Ask Me No Questions, I’ll Tell You I’m Out of a Job

Occasionally, as a writer and an educator, I get asked to speak about my books, do a reading, or hold a class.

Typically, I get asked questions during the end of those speaking sessions from the audience to whom I’m directing said speech.

Seldom are those questions worth sharing.

Except for the ones that make water squirt out your nose.

Below, a sampling, for your enjoyment, and as a reminder to me to always be prepared. I kid you not, I’ve been asked them all.

What sport would be the funniest to add a mandatory amount of alcohol to?

  • I’d say it’s a tie between toe wrestling and shin kicking.

What’s the weirdest smell you have ever smelled?

  • The inside of a teenaged-boy’s bedroom.

How many chickens would it take to kill an elephant?

  • The person who asked me this was definitely already three sheets to the wind.

What types of penises are typically found in Chinese three-penis liquor?

  • Unsurprisingly, I did not know the answer to this, also unsurprising, I will never research the answer.

How long can snakes survive in bottles of wine?

  • According to certain tabloids, snakes can survive the marinating in alcohol for about a year. According to anyone who knows anything about animals, it is believed that many tabloid writers are marinating in alcohol themselves when writing their drivel.

Are there real unicorn tears in Unicorn Tears Gin Liqueur?

  • Well, of course there are.

If whisky could no longer be called whisky—what would it be called?

  • It doesn’t really matter, but it would still be called “frequently.”

What would be the absolute worst name you could give a whisky?

  • Weapon of Mass Deception.

Do you think hobbits or elves would make better distillery workers?

  • Actually, yeast cells are the hardest distillery workers around, as long as they are kept warm and fed and not overcome by alcohol poisoning—which sadly happens to every single one of them.

If you could make one thing whisky-flavored, what would it be?

  • Kale. Maybe more people would find it palatable.

Do these stairs go up?

  • Today only.

What time is the midnight buffet?

  • *facepalm

If you could work anywhere, where would it be? (asked right in front of my employer)

  • “Ha ha ha, such a silly question. Where else could be better? So happy.”

Would you rather have no nose or no tongue?

  • This one resulted in simply giving security a nod and then the person was searched for a weapon.

If Cognac and whisky were having a punch-up, who do you think would win?

  • What biker bar did you just come from?

When does Oktoberfest start?

  • Seriously??

Does the U.S. Government still poison alcohol?

  • Thankfully, none of the manufacturers of alcohol that I personally am acquainted with have received any demands from the government to taint our products since the end of Prohibition, but hey, these are interesting times, right?

How many bottles of whisky are exported from Scotland every second?

  • 42

Is it true that Kentucky has more barrels of bourbon than people?

  •  yes

What about Scotland?

  • 4 casks for every citizen

Why did the NATO phonetic alphabet change the “W” position from William to Whiskey?

  • A handful of letters represented by names were booted from the original string, but maybe it was their PR department hoping to beef up their “cool” factor.

How many calories does a pour of whisky contain?

  • 65 – Fewer than a banana.

I really like educating people on whisky—or stairs, or how our current calendar system works. It’s all part of a profession that allows me to pass on countless bits of information that fall under the realm of science, engineering, and occasionally, alchemy.

But whether it’s a question of biology or bullpucky, there’s a curious mind behind it. And I will always do my best (okay, almost always) to satiate that inquisitiveness. And to leave you with a quote from Roald Dahl: A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.

~Shelley

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

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

In Memory

Dear Reader,

I pause this month from my normal scribbles to share the sad news of my sweet hound’s passing. Haggis has been the inspirational source of countless essays within this blog, as only a dog that is either full of devilment or saintly radiance could provide. He possessed the latter in spades and will be dearly missed. My heart is crushed, an unabating anguish is my new familiar—an indifferent timekeeper I must walk beside but yearn to part with. As deep as the blistering pain is—the price to have shared a path with him—it is one I will pay, as I was lucky to have known him at all.

The Power of the Dog by Rudyard Kipling 

There is sorrow enough in the natural way

From men and women to fill our day;

And when we are certain of sorrow in store,

Why do we always arrange for more?

Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware

Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy

Love unflinching that cannot lie—

Perfect passion and worship fed

By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.

Nevertheless it is hardly fair

To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits

Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,

And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs

To lethal chambers or loaded guns,

Then you will find—it’s your own affair—

But… you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,

With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!).

When the spirit that answered your every mood

Is gone—wherever it goes—for good,

You will discover how much you care,

And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,

When it comes to burying Christian clay.

Our loves are not given, but only lent,

At compound interest of cent per cent.

