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.

 

Life is like a Box of Chocolates: Sealed, Stolen, & Seeing the Countryside without You

A bazillion years ago—let’s call it seven—I went on a trip to the United Kingdom, crisscrossing the country to view university after university, accompanying my then seventeen-year-old daughter as she scoped out her next big chunk of education.

The recollection of big cities and ancient villages have long been swallowed by the fuzziness of time and now reside in my head the same way one retains precise memories of a colonoscopy. And although I can appreciate the anesthetic delights of anterograde amnesia for some experiences in life, the one long-cached, souvenir stilled lodged firmly in my hippocampus is that of stumbling across a tiny shop on the high street of Oxford.

Hotel Chocolat.

It’s not a hotel, although I’d have no issues with setting up camp in a corner on the floor if I should accidentally get locked in after hours. Rather it’s a luxury chain of the ultimate chocolate shopping experience.

There is no trickery involved in drawing customers off the cobblestoned streets—just an open door, where the aromas of ground and sweetened cocoa beans snake invisibly around your wrists and appear beneath your nose, tugging you inside and fastening the lock behind you.

When I first saw the shelves lined invitingly with countless bars and baskets filled with creamy brown confectionery, I remember turning to my daughter and saying, This is where I’d liked to be buried, please.truffles

In keeping with the traditional facial expressions of young adults, I was immediately silenced with a practiced and perfected eyeroll.

We silently moved about the shop, but apparently with each new peak into the burgeoning baskets and careful scanning of each shelf, Chloe finally turned to me and sighed.

What? Her gaze was stern, her tone was clipped. Why do you keep clucking your tongue, Mother?

I hadn’t realized I was, but it was likely true.

I just don’t understand why they’ve chosen to mash all the extra bits into the chocolate, I’d said. The chocolate looks perfect on its own. It doesn’t need fruits and nuts or brownies and gingerbread in it. You can’t improve upon perfection.

It was then that she held out a square box with six small globes within it.

Oh yeah? Are you telling me that you will not put aside your ridiculous rule for this?

In her hand was milk and dark chocolate, swirled together in an eddying ripple, apparently each orb pillow-casing a teaspoon of whisky.

My knees weakened a tiny bit as I envisioned what two of the dreamiest comestibles would taste like as clearly betrothed companions.

I shook my head with fixed determination.

Too expensive, I said as an excuse, when what I was thinking was, Surely disappointing.

Christmas came a month later, and the gift of truffles filled with single malt scotch came from the outstretched arms of Chloe, smugly determined to win the category of Best Gift Ever.

I was elated. Excited. Curious. And worried.

I put them in the refrigerator for safe keeping.

For six- and one-half years.

I couldn’t bring myself to try them. Too expensive, surely disappointing.

I know I’d frustrated her, as I recall a few years after that holiday, I’d received a beautiful box of chocolates in the mail. Chocolates all filled with other things other than more chocolate.

box celebration chocolates decoration

 

I put the box aside, deflated. But Chloe simply texted the sender and said, Obviously, you do not know my mother. Your lovely gift will be mothballed in cold storage indefinitely. But thank you, nonetheless.

She then proceeded to eat them on my behalf.

Last month, I traveled by train again across the UK. To my utter delight, the port of origin held a Hotel Chocolat shop. I spent a few harried minutes and far too precious pennies on a doppelganger box of whisky-filled truffles, an identical box that not four months earlier–as I cleaned out the fridge to move houses–finally found its way out of the back of the fridge and regrettably into the waste basket.

Thrilled with the chance to redeem my unappreciative behavior, I placed my pungent package on a shelf above my bunk and dreamed of the soon-to-receive declarations from family that I had at last lost my persnickety fallibility.

The next morning, I promptly exited the train, mindlessly leaving that little package filled with chocolate and whisky, and the expensive opportunity to salvage some respect.

I’d also left my reading glasses. Another thing I’d rebuffed for years.

It did not occur to me that I’d left these things until I began rooting around for an aid with map reading.

My heart raced, followed quickly by my feet. Ten minutes had passed since I’d exited the train, and dashing back out onto the platform, I saw nothing but Scotch mist.

The train was gone.

With panicked flapping limbs and the alarm of a woman who left her baby in a taxi, I managed to locate and communicate my loss to a white-haired train attendant whose Scottish dialect was as thick as the slabs of solid chocolate I would have preferred to have purchased in the sweet shop.

Fifteen minutes later, the elderly man returned, a broad smile stretching the road map of wrinkles across his face. He handed me my reading glasses.

I peered at him. Did you happen to find the chocolate? The whisky-filled truffles?

Oh aye, he stated grimly, but all edibles are immediately binned if left behind. That’s the policy. But if ye want my opinion, lassie, yer far better off wi’out them, as nothing foreign but yer lips should touch a single malt scotch. Any addition is like two trains colliding into a crash.

He looked at me sternly and pointed at my glasses. Perhaps use your wee spectacles before making such a purchase next time. After all, ye canna improve upon perfection. Some things are just more sacred when separate.

blur book book pages close up

~Shelley

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

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

Booze, Britain, & Maybe Someone’s Bride

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fab. Back to work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As did their liver.

Of course, there was recommended show etiquette.

