Climb Every Mountain (even those without cell service)

One day, when my children were very young, I said to them, “Do not live a safe life.”

Over the years, they’ve come to understand what I meant by that. Be bold. Explore. Seek adventure. Leap!

And they’ve both taken those words to heart, and each in their own ways.

One has decided to live as far away from home as possible and still be considered a resident American. And the other has decided she’s not even entirely satisfied with the offerings of this planet, and is seeking to set up permanent dwelling on some other.

I’m fine with that. In a weird, No, I’m not taking it as indicative of how near you’d like to be to me.

Because that would be safety. Not the message I was pumping.

But I suffer the byproduct of all that, Go concur the world! flag waving. My fault. Entirely. And suffer I do. Because I was born a worrier. I have grown to become Olympic level competitive on that scale.

There are messages that come to me from both kids that fuel the scale of anxiety, like:

Wait, what day is it today? Oh, god, it’s July?

Or

A gift from you of one hundred dollars? Finally food!

Or

I’m heading to Patagonia for a hike. You won’t hear from me for at least a week.

That last one is what I’m going through right this very minute. And I’m not going through it very well. I think I’d go through it better if I’d not had exchanges like:

Me: You know it’s winter there now, right?

Her: Good point. I’ll pack a scarf.

Me: How will we communicate?

Her: Communicate? Mother, the whole point is to leave all people behind.

I have deep breathed my way through nearly twenty-four hours of her traveling to simply get to where nobody else is. And now, knowing that it’s pretty likely she has arrived at the base of some glacial fjord—because we lost communication five hours ago—it is simply a projection of my mind’s interpretation of her scrabbled together emailed itinerary that I will cling to.

Let’s take a peek into the inner workings of a somewhat neurotic, definitely overprotective mother’s brain as we view her schedule, shall we?

Day 1 – Something something Torres del Paine something something Estancia Sector. *shrug* I don’t know. It’s all in Spanish. I just filled in the proper names of places.

Day 1 (my take) – Hike from the lowest point of some fjord until you feel a torrential pain across your body, then point yourself toward Antarctica—from whence a stiffer cold wind is blowing—and stand in this section until the pain has subsided, and you can move forward again. Or the spring thaw arrives.

Day 2 – More Spanish words including Ascencio River, then Los Vientos, followed by Chileno Montaña, and finally, La Morrena.

Day 2 (my take) – Forge across river of ridiculously fridgid temperatures, lose your vientos, which could be food, or water, or all camping gear. I’m not sure here. Then lose the trail map and find yourself totally alone, cold, and without wifi.

Day 3 – Blah blah blah foreign words including Nordenskjöld Lake, Almirante Nieto Hill, and again, another word ending in something that sounds like it hurts, Cuernos del Paine.

Day 3 (my take) – She’s somehow found herself in a small area that Scandinavians have staked claim to, they give her shelter, and whatever that new untranslatable Norwegian word that defines coziness is, they watch a Danish drama, then put her in a sauna to thaw out, and finally roll her back out into the snow for a taste of compare and contrast—life, versus you wish life would end.

Day 4 – There’s something about the Francés Valley, words that end with the phrase The Italiano Campsite followed by other foreign text and the concerning location Hills Paine Grande, ultimately coming to an end with even more worrisome words placed side by side Paine Grande Mountain Refuge.

Day 4 (my take) – Clearly, she’s in Europe now. I saw nothing about flights or boats. I have no idea how she’s arrived on that continent. But the thing that disturbs me most is that she agreed to trek the ‘Hills of Great Pain’ followed by the ‘Mountain of Great Pain.’ The last word ‘refuge’ does little to assuage my anxiety, as being an American, I fear she may be shown the same kind of hospitality our country is currently offering others who are seeking shelter. Paybacks, baby.

Day 5 – I used Google translate. And I think all of us know exactly the sharp accuracy of linguistic interpretation available here, right? Using this fine tool, I have made out the phrases chunks of floating gray glaciers, catamaran dividing great blocks of frozen spears, and impossible to operate ice field.

 

Day 5 (my take) – I think Google did a fine job. I think if she has made it this far, she will make it no further. I think that this part of Chile is sending a message: Go ahead and just try. We love a good laugh. And we’re keeping you in this frozen tomb until climate change forces us to defrost.

I have stopped looking at her itinerary. I’ve come to realize that translating biblical Hebrew texts into Middle English and Old Norse would be a better use of my time, and I’d best get moving on learning all three dead languages. In another week’s time there will either be a phone call from my exhausted but exuberant child at the airport or an ex-band member of ABBA—now retired cliff dweller—in Patagonia with some unfortunate news.

Either way. It’s all out of my hands.

But it is a safe bet that my whole “do not live a safe life” series of lectures will continue to come back and bite me on the backside, for as I dropped this child off at the airport and shouted out at her receding figure, “Have a safe trip!” the last thing I heard was a fading cackle of irony.

~Shelley

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

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.

Picture This: One Last Time …

Once upon a time I met a guy.

Okay. That’s not true.

Once upon a time I didn’t meet a guy, but I got to know a guy because we started working together.

Uh, okay, not even all of that is true either. We never actually started working together, we actually worked apart, but our efforts came together for just over four years.

I absolutely love the look on people’s faces when I tell them that my blogging partner of over fifteen hundred days is someone I’ve never actually met. It’s such a great story.

But even great stories—no matter how epically enthralling they are—will come to the last line of their tale with bold letters that say: THE END.

That part usually feels like you’ve been impaled by an errant satellite antenna and now have to wrestle it out of your flesh on your own with nothing but nail clippers.

Robin Gott and I had a couple of things in common:

  • We both spoke English—although he mostly speaks Swedish now as that’s his current crash pad country.
  • We both saw the world with a slightly skewered sensibility.
  • And we both loved his sense of humor—although I’ve never specifically heard him say he loves his own sense of humor, I took it to be a fact because on more than one occasion, when I would receive his sketches for the next post, there’d be an array of splatter on the page that I could only assume came from a mouthful of tea when finally sitting back to surmise one’s work.

But … we had one thing we did not share in common:

  • The way we envisioned Scotsmen.

I saw them as broad-shouldered, well-muscled, claymore-handling kilted men who eyed me with a savage come hither look.

And Robin saw them as knock-kneed, prickly-legged, bagpipe-wheezing kilted geezers who couldn’t look anyone straight on because they were also cross-eyed from too much bagpipe wheezing.

His version was a helluva lot funnier than mine so I stopped writing about them. One does not want funny in one’s delusional, sigh-inducing afternoon daydreams.

I cannot begin to convey the number of reactions Robin’s cartoons have produced—it’s usually the first thing anyone brings up when speaking to me about the blog. More often than not, that comment is snorted, or chortled, or sniggered out by an individual retelling the tale of being in a public place while reading the post and then making some embarrassing sound of amusement that turned heads and raised brows. Coffee shop lines, grocery checkouts, and a couple of bathroom stalls. I’ve heard it all.

My kids had their own take on Robin’s work. Oftentimes my daughter would grumble as to the awkward teenage shape her blog version body projected, and my son would beg me to stop writing about him, as surely some teacher at school the next day after the post was published would brandish their smartphone, showing him one of Robin’s colored pencil drawn sketches of him and warn, “You’d better never do this in my class.”

I soon came to realize that Robin’s depictions of myself were wholly accurate: frizzed, limp, or muddled hair, ungainly limbs, mismatched clothes, and always an expression that conveyed anarchic chaos.

Usually, they were also more flattering than the truth.

And speaking of truth we circle back round to the facts. And the sad fact of the matter is that there are only so many hours to a day and Robin’s are jam-packed full of a burgeoning family life, day job, and acting career.

Sometimes you have to whittle away the fat from the bone—cuz, you know, sleep is a thing.

And I get it. When we first joined forces, we were pumping out four or five posts a month. Solidly. For more than a couple of years. Then a few people entered my life—an agent, some editors, and a dastardly heavy breathing brute of a thing called a deadline.

We scaled back.

Once a month posts made everyone breathe easier. Except readers. And I got it. And by ‘got it’ I mean complaints. More people wrote in to express their dissatisfaction with the new arrangement. People NEEDED their Sunday shot of Gott—and oh, yeah, the writing wasn’t horrible either.

I advised most folks to recycle old posts. Most folks advised me to go take a long walk off a short pier.

Ah well.

But we must all come together and wish Robin farewell and good luck. The artistic world will continue to benefit from his influence and presence—whether he’s producing a play or appearing on film. And his doodles will live on. They are on my walls, in my text, and within my heart.

I have heard from so many people about the joy Robin’s sketches have brought them, and I know everyone will be saddened to find them absent.

One day, a long time from now, my grandchildren will likely discover as they tour through one of the halls in the Smithsonian, a jar containing a brain submerged in formaldehyde.

“What’s that?” they’ll bend down and shout into my Miracle Ear, seeing me chuckle with self-congratulations about a long ago prediction.

“That,” I’ll croak out, “is science’s failed attempt to understand the workings behind the waggish and whimsical wit of a man who saw the world through an enviable pair of glasses.”

I will pause and smile and remember.

“I was lucky to know him, but I never met him.”

~Shelley (& Rob)

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

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

 

Snake Slayer or Civil Serpent?

I like to think of myself as a fairly capable woman.

Okay, that’s a lie. I’d give my left lung to have other people think of me as a fairly capable woman.

Uh … okay that needs even further correcting. I’d give my left lung to have other people think of me as a kickass master virtuoso in most all areas, wielding life skills that leave my friends and family open mouthed with astonishment. I’d like people to look at me and say, now if Thomas Jefferson and Hildegard von Bingon had a child,

and that child was tutored by Joan of Arc,

and sung to sleep by her fiercely feminist nanny Beyoncé,

that would be Shelley.

All right, I may have gone beyond the beyond with that one.

Because the reality is far from that equation. No offense to the parental units as they worked their backsides off trying to encourage the mass of reluctant neurological connections I housed within my skull.

They did their best. Working with what they had to make a human being as independently capable as they could before they sawed at the fraying tether between us and cast me off to manage my own life raft.

But they still worry.

And I do not make it easy on them.

Sometimes purposefully, because that, in and of itself, can be fun. I like to push the boundaries a teensy bit to show them just how much their overall disappointment with me should lessen each day. Oftentimes this backfires.

Like when I announce to my dad that I’ve successfully replaced the flapper in a toilet.

He’s thrilled. Then I announce that in doing so I accidentally broke the overflow tube and the fill valve. He’s less thrilled.

Next time I’m editing that last bit out.

Or when I told my mother about how I just spent the last thirty minutes fertilizing all of the gorgeous spring bulbs she spent an entire day planting last fall. She was elated. I did not tell her that there was a 50/50 chance that I “fertilized” all the bulbs with weed killer because I’d recently transferred both liquids into unmarked spray canisters and neglected to label them before putting them away.

I’m learning.

Usually, most of their wide-eyed panic comes from my retellings of the Wild Kingdom episodes that regularly occur where I live: all alone, in the woods, up on a mountain, with not a stitch of people to borrow a cup of sugar from anywhere close.

I love it this way.

They are not nearly as delighted.

My latest run in with one of nature’s more hellish horrors (my mother’s words not mine) actually occurred on their property and not mine. So they were both there to witness the depth and breadth of my bravery and level of skill.

They live in a house that occasionally has indoor plumbing. But when functioning, those pipes can be fractious. They require me to regularly crawl under the house in order to beg and cajole (read: bang) those pipes into cooperation (read: submission).

Under a house is not a place most folks like to spend their free time. Sure, it’s got a variety of puzzles that will either entertain or flummox your synaptic connections for a spell. Like miles of wiring, or ducting, or hosing. And myriad dead things that cursed their curiosity that led them to a glue board. But maybe it’s the poor lighting. I never feel the urge to hang out longer than I have to.

Shortly after I announced to my parents my intention to have a “come to Jesus” meeting with the water filter in the crawl space, I decided to rethink my handyman chore list and shouted up into the house, “Hey, Dad? Can you give me a quick list of bullet points on venomous snakes?”

I heard my mother shriek above me.

“How big is it?” he responded.

“Them,” I corrected.

Kill them! (I think we all know who shouted this.)

How big are they?”

“Huge.”

“How big is huge?”

“At least 18 inches give or take a foot. Maybe take.”

“So not so huge then?”

“Well, not so huge but in a really big way … And they have a lot of teeth.”

“What type of teeth?”

“The kind orthodontists would marvel at.”

“Did you actually see teeth?”

“No,” I shouted, “But they conveyed teeth.”

“They conveyed teeth? In what way?”

“In the way women do when they are elbow to elbow in a shoe sale.”

Kill them! (Again, not me or my dad.)

I looked around for something to use as weapon. Not because I really wanted to end the life of some sad beasts that happened to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, but because I recognized the same look in these snakes’ eyes as the big black bear I’d recently encountered at home that conveyed the identical message of One of us is going to wish we could back up and start this day all over again with a whole nother path.

I found a shovel. I quickly realized two things. One—shovels are not the most ideal deterrent to use against a pile of snakes. Two—snakes are springy.

Yeah, that whole coiling thing is not just to keep warm like dogs and cats practice. That’s a preparatory pose.

Duly noted.

I found an ax.

Now we’re talking. An ax is an immediate confidence boost. An ax shouts, “You have no idea what century I come from and the talents I possess. But go ahead and roll the dice, buddy.”

I’m going to assume we can all deduce the outcome. After all, I’m still here and spinning this yarn.

I am also a newly minted superhero in at least one person’s eyes.

I may not be a proficient plumber, nor a great gardener, or even capable of bullying back a black bear, but as of today I stand proudly before you as … slayer of serpents.

Who no longer require diligent dental detail.

~Shelley

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Grave Danger of Being Silent

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

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

It was my turn. Everyone looked at me.

“Umm … whisky?

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

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

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

Yup. Same look.

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

That answer got a woefully polite round of applause.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, it does exist.

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

Yeah, that one.

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

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

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

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

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

She saw the beauty and necessity of hard liquor.

~Shelley

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

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

I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance

“Oh good lord she’s going to visit me now, isn’t she?” my mother had said as we were driving toward one of her many doctor appointments.

“Well …” I began, rolling my eyes skyward, “if you say so.”

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I don’t say so!” she insisted in a slight panic. “That’s just the way things happen in our family.”

“Um hm,” I muttered, glancing out the window, hoping to make eye contact with one of the many trees we rushed by on the freeway. Surely one of them would gaze at me in sympathy, or slap a branch onto their proverbial lap and give me the signal that this truly was an absurd conversation.

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But I suppose if that happened—or if I actually expected that to happen—then it was a clear indication that I was a bone fide descendant of the line of people I was inwardly scornful toward.

I flashed my mother an incredulous squint. “I just don’t get it. Why must all the dead women in our family pay a visit to all the alive women in our family?”

My mother shook her head. “I don’t make the rules.”

I snorted. “I kinda beg to differ here, but okay. Then who does?”

She was getting heated. “Well … it was the Church while I was growing up.”

“And now?” I asked.

“As far as I know they’ve not loosened the reins on too many issues.”

“So you think the pope has rubber stamped some sort of decree on post life apparition appointments—some sort of soul session, or a revenant rendezvous?”

I looked over at my mother. The lines between her eyebrows furrowed gravely enough to qualify for the depth of spring seed planting. She glared at me. “I don’t think this is funny. I’m not sleeping and I’m very anxious.”

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“So your sister is just going to pop up at any point, perch on the end of your bed, and stare at you like a cat until you feel the heat of her gaze and open your eyes?” I asked.

“I can see what you’re doing.” My mother held up a very pointy finger. “You’re setting this up. You’re trying to trap me into revealing some sort of solemn and serious family belief so that you can exploit us and write about it on your blog—or make me into some crackpot character in one of your books.”

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“Will you still give me that lovely speckled gravy boat once you die if I answer yes?”

She was silent. I sighed. I was on the verge of losing that gravy boat.

“Listen,” I began, “I’m really sorry to hear that Aunt Marci has shuffled off this mortal coil, but you two haven’t spoken in a bazillion years. What makes you so certain she’s going to want to have a pajama party with you now?”

“Unfinished business.”

“What does that mean?”

“My sister always had a lot to say, and when I cut off communication with her I’m sure an enormous backlog built up. It was easy enough not to answer the phone when she was alive, but now …”

“Yeah,” I nodded, “I can see how challenging it might be to patch a poltergeist straight through to voice mail. You know, with that whole omnipotent viewpoint they now possess, they can actually see you press decline.”

One more glance at my mother made me feel certain that the gravy boat was slipping through my fingers.

But I couldn’t be serious about this. I stopped being serious about it the second I heard about it. Which was probably when I was around seven or eight—some of my earlier memories of when my flamboyant and glamorous aunt would come to visit. She was the stuff of bewitching silver screen cinema. She was part movie star mixed with Romanian gypsy sprinkled with the hand gestures of a crystal ball gazing oracle.

She walked in a cloud of perfumed smoke from her long, slim, brown cigarettes. Her clothes were as vibrant and flowy as a clothesline behind the United Nations on flag washing day. Her voice was hypnotic and breathy, or like a fishing line that lured you right up to her magnetic gaze. And once she had you hooked, you were paralyzed.

Until she’d say something like, You’re an old soul that has lived a thousand lives and has been rebirthed to do some sacred and venerable deed. You know you’re an angel, right?

*insert record scratch here

“Okay, this has been fun,” I’d say as I’d get up and back away slowly from the kitchen table and then realize, once back in my bedroom, that all the quarters from my little coin purse that attached to my wrist were now missing.

She was good.

“Mom,” I said, taking my hand off the steering wheel and resting it on her arm. “Try not to worry. What’s a little ghost visit? Every time I’ve heard any one of the old aunties talking about these weird ancestral ‘on their way to the grave’ stopovers, none of them have said that they were freaked out by the ghosts, right?”

“No. I don’t care what anyone else has said. Whenever someone dies, the first thing I do is pray they don’t come visit me. And then I say it out loud several times. Just to make sure they hear. I don’t want the visits. No ghosts. Period. I think I’d die of fright right then and there if Marci’s ghost suddenly appeared.”

I nodded my head. “If it would help, I’ll come sleep on the floor in your bedroom tonight. And I’ll keep the gravy boat right by my side.”

She looked at me like I’d just suggested we both slip into some leopard print leggings and see if we couldn’t hitchhike our way to the nearest trucker stop for some fun.

“And what help would the gravy boat provide?”

“Oh that,” I waved off innocently. “Well, it’s symbolic really. You know—it’d be a reminder to the ghost of Aunt Marci that it’s a boat. And boats signal you’re on some journey. Like crossing from one side of something to another. And that she’s supposed to continue hers and not stop off at your bedpost to chew the fat.” I shrugged. “Plus, if you do die of fright, at least you can rest in the afterlife knowing that the gravy boat is in good hands and where you intended it to be.”

The look on her face suggested I missed the boat on the opportunity to comfort her through this whole conversation.

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I looked out to find a sympathetic face from any of the passing timber one last time. I wonder if I’d improve my chances of one day getting that gravy boat if I told her that she was being driven to her doctor’s appointment by a celestial seraphim.

At least I wasn’t a ghost.

~Shelley

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

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

Knowing All the Angles

I’ve lost my favorite sock.

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Well, maybe it’s more appropriate to say that I lost one of my two favorite socks, because, of course, socks come in pairs.

But this wreaks havoc with the wordsmithy part of my thought process—the one that wholly annoys almost all of my friends and family—the one where I cannot keep my lips clamped together when a person uses a word incorrectly.

Like the word priorities. There is no such word.

No. Such. Word.

Priorities is not something that can be pluraled. (Nor is pluraled a real word but I’m not gonna get off track).

You can have ONE priority. The rest of all your important matters fall in line somewhere beneath that top notch point of concern.

I know. It’s a really picky piece of trifling tittle. But it matters to me. Almost as much as my favorite sock.

So … I take in a big breath this morning whilst looking around my closet and bedroom for where the damn thing might have scampered off to and remind myself—as it is January, and one of my New Year’s resolutions was to see things from “another’s” perspective this year in order to help myself understand half of my fellow Americans—to put on those lenses and look.

It might not be a perfect example of what I was going for when I uttered my pledge on December 31st, but I actually like the broad swath of application. I’m certain I will benefit from it in other areas of my life apart from the political.

Like when I look around my bedroom and spot a dying potted plant, a time-ravaged old rug, and an antiquated hamper.

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(I said hamper, Rob.)

“These things have got to go,” I announced to the curtains, who were doing their utmost to appear as unshabby as possible. “Every time I leave this room, morning daylight reminds me that the Salvation Army is waiting for a truckload of items from me.” Daylight brings on crisp objectivity.

And then I swear I heard the curtains snicker, “Try the dump, cuz even the Salvation Army has standards.”

I gave the curtains a menacing glare, told them to stop putting on airs, and left.

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Wearing mismatched socks.

Because only half of my feet needed to find themselves dispirited today.

The odd sock happened to be that of my son’s, and in keeping with my theme of stepping into someone else’s shoes, I found it utterly befitting of my 2017 goals.

Today, I was going to see things from someone else’s perch.

Everyone I interacted with today got the same question: Why did you do that? (Only without the snarky-like overtones this sentence could easily convey if only reading.)

Like the small consignment shop I was sizing up for my eventual spring cleaning offerings. I’d pointed to a Trump poster up on the wall behind the owner. He pointed to a wall behind me, where a series of antique firearms were on display. “Cuz guns,” he shrugged.

I thought about how different the world felt from when I was a kid growing up in Wisconsin, where nearly every one I knew owned at least one rifle and brought leftovers from the reason they had one in the first place to any BBQ where everybody was supposed to contribute.

I asked the question to a Croatian woman who was cutting my hair and describing her life as a refugee when she told me that many of her fellow countrymen-now-American friends had voted for Donald Trump. Why did they do that? (This one was said with a big dollop of surprise on my face, but still no snark.)

“Because,” the hairdresser said, “they saw the Clinton name as a reminder of horrific times in our country and they were choosing the lesser of two evils—although,” she continued, raising a sharp pair of scissors into the air, “I had to remind them that Mr. Trump seemed oddly familiar to our own past president, Slobodan Milošević, who had been arrested on suspicion of corruption, abuse of power, and embezzlement, and had fraudulently voted himself back into office for his second term.”

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And finally, I’d asked the question to a psychologist friend of mine after I’d discovered that he, a lifelong Democrat, at the last minute switched his presidential vote. Why did YOU do that? (This time it was dripping with snark.)

He took in a big lungful of air and said, “So that I could better study narcissism. Purely for scientific research of grand magnitude.”

Then he raised a finger and said, “Don’t forget, good things can come about from this presidency too. Want to an increase NASA’s budget? Tell Trump the European Space Agency thinks they’ve got the First Foot on Mars position nailed. Want climate change to get some attention? Tell him China might be pulling into the lead problem solving position globally and are about to initiate geoengineering.”

I raised an eyebrow at him.

He snorted. “Narcissists like to be top dog.”

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Okay, I thought after this long day of listening and not judging. I’m inching forward. Making a little movement. Increasing the scope of my perspective.

I decided to do something I’d not done in a long time and stretched out on the ancient, grizzled old rug. In no time flat I determined that from every angle and through any optic, this carpet still needed to go.

Then I pulled my feet up close to yank off today’s mismated socks. I tossed them toward the hamper and caught sight of the sock that had gone AWOL this morning.

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Yup. Proof that seeing things from another perspective was going to serve me well this year.

I looked up at the curtains and told them I probably deserved a little praise for my advancement with my New Year’s resolutions thus far, but they responded with a Tell it to the hand kind of attitude.

It reminded me of my kids.

Maybe I could tell both of them so I’d get a pat on the back and a round of applause.

But then I thought of how they’d likely say they would have wished that my resolution was to back the hell off being such a grammar tyrant.

Okay. Point taken.

I’ll add it to my list of priorities.

~Shelley

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

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

Ask for the Moon, but Settle for a Star

“Really?” I said in a weak voice that imitated a woman who’d just been told that her mother-in-law was about to become her new roommate.

Or that new federal regulations on sleep had been voted into law and now five hours a night was the limit.

Or that the last glass of Chardonnay available to mankind had just been sold and there will be no more. Ever. Again. Period.

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In truth, none of these things would apply to me as I have no mother-in-law, I’m managing to squeak by with an average of 4.95 hours most nights, and as long as we don’t replace Chardonnay with the word whisky I can somehow manage.

But I still uttered the word with that same tone as I looked up at the old star perched atop the Christmas tree I’d just dragged into the house off the roof of my car.

It’s the first decoration that goes onto the tree every year. The equivalent to the commencement ribbon cutting. The thing that signals the official beginning. That object of honor.

But that object of honor decided that showing up for work this year was going to be a bit of a stretch. It refused to light when I plugged it in.

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“Do you know how much I count on you?” I asked it from where I looked up at it, lying on the floor, covered in pine pitch and prickly fir needles. “I put a huge amount of faith in your kind all year long. You cannot check out on me just yet.”

I let my head fall back onto the sticky floor and really thought about what I’d said. It was true. I counted on the existence of these heavenly bodies with about the same level of addiction and enthusiasm as my son’s belief that our freezer is the birthplace of frozen pizzas.

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They will always be there for us.

I wake up to the blinding crack of sunlight most days as our nearest star climbs above the wide stretch of horizon I see out my bedroom window. Ah, Death has not yet pointed a knurled finger at me and dragged me off in the middle of the night. Get out of bed.

Each night I make a point to make a wish on the first star I see in hopes that whatever tiny prayer I offer up might be met with a genie’s “Your wish is my command” kind of an attitude in the forthcoming days. And then I am told by my space-science savvy kid that in fact, the object I have been throwing requests up to is not what I believe it to be.

Apparently, I have been spending years wishing on a planet.

Dammit.

And in truth, half of my country has elected a “star” per se to lead, and run, and oh-my-godfathers represent our nation as it makes four more trips around the sun.

I looked around the room empty of everything except holiday decorations and echoed that one word I’d said just moments ago but this time to a box full of shiny red balls, “Really?” I half expected it to answer me back.

