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

Oh Come All Ye Frugal

Sup, Peakers! The prodigal daughter (me) has returned from Beantown for a brief, tryptophan-filled respite from rocket science and dropped r’s. And I’m here today to allow my mother a break from entertaining you all. So I’m going to tell you a story. A story about what my grandmother, my mother and I all do on Black Friday. But it’s an ancient tradition, shrouded in secrecy, so you can’t tell anyone.

We maintain that we go shopping, just like the rest of America, elbowing people in the ribs in the name of Christmas. But we really don’t. None of us really enjoy shopping for an extended period of time, as demonstrated by the fact that at least two of us can be found on December 23rd, frantically scanning the internet for something to pass as a gift. (Bic pens! Everyone needs pens! Thoughtful and handy.) Instead, the day revolves around eating a truckfull of food (to cleanse ourselves of the truckfull of Thanksgiving food), and driving around bumping Michael Buble at questionable volumes. Below is the day’s itinerary:

8:30 am: Meet Mom in the kitchen, ready to go. Caffeinate heavily. Inquire as to Gma’s whereabouts.

9:00 am: Decide a cat nap on the couch is a better use of time than waiting for Gma in the kitchen.

9:02 am: Rudely awoken by blaring car horn as Mom and Gma await in car.

9:03 am: Receive scolding for “consistently being the last one out of the house.”

9:30 am: Arrive at the first stop of the day: a hole-in-the-wall Victorian era farmhouse that converts itself into a quaint antique shop for the holidays. At this time of year and day, the home is frequented by little old Tara-esque ladies who sit around the fire and talk shop about wreath-making. Gma meanders through the maze of lights, furniture and art, repeatedly asking me if I can “find this any cheaper on the Google?” My mother and I play a little game called Who Can Steal the Most Gingerbread wherein we see who can steal the most gingerbread baked by the homeowners and provided to the customers.

12:00 pm: Arrive at Starbucks for further caffeination. I order like a pro/sleep-deprived, sugar-starved college student. But for Mom, this stop is a much bigger deal, as she allows herself a single allotment of Starbucks sugary goodness per year. Therefore, there’s a lot riding on whether or not she springs for the eggnog latte or the crème brulee hot chocolate. So much so that one year, she had me try all of the winter lineup – and take tasting notes for her – before coming home for Thanksgiving. I am not joking.

12:30 pm: Pit stop for burgers and fries. Wait in line for a table for 30+ minutes while bickering about the need to go to the same, somewhat-stomachable place every year, just for the sake of tradition, despite the insane holiday crowds. Get seated, address hanger, rinse and repeat.

2:00 pm: The “shopping” begins. This misappropriation of the term basically consists of popping into various kitchenware and home retail stores to see if they have one ridiculously particular item. This year, the objective was a box of Mint Chocolate Meltaways, apparently sold by Crate&Barrel in 2003 and only purchased by my family. Another go to stop is a pop-up calendar store where Mom and Gma buy 2018 calendars for literally every single person they might encounter over the holidays, still adorably unaware that there are now apps for that. I am Not Allowed to enter this store with them (so that I don’t see my own calendar), and as a result, normally nap on a bench outside until awoken by someone dropping change in my lap.

6:00 pm: Cold, hungry, and overladen with purchases that were funny in the moment, we wander up and down the mall, burning time staring at twinkling window decorations and watching the children’s train ride up and down the mall until a dinner reservation. Gma moves slowly, and Mom and I keep pace. The train conductor seems to have it in for us, as she keeps driving up directly behind us and laying on the whistle. It’s only funny the first few times.

7:00 pm: Dinner at an established Italian joint (the day’s sole beacon of classiness) finally rolls around. We recharge with an embarrassing amount of pasta and resuscitate the kleptomania by playing a little game called Who Can Steal the Most Restaurant Mints. (I have a great strategy – repeated trips to the bathroom, past the mint bucket.)

9:00 pm – Pile up the car with our odd haul of stolen gingerbread and mints, creepy antique dolls, kitchen trinkets, painfully topical calendars, and leftover pasta. Crank up the Buble and jingle all the way home.

~Chloe

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.

 

Holiday Shopping: a series of moments between meals.

I hate shopping.

There. I said it. And yes, I heard the collective gasp coming from a hefty portion of readers, who I believe (and this is strictly based on the pitch of each gasp) were largely female.

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I don’t like browsing for things I don’t need, but would love to have. It’s torture. It’s also a little like watching the cooking channel with an empty fridge.

I don’t like trying on clothing. Because who doesn’t need therapy and a support group after five minutes in a fluorescent-lit, warp-mirrored, foul-floored changing room?

And I don’t like having to leave my swivel chair, hairy hound and Everlasting Gobstopper cup of tea in order to wrestle with the rest of the world just for a parking spot. It’s times like these when I wish I had an old armored bank truck—you know, the kind that pull right up to the front door of any shop because they’re collecting bags full of cash from the overflowing tills, and everybody outside makes a wide berth of the truck so no one suspects them of foul play.