Spit, don’t swallow.

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

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

Gamble as you may.

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

Our ingredients are of the utmost importance.

We pride ourselves on those ingredients being local.

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

PLEASE JUST COME TASTE OUR WHISKIES!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

My favorite customer …

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

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

 

 

 

 

Reshaping Life Goals with a Reciprocating Saw

We’re occasionally faced with asking ourselves the question: What is the definition of home?

The answer I usually provide is: Wherever my collection of scotch resides.

But in truth, as we all know, it is more than that.

It’s: Wherever my collection of scotch and Glencairn glasses resides.

Because really, drinking straight from the bottle is just barbaric.

If I were forced to expand upon that description though, I would add that my furfaces—the hodgepodge of bewhiskered, keen of eyesight, and sharp of teeth domesticated companions—would, with great certainty, be found sprawled on some floor. Usually right beneath a bottle of whisky I’m trying to reach.

Also, my books. They would need to be included within that sphere. As books are the most practical of possessions. They educate, entertain, act as trivet and coaster, and in a desperate pinch, garden trowel.

And as most people could attest, one’s home often comes with an eclectic set of quirks—uniquely perplexing at first, but ultimately leaving one resigned to its presence.

When you first move into a freshly built home—one that comes with the architect’s telephone number temporarily affixed to a wall in each room for easy access to explain what this button does or to report this doohickey still doesn’t work, one also hopes that it comes equipped with a full staff to fix those pesky particulars.

When one moves into an older home, say a dwelling that has seen the birth and death cycle of a few families, one should expect the house will have accumulated a few peculiarities that no architect can explain away, and no butler can restore. It’s also likely the old house will have accumulated a dead relative or two who one of the previous families neglected to take with them.

I’m fairly sure I’ve got one of those.

And it’s no surprise to me, as I am used to the presence of old dead relatives and long ago acquiesced to the idea that my family was stocked with deceased witches, soothsayers, crystal gazers, and astrologists. Women who had a habit of making strange announcements suggesting you were just as weird as they, and that one day you’d all gather at some great Wiccan bonfire in the afterlife.

Until then, they would have to suffice with pestering you during your current one.

Seriously, yesterday I had a thirty minute conversation with a flickering light bulb.

Photo by Nayara Dinato on Pexels.com

I’ve called in an electrician, but I’ve done that before and not been surprised when the resulting diagnosis included the phrase, Hey, lady, this thing ain’t even plugged in.

This month I had a birthday, a fairly noteworthy one according to our culture, but birthdays have never held much weight for me other than to grasp the opportunity to sit down and recalibrate.

I like the feeling of biennial rhythm—a life cycle of two seasons from New Years to midsummer and midsummer to New Years—in order to see how six months of effortful work in some direction is fairing.

I usually scratch out on pen and paper new projects, new habits, soon-to-be discarded habits, and the odd lofty goal or two. I ask myself the age old question, Are your mindset and behaviors still serving you? And then proceed to block out any mental responses I find prickly or distinctively unattractive.

This year, I ratcheted up my level of earnestness and wrote a list revealing sharper resolutions coming from a more candid examination. Fruitless labor is out, accumulation of new skills is in.

When one lives on one’s own, there comes a time when you look around and discover that the architect is no longer returning your calls, and the butler left to become an Instagram celebrity. Therefore, purchasing a drill is at the top of the list.

As are things like nails, hammers, vises, and pliers. Bonus to the guy at the hardware store who convinced me that every girl should have a reciprocating saw that can cut through a person like butter. Best not to ask for a bag of fast acting lime to go on your tab straight after that though.

Feeling quite plucky and proud of myself, I set to work with a newfound sense of purpose fueled by my annually refreshed mission statement: Don’t waste my time, Life, I’ve got some serious shit to do.

And this would have all been fine save for the fact that I’m certain one of those ‘stayed behind specters’ was reading my list across my shoulder and then, cackling with great glee, called over her other residuum compatriots, and they all agreed I should reexamine my new motto.

Nothing was as uncomplicated as I believed it should be. Nothing as straightforward as I’d hoped.

Spending an hour spraying weeds on a hot sunny day is met with an ancestral titter of On your knees and pulling by the root is not fruitless labor, as one gains an appreciation for toiling effortfully.

And then the sky darkens with clouds and immediately washes away my insecticide.

Or … I finally break down and decide to purchase a washer and dryer. I travel fifty minutes to purchase said washer and dryer. Washer and dryer now on its way to my house. Bank calls and cancels payment of units, labeling the cost as “fraud alert behavior.” Washer and dryer not on its way to my house. I wrestle with bank. Washer and dryer again on its way to my house. Units arrive and delivery men discover no exhaust vent for dryer. I now own a fine washer and a large metal box that pointlessly sits on top of it. I saw through walls (thank you hardware store guy) and fashion an ‘inside the house’ vent. Metal box now operates as both clothes dryer and sauna generator. Mold grows on walls. Handyman and I soon discover after spelunking in the crawl space beneath the house that an actual dryer vent does exist, it’s just been linoleumed over.

*insert a great shrill of sniggering laughter here and an ethereal chorus of Perseverance is not superfluous exertion.

I get it. You’ve all made your point.