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I started to fine tune my worries as I stared hard into the face of 2017.

What can I count on?

Who will show up to do the work that needs to be done?

What are the odds that we will ever run out of wine or whisky?

Glancing back up at that decoration forced me to pull the lens back a bit and redefine things in a way that annoys the hell out of my children because it’s the only way I think: in metaphors.

This tree is our country. Everything hanging from it are the people who live in it and are trying to find a temporary place to perch. That star … well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?

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If there was any one thing that people have routinely criticized me for over the last many decades of my life, it would be that I’m too sanguinely spirited, too rose-colored glasses earnest, too naively hopeful.

Yes, genetically speaking, perhaps my default position on the optimism meter is a bit off the rails—like far enough off the rails to be considered beyond the ditch and somewhere halfway into the farm field full of corn.

But I have a strong belief in the system, in our series of checks and balances, and in some invisible hooded Monty Pythonesque figure called Fate who’s somehow keeping score. These are the things that keep me from joining throngs of others who are now so overwrought with how the year has taken shape they are looking at ways to buy their own island and make a fresh new batch of people.

I get it. This has been a year where most folks have been sleeping on a bed full of pins and needles. We’re asking ourselves some really tough questions. And what’s making it so damn difficult is parsing through the fictitious and fraudulent answers we keep tripping over.

It has been a challenging slog. An effortful climb. Things we’ve counted on as concretely dependable are crumbling, wavering unsteadily.

Things like how we define the truth.

Are we really being advised to get used to a “post fact” society? That this is the era of post-truth politics?

It was Heraclitus who is quoted as saying that “The only thing that is constant is change.”

I can get used to change—hard as it may be. But I don’t want to stretch the line of discomfort to say that I will grow used to immorality, or dishonesty. I still want to live in an evidence-based world. I spend all day long in a fiction-based reality, but I’d like to come home to a fact-filled planet.

I thought we were making progress. I thought we were making improvements. I thought we were making room for one another.

I wrap the white and multi-colored lights all about the branches of this tree and plug them in. Most of them illuminate. Some are blinking fast and furious, flashing dramatically for attention. Others are calmly swelling to their full intensity before dimming down and repeating their pattern of participation. And some have been snuffed out. Their years of service come to a quiet dark end. This is us. We are those lights and baubles, the trimmings and treasures.

I may like some of them more than others, but they all go on the tree. There’s space enough for every one of them. They all made it into my home somehow, destined for that tree—whether I fell in love with them, was gifted them, or took pity on them. There will be room.

I stare back up at the large unlit star. “Hey,” I say to it. “I’m asking … pleading that you show up for work. Everyone else is here and some are even trying to get along. You won that covetous position up there because of your fancy marketing and packaging. My first choice was to go with something rather homespun and a bit rough round the edges. You made a promise from the shelf and, even though I can’t recall ever putting you into my cart, you’re here, and now I’m expecting you to do the great grind.”

Lead.

Head.

Shine.

I turn out all the lights and lie back on the floor. For a brief second or two that big ol’ star flickers.

I am flooded with hope and watch it intently.

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I hear the sound of an ice cube drop into the tray in the freezer.

Or maybe it’s the sound of another frozen pizza being born. A post-truth fact I could easily get used to believing.

As tough as this year has been, I’m not ready to give up faith because, as the great English poet Sarah Williams said, I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

Happy New Year to you all. I wish you peace.

~Shelley

ONE LAST CALL: Robin has his annual calendar of curiously clever cartoons for sale and time is running out. If you’re hoping to take a peek a tiny bit farther into his unfathomable brain, then I suggest you head on over and order yours tout de suite! It may be the one bit of comic relief you come to rely upon to get you through 2017!  Robingott.com

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

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

 

 

 

In Good Spirits

I needed help.

Professional help.

It’s a phrase I utter at least a dozen times a day it seems, and not every episode is referring to the fact that shock therapy might be just the thing.

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This time I was searching for answers to questions that did not reveal the meaning of life, or my purpose in the universe, or even advice on how to handle the creepy guy at the grocery store who is always asking if he can hold my melons while I search for apples.

Ah … Security??

No, this time I needed help with my new book. The writing “fiction” part is always so much fun. But the “researching the fiction I just wrote and discovered wouldn’t even be remotely believable” part is always a little hard to choke down.

Best to do them in tandem.

And as my new book takes place in a distillery, and there’s one nearly spitting distance from my house, it would be foolish of me not to immediately take advantage of the expertise within grasp.

So I pleaded my case, called the joint, and set up an interview to make sure that my new manuscript wasn’t going to entirely fit into the genre of fantasy.

Or an oval shaped file under my agent’s desk.

At first I thought Ian Thomas, the new director of operations at the Virginia Distillery Company, was worried about the time—because he was always checking his watch.

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And then I thought for a second that maybe the fellow I was standing across was fairly new to the concept of wristwatches, as when he did look down at it, he stared at it with intense focus for at least four or five seconds.

And then I realized that I was the actual idiot.

Ah. An Apple watch.

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Ian was getting about as many requests for attention as if he’d had a tiny toddler tugging at his pant leg—which, coincidentally, he’ll have in a few short weeks as he’s expecting his first child.

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So perhaps coaxing a fledgling whisky distillery through its beginning years full of growing pains is exactly the kind of training a soon-to-be dad should be having.

If nothing more than to reinforce recognizing the blissful joy of losing consciousness for more than ten minutes in a row.

That, and maybe to discover what a bazillion new parents come to realize during the agonizing teething phase of their tiny tot: whisky can act as a damn fine benumbing agent …

For the parents, of course.

And this man is sitting on a gold mine.

The questions I needed answering were specifically related to the running and operating of a single malt distillery:

How much does each ingredient contribute to the overall end product flavor profile?

How much does the temperature and humidity in your warehouses play a part in the maturation process?

How many times have you tried to roll a full wooden cask of spirit into the back of your car to sneak home and feigned surprise when one of your coworkers discovered you struggling with the back hatch of the trunk?

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Yup. All relevant.

We spent hours walking through the facility, and Ian patiently explained every piece of equipment and component involved in the operation: the gristmill, the mashtuns, the washbacks, and stills. The miles of plumbing, the resourceful recycling, the freshly plowed and planted barley fields, and the mile-long list of government officials he had to converse with on a daily basis in order to make this American malt find its way from barley to bottle—or grain to glass—or field to finally in my hot little hands.

At one point, while talking in the warehouse that securely housed the seven hundred wooden casks snugly hugging their aging spirit, Ian received the equivalent of another toddler tug that needed attention and stepped out of the warehouse while I ecstatically and repeatedly filled both my lungs with as much of the intoxicating, spirit-drenched air as they could hold. And then, profoundly lightheaded from hyperventilating, I suddenly worried that I had inhaled enough of the whisky-dense atmosphere to register as too intoxicated to drive home.

Maybe Ian’s watch would keep him busy whilst I slept off the fumes and stretched out across a few ex-bourbon barrels.

I thought about the last jaunt I’d undertaken researching a book—an afternoon spent questioning an internist about all the effective emetics available in the 18th century. There were no heady, soothing scents of toffee and brown sugar, butterscotch and bananas encapsulating me like a giant embrace from the ancient gods of magical elixirs. Just half a dozen homeopathic textbooks opened to pictures of poisonous plants that could make you puke.

Yeah, this one was turning out to be a lot more fun.

We finished the day with Ian allowing me to further question him in hopes that he could provide answers for the stickiest parts of the book—things I was struggling with and that were critical to the book’s authenticity and success: the biology, the chemistry, the plot.

His answers were enlightening. And clarified that there were actually a solid handful of hugely capable, talented, and ingenious people who worked alongside him to craft this outstanding spirit that holds so much promise.

And surprisingly, if not somewhat disappointingly, not one of them were alchemists or felt the need to invoke a series of sorcerous spells to turn this water into wine—er … whisky.

Apparently Gareth Moore,

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Chairman and CEO of Virginia’s newest spiritus frumenti emporium, really knows how to hire his nine-to-fivers and reviews of their work are about as glowing as the cheeks of those who imbibe in their product.

“Okay,” I said to Ian back in his office, “just in case this post goes viral and the only way you can fend off the sudden surge of paparazzi at the distillery is by locking yourself in the waste management warehouse and hiding behind a tank full of lye and caustic soda, is there anything else the world should know about Ian Thomas, young whisky maker hailing from Tennessee?”

“Ah,” he said, glancing at his wrist again and staring at it intensely for about four seconds, “Well,” he chuckled self-consciously. “I like casual strolls along the beach, I’m a good husband, I love my family and Virginia … and I’m working hard to make a world class whisky.”

I don’t doubt for one second all these things are true. Ian is a busy guy with a full life that’s only going to get fuller in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. A new dad. A new home. A new job. Yeah, he’s got his fingers in a lot of pots.

Copper ones to be precise.

And I think the world of ‘world class whiskies” is lucky to have it so.

~Shelley

HEADS UP Y’ALL: Robin has his annual calendar of curiously clever cartoons for sale starting now. If you’re hoping to take a peek a tiny bit farther into his unfathomable brain, then I suggest you head on over and order yours tout de suite! They won’t last!  Robingott.com

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

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

Slaughter and Mayhem; How I Love November

There is something incredibly magical about the transition from October to November. And by magical I mean mostly spine-chillingly creepy.

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I cannot begin to keep count of all the happenings around here that start off with the catchy refrain Hey y’all. It’s time to celebrate the Festival of the Dead.

Growing up in the Midwest, I was raised and surrounded by incredibly careful Catholics. We were polite. We barely made eye contact. And whenever there was anything remotely resembling the acrid scent of incense, we automatically genuflected and started in on a few Hail Marys.

Where I live now, I see a mishmashed range of religious followers or unfollowers, but I also find myself amidst a plethora of pagans. And as it’s nearly impossible to ditch my Midwestern deferential upbringing, just to be neighborly, I pick and choose all the parts of Samhain I deem acceptable to participate in, and blindly wave off the others.

For instance, in the past I would drive my sheep up from the far reaches of the meadow toward the barn to be stabled for the cold winter months ahead like all ancient farmers were wont to do, but once there, would find they’d argue like two bloated barristers, insisting that as long as I left the cover off the grain barrel, they’d ration themselves and keep an eye on the forecast.

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I drew the line at sacrificing horses, which are meant to represent the fire deity, Bel or Belenos, the sun god, and who reportedly would win back the world come springtime. It’s just such a messy job, plus if you’ve ever seen dead horses, they’re really not up to winning back anything for you after you slay them.

A couple of times, I was happy to extinguish my hearth fire and march through the fields alongside the rest of my townspeople with the intent to kindle a new blaze from some choice sacred oak, and then take my flaming torch back to relight my home fires. The snag was that usually somebody had issued a secret declaration to reinstate the ancient rites of human sacrifice to please a few disgruntled gods, and you wouldn’t know till you got to the big bonfire if it would have been wiser to simply stay at home and grout some tile.

Worse still, was when I once arrived at the glowing gala get together and found myself looking up at a massive effigy—like The Wicker Man. I hazily recalled something about the forcing of not just one unlucky fellow, but a whole slew of folks into giant wood and thatched cages, along with every flavor of farm animal, some bread and honey, and a few jugs of vino. It’s once everyone and everything was stuffed in there nice and tight that the large light bulb in everyone’s head illuminated just as a rosy glow from below shed some extra light on all of them—in the form of a giant pyre. There was a lot of protesting at first, but things eventually quieted down.

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Of course, most of us know that on All Hallows Eve the veil separating the dead from the living is tissue thin—see-through for many if you regularly make a habit of chatting up dead relatives.

And I’m totally fine with that, as being a novel writer, I’m wholly used to hearing voices and engaging in what most folks would see as worrisome one-sided conversations.

In the ancient days of Samhain celebrations, spirits were greeted warmly from their regular gloomy, dank haunts. Everyone scooched over a bit on the couch to make room round the hearth, and a few nibbles of barley cake were offered as well as a cup of grog.

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Most ghosts were grateful. A few remained mulish and curmudgeonly. But who can blame them with the months of back breaking chain clanking and heavy breathing they have to repeatedly practice for The Big Night? I’m sure there are times where the Other Side is no picnic, so one should be somewhat understanding with the occasional gripe.

Lastly, I’ve always welcomed anything that shed light and warmth during the ever increasing dark days of oncoming winter. Stingy Jack, or Jack of the lantern, proves to be a piece of folklore I’ve always found entertaining.

In this old Irish tale, Jack—a tightfisted farmer—manages to trick the devil twice, resulting in one livid Beelzebub. God, who apparently watches the entire event unfold, is thoroughly annoyed by Jack’s seedy character. In the end, neither wants his company in the afterlife. He’s given the boot by both and told to head back from whence he came.

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Apparently, Jack is a bit of a baby and still carries with him a fear of the dark. Just to prove he’s got a heart of gold, the devil tosses old Jack his version of an Everlasting Gobstopper to light his way —a lump of burning coal from the fires of Hell. Jack hollows out a turnip and wanders the earth to this day, ready to pop out of the creepy shadows of any porch that sports a carved out pumpkin.

Kids love that story.

There’s a lot to look forward to as usual, and I really ought to get a head start on making a few extra batches of barley cakes for all the upcoming visits from dead relatives who refuse to leave the comfort of my couch. As the older one gets, the larger the cast of characters grow.

~Shelley

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

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

Crashing and Burning; It Takes Practice

I think three of the most frightening and exciting words spoken together in the English language are: three, two, one.

And the space that comes right after it? The silence where we then announce the outcome? Talk about a pregnant pause. Talk about stress and hope and anticipation—and the new physical knowledge of the phrase gut twisting.

Sometimes you hear the word Liftoff!

Or Action! Or Go!

What nobody wants to hear is Three, two, one … uh oh.

But it happens. And it’s said. With a lot more regularity than many of us would believe—or admit to.

I think most of us regular folks can probably scare up a decent quote or two from marvelous, mind-blowing space moments, right? Things like:

“Uh, Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

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Or “That’s one small step for man …”

Or “Failure is not an option.”

Or is it?

The whole failure thing, I mean.

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Winston Churchill said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” I think the old British Bulldog would have loved to take a peek inside one of the many locations dedicated to our American aeronautics and aerospace research to see his words in action.

I’m talking about NASA, folks.

Space has long been an interest of mine. And parenting. I’m super dedicated to the act and art of parenting. Also writing. I can’t imagine my life without writing.

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But this is where I’ll stop with that whole list because any further and it’s going to sound like I’m generating some sort of online dating bio—and that is not where this essay is heading.

It’s mostly about space and parenting. The writing part is simply my way of communicating to your eyeballs the beautiful connection between the two.

And they are connected. Magically. And ordinarily.

Okay, so actually, my interests are space, and parenting, and writing … aaaand failure.

Although there is some bewitching halo that’s thrown over the beautiful bubble of someone’s great achievement, there is nothing sparkling or spellbinding about a person’s failure. When seen up close, it’s usually unsightly and has us cringing but unable to turn away. A lousy result is a big pile of rubble we tend to shove underneath the nearest sofa and not show our friends by outlining it on the floor with glitter.

Failure hurts. It’s distressing and insufferable. It is your demanding and troublesome Aunt Gladys showing up on your doorstep and expecting attention and accommodation forthwith.

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You cannot turn her away. She is there. Staring you down with two leather satchels in her hands expecting a cushioned chair and a hot cup of tea immediately. The only thing one can do in a situation like this is …

Prepare for it.

NASA rehearses for surprise Aunt Gladys visits relentlessly and gravely. When every single penny of your budget is scrutinized, questioned, and arm-wrestled for and, more important, when human lives are a big wager in the game, you cannot afford a whoopsie poo from out of the blue.

Last month, I went to pick up my daughter from her summer internship with God—or rather, her god—at one of NASA’s facilities. She was building space rockets—well at least that’s what chose to believe because every time I asked what she was up to she rolled her eyes and reminded me about this little piece of paper she signed called a non-disclosure agreement.

This is a euphemism for the phrase, tell anyone what you’re up to and we’ll slice off your legs at the kneecaps.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t entirely that bad, but it was close. Maybe they’d only slice off her legs at the ankles, but she really wasn’t budging.

Anyway, I was given a glance at that amazing level of preparation NASA employs with its projects. Their walls were lined with pictures, graphics, renderings, and sketches of accomplishments and failures.

Yeah, you read that right. Failures.

I’m not saying it’s a gallery of shrapnel and explosions meant to terrorize and paralyze—it’s more like the “Mars Exploration Family Portrait.” There are a lot of pictures and footnotes that say, Stranded in Earth orbit, Crashed on surface, or Destroyed during launch.

How many of us would actually snap a selfie as we stand in front of an epic bungle and then nail it to the wall, poster-sized, right outside our office so that a couple dozen times a day we get to eyeball the lead balloon bombs that are our past?

I think not many of us.

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But with each new person I met, read about, or simply saw beavering away in their government issued lung compressing cubicles that day, I began to wonder if maybe these people’s parents might have peppered their bedroom walls with exactly that kind of décor.

Not to be cruel. But to be … constructive.

Imagine this: right next to their American Mathematics Competition medal, their National Latin Exam Award certificate, and their Presidential Physical Fitness badge, there are two school exams—also pasted up on that wall. One is a Latin essay with whatever Latin words are the equivalent to this paper is atrocious scrawled across the top of it, and the other is a math exam with a big bold red F next to their name.

Next to that is a pink slip from Burger King with the explanatory words Malt machine too complicated for employee to master. This is just above a snapshot of a text reply to the request for a date revealing the response, Uh, Seriously? You’ve got to be joking.

Yep. Victories and defeats.

Achievements and downfalls.

Wins and washouts.

It is rocking horse manure rare to have one without the other. And yet as parents, we typically practice buffering our kids from these missteps and wrecks because …

Well … who wants to see our offspring suffer, or struggle, or return to us bleeding and holding out the handlebars of their new bicycle in one hand and three teeth in the other? Who routinely places their descendants in some Houdini hindrance and says, “Don’t forget to hold your breath,” just before their ears are submerged under water? Who leaps up from the bleachers and fist pumps the air, hollering, “I got it on tape!” to their kid who just did a major face plant onto the asphalt just as the one hundred meter dash shotgun went off and then explained to surrounding parents that the rest of the night was going to be spent watching that film a thousand times and taking notes?

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It’s just not something we regularly do.

But NASA does.

And I vote NASA raises our kids from now on.

I know that sounds a bit extreme, and I’m not saying we just shove them all over their security gate in the middle of the night, dust our hands of the whole situation and then drive home.

No.

We can visit.

We’ll gauge their progress and applaud their efforts. We can wander the facilities hallways and see their scrubs and scratches, identifying the technical names for efforts that had to be scrapped because NASA has an abort procedure for everything: pad, launch, ascent, in-flight, and even the one everybody wishes they had in their car for an annoying passenger—ejection. Some plan for every phase of the course lest something goes wrong. And it will.

Our kids don’t have to stay there very long. Just until they get the hang of the new mindset, this unusual framework for their labors.

And that framework is: You will get it wrong. And then you get it right. Errors are normal. Mistakes are natural. Failure is fated. But what it doesn’t have to be is THE END.

In no short amount of time, they’ll be well rehearsed for life.

I know it can work. I heard the setup after I’d dropped my daughter off at the beginning of the summer. This was gist of the conversation:

Mentor: “Here’s what I want you to do. Make blank do blank.” *

Daughter: “Umm … That’s not very specific.”

Mentor: “Don’t I know it. That’s life. Now off you go.”

Results? Plenty. Loads of them. Usable ones? Not so many. Lots of failures. An endless amount. Embarrassing ones, time consuming and hugely frustrating ones.

Except one.

And really, truly, ultimately—that is the point. Don’t fall at the first hurdle.

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

There’s a lot to be said for scars and skinned knees. Our war wounds can be epic and extraordinary tales. They show we’ve done battle and that we made it through to the other side. They can prepare and instruct and inspire our kids to reach for the stars.

To fly to the moon. To land on Mars.

And maybe more important, to come back again.

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~Shelley

*(sigh … nondisclosure agreement thingie)

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Publishing; It Takes a Village (and some groveling)

Recently I had to write an acknowledgment page for one of my books.

You know what they are, right? They’re usually found at the back of the opus—the part so many folks gloss right over as the writing is mostly filled with names and one line quips about what these names did to contribute to the publishing process, and how life, the universe, and all of mankind could not have been birthed and evolved into what it is today without these sage and wondrous mortals.

Not terribly interesting for the average Joe—unless, of course, you happen to be one of those sage and wondrous mortals.

But in writing my page of “thanks yous,” I can easily see just how out of hand one of these notes of gratitude can become.

It’s critical that one includes the upper echelon of those who ultimately gave your book bound words a chance to be seen.

For instance, you must absolutely never forget to flatten yourself to the floor with a giant thanks to your editor—el supremo persona, le meilleur, un eroe—whatever language you choose to describe one of the most erudite, patient, resourceful, and good looking people you’ve ever met. Even if you’ve never “met”.

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Without your editor you are toast.

Maybe less than toast.

You’re just one slice of bland bread among dozens stacked in front and behind you and all the way down the shelf from side to side.

Your editor lifts you out of the endless mass and puts a fire beneath your feet—or whatever body part is molded to the anchor that’s producing your fairly vapid, stale, lifeless literary efforts. They then carefully tease out the aromatic notes, the visually enticing imagery, and the tantalizing flavors of your story while expertly identifying the exact dressing you need, applying a perfect layer of topping that will make the meat of you shine.

Yes, one must thank one’s editor profusely, and all your lucky stars if you have a truly divine one. And then eat, because just writing about editors and their skills makes one unreasonably hungry.

Your agent—should you have one of those as well—is also on the list for high-priority praise. They are the sleuth who, when first presented with your writing, siphoned out the thread of ability that wove itself in and out of the tapestry of clunky words you put down on paper. They are the individual who gets a first look glance at your work before bravely putting their name to an email that is then cast widely out into the pool of editors who are fishing for something new the public is hungry to bite on.

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Or they are the one who picks up the tab at a gulp and go lunch where they pitch your work to those same bleary-eyed editors in hopes of convincing them to take on the task of giving up another night’s sleep in favor of reading one hundred thousand of your best and shiniest words.

Don’t forget the copy editors. These folks examine your one hundred thousand words, parse them, and then reconstruct them into more appropriate linguistic elements that will have true value to the reader. They will leave you dumbstruck with awe to realize that there are individuals out there in the world who truly understand all the principles and rudiments of grammar. They should be given many basketfuls of cookies for their efforts and patience.

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The marketing department, the art department, the line editors, the assistant editors, and publicists—where does one begin? Each of them, inundated with so much work and so little recognition, really should have a small shrine erected in their names.

So I have.

I’ve built a large altar in a separate room in my house—a temple where I’ve placed magic stones, a dozen candles, tiny false gods, myriad pagan symbols, and any other sorcerous talisman I can collect for my ritualistic moments of devotion and homage. It is a room filled with smoky incense and funneled in melodramatic and lamenting bagpipe music. It is the best I can come up with to replace what I believe they all probably truly deserve over my feeble prostrations: a cruise.

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I just don’t make enough money to make that happen. Sorry.

But you really should see the altar I’ve set up for you guys. It’s amazing.

And scares the hell out of the cat.

And lastly are the people who truly know you. Like—know you know you. The ones who had to read all those diabolically dreadful first drafts. The folks who see you drinking three-day old coffee and eating mac and cheese that you made for an end of school potluck last month. The family members who have had to learn to wash their own laundry, make their own lunches, write their own college essays, and attend their own parent-teacher conferences because you were “just finishing that last sentence,” or “editing that final paragraph,” or passed out on your keyboard.

Speaking on behalf of many writers, we know who you all are, and are so incredibly surprised to look up and discover that not only are you not in the house where we were certain we last spotted you, but are now living in another, entirely different city from us and have taken all of our pots and pans with you.

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We thank you too. Except for the theft of our housewares.

Lastly, as the orchestra music swells over our words, we thank our fifth-grade teachers, or librarians, or fairy godmothers. It’s that one individual who told us we had promise, we had potential, we had possibility.

It’s that one special person who started this whole domino effect of thanks and recognition: the one who gave us that first nod of acknowledgment.

So to all those sage and wondrous mortals—whether they see you as a product or a parent, family or a friend—the thanks are endless and the gratitude unfathomable.

Now it’s probably time to acknowledge the fact that there is no food in the house and the cat litter seriously needs to be addressed. Life goes on—even after The End.

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~Shelley

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

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

The Foot-Slogged Journey from Zero to Hero

According to Google, the definition of the word hero is:

A person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. A warrior, a knight, a lionheart.

Or we could go with Google’s second definition:

Another term for a submarine sandwich.

I am surrounded 24/7 by heroes. Their voices ring in my ears in pitches that reveal their age and dialects that unmask their country of origin. Occasionally, their speech is so foreign to my mind, I find I must consult etymological dictionaries to make sense of what they say.

Most of these heroes I conjure up myself.

It’s a writer’s process that involves a mixed bag of tools: a few shovels and brushes for the archeological dig to uncover the bones, or a hammer and chisel to chip away at “whatever isn’t the angel,” or, my favorite, the ability to sit with a mental stereogram—where you purposefully lose the eye’s traditional and automatic ability to focus—and then suddenly, mind-blowingly, find a new depth of perspective.

Something magical emerges from something quite ordinary.

I’m used to following these heroes through some journey.

We meet the hero. Something happens to him that forces him to change—despite the fact that he is resistant to change. He’s drawn into some crisis. Things go to hell in a handbasket for a brief period of time. Some metamorphosis occurs, impacting our guy and allows him to respond to the call. And then …

BANG!

He saves the day.

Amen.

I am drawn to these people like a needle pointing north and with the same urgency as when anyone cracks open the door of an oven filled with chocolate chip cookies.

My above definition is a super-simplified explanation of a complex, universal storytelling form called …

The Hero’s Journey.

(Please note: In my head, anytime this phrase is said aloud, its audio quality is enhanced by some impressively epic reverb.)