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Yeah, that could work.

Going shopping also means I have to change out of my yoga pants. Okay, that one doesn’t really apply, but it means I have to put on nicer yoga pants. And I’m trying to keep those for a special occasion. Like when I finally have to answer the doorbell.

HOWEVER, I do make one exception to my normally Grinch-esque disposition on retail therapy.

I give in for one day.

I dress up (as long as the definition of “dressing up” means spraying on perfume),

I get it my car (fingers crossed next year it’s an armored bank truck),

and I grab a fistful of colorful coupons I’ll likely not use (save the ones with the word chocolate in them) because once I enter into the world of Muzak-droning department stores, I lose all functioning memory. So many pretty sparkly things …

Some of you may be familiar with this one day of giving in to ‘mall madness.’ It’s known to many of us as Black Friday.

Where I grew up, it was simply known as the day when deer hunting season opened and 3/4ths of the town was in the woods and the remainder just met up at the mall for a cup of coffee.

But after many years, I’ve hung up my camo pants (just kidding, I still wear them) and have happily joined the throngs of others who have opened the door a few days early to the month of December. Here, at the massive galleria of glitz and gold, we bask in the twinkling lights, hear Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby harmonize with sleigh bells, and ride on the outdoor mall’s miniature kiddie train only because my feet are aching and it conveniently swings by the lot where I’ve parked my car and need to dump off a few heavy already purchased parcels halfway through the day. (Everyone does this, right?)

I’ve spent this day with my mom for a bucketload of years. And we have a set schedule that CANNOT BE VARIED.

We’re kinda traditional. Or set in our ways. Or totally uninventive.

It doesn’t matter because it works for us and we want to relive the experience each year thereafter. Although with each successive year, I have to fight harder to get a spot on that kiddie train. Last year, after I tried to wrestle a seat away from a seven-year old, she essentially flipped me the bird when I told her Santa was watching. Okay, that’s not exactly true. She was actually doing sign language, but it was close enough to a rude gesture that after telling the conductor about this child’s reprehensible behavior, he booted her off the train. Whew.

In truth, the day begins at Starbucks. And I’m fairly happy to spend it and end it there if I had my druthers, because once I’ve had one of their magical mind-blowing concoctions, I desperately want to try them all. It’s a good thing I only cross their threshold once a year. Likely I’d have to remortgage the house if I made it a daily habit. Some folks probably already have. I don’t blame them.

Next we jump to the calendar store. And this is where we stay for the next three hours. I really only need to buy myself next year’s calendar for the kitchen wall, but somehow along the way, I made the decision that I am now in charge of buying everyone’s calendar for the upcoming year. From the postman—who will “Love this!” because there’s a mailbox on the photo in the month of August, to the exterminator—whom I won’t see until March because he already came for the winter quarterly bug defestation, I cannot leave that store without picking out a calendar for nearly all the people in my village. I even found one for the woman who used to do the sheep’s weekly acupuncture sessions. I know, ridiculous, right? You’d think there’d be a huge section for animal acupuncturists, but no, only one wall.

Now it’s lunchtime. We eat at a fabulous American chain restaurant called The Cheesecake Factory. Just walking in and smelling what the factory is pumping out on its conveyor belt brings on the need to unbutton your pants to make room for the five pounds you’ve simply inhaled.

An inordinate amount of time is spent discussing what we should not eat because we’re busy saving room for dinner, which comes in about two hours. I remind myself that I’ll work it all off by walking around afterward, and then see the kiddie train chug by the restaurant window.

Following lunch, we pop into a furniture store so that we can sit in a few dozen armchairs we could never afford. Then we stretch out on the three or four sample beds made up with animals skins and furs and generally everything one would need to keep warm if living inside an igloo. It all helps with digestion.

After this, we’re feeling a little sluggish, so we make our way to the world’s greatest cooking emporium and spend time holding spatulas that will transform our future meals. We drool over table settings that one would expect to see on a buffet board laid out by God if there was anyone he was trying to impress. There are also a slew of edible samples that come from the store’s line of We’ll make you look like a pro. Just buy the box and add water. And don’t forget the spatula. We then browse through cookbooks in order to stimulate our appetites for dinner, which is a mere minute or two away.

And at last, we’re ready for the main event: Maggiano’s, the big family Italian restaurant whose menu theme is We hope you’re wearing your fat pants.

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God, I love yoga wear.

We are seated in a huge enveloping leather booth. We are surrounded by garland and greenery and silver lights. We hear every song that Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Tony Bennett ever recorded. We eat piles of pasta with cheese and cream and butter and that piece of parsley garnish because we need to be able to say we had some sort of vegetable. And then it’s time for a slice of their chocolate cake. I think they call it, Yeah, you wish you could make this. I don’t mind the slam. I bought the spatula in the last store, so I’m ready for the challenge.