Perhaps I was a bit glib with my whole I can do anything charge into battle bit and must remember an old adage of my grandmother’s: the higher the price you pay for something, the dearer it becomes to you.

And yes, I think I’m willing to devote time and effort to a footpath with no poison ivy, and clean clothes with which to travel upon it.

Now I simply have to discover just how much an exorcism costs because no longer conversing with a chandelier is likely worth a pretty penny or two.

~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 Strive to be Ahead of Your Time

There is nothing like the joy of bringing something new into the world—something you worked incredibly hard to produce. A baby, a book, a barrel of whisky—they’re all boxes I’ve been privileged to tick off.

The thing that brings absolutely no joy, but is also heavily represented in the realm of the world of production, is the waiting that comes with it.

I am not a waiter.

I am a pacer, a tosser and turner, a nervous finger drummer, and a clock watcher.

I wear out carpets, pound and fluff pillows, and have more scraps of paper containing chaotic time-tables than the TSA currently, as they’re scrambling to fill “no-shows” in their employee work schedules.

Yeah, a bit like that.

And whether I’ve been hauling around a growing human, chattering on social media about an emerging tale, or taking far too many samples from the barrel “just to check its progress,” there is one thing certain about all of them:

They ain’t done till they’re done.

The element of time is something I cannot alter. And altering it is the one thing I wish were at the top of the “to do” list for a few more scientist, physicists, and local crackpot sorcerers.

I’m really not fussed who it turns out to be is the person we all bow down to after he or she has discovered how we can tinker with a timeline to suit our needs, but surely someone is going to wear that sash and crown eventually, right?

For years, whenever visiting universities for my daughter’s college campus test drives, I’d manage to find a way, specifically out of earshot of my “I’m going to help conquer space” child, to have a private conversation with one or two of the professors we’d met. I’d inquire about space/time travel, they then made a wide berth of me for the remainder of the tour.

It’s only now, maybe six or seven years later, that the chatter on that subject is finally one that fills the internet with graphs, pie charts, and spreadsheets made from multi-degreed scientists and not just science fiction authors.

It’s a teensy bit ironic that I’m having to wait for time travel.

Weirdly, just as strong as the desire to leap forward to arrive into the moment of accomplishment, there is another want that travels at its side, in its shadow: the yearning to leapfrog back.

It is impossible to do, of course, but anyone who’s ever endeavored to journey through a long haul production will likely agree that at some point within the undertaking—whether halfway through or at the finish line—you will feel a desperate urge to return. To tweak, to adjust, to unclutter. To reappraise, jigger, and amend.

But again, science is moving molasses slow with their participation in giving us this option. A bit like the speed of a snail with a limp.

And thus we are left with a few paltry alternatives. First—be circumspect with your work from the get go. Second—suck it up and deal with the regrets. Third—hide, Thelma and Louise it right off a cliff, change your name and buy a food truck/mammogram van to fill the need for cancer prevention through comfort food. Call it Two Boobs for a Biscuit. I don’t know. I’m riffing here.

Anyway, the point is that we can’t go back.

We can’t unmeet that man. We can’t revise that chapter. We can’t redistill that spirit.

The results are the results.

The good, the bad, and the ugly. And in some worst case scenarios—failure.

But … what people often misunderstand is that right up until the moment of the outcome is not a colossal waste of time or effort. The result may be called failing, but the rest is called learning.

I know that’s a small measure of comfort when you’re on the precipice of seeing your results unveiled. It brings little relief to those of us in charge of a gazillion dollar mission to Mars that sees catastrophic calamity in its “all done and dusted phase” to have the ability to say, “Well, at least we know what line of code doesn’t work.”

But it’s a necessary and unavoidable part of all progress. Period.

And the concept of ‘progress’ brings us back to the whole idea of time, movement, and achievement. The text missing in this chronology is the word reflection. When our efforts are spent and we’re left with an outcome, sure, we can choose the food truck, but we can also choose the food for thought.

Mindfully revisiting and diligently muddling through a postmortem are key for advancement, for if there is one thing I feel certain of, it’s that I simply do not want to be good enough to keep my feet on the track, I want to keep my feet moving forward.

So yes, the waiting for our books or babies or booze to be complete must be reframed as not stalling out. Reflection and projection might be very capable methods to utilize at these moments. We can learn from our past—and one day, if science will finally hear my beseeching petitions, we can learn from our future. All so that we will not just survive the present, but thrive within it.

~Shelley

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

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

 

September; the Gathering and Gleaning

There is something about September.

I wake to the sound of rain splattering on the copper rooftop, slapdash and sporadic, its disordered pattern teasing and anticipatory.

The dove gray skies are a soft, woolen blanket the earth has loosely wrapped about her shoulders. She makes a tucking in gesture, paying no mind to the cold and endless black that surrounds her. Those slate-colored ceilings soften her edges and mollify the barbed tips of clacking seconds as they tick, tick, tick in the foggy background. They slowly morph into a muffled heartbeat. Is it mine, or hers?

My first whiff of wood smoke … I am transformed. A tendril that taps at a memory drawer, unopened for months and stiff with disuse. But once loosened, it spills, like cream over ripe berries, and I do little to halt the movement.