According to many who’ve studied the great stories of mythology and the broad swath of tales that fit beneath the umbrella of the monomyth, there are a few things necessary in each of these sagas:

A situation, a protagonist, an objective, conflict and disaster, and very important—an opponent.

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My list is by no means complete, but just an “around about” example to further my unfolding tale.

But the hero I’m going to tell you about is not one of mythology or conjured up by my writerly imagination. She is a regular Joe. A flesh and blood body. A mortal, a maiden, and amusingly, mine.

Okay, that last part may no longer really be true, as she leapt from the nest two years ago, but the ownership part isn’t the important bit. It’s the journey. It’s one I was given the privilege to watch close up and from all angles.

You know those first words we record as proud parents in the biblical baby books of unprecedented infant achievement? This is found in hers:

Airpane.

Yeah, not a typo.

One tiny fist with one tiny finger extended upward and continuously, unrelentingly, irritatingly pointed toward the sky. One tiny mouth was forever uttering what two tiny eyes could see and two tiny ears could hear.

Airpane.

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Rare was the day when I had the time to track each one of her identifications—and I certainly did not possess the keen eyesight and impressive auditory range that she seemed to have been born with—but I breezily verified each one of her chirps with some form of response like,

“Wow, good for you, Toots. Keep your eye out for more.” Or,

“Clever girl. How many is that this morning? One hundred? One thousand? I’ve lost count.” Or,

“Okay, I get it. You were a pilot in a previous life. I’ve got to fold laundry.”

When my daughter was about five, two common career themes emerged and spilled out into her everyday life. She was heavily into deciding between becoming a ballerina or an astronaut.

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One day, I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for her. She was going to have a few follow-up booster shots for some prior vaccinations. Knowing her intense hatred and fear of needles, I tried to plan something fun to follow that doctor’s appointment that would keep her mind off of the wretched shots:

We were going to have lunch … WITH AN ASTRONAUT IN TRAINING!

A family friend was delighted to hear of my daughter’s early interest in space and eager to encourage her tiny spurts of enthusiasm. It was exactly what we needed to follow that pediatrician’s appointment—which was …

Awful.

She hid, she screamed, she threw tongue depressors at the man as if she was barricading herself inside an ice cream truck with nothing but popsicles to use as weapons. She told him she was going to hunt him down in the middle of the night.

Yeah, it was appalling.

Anyway, back at lunch, our astronaut friend began to fill my daughter’s head with all the details involved in becoming “an astronaut,” and at one point launched into the myriad medical tests and examinations one must undergo in order to determine if one is even physically fit enough for space.

My daughter inquired about inoculations.

“Yep,” he said. “Plenty of needles.”

She then turned to me and asked, “Do ballerinas need shots?”

Well, I thought we were finished with our miniature hero’s journey into space and that life would finally return back to normal. I would no longer have to feign interest in her long conversations about the complex water systems aboard the International Space Station which provided astronauts drinking water made from a filtered mixture of recycled shower water, old astronaut sweat … and pee.

Except I was wrong.

Because every day that space interest grew. Whether she was curious about rocket fuel, or space shuttle tiles, or the physics of learning how to fly.

At one point, she said to me she would happily accept a one-way ticket to Mars if it was available and she qualified, and then gave me permission to give away everything in her bedroom to Goodwill.

“What?” I said. “You’re still interested in space?”

Apparently, this was the equivalent of asking, “What? You’re still interested in breathing air?

She struggled with physics like it was some Minotaur she’d regularly sword fight with each night before bed.

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She spent countless, frustrating hours with her teachers in order to understand—not memorize—the facts in front of her.

One of her teachers—a Japanese physicist, whom I swear was the prototype for Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid—threw countless roadblocks in her way.

“Why waste your time with space?” he’d ask her. “Space is for boys. Dolls are for girls.”

She would march from his classroom and turn to face him just before leaving and flip him the bird.

He, on the other hand, would smile with smug contentment after she left, knowing he’d lit a fire beneath someone’s nettled knickers.

Word had it, that this man had come to America with the impassioned notion that the world needed more girls in math.

But apparently, he didn’t want ones that crumpled when facing adversity.

Walking into her bedroom was a bit like being a detective who opened the door belonging to a guy whose crazed neural network encompassed all four walls of the freakishly alarming one room apartment he lived in. Where equations were sprawled across every square inch of space, and yarn connected one spot to another, making the entire room feel like it was a massive, but not yet completed, macramé pot holder.

Understanding that this was a language I would never have the codes to decipher, I’d offer up encouragement from the safest quarters of my own comfort zones—stories.

Seeing her bleary eyes each morning, and the small, but growing bald spot patches where she would regularly grasp at fistfuls of hair—I first assumed out of frustration, but after taking into account the amount of information she was trying to consume, I came to believe it was in an effort to expand skull space—I would offer up my suggestions. I didn’t want her to give up.

“Why don’t we head to the library and check out some super stories about space adventure? Stories like Aliens Love Underpants, or The Martian Chronicles, or Ender’s Game, or (most important) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?

But with each book I brought home and encouraged her to read, they ended up buried beneath printed out specs of some new rocket booster. Or NASA flight mission reports. Or CDs that declared, you can learn how to speak Russian and Chinese in under ten minutes a day!

She didn’t want to read a space story.

She wanted to be a space story.

Countless times in this child’s life, I’ve stepped back and looked at the path she was traveling. It’s been riddled with potholes, roadblocks, detours, and burnt bridges. But it has also been abundantly sprinkled with mentors: sensei sword masters, Yodas, Gandalfs, and Dumbledores. Guides who have handed her a sword, a light saber, a wand.

Repeatedly realizing how out of depth I was, the best I could hope to do was step out of her way. I was not going to be the antagonist in my very own child’s heroic journey. I did not want to be her conflict, her disaster, her apocalyptic Death Star.

But I could keep her sword shiny, her lightsaber full of batteries, and her wand connected to Wi-Fi at night whilst she slept.

I looked for the places I belonged in her story. Many times I found it was on the sidelines taking notes. It’s what we writers do to nudge a story into place. It’s what we cheerleaders do to rally our heroes. It’s what we parents do to encourage our children.

Today, this child of mine studies aerospace engineering at MIT and is in the middle of her first summer internship with NASA.

It is a beautiful thing to realize that Thank God, you did not get in the way of someone else’s dream and hopefully, instead, pruned back the prickly path a tiny bit to make the journey a little bit easier.

I celebrate both of my children’s achievements as they come, and tell them about the importance of embracing each one of their failures along the way as well. There is no rising without falling.

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Today we celebrate. Tomorrow we may bring back the bandages and antibiotic ointments that come with life’s splashdowns and spills. It is all part of the hero’s journey and there are no shortcuts around facing your dragons.

Today I am so happy for this child I find myself nearly bursting with joy. I seriously just want to take a bite out of her.

I’m guessing she will taste something like a submarine sandwich.

~Shelley

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

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

Class (And Glass) Warfare

Growing up in Wisconsin, my mother’s most prolific advice, which was usually offered up at least once a day during what felt like the presence of nine months’ worth of winter per year, was this: Don’t forget to dress in layers.

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If memory serves, these words were likely uttered as much a reminder to herself, during the span of one full decade, where the poor woman tried to live with a biologically unbalanced hormonal heating and cooling unit housed within her own body, as to the rest of us, pointing to the fact that we lived on the perimeter of the frozen tundra. You were usually either outside, where one could occasionally entertain yourself by spitting icicles waiting for the morning school bus, or inside, where woodstoves were cranking out such an impressive amount of heat, most people’s homes could easily double as a sweat lodge.

But for my mom, I do believe the idea of recalibrating her settings to some sort of acceptable functional state was as elusive a finding as locating the Holy Grail—it’s mythological, tons of movies have been written about it, and some of the fight scenes still have us doubling over with laughter when recalling them.

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Back to the idea of layers.

It really had me thinking lately about how complex we, as human beings, truly are. Depending upon the situation, it’s not unlikely that we rarely show—or know—who we claim to be. And uncovering that which is camouflaged can either be as mouth-wateringly exciting as digging into that triple decker hot fudge banoffee pie parfait, or as painful as peeling back an onion, where the whole endeavor, although necessary to accomplish that life-sustaining ritual we call dinner, will have you weeping and bitter over the caustic exercise.

To illustrate, as per my usual methods, I will use examples from all that’s within arm’s (and eye’s and ear’s) reach around me.

I’m a writer.

I live in (or rather get my rations from) a town where you cannot swing a dead cat without bumping into another resident’s published book.

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You cannot order a cup of coffee at the counter without hearing someone behind you utter the phrase, “Well, with my first novel …” And the introductory expression, “My therapist says,” has long been replaced with its shinier version, “My critique group pointed out …”

I think you get my point.

We are a community of book-bosomed logophiles whose end-of-year financial ledgers reveal we’ve contributed the same number of pennies to the local coffeehouse for liquid sustenance as we have to the library for our overdue book fines.

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But there are writers and then there are writers.

I have heard my town’s writerly residents humorously described as usually belonging to one of two strata of the classic French pastry, the Napoleon, or the mille-feuille. You’re either like the puff pastry—where you’re flaky and half-cracked, and people make a wide berth of you because you’re temperamental and difficult to work with, or you’re the pastry cream custard—where you’re likely too rich for your own good, you find yourself spread out too thinly, and everyone wants a lick of you.

Together, we are the elements that make one kickass memorable mouthful, alone, we are broken down into the ingredients that most physicians warn you to stay clear of in order to maintain optimum health.

My town loves to separate itself into these definitive, identifying tiers. Do you do yoga or yoga?

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Translation: Do you attend a class where the Native American flute music is often jarringly interrupted by the high-pitched feedback loop of a plethora of hyper-sensitive hearing aids and everyone breathes a sigh of relief no one threw a hip during the hour? Or do you attend a class where the temperature on the room’s thermostat is a topic for debate for the Intergovernmental Panel as to whether it may be a contributing factor to climate change and people leave the studio utterly amazed at just how much anger they’ve been storing in their thighs?

Here’s another one. Do you eat health food or do you eat health food? Translation: Do you shop at Whole Foods, or do you buy half your food from the myriad closet-sized natural food stores in town and forage the rest of your meals from within the cracks of concrete parking lots and roadside ditches—and of course only harvest the edible, invasive species that likely deplete the earth from its over-reaped holistic nutrients because we have to feed the earth as well as ourselves?

It can be tough to be “authentic” in this community.

Of course, there’s also the level of success one has achieved that stridently separates the massive cluster of word-slingers in my village, and that was made indisputably evident the last time I hauled my empties down to the local recycling center a few days ago. It can be a sobering and illuminating realization of where exactly you stand in the accomplishment stratification when elbow to elbow with someone whose prosperous wordsmithing has them dumping out a couple of wooden crates full of bottles previously filled with Dom Perignon and Louis Roederer Cristal whilst I am unloading a cardboard box full of empty Two Buck Chuck.

It probably wouldn’t sting so badly if my neighbor’s raised eyebrow of acknowledgment didn’t also silently smirk and say, “How’s the book comin’, kid?”

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Makes me think I should probably take my mom’s sage advice and keep a few extra sweaters on hand. They may be useful to pass out along with the myriad icy stares I give in return to that unspoken question.

~Shelley

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

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

Carved in Stone: the Joys of Choosing an Epitaph

I have uttered one phrase so many times within the last few years it has become as familiar to me as my own name, except it’s usually followed by a giant sigh or a wide-eyed look of panic. It is:

I have a deadline.

Currently, it rattles off the tongue as regularly as one might say, “I have a cold,” or “We need milk,” or “I didn’t mind giving that second TED talk, but the third one was a bit of a bear.”

You get my point.

It is mundanely routine.

I think most of us are well acquainted with the concept and, in fact, find some form of it or another weaving itself throughout myriad ordinary situations in our lives.

Whether you’ve got a fixed time to show up for work, or class, or the meeting, or you’ve got only so many minutes before the bus pulls away from the curb, or the plane pulls its wheels from the runway, deadlines surround us all.

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The homework is due, the test will begin, the doors will be locked—just a few more of the many self-imposed timed boundaries we find ourselves floating within. And I’m pretty sure most of us have experienced the star-bursting, lung exploding moments where we realize we have fallen below the waterline and are now drowning in The Great Sea of Overdue.

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My workspace is small. Purposefully so. Simply to induce that same calming feeling that miraculously occurs in newborn infants when you swaddle those suckers up like a human cannoli. There is no space for flailing, injurious arms, no room for every assignment to be on display, and not enough expanse to encourage the lying down beneath my desk for a quick mid-day kip or the body collapsing posture of giving up altogether.

In fact, much of the space beneath my desk is occupied by assignments that can be ignored until next month and will serve me better acting in the position of foot ottoman.

Paper is everywhere. Attached to the papers are brightly colored sticky notes with due dates on them.

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Calendars are taped to the walls. Deadlines are highlighted in neon colors or sometimes old stickers from when my children were much younger and thought that a decal from the bank or the grocery store was akin to finding a twenty dollar bill on the sidewalk. Most of them say things like eat your vegetables, or put a penny in your piggy bank and have nothing to do with the D-day for the copy editor of my latest manuscript. But still, I think I’d rather see a picture of a head of broccoli

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than a picture of the copy editor with a bubble coming out of her mouth saying, “There is so much wrong here I don’t know where to begin.”

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Nuff said.

Some deadlines are not hard deadlines, but usually, only the ones that do not apply to my efforts. People with a lot more heft to their job descriptions get to blur the edges of their dates, whereas mine tend to show up with blaring sirens, a photographer to witness my failure, and enough guilt to ensure my therapist will be able to upgrade his seat on his next flight for the cruise I also paid for.

One of these days, I’d like to know what it feels like to be someone like Mother Nature, who, when I hold up my calendar to the sky and reveal the thirty days of time elapsed since her agreed upon announcement of Spring, will simply blow me a raspberry and create yet another hard freeze that shrivels even the meritorious efforts of the hardiest of daffodils.

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I assume once you get a taste of that kind of power, it’s pretty impossible to imagine handing it back. Perhaps it’s best I stay on this side of the fence. For here is where I make my tiny miracles happen. And I’m serious about the fact that some divine intervention is needed, because usually finishing some deadline assignment within a manuscript does not come without some serious hours on my knees, looking skyward, and promising to give all future royalties–should there be any–to some worthy cause.

I’m guessing that will end up being the electric company, but if there’s any leftover it will go into the fund to replace my continually dwindling supply of sticky notes and neon colored highlighters.

I suppose if I’m going to be honest, I have found a couple of areas where deadlines are flexible. Booking that annual dentist appointment—because he’s expensive and visits are time-consuming, plus there’s one area in my mouth where I can still chew food and not feel pain, so things must not be that bad. Visiting my optometrist—because ditto to the first two parts, plus I can still drive just fine as long as I cover my left eye and don’t get distracted by the unpredictable arrival of tunnel vision in the right one. And the replacement of cat litter. One just simply needs to recalibrate one’s definition of breathable air.

I’m pretty sure that due dates and deadlines will be the status quo for an indefinite amount of time—at least for me, that is. If things go the way I hope they do for the remainder of my life, I will continue to pump out books that will be not only life-fulfilling but life-sustaining.

In fact, I’d probably die a happy woman and consider my life well-lived if my tombstone’s epitaph read:

Shelley Sackier

Deadline

Deadline

Deadline

Flatline

 

~Shelley

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

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

Arugula–Nothing to Laugh About

There are no fun facts about arugula. Period.

I’ve scoured the internet, intending to illuminate and entertain, but after having read everybody else’s idea of ‘fun,’ I have come to the conclusion that these folks need to get out more often.

For example: “Hey! We’re going to the dentist!”

“You are? You lucky ducks. Instagram the hell out of that for us, ok?”

This is not fun.

I need FUN facts about arugula in order to encourage others to buy it, plant it, grow it, eat it. It’s really difficult to sway folks–who are used to seeing their food handed to them through their car windows–to start eating something they think needs to be eradicated with a drenching douse of Round Up.

Yes, you can tell people about its history, the fact that it was around before the Romans conquered Rome, but so has dirt, and people aren’t tossing that into their tuna casseroles for dinner.

You can remind them that arugula is one of the only herbs that has made some interesting presidential headlines … oh, wait, no, there’s another one.

Or how about I announce that arugula was once considered by many and used by scores as an aphrodisiac? Except for the fact that anything put next to flickering candlelight by default becomes an aphrodisiac. So it doesn’t count.

Since I could not come up with anything uproariously entertaining about the plant, I will divulge the few personal ‘fun’ facts I have encountered.

Beham, (Hans) Sebald (1500-1550): Hercules sla...

  1. I don’t remember planting it. It just showed up in my garden one day, and we’ve been eating it as a science experiment ever since. No one seems to have been affected negatively.
  2. I cannot kill it. It’s like a Hydra. Seriously.
  3. I am competing in a one woman competition to see who can come up with the hottest, spiciest arugula leaf by leaving some of the plants to grow old, woody and leggy. Thus far, I am winning in that one of my plants may qualify as eligible firewood come fall.
  4. If you take one of the leaves and squish it between your fingers and then bring it to your nose while inhaling deeply, you will be reminded of the smell of … arugula. It’s amazing.
  5. Arugula leaves make wonderful bookmarks.
  6. I am trying to popularize my newest dance move called The Arugula. It intermingles nicely with The Funky Chicken and The Mashed Potato. This is best accompanied by Mozart’s only foxtrot.
  7. There are very few etchings and even fewer bronze carvings of the arugula plant.
  8. No one has ever recorded a song about arugula that has made it to the top of the charts.
  9. No one has ever recorded a song about arugula.
  10. Haggis, our resident hound, is addicted to it. He eats more of it than I do, and I’m writing this article … with his help.

Okay, so I hope this little pitch will have you all digging a small hole and tossing out a few seeds or snatching up a bunch at your local market. Or, if you find yourself in the neighborhood, come on up and I’ll load the backseat of your car with some of mine.

Once you get home, here are a few ideas of what to do with your booty—er, bounty.

Arugula and Bacon quiche

Corn Macaroni with Asparagus, Fava Beans and Arugula Pesto

Penne with Turkey, Arugula, and Sun-Dried-Tomato Vinaigrette

Roasted acorn squash and gorgonzola pizza topped with arugula

Roasted Beet and Blood Orange Salad with Spicy Greens Recipe

Meatless Monday: Roasted Beet and Arugula Sandwich with Green Olive Tapenade

The Best Lentil Salad, Ever

Searching for the Best Arugula Pesto Recipe, Making Arugula Pesto Cream Cheese Spread, and Discovering Arugula Pesto Pizza

Now Go Forth and Arugulate!

~Shelley

PS If you’re searching for seeds (from arugula to zucchini and everything in between), I’m recommending a company that not only has a worthy mission creed but a wonderful moral code. Give The Mauro Seed Company a looksee.

Their motto? Grow One, Give One. I’m impressed. Maybe you will be too.

 

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

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

Blowing the Lid Off … Well, Just About Everything

I have often thought about how nice it would be to have a welcome sign painted and sprawled on a thick, arched board between two great posts on either side of my driveway, somewhere about two-thirds up the mile long haul. At first, I thought it would have the name of the house, all majestic and proud. I ditched that idea after about a year of living up here. People who reached the front door were usually either too breathless or concerned about the health of their car’s engine to be enamored with a pretentious house announcement.

Then I toyed with the idea that something encouraging would be appropriate. Like, Don’t give up now! You’re almost there! Or We’ve got cookies!

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I ended up posting a speed limit sign—at one of the most dangerous curves. The fact that it says 55 mph is usually enough to crack the tension of any new delivery man or technician who has to scale the driveway in a bulky, workhorse truck. Some make a gallant effort, but realize anything beyond 17 will have them losing a lug nut.

So now, I’ve made the decision that I’ll simply give a clear statement and folks can take it as they want. Sadly, it’s not mine, but rather a quote from Catherine the Great, yet I figure if anyone points this out, I’ll confess I could not give her credit because I ran out of room or paint or both.

The new entrance sign will say, A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache.

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And this great wind? It blows directly over my house from the beginning of January through the end of March.

Most definitions of “wind” I find too tame to adequately represent that which passes over the land up here. Some say “moving air,” others “a current blowing from a particular direction.” I think Wikipedia has it closest with their, “the flow of gasses on a large scale,” or “the bulk movement of air.”

It’s challenging when one is not raised in the Dust Bowl’s Great Plains, or on Neptune, to get used to living in a house that, for the better part of three months during winter, creates nerve-racking unease. The sounds are howling and shrill, at times something of such biblical force I’m often peering outside for signs of a burning bush.

Inundated with wind advisories during this time period, I’m left wondering—usually as I’m hunting for stray lawn chairs, flower boxes, or small children that have gone missing down the hillsides—just how possible it would be to harness this orchestra of sounds for the usage of our house.

If outfitted with the right equipment, could I make enough to run the washing machine, or power the computers, maybe even the seven alarm clocks needed to rouse my son from the four or five hours of slumped unconsciousness he racks up each night? No, maybe that last one is asking too much.

I know that wind energy is a spectacular idea, a no-brainer when presented with many of the pros:

  • it’s free
  • permanent
  • doesn’t generate pollution
  • readily available most anywhere in the world

Yet I read about community concerns as well:

  • harm to birds
  • unsightly
  • possible noise pollution
  • attracts lightening
  • reliability

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For years, I have followed the clever brains in this industry and continue to be amazed discovering how scientists around the globe are trying to capitalize on the pros and eliminate the cons.

Supporting this industry and furthering design work resonates with the ‘quinoa grain granola/save the purple pig-nosed frog/every day eat your body weight in probiotics’ kind of green thinker I’m trying to be. Of course, no matter how much wind I’d be able to harness and contribute to the energy grid, I will still not be able to:

1.)   Grow trees that do not look like they belong in a Dr. Seuss book.

2.)   Light a birthday cake outside during the first three months of the year.

3.)  Reconfigure my patio furniture as it’s all nailed down.

4.)   Remove the four ankle weights on the dog when we go for our daily constitutional.

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On the flipside, I can fly a kite 24/7, I can easily record an award winning horror film soundtrack, and I get all the free dermabrasion I could possibly want.

There you have it. Pros and cons. I’m going to work hard to keep seeing the wind as a true attractive quality to living up this close to the mesosphere. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? Although up here, if you’re hoping to see anything, you’d better wear protective goggles to keep the sand out of your eyes.

With all that in mind, I leave you with this dictum.

Tis an ill wind that blows nobody good, but a silent wind that lets everybody get a few hours of uninterrupted shut-eye.

(And here’s a little wind humor)

~Shelley

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

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

Presidential Partying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Well, this little tidbit:

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

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

A 422 Day Year? Yep, It Happened.

230116gumbies

If pressed one day to reveal my dream tattoo, its explanation would arise as a result of watching far too many Monty Python skits.

More than likely I’d need to find a space massive enough to accommodate this:

All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us? 

The one thing missing, I would hazard to say, is the calendar we depend upon today.

Imagine this– you are a farmer, tied to the land and your animals, agrarian in every sense of the word, and counseled beneath the Roman Emperor Numa Pompilius’ calendar.

230116farmer

Lunar to begin with, it consisted of a mere ten months—March through December. Now as much as many folk would wish to be rid of January and February, Numa spit in the eye of his subjects’ greatest fears and threw two months into the beginning of the year, officially recognizing the missing sixty days of terror, when unmentionable fiendish ghouls ruled the streets. Yes, you could still walk around covered in ash and leap through the flaming pyres of purification meant to ward off those who shall not be named, but now you’d be able to pencil in on which day you’d prefer to have a chalky complexion and ones where you’d singe your coattails.

Fast forward around six hundred years. Same ancient farmer—well preserved from a fine diet off the land—and same ancient calendar: lunar and totally bungled. Sure, Numa threw in a few extra days here and there to appease those around him with better mathematical skills. But complaints were rife. A 355 day year falls a little short for the agricultural savviness of most farmers, and after a decade or so, they’re getting reminders from Outlook to start planting seeds around December 23rd.

Houston? We have a problem.

Cue Julius Caesar. Even though the guy had a lot on his plate: a budget crisis, political corruption, throwing a few dinner parties complete with gladiators and lions, he apparently got tired of showing up way too late for the Vernal Equinox Festival each year. Things had gotten so out of whack while Rome was busy conquering the world, nobody noticed—unless you were friends with a farmer—that the first day of spring was scheduled for somewhere in June, just after school let out. Something had to be done.

230116hi

Since he had friends in high places, Caesar sought the help of someone whose influence was of the highest order, astronomically speaking.

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Sosigenes, an Alexandrian greatly envied for the size of his telescope, er … astrolabe, was beckoned forth and instructed to untangle the calendrical conundrum. Pronto.

Up for the challenge, Sosigenes took out his freshly cleaned slate and chalk, came up with a slick marketing plan, and presented the new Julian calendar, complete with slides. The only glitch was that before implementing the shiny new calendar, they had to set straight the old one.

Thinking no one would mind—or even notice—Sosigenes threw a few missing days into the current year. Sixty-seven to be precise. Thirty days were added in between February 2nd and 3rd and thirty-five snuck in just after the last day of November and the first of December. The other two might have been tossed in as a couple of three day weekends.

230116tossed

 

Still, no matter how much publicity sparkle the PR department tried to spin it with, the Romans became a cranky bunch. And who could blame them?

February now seemed like an unending Lent, and Sosigenes was getting hate mail from kids who were expected to be ultra-patient for the start of the Christmas season. People were going to have to wait an ungodly amount of time see if Caesar would put a menorah on the front lawn of the Basilica. Sadly, they’d never know.

Regardless, there are a couple of things we can take from the lesson of what soon became coined as The Long Year. Firstly, Rome realized their kids were falling way behind in math and sciences and that the Chinese were catching up. Secondly, Romans back then were older than what their driver’s licenses said. And lastly, we’ve got little to complain about when every four years we tack on an extra day in February, because seriously, look at all the Romans did for us. If you can’t remember, I’ll show you my tattoo.