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On the way home, we pull out the one thing we purchased besides half the calendar store, the spatula and four days worth of food squished into two meals: we put on the season’s first holiday album. Someone sings to us of faraway family, mistletoe and food. We sing along in the glow of the dashboard lights, nostalgic and doped up on carbs.

I get home and squirrel away my parcels, but pull out my new kitchen calendar. I put a big red circle around the day after Thanksgiving.

I can’t wait to go shopping.

~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.

Good health hurts

I think by now we’ve all gotten the message from our physicians that if we don’t take care of our health, we’re going to die a god-awful, fiery, sudden and catastrophic death.

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And I’m sure there is a multitude of medics out there who–after reading the latest report of appalling statistics pinpointing the condition of global wellbeing–are, if not jumping up and down shouting, “I told you so!” then are at least just making the I told you so face.

If we are not hearing these cautionary predictions directly from the doctors we routinely visit, then it’s from our mothers, or our web sites, or the butcher as he hands you the leg of lamb that was awarded a health care plan far better than your own. Apparently, we are all ticking time-bombs teetering on the edge and as long as you follow the experts’ sage advice, you may be able to buy yourself a few extra hours.

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Well, I’m not sure those few extra hours are worth it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about maintaining good health. And not just good health, but great health. I want arms and legs and all internal organs running at optimum speed for the most advantageous results. But there comes a time when you have to step back and analyze whether or not what you’re doing is something that will make historians and school children, generations down the road, slap themselves upside the head at the sheer lunacy of your current day practice.

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about, reading about and running about, putting into practice countless ways to gain energy, improve my digestion and increase my immunity. Occasionally, there is time to wash a spoon, but for the most part, I’m covering all angles of the welfare wish list.

From farm to fridge to face, my aim is to find minimally processed, but maximally realized nutrients—all capable of helping me become the super-hearty, able-bodied, rosy-cheeked wonder woman that appears on the inside pages of my favorite reading material. She is everywhere: Food &Wine, the Yoga journal, and most importantly, The Farmer’s Almanac.

I’m determined to be her. And every day is a physical journey where I confidently feel I am marching toward my goal.

Except for last night, where my progress on this pilgrimage came to an abrupt halt.

Each morning starts off much the same way. I wake and plod my way toward the bathroom counter where a handful of relief and prevention awaits me. Down the hatch slide tiny tablets that will push away pain, fight free radicals and stimulate my defenses against invisible attack. I am now armed, and too full for breakfast.

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Instead, I take a two ounce swig of an energy shot made entirely of concentrated, bitter yerba mate—flavored with lemon so one’s facial muscles can practice that “extra puckery pout.” I’m sure it counts as exercise in someone’s book.

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Lunchtime brings an array of greens so hearty they usually require a small hatchet for carving purposes. On the side sits a pulpy cesspool of fermented foods which bacteria has made chewable for human teeth. To wash this all down, I choose some combination of herbs and roots, all ground, dried and steeped in boiled water. Occasionally, I throw in an eye of newt for good measure.

The afternoon slump rolls round and I combat that with forty drops of magic tinctures—extracts meant to boost endurance and rally the flailing troops. The potion is poured into a small amount of water, which then froths and clouds before meeting and shriveling my tongue. Good god, even rat poison is capable of being palatable. But it does the job and I am revived. I have just enough time to water a plant before it’s time to make dinner.

Tonight we’re gluten free and gorging on grains. Well … I am. The kids mostly make patterns on their plates like they’re creating Tibetan sand art, and will—as usual—meet up later in the kitchen, after I’ve tidied up, to prepare their real dinner. Likely it will come from the freezer. I’m guessing something beginning with ice and ending with cream.

Shortly thereafter, I swallow my own late night snack: blimp-sized balls chock full of bioflavonoids, rose hips and rutin–a fistful of antioxidant fortification meant to protect me from things that go bump in the night and make your skin sag three inches by morning. I lastly choke down two horse-sized pellets containing the equivalent amount of fish oil that the entire cast of Finding Nemo could produce. I slip into bed.

Literally.

It’s here I recall my afternoon eye doctor appointment. Basically, I was given about ten seconds to bask in the sharp-focused glow of the news that I have the eyesight of a prize-winning hawk. Then I discovered I barely squeaked by the test for early detection of macular degeneration and now needed to do something about it. I was given two carotenoid supplements to add to the daily lineup.

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So it’s Bottom’s up! again. As I drift off to sleep, something niggles at the back of my mind. Something the doctor mentioned as a side effect to my new best friends lutein and zeaxanthin.

Four hours later, his words sear themselves back into my brain.

LEG CRAMPS!

I phone the next morning to ask what can be done about them, for sleeping is impossible while a chain saw is severing away at your calf. He suggested a gin and tonic in the evening with dinner.

“Tonic water has quinine in it, which has been known to help treat leg cramps, and what the quinine doesn’t address, the gin will knock on the head.”