There is a tinge to the trees, too early to label as anything more than a lowering of the bright, green flame of searing summer life. The sun has merely stepped back a pace to eye her work in progress and rests on the handle of her proverbial rake. And like all avid gardeners, she finds that there are other projects that catch her eye as they rotate into her field of vision. And with that momentary lapse of intense attention, the products of her efforts soon yellow and wither.

No matter, she shrugs. Work will resume next circle round.

It’s now that I brood about in the pantry. I count the beans—for big potted stews which will fill chipped crockery and rumbling bellies. I measure the tea—for ample kettle-fulls that let slip soft wisps of steam carrying somnolent notes of ginger, cinnamon, and chicory. I eye the whisky—for the pure pleasure of the oncoming flush of heat. And then I eye the clock to determine how long I must wait for that sweet fever. It’s usually too long. And I re-busy myself with bean counting.

Each year, I am caught unawares when changing the calendar from the eighth to the ninth month. August is so spectacularly hot, so devoid of working people, so filled with the phrase, “We are off for three weeks.”

September is for ‘back to business,’ ‘back to school,’ or “Back to you, Bob, and that’s a look at our weather.”

It’s a transitional month, a swinging door from a sizzling, smoke-belching patio to a wood-paneled parlor, with hushed library voices where one’s mental bandwidth slowly revs into gear. It is a time for thinking, musing, simmering, and inventing—spoon-feeding one’s brain the rich broth where the flavors of creativity will meld and percolate, sluggishly dragging salient thoughts to the surface.

There is an observable change in the laundry basket, which once barely reined in an endless mess of cut-off jean shorts and paper-thin tank tops. It now houses fuzzy socks and zippered hoodies, displaying the return of layers—an unending circle of cloth discarded then desired—warm days and cool nights.

The printer churns a constant stream of schedules, documents, forms, and calendars, convulsing with updated information like a Morse code machine relaying movement of troops and coordinated attacks. Paperwork strewn across all available flat surfaces, requires signatures, filing, and the hopefully intended read-through.

And it is the time for reaping, for gathering the last, for the lifting of leaves, the peeking to see if one final fruit has found the finish line.

But there is also time for reflection and observance among the business of harvest. The long days of field work and preservation may still take place in the sweat of the last shafts of summer sun, but once she has set, there is a thinning of the air. The scent of woodsy autumn appears on a draught that slowly pushes summer’s plump stars off stage in preparation for the next act: a crisp set of patterns that will pierce the inky black skies.

Of course, intermission casts the bright light of the Harvest moon, and she will illuminate your path from field to home and back again. September bathes in that downy yellow glow, almost as if, aware of her age, she asks to be seen through a soft focus lens.

Be busy, be effortful, be thoughtful.

Be here now, in the last of September. Before she says goodbye.

~Shelley

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

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

A Penny Saved is a Penny Saved

There are a lot of things about me that my kids would love to see change:

  • Maybe I could fill my fridge and pantry with something they don’t identify as squirrel or bird food. To them, seeds, grains, and nuts are strictly meant for feathered friends and fluffy rodents. Real food, that real people eat, comes in brightly colored boxes with easy instructions as to how to marry its contents with your microwave.
  • Maybe I could stop talking to inanimate objects like trees, and my car, and strong gusts of wind. Also, my kids would suggest most forest animals might voice the same request and would prefer if I left them to get on with the business of gathering all the seeds, grains, and nuts that still remain outside of my pantry.
  • Stop with the whole ‘Franny Frugal’ routine.

Knowing that the first two are practically impossible for me—as both the temple of one’s bodily realm and the earthly realm of one’s body cannot and should not fall into neglect and disregard in my opinion—makes it even more improbable that I could alter complaint number three.

I have morphed into this woman. Largely by the original and most influential of sculptors—my parents.

Let’s blame them.

Yeah. I’m all for that.

It is mostly their fault that I have sprouted, slowly and surely, into the penny-pinching person that I am, as I long ago memorized their valuable equation of Time + Effort = the good fortune and necessity of Food.

It was a tricky one to wrap my head around at first because in the beginning said parents were providing most of the A and B inputs.

Then they kind of suddenly stopped.

Well, maybe not suddenly, maybe slowly over a decade of handouts, loans, and last minute saves.

Samey samey.

The result is that I have come to realize that ditching anything before its true expiration date is a behavior that should be rewarded with a sharp and head-clearing slap upside the head. It’s akin to walking up to your great grandmother and saying, “Despite the fact that you can still top and tail three pounds of wax beans faster than Paul Bunyan can fell one tree, Granny, your maintenance requirements are a bit of a downer. We’re getting an upgrade and have voted you off the island.”

I’m roundly and repeatedly criticized for my endeavors to not buy new things.

My phone lasted nearly five years. My car is approaching ten. My clothes are from the seventh grade. And yes, that milk is fine to drink.

Although I may live in a society of great abundance, I actually exist in a mindset of scarcity.

I’m not a hoarder, I’m a saver. Why would I throw out perfectly good plastic Ziploc bags and deli Tupperware when they have countless uses in front of them? One never knows when one’s small patch of land could be suddenly jolted and buffeted by some unforeseen earthquake, where all the recycled spaghetti sauce and jam jars holding my seeds, grains, and nuts will come crashing to the ground from their shelves—and then what’s going to contain those items until I’ve accumulated more saved glass?