~Shelley

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

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

Twas the Night Santa Ditched Us

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with Earl

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

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and throughout our old post
Not a creature was stirring, ‘cept our dead plumber ghost.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
To hide the big crack in the masonry there.

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

191215family
And me in my apron, the dog at my feet,
Made bourbon soaked bonbons, a Christmas Eve treat.

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When out on the lawn there arose such a noise,
I sprang up to shout at some loud redneck boys.
Away to the window, full of anger I flew,
And stared down the barrel of my 22.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
proved Earl and his snowplow were now a “no show.”
When what should I see like a cast of buffoons,
But our Earl on a sled pulled by seven old coons.

With a burly old driver, so mean for no reason,
I saw in a flash Earl’s new job for the season.

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

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“Now Bubba! Now, Merle! Now, Otis and Wyatt!
On, Buford! On, Farley! And Vernon be quiet!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now git goin’! Git goin’! Dammit y’all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
My thoughts flew about asking, “Santa Claus, why?”
So up to the front door the hound dogs they slogged,
With the sled full of moonshine and old Earl in a fog.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the stoop,
The grunting and griping of the grumpy old poop.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Through the front door the old codger came round.

He was dressed all in flannel and coon hunting gear,
And his clothes still held bits from skinning some deer.
A bundle of bottles he had flung on his back,
And he glanced all around for a lawman attack.

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

His crooked lips snarled, never smiled like a winner,
And the beard of his chin showed canned hash for his dinner.

Some spit on my polished old floor he did spew,
Revealing that Earl had a mouthful of chew.
He had a broad face that was washed clean of dirt,
But a nose that he wiped on the sleeve of his shirt.

He was chubby and plump, a curmudgeonly churl,
Who never said, “Hi”– his lips wouldn’t curl.
A grunt from his girth and a scratch on his bum
Made me ask why it was Santa gave us the thumb.

He spoke not a word, but grumbled with work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And shuffling past me, he dragged down the hall
The rest of the moonshine toward his next port of call.

He slumped in his sled, to his team gave a holler,
And away the dogs pulled, straining hard at the collar.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“I’m raising my fee for each plow, now good-night!”

Haggis Jingle Bells

~HAPPY HOLIDAYS~

~Shelley

 

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

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

My Simpleminded Smartphone

My smartphone is …well, how do I put this—not terribly smart.

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Now, don’t get me wrong, I am hugely amazed at the capability of said smartphone, and believe these miniature, magical machines deserve daily praise and admiration. For Pete’s sake, I punch a button and the world of wireless wealth unfolds before me–coupons, car diagnostics and my hourly cholesteral calculation.

Yeah, I rightly should set up a tiny shrine and go through a nightly ritual of lighting incense and candles to properly worship its cache of riches. Maybe toss in a ceremonial dance or two as well.

But what I’ve come to discover, and sheepishly so, is that smartphones are pretty much a mirror image of their owners.

Meaning, only as intelligent as the Joe Schmo operating it.

I’ve seen plenty of people (read: teenagers) actively attempting to reprogram satellites with their handhelds, and I’ve come across numerous folks (okay, you know who you are) who have found great use for them as doorstops, coasters, and bookmarks.

And as impressive a span of accomplishments one’s phone has been programmed to complete, the world of technology, and those who consume it, are hungry for more.

We are always looking for a smarter phone.

A phone whose IQ is regularly improved upon and impressively upgraded to achieve more than ever before, and more than your below average science fiction writer could ever conjure up.

We want a device that’s more than super smart.

More than slick and sassy.

And more than sharp and shrewd.

We want a new brain.

Thinking is hard. It’s taxing. And oftentimes, we decide to hell with thinking, I’m just gonna fly by the seat of my pants on this one.

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And then if we find ourselves in the middle of giant whoopsi poo, we rely upon a few tired backup systems put in place by millions before us that regularly explain our errors.

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We brush our hands of the dust, and off we go, convincing ourselves that everyone is fully on board with our excuse for the screw-up because:

We’re low a quart of caffeine

We never got the email

Or

The President was apparently flying within one hundred miles of my town and, therefore, all roads were blocked off to allow safe air passage and now I’m running three days behind schedule, plus my child just lost a tooth.

Yep. Heard it all before.

What we need is a scapegoat brain.

What? You mean the report that was due about first quarter financials? Yeah, that was outsourced to my Neural Network Simulator. Not my fault.

Of course I didn’t pick up the kids from your mother’s. My Collective Cognitive Conveyance took that over last week,

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don’t you remember, or is your Recapture App on the fritz again?

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Why didn’t I pick up your weekly pint of Chubby Hubby at the supermarket? Apparently, our AI Grocery Gofer scanned your current waistline, honey, and deemed it an unnecessary purchase.

I think you get my point. Responsibilities, memories, decisions—all this riff raff gets in the way of living a calm and quiet life, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be so much easier to assign basic thought—or occasionally all thought—to an outside source?

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Hoping to head off on a much needed, hard-earned vacation?

Got the flu and you’re laid up in bed?

Desperate for just one quick, blissful afternoon nap on a rainy Sunday afternoon when there’s still so much to tackle before the new week begins?

Yes, there’s still work to be done, but how about you just hand all that over to some form of artificial intelligence and rest easy knowing your best work—and quite possibly better than your best work—will still be happening without you.

Researchers all around the world in both private industry and well-funded university departments, not to mention a few shabbily decked out basements and garages, are beavering away bringing us ever closer to that reality.

Google, Facebook, NASA, IBM—just a few of the ‘big boys’ making giant strides across the fertile fields of artificial intelligence.

In the past, machines progressed on the scale of intelligence by collecting vast amounts of data on our habits, compiled that info, and then systematically revealed how we as individuals would behave in the future. A boon for marketers, if nothing else.

A little freaky for those of us who believe choosing which color socks to put in the morning is going to be the first monumental struggle of the day.

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But machines had been getting stuck with a tiny little thing called REASONING. Apparently, data analysis was running across a pothole in the road when it came to human inference and interpretation. Ones and zeros had a hard time with rationale.

Except now it seems that technology is making it over this hurdle too. Machinery is finding success with the art and skill of human reasoning with nothing more than algebra. Yep, math. Well, in truth, this is an extraordinarily dumbed down explanation for the concept of Deep Learning within machines where data is fed in, spat out, judged and fed in again round after round. There are countless articles explaining it far better than I could with the space I’ll allow for it. Just Google ‘machine learning algorithms.’ We’ll wait.

No, don’t. On second thought, unless you want an instant software freeze within the confines of your own neural network, I suggest you hold off on that. Nobody appreciates the acrid smell of synaptic burning coming from between their ears first thing in the morning.

Nevertheless, a faster, sleeker, smarter digital assistant is on its way to each of us.

But if, like in my original assessment, we are still stuck with a reflection of our individual capabilities, I’m fearful that after opening the protective casing of my newest device I will be greeted with the spine-chilling voice of Barbie giggling and saying,

Math is hard!

~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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feasts and Famine, Saints and Sinners

When I was a child, I went to church.

A lot.

It felt like every day.

It was probably no more than twice a week—services on Sunday and catechism classes on Wednesday afternoons. But then I suppose I could count the times when we had choir practice, which was often held on Thursday nights. Plus, when my mother had a National Council of Catholic Women Who Needed a Night Out meeting in the church basement with coffee and pie, and I had to tag along. Or when there was an “extra” service celebrating a special saint.

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There are over 10,000 named saints in the Catholic Church. Folks have stopped counting because they lost track a few years back. I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere in the fine print of a contract made with each martyr that all saints are dedicated a special service.

We have more saints than we’ve had presidents, astronauts and American Idol contestants combined. Throw in the number of iPhone updates we get in a year and we’re getting close.

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The nuns from my class would get testy over the fact that we had trouble recalling which saints we were honoring each week, which I felt was terribly unfair, as they’d clearly had more time to familiarize themselves with the Pope’s Weekly Picks.

Simultaneously, we were in the process of memorizing the Periodic Table of Elements in science and things could get really tricky there. Was there a saint named Vanadium or was that a material found embedded within meteorites? Were Valerian, Niacrinus, and Gordian martyrs or metals?

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It was even harder to concentrate during classes when a service was taking place upstairs in the church. The shuffling footsteps, the thumping of the prie-dieu—that’s the fancy name for the kneeler benches—the muffled sound of the organ whirling away and the faint odor of incense that smelled like a combination of decomposing cabbage leaves and burning bleach.

An eye-watering aroma that reminded us that we had the diet and cleaning habits of hardy Scandinavians.

Oftentimes, the nuns would collectively sigh and direct us all up the back steps to join the service. When asked why we had to sit through church again for the second time this week, this is what we were usually told:

–        It’s a day of Holy Obligation—which I eventually found out was not true.

There are six Holy Days of Obligation each year, not counting Sundays, and during the year I finally started keeping track, we’d gone seven times and it wasn’t even the end of January.

Occasionally, they threw in this explanation:

–        God has big ears and is recording your lack of enthusiasm.

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The one Feast Day I did happen to like was St. Martin’s Day, or Martinmas. Yes, the saint had an intriguing story, but I was smitten by the cryptic, hocus pocus magic of the celebration’s numbers.

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Although America chooses not to make a big deal of the day, many other countries in Europe have bonfires, sing songs, have a family feast and give presents on November 11th. The thrilling bit is that they begin their Martinmas celebrations at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of this eleventh day of the eleventh month.

As a kid, this blew my mind. How could something magical not take place?

As an adult, I continue to look everywhere for magic.

I find it on the early morning breath of the sheep, in clouds of pillowy warmth, surrounded by whiskers filled with grain dust from breakfast.

It’s in the family of white-tailed deer, sporting their shimmering, thick autumn coats in the slanting November sunlight, startled at the iron beast that roars past, pitching them into nimble-footed flight from their deep, grassy beds.

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I cling to the sky at dusk, marveling at how the thin, streaky clouds grow stained and saturated with crimson flames and plush blue velvets.

I search the inky heavens to discover the return of Pegasus, his wings beating breath into the blustery, black-cloaked winds, sweeping the papery leaves about and whispering with a whiff of arctic air as winter chases him across the sky.

The snap of crackling logs, the heady, wood smoke scent, and the flush of radiant flames make a brick box come alive and funnel the focus of attention, enticing the harried and rushed to come sit a spell.

These are my saints, these are my feasts. These are my days of holy obligation. To notice, to celebrate, to capture, to treasure.

This is my church.

I hope God notes my enthusiasm.

~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON* (click) 

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

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

Don’t Even Think About It

According to Eckhart Tolle—one of the world’s greatest living, spiritual philosophers—my brain has been hijacked and taken over by an all-encompassing, unbounded and unremitting dictator.

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This domineering tyrant is in charge of my mind and directs my focus and attention to whatever puzzle or curiosity it’s attracted to—like a magpie spotting a shiny piece of tinfoil on the ground and heading into a nosedive.

Or a bee getting that little zing up its tiny spine and making a straightaway for his morning shot of nectar dusted with trendy macha powder.

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Or discovering what kind of homing pigeon call four competing gas companies receive that announce a newly made cross section of road.

All that scattered focus is part of what Eckhart defines as a wretched epidemic running rampant across our globe—a dreadful affliction, an incessant enslavement, a blight of flesh-eating, biohazardous decrepitude that is pure poison.

Okay, that last part I added myself for pungent emphasis, so scratch that if you’re a stickler for purity, but his message remains:

Thinking has become a disease.

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Huh.

Apparently, the real me is buried deep within a place that requires a treasure map to locate and which is about as obtainable as nuclear warhead access codes.

But it’s there.

And from what I gather, it’s shaking its head at me and making some thoroughly annoying tsking sounds.

Super judgy, if you ask me, but that’s probably the ‘thinking’ part of me saying that, and according to Eckhart, I gotta SHUT HER DOWN.021015eckhart

Well, not entirely.

I’m thinking—er, guessing—that if I close off those roads the devilish despot situated in my brain’s bus driver seat will plow through and easily make a few detours. He’s determined and relentless. A big bulldozing control freak. And I can’t have him behind the controls, running rampant and unshackled.

Thinking about fewer things could be helpful.

Actually, thinking about fewer things is the new ordinance. It’s written in tiny, black ink letters at the bottom of the contract I just signed with my new publishers on page 79.

Thou shalt not obliterate brain cells unless in the effort to complete labor on our behalf.

I get it.

They’re Eckhart Tolling my evil overlord. He’s been too busy with fingers in more pots than those found in a Cuisinart factory. Which means when he rouses from slumber tomorrow morning, he’ll find a cup of tea in a cardboard mug and a bran muffin in a paper bag waiting for him by the front door, as well as his suitcase and passport.

Along with breakfast and the clean underwear I’m making sure the taskmaster is taking with him, he’ll also be tucking a calendar beneath his arm.

The one that contains my blog post schedule.

After nearly four years of popping out weekly essays, the winds of fate are asking I blow hot air in a different direction. So, if it’s not become easy enough to read between the lines thus far, here it is in plain speak:

I’m going into Monk Mode.

Hands have shaken all around. Publishing dates are set. Editors have been met. And sleeves have been rolled up to reveal many sets of attractively sculpted forearms.

I’ve split open a fifty-pound bag of dog chow for the hound and placed it in the middle of the kitchen floor.

I’ve allowed the mouse population to flourish in the basement for the benefit of the cat.

And I’ve filled the pantry with four season’s worth of tinned beans and tuna for my teenage son.

Everyone will be happy.

I’ll be wheeling around a rolling intravenous infusion pole that will alternate two bags filled with either French roast coffee or chamomile tea, and once a week I’ll slip in a dram of whisky for good measure.

This is the new normal. This is the new now.

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The other half of this blog posting team will be up to his earballs in new and exciting work as well. As many of you know already, Rob’s talents extend far beyond his side-splitting sketches, and during the next year he’ll be trying to get a new theater show off the ground in Sweden. As the ground is often frozen and frequently unforgiving, it will require extra effort and a massive sense of humor.

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Thank God Rob has all that in spades.

We’ve had to ponder and plan the roads in front of us.

This is not goodbye, I promise, but rather the announcement of a new schedule for Rob and me.

It’s what we’re referring to as “No Schedule,” just random, occasional posts when we both find ourselves popping up above ground for a breath of fresh air and a check to see who’s ahead in any political polls.

Change is good for all of us. It challenges, invigorates, and inspires us to see and create with fresh eyes. And just like underwear, fresh is hugely appreciated by those who take the time to sit beside you and see what new alluring and inviting art you’ve fashioned since the last time you all had a good chin wag.

We promise to keep in touch and keep you “posted.”

We’ll be thinking of you—even if Eckhart Tolle tells us not to.

~Shelley & Rob

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON* (click) 

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

Mark My Words–Even the Confusing Ones

I promise you.

You promise me.

That is the bare basics of a contract.

We both sign on the line that’s either too short, too narrow or too good to be true, promising we’ll each do our thing and come out smelling like roses on the other end of it.

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Well, that’s what’s supposed to happen, right?

Although the Chinese Zodiac has determined that this is the year of the sheep, I, personally, would take issue with this. This is not my year of the sheep or the goat, or any other cloven foot animal. It is the year of the treaty. It is the year in which I have spent a good portion of my time, hunched over paperwork with a magnifying glass, or peering onto my monitor and growing ever closer all with the hopes that if I can move near enough to the words, they will magically make sense with the intensity of my gaze.

Wrong.

They will make sense only if we stuck to something like a common language.

Or if I backed up two decades and decided to go to law school.

Or if maybe Plato, in all his soft and flowy robed glory was sitting beside me and explaining each Latin-based line as we moseyed through them.

Some contracts are wonderfully exciting—like the one I’m scanning with a fine-toothed comb right now—the one that says, We, publishers of great stories big and small, want your book, and then a second to follow the first, and quite possibly a third one to boot.

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These pieces of paper are exactly the kind of documents that make authors realize they are actually gymnasts because of all the back flips and flying Dutchman leaps of joy that ensue. But sometimes you discover that you’re going to have to become an extraordinarily flexible gymnast—like Cirque du Soleil Chinese acrobat flexible because of the Silly Putty stretching you’ve done to come to an agreement.

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And most authors I know are so excited to get published they would be willing to exchange their bones for rubber bands if it would launch their books onto the other side of obscure.

It helps to have a clever agent who speaks contract law, or studied Latin, or can easily recall her past life when she lived in Ancient Rome and clerked for Cicero. So, thanks, Jennifer. Super glad you’ve got my back.

Other contracts will keep you awake at night with a backlit calculator under your pillow for easy access.

Refinancing a mortgage. Need I say more?

Okay, I will.

You own a home. Correction: you live in a home the bank owns. The bank has you sign a contract that states: If you want to live in this home and pretend it belongs to you, you can pay us x amount of dollars for y amount of time.

Now this would all work out fine and dandy if they’d all just leave you alone until you either run out of money, pay off the debt, or run away to open a lobster kabob food truck on the island of Saint Kitts.

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Instead, before the ink has a chance to dry, you’ve already received three offers from a few other financial institutions who announce they’ve got a slightly better deal—at least on the first page of the glossy brochure and as long as you don’t read the fine print. And I think we’ve all been in plenty of situations where because we didn’t read every word of the fine print, we realize something unpleasant is about to hit the fan and we immediately start scouting eBay for that ‘lobkabob lorry.’

A few contracts are meant to make your life considerably easier. The tax accountant who you visit once a year and beg to make sense out of your refrigerator-sized box of receipts. A box which happens to be balancing a plate of homemade cookies on top—cookies you hope will convey the depth of your appreciation.

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Or your health insurance agent who sends you a card on Christmas and your birthday with a fridge magnet and a 500 mg vitamin C tablet taped to the inside of it.

And how about your automobile insurance agency who sends you a monthly email in recognition of payment saying, “Thank you. Now don’t drink and drive. In fact, just don’t drive period. It’s a beautiful day. Go for a walk.”

There are also the everyday ordinary contracts that have become such a part of our mindless existence we don’t see them as contracts any longer.

The library—you give me a snazzy, plastic card and all the books I could possibly shove into six bags each week so that I may read them all for free and in return I will tell you: What? I’m not late with that book. What do you mean I owe twenty-five cents for an overdue book? I KNOW I handed that story in last week. I’m POSITIVE this is your clerical mistake and it’s sitting right now on your shelves—just go take a look … oh, wait. Here it is.

The garbage collector—you come every week on Thursdays to pick up my wretched refuse and do with it what you will, and once a month I’ll send you a check for thirty dollars. Fingers crossed I remember to do it and the check doesn’t bounce.

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The internet provider—I will hemorrhage money your way for the promise of magical world wide connection beyond my wildest dreams, you will occasionally come through with that promise, but not in any reliable fashion, and I will regularly scream bloody murder at those who work within the company, imagining painful, fiery deaths for you all, but in truth have absolutely no recourse.

So there we have it. A cross-section snapshot of my ink and paper maelstrom thus far this year—not a farm animal in sight.

And umm … hey, kids? Head’s up: I may or may not have just agreed to give my new publisher both of your first babies by signing this linguistic puzzle. Time will tell. But I give you my word I won’t do anything like that again.

I promise.

~Shelley

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click) 

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

Definitely One For the Books

One sticky August Virginia day, my boyfriend and I sat on an open tailgate, snacking on apples and trying to beat the heat while a legal representative from a nearby bookstore read us a subpoena. What kids get up to these days, right?

This is the story of my mother’s book launch,

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featuring a bunch of literature-loving yogis, an overdose of sugar, and a bookstore that doubles as a law firm. After a couple years of arduous editing and nearly two decades of subjecting her children to her foodie Frankenstein kitchen persona, my mother’s first book (of many), Dear Opl, was published. (Shameless plug: go buy it if you haven’t already. If you have children, they will find it funny. If you don’t, the cover art is pretty. Also, my name is in the dedication. So, it’s worth it.)

Flash back four hours. I sat in the kitchen, next to the carefully packed box of 100 apples that the glorious Whole Foods–health grocery store supreme– had kindly donated to support the fresh fruit cult. Mom waltzed in and asked if I thought 9-13-year-olds, the intended audience of her book, would find her look approachable. I told her to maybe switch out the “eat good food or you will die alone” shirt, and with that, we were off, rocketing along the back roads with a box of books and apples.

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We got to the bookstore, (I won’t name names, so let’s just call it Yarns & Global), unpacked and settled into the throne that had been allocated to the signing. My mother immediately began walling herself inside a fort of brightly colored books while I set up the box of scrumptious apples. Two minutes later, a wild customer service employee appeared, eyeing the apple box skeptically. Apparently, in the kingdom of Darns & Mobile, only packaged food may be served at events. Especially when the event in question centers around replacing packaged food with fresh food. But hey, who doesn’t love a bit of legalistic irony with their grassroots campaign? And my mother, being the resourceful person she is, simply relocated me to right outside the kingdom’s borders, where I was to sit, with a stool and a box of apples, to reward purchasers with a healthy snack.

Inside Narnia & Bobbles:

My mother greeted arriving family members and tried to prevent my grandmother from stuffing half of the gardening section into her purse.

Outside Narnia & Bobbles:

I was just preparing to cart out the apples when curses, foiled again by customer service. Apparently, the kingdom’s borders extend beyond its four walls. I reassured them I would move farther out into the wrath of the burning hot sun with my fifty-pound load of poisoned apples.

Inside Brawns & Foibles:

Half of my mother’s yoga class stood in line for a signed copy of the book. People purchased copies for their grandchildren, nieces and nephews on the other side of the country. Mom signed and signed, making up a different spelling of “Bon Appétit” each time.

Outside Brawns & Foibles:

Another genius idea: relocate to the back of Mom’s car in the parking lot, in plain view of exiting customers. I recruited the loyal boyfriend to keep me company as I sat on the tailgate, handing out free little parcels of arsenic while the sun threatened to knock me out.

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Inside Narnyness & Boblitude:

Small, eager children swarmed around my mother, attracted by the scrumptious chocolate bar on the cover. One child told her about the mermaid novel she was currently engrossed in while another inquired about library availability and stuffed his pockets with some signed bookmarks – prime merch. If she keeps this up, she’ll have the weirdest little fan club of third graders sporting “think global eat local” bumper stickers on their lunchboxes.

Outside Narnyness & Boblitude:

Some poor guy sent by the evil overlord of the kingdom’s legal department stood in front of me, hands shaking, reading me a cease and desist. With heavy hearts, we conceded the victory of World War III to our enemies. May we live to solicit another day.

When the lady could sign no longer, we piled into the car, down a bucket of books, and headed off to a celebration dinner of burgers and milkshakes. Then additional festivities ensued where Grandma provided a massive fondant cake in the shape of the book. And finally we landed in our kitchen, where I test-baked three batches of different cookies. Her campaign slogan may have been “connect with your inner good food dude” but mine (and Grandma’s) was “free the free sugars.”

(BRAG TIME: I MADE PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE STUFFED MOLASSES COOKIES, NUTELLA STUFFED OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES, AND THE BEST %$#*ING BROWN BUTTER OATMEAL WALNUT COOKIES STUFFED WITH PEANUT BUTTER AND CARAMEL. OPEN FOR DISCUSSION – SHOULD I DROP OUT OF COLLEGE AND OPEN A BAKERY?)

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*dons serious face*

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It is a truly marvelous thing to see a community united in support of a well-intentioned project and its pioneer. If I know my mother, I know that she will never stop engaging everyone she meets in good books and good food. I hope to see all of you at her second book launch, which will most likely take place upon an actual launching rocket ship and … there will be cookies.

On an unrelated note, if anyone would like some freshly made applesauce, we have a few tanks to spare.

~Chloe

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click) 

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

 

And How Did That Make You Feel?

Writing a book involves a different recipe of elements for every author. Some folks must write down their story in a longhand format—

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handwritten on legal pads,

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printed in their super-secret diary, or even pieced together on a dry erase storyboard complete with enough 3M sticky note details to plaster a full-scale papier-mâché replica of the Empire State building.

Some of us owe trees a massive apology letter.

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Others are all about their space. They need absolute quiet—or absolute chaos. They need three screens, two dictionaries and a bottle of scotch at their elbow. Maybe they can only write on rainy days so the gloom of a gray day won’t allow the sun to reflect an enticing sparkle across their monitor and make them yearn for two hours of mowing the lawn. Or maybe the rule is that they only write on days when there’s a full moon, their desk is clean and they’ve just found a copper penny.

And some people need deadlines: a class, a critique group, an editor sending threatening daily emails asking where the damn pages are.

It’s a unique process and it’s individual to each writer.

Me?

I just need a therapist.

Seriously. That’s it. My go-to guy.

The way I see it, who knows more about the human condition and all of our frailties than someone who studies the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for a living? Someone who can gossip at the water cooler about some miserable bloke with serious issues while legally define the gossip as “work?”

Yeah, I figure I’ve hit pay dirt.

So our conversations usually go something like this:

Him: So, what’s on your mind today?

Me: Ugh. How long have we got? An hour? Fifty minutes? Where’d you put your clock? You moved your clock. Did you paint in here?

Him: *silence*

Me: Yep. Smells like fresh paint. I wonder if paint fumes are something that kids can manipulate into drug experiences these days. Are you finding kids are coming into therapy with an addiction to paint fumes? Have you been treating anyone for that lately?

Him: Are you concerned that one of your kids may be struggling with an addiction?

Me: No. Well, who knows, right? There are a million different kinds of addictions so chances are they’ve got a few, but let’s just say they were—no wait, let’s not make it an addiction. Let’s say one of them was struggling with a transgender issue. Yeah. Much more interesting.

Him: Are one of your kids struggling with a transgender issue?

Me: No, but for the sake of this hour today, let’s just say that they are. Tell me everything about it. Wait. Let me get a pen.

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That’s my method.

It doesn’t work for everyone, but I’m not everyone. Unless you were to see the notes my therapist keeps on me, in which case, you might conclude I’ve got some multiple personality disorder. Seeing him each week and discussing “other people’s issues” might have my therapist thumbing through the back pages of his manual in an attempt to discover just how many times a brain can fracture and how many identities it can support.