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Apparently, my ophthalmologist needs a new pair of reading glasses because it’s obvious he didn’t read the FDA’s announcement that quinine is a quiller. I mean killer.

I call my health food store friends to check for options. I need sleep.

“No worries,” they say. “First we’ll try you on 5 mg of melatonin, or a dietary supplement of valerian root—oh and poppy syrup goes down nice and easy.”

I sigh and put the phone down.

At this moment that god-awful, fiery, sudden and catastrophic death is starting to look really attractive.

So is a cheeseburger.

~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.

Don’t kill a mockingbird.

My grandmother once said to me, “A girl should be like a diamond. The more facets she has about her, the more appealing she becomes.”

This came from a woman who had to leave high school to work the family farm, and then went to night school to get her GED so she could work her way through the accounting department at JCPenney’s. She was a whiz at math and took exceptional pride in the opportunity to beat any cash register when pitted against it. She owned a grocery store, was a caterer, spoke three languages, played a wicked golf game, took karate lessons and lastly, took a course in How to Build Your Own Bomb Shelter.

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She was not your average mother’s mother.

I tell you this because lately, as I’ve been hunched over the ever-spreading, perpetually-broadening mass of weeds that infest my garden floors, I am accompanied by the cheer-infusing, thought-provoking song of a mockingbird.

This warbling, mimicking, capricious minstrel strikes me as one who’s still searching for just the right fit, testing the waters by dipping a toe into many a pool to satiate the desire for true fulfillment. He wears an array of caps, and within a minute or two, cycles through a search for the answer to, “Am I a blue jay? How ‘bout a cricket? Now I’m a blackbird. Let’s try a hawk.” Continually learning new songs and sounds to imitate, he is the quintessential skill builder.

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History has taught us that typically, we had precious little time to attempt adding anything more to our daily calendar than hunting, gathering, breeding and fighting. Include all the hours we spent building alters and purification fires, creating feasts and paying homage to our many gods, and it’s easy to see how your whole day is shot. Worship is a full time job.

The Industrial Revolution altered our schedules, along with our standards of living, nutrition, life expectancy and for some, the ability to now get a table at trendy restaurants. Everything depended upon which rung of the social ladder your foot rested on.

But coal mining and factory work wasn’t for everyone. Especially, those who didn’t want to face a piece of equipment that made their prior skills irrelevant. It’s easy to see how a person who studied the fine art of lacework for the bulk of their life could be persuaded to join the League of Luddites and go all “John Henry” on a piece of machinery.

English: Frame-breakers, or Luddites, smashing...

English: Frame-breakers, or Luddites, smashing a loom. Machine-breaking was criminalized by the Parliament of the United Kingdom as early as 1721. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And then came the growth of mass education–reading in particular. At first, it was largely influenced by religion because holy books weren’t just there to make the coffee table in the parlor pretty and Books on Tape hadn’t had a chance to record that big guy yet, nor make the tape they’d eventually use for the project. So literacy was key. And now that we could read, we were given access into other people’s thoughts, opinions and experiences. Roughly speaking, it expanded our circle of campfire stories exponentially. The act of taking in new information usually has some measurable impact on the average Joe. It often shows up in the form of thinking. Thinking can lead to action, action could lead to dancing, and as some religious leaders of the world believe, it’s usually all downhill from there.

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But in a few other parts of the world, thinking led to the awareness of dissatisfaction. And that led to big action.

War.

Cue women to join us onstage in the giant chorus of the workforce. You know what happened then, don’t you? It was a tiny little thing, but it had a big impact on career aspiration. THE PILL.

Yep. Now women were growing bolder with the knowledge that they had choice in deciding when to have a family, if at all. Finding a vocation suddenly became a word dripping with possibility.

Sadly, many of us are encouraged to make those occupational picks at much too early an age. Facing a guidance counselor, who spreads out a dozen career pamphlets in front of you, or visiting a high school college fair often leads to hasty decisions. Now you find yourself propelled onto an ill-suited professional track from the idiotic act of putting your name down on a clipboard simply because they had a bowl of brightly-colored candy sitting beside it.

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As a parent attempting to guide my firstborn through the highly stressful process of college searching, the one piece of advice I find myself repeating is this: Don’t specialize.

Over the last several years, hearing my children (okay, and let’s face it, a great chunk of children going through our current educational system) utter the words, “I’m never going to use this,” when referring to homework from a subject they detest, puts my mouth into automatic gear.

“That’s not the point,” I lecture. “The point is you are learning how to learn.” And until we modernize our schooling ideas, this is the best rationalization I can come up with.

I don’t think it’s a bad one.

It’s a critical process that will ultimately help each one of us attempt something new, or challenging, or death-defying. Who says we have to stick to only one career, one calling, one song? I admire my grandmother for her desire to not only plow the fields of her farm, but those of her heart’s ambition. And maybe that mockingbird is my grandmother reminding me, as I clear away the weeds, not to neglect planting a variety of seeds in their place.

English: The Strawn-Wagner Diamond, the only p...