Though it is not always the case, I believe,

That the longer we’ve kept ’em, the more do we grieve:

For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,

A short-time loan is as bad as a long—

So why in—Heaven (before we are there)

Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

~Shelley

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

The Historically Boozy Woozy Benefits of Hooch

As a person who works within the spirits industry (the drinkable not ghostly kind), I am often told of the detriments that accompany imbibing alcohol. We are reminded by our physicians, by our parents, by well-meaning, health-conscious friends, and by finger-wagging party poopers as to the many harms, dangers, and hazards that accompany a tipple or two, and are firmly advised to give hooch a wide berth lest we fall prey to its evils.

As a researcher by heart and by nature, I am always looking for an argument to counter the above—a dataset, a study, some persuasive proof that as long as one employs an element of good sense and restraint, one can find great joy and enrichment from the quaffing, the swilling, and the indulging of giggle water.

And I have found one.

In fact, I have found ten.

In truth, I have found more than ten, but I have narrowed the list to my ten favorites.

It takes a sturdy and determined nature to search through bland and archaically worded historical documents, but 15th century German physician, botanist, and alchemist, Hieronymus Brunschwig’s work deserves not only an unearthing, but a spotlight shined upon his analysis. So please, allow me to sing the praises of the unsung.

As Hieronymus sees it, the benefits to drinking alcohol are thus:

  1. It comforts the heart.
    • Agreed. Nuff said.
  2. It heals all old and new sores on the head.
    • Perhaps this is simply a slip of translation from German to English, but most of us might agree that alcohol is the cause of most sore-headedness and not the cure. *shrug
  3. It gives you good color.
    • This is no doubt true, as how many of us have sat across from an individual at a pub—one who’s all rosy cheeked and glossy-eyed from an elixir’s effect—and so much the better for it?
  4. It cures baldness, body lice, and fleas.
    • Currently, there is no data to support this theory, although perhaps we’re still in the infancy of further research.
  5. Dr. Brunschwig also believes it cures toothaches, bad breath, and cankers.
    • This, I believe, explains why my dentist always smells of hooch when I go in for my annual cleaning.
  6. It causes the tongue to become well-speaking.
    • Now who of us have yet to attend a party where some individual, perhaps having become a bit too free with the firewater, will toss off his tie, leap upon the nearest coffee table, and begin spouting off a soliloquy worthy of Shakespearian applause?
  7. It eliminates belching, farting, and the painful swelling of breasts.
    • As these were my late Aunt Marge’s three most vociferous daily complaints, I feel somewhat cheated in missing the opportunity to aid her ailments.
  8. It dissolves bladder stones.
    • Alas, I feel the Mayo may not be fully behind Herr Hieronymus on this one, but likely there exists one or two urologists out there who skipped this chapter in med school and would stand behind the tipple treatment versus cystolitholapaxy.
  9. It provides courage.
    • There is ample historical evidence to endorse this argument simply by counting the number of battles won and marriages proposed.
  10. And lastly, my favorite medicinal remark in favor of partaking in the boozy bevies is that “It cures the bites of rabid dogs and heals all stinking wounds.”
    • *sigh. Pure poetry, right?

And there we have it. Scholarly legwork is ongoing and appears to be just as contentious as the arguments for and against eggs, vitamins, and checking the morning headlines.

Surely at some point science will parse out the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to the advantageous effects of ethanol and not simply roll collective eyes when we argue with limp proof of merely the desirable ones. Until that time, may I suggest you take heed from the sage words of the late, great Johnny Carson:

I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, sex, and rich food. He was healthy right up to the day he killed himself.

So, cheers to you all, and to Heironymus Brunschwig for all his efforts. I toast to your good health with, Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says love your enemy.

~Shelley

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

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

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Kill No Weevil

Last week, one of my cats did something weird.

That statement, in and of itself, is a little unusual, as this particular cat is always doing something weird—talks to lamp shades, tests the running water temperature from a faucet before agreeing to drink from it, and as she’s left-handed, she insists on ergonomic southpawed Fiskars, so for me to notice … well, I think you get my point.

This new particularly weird thing was her staring at a small crack in the wall. A puncture wound of sorts, straight through the plaster. And then the next day, she put both her paws on either side of that wound, standing meercat style, and began a new phase of the “what’s behind the wall” festival.

I sat there with her for a while one day. Heard nothing, smelled nothing, and I certainly didn’t get any of the creepy, hair-raising, goosebump inducing feelings she’s produced in me before when discovering that she’s likely communicating with someone who died in that general vicinity (I spent a fair amount of time this last year in an old cottage that once served as a hospital for a Civil War arsenal compound, and this cat—along with all the house cats—spent countless hours with wide-eyed expressions, howling at a stairwell.).  

This time was still just a mystery waiting to be solved.