Chances are, I’m adding a little zing to his day by not coming in with the same ol same ol “I’m just not feeling fulfilled and I think my kids hate me” routine.

That’s what I tell myself anyway.

But my point is—and I pray I have a point—I’m neck deep in the writing process again and it’s a time frame that usually puts me into a time warp. I bury myself so far down rabbit holes with research that I usually come out the other side and discover I’ve come up for air in the middle of a Chinese chicken coop.

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Yeah, deep.

It is incredibly easy for me to lose my “self” within the process and sharply disturbing to have phone calls like this one:

Daughter: Mom? Where have you been? Are you okay?

Me: Fine. What’s up?

Daughter: Seriously? I’ve phoned you four times in the last three hours and sent you eight texts. Did you not get any of my messages?

Me: Wait—I have a phone? Red flag. That would never happen in 18th century Scotland. Thanks for the anachronistic heads up.

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Daughter: *sigh* I need to talk to you about whether or not I can come home for Thanksgiving.

Me: Wait—hold on—I totally forgot about the beef tallow on the stove. I’ve seriously got to get cracking on those tapers. I’m turning meat scraps into Christmas candles. God, the holidays are going to be fun this year.

Daughter: Never mind. *click*

If you’re going to be a successful writer, you really have to dive into your characters. You have to live their lives, have their problems, embrace fleas.

Well, at least for this book.

You have to apologize to your friends and family for being unreachable, unpredictable and for effusing the personal odor of barn animals.

And you also need a therapist. Someone who will help you dig deeply into the problems of “others,” someone who will help you discover the backstory and motivation of your characters,

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and someone whose water cooler conversations will be highly sought after purely for the opportunity to shake their heads and mutter, “If only Freud could see us now.”

He’s my doyen, my muse, and my research assistant.

I owe him a lot.

Seriously.

He’s gotten, like, all of my royalties.

~Shelley

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click) 

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

 

Straighten Up and Fly Right

Today, Peakers, I’m posting an article I wrote for an online magazine called Dear Teen Me, where authors pen their teenage self a note from the future. An exercise in memory, humor, advice and forgiveness, writing a letter to your former self is a worthy task and a labor of love.

Also, a shock of realization regarding your naiveté with savvy hairstyles.

~~~~~~~~~

Dear Shelley,

Buckle up. I mean it. Your life is going to be like a long, long ride in a SIAI Marchetti aircraft doing countless aerobatic maneuvers until you toss your cookies across the glass-roofed ceiling and finally land. Then you’re going to scrape all that Keebler off the canopy and get back up there.

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And if you’re having a hard time imagining what it’s going to be like in that Marchetti, picture the Blue Angels, or the Thunderbirds mid-show. Picture speed, panic, and an occasional loss of equilibrium.

And then realize that your answer to all those hair-raising, stomach-churning, lunch losing flights is to learn how to fly the damn aircraft yourself.

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I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking we’re an idiot, right? Well, we are and we aren’t.

We’re an idiot for letting so much scare the hell out of us, but we’re not too duff in the brave department. It nearly evens out.

There’s so much I could tell you right now—warn you about, but I’m thinking if I do that, we might have ourselves a Back to the Future situation here where I could end up altering the past. And I’m not willing to risk that.

I know what you want to hear. Did you get the guy? Is your name in lights? Did all those wishes you made on candles, eyelashes, and falling stars come true?

Sorry. I’m not going to tell you that. Even though it would be tremendously easy for me to do so. Why not? Because you like surprises. And because life would hold no magic if I let you read the end of the book.

Do you remember that one time when you were eleven or twelve and finally got the new hardcover everyone was talking about in school, and everyone was nearly finished with it and you were so behind you jumped to the end so that you could at least talk about the ending with everyone else the next day? Do you remember how it made you feel?

Empty.

The book meant nothing to you. You found out the plot, but you missed the whole point. Yeah, it totally sucked and I’m not going to do that to you. I want you full of wonder. Because wonder is the thing that motivates the hell out of you. But you already know this. I’m not spoiling anything here.

So what might be the point of this letter? Why write to you in the first place? The answer is such a simple thing—such a tiny message, but it might have a big impact. This letter is nothing more than a request. I want you to make a habit of carrying around a small plastic bag in your pocket. Think of yourself more like a Girl Scout. I want you a teensy bit more prepared. Prepared for those “I’m so scared I could toss my cookies” moments. I want to at least eliminate the fear of having a “visual burp” where you can’t get rid of the evidence within the amount of time it takes to tie your shoe, or swat a fly, or download a song from iTunes when you’ve got unbelievable Wi-Fi coverage and computational speed. Okay—ditch that last reference because you’ve got no idea what the hell I’m talking about.

It doesn’t matter.

But because we carry fear around in our invisible backpack of ‘can’t leave home without them’ obstacles, it’s best you just stop trying to overcome it or destroy it and maybe just embrace it.

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I’m not saying the two of you have to become best friends, but you are both riding on the same bus and you’d better find a few things to talk about in order to pass the time. It’ll be so much easier this way.

Get to know this fear entity as quickly as you can. Explore it, like the dark side of the moon people write songs and poetry about. It’s really not such a mystery, more like a family member no one wants hanging around when the shit hits the fan. Fear is one of those things that ends up getting in the way of solving a problem when you really wish it would grab a bucket of water and start helping to put out the fire. Fear is the person who screams, “MY BABY!” instead of wrestling the longest ladder she can find off the fire truck and slamming it up against the house beneath the nursery window.

It doesn’t have to be all panic and suffering. It can be more like accomplishment with a little sprinkling of panic and suffering.

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Think of fear as a seasoning like salt and pepper. You can live without them, but ask anyone who’s on a low sodium diet what they think of their dish and the first thing out of their mouth is going to be about how bland everything tastes.

So, here’s my definition of fear: not necessary, but greatly needed in order to provide life the depth and breadth of its true dimensions.

I promise I’m not just blowing smoke out of my pie hole for fun. At forty-five, we’ve had enough experience with the annoying companion to qualify as a crackerjack connoisseur on the subject. Trust me. Just roll with it.

And don’t forget the plastic bag.

Lastly, just so we don’t waste time with the whole ‘get your debut book out there quicker’ issue, I’m attaching the manuscript of a little book I wrote which I think might do well. It’s a tale about a boy who finds out he’s a wizard.

Love,

Shelley

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*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click) 

Today, he’s posting a sketch that BELONGS in DEAR OPL!

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.

 

 

Big Words, Clean Teeth & Jell-O for Brains: a Lovely Recipe for Life

Sue Archer: Editor, blogger, and master of not only English but nearly every science fiction and fantasy language to boot. Linguistic skills more impressive than the blinking and confusing cockpit lights of the Starship Enterprise. Have you need of a first-class editor to guide your manuscript to lofty heights of high-class quality? Sue’s your gal. Hungering for a few golden writing tips to sharpen your blog, your essays, your work-related writing skills? Look no further.

Peruse Sue’s new editorial site and her blog site too—and I do mean peruse in the truest sense of the term. DIG DEEP. There is pure gold in them there words.

And if you feel like putting your feet up for a spell, see her fine interviewing skills down below. It was a pleasure and an honor to work with this lovely, talented lady.

A woman with cosmic talent, and universal appeal.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Conversation Corner with Shelley Sackier

Today I am holding a special edition of Conversation Corner with children’s author and humour blogger Shelley Sackier on her blog Peak Perspective. You don’t want to miss my first ever illustrated interview! Please come visit and read about our conversation on using large words, writing for children, how to be funny, and the advantages of having Jell-O for brains.

 

When I first read your About page, back when I was lucky enough to have discovered your blog, I was immediately struck by two things: your wonderful sense of humour and your mastery of large words. I’d like to know who I can thank for this. Who were your influences? And how did you land upon your clear calling as a humour writer?

Well, firstly, Sue, a prodigious “thank you” for the laudatory commendation.

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Yuck. That sounded awful. And pretentious. And so not me. Except for the part in quotes. I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak with you, as I’ve learned a great deal from reading your essays and articles. But however it was you came to find me, I really should send the contact person a batch of cookies as a show of affection with my bountiful thanks.

And as far as where you can send your thank you card? My hero, Peter Mark Roget—British physician, natural theologian and lexicographer. I think I read somewhere that he liked line dancing as well.

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He wrote a little bestseller back in 1805, which unfortunately for his followers and admiring fan base was not widely published until 1852. But still, it now exists in all its glory. When I discovered there was a book To Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition I nearly had a small rapturous fit of delight. I was hooked. His thesaurus is my daily drug. Every morning I swallow my Omega 3s, glucosamine, and a page of Roget’s work.

Sadly, you may find that Peter is slow with his correspondence. I’m still waiting to hear back from him on a small addition I was hoping he might include in the next release, but you know busy authors, right?

And then there’s my dad. He was really funny whilst I was growing up. He’s still really funny. And much quicker with his exchange of letters.

The classification of a humor writer was something I just morphed into—like how incredibly fit and attractive people slowly mutate into pudgy, sagging, middle-aged folks who are exhausted, underpaid and overworked. It creeps up on you.

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And also, making my children laugh was a good way to surreptitiously see their teeth and discover whether or not they’d brushed before bedtime.

Humor and hygiene go together like Punch and Judy. Well, that might not be a fitting example as they had a fairly contentious relationship. I think you get my point though.

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I definitely get your point. I have found humour goes a long way in persuading kidlets to do all those “good for you” things. Also hugs. And maybe a stern look here or there. Did you find your experiences with persuading your children influenced how you wrote Dear Opl, which has its own “good for you” message about food?

I’m a firm believer in ‘time’ as the best teacher. I’ve always regarded the space between my children’s ears as a swampy, murky mess that was not going to fully settle into its final state until somewhere around the age of 25. It’s like Jell-O. I’ve got to keep tossing in as many parental pearls as I can right now with the hopes that later they’ll be viewed as worthy by the owner.

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That said, my mom drove home the message to me that all those bits of brilliance—the ones that immediately create the teenage phenomena of eyeball rolling, exaggerated sighing and door slamming—will be eureka moments that my children will have on their own and claim 100% ownership to. They will never—and I repeat the word never—remember that you were the one to give them the awesome info.

The best way to keep yourself sane in those moments of unacknowledged revelation is to simply chuckle at how well you worded it the first time around. Although a small part of me wants to leap up on the kitchen table, point a finger at their super smug dispositions and scream, “You’re totally plagiarizing my words from back in 2002 when you were 7!”

I’m guessing it would not go down as a bonding moment for any of us.

But yes, my “Dear Opl” messages are simply a spiffed up version of my “at home” message. And, as becomes clear in the book, not all of those messages are well-received or hit the mark, so I’m sure you can deduce the level of success I’ve had with my offspring.

Thankfully, neither one of them is close to 25 as of yet. I’ve got a ways to go before the Jell-O sets.

All power to you tossing in those pearls of wisdom, Shelley! I’ve certainly enjoyed the thoughts and observations that you’ve posted through your blog. 🙂  Could you share a little more about the message in your book, and how this message is expressed through the story?

One of the most important messages I wanted the book to convey was that there are no magic pills. Life is full of problems and we all have to handle them.

Pushing them away, ignoring them, or pretending they don’t exist creates an unruly monster that ends up taking over. The world is full of advice—both good and bad—but the filter system for determining which is which lies only within ourselves. People have stopped listening to the wisdom of their bodies and minds. It’s there. Buried beneath a boatload of advertising and social pressures to conform, but still there.

The book’s main character, Opl, does a lot of avoiding, rejecting and misguided judging. She’s in an emotionally fragile place as a result of the death of her father and living in a space that no one has been able to help her move through. So she muscles her way around on her own and continues down a path of unhealthy choices because they’re filled with instant gratification. The problem is solved and soothed for now. Kids struggle with looking more than 30 seconds in front of them, and this isn’t due to a lack of intelligence, it’s because of brain development. They don’t have all the tools yet and our job as parents and educators is to hand them those tools and explain the manual. At this point, a lot of it looks like it’s written in Klingon.

The grownups who care for Opl finally clue in to what’s happening and begin to nudge her into a place of growth—the inner kind, which is where she struggled with a deficit. Her grandfather helps her discover real food. Her yoga teacher illuminates Opl’s inner insight. And Rudy, an injured Iraqi vet who works at the food pantry, teaches her about desire and regret. These people are not there to “fix” her problems, but rather draw back the curtain so the chance for self-discovery is available.

As much as I support parents who see the need for their kids to fall down and scrape their knee, they still need the occasional Band-Aid. They are not tiny adults. It’s a fine line we walk in order to keep balance. You give them a little and you step back and watch. ‘Trial and Error’ parenting.

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 Speaking of not being tiny adults…I imagine that writing for a younger audience must have required a very different approach from writing your blog. What types of things did you have to think about when writing your book, as opposed to blogging? And do you have any tips for readers who are looking at writing for younger readers?

In my experience, blogging and book writing are two different beasts, and employ two different skill sets.

I set about blogging to work on something very specific. I wanted to create the ability to demand my muse show up for work every single day. If my butt is in my chair, there had better be some bit of sparkle hovering about in the air that I can reach up and grab by the fistful.

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It was about developing accountability for a job and not relying upon the tired trope of Ah well, writer’s block again. What can you do?

It ain’t easy. But I don’t think true accomplishment is meant to be.

Writing a novel is broken down into blissful and not so blissful sections. There is no feeling in the world to me quite like figuring out a scene, or the dialogue, or discovering the heart of a character and what they bring to the book. Writing Story is a method of therapy and psychoanalysis to me. I discover bits of ancient truth within the unfolding of this scrap of someone’s life. I’m nothing more than a translator of a highlighted piece of the human puzzle.

Okay, so that’s the purple prose flowery blissful part for me. Creativity explodes everywhere.

The not so blissful sections are the deadlines, the edits, the rejections of your edits, the people who don’t understand why you won’t just DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR LIFE. There’s a lot of that and more. You’ll know pretty soon if you’re cut out for this kind of life pursuit or not.

Advice for those looking to write for young readers? Be youthful. Be goofy. Go back in time—really try to propel yourself to those feelings, those situations, that mindset. The way you looked at life was so different. Again, kids are not just tiny adults. They’re a whole different animal, with claws and sharpened teeth, and fairy wings and magic wands. Bring back your ten-year-old self and give her a massive welcome home hug.

My ten-year-old self wanted to write fantasy novels, so I can definitely relate to the fairy wings and magic wands. 🙂 I think as adult writers we need to maintain that level of creativity and imagination if we want come up with compelling ideas and relatable characters. Like the character of G-pa from your story. How did he appear on the scene? (I must admit that G-pa was my favourite character, he kept cracking me right up.)

Every time I wrote a scene including G-pa, I just wanted to squish the guy. His gruff exterior masked a deep love for his grandkids and I loved making him struggle with the desire to show it.

He was effortless to create, and as I’ve come to discover within my books, I apparently always find the need to have a “G-pa” character in it. He’s mostly based on my dad so I’m sure it’s a Freudian thing.

As a side note, I’m a big believer in not having adults solve problems for kids in stories, but I’m also very aware of the fact that knowledgeable, loving, and encouraging adults are an absolute necessity for guidance. I believe the ability to problem solve is one of the greatest skills we can teach our kids, and G-pa felt like a character that could help contribute to that accomplishment.

Okay, now for the final and most important question. What is your favourite homemade dish? (And have your kids mastered the art of making it yet?)

Thankfully, neither of them have taken a strong liking to all those earthy Polish dishes I had to eat while growing up—the ones fortified with blood to try to cure the pastiness out of my people or all the ground up bits that got shoved into intestinal casings and called ‘links you’ll love, I promise—now eat.’

I think we all adore Fajita Nite. Whenever I picked up the vibes that someone’s day was going to hell in a handbasket, it was the one meal that never ceased to lift their spirits. Maybe it’s the fact that I line up all the ‘fill your tortilla with these options’ on the counter and to them it’s like visiting the buffet bar at Applebee’s, or that the house smells like an old Tex-Mex cantina for the next 24 hours, or it could be because I drag the mechanical bull out into the living room for after dinner entertainment—I’m not sure, but we all love it.

And no. I’m thinking it’ll be a while before they decide to make it themselves, if ever. Some recipes just don’t taste of home if you don’t make it there.

No, they don’t! Thanks for inviting me into your blogging home today, Shelley. I’ve enjoyed chatting with you. And all the best to you with your book!

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click)

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

My Mother, Thief of Goat’s Milk Products

There was no freaking way she was going to redecorate my room. No way on earth. She had that power at one point in my life, and as a result, I spent my teenage years in a sunflower yellow room adorned with far too much poppy imagery.

I finally had my own space – of sorts. I spent the first week of my summer in Boston scrubbing the floor, spackling the walls and maneuvering the biohazardous excuse for a mattress gracefully out of the window. Then I painted everything brown. And threw the entirety of my wardrobe on the floor. The space was officially mine.

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A few days earlier, on the phone with my mother regarding the upcoming visit: “OH IT WILL BE SO MUCH FUN WE WILL GO TO THE CUTE LITTLE WHOLE FOODS BEHIND YOUR CUTE LITTLE ROOM IN YOUR CUTE LITTLE HOUSE AND BUY CUTE LITTLE GROCERIES AND FIX UP YOUR ROOM WITH CUTE LITTLE CUTE THINGS.”

No.

NO POPPIES. OR BRIGHT COLORS. NOT HERE.

Such interference must be prevented at all costs. So I crammed every minute of the weekend with plans to explore the revolutionary and overwhelmingly Italian parts of Boston. (Distinct neighborhoods, albeit.) No time for redecoration.

But first, she had to climb five flights in the sweltering evening heat, only to be greeted at the top by a bathroom that was literally growing hair out of every drain. (She got that part right.) However, no challenge is insurmountable when one equips my mother with a little red wine and stolen fans from the communal living spaces.

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We were awakened the next morning at sparrow’s fart by the music of hundreds of trucks idling outside my window. (Two seasons in New England – winter and construction! Hahaha… so funny …I want to burn this city to the ground. Just kidding. Maybe.)

We embarked on a grand adventure to see libraries and historic churches – basically my mother’s favorite things – and she attempted to “check out” books from a library she does not belong to in a city she does not inhabit. No, Mom, published authors don’t get automatic librarian rights. Don’t listen to Grandpa.

We toured a historic art museum famed for the world’s most expensive and currently unrecovered art theft – I think my mother gave off a slightly suspicious vibe, as we were followed around by a number of guards from room to room. Either she didn’t notice or was intentionally messing with them by standing a hair’s too close to the artwork and exclaiming loudly “This Rembrandt would go perfectly with the bathroom color scheme!” Regardless, they broke a sweat.

We explored a booming Farmer’s and Artist’s Market in South Boston – I have never seen her accumulate so many samples so quickly. She had it down to a script too  – “Yeshihello, how are you, marvelous, I live in the area and will definitely be back to buy more of your product, may I try a sample of your local deliciousness thankyougoodday.” We made it out of there with literally enough food to last the rest of my collegiate career.

(If you’re not picking up on a theme here – my mother is a klepto. Of library books, priceless works of art and artisanal cheese samples. I plead unknowing and accidental accomplice.)

We hiked Boston’s Freedom Trail, a winding path through the tumultuous history of the Revolutionary War- it also happens to wind through the North End, where overstuffed cannoli and fresh, cheesy pasta distract from the patriotic quest. And I do not say “hike” lightly – after repeatedly climbing the five flights up Dante’s inferno to my place, we decided to also climb the Bunker Hill Monument at midday. We basically climb stairs now. It’s a hobby.

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Finally, a surprise I had meticulously planned – an evening on a sailboat and a visit to the best improv club in town. But the good old public transportation system, essentially comprised of turtle-drawn buggies, had different plans. Hence the running three miles in flip flops, tearing through a quaint harborside party reception waving my arms and screaming “CATCH THAT SAILBOAT!” Not gonna lie, probably one of the most epic things I’ve ever done.

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Now, just to complete the picture, here are some pictures.

Chloe and Shelley on sailboat
Conducting business on the sailboat. (I.e. dealing with the homefront crisis in which Grandma forgot where the cat food is. Classic Grandma.)
She knocked over an encyclopedia right after this was taken. I kid you not. It was so loud.

Shelley in library

Washing the kleptomania from her hands in Boston’s picturesque Frog Pool.

Shelley at Frog Pool

Apparently a proud supporter of the internment of Samuel Adams.

Shelley at Sam Adams tomb

The face of a woman who is done with my preposterous selfies.

Shelley selfie

A preposterous selfie. That stone circle behind us marks the location of the Boston Massacre. A lack of tea makes everyone cranky, apparently.

Chloe and Shelley Boston Massacre

At the end of the weekend, she departed, leaving me with a mountain of nut cheese and crackers made from seaweed harvested by mermaids. I’ve already started to plan the next adventure, which will involve more racing to reach ships in time and less opportunities for my mom to get thrown in federal. And, most importantly, at the dawn of the next week, my room was still clothes-strewn and completely bare of poppies.

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SUCCESS.

~Chloe

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click)

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

Daze of Wine and Poses

There is no better comparison than to say I was like an accordion.

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Stretched to my limits.

Occasionally wheezing.

And still trying to belch out cheerful sounds.

I think I was fairly successful on that last bit despite the prior two burdensome grievances. And damned if I was going to put any damp, dark marker on my one weekend in Boston—my three days with Chloe. A mother/daughter weekend extraordinaire like none I’ve ever had.

I thought it would be 72 hours of us fixing up her new tiny flat—a space Harry Potter would have called a snug fit when compared to his hovel beneath the stairs. And I also thought we’d be shopping for groceries. I was pretty determined to make sure she had all the necessities since her miniscule weekly shopping budget seemed just about right as long as she had the appetite of a two-pound gerbil.

But my visit turned out to be time spent doing neither of these.

Chloe had planned for every minute available to us—and, as it turned out, many more that weren’t. She’d booked activities requiring the precise timing that would have made a Swiss watchmaker glow with pride. But I think we’re all pretty familiar with the old adage If you want to make God laugh, plan a picnic.

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Now just apply this to public transportation timetables and you’ll have just revealed the fat glitch in her ‘planned down to the second’ schedule of events. I can still hear the echo from the cackling deities.

The first thing she said upon meeting me at the airport, and snapping the first of a million selfies to catalogue our time together, was that she hoped I’d clocked a few extra hours in my sleep bank, as nightly rest was not something she’d taken into consideration before writing out the agenda—a roster of events I was guessing would be taped up on her bedroom wall in the form of several pie chart diagrams, bar graphs and schematic flowcharts.

My response to this was to ask her where the nearest wine store was in relation to her apartment, as I was likely going to want to purchase a bottle to help get me through the breakdown of the activities lecture surely awaiting me once we arrived at her flat.

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She then told me that Boston was expecting an uncharacteristically intense heat wave for the next three days, that her room was on the top floor of a five floor building, and that air conditioning was for wusses—or that they just didn’t have any. It could have been either. I couldn’t hear over the roar of the subway station we’d entered.

My next response was to amend my prior request for one bottle of wine. Yelling out that I’d likely need a heftier supply of vino to soften the weekend’s unexpected challenges was probably not a great idea as I had no clue how far a voice could carry in the cavernous tunnel of a tube station—especially after that roaring train instantly disappeared.

We did, however, find ourselves with a little more elbow room after that so I suppose it wasn’t a total loss.

She wasn’t kidding about the heat. Nor the size of her room. So, as a consolation prize, she informed me that she shares a bathroom with about six other girls, although after using it I updated her description of “girls” to mean two Yetis, a Sasquatch, the band members from ZZ Top and the showering rights of Chewbacca.

Hair is really important to college women.

Losing it, not so much.

Reclaiming it, not at all.

So instead of doing a rundown of every activity we managed to squeeze in, I will give you the highlights I thought most important to share:

Boston has a lot of public libraries. Some of them have books you can check out. Unless you’re hoping to take them back to Virginia.

Or into the women’s bathroom for an extended, relaxing read.

There is a bucketload of beautiful churches in this city. Almost all of them are locked. Especially when you need to use the bathroom. Even if you’re not sneaking a “keepsake” from the Boston public library beneath your sundress.

Museums are no longer free. Unless you’re a college student.

I can no longer pass for a college student.

Museums are not terribly wine friendly.

The subway is filled with people. But oftentimes surprisingly bereft of trains.

The subway has no issues with beverages of any description.

People who go to the Improv are usually people who auditioned for the Improv but were rejected by the Improv.

I can still run three miles in flip flops. Especially when told that the world as we know it will end if we don’t make it to a reservation we were supposed to have shown up for thirty minutes earlier. And “TWO WEEKS’ WORTH OF SOMEONE’S PITIFUL HOURLY WAGES WILL GO OWN THE DRAIN FOR NOTHING, MOTHER!”

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Wine is essential after running three miles in flip flops fueled by nothing more than guilt.

The Farmer’s Market in Boston was filled with booths belonging to painters, sculptors and photographers.

And one farmer who sold goat yogurt.

Goat yogurt tastes surprisingly good with wine.

Boston’s Freedom Trail is a 2 ½ mile long path that highlights the patriots’ determined fight for liberation from the British.

It must have been a path littered with booby traps as it is filled with scores of cemeteries along the route. Haley Joel Osmond could never survive in Boston.

Apparently, folks are generally discouraged from taking selfies with the tombstone of Paul Revere whilst making a duckface.

If you’re going to be visiting the dead all day long, the only way to rouse yourself from the incredibly somber mood you’re falling into is to agree to make duckfaces whilst snapping selfies.

Making duckfaces while snapping selfies as you stand behind national monuments is so much easier if you’ve first had some wine.

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I’m fairly sure Boston has placed a moratorium on air conditioning.

I’m incredibly grateful that the patriots chose to toss the crates that held all the tea and not the barrels that held all of the wine.

~~~~~~~

So, all in all, my trip to Boston was chock a block full of a bazillion activities where we made some serious memories. Although I may have to review each of our pictures in order to remember them all.