So I say grow a little. Stretch out of that comfort zone. Whistle a new tune. Chip away at something new and hard. Be like a diamond.

Sparkle.

~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.

Hurry up and slow down!

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

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

We rush. A lot.

Because …

we’re always LATE.

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

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

I don’t want to be in this category.

I want to be a measured planner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s when it happens.

Tractor. 

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

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

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

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

We love our farmers.

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

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

I fly.

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

Moments later, I am jammed in morning traffic.

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

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

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

I roll out my yoga mat.

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

Namaste …

(sound of pistol)

And we’re off!

Yoga2 (800x401)

~Shelley

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

Women; wives, wiccan and warriors.

The Purification of the Virgin.

The Purification of the Virgin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are a lot of things I’m grateful for these days, but one of the biggies is that I no longer live in an ancient world where much of my time is taken up with purification rites. Not that I can actually remember living in that ancient world, but if the whole idea of reincarnation is accurate, some clever therapist is going to eventually discover a treasure chest of past lives’ memories in addition to the fear and angst I’ve been dragging along with them for centuries. The likely reason is that even now, I cannot seem to give away anything that might come in handy one day. Or ever.

Like my entire wardrobe from when I was thirteen.

Or my junior high science project of leaf identification.

Suovetaurilia (sacrifice of a pig, a sheep and...

Suovetaurilia (sacrifice of a pig, a sheep and a bull) to the god Mars, relief from the panel of a sarcophagus. Marble, Roman artwork, first half of the 1st century CE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But my point is, if we leapt back in time to when I was still living with my Roman warrior husband, I’d have a lot more to worry about than simply finding enough drawer space for all my childhood riffraff. Likely, I’d be too busy spinning wool, loaning out my skills as a wet nurse or preparing some livestock for the next animal sacrifice.

I suppose there was the chance that I could have been commanding an army and issuing coins bearing my image, but you really had to be incredibly organized for that sort of thing, and anyone standing over my desk will attest to the fact that order and efficiency aren’t my strong suits. Plus, I just don’t have the hair for good coinage.

February, in particular, would have been a month I’d have been glad to see the back of. All those nights when I lived as a Druid, lighting torches and waving them about in hopes of chasing away evil spirits that cluttered invisibly around us resulted in a lot of smoke and no definite feeling of a job well done.

English: Saint Brigid.

English: Saint Brigid. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At least womenfolk finally figured out how to delegate by the time I’d been reborn into Ireland. Yes, the weather might have been worse, but we were now putting responsibility solely on the shoulders of Brigid, the goddess of fire. It was a heck of a lot easier explaining to our fretting husbands that we did everything we possibly could to chase away winter and let the ewes deliver safely, but apparently the fickle deity we spent all day praying to was otherwise occupied and unavailable. Plus, there was laundry to do. Sorry.

That whole February fire purification bit often ended up ack bassward in that driving the sheep through hoops of flames so they could be “blessed and protected” by Brigid often resulted with a few wooly fireballs, nullifying the whole affair.

Ring of Fire

Ring of Fire (Photo credit: chiaralily)

But waste not want not, right? As long as we had a crowd gathered, we might as well sharpen a few sticks and hand out kabobs. My farmer husband would likely be pacified with my explanation that any animal who wasn’t clever enough to veer away from death by jumping thought the middle of the hoop was an animal that needed culling from the herd anyway. And their offspring would only compound the genetic defect.

Basically, we just killed two birds with one stone.

Much to the relief of my own small herd, their lack of common sense is rarely tested to the point of life or death in the present. And thankfully, I now no longer leave their mid-winter fate in the hands of some guardian spirit, an omnipotent flame fairy. Now, in these modern times, common sense prevails. I leave it up to a rodent.

Groundhog

Saint Punxsutawney Phil.

I can picture my ancient self gazing down at the evolutionary progress I’ve made, admiring how I originally just waved heat in the direction of evil, then progressed to elect an invisible woman to guide me through the dark, scary days up until now, when I can at least see our new underworld god, if only for a second.

Progress.

I suppose I can, at this very moment, make a gesture of thanks to our military leaders at the Pentagon for giving my future self the go-ahead to fight off any evil determined to drag me and my flock back into Neolithic times. Yes, it may not be for every woman, but some of us might be able to dredge up our past life skills of flogging and flaying our enemies, then carve buttons from bones and stitch up something practical from any dried leather hides. Or we could update our methods of combat and practice pulling a trigger.

Coin of Seleucis and Pieria in Syria, with Mar...

Coin of Seleucis and Pieria in Syria, with Mark Antony on obverse and Cleopatra VII on reverse. Compare with RPC# 4095. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Which brings me right back to commanding an army like I might have been doing in my Roman days. The only problem I foresee with this is that I’m regularly left with helmet hair.

Which, when giving this some consideration … is exactly what I need in order to be taken seriously when posing for the face of my new coins.

~Shelley

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

SILENCE!