Yes. My old Ziploc bags.

I’m resourceful, not crazy. It’s not like I wash and dry my tin foil, right?

Okay, I actually do, but that does not point to lunacy.

Okay, maybe it does just a tiny bit, but hey, it too has plenty of life in front of it. And I am a lover of life. Of life, and longevity, and coupons, and scraping the inside of every single mayonnaise, ketchup, and peanut butter jar.

I learned that tip from my dog. He knows the value of a crafty tongue that can find one last lick-full of anything and does not mind putting in the effort to obtain it.

I would argue against anyone who characterizes me as cheap, as that is not wholly accurate. I am … thrifty, fuel-efficient, prudent.

And saving up for more indispensable expenses.

Like whisky.

Although I am working on the skills needed to one day make my own supply, fleshing out a plan to ensure I not only never have to purchase any more, if I should find that my recipe far surpasses all others, but also that I’ll have enough in supply for when I run out of Ziploc bags and tinfoil and must begin bartering to restock the shortage.

Yes, my kids would love to see me with a smartphone that actually touted an IQ of anything higher than the number of chocolate chips I allot into each homemade granola bar, or a car I didn’t first have to give a five minute pep talk to before putting the key into the ignition. But I imagine eventually, they will see the soundness behind the “insanity,” when, like me, they too may need an extra hand with rent, or groceries, or my ability to purchase an airline ticket to see them accept some award and thank me up on the podium.

I’ll be there.

For whatever they need.

And now, if you’ll all excuse me, I’ve set up a small “Wilderness Whisky Tasting Event” for a few forest friends. We’ve all agreed to a minor trade agreement pact with no tariffs imposed.

We’re now just negotiation how many sunflower seeds can pay for a dram.

~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.

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

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 Grave Danger of Being Silent

“Okay, you’ve got to choose one word. And one word only that will describe you and a representation of your life to be carved on your tombstone.”

I was at a writer’s meeting. And this was one of those wretchedly “fun” exercises we did to stimulate creativity, or imagination, or brain damage.

It was my turn. Everyone looked at me.

“Umm … whisky?

NO! was the general shout from all corners of the circle. Most of these people knew me well enough.

The host looked at me with a full measure of pity. A little bit like how I look at the dog after he’s eaten an entire stolen loaf of bread and he’s all swollen and gassy but still looking for more: pathetically.

“No, not whisky,” the host said in patient tones. “Whisky is something more of your life preference rather than your life portrayal, Shelley.”

Yup. Same look.

“Okay,” I said, determined to get this one right. “Then I choose voice.”

That answer got a woefully polite round of applause.

But the more I thought about it, the more I grew certain that it should have received a standing ovation. Because, in essence, it really has been the central theme threaded throughout my entire life—and every day, it grows more paramount.

In about two weeks, my next book will be published. (The Freemason’s Daughter) (disclaimer: Publicists and marketing departments get super cranky if you do not provide easy links to readers or refuse to say the phrase, “In my new book, The Freemason’s Daughter” as the start to every conversation. And let me tell you, it was a monumental challenge to work that one in with my seventy-four-year-old garbage man whilst handing him one more bag full of cat poop from the litter box.

“There are men in it,” I said lamely. Yeah, he was going to love my young adult novel about a sixteen-year-old Scottish girl.)

Anyway, again, in about two weeks, my next book will be published. I can hear all of you muttering the word finally.

And although this book has all the crucial motifs that appear in every coming of age story—the challenges of youth, friendship, love, relationships with six burly smuggling Scotsmen—the keynote theme that rose above all others was this: Where the hell do I fit in?

Now, granted, the voice that uttered this query at least one time in every chapter classed it up a bit with a lilting, girlish British accent, but it is, beyond a doubt, a central examination that needs answering by the end of the book.

And maybe it does get answered and maybe it doesn’t. I ain’t gonna spoil it for all of you. Especially ol’ Cooter Covington who promised he’d buy the book as long as I somehow managed to have the cat experience a fatal accident before he came back next week. But to find out … (The Freemason’s Daughter).

Funny enough, that question was present in my middle grade contemporary novel, DEAR OPL (Dear Opl – You’re welcome), about a thirteen-year-old American girl suffering from prediabetes and obesity who struggles with loss everywhere in her life except on her body.

Before that, I voiced that question as I made the transition from mandatory mother to partially needed parent to occasionally sought guidance counselor who receives messages like, “I’d like to schedule a major meltdown on Thursday evening after my class on linear algebra. Could you clear your schedule and send me a bucket of chocolate so I can have it there while you talk and I cry?”

My job status was shifting. And I needed to redefine some new position I could find fulfillment within.

And, quirkily enough, before all of that, my actual voice was the focus of my entire life. I got paid to sing. Once or twice I got paid not to sing.

The point is, “voice” has been stamped all over my forty-seven years of life.

Which brings us up to the present and the future—to my love for soothsayers and crystal ball gazers.

Because now, in recent months, voice has become a ubiquitous word. Rare is it a solitary strain, buried beneath the weight of larger, louder bodies that attempt to silence it. Rather now, it is a growing collection, a chorus, a rising refrain.

