible we’ve built our home on top of a volcano. Or the house of Beelzebub. And he wants his front door back. Since neither fully explains our problems, we’re back to square one with the dead plumber.

It used to be, in times of yore, that a human was sacrificed in the construction phase of a building. They were meant to be the future guardians, the spiritual sentinels of the structure. Criminals placed in every posthole, drunkards dumped in boundary ditches, unlucky short straws clutched between phallangeal bones boxed in beneath door frames. Sadly, more often than not, this human was a child.

Knowing this, Sir Sackier and I have developed two theories. He thinks somewhere between framing and dry walling, some unlucky bloke, up to his chin in the miles of pipe length laid for this house, lost his balance, thunked his head and passed out. Noted as missing from his bar stool that night, he was sadly plastered up and around without discovery the next day.

I don’t buy it. Understanding Sir Sackier’s fondness for his history in Albion,  and desiring to bring some of the more purposeful of ancient rites here to the Old Dominion—in particular one that will protect his fortress, my theory makes much more sense.

I believe as the framing was in its final stages, Sir Sackier was having a congenial chat with some of the fellas during a lunch break and maybe passed on the old tales of foundation sacrifices. Of course they were threaded lyrically between lectures of how America doesn’t know how to build houses, “because only when you can see houses that are considered young at 400 years are you going to find solid craftsmanship!”

English: A crumbling farm building in Watlington.

This aside, maybe one of the workman took him seriously—as if interpreting some sort of “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” message. The only other problem was the other interpreting necessary when speaking with him. Sir Sackier doesn’t speak English. He speaks proper English. And not too many people are still familiar with that kind of lingo any longer.

Quite possibly, he might have thrown out a, “So if we’re going to do this thing by the book, we’ll need to find someone who still rides a toy motor scooter,” NOT someone who works for Rotor Rooter.

Not too difficult if you’re reading it, but full of potential trip ups if you’re hearing it and you’ve not taken any community college course credits for Proper English as a Second Language. It’s a bit like the old verse, “You say tomato, I say tomato …” It doesn’t make much sense when you’re reading it. His dilemma was the reverse.

And there you have it. I think it was accidentallydone on purpose. And now we’re cursed.

The Wicked Witch of the East as pictured in Th...

The only other small factor refusing to be overlooked is that it’s not just this house that has been plagued by plumbing potholes. It’s been all of them. Which means somewhere during the last twenty years of moving houses, a plumber died in the basement and was packed up by a moving company and we’ve been carrying around dead plumber bones for the last two decades.

Bones

I wouldn’t be surprised. And I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he’d gone to the City of London.

~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).

Safehouse, or Madhouse?

Cows in the Mist

Image via Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

Image via Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

Image via Wikipedia

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

 

A countdown of sorts

Mayan Exhibit

Mayan Exhibit (Photo credit: Chasqui (Luis Tamayo))

According to my daughter, and several dead Mayas, this may be my last chance to get a year’s worth of blogging in before it all ends. Apparently, 2012 is either going to finish with a spiritual transformation or the apocalypse. This makes it a teensy bit difficult to plan as I am steadfastly against most forms of change to begin with. Both require an element of preparation, and truth be told, I cannot fit one more thing into my schedule as it is. If some sort of sacred conversion is about to take place, it’ll probably have to manage without my knowing or assistance. And if it ends up that our planet has been slated for destruction because of some hyperspatial express route, then who cares if I’m wearing clean underwear or not, or any underwear for that matter.

What does matter are the number of single malt scotches I have within reach on my pantry shelves when the end is nigh. As the sickle of Death makes a clean slice through my veins, the only prayer in my head is one that beseeches all deities to grant my last request: the one that appeals for a full dram or two to be coursing through said veins at the moment He cleaves. I’ll leave in peace—or in pieces as it may be, but content nonetheless.

One year, I agreed. I’ll blog for a year. How painful can it be to conjure up words to describe weekly life a thousand feet up in a verdant Virginia? Except that it is. The excruciating parts are the ones where you reread about your life and the many asinine adventures you throw yourself into. Therapeutic, you say? Hogwash, I answer. I’m private. I’m truculent. And defiantly deaf. Except … I’ll do anything for a bottle not already present in my pantry. A good old fashioned bribe. Okay, and maybe the children. For the good of the children. And don’t forget world peace. I suppose I’d feel obligated.

Yes, to accept that for the small price of one measly year I’ll see an increase in my stock, adolescent utopia and a little world peace, I say … welcome to a piece of my world.

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).