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

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

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

 My space is not sacred to anyone but ME.

A propaganda cartoon of the arrest of Governor...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone

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

‘Sup?

Dude

Heya, Bro

WUU2

Nothin ATM U?

i hate my life

Lol

JK

LMAO

OMG

T2UL

k

Riveting, right? WRONG.

It’s distracting.

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

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

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

The Oaths We Take, The Rules We Break.

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

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

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

Juices

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

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

DECLUTTER

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

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

Post-It Note Art Collage (PINAP)

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

I write myself a Post It note to remember.

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

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

2013 will be my most manageable year yet!

A chaos free mind = a chaos free me!

Ransom negotiations.

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

clutter

clutter (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

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

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

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

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

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

*sigh*

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

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

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

English: Komondor

English: Komondor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

fingers crossed

fingers crossed (Photo credit: cinnamon_girl)

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

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

I’ll do it.

I promise.

~Shelley

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

A hairy situation.

The “Académie de Coiffure”

The “Académie de Coiffure”

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

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

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

Maybe it’s incredibly effective marketing campaigns.

Maybe all men have cataracts.

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

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

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

Porcupine at Mer Bleue

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mistress and Maid / Lady with Her Maidservant ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old farmer with pitch fork full of hay

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

Sleepblogging.

Sleeping

Sleeping (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

I cannot write if I cannot sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

alarm clock, bought from IKEA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jiminy Cricket

Jiminy Cricket (Photo credit: .Cromo.)

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

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

(Yawn) Shelley

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

 

NASA finally asks for my help.

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

“Uh huh?” (wordsmith, me, at desk)

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

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

“You bet.”

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

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

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

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

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

Chocolate

Chocolate (Photo credit: EuroMagic)

I’d have to get rid of it.

Out of sight, out of mouth, right?

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

It didn’t matter. I loved challenge.

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

“How’d today go?”

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

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

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

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

Day Three: “Mom?”

“Stop shouting at me!”

English: A small pad of Post-It notes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text from me: CONSPIRACY!!!

Text from Chloe: U need rest.

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

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

Semi-sweet chocolate chips

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

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

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

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

And you’re welcome.

~Shelley

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

 

I vant to be alone …

Solitude is an achievement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Français : Vignoble allemand en 1859

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

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

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

What a mistake.

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted someplace quiet, someplace with only one chair.

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

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

And I found it. Sort of.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IfWeLiftOurSkirtsTheyLevelTheirEye-glassesAtOu...

IfWeLiftOurSkirtsTheyLevelTheirEye-glassesAtOurAnkles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

The sign read, The Single Mingle Sip & Supper.

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

~Shelley

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

 

The modest virgin, the prudent wife and the careful matron

With the whole Mother’s Day variety show behind us, I find it uncanny that both coincidence and example have blossomed before me almost repeatedly this week. The message is simple: household management is a must.

Maybe I’ve spent too much time watching the bustling wren nest over the last four weeks. It could be the catastrophic laundry room I’ve walked past a thousand times, but refuse to look into. Or perhaps that seventeen minute nap I took on Mother’s Day finally put us all behind schedule until the Fourth of July. Whatever the reason, I imagine these recurring illustrations are much like when a woman is pregnant; all she sees are the faceless masses of other pregnant women.

I see a mess in need of sorting.

I doubt I can be accused of running the tight and somewhat unforgiving household I did when my children were still of the age where I could easily demand their cooperation, or strike an element of fear in them with nothing more than a narrowing of the eye.

In fact, I’ve done that trick so often my eyes now remain in that fixed position, constantly suspicious, and puffy with lack of sleep. There is little expression left in them now, and having consulted the latest manual on the care and maintenance of women, I am told I should not cling to expectation for any return in the future.

Yes, surgery is an option for some, but it will reveal nothing in me apart from the wary demeanor buried deep within (a plague no scalpel can nip and tuck away, and only grain alcohol can temporarily blur).

Before I stray too far with my customary refusal to stick to the point, I’ll pull us back to management issues, the topic at hand.

Rijkmuseum Library, Amsterdam

Rijkmuseum Library, Amsterdam (Photo credit: leafar.)

I usually bite off far more than I can chew when it comes to my reading list, and because the literary world is analogous to an endless buffet of food (in turns savory, necessary and poisonous), I tend to keep about eight or nine books going at a time.

No, I don’t mix up characters or plots, authors or ideology, mainly because they all differ vastly from one another. Good writing is good writing, and I’ll inhale it whether it smells of curry, sabotage, or cheap wine and cigarettes.

At my bedside table is The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman, the last few pages waiting to be read and returned to the library. Within the 350 previous pages were references to old cookbooks that had me scouring Google Books in search of more than the title, author and a passing reference to the odd recipe here and there.

Title Page of "Beeton's Book of Household...

Title Page of “Beeton’s Book of Household Management” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the titles was a book I’d come across in past research but had never had the opportunity to fully appreciate until now. Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management is part recipe book, part advice column, but most importantly, a strict guideline for how things ought to be done if you wanted them done properly in 1861.

