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

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

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

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Don’t Rock the Boat (or Car or Truck)

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

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

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

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

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

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Their least favorite thing to do?

GO TO THE DMV.

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

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

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

My dad used to work there.

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

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

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

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

Ooh, gorgeous earrings.

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

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

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

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

Again, subtlety and canniness is crucial for success.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fill these out CORRECTLY.

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

I’ve got spinach in my teeth.

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

~Shelley

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.