It is the sound of town hall meetings, the chant of protests, the carefully crafted question in a press corps meeting. It is the debate across the aisle, the conversations in the coffee shop, and the gossip over the garden fence posts.

It is the struggle to parse fact from fiction as myriad voices crow with what they believe to be true—or what they want you to believe as true. It is the concerted effort to eliminate the noise, to brush away the flashy and distracting so that you can uncover the naked, unvarnished reality.

Yes, it does exist.

And when we are able to do that—when we are finally able to hear inside our own heads, we will hear that sound that many of us have spent a lifetime ignoring. Our inner voice. The one that never lies to you. The one that says, Do not go out wearing those pants under any circumstances.

Yeah, that one.

The amazing thing is, is that all of those voices are asking the very same question—that one about inclusivity. Where the hell do I fit in?

We all want our voices to be heard, our words to matter, our existence to count. Whether we’re a president determined to believe we are the greatest, largest, tallest, (insert-superlative-here) guy to draw breath. Or we are the lowly chap who’s still trying to muster up the energy to clap as loudly for that president as we watch him wave from one of his golf courses and we finish the leftovers from last night’s TV dinner.

Forecasting the future is dicey work. Asking the hard questions about that future needs to be done—despite the unwelcoming off the cuff response of an extra tiny pointy finger barking at you to “Be quiet!”

Don’t. Don’t be quiet. Find your voice. Raise it. And use it.

Because I’ve kind of grown fond of the idea of having voice on my tombstone. Otherwise, I will have to resort back to the original epitaph of whisky. Although maybe I’ll spiff it up a tiny bit with that lilting, girlish British accent.

She saw the beauty and necessity of hard liquor.

~Shelley

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

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor (NOW FOR HIRE- so do go check out his gallery!)–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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.

271116ian02

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.

271116apple02

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.

271116expectant02

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?

271116barrelo2

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.

Presidential Partying

As the American Presidential race is currently running at fevered pitch, the press—ever watchful and observant, and always acting on our behalf—alert the public to everything about the candidates from what color their bed sheets were as a child to whether or not their fiber is presently effective.

We’re given a thorough evaluation of each candidate’s depth and breadth. Spellbinding details from the big scale decisions they’ve made to the minutia of off-camera life, because who isn’t fascinated by the contents of our candidates’ glove compartments, right?

Things have certainly changed since our first president was elected in 1789, and since George Washington wasn’t scrutinized in the same fashion as today’s runners, he was fortunate enough to escape the prying eyes employed at present which would surely have made mincemeat of his past.

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I won’t go into the marijuana growing or the fact that he possessed only one real tooth, but the bit about his fervor as a distiller of whiskey and, according to some, one overenthusiastic with its intake, might have sent up a few red flags had he been trying to gain the popular vote of our current day and age.

Abraham Lincoln didn’t exactly make hooch so much as sell it. Even his dad worked at a local distillery doing odd jobs when Abe was a babe.

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As it turns out, it was a tricky time for Mr. Lincoln because of the Temperance movement. Owning a store in the backwoods of New Salem, one was forced to sell what the community needed (read: demanded). Whiskey was just as much a necessity as bacon, beeswax, and bee vomit (read: honey). Many criticized the man for participation in dram selling and voiced the opinion that those who sold liquor were minions of Satan. But Lincoln’s address to the Evangelicals of the reformed drinker movement is in essence summed up by Mahatma Gandhi’s quote, “Hate the sin and not the sinner.”

I’m guessing Hollywood did not read that chapter in their history books and have gone ahead to reveal the long-hidden truth that Lincoln was, in fact, a vampire hunter and slayer. Again, I’m sure in modern times, some savvy journalist would have sniffed this bit out.

John Adams had a strong penchant for Madeira, cider, and beer, complaining bitterly when it wasn’t available. And who could fault the guy? Anyone who starts smoking at the age of eight surely knows what will best cut the taste of nicotine first thing in the morning. Let’s give the kid a break.

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It could be that he was simply trying to drink away the bitter memories of the fact that not one of his family members attended his inauguration. It’s likely they were boycotting because they discovered he once shared a bed with Benjamin Franklin—or perhaps again, shacking up with Ben was a memory only Madeira could erase.

Regardless, it’s tough to imagine Trump and Cruz sharing a cot in a Motel 6 to save a few bucks since they’re both currently belting out stump speeches in the same state. It just wouldn’t happen.

James Buchanan could have qualified for the Olympic drinking team had there been one, as his capacity for drink—namely old rye, champagne, Jacob Baer Whiskey, and cognac—could rival the recycling bin of your average frat house.

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And surely making a regular habit of having two or three bottles of wine with a meal that consisted of mostly glasses of cognac and rye, and ensuring one’s regular ten gallon barrel of whiskey arrived each Sunday has seriously got to ensure that your liver will find a place of honor on some curiosity shelf in the Smithsonian, right? And yet, it is not there …

Grover Cleveland “enjoyed” his beer—as much as four to eight bottles of it a day—which left him with a beer gut that mirrored the great Buddha belly.

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What can be said of Thomas Jefferson, apart from the fact that the man not only knew his wines, but endeavored to grow them?

