Go Fetch Me a Pint

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

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Scratch that.

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

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Oops. One more go at this.

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

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BINGO.

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

Who happens to be dead.

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

So let me explain …

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

And chase girls.

Lots of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*ahem* (and a few others’ too)

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally, but most importantly …

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

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

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

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

Slàinte!

~Shelley

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

Related articles

Maneuvering thru March Madness

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My favorite things to do in March 
• Count the days until April
• Make all food green and shamrock-shaped
• Try Irish whiskies
• Keep track of the number of days until the first day of Spring
• Realize that Spring break has begun
• Pretend that Fat Tuesday only happens on one calendar day of the year

My least favorite things to do in March

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• Count the days until April
• Eat green, shamrock-shaped food
• Pretend I like Irish whiskies
• Forget the first day of Spring
• Realize that Spring break has finished
• Come to terms with the fact that Fat Tuesday could easily be replaced with Chubby Wednesday, Bloated Thursday or I-Hate-My-Closet Monday

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My favorite poem about March
“The sun is brilliant in the sky but its warmth does not reach my face.
The breeze stirs the trees but leaves my hair unmoved.
The cooling rain will feed the grass but will not slake my thirst.
It is all inches away but further from me than my dreams.”
~ M. Romeo LaFlamme, The First of March

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My least favorite poem about March

pg 192 Human Skeleton

pg 192 Human Skeleton (Photo credit: perpetualplum)

Spring Treasure
by DAVID LAPIERRE

Spring arrives slowly…
Seeds begin to quiver from
their frosty sleep…

My steps on the still-hardened ground
Thump
With vibrations
That wake up the roots…

Wake up, little fellows, wake up…

The sun begins its vernal ascent,
And its rays grow stronger by the day…

I gaze upwards to bask
In the warm, golden light…

…and stumble…

Training my gaze

To the brunette forest floor –
A stick? No, a leg bone. A skull. A rib…

Yes! Yes!
I found a body!
I always wanted to find a body!
Yes! Yes!

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My waxing lyric about March

The nighttime peepers sing in full chorus (toads not Toms), slick from the upward climb through layers of oozing mud, a brown butter gift from river banks and softening bogs.

Belching tractors with their curved teeth inch slowly across a crust of soil the earth hides beneath, protecting itself from Jack Frost’s sharp talons.

And the inky, pin-pricked heavens declare the entrance of Auriga, the charioteer—our cosmic copy of Ben Hur, who dashes across the sky each night. His race against whom and to what destination remains uncertain. It might be that in his haste, the sound of his voice is lost to us within the wind that still shrills across the land and rattles newly budded branches.

So much noise to announce new birth. A heralding indeed.

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crocus (Photo credit: polkadotsoph)

There are softer sounds that go unheard, but not unnoticed, for who can hear the push of a crocus beneath its winter bedclothes? Can one measure in sound the growing length of daylight? Or the upward shift of mercury encased in glass?

Having been named for the Greek god of war, Mars, it seems fitting that March would be the month when Roman soldiers returned to service and revved up military campaigns. As it stands, holding off lovers’ quarrels for the full two weeks following Valentine’s Day would set records in our modern day world. I praise these ancient warriors for reigning in their tempers and the itch to decapitate anything with a tongue that speaks ill. We may want to revisit that page in history.

And as I am a devoted fan of any almanac—farmer or shepherd—I find myself nodding enthusiastically with the Middle Ages journaling wisdom of Ptholomeus, where he speaks of those who draw their first breath within the month of March:

Under this planet “is borne theves and robbers nyght walkers and quarell pykers, bosters, mockers, and skoffers; and these men of Mars causeth warre, and murther, and batayle.” *
~Compost of Ptholomeus.

*There could not be a more fitting description of my sheep.

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Yet the almanac foretells abundant pleasures around the corner if we simply bide our time. The slow and measured heating of the earth reveals new spears of green, a primrose-petaled face, a songbird’s sunrise narration, and a thawing creek’s reprise. A walk through mapled woods reveals the timid request for a share in the sweet, rising sap, one tiny, patient drop at a time. And just as we settle into that new patch of enticing sunlight, as we take off our shoes and point pale toes toward the warmth of our closest blazing star, fickle March inhales a lusty lungful and finds us with our faces tilted upward, our jackets tossed off and our eyes blissfully closed. The exhalation is a wicked one, a cruel one, a callous one. It is meant to catch us vulnerable.

It succeeds.

We recoil, grumble toward the sweaters we nearly put at the back of the closet, zipper up, hunker down and wait it out with a mug full of steam, a bowl full of broth, and a determined disposition.

Sure sign of Spring - Robin - Bird

Sure sign of Spring – Robin – Bird (Photo credit: blmiers2)

Spring will come.

It always does.

~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.

Untying the bow that holds December bound.

Rows of Candles

Rows of Candles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Come December 1st, there is a great unleashing that happens in this house. As the solemn, chilly solstice nears, and the days grow muted and bleak, we shift into winter gear. Several things happen simultaneously.

Candles appear on every surface. Their quivering, fickle flames are my attempts to create small suns to replace the deeply felt absence of their somnolent ancestor. Tiny altars illumine with twinkling incandescence. Most folks walk into the house and hope they’ve not entered a family coven.