Or any of them. *hic*

~Shelley

PS. Next week. It’s Chloe’s version of the very same 72 hours.

Oh, goody.

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click)

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

 

 

 

 

Hairy, Huge & Unhappy: the Nature of the Beast

Nature is full of surprises.

There’s the kind of surprise where you trip over a small nest that the wind inadvertently tossed out of a tree and discover it’s full of bluebird eggs. Love that one.

You might also experience the wonderment of learning that the deer and bunnies have a finely tuned vegetable patch timer that coincides with your garden’s peak completion—except they receive a notice about three hours before you. This is another type of surprise. Not nearly as keen on this one.

And one can’t forget the bombshell astonishment of the occasional black bear chase surprise. Not looking forward to repeating this one at all.

Nature especially loves that last one as I’m pretty sure I’ve heard her laughing her tuchus off while it was happening.

And I took it personally. So Nature and I are not really on speaking terms this week.

I’m holding an especially big grudge as a couple of weeks ago I saved one of her tiny bunnies from drowning in my pool and I’ve spent weeks on my hands and knees freeing the garden of the less tasty varieties of weeds so that the hordes of woodland creatures can easily spot the juicy blueberries, the antioxidant jam-packed tomatoes and the clusters of sweet as sugar lettuce leaves.

Not a thank you in sight.

I’m not surprised.

But the day I took on the ‘mother of all grudges’ against Mother Nature unfolded on one of those swampy, thick as molasses afternoons Virginia forgets to advertise in the brochures that highlight the hay bale dotted farms, the winding mountain roads and more Civil War re-enactors than were probably involved within the original cast.

The hound always takes the lead on our daily hike as if he’s the canine equivalent of Ernest Shackleton and we’re racing to plant the flag at the bottom of the mountain. I’m guessing he picked up this idea from the many times he’s seen me bring letters down to the mailbox and raise the little red standard to shout out to ol’ Earl that he needs to stop and pick up some post.

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I can see how it could be confusing.

But this time we hadn’t made it quite halfway down the hill when I see the dog running back up with a giant smile on his face, as happy as if he’d just discovered that his vet wrote a prescription for one jar of peanut butter per day for optimal health.

Yeah, that would be a total daymaker for him.

I followed him down the hill to see what all the fuss was about, and turning the corner we come upon—not the vet with his prescription pad in hand—but rather the largest bear I’ve come to see up on this little mountain of mine.

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WHOA! Big Bear! my super sharp instincts reported. Now you need to …

Yep. My super sharp instincts went blank.

This is soooo not a good feeling when you know at that very moment you really should be on your game.

I scrambled through the cluttered files in my head. What to do, what to do, where the hell did we put that bit of info!

I wondered, do I run? Play dead? Run? Climb? Run? Charge? Ha! Charge. What an idiot for thinking ‘charge.’

RUN was definitely flashing up on the screen more than anything else, but I remembered something from my several years ago ‘what happens when you spot a cougar?’ training I had to do after I’d spotted a cougar on the mountain.

Okay, we’ll go with the rusty cobwebbed cougar manual.

  1. Make yourself BIG.

I did. I raised my arms above my head. The bear—maybe 50 feet in front of me was not impressed. He started walking toward me.

  1. Make noise like you’re in charge.

Seriously? Like I’m in charge of the bear? I did. I roared and waved my hands around above my head.

It did not have the desired effect.

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HE charged.

That whole RUN! piece of advice leapt in front of everything else again, but so did the tiny piece of info that I recall reading from my brother’s boy scout handbook that said, You can’t outrun a bear.

But another thought kept screaming, CAN’T WE EVEN TRY??!

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I scrambled for a big stick on the ground.

He stopped and then made a wide circle around me. It was a bluff. Or maybe my stick was super impressive as far as weaponry is concerned.

I started walking away sideways, watching this big hunk of fur and claws and teeth keep pace with me.

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My next thoughts were: Shoot, I did not finish my new last will and testament. And Damn, there are dishes in the sink and I forgot to make my bed this morning. Whoever comes to search for me will rethink my cleanliness benchmark. And lastly, I wonder if he will kill me and THEN eat me, or if he’ll start the eating part first. But hey, on the bright side, I will now finally see a turkey vulture up close.

It’s amazing and alarming to discover what your “last thoughts” truly are. I’m hoping I can rectify mine for my next near death encounter—should there be one.

Thankfully, the big bully lost interest and wombled the other way. It may be due to the fact that I reeked of DEET, and that is a marinade he found unpalatable.

Or it could be the fact that he bumped into a tree and inadvertently knocked over a bird’s nest and discovered it was full of bluebird eggs.

SURPRISE!

~Shelley

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click)

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

 

Getting to Know You–er, Me

Today I’m offering up an interview I did with author/blogger/human extraordinaire, Jan Wissmar I had a marvelous time with Jan and I do hope you’ll check out her work. She’s just released her third book, Willful Avoidance and continues to impress me with being someone whose work on this earth is beyond inspirational.

I hope you enjoy.

~Shelley

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Meet Shelley Sackier, author, blogger, pilot, and whisky drinker

 

Today I’m delighted to welcome Shelley Sackier, creator of the always entertaining blog – Peak Perspective – and author of the upcoming teen novel DEAR OPL.

Shelley Sackier headshots 3 (1704x2272)JTT: Hey Shelley – thanks for being here!  First of all, how did you come up with the title Peak Perspective?

SS: The blog title and tagline (Peak Perspective: trying to climb out of the fog.) was born of both sight and wordplay. I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’m surrounded by mountains, and living on top of one gives me a spectacular view, except when it doesn’t. Some days I’m fogged in, occasionally I’m above the cloud base, but most days, the scene is truly breathtaking and allows me a view of three counties. As I’m always staring out one window or another for a moment of inspiration, rare is the day when something remarkable does not flit across my field of vision. It’s a little like living on the live set of a National Geographic special filmed by the WeatherChannel. Some days are truly spectacular. Some days are scary. A couple have made me think that it might be time to start doing bladder strengthening exercises.

Bruichladdic view

JTT: Please send me a copy of those bladder strengthening exercises ’cause I need ’em.  With those spectacular views there must be a lot of artists living in your part of the world, however your illustrator, Robin Gott (who I just adore), is from England, but lives in Sweden. How did you find him?

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SS: I love the fact that Rob and I live in separate countries and have worked together for a few years but have never met. There’s something so remarkably “today’s business world” about that. We were introduced years ago and had almost worked together on a different project. The blog venture just sort of spilled out of that serendipitous past.

Robin is one of those incredibly multi-talented folks whose craft spills over into myriad dimensions. Animation, acting, drawing, writing. His work is prolific and I feel so fortunate to have this time to be creative with him. I’ve discovered what it feels like to work with someone whose brain will likely be preserved for science.

However long the blogging business keeps us artistically woven together, I can think of so many other missions I’d like the two of us to take a crack at. Time will tell. Fingers are crossed. Pencils are sharpened.

JTT:  Blogging does provide us with some interesting bedfellows doesn’t it? Well, “bedfellows” isn’t exactly the right term.  Collaborators?  Gads, that’s not much better… (Help me troops!)

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Speaking of blogging, I’ve been in awe of your blog for a long time.  I wonder if you’d mind sharing some blogging tips and tricks (or is it top secret)?  When did you start?  How did you build your incredibly supportive audience?

SS: Well, firstly, thank you for saying so. That’s the hope of so many writers. Tips and tricks? I think when searching for success, you have to be willing to stick your neck out and embrace vulnerability. And more importantly, you have to be willing to fail. I’ve gotten pretty good at kicking myself out of safe mode, skinning both knees, and then moving on. There’s so much to learn when you make mistakes. Being careful does not make a terribly exciting life. And I crave challenge.

And chocolate. I’m not sure which I devour more.

Also, it might be extraordinarily helpful to have a roadmap—a story grid of sorts. Why are you blogging? Is it to share wedding photos? A trip to Dubai? Your time in the slammer? It helps to understand what the end goal is.

My blogging exploits began strictly to develop a skill I thought I needed improvement with: churning out about 1000 words on demand. Butt in chair, holler to muse, write the damn essay, finish the laundry. When you devote attention to something every day, bit by bit the challenge begins to feel increasingly more comfortable. Welcome to the new normal.

And building the supportive audience comes from caring about what people have to say. There are so many wildly interesting people hon our planet, each with a distinctive voice, and I find it’s like a funky orchestral hot mess when I engage with everyone. It’s a huge time investment, and I’m not looking forward to the approaching day when I’ll have to back off because of other writing commitments—ones from people who rightfully require more time as they’re actually paying me to produce work for them, but I’m hoping to have at least created a community of folks who can carry on the conversation if I’m not there and who have made worthy friendships simply from having had my blog site be one of their playgrounds.

Jonathan Sackier Blue Ridge Mountains Virginia

JTT: “Butt in chair, holler to muse, write the damn essay,” AMEN!  However, you did manage to finish DEAR OPL while building your audience.  Congrats on that major accomplishment.  You deserve chocolate, lots of chocolate.  However, I know from reading DEAR OPL (and your blog) that keeping our food safe, nutritious, and delicious are important issues for you.  I don’t want to spoil the plot for potential readers but the main character, Opl, achieves some amazing things while battling a common bugaboo for many of us growing up:  a negative self-image.  At first, I have to admit I thought the mother was cruel – always making a big issue of Opl’s understandable weight gain (I mean, she had just lost her father!) but by the end you managed to make the mother sympathetic.  I think it had to do with Opl’s growing awareness that staying healthy need not be an arduous task. Was personal experience a motivation for writing DEAR OPL?

SS: I’ve had food issues for as long as I can recall, but not of the same type as Opl. Working in the entertainment industry, one gets judged every which way but Sunday. It was brutal. Costumes were measured and remeasured on a regular schedule. If you lost a pound of sweat during a show from exertion, and your waistband had a half an inch worth of give in it, it was immediately sewed shut. I survived for years believing that fat was an enemy and that tinned peas and Cream of Wheat was my culinary lot in life. This was horrifically rough for someone who grew up in a family full of caterers, butchers and chefs. I loved food, but was growing deprived of it because of the fearful sweeping top to bottom gaze of an unforgiving producer or director.

I was determined to raise kids with the idea of nutrition as the motivating factor for meal planning and food education, and didn’t want to create battles over what we put into our mouths. I knew that as my kids grew more independent I’d lose a lot of sway over what they’d choose to eat. I knew that layering information in small bite-sized chunks, and also walking the talk would be important components of whether or not they’d remember what I’d said, and did as I advised. Most importantly, indulging in food they knew I’d cringe at was a given, but I hoped that they’d pay attention to the correlation between what they ate and how they felt afterward. I know the pressures teens feel when trying to fit in with their friends, and that sometimes food issues become friendship issues. In my mind, I believed they’d make diet related decisions based on things other than what the crowd was doing. They learned to love good food, and cooking it themselves has been an ongoing joyful discovery.

Chloe & Gabe 2015

JTT: You’re absolutely right – making decisions about what to eat based on how you will feel afterwards is far wiser than going along with the crowd but it is a hard lesson for many teens to learn. On your blog you’re doing an excellent job of what marketeers call “building your platform” and so I’m fairly confident this next question will be an easy one for you to answer, please describe Dear Opl’s ideal reader?  Who are you talking to?  What do you hope your readers take away from the book?

SS: DEAR OPL’s reading base is 9 to 13 year-olds, but I’m hoping to attract kids who may be in a similar situation as Opl—those who feel like they are either losing the battle with weight, or who feel they can’t stop eating junk food, but mostly kids who are desperately looking for a bit of direction. People don’t realize how much help is available and often give up before they’ve even begun.

My hope is that Opl will be able to communicate that there is no “magic pill,” and that change can happen in small ways creating a ‘ripple effect’ result. If we expect to shift the habits of a lifetime, it requires education, support, patience and faith that you’re doing the right thing. (And a big dose of self-forgiveness when you don’t.) I feel that all too often we’re told by marketers to expect a miracle with their slick headline promises and mind-blowingly easy overnight success. I’m hoping to impart some savviness.

JTT:  You’re absolutely right – kids are bombarded by “lose weight overnight” ploys which are nothing by quackery.  It’s horrible.  Speaking of horrible, now onto the uncomfortable revelations part of the interview (just pretend I’m Barbara Walters).  You’re a pilot and whiskey drinker, is that correct?  Were you also abducted by aliens like other famous whiskey-drinking pilot drinkers, i.e., Harrison Ford? Please describe some close encounters of the third kind you’ve had while soaring through the clouds.Runway 23

SS: Really? Ford was abducted?

JTT:  Whoops, sorry.  I was actually thinking of the drunken pilot from the movie The Fourth of July who saves the world from aliens somewhat in retaliation for having been abducted by them.

SS:  Whew! Well, flying and whisky have been a significant part of my life. Although, never at the same time for obvious reasons.

When I was first learning to fly, in order to gather up the courage to do solo night flying (which is incredibly different than daytime flying — you’ve got nothing but a Lite-Brite board beneath you), I’d belt out the theme song to Raiders of the Lost Arc while doing finals and preparing to land the aircraft. You have to acquire a fair amount of knowledge to fly and land an airplane, and a teensy bit more if you’re hoping to reuse it. But you also have to have an element of faith.

Also, having an old codger for a flying examiner was a lucky thing. I think he realized as I was taking my final physical flight exam that I was still too timid with the aircraft. He took the controls and shouted, “You’ve got to manhandle this beast, lass! And you’ve got to know its limitations.” He then proceeded to pull the plane up into a stall and let her do a falling leaf pattern for about twenty seconds before recovering the aircraft. He kept shouting, “She ain’t gonna break!”

I think that was about as close to an extra-terrestrial experience as I’ve ever had, as I was fairly sure I’d not live to walk on our planet again.

JTT:  I love that story! My father was a pilot – he loved to get me into his little Cessna and do loop-de-loos! Okay, here’s your chance for revenge, what embarrassing question would you like to ask me?

SS: You see, this is where I’m struggling, Jan. I can find absolutely no dirt on you. You are one of the most impressive humans I’ve come to know. Your work with the Make a Wish foundation, your advocacy for at risk foster children, your books, your blog, your terrific writing … yeah, I got nothin’.

But maybe I’ll ask the question readers are probably wondering: how is it that you can get so much done in one lifetime?

JTT: How sweet of you but perhaps I should have given you my ex-husband’s phone number!

Whenever I hear the theme song from Raiders, I’ll think of you soaring across the skies! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me and best wishes for the release!

092314_DearOpl_HiRes (533x800)DEAR OPL is available for pre-ordering on Amazon here.  The official release date is August 4, 2015.  Here’s my review:

DEAR OPL is an honest look at a problem facing many young teens: negative self-image brought on by weight gain.  It is also the story of a family trying to move ahead after a catastrophic loss.  Young OPL (who left the “A” off her name in order to lose weight – LOL!) has a talent that surprises her classmates and gives her an outlet for the ongoing frustrations of teen life.  She can blog!  In fact, she rapidly becomes a blogging superhero as “Dear Opl” dispelling advice to her peers with an abundance of sass and wit. But she doesn’t just make a difference in her own life, she reaches out and makes a difference in the lives of others.

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click)

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

Magical, Musical, Maleficent Mayhem

Hello, Peakers.

It is I, my mother’s nefarious, cupcake-baking daughter.

I have returned.

I know you missed me.

Even better: this is one of three guest blogs I’ll be writing over the next couple of months to give you a taste of our glorious summer adventures. I’m also subbing cause she’s been kinda busy with her book that will probably put an end to all sugar.

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Still not sure if that’s a good thing or not, but regardless, you should buy it immediately because the only college care packages she has sent me this year have been socks.

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(Shout out to my grandmother for secretly mailing me my massive stuffed rhinoceros pillow named James Franco when my mother scoffed at my childishness.)

Anyway.

The first installment of this epic adventure collection involves satanic worship, children in cults and good old fashioned family time. And it all began when my mother made the fatal mistake of agreeing to play the piano accompaniment for my grandmother’s music recital.

For those of you who didn’t grow up in a classical music cult, allow me to enlighten you about the Suzuki Mafia, or, What My Grandmother Does When She’s Not Gardening.

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She runs an illicit ring comprised of small children whose parents willingly give their time and money in exchange for pint-sized violins and children that can imitate chicken noises on a musical instrument.

These children are called “Twinklers,” owing to the omnipresent, haunting theme of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” that is repeatedly drummed into their heads. I believe it has hypnotic power, and that whenever its dulcet tones are imitated, the kindergarten sleeper agents are summoned to serve their evil overlord. In our story, their commanding officer is my grandmother, who goes only by the code name “Mrs. W.” Probably for tax evasion purposes.

These Twinklers are disseminated throughout their hometowns, and with their persistent chicken scratching, day in and day out, slowly work to break down the mental stability of those around them, converting them to the cult under the guise of “musical education.” And then, once every season, the ring coalesces in a local church to perform mass rituals and provide sacrificial offerings to Mrs. W and their parental network. Then, over brownies and fruit punch, they all discuss their progress on the front of world domination.

I know all this because I was once a Twinkler.

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I was one of the agents so deeply ensnared that it took me forever to escape. My childhood was a blur of itchy dresses, tightly braided hair, group bows, (“look at your toes and count to three!”) and broken strings. These mass rituals or “recitals” form some of my earliest memories, and so revisiting the scene to watch my mother play piano accompaniment for the tiny, unarmed yet powerful sleeper agents was quite the nostalgic experience.

The day before, my mother and I met Mrs. W in her underground fallout shelter (basement of the Music Emporium) to assess the readiness of the troops. Five of them, pigtailed and confused-looking, stood with their imitation Stradivariuses crammed under their arms, waiting by the piano for Mrs. W’s cue. On her mark, my mother sounded the first four chords that triggered the little ones to play.

As five bows collided simultaneously with five strings with the spirit and determination of invading Huns, I felt the earth open up beneath my feet and the welcoming satanic embrace of the underground climb up my chair. The little army of violin robots played on, sawing out their homage to Bach, Beethoven and Voldemort. Watching them rehearse, I felt the ability for and disposition to independent thought slip away, leaving me with the sole desire of joining their ranks and offering dissonant screeches to the evil overlord.

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The next day was showtime. Parents crowded the pews of the commandeered church, their faces worn with visible exhaustion from corralling their mind-warping musical maestros. My brother sat, skulking in the back, his face hidden by the flowers I forced him to bring, likely illegally streaming movies. My mother was attending to Mrs. W, addressing last minute crises like the fact that Tommy may have just stepped on Sara’s violin and now it doesn’t quite sound the same.

I sat in the front, readying my best snarkastic face to distract my mother while she attempted to accompany. I was prepared for a full, glorious 90 minutes of the audible equivalent of having teeth pulled. I watched as one of the tiny cult members took the stage, readied his violin and tried to reposition his knee-length tie. He tucked his violin under his neck, took a shaky breath, and with the bow hovering over the strings, hesitated for a moment. I saw his round puppy eyes glance at my mom, waiting for that magical, motherly look that is a combination of recognition, approval, and assurance.

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She smiled and nodded, and, with renewed vigor and purpose, he plunged into a hearty rendition of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Gently Down the Rivers of Blood of our Enemies and Stage Mother Tears.” No matter if he forgot a note, or a measure, or an entire half of the song, she would follow his musical diversions and remain a safe place to fall.

The rest of the recital was a whirl of Mrs. W’s recruits acting like adorable tiny humans and stepping on each other’s expensive horse-haired bows. Yet I remembered that quiet, singular moment of connection between a nervous little one and my mother. In my hectic tornado of lab work, laundry and cooking for myself, sometimes, those little reassurances that the accompaniment will always be there remain the strongest glue holding me together.

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That and Mrs. W’s magic Kool-Aid.

~Chloe (an ex-Twinkler)

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click)

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

 

 

How Not to Make a Name for Yourself

I grew up in a family where no one was called by their real name. Unless you were in trouble, in which case your first name was crisply pronounced and your middle name was thrown in for good measure. And, of course, if you were found responsible for some irreparable damage your last name was tacked on, but you usually couldn’t hear it above the steely sounds of a long kitchen knife being sharpened.

No, instead of our real names, we were all given nicknames.

And I think this might have been fun if the names were those that described some of our perceived awesomeness. But none of them did.

I actually liked the name my folks assigned to me—my real one that is. But rare was the day when someone just called me Shelley rather than Shelley Belly. Or worse, Shelbert Bellus. Or even Shelbert Bellus the Third.

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I remained befuddled as a child as to why anyone would make the mistake of naming someone something so dreadful the first time around, and then repeat it for two further generations.

Even the cat and the dog could not opt out in my childhood home. The cat was called Die Spitten de Scratchin’

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and the dog Die Arfen Barker.

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It must be explained that these are names my dad labeled the animals whilst we, his kids, were all studying German in school, and he felt like participating in our nightly lessons so he’d not be left out.

I love the study of names—am truly fascinated by it—which is somewhat unusual in the fact that I can never remember anybody’s. I have tried all types of games and mnemonics, including word association, drilling in that one thing that is most likely to allow the person’s name to spring back into my head from the mere thought of that crucial clue. But I often forget ‘the crucial clue,’ or when seeing this person’s face again I’m at a total loss as the only thing that comes to mind is the word spatula or the phrase just like the disease.

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Not terribly helpful. And in many cases, offensive if I make the wrong guess.

As a writer of fiction, I am given the opportunity to name as many people as I want to invent. It is one of the most joyful parts of writing stories next to cashing in the abundant checks that nearly freeflow from your publisher’s bank account to your mailbox.

Or so I’m told.

I noticed recently while working on two of my books, that both my main characters take issue with their names. Here’s an excerpt from one:

Sophie—it is so not the right name for me. And it does nothing to inspire the coolness of my clan—or breed—or whatever you want to call my people. It should have been something like Zaharasta or Valentina. Something that took a couple of years to learn how to spell.

And an excerpt from the other:

My name is Opal, but I don’t spell it that way. It now looks like this: OPL. I kicked out the A. I figure if Mom wants me to lose weight, maybe she’d perk up if at least my name shrunk by twenty-five percent.

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See what I mean?

To be frank, I’m pretty sure I spent more time deliberating over the names of all the characters in my books than I did deciding on those of my children.

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But seeing as I didn’t get into novel writing until just after having my second child, it might not hold as much weight.

OR … it might indicate some latent unhappiness with my impetuous and perfunctory labeling of the two human beings I birthed.

See? This whole author thing might only be a physical manifestation of a deep, rueful regret I’ve ignored and carried around for years and have been unconsciously wrestling with until I feel I’ve sorted out the perfect name for both my kids.

I wonder how they’re going to react when in a year or two I approach them with an amended birth certificate and the announcement that I have legally changed their names to that which I find more befitting of who they truly are?

(Note to self: check with therapist to see if there exists any disorder that points toward birth name buyer’s remorse.)

Currently, I’m struggling with the title for one of my finished books. Nothing feels right. Nothing sounds right. And I think we all know how critical one’s novel title is, right? It’s the first thing you see, the first thing you read. It has to hit you right between the eyes with this come hither look.

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I emailed my agent a list of potentials from a thick notebook I’ve been carrying around and filling up. She wrote back and intimated I might have just killed a small tree for nothing—only in much nicer English.

I’m rethinking the whole title thing though. I’m thinking of pitching the publisher an idea that maybe instead of a title, we just go with a scent. I write about food and whisky and history. Why not make the books give off an aroma of chocolate and scotch and mothballs?

It might be the newest thing in publishing.

Or I may receive a curt reply back from my editor asking me to stop sending him emails and to just find a damn title we’re all happy with.

So seeing how my name is beginning to accrue more than my fair share of black marks against it, I’d best get back to work. Or soon my name is mud.