But as of last night, my dog joined her in the wall staring competition. Now two furfaces were trying to convince me that I should take a sledgehammer to that plaster work just to see what has taken up residence there.

Again, I sat with them both as they studied the inner cladding of my laundry room, its blinding whitewash lacquer revealing nothing and instead simply generating the occasional cock of one of their heads. Alas, we must remember, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

I would have agreed without argument that both could hear something my ears were not privy to—the pattering of mouse feet, the fluttering of insect wings, the terrifying audio NASA has just released from a black hole at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster—if it weren’t for the fact that one of them was stone deaf.

But maybe there is scent as well as sound, as the deaf hound can certainly still identify from three rooms away the fact that I ate a piece of bacon twelve hours ago.

I’ve called the pest company I have a quarterly contract with, and they gave me the choice of a visit from someone on their varmint team or a technician within their paranormal investigations department, but either way, they’ll be dressed in a hazmat suit and would be spraying some sort of exorcistical holy water. I’m still deciding.

At one point, during one of the bewhiskered gatherings, I joined in. I sat on the floor, stared at the plaster puncture, and focused. Things grew a little blurry and I began to feel like I was searching and waiting for a Magic Eye image to appear—some 3D illusion requiring patience and perhaps a lost instruction booklet to successfully view.

Image credit: Sally Flicker

Then I closed my eyes and simply focused on sound. The hound is barrel-chested; therefore, his breath is so audible, one can nearly hear all the pleural friction taking place in his ancient lungs. The cat has a habit of licking her lips and swallowing frequently, which to me indicates that whatever’s behind the barrier is either worthy of salivating over or she is fostering a nervous tick revealing how she’s trying not to freak out. It might also point toward dental disease, but that’s a next month’s problem.

While the three of us concentrated on something only two of us were truly aware of, a second cat slinked in. She looked about the room, quietly assessed the vibe, and then crawled into my lap, wedging one bony shoulder into the crook of my knee and keeping one eye open whilst the other took a break. The next few minutes of silence was equal parts unsettling and soothing.

The next afternoon I came upon the weird cat, again, simply paying homage to the drywall. I sat down, assumed the position, and waited for the wooden floor patter of the remaining eight softly padded paws to make their way to our small, shared space—which they shortly did.

And whether everyone was intrigued by the invisible entity, waiting with curious anticipation as to its reveal, or some were simply there to catch half a face full of shuteye, what was clear was that this chunk of fading linoleum was becoming a slightly sacred space.

And apparently, we were settling in for a spell.

And perhaps a spell is what we were under, as the next thirty minutes escaped unnoticed. Maybe this was the point—maybe that peaceful half hour was meant to be experienced in a state of heightened oblivion. Not asleep, not awake, just present, like the thing we could not see.

A ringing telephone brought us out of our stupor with the answering machine announcing, “Hey, this is Marvin from the Ratty Shack. I hear you’ve got a problem. Give me a call and we’ll get rid of it.”

I then stared down at the blinking, watery, and in some cases, cataract clouded eyes of my fur family and said, “I vote we wait on Marvin. Same time same place tomorrow?” We left in tacit agreement.

Life goes on. Pestful but peaceful.

~Shelley

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

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

Problems with One’s Nose: It Just Doesn’t Make Scents

I think we can all agree—that whether you’ve experienced it firsthand or not—having Covid is no fun.

I can’t think of any illness that would actually fit into the “fun” category, so perhaps the above statement is a bit of a no-brainer declaration.

Still … there is an aspect of this affliction that is forcing me to do something I do find to be pleasurable—research­­—as I (along with millions of other humans) are desperate to determine when, if ever, our sense of smell will return to our bodies.

The symptoms of SARS-CoV–2 are dizzying, to be sure—one of them including experiencing dizziness. That evidentiary concurrence aside, other symptoms include the typical sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head, fever, so you can’t rest for lack of medicine annoyances. Some of these ailments arising to the level of not just vexing irritations but life-threatening pathologies.

The non-life-threatening, but definitely life-depressing disorder of anosmia—or smell blindness—is a fairly reliable indicator for the Average Joe lacking an at home Covid test to determine if they have been infected with this miserable and unrelenting virus. As an individual whose job relies upon her sense of smell, I long ago created a list of all maladies of the disease that I knew might reliably express themselves and highlighted in yellow and then orange and then pink the one that I absolutely, under no circumstances could tolerate. And then promptly began agonizing over its possible appearance until, I’m guessing, my brain finally took to heart all those self-help, yogi meditations I spent years fostering and “manifested” my thoughts into intentions.

Here you go. You think it, you become it.

The loss of smell for most people is dispiriting—especially if you’re a human who likes to eat.