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Well, this little tidbit:

Our founding fathers ran up an epic bar tab in Philadelphia’s City Tavern at a dinner to honor George Washington a couple of days before penning their signatures to the Constitution, including eight bottles of whisky, twelve of beer, seven bowls of alcoholic punch, 22 bottles of porter, eight of hard cider, 54 bottles of Madeira and 60 of claret. That was divided between the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention.

It’s no wonder most of their signatures are illegible.

I think the lesson learned here is not so much one that suggests all of the fellows reviewed were supremely lucky to get away with the swilling habits of most sailors on ship leave, but one that will have you realizing what thirsty work governing America truly is.

~Shelley

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

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

Twas the Night Santa Ditched Us

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with Earl

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

‘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.

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The children were splayed on the couch, all serene,
While visions of Family Guy flickered on screen.

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And me in my apron, the dog at my feet,
Made bourbon soaked bonbons, a Christmas Eve treat.

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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.

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 job for the season.

More rapid than eagles his complaints rumbled out,
While he pointed an old grizzled finger to shout.

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“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.

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 from skinning some deer.
A bundle of bottles he had flung on his back,
And he glanced all around for a lawman attack.

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

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,
Revealing that 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.

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!”

Haggis Jingle Bells

~HAPPY HOLIDAYS~

~Shelley

 

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

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

Go Fetch Me a Pint

There is nothing more attractive to me than a big, burly Scotsman dressed in a kilt.

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Scratch that.

There is nothing more attractive to me than a big, burly Scotsman dressed in a kilt and holding a glass of single malt scotch.

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Oops. One more go at this.

There is nothing more attractive to me than a big, burly Scotsman dressed in a kilt, holding a glass of single malt scotch and offering it to ME.

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BINGO.

And the great thing about January 25th is that my chances of seeing this attractive vision unfold increases monumentally all because of one charming fellow.

Who happens to be dead.

Nonetheless, Robert Burns is still remembered, admired and hailed around the world. His birthday is celebrated in ways that likely have him wishing he could be there and glad that he is not. It all depends upon what party you end up attending.

So let me explain …

Ole Rabbie Burns was born on January 25th, 1759 in the southwestern part of Scotland in the village of Alloway. His folks were farmers, and as most farmers barely have two farthings to rub together, they rubbed together that which they did have—each other. Robert had six other siblings—plenty of hands to lighten the load—which might have been the reason Robert had time to read and write.

And chase girls.

Lots of them.

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Once his father passed away, Robert and his brother took over the family farm. At this point it seems Rabbie may have asked himself some questions about the direction he wanted to take with his life.

Would I prefer to be writing up the yearly farm accounts or writing down poetry? Better yet, would I rather be watering the land, or down at the local watering hole?” And finally, Should I choose to sow seeds into the soil, or into all of the bonnie women I can catch?”

It was clear Robert excelled with whatever was behind door number two—which was usually him and some other lass.

His poetry was oftentimes meant to impress the fairer sex, in order to have sex.

And lest you think I’m pulling your chain, let me provide some proof: our lustful lyricist had a total of TWELVE CHILDREN by FOUR WOMEN. Seven were illegitimate, because, well … after a while you stop counting. They just become stock.

It seems the old bard knew how to make his quill sing.

*ahem* (and a few others’ too)

Okay, back to celebrating someone’s birthday and not conquests.

Once Burns finally kicked the bucket—at the tender age of 37, from what was apparently reported as “heart disease,” although there were plenty of folks who stated that whisky and women contributed to his demise—his cronies decided to carry on the tradition of celebrating his birthday with a yearly tribute: booze, women, food and okay, fine, poetry.

If you were to cast a wide net, chances are you’ll find a Burns Supper happening somewhere within spitting distance. As long as you’re a champion spitter. But the circle grows smaller each year.

Lots of folks love whisky, everyone loves food, and a couple of folks even like poetry. There you have it. The makings of a Burns Night.

There really are only a few ingredients necessary for its success:

  1. FOOD: All things Scottish—if you’re attempting to be truly authentic. So, neeps and tatties (smushed up turnips and potatoes), cock-a-leekie soup (chicken and leeks, not leaking roosters!), haggis (most of you do not want to know), and cranachan or cream clowdie (this is just a hot mess of oatmeal, cream, sugar and whisky—breakfast for highland savages).
  2. MUSIC: Make friends with a bagpiper. Tell him to bring an extra lung or a tank of O2 because it’ll be a long night.
  3. POETRY: Or any good storytelling material. Have your guests tell a joke, recite their favorite piece of prose—authored by Burns or any other great odist, or share a memory of when they too were a drunken, sex-depraved, Scottish lad.

And finally, but most importantly …

  1. WHISKY: The more you imbibe, the better the food becomes, the more appealing the music grows and everyone becomes a balladeer capable of reciting rhapsodic soliloquies (insert roll of eyes here).

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The point is to enjoy a night of all the things that delight our senses, but unlike any other holiday, you may bring your broadsword and claymore to the dinner table.

Burns Night Suppers are usually long and lewd, reeling and risqué, and require two aspirin and a taxi at their completion.