~Jane Doe

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*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click)

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

Why I Wrote DEAR OPL- Part 3

*Just a heads up to anyone new joining in–this is not my typical blog post. This is part 3 of 3 for a speech I’m preparing and posting here to get valuable feedback from my community. If you’re interested in joining in (and I so hope you are), and you’ve not had a chance to read part 1 or part 2, you might want to take a minute and get up to speed. I look forward to hearing what all of you have to say. It’s been wonderfully worthy and I thank every one of you for participating!

~~~~~~~~~~~~

What’s in it?

My sleuthing skills progressed mainly because food labels showed up. I, therefore, became obsessed in the pursuit of truth.

I suspected that every chemical I read about on the back of a label and couldn’t identify was likely a form of my mother’s mystery ingredients I had to watch out for. The only things I could trust were foods in their whole and original form. And this is something our culture has removed us from in a very real and dangerous way.

Despite the higher intake of calories our western diets have had us adopt, people are hungry. We’re now eating more food than ever before yet we are starving for nutrients. And our bodies are yelling this fact out to us. We’re struggling with these massive and overwhelming cravings for sugar. It’s hugely addictive and, in fact, scientists have discovered rats will work eight times harder to get sugar than they will to get cocaine.

Our average modern diet is not providing the nourishment our bodies require for good health, and because of it, our bodies are suffering more insulin spikes than a tumultuous day on Wall Street.

Basically, we have an abundance of calories, but a shortfall of nutrients.

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I find this to be a shocking and saddening state of affairs, but if you really want to hear something that will make the hair on your arms stand at attention, here’s another one of those eye-popping statistics I alluded to earlier:

The junk food industry spends about 2 billion dollars each year targeting children. One scary study found that elementary school kids in the US see an average of 254 ads from McDonalds each year. That’s just ONE company in the sea of junk food advertisers.

We are bombarded with media that dictates what we want, what we’re hungry for, what gadgets we’re desperate for, what will make us feel better about ourselves or our lives, and what will make us feel included. Kids are targeted even more so. It’s overwhelming and impossible for them to filter these messages or tune them out, and certainly challenging for them to interpret and identify how they are being subtly and not so subtly molded.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now reports that around 12.5 million children aged 2-19 are obese. And this is just in the United States. If you need a mental graphic that’s like nearly the entire population of Ecuador. Or how about this one—two Norways, a Botswana and a Liechtenstein. Worldwide we’re talking about 43 million kids.

Yeah, it’s a lot. Want to elevate that arm fur another notch? The World Health Organization estimates that in ten years time, over 70 million children globally will be obese. And the most alarming surprise? This number is only including children from ages 0 to 5.

Diet-related diseases are the biggest killers of human life. Far bigger than homicides, pneumonia, kidney disease, accidents. The statistics are jaw-dropping.

It makes you want to curl up in a ball and cry, doesn’t it?

Or we can do something about it.

Which brings us to part three: WHAT WE NEED TO DO

  1. No amount of exercise is going to help you run away from a bad diet.

It’s really hard to recognize a problem despite the fact that it’s growing right beneath our noses, mostly because it’s a fairly unremarkable one. It’s not remarkable because it’s become common.

We all know what a dog looks like—we’ve seen gobs of them over our lifetimes. Nothing too terribly novel about them from where we stand right now. But if you woke up one morning and looked outside and spotted a flying dog, you’d probably pause and really study the anomaly … until it wasn’t an anomaly anymore. If pretty soon flying dogs were just as common as grass, then no one would really see them any longer—which is what’s happening to our children. Obesity is becoming familiar, universal and ordinary.

We can’t let this happen.

It would be incredibly easy to point our extra pointy fingers at the heart of the problem and scream until we’re blue in the face at the food industry, but if any of you have ever been in a situation where you’ve pointed a finger at someone and assigned blame, I think you’ll also recall that they didn’t offer either an apology or any available energy to help solve the problem.

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More often than not they likely gave you back a pointy finger as well—but facing in a different direction.

A better response might be to ask for partnership in problem-solving. Our food industries can make food education a top priority of their business. Help us shop, teach us how to cook, educate us about nutrition. A win for the public and a win for their public relations. Besides, it does not show savvy business sense to kill off your clientele.

The restaurant and fast food industry, which have gotten us hooked on the drugs of sugar, fat and salt by targeting consumers with their persuasive advertisements, could help wean us off the extremely unhealthful amounts or face selective taxation from the government to cover the skyrocketing cost of healthcare: a price tag we do not have the funds to pay for—no matter how far down into our purses we dig.

We need restrictions on advertising to children who are most vulnerable to these campaigns. We need to protect those who are easy targets, those who are easily preyed upon, and those who will suffer the most.

Also, we need clearer food labeling—something effortless and easy so consumers don’t have to count grams or teaspoons. Something like the proposed traffic light label. Red for high amounts of free sugars, yellow for mid-level amounts, and green for Go for it, buddy.

We need to give our children LIFE SKILLS. We can get in the kitchen with them, teach them the basics of nutrition, educate them about what they’re eating and illuminate how it will affect the quality and longevity of their lives. It’s going to be a mess, but maybe architects can start making kitchens with a large drain in the middle of the floor which allow you to just hose down the walls after a family cooking session.

We can take the necessary steps to overhaul our school lunch programs. And currently there are a handful of people pioneering over this treacherous landscape who are battling to illustrate that pizza should not be considered a vegetable because it has tomato sauce in it. Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters, Michelle Obama and Congressman Tim Ryan from Ohio are a few familiar names who have been leading the campaigns of international food revolutions. These folks are shaking up government nutritional guidelines, instituting school garden programs, and proposing ways to lower the cost of healthy foods so that everyone can have access to them. But there are many, many more who are working in the trenches and mostly without a spotlight. We need to support their endeavors.

The three points I’ve highlighted—what we eat, what we know, and what we need to do—are part of a task we need to knuckle down and get busy with—a cause we need to champion. Creating and implementing solutions to our epidemic is a global obligation we owe ourselves, our children and our children’s children.

We need a new killer slogan for our planet. Not a slogan that will kill us.

I propose something like this:

Planet Earth: come for the food, stay for the fun, die when you’re old.

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~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.

Why I Wrote DEAR OPL – Part 2

*Just a heads up to anyone new joining in–this is not my typical blog post. This is part 2 of 3 for a speech I’m preparing and posting here to get valuable feedback from my community. If you’re interested in joining in (and I so hope you are), and you’ve not had a chance to read part 1, you might want to take a minute and get up to speed. I look forward to hearing what all of you have to say. It’s been wonderfully worthy thus far!

 

So let’s talk about the foul new four letter word that’s getting everyone’s knickers in a twist. FOOD.

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  1. Our diets have drastically changed form.

So much of what we used to eat was effortlessly easy to identify by using just one word to define it. For instance: apples, squash, lentils, pecans. Now the western diet needs a box to hold it in and a label to identify it with.

And a chemist to explain it all.

More and more of our food is processed with ingredients that most seventh graders aren’t allowed to handle without plastic gloves, eye goggles, and their science teacher in attendance.

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It happened right beneath our noses. As a kid, I remember the hour and a half of effort I’d spend making brownies—with the flour, the sugar, the butter and eggs, the melting of chocolate and the teaspoons of vanilla and salt and baking powder.

And almost overnight it changed. It’s now a box, an egg, and a splash of water from the faucet. It’s not so much food anymore as it is a magic trick no one really wants to pull back the curtain on and spoil. Not that spoiling is a concern any longer as science has discovered a way to make a fast food hamburger last longer than most marriages.

Reading nutrition labels dredges up memories of your earliest years in grammar school sounding out new words, and also proves to be a test of one’s grasp of the periodic table of elements. Plus, the regulations for what our government is allowing into our food and defining as food live in a murky swamp and are up for interpretation by the manufacturer.

That old line stating That which does not kill us makes us stronger, should be revised to read:

That which does not kill us—because the studies are ongoing and are being run by folks who have a vested interest in their financial outcome—does not kill us …yet.

Our food of today is no longer the food it was fifty years ago. A carrot is no longer a carrot. Chicken is no longer chicken. A hunk of fabulous chocolate cake is still the sugar bomb it was no matter how long ago it was made, but that’s sort of a given and doesn’t serve my argument. And my point is that things have changed in the food growing world.

Our soils are depleted. Our animals are fed unnatural food meant to supersize them toward growth and not health. We’ve introduced pesticides into our diets that have altered our endocrine function. We’ve stripped off minerals and vitamins from processed foods and have replaced them with chemicals meant to give them a shelf life rivaling the length of time it would take you to read off the numerical value of pi.

Some of the ingredients added into our foods today are ones not meant to contribute to our health or the food’s supermarket shelf endurance, but rather the perceived value of the manufacturer’s product.

We’re talking weight.

And just as WEIGHT is the hefty issue we’re struggling with here globally, putting additives into food that give it extra bulk and substance is a widespread technique used across the food industry. Cellulose, an indigestible fiber made from wood pulp, is a common item you’ll find in most processed foods. Supermarket bread, bags of shredded cheese, barbecue sauce and ice cream.

Yep, ice cream too.

Have yourself a Blue Bell country day. (Embrace nature. Hug a tree. Better yet, eat one.)

Carvel Ice Cream. It’s what happy tastes like. (And trees.)

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I could go on snarkily updating ice cream slogans, but the point I’d like to highlight is that cellulose has no nutritional value and our government food regulators have no policies regarding its use in manufacturing. Thus far scientists have determined that eating it in small quantities is what they’ve labeled as GRAS – Generally Regarded As Safe. And even if this remains to be so, it still points to the unhealthy practice of eating food that is deficient of the valuable nutrients we want and need for ourselves and our children.

Not surprisingly, there are plenty of other things food makers are slipping into the ingredient lists of their products these days:

Binders and extenders—nonmeat products used to create bulk and texture.

Coloring agents Blue #1 and #2, Yellow #5 and #6, and Red #40—a rainbow of creativity if your goal is to eat the Nickelodeon television channel.

Azodicarbonamide, or ADA—a funky little compound that keeps your bread spongy and your yoga mat squishy.

And don’t forget growth hormones—feedlot operators’ kitschy little answer to America’s question, “Where’s the beef?”

There is a solid handful of folks who are vocal and persuasive when illuminating the presence of these additives in hundreds of food items today. They draw attention from the press and the population occasionally takes note. Sometimes manufacturers stand up and defend their choices and sometimes they pull the worrisome ingredient from their recipe and replace it with something else. Oftentimes food scientists will jump in, provide a little data and the fire dies down—that is until a few more rats die, enough signatures on a petition are accumulated, or an organization’s lobbying funds dry up.

If you look behind the grand kerfuffle made about alarming ingredients, you’ll see the main message is simply that food manufacturers are putting unnecessary chemicals and compounds into our grub and there are alternatives.

Next let’s talk about the research, the studies, and the dry and brittle data. It’s WHAT WE KNOW.

  1. Architects are growing worried that they are building houses with an expensive and worthless room.

Kitchens are full of cobwebs. For many school-aged children, breakfast is skipped or breakfast and lunch are eaten at school. Dinner is handed over through the driver’s side window. And the new dinner plate is a cardboard box or bucket. Millions of kids are looking at a fork and a knife with the same confused look on their face when handed a pen or a pencil.

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Food education used to come from the home. Our grandmothers painstakingly took the time to write down the recipes that were crafted and perfected by the generations before them. Houses had gardens, produce markets were plentiful and dinner was a scheduled event that you showed up for rain or shine.

We learned how to shuck corn, peel potatoes and pinch a pie crust. You watched the bread rise, carved a chicken and got your hands slapped away if you tried to steal a cookie that was still cooling on a half sheet.

Now I’m not suggesting everyone return to churning butter and dig themselves a root cellar, but I find it unsettling that way too many children do not realize that chickens actually have bones.

Food is the most marvelous thing in the way that it’s often attached to the meaningful events in our lives. Birthdays. Holidays. Dates. Parties.  And we count on it for all the meals that are nothing more than something that satisfies an urge or are simply a scheduled time of day activity. An appreciated break from our busy lives. Breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Growing up, food was incredibly important to my family for many different reasons. I came from a clan of six and although I can’t recall ever going hungry because we didn’t have enough to eat, there were a few times when funds were quite tight and I chose to go hungry because of what was on offer.

To stretch a dollar and a pound of ground beef, my mom would creatively find all sorts of fillers—tofu was one and soy protein was another. She was quite ahead of her time. Powdered milk was cheap and showed up repeatedly—and I don’t care how you disguise it, it had about as much tastebud appeal as liquid cardboard.

As my family ancestry was Polish, my folks oftentimes introduced us to unusual foods that in my opinion would likely have had the offspring of scavenging beasts raise an eyebrow when encouraged to eat it by their parents. Blood seemed to be an ingredient in way too many things for your average nine-year-old’s comfort. I began thinking I should truthfully detail my family’s heritage as part Polish, part vampiric.

Of course, growing up where I did in the Midwest, many folks were hunters, and one evening a platter of what my folks labeled “tiny chicken” showed up on the kitchen table. It did not take me and my siblings long to figure out why my mom was no longer complaining about the unruly squirrel population taking over her summer garden.

And lastly, my mother’s favorite extender of any meal—cream of mushroom soup. Detesting mushrooms was a hobby of mine, and finding these spores in my food became an obsession. After highlighting my childhood foodscape, it’s not so surprising to see how I began to grow incredibly suspicious of all my food. I wanted to know the answer to a very important question:

What’s in it?

~~~~~~~

*I hope you’ll come back next week for part 3. And I hope you may consider offering your thoughts thus far.

Cheers everyone!

~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.

Why I Wrote DEAR OPL

Who Writes a Prologue to a Blog Post? … Umm, Me.

A heads up to this beautiful community I have come to know and embrace. The next three posts are not ‘blog posts’—they are a polished rough draft of a speech.

I’m crowdsourcing and asking for your valuable input.

The speech isn’t about the book I’ve written for children, it’s about the messages within the book that I’m trying to highlight by spreading awareness. Years ago, these topics grabbed me by the shoulders, shook me until my teeth rattled and demanded I do something about them.

The book is a vehicle to address these topics with children. The speech is my outreach campaign to engage parents, educators, and activists who care about how food politics are aggressively influencing our health.

So, I’m asking you to read and comment. Help me make an impact. Tell me what works for you, what doesn’t, what you’d like to see more of, or what you feel detracts. Your opinions matter to me.

This is not a plea to purchase my book. This is an appeal to help me make a difference. If this isn’t your shtick, I promise your names will still be rattled off in my nightly prayers of Please let these folks win some lottery in life. The point is to take advantage of eager, willing voices and collective brain power.

Your thoughts mean a great deal to me. I want to carry them with me as I carry this message to others.

And now … Why I Wrote DEAR OPL.

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I’m usually not one for eavesdropping—okay, who am I kidding? I’m a writer. I’m always listening in on conversations all around me. It’s a fountain-like source of creativity I regularly tap into. And it’s addictive. But it’s part of my job.

On this particular occasion—while I was working—I just happened to overhear a conversation that made me cringe. We were in Australia, and my then seven-year-old son was chatting with an Australian lad who was just a little bit older than him. The boy asked my son where he was from. I heard my son answer, “America.” The other boy’s response was, “Oh. Where the fat people live.”

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I sat back and thought about that unflattering national slogan. It did not have a sexy ring to it.

I thought about a few other places that had slogans to capture the essence and beauty of what they had to offer.

Egypt: Where it all began.

Bahli: The islands of gods.

Disneyland: The happiest place on Earth.

And now …

America: Where the fat people live.

The more I thought about it, the more a few other slogans repeatedly popped into my head. Like this one:

McDonald’s: I’m lovin’ it.

It gave me a lot to chew on—excuse the pun—but it really had me thinking about how big ideas could be distilled down to a few simple words. And sometimes those words could leave a bad taste in your mouth.

But I like slogans. I am all about slogans—or catchphrases or mottos—whatever you want to call them. I surround myself with them because throughout my whole life I’ve found them to be effective.

In fact, here’s an example of just how powerful one became:

As I was growing up, studying classical music was a precise and strictly defined practice. There were rules and not much wiggle room for interpretation of any of them.

I remember as a teenager sitting at the piano with a friend of mine who had not studied classical, but was rather raised playing jazz and improv. We were very different musicians. One afternoon we tried to find a song that both of us could play together on the piano. It ended up being something I could read off sheet music and he improvised alongside.

When we’d finished the piece, he turned to me and said, “Okay, now don’t do it regular.” I didn’t know any other way but regular, and when I found out that’s what I was, I aimed to change it.

In fact, that became the slogan with which I raised my children. My children weren’t particularly thrilled with my ‘swim against the current’ motherly advice as it made them stick out in ways that would make most kids’ toes curl. Their complaining fell on deaf ears and was usually followed with that old parental pearl of It’ll build you some character!

When years ago I heard the highly acclaimed entrepreneur, Seth Godin, say, “Ordinary is boring,” I nearly leaped out of my skin. I wanted to rush to my children and point out that I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t trying to ruin their fun, I was simply trying to enrich their lives.

That phrase of Just Don’t Do It Regular became a theme song I was determined to sing when coaching my kids through countless situations as if I were some first draft version of Maria Von Trapp or a slightly more colorfully dressed adaptation of Mary Poppins. The last thing I wanted for them was a ‘go with the flow’ predictable experience. I wanted them to counteract the narrative of their generation. If they had something to say to the world, it would take words noteworthy and uncommon in order to be heard above the fray.

And people pay attention to noteworthy and uncommon. After that trip to Australia, it seemed like I repeatedly stumbled upon the same message directed at a growing swath of our planet’s population.

We are in trouble, people. We have a big fat problem on our hands … and hips and thighs and bellies.

I couldn’t ignore the message.

After slogging through a forest full of research articles and data authored and collected by the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control and a compilation of all of Dave Letterman’s Top Ten lists, I realized that some of my sources were—although meticulously detailed and scientific—extremely dry and nearly impossible to swallow.

It’s as if the WHO and CDC embraced both Seth and McDonald’s mottos and made an unlikely lovechild tagline for themselves: We’re boring, and lovin’ it.

My guess is that neither of the big research and data collection agencies thought their articles could use any spicing up—with something like a massive neon lit memo—in order to hail the attention of the folks who were most desperately in need of reading it.

Extracting the main point message was easy though:

A shocking number of people are eating themselves to an early death. In particular, children.

I spent a lot of time looking around and asking the silent question, Does everyone know this? And then I spent a lot of time thinking it really shouldn’t be a silent question. And lastly I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I could take the message about our world’s growing epidemic of obesity and spread the word in a way that wouldn’t make people fall asleep with their eyes open.

To reach children, I wrote a book.

But for all of you, I’ve broken the message into three bite-sized portions of important information that I’ve gathered from myriad experts—aka folks far more clever than me—whom I’ve hunted down from all corners of this great round ball we live on. Those three points—the meat and marrow of this talk—are thus:

  1. WHAT WE EAT
  2. WHAT WE KNOW
  3. WHAT WE NEED TO DO

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*I hope you’ll come back next week for part 2 of 3. And I hope you may consider offering your thoughts thus far.

Cheers everyone!

~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.

Uncivilized Wildlife: One Big Bloody Battle

I’m a creature of habit.

A couple of them I like and have come to depend upon—like sleeping, eating, and general brain function reliability.

One or two have stuck around that I’m not terribly fond of—like hitting the hay too late, forgetting where I’ve parked the car, and stalking Neil deGrasse Tyson in hopes that he’ll change his mind and finally decide to co-author a scientific paper with me on the plausible objectives of time travel through human-sized, uncooked rigatoni noodles.

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I think he’s afraid he’ll have to do most of the authoring. But I’ve assured him I will pull my weight. I will keep our coffee cups filled. I will keep all the pencils sharpened. And I will do my best to man our Twitter page and keep it filled to the brim with pithy, clever snippets that reflect our opinions on all things hyperspace bypass related.

This bad habit could turn into a big bonus for the both of us.

My creatures are creatures of habit too.

The cat is awake to eat.

And then isn’t.

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My hound has a slightly more varied routine, but he too keeps a predictable schedule, which is why at around 11:30 last night I was surprised to see him wander into my bathroom while I was finishing my evening ablutions.

“Shouldn’t you be outside making your last security rounds?” I asked him with a mouthful of toothpaste.

Ran into a tiny snag.

“Why are you bleeding all over my bathroom floor?”

The tiny snag had teeth.

“This does not bode well for my precious Italian faux marble tiling,” I said, wondering if the pooling blood would stain.

A little help here?

I sighed. “Go get me a bucket of bleach and a wire brush.”

A Band-Aid would suffice.

“And if I go into that housekeeping cupboard tomorrow and notice you’ve stolen all my camphor moth balls again, there’ll be a reckoning.”

I had a stuffy nose.

“Use the Neti Pot!”

And so it went.

I cleaned him up and noted the two deep puncture wounds on one side of his hind leg and the graze of teeth marks on the opposite side.

“Who did this to you?”

I didn’t catch his name.

“No. I mean what animal did this to you?”

Something massive that obviously hadn’t had dinner yet.

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“Well, it’s bedtime. No more prowling about tonight—got it?”

The look I got in return was one that suggested I had an IQ equal to that of tapioca pudding. We shuffled off to bed. But sadly not to sleep.

As is wont to happen round about this time of year, the whippoorwills make their annual appearance and settle in around the woods and meadows surrounding the house. From far away, they offer a dreamy, somnolent tune, echoing through the cool spring nights.

Sitting beneath your window, they are shrill, piercing, and an aberration of nature–as anyone would attest they surely have three lungs.

For thirty minutes I did my level best to ignore the siren song which was truly much more of an honest to God siren and less so a beautiful, mythical sea creature calling me out to the crashing waves and hidden jagged rocks.

I got up, opened the porch door and encouraged it to take its evening serenade elsewhere. “For the love of all things holy, I’m begging you, PLEASE BE QUIET!

I soon gathered that the bird balladeer and I did not speak the same language, or perhaps he interpreted my hand clapping as applause. He simply relocated to the space beneath another window.

The following thirty minutes was difficult to breathe through as I had my head beneath two pillows.

It was clear this bird was hoping to make it onto the Avian Olympic team and that his training facility was any perchable place within 12-24 inches of my house walls. The incessant aria, the rigorous, methodical whooping warble was worthy of a gold medal for effort. And a twelve gauge for the likeability factor.

I got up, went to the window and gave it a couple of good solid thumps. When this achieved nothing, I opened it and began shouting into the night. “I know where you live! I will not be fooled into looking skyward! I know you’re all ground nesting birds!

Silence.

I looked at the dog who was still tending to his wounds. “You’re wel—”

WHIPPOORWILL, WHIPPOORWILL, WHIPPOORWILL!

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And then there were three.

This bird had called in for backup. The flock now positioned themselves on all sides of the bedroom walls that faced nature. It was a trio of torturous, ill-timed tunes.

I groaned and found a pair of previously owned earplugs. I shoved them in so far they practically met behind my nose. I burrowed down beneath two pillows and a quilt. I hummed. I made ocean-like white noise.

After ten minutes, I got up and called for the dog. His head was firmly wedged beneath the bed.

“Okay, I’ve changed my mind. Go gettem, tiger.”

No, thank you, he said, glancing at the fang imprints he now sported.

We both spent the rest of the night being miserable and met up in the kitchen at breakfast—me fresh from a shower and him coming in from outside.

So, this might be of interest. He dropped a greeting card in my lap.

“What does it say?”

He snorted. You know I don’t read. But it was right outside my dog door.

I read it aloud for the both of us.

Hey, bud. Sorry about the bite. I thought you were a whippoorwill. Those things are driving me crazy.’

I looked up from the note. “Well, apparently some of Mother Nature’s brood has manners.”

~Shelley

*ROBIN GOTT’S BONUS CARTOON* (click)

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Peek at What’s Coming Down the Pike

And here we are, folks. A peek into DEAR OPL–a project of mine that began probably around the same time ancient Babylonian astronomers were first discovering some of our solar system’s inner planets.

You’ll see the synopsis, the first chapter, and the first press reviews by Kirkus.

I hope you’ll enjoy.

~ShelleyDearOpl---FacebookBanner (800x296)

SYNOPSIS

There is a sinkhole deep inside thirteen-year-old Opl Oppenheimer, and for two years she’s plugged the leak with a wad of junk food. But a hole from heartbreak is tricky. And anyone who’s experienced eighth-grade science frog dissection knows a heart can’t be repaired by a bubblegum band-aid. Worse still, overweight Opl now faces diabetes and must swallow the bitter news that sugar is the problem and not the solution to filling the empty space her dad’s presence used to occupy. Even the school’s galling version of celebrity chef Alfie Adam’s Meal Madness is turning Opl’s self-prescribed soothing syrups into miserable medicine. Mock meat and healthy colon slogans plague the lunchroom walls, encouraging change. But Opl can’t see the value of changing her whole life to save her future since it’s the past she wants to retrieve.

Opl identifies a scapegoat for her growing burdens and rallies an internet attack on Alfie Adam. The plan backfires, threatening the success of her mom’s bookstore, the loss of her best friendship and an international lawsuit. To win back her friend, Opl is forced to pledge allegiance to her arch enemy–the health-crazed chef, but in doing so realizes that, just like kimchi, festering problems, if handled correctly, can produce something a whole community can savor.

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DEAR OPL

by Shelley Sackier

Chapter One

The dark enveloped me, squishing my lungs. Like the engulfing bear hug you get from an uncle who’s built like a lumberjack. But this black was so tarry and thick, it made me feel as if I were breathing syrup and forced my heart to thud in my chest. I blinked again and again, and squinted hard, hoping something—anything— would come into focus. I wanted to sprint for my bed, to hide beneath my quilt, where nothing but fuzzy warmth and an old licorice stick are allowed. But I needed this. I couldn’t leave because I had to get rid of the awful ache that poked at my sleep. If I fed it, like a lion at the zoo, it would circle and grow quiet. Sometimes.

Even though I wasn’t supposed to.

My hands fluttered in front of me, like a couple of blind butterflies. They bumped against a pointed edge. I jerked back, thinking I’d been bit, but I took a breath and crept forward until I touched it once more. I traced my skittish fingers along its form until I felt certain the thing wouldn’t strike at me with sharpened fangs and light up with red demonic eyes. It was a box of cereal. And it had to be Froot Loops because the pantry was a bundle of lip-smacking scents like tangy lemon, zingy orange, electric lime, and mouth-watering cherry. This meant Ollie had left the bag open and steam would shoot out of Mom’s ears because it’ll have gone stale by morning. I sighed with relief because as far as I knew, no one has ever been seriously injured by sugary, ring-shaped cereal. Then, again, maybe my younger brother would be the first.

I pushed the box aside and moved my hands higher up. I knocked another smaller carton to the floor, where it bounced off my sock-covered foot. I squatted, sweeping my hands across the floorboards until I found it. Bringing the package to my nose, I sniffed its edges. It smelled like Thanksgiving—well, not the last one, but the twelve others before that. It smelled of cinnamon and apples. It smelled of happiness.

I opened the box and felt inside, my fingers searching for more of the memory. They picked up a tiny pouch. A tea bag. It made the sound of Mom’s old flower seed envelopes, the ones she held up each spring and shook like tiny maracas. “April showers bring May flowers! Let’s go plant some future sunshine.”

That didn’t happen this spring. Or the one before it.

I fumbled about until I found an empty spot I could push the tea bags into and then let my fingers wander farther across the shelf. They collided into something crinkly. Bingo!

I pressed my hands around the package. It had the right sound—like crunching plastic—when I squeezed it. I pulled it to my nose. Yes, definitely the right smell. And not one I could attach to any other thing. It was powdery sweet. Buttery. Not quite chocolate but deep, like cocoa. It mixed with scents of sugared vanilla—a cream so luscious, it ran slickly against your tongue. This was not just a food; it was a feeling. I wanted those Oreos so badly my mouth started watering like a mini sprinkler.

I felt around for the opening, the plastic pullback tab that granted you access right to the very heart of the package and the cure-all cookies. Tonight’s remedy. But something was wrong. The pull tab was missing. I groped the front and back, skimming its sides, trying to catch the sticky edge like you do when your Scotch tape has come off the metal ridge and sealed itself back onto the roll. It wasn’t there. I couldn’t find it.