There is no way to paraphrase Isabella Beeton’s words. To fully appreciate her tone and message, I’ve pasted an excerpt of what I feel best sums up the woman, her opinion, and her ‘there are no excuses’ attitude.

As with The Commander of an Army, or the leader of any enterprise, so is it with the mistress of a house. Her spirit will be seen through the whole establishment; and just in proportion as she performs her duties intelligently and thoroughly, so will her domestics follow in her path. Of all those acquirements, which more particularly belong to the feminine character, there are none which take a higher rank, in our estimation, than such as enter into a knowledge of household duties; for on these are perpetually dependent the happiness, comfort, and well being of a family. In this opinion, we are borne out by the author of “The Vicar of Wakefield,” who says: “The modest virgin, the prudent wife, and the careful matron, are much more serviceable in life than petticoated philosophers, blustering heroines, or virago queens. She who makes her husband and her children happy, who reclaims the one from vice and trains up the other to virtue, is a much greater character than ladies described in romances, whose whole occupation is to murder mankind with shafts from their quiver, or their eyes.

Isabella Beeton (1836-65). Hand-tinted albumen...

Isabella Beeton (1836-65).

Whew. I get the feeling she walks about with a well-oiled whip at her side.

I love that part about her domestics following in her path. My dog and cat are the only domestics that follow me anywhere in our house, and that’s usually just to the bathroom for a change of scenery.

And as far as classifying ‘a knowledge of household duties’ to be topmost on the list of high ranking feminine qualities, I would assume after quizzing my family they would likely replace that with not making eye contact with them when their friends are within a five mile radius. Second might be volunteering to take over their household duties.

Fashion plate from The Englishwoman's Domestic...

Fashion plate from The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine of an 1869 issue

Yes, I greatly admire Mrs. Beeton, but I think, given the opportunity and permission not to judge herself too harshly afterward, she might have concluded that being a petticoated philosopher, a blustering heroine, or virago queen would have brought a hell of a lot more spice to her cooking and redefined her ‘careful matron’ strive-to-be status.

In the end, I find myself thumbing through her recipes, gauging whether I’d risk making dishes like barley gruel, cold tongue, or calves’ foot broth. At the risk of losing points in the prudent wife department, and possibly having to hand back my ‘Mother of the Year’ award, I’d best not.

But I’d bet the domestics would love it.

~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)!

 

Know your Cupid, Stupid!

English: THE TREATY BETWEEN THE SHEEP AND THE ...

Last night, as I was finishing mucking out the sheep barn, I paused mid-muck, and shivered at a sound that pierced the silence of this early February evening.

Coyotes: Virginia’s scraggly version of a sheep’s Freddy Kreuger and capable of causing such nightmares, no amount of counting themselves aid in a good night’s rest.

The sound of their yipping and howling was so primal, it brought images of ancient scenes: priests, rings of fire, sacrifices and savage rituals. And it’s merely a hop from all that to Lupercalia—perhaps the forerunner of our modern Valentine’s Day.

A lot of folks would have you believe our currently appointed Day of Love

Cupid and Psyche

developed from one of three sainted men possessing the surname Valentine, and that through his deeds of medical miracles/imprisonment and/or writing love letters sprouted a holiday simultaneously celebrated and feared by men and women around the globe today. Maybe it’s true. Maybe it’s hogwash.

But long before these fellas were martyred and thrown on to the Pope’s big calendar of feasts celebrating someone’s demise, another ritual existed. Lupercalia was one of those totally raucous fiestas that nobody in Rome pretends to remember—unless you’re a Wiccan, in which case, nobody pretends to notice.

Curious to get to the real meat of the history, I was surprised to discover the uncanny similarities between the old Roman shindig held February 13th -15th and our fresh take on love, sponsored by Hallmark, held on February 14th.

See if you can follow along.

Lupa capitolina al Campidoglio. Ne esiste una ...

The Romans: Two teams of Luperci (upper crust youths from Roman society) run a footrace around the Palatine Hill and end at the entrance to a cave—supposedly where Romulus (founder of Rome) and twin brother Remus were nursed by Lupa, the she-wolf. Please note that in some texts, Lupa is interpreted as another slang term for prostitute.

Us: Men, no longer in teams but rather solo, run through any series of mazes, hoops, fire and monetary ruin in order to arrive first at the front door of their “prize” for the evening. I doubt many of the women offer professional services, but wouldn’t be surprised to see them bear wolf-like fangs if the man is late.

The Romans: Now in the cave and upon a shrine, priests sacrifice a couple of goats and throw in a dog for good luck, then mix the blood and smear it on the foreheads of those quick-footed lads.

Us: Now at dinner—be it house or restaurant—some sort of meat is slaughtered and whatever wine is paired with the meal is often smudged on the tie of our skittish young stud.