They are worthy and memorable events, and I can’t encourage you enough to source out a local shindig in your area. Or be brave and throw the dinner together yourself. After all, attending a Burns Night is your best chance for running into a big burly Scotsman, dressed in a kilt and holding a glass of single malt scotch. Whether or not he’s going to offer it up to you is something you may have to negotiate. My advice? Hum a few bars of Auld Lang Syne and see if he warms to you.

Slàinte!

~Shelley

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

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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.

Men in plaid. Aka Highland Games

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

English: The Bagpiper

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

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

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

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

Highland Cow

Highland Cow (Photo credit: Vanessa (EY))

Are you with me on the theme here?

Last week I went with door number three.

A few thousand others did too.

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

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

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

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

PRIDE.

The clan system is strong.

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

Pipers piping.

Caber throwers cabering.

Archers arching.

Leaping lassies leaping.

Stone putters putting.

Sheep herders picking out the prettiest sheep.

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

Fun and games.

And whisky.

And haggis.

And then more whisky.

Gun and fames.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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11-22-09 (Photo credit: idovermani)

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

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

~Shelley

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

 

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).

 

Lads & Lassies, Pipers & Poets

English: Robert Burns Source: Image:Robert bur...

January 25th marks the birth of Robert Burns. The Ploughman Poet. The Bard of Ayrshire. Scotland’s favorite son. Sadly, most people only admit knowledge of the catchy tune he penned that they drunkenly mumble along to come New Year’s Eve at midnight: Auld Land Syne.

He wrote poems and lyrics, collected and improved folk songs and fathered as many children with as many women who would have him. No wonder so many people claim him as their ancestor. The guy was a rogue—and a quick one too. He died at age thirty seven, making a remarkable attempt to populate half of Scotland.

Regardless, numerous individuals, whether of Scottish decent, whisky aficionados, or enthusiasts of poetry, annually plan to commemorate this man’s existence and accomplishments (both bardic and bedroom) with an evening of debauchery and boredom.

Scotish dirk

The whisky I love, but somewhere during the third hour of poetry, I’m looking to impale myself on the first dirk  I can slip from any man’s stocking. Consequently, I appreciate the whisky with more enthusiasm than I probably should. Of course, this is what everyone else is doing and why they believe they’re channeling Laurence Olivier.

A typical Burns Night, or Burns Supper, as it is both commonly known, used to be (and I’m sure remains in some stuffy circles) a “boys only” getup held on the anniversary of Rabbie’s birth. Gathering that Burns himself likely preferred the company of women and wouldn’t have missed the chance to gaze upon the legs of a lovely lassie, a few welcome mats have been placed at the feet of the fairer sex. It seems to have spiced up the evening for many a current soirée and is gaining popularity, as more women begin to view whisky as something more pleasurable than a root canal.

The supper components make or break any Burns celebration. More often than not, you’ll find most of the guests sleeping with their eyes open at the table, making frequent lavatory trips, or curled up in a fetal position in the cloak room, arms cradling a depleted Lagavulin bottle.

Assembling your own Burns supper should not be undertaken lightly; get it wrong and you will find attendees plotting your grisly death and funeral. One must consider the key factors needed: the proper guests, the right food, the liquor and the entertainment.

The guest list is crucial. Have a gathering of wallflowers or self-indulgent bores and your evening feels like watching the weekly defrag session of your computer: it will never end. That’s when I find myself making crosshatch paper cuts on the inside of my wrist with the edge of the menu in an effort to locate a vein that may end it all.

If you find the menu is reminiscent of something even Fido would shake his head at, do not blame it on the Scots. Just because these folk were once scrap cloth clad savages does not mean they couldn’t wield a torch with just enough finesse in order to perfectly caramelize the tops of their Crème Brule.

homemade haggis, scotland food stock photo

 

The main course, haggis, (aka sheep pluck), is a dish whose preparation and success requires deft skill in the kitchen. Try to find a large animal vet who moonlights as a Michelin rated chef to construct yours. Avoid the kind sold in a tin can.

The liquor is simple. Only the best. Famous Grouse need not apply.

When it comes to entertainment, if there isn’t a piper you might as well call it a nice little dinner party because without Mungo MacBugle blowing the cobwebs out your ears, it’s just going to be a slightly Celtic book club meeting with weird snacks.

The Scottish Piper - Victorian print vector art illustration

I have attended other peoples’ Burns Supper and I have thrown a couple of my own. Let me be honest. It is much easier to have a “babysitting emergency” in the midst of someone else’s grand Gaelic failure than in your own living room, among fifty hungry guests, who can clearly see your children alive and well, and currently working as unpaid wait staff.

My suggestions for you? Start small.

Gather your children, your parents and spouse—or anyone you trust not to blog about you the next day, and ask them to come to dinner prepared to recite a short poem, quote or bawdy limerick.

Check out a couple of the easier recipes offered by the BBC (click here).

Then head on over to the nearest (and reputable) liquor store and purchase yourself a good bottle of uisge bathea. Do not skimp and buy something that can double as mouthwash or battlefield disinfectant. If you’re new to whisky, look for a spirit that isn’t heavy with peat or smoke.

Finally, toast with abandonment. The more frequently you do, the quicker everyone becomes pithy, handsome and hungry enough to eat sheep pluck.

Slàinte!

~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 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).