Woolly sweaters pile up on the backs of chairs and mound in hairy clumps on the counter tops. I find myself repeatedly doing double takes thinking the livestock and woodland animals have mistakenly gained access to the living room and kitchen.

English: Cistercian monks at work

English: Cistercian monks at work

Celtic harps, penny whistles and sleigh-belled songs slither through each room—substitutes for the vanished, chattering birdsong. The dog is particularly fond of fourteenth century a cappella French motets. I know this by evidence of the number of deep barrel-chested sighs he emits while snoozing through each piece, content to such a degree that mere words will not suffice. Or perhaps this is his way of communicating to me that he’s tired of us acting like we’re living in a monastery and can you shut the damn thing off so I can get some shuteye? Maybe.

And speaking of animals, all of mine have responded to the grip of winter. The indoor ones twist themselves into tight, little knots of flesh and fur, noses tucked beneath the surface of nippy air or possibly removed from the bombardment of heavily scented candles mimicking balsam and clove and wood smoke. To them it’s likely an assault. The outdoor brood, the mammoth wool balls in the meadow, battle the frost fettered days with frenzied feasting. Rip, munch, chew, swallow. Shift to the left. Rinse and repeat ad nauseam.

I’ve asked myself if I’d be willing to be terminally cold if it meant I could constantly graze on food. I’ve answered myself with a qualifying question, We are just speaking hypothetically, right? Turns out I’d try anything theoretically, but draw the line at sensory.

The slow-cooking Crockpot is belching heat, steam—and occasionally when I forget enough broth—plumes of black smoke as it chugs along, working a full day of magic on raw ingredients. It releases an almighty “tadah!” when I remove the lid to reveal the results of the bewitching black arts it’s been known to use. I sold my soul to the devil when I purchased that cauldron. I bow down to it repeatedly and grow fat on its spellbinding triumphs.

Hot Chocolate

Hot Chocolate (Photo credit: mike and meg)

There is a hazy fog that settles over the kitchen from where the tea kettle, the stove or the faucet dispenser musters up bucket after bucket full of boiling water to fill mug after mug of tea, hot chocolate and mulled cider. The potions fill the air with a heady scent, but the dog complains the humidity wreaks havoc with his poodle ancestral hair. I tell him either I’ll ditch the Gregorian chants or pamper his pompadour, but not both. He moves outside and solves both his gripes.

And lastly, I’m left with an insatiable desire to unearth the words of those, who although silent in their graves, still move with great effect through their eternal works of pen and paper. Poems, essays and long told tales keep me agreeably disposed, passing the hardened air hours until the return of the sun and all it promises.

So through this dove gray December, I leave you with a verse to recall or read for the first time. Bundle up, fatten up and chin up. Let’s welcome winter.

~Shelley

Winter-Time

Robert Louis Stevenson (from A Child’s Garden of Verses, 1885)

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.

Hoar frost or soft rime on a cold winter day i...

Hoar frost or soft rime on a cold winter day in Lower Saxony, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

Haggis; hairy hound, clever canine

I have been part owner of a dog for most of my life. Rare was the year I did not have daily canine company. The breeds have varied, the temperaments true to type. Some have been as thick as a brick, but luckily capable of putting on a good show.Others were intelligent, but unwilling to allow us to think we held top spot in the pecking order.

The dog who currently resides at my feet is by far the best hound I’ve ever shared a home with. I can’t claim to own him, because who can really own a friend?

And I truly do consider him a friend. He surpasses the definition on all fronts. Except I was recently forced to pause and question my interpretation after hearing someone recite a poem about a dead dog, returning to his owner with a message from the beyond.

If you’ve not come across Billy CollinsUnited States Poet Laureate, this is a fine place to get acquainted. His poem, The Revenant, is one every dog lover should read.

And consider.

And maybe commit to memory.

The Revenant 

I am the dog you put to sleep,
as you like to call the needle of oblivion,
come back to tell you this simple thing:
I never liked you–not one bit.

When I licked your face,
I thought of biting off your nose.
When I watched you toweling yourself dry,
I wanted to leap and unman you with a snap.

I resented the way you moved,
your lack of animal grace,
the way you would sit in a chair and eat,
a napkin on your lap, knife in your hand.

I would have run away,
but I was too weak, a trick you taught me
while I was learning to sit and heel,
and–greatest of insults–shake hands without a hand.

I admit the sight of the leash
would excite me
but only because it meant I was about
to smell things you had never touched.

You do not want to believe this,
but I have no reason to lie.
I hated the car, the rubber toys,
disliked your friends and, worse, your relatives.

The jingling of my tags drove me mad.
You always scratched me in the wrong place.
All I ever wanted from you
was food and fresh water in my metal bowls.

While you slept, I watched you breathe
as the moon rose in the sky.
It took all my strength
not to raise my head and howl.

Now I am free of the collar,
the yellow raincoat, monogrammed sweater,
the absurdity of your lawn,
and that is all you need to know about this place

except what you already supposed
and are glad it did not happen sooner–
that everyone here can read and write,
the dogs in poetry, the cats and the others in prose.

******

I am now forced to second guess my every move, his every thought, and the motivation behind his actions. I would have been happier being blissfully ignorant.

Maybe.

Maybe I still have a chance to make it all up to him.

Maybe I’ll write him some poetry.

~Shelley

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Don’t forget to check out what’s cooking this week in the Scullery (here) and what folks are talkin’ bout down at the pub (here)!