The Romans: The blood is now wiped away with whatever is on hand, usually some milk sodden wool, and everyone has a hearty chuckle at the good-natured prank. You’re asking me why they laughed at this. I shrug; maybe it was akin to blacking out a tooth.

Us: The waiter comes running with a fresh napkin soaked with club soda and everyone inwardly rolls their eyes at the inelegant act of folly. It seems we’ve outgrown the hilarity of the wine on the tie routine, too.

Flagellants practiced self-flogging at the tim...

The Romans: The sacrificed goat’s skin was then divided and handed over to the youths to both wear as loincloths and make into hairy whips for later on.

Us: Upon leaving the table, many men forget they’ve tucked their napkin into the top of their pants and depart from the restaurant with their own special loincloth.

The Romans: Now the youths get to run through the city streets flogging semi-naked woman (requested to be so by their Roman priests) with those bloody, hairy, goat hide whips, all under the guise that by purposefully getting in the way of the thongs the women will gain newfound fertility.

Us: At last, dinner done, our young man has great hope and expectation to see at least one woman expose herself in some manner or form, although this is where the traditions divide. Nowadays, it is the woman who does the whipping at the end of the evening, usually in the form of self-flagellation rapidly followed by self-loathing. Of course the end result is oftentimes the same as those of the Roman women. Newfound fertility.

To wrap things up, it’s easy to see we’ve not changed much. Apparently, getting to thwack a girl on the backside with some shredded bits of goat is still a winning Valentine’s Day plan for most guys.

A 2 month old goat kid in a field of capeweed

So no kidding, Happy Lupercalia.

~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).

 

Safehouse, or Madhouse?

Cows in the Mist

Image via Wikipedia

I grew up in Wisconsin. Cows. Cornfields. Cold. I loved it. Most of it. Okay, some of it. There was a lot I liked. Especially the no-nonsense, matter of fact sense of humor. Our bumper stickers read, Come smell our dairy air!

This was a place you could feel confident in getting a fair deal, a firm handshake and frostbite, the first two being something you sought and the latter, something inevitable.

Regardless, it was also a place most folks felt safe enough to leave their car unlocked, their house unbolted, and most of their valuables strewn across the front lawn. In hindsight, that last one might have been more of an excess of liquor vs. a laissez faire attitude about life in general.

But I grew up with the mindset that keys were for treasure chests, lime pies and leaving in the ignition. Then I married a city boy. London liked to lock things. Like bicycles in chains and people in towers. They’re big on things that signify no loss of control. Tight ship, tight smiles. (Tight underwear?)

Yeoman Warder ("beefeater") in front...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s taken me a while to get Sir Sackier to loosen his cravat. I think it’s been too tightly notched for so long that the blood supply to his eyes throws floaters in front of his vision in the shape of men with sharp teeth and wicked intent.

“Was the UPS guy really delivering a legal document, or scoping out the joint? Let the dog bark a bit, just enough to register. But then tell them that this dog is a piece of cake in comparison to the nest of pit bulls out back we’re all trying to rehabilitate, but can’t drive the blood thirst from. Make sure he hears you shout to someone inside that you’ll be right there. Women alone in the house are an easy target.”

Which brings me to our new amulets to ward off evil.

English: Chord used as an amulet Nederlands: A...

Image via Wikipedia

No, it’s not a special necklace made from the woven hair of our enemies. It’s called the Redneck Remedy. I think it was meant to be a joke from Roger, our resident Renaissance Man. Roger has been working with us for the last year and a half or so, and come to find out, there is nothing this man hasn’t developed a skill set for. Landscaping? Check. Woodworking? Check. Fireman, mountaineer, sorcerer’s apprentice? Check, check and very likely so. I wouldn’t be surprised if the man came up the mountain having wrangled a team of oxen as his vehicle of choice for the week. He is Paul Bunyan. (But sports a tux with quiet grace should the occasion call for it.)

Roger, master craftsman that he is, whipped up a few dozen benches over the weekend that would have Frank Lloyd Wright secretly making sketch notes on the back of a napkin had he been around to see it. One was destined for our front porch—a place to take off your boots. Roger used the bench as a vehicle to display his sense of humor—and now according to Sir Sackier, our new security system.

An old pair of work boots lay beneath the bench. Worn out work gloves rest on top. Scattered beside them are tins of possum meat and chewing tobacco. And to round things off while sending home the message, a man-handled copy of Guns & Ammo magazine. If this doesn’t send any nefarious, plug-ugly ruffian a-scattering, then he can pause a moment longer to read the hand-scrawled note held down with an old railroad spike nestled beside the chew. That is, if he can read. Scroll through the slide show and let me know what you think. Should I still be allowed to invite the Avon Lady in for a cuppa joe since she went to all the trouble of making her way up here? Should Sir Sackier be banned from outfitting the tower with a machine gun nest? Should Roger, the Renaissance man be contracted by Plow & Hearth? I’m curious to know what you think.

~Shelley

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