The loss of smell for a person who is surrounded by hundreds of small alcoholic vials filled with aromatic compounds that are no longer aromatic is panic-inducing, terrorizing, and humbling in a collapse into a puddling heap on the floor type of way.

What now? Is the question of the day, although it really wasn’t a daily query as much as it became an hourly one.

So much of my life’s work is dedicated to identifying odorants—the good the bad and the ugly. They’re all incredibly fascinating to me and important to the labors I’ve been employed to pursue. I have never taken my ability to smell for granted—in fact, I’ve protected its presence and fostered my olfactory skills like a zealot chasing after the title of “Olympic medalist” in that category.

I walk into a room and the first things I notice are the odorants—the primary, the secondary, the tertiary. Has someone burnt toast? Has a dog passed gas? Is that woman wearing the same scarf from yesterday when she slipped outside into the alley to have a quick cigarette?

I walk into a patch of someone else’s presence and can oftentimes flesh out a rhinal history. The cologne they wear, the detergent they use, the curry they ate. It’s a Sherlockian mystery that unfolds itself one odorant at a time.

And now it’s gone. Poof.

Coincidentally, two weeks ago, I noticed a side-effect to a new medication I’m on which revealed that I may experience hyperosmia—an increased sensitivity to odorants. Hot diggity, I thought. A dream come true, right? Until I’d been stuck in a car with a person who, whenever speaking, gave off the exhalating perfume of someone who had perhaps dined on the soup made from the sewer on a hot August day. It wasn’t their fault. Their stomach was appropriately breaking down breakfast with the human chemicals assigned to that job—it’s just that it felt like I was in that organ with them.

Being on the opposite ends of the scent spectrum in such a short period of time provides—along with a bit of whiplash—an opportunity to experience the edges, to assess this bodily sense with the effect of a volume dial. Too much and you whirl with nausea, too little and life becomes monochrome—a dull gray, monotony that snatches away all color, absconds with your anticipation, and tosses you into a steeply descending pit of “why bother?” (Or, at least, for me it did.)

I have a phrase—a formula—I use to describe a concept when teaching on developing the skills of nosing and tasting: scent + taste = flavor.

Scent involves our olfactory epithelium—a small patch of tissue high in the nasal cavity that houses around 400 of our body’s olfactory receptors. When aroma molecules attach themselves to the receptors—either singularly or in combination with others—we can identify somewhere between 100 million to 1 trillion different odorants.

Taste is defining sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami compounds.

Putting the two together is how we experience flavor. Strip one away and the pow and wow factor of food is crippled. Hamstring both and you’re left with … what??

If I allow my freaked out, blubbering inner doomsayer to answer that question, it would be search for a cliff tall enough to leap from. If I am to respond more appropriately, more hopefully, more like an individual who gravitates toward solid science than pointless hysteria, I would say, a not unsubstantial amount.

I am forced to hunt for the other. To seek out what else contributes to the sensory experience of flavor, as there are a few more things than one might expect to include.

  1. Viscosity – a measure of thickness, glossiness, syrupiness, adhesion.
  2. Chemesthesis – this occurs when the receptors on the skin react with a chemical placed upon them—where your mouth and nose are concerned, we have the examples of:
    • Menthol (a cooling sensation—your toothpaste, gum, or minty herbs)
    • Capsaicin (a thermal impression—your hot sauce, spicy peppers, or chili powders)
    • Carbonation (a tingling of the receptors—think soda, sparkling water, fizzy champagne)
    • Alcohol (a prickling phenomenon—might as well go for the gold and make it high proof)
  3. Sounds – the oral and sonic experience that comes from the crunch of your sugar snap peas, the squeak of your cheese curds, the crackle of your potato chips, the smacking stickiness of your peanut butter, the effervescence of those Pop Rocks.
  4. Temperature – No need to explain, you know the scale.
  5. Mindfulness—It has been studied and believed that “expectation” contributes to flavor as well, as scent and taste stimulate the limbic system and ultimately stir up memories.

I cling to the fact that the nuances of what contributes to flavor is fairly rich with examples. And paying particular attention to the extra sensory “we’ve always been here, but you’ve just ignored us” elements highlights their contribution to an experience rich with stimuli.

Is it the same?

Nope. Not even close. For me, anyway.

Will it suffice?

It will have to. At least until biology rights itself, a stem cell transplant program is offered up by my GP, or Mark Zuckerberg finds a way to “meta” my olfactory receptors back into reality. But for now, I will sniff, sip, slurp, and swirl everything I find—to invite back into my brain, to welcome back into my realm, to appreciate with renewed vigor the one thing my mental health hinges upon.

Until all returns, I will remain annoyingly and worrisomely … scent-o-mental.

~Shelley

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

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