Something brushed against my cheek and I reeled back in fright, bumping into the rickety pantry steps behind me. My fingers slapped at my face, but found only my hair falling out of its messy ponytail. With a racing heartbeat, I ventured a hand along the wall, searching for the light switch. Then I pulled back. I’d better not turn on the pantry bulb, because the glow would creep down the hall and shine like a headlight through Mom’s open bedroom door. She was a super light sleeper. She could leap out of bed at the sound of a cricket passing gas on the back porch.

But I needed those cookies.

A flashlight! That’s the answer. I bent down to hunt the lower shelf beneath the microwave. In my mind I could see four of them on the ledge, lined up like eager soldiers: sentries of the dark. But I bumped into one and they tumbled like dominos. I held my breath, trying to absorb the clunking sounds. I made that lungful stay put and listened, wishing I had a third ear. At the relief of no footsteps rushing into the kitchen, I grasped one of the tipsy warriors against the dark, flipped its switch, and looked at the package in my other hand. I held the Oreos all right, but they’d been double packaged, slipped inside a Ziploc bag along with a folded piece of stationery.

I sat down on the old wine crate Mom used as a step, forgetting about how badly it creaked, and unzipped the plastic bag. I pulled out the note and tilted the beam toward the words. It said:
Dear Opal,
Please don’t eat these. Remember your diet.
I love you,
Mom

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To Pre-order DEAR OPL (Published August 4, 2015)

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books a Million

Indie Bound

Indigo

iTunes

KIRKUS REVIEW

In the two years since her father’s death from cancer, Opal’s life has gone awry.

Grief and her family’s altered dynamics have contributed to Opal’s struggles with food and weight. She is increasingly at odds with her mother, who is overwhelmed and distracted. When her mother encourages Opal to start a blog as a way to document her food intake, Opal decides to use it to express her thoughts instead. Soon, Opal’s sharp, humorous observations as “Opl” garner interest as people respond to her commentary. Sackier captures Opal’s emotional turmoil as she grieves for her father and resists her mother’s campaign to persuade her to diet. When a savage blog entry directed at a popular chef earns Opal criticism from her best friend, remorse—along with an alarming health diagnosis from Opal’s doctor—compels Opal to reconsider the chef’s healthful-food philosophy. Sackier conveys a message about healthy habits without lecturing. Opal’s adventures in cooking and yoga—with occasionally comical results—alter her perspective, and her changing attitudes reflect her personal and emotional transformation. As Opal endeavors to better understand who she is, she gains a greater awareness of others’ life circumstances as well. When a chance encounter leads to Opal’s acquaintance with Rudy, a regular visitor to the local soup kitchen, Opal devises a kindhearted plan to help him.

By the story’s conclusion, readers will be happy they traveled with Opal on her journey to self-acceptance. (Fiction. 10-14)

*ROBIN GOTT’S NEW POST* (click)

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

Dipping a Toe in the Pond of Progress

Apparently, I live under a rock.

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Which is a declaration from one of my kids that makes me snort with laughter, because although from his perspective, yes, I am not as ‘hip and with it’ as a sixteen-year-old immersed in the ever-changing kaleidoscope of pop culture, but seriously, buddy, look around. We actually live on top of a rock. In the Blue Ridge Mountains.

He doesn’t appreciate the irony.

I’m typically not one for labels, so when I receive my weekly life assessment from my son it’s pretty easy to shake off. But when Seth Godin, one of my great-brained literary and entrepreneurial heroes tells me I’m a laggard … I sit up and take notice.

And then I cry a little.

Because he’s brought graphs to prove it.

And pictures never lie.

According to Seth, whenever something new is unleashed from the great minds of opportunistic impresarios, and we are all launched into the next great race of Don’t Be Left Behind!, there exists a graph that needs to be understood if you’re hoping to make a shift in cultural behavior. The graph illustrates a picture that reveals how the population is divided.

It’s called the INNOVATION ADOPTION LIFECYCLE.

I call it: Nature’s Crowd Control.

Folks are divided up into factions that label how quick they are to get on board with new concepts, new technologies, new devices or new celebrity baby names that could only have been dreamed up by taking the online quiz to determine your ideal prostitute moniker and blending it with a piece of fruit found strictly in South American street markets.

The factions are as follows:

Innovators

Early Adopters

Early Majority

Late Majority

And LAGGARDS

When I read this, I straightened up and shouted, “NOW HOLD ON A MINUTE!”

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And then I quickly apologized to the cashier who had snatched back the jumbo package of toilet paper that probably took out a forest equaling half the trees in one of our country’s smaller national parks to create. I had been looking at the graph on my smartphone while grocery shopping and reassured him that yes, I really did want all that toilet paper, and then took note of all the people around me who now suspected I had some sort of minor colonic affliction.

Once I got safely home, I pulled out my favorite book of all time—my Thesaurus—which, like The Bible, The TV Guide, and The World Atlas of Whisky—all books of paramount significance—should be capitalized.

I looked up laggard. I was not impressed with the alternatives. I am not a dawdler, or a loafer, or a slowpoke. I am not a slacker, or a sofa spud,

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or a navel gazer—except when specifically cleaning that important and oft-ignored body part.

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As this beautiful bell-curve was specifically created in 1957 and applied to agriculture and home economics of the time, and was used to track the “purchase patterns of hybrid seed corn by farmers,” the definition of the term laggard meant: very conservative, had small farms and capital, and were the oldest and least educated of the populace.

But I would not consider myself very conservative. In fact, I can recall a time, years ago when I actually considered having a third child—and not just because of the tax deduction.

Yes, maybe the small farm thing would stick and likely the bit about not much capital too—but surely that’s about to change because we all know how it’s typical for unknown children’s author’s income brackets to shoot right through the roof after they’re published.

But oldest—nuh uh. And least educated? Nope. I’ve got me some learnin. And as long as I keep up a steady stream diet of news feed from The Drudge Report and The Onion I should be golden on most international issues of import.

Now just to quiet the shouting in the background that’s coming from the balcony containing my teenagers and all of mankind’s teenagers who believe their parents are still dressing in high-waisted culottes and are on the verge of no longer sleeping with their teeth, I figure it’s only fair to look at the chart through their un-cataracted eyes.

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It’s true that I am not the person who “comes up” with the shiny brand new inventions. I’ve not worked at a start-up, I don’t have a lab in my garage and I’ve yet to start a movement. So innovator is not a term applicable to me.

It’s also true that I’m not the first to stand in line all night waiting for the release of something that may or may not work, might be massively overpriced, and will likely be remembered in a pop culture montage at the end of the year in a reel entitled AND THE BIGGEST WASTES OF SPACE THIS YEAR WERE …

Yep. Not my style.

I also hate to be a crowd follower. If all of the Kardashians own one in every color it comes in, cross my name off the customer list.

Which brings us to the ‘late majority’ category. This is where I usually get caught. I reason with myself relentlessly. Something might prove to be a good idea—after a great deal of trial and error and three review cycles in Consumer Reports—but then I get whiff of the new contraption coming down the pike. If I buy it now, I’ll have something outdated within minutes, but waiting another month for the replacement means I’m now proudly sporting the unwanted badge of ‘I got it first.’

So this slides me back into the category of laggard. Or worse–I never board the bus.

So I’m left with this degrading classification reserved for folks who spend a good chunk of their day talking about how their latest operations panned out.

But you know what? I’m fine with it. I am who I am. A little behind the times, but careful and diligent. And I certainly don’t have time to worry about what a bunch of teenagers think of my speed of progress. I’ll get there.

First I have to head out to the garden and get the soil ready for my big corn crop this year. I just finished thumbing through a catalog and purchasing a bucketload of super seeds through this new company I discovered called Monsanto.

~Shelley

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I Knew It! It’s Only a Matter of Time.

All you have is the NOW.”

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This is a quote from my yoga teacher. She reminds me twice a week that there is the past, and the potential, but most important is the present.

This moment.

And once it goes, it’s gone.

I wrestled with that quote for an entire hour last week during class, trying to unravel it. Those six little monosyllabic words. It was harder to pay attention to than I thought it would be. My thoughts have a habit of being way ahead of my body—or way behind it. The idea of syncing the two together is about as easy as the concept of bowling in space or playing tennis underwater. Not a lot of success, and hugely effortful.

I understand the need for a point of convergence mostly because I’ve benefitted when I’ve arrived at exactly that spot. But these are tiny chunks of time—slivers really. Twenty minutes of meditation where maybe out of those twenty minutes I was fully present for about four of them. The other sixteen were thinking about my grocery list, what books were due at the library, or how to encourage my plumber to put whisky, red wine, and chocolate sauce on tap in my kitchen.

I know. I get distracted. But it’s nearly impossible for me shut down that thought factory.

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The idea of remaining mentally engaged is a no-brainer for me—although that’s clearly a poor choice of words. As a writer, I need access to my stores of creativity and a method of churning up its source to keep the vault filled to capacity. Damned is the day I open that door, reach in and pull out nothing but a fistful of mothball scented air. I also need cerebral acuity in order to keep up with my kids. Once I discover they’re slowing their speech and purposefully choosing words that would be dismissed as too difficult for a fourth-grade spelling bee I am toast.

I’m grateful to my yoga and meditation teachers who all seem to carry the parade-sized banner that states: Found yourself distracted by other thoughts? No worries! Start again. It’s rather an amazing club to belong to where you thankfully realize that J.K. Simmons is not your mentor and you will never get slapped upside the head for losing the count.

But the measurement of time—or time perspective—is often where I get caught in a circular loop. I once heard psychologist Philip Zimbardo lecture about how time—as our current culture defines it—can be broken into six segments.

You can have a Past time perspective, where you focus on the positive or negative, a Present time perspective, where you focus on hedonism or fatalism, or a Future time perspective, where you focus on life goals or the transcendental.

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I may pen Dr. Zimbardo a note to suggest a quick conversation with my hero Neil deGrasse Tyson who believes we could possibly add a seventh segment to time perspective that I’ll call Sideways. Neil says, realistically, if there’s a forward and backward and a ‘stay where you are’ on the measurement of time, there’s likely a left and a right built in there too, but we’re just not seeing it yet.

Yep. Mushroom-shaped, mind-blowing thought, eh? See why I can’t stay focused?

But I think I’ve discovered what would help me on all fronts of time measurement and it’s a ridiculously simple solution, and yet an impossible one.

HIT PAUSE.

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Stopping time altogether seems like an answer that would affect the past, the future and the present—and likely those wonky side bits Neil says are invisibly hanging about. How?

If for twenty-four hours I could stop time entirely I could work at fevered pitch, press play and then realize that the next day I’d wake up and be a paltry nineteen days behind schedule rather than the overwhelming twenty I’ve currently tallied. That might make a dent in the past and I’d feel a more ‘positive past time perspective.’

Or I could use the time to make a massive deposit in my depleted sleep bank and snooze through the two dozen hours. This would surely display my tendencies toward ‘hedonistic present time perspective.’

Or lastly, I could finally fill out that Last Will & Testament, write sappy farewell love letters to my children, build myself a sturdy pine box and locate the tree I’d like to be buried beneath as a clear illustration of my ‘transcendental future time perspective’ because the alternative of devoting those windfall hours to ‘life goals’ would do nothing but demonstrate that God had somehow managed to insert an eighth day to the week, as it would be the same as the seven before it.

No. It must be unique.

Twenty-four blissful bonus hours of time not moving even one tiny inch forward. I could catch up, I could sleep or I could focus entirely on my impending death.

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Umm … it may not be as tough a choice as I once thought.

Yep. Those extra hours sure would be appreciated. In fact, maybe the best idea would be to devote the day to increasing my success with that whole mind/body being in the moment goal.

So, for now I’ll put the past behind me and I’ll set aside the future. Because as all the great Zen masters say, there’s no time like the present.

Except for the ones Neil says we can’t see.

~Shelley

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See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Text No Evil

Here’s a scary fact:

There are two people inside of me.

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Okay, wait. That sounded much more alarming than I wanted it to. Let’s try that again.

I hear two voices.

Nope. That doesn’t really work either.

And this has nothing to do with the whole author thing where we train ourselves to get inside a character’s head and write from their perspective, which, when you really think about it could be considered a bit invasive and creepy.

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What I’m actually talking about are the conversations behind conversations. The things that come out of one’s mouth when in dialogue with another versus the things that get whispered, grumbled or screamed inside your head and nobody but the real you is there to hear.

We all do it, so there’s no need to fear I need a few week’s rest in the nearest laughing academy—although a softly padded rubber room and a nurse with a needle full of snoozing juice could be considered a worthy vacation at this point in time. I may reevaluate the idea.

It’s just that lately I’ve become more aware of how loud that inner voice is growing.

Maybe it’s the fact that I have teenagers and realize that no matter how hard I try, putting parental lessons in my best Disney Princess Voice is no longer a viable tactic, but my Nurse Ratched routine isn’t gonna fly either.

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Or it might be that I’m preparing a series of presentations to schoolchildren about food and have this desperate desire to get on my hands and knees, grab them by the shoulders and shout that “Scientists have discovered rats will work eight times harder to get sugar than they will to get cocaine!” Except this will have me escorted out classrooms and libraries faster than a gun fight in a phone booth.

The art of communication is tricky.

I think we all probably remember that well-drilled-in childhood lesson stating If you don’t have anything nice to say, maybe you’re not cut out for social media—or something like that. But I’m realizing that of late I’m growing quite desperate to allow my inner ‘best if kept caged’ thoughts to escape and run rampant.

Many of these urges happen when I’m texting. There’s the response I actually text, and then the response I actually say while typing out the text. Oftentimes they’re contradictory, or one is passable for the National Security Agency’s eyes and the other is my “air text” which is the message my fingers were itching to type.

And I’m getting pretty good at spotting the air texts written by other folks as well. Especially those of my kids. A typical conversation might go something like this:

Hey Mom?

Hi, Bud. What’s up? (read: Why are you texting me in the middle of the school day? You’d better not be in trouble. Is there a police officer standing next to you?)

I’m not feeling good. (read: I’m sick of school.)

And? (read: Ask the office for an Advil and head back to math, Mister.)

I think I need to come home. (read: I’m so not ready for the chemistry quiz.)

Sorry to hear that. (read: Suck it up, buddy.)

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I just need to get into bed. (read: I really want to watch the next five episodes of Archer.)

Are you sure you can’t stick it out? (read: If you think you’re skipping out on the rest of the afternoon to binge watch Netflix you’re about to be sorely surprised.)

No. Please call the office and get me excused. (read: Show some mercy here, Mom. I CAN’T TAKE THAT QUIZ!)

Fine. (read: Did you hear how loud my sigh was? It was deafening on my end.)

I have to stop and get gas on my way home. (read: I need snacks while I binge watch Archer.)

You’d better have a raging fever and be tossing your cookies once you open the front door. (read: There actually wasn’t any finger itching air text here. I sometimes actually write what I mean.)

I think it may be more challenging to squish a troublesome inner voice if you’re naturally a snarky individual, or determined not to be judged by the size of your brain but rather the size of a brain you’re convinced you deserve, or if you’re nearly certain there’s an 18th century sharp-tongued fisherman’s wife controlling your vocal chords—all of which are true, and do not make the task an easy one.

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On the flipside, these growing urges to speak my mind may stem from a healthy diet of female empowerment slam poetry Youtube videos or maybe just an extra large serving of Beyonce lyrics—it doesn’t matter. The point is, the older I become, the more ankle I want to show.

Or perhaps it’s simply a matter of deciphering what are the most important messages I need to get across and what’s the most precise manner in which to do so.

Maybe those extra voices in my head fighting to be heard aren’t all brash and uncouth. Maybe it’s not tact I’m fighting for, but truth I’m fighting against. Maybe with each successive year I’m realizing the unbridled freedom of truly saying what I mean.

Or it could be that I forgot to take my meds this morning.

Time will tell I suppose. It will surely reveal if any of these musings are worthy and will likely determine where my next vacation will be.

~Shelley (or Sybil)

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Two Can Play at That Game

THWACK! is a beautiful sound.

So is SSLRP!

These are two noises I easily associate with my youth, and, in particular, my youth while around my dad. We’re playing softball. He pitches, I swing, he catches.

Rinse and repeat.

These buzzy, breezy, warm summer afternoons are all snugly tucked deep into the depths of my childhood memory treasure chest.

I’m also totally addicted to the sound of PING and PONG.

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These tiny blips of sound snippets fill the space between my son and myself as we face one another and focus on the small, plastic white ball that rapidly zips between us.

It is an addiction we share—this undeniable craving to master the trajectory of an object in motion as well as the desire to outwit one’s opponent.

I’m not sure which one is more important to me—skill or sagacity.

Okay, maybe crushing my challenger ekes out smidge above pure talent, but surely I cannot be blamed for that. Perhaps that is Mother Nature’s way of saying, Genetically, this version of a person doesn’t totally suck. Let’s make her a fighter and see what happens in the wild.

Table tennis was another one of those gladdening games my father took the time to teach each one of his kids. It didn’t require an enormous amount of exertion, but rather focused on hand-eye coordination with a hefty sprinkling of on your feet, forward thinking dexterity. Not something your average nine-year-old has mastered, but if you set up a rigid, unrelenting schedule of early rising, all day training under the guidance of a brutal drill sergeant, your proficiency skyrockets.

Except, we didn’t do that.

My training was filled with way too much giggling to be taken seriously.

And it is what I love most about playing ping pong with my son.

When put into the same room with a sixteen-year-old boy, one often struggles—nay, labors with intense strain to find common ground—a place where he can hear my parental pearls of wisdom and I can be assured that his language skills still exist and are being exercised.

And one must toil in this manner if one hopes for a future where one is not surrounded by a group of unfortunate, drooling elderly who feast on antipsychotics for breakfast, sit for much of the day slumped in a wheelchair and chew on their hands for entertainment.

No. I’ve documented these last few years, and will continue to do so, in an effort to prove to my son that even though most psychologists agree there is no other reasonable explanation for why teenagers behave the way they do other than the fact that aliens have covertly swooped in one night and sucked out their brains,

100515straucers (800x677)exchanging it for the contents of a jar of Marshmallow Fluff, I will not resort to the easiest solution. I will not institutionalize him as long he will not institutionalize me.

Seems fair enough, right?

Therefore, through the rigors of trial and error, we have hunted to find a shared activity. I have discovered that getting our nails done together is out. Watching soapy chick flicks with a pitcher of margaritas between us is definitely out. And sharing the writing of this week’s flowery batch of rhapsodic fan mail to Neil deGrasse Tyson will likely be a flop as well.

We are left with sports.

Since one must bend to the lowest common denominator here— meaning my son cannot/will not attempt baton twirling or curling on ice, and I have more than a little bit of trouble throwing myself in front of a soccer ball traveling at breakneck speed, we are left with some softer athletic choices.

Ping pong it is.

We’ve spent a couple of months sizing one another up. It’s been years since I’ve played competitively … okay, I’ve never played table tennis competitively, but I am a very competitive player—and my son knows that. I usually don’t shy away from the ball, unless he is attempting to lodge it in the space between my eyes. And as much as I’ve requested that these games between us do not include any skeletal denting, I’ve also told him not to go all soft on me.

I aim to beat him.

Because the point of this endeavor is to teach him how to be a good loser.

Thus far, we have lost seven ping pong balls—four to the dog who sees them as neutral flavored, un-legged white mice,

100515mouse (800x767)two behind the ancient organ that magically sucks them up and transports them through a Wurlitzer wormhole into another dimension, and one to a full, crushing body slam that may have damaged a few internal organs, but was impressive enough to justify.

We have both lost a layer or two of some of the skin that protects our hands, arms, and hips, as the sides of the ping pong table are about as sharp as Winston Churchill’s rapier wit.

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And we have lost hours of precious playing time arguing whether or not a ball was on the line, off the line or possessed by a demonic spirit that should not be attributed to our skills or lack thereof.

If my aim was to teach my son how to lose graciously in life, I think I’d have to admit to having learned the same lesson.

When it comes down to it, we’ve lost ourselves … in the fun of it all.

~Shelley

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How to Get Off to a Flying Start

In the last two and one-half weeks, I’ve gone to three different airports, four times. None of them have been for any adventures penciled into my calendar. I’ve simply gotten to play chauffeur to the accumulation of sky miles for others.

Both happen to be my children.

Neither happens to be aware of a little thing the rest of us cling to—like a clock.

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And although I may occasionally skate into appointments with barely five ticks before classified as officially late, commercial aviation does not provide a slushy window of time for takeoff, and therefore I don’t muck about with where they draw the line. In fact, it is rocking horse manure rare to find an airliner that will keep their engines running on idle for that one desperate passenger who is racing to the gate and will arrive in 8.2 more seconds.

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That’s right. I think we’re all fairly well acquainted with the gate agents that see you barreling toward them, child tucked under one arm, briefcase slung around your neck, one hand thrust out in front of you with boarding pass in full view and your mouth wide open, stretching out the word WAIT and who then quickly shut the mobile hallway just as you skid to a stop in front of them.

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They didn’t hear you screaming wait?

Of course, they didn’t.

You were traveling faster than the speed of sound during that last thirty-yard dash.

Who could blame them?

Therefore, I make sure to leave plenty of time to arrive at an airport so I’ve got extra minutes enough to get to the gate and go to the bathroom. Or back through security and out to the car because I’ve forgotten my phone adapter. Or the 1 ½ hour trip back home because I may or may not have remembered to turn off the sprinkler.

I like to be prepared.

These last few trips to the airport had me rethinking my previous bubble of cushioned clock ticks against the departure hour. On each occasion, we pulled into the airport parking lot and dashed. After thanking any and all deities for allowing my kids to get through the snaking security lines, to their gates and into their assigned seats, I realized I needed to back up our EDT.

The problem was me—not them. They were behaving as teenagers behave. I, on the other hand, was behaving as if I was just me and not transporting teenagers.

Teenagers need extra time to do things like:

– drop off their car at a different airport because they are not flying in and out of the same one, or

– stop at the drugstore on the way because they made a last minute request for much needed refills on prescriptions, or

– squeeze in a quick shower, a meal and a minor outpatient surgery.

It could be any of these things.

Or all of them.

Since I was the driver, I was the one wearing the mantle of responsibility.

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And that is a hefty cloak that refuses to render you invisible when plans go pear-shaped—like in my latest adventure with my son.

“I’ll meet you after school and we’ll go straight to the airport from there.”

No, Mom. I have to drop my car off at the regional airport in town because that’s where my return flight lands.

“Huh. Okay. Well, that adds a few minutes to the trip, but we’ll still be fine. I’ll meet you in the parking lot.”

(On route, I come across a traffic snarl, backtrack and then phone my son.)

“Hey bud, there appears to be an accident at the intersection of Polo and Branchwater, so don’t take the main thoroughfare. Use the back route.”

Yeah, sure. Where are you?

“I just told you, and now I’m reversing my route because of the accident and will be about three minutes late meeting you. See you in the parking lot.”

(I arrive in the lot and surprise, surprise—no son. So I phone.)

“Where are you, kiddo?”

I’m in a long line of standing traffic, Mom! It looks like there’s been some accident up ahead.

“Where. Are. You.”

Not far from Polo and Branchwater.

“Did you not hear me say there was an accident there just five minutes ago?”

There was an accident? Why didn’t you tell me?

*face palm*

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These precious gems are all tucked away into the of ‘Let’s Laugh About Them Later’ album, but throw two or three of these in succession into the ‘Best Laid Plans of Moms and Managers,’ and you’ve got yourself the makings of minor apoplectic fit.

As I prefer my heartbeat to be one that mostly goes unnoticed, and I’m steadfast in my refusal to support the pharmaceutical industry any further with additional prescriptions meant to alleviate the harrowing conditions brought on by guiding one’s offspring through the last couple of treacherous years up to adulthood, I am girding my loins for the next teen interaction and request for transport before take-off. It will go something like this:

Hey, Mom? Will you drop me off at the airport next week? I’ve got an interview for my summer internship.

“You betcha. Let me just grab my purse and keys. I’ll meet you in the car.”

Mom, the flight doesn’t leave for three days.

“You’re right. We may be cutting it close.”

~Shelley

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You Want to Step Outside?

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they drive.

You can tell even more about a person by the way they drive AT YOU going 40 mph on a thin and curvy country road while you are out for a leisurely Sunday stroll.

Not everyone is paying attention, as is clear by the amount of drivers that will suddenly swerve when they finally identify that you are a person on the side of the road and not a woodland deer on two feet, or a slow moving tree attempting to make a break from the forest.

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And not everyone is particularly concerned about speed, or laws, or the fact that studies have shown it is easier to drive a vehicle if you are in charge of the direction you’d like for it to move. Pesky windshields and steering wheels. They so get in the way of reading emails.

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As a person who spends the majority of my conscious, upright hours in a chair, I have made a pact with myself (or Beelzebub) that states that if I fail to take a head-clearing, leg-stretching, lung-cleansing walk by the end of the day, I must refrain from breathing for a full thirty minutes as punishment before going to bed. Or for as long as the dog’s last nap divided by pi and rounded up to the nearest tenth. Whichever is longer.

I rarely fail to take a walk.

When at home, my routine is measured and predictable. There is no choice in direction living on the peak of a great chunk of rock. You are allowed to go … down. But then you have to come back up if you’re hoping to get dinner. As I never tackle this adventure without my trusty rusty hound by my side, and because it’s clear to anyone who has heard me wax lyrical about the animal (and declare I’d give him a kidney if he needed it), I am usually swayed to flip a 180 once we arrive back to base camp and trek down half the mountain again as a bonus for a little added caloric burn.

I have been warned that I am way too indulgent with this mound of fur on four feet, but as he assures me he would pull me out of a burning house fire, I feel I need to continually shore up our relationship—and his muscle strength—as a just in case insurance plan.

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If I’m visiting my parents, my walk is more residential, peppered by driveways, cars, and the containers holding last night’s dinner—a gift tossed out truck windows from a good chunk of folks who have yet to meet an area of the world that does not confuse them as being an extension of the county landfill.

Should I find myself in town and in between appointments, I make use of the tennis shoes I keep in my car for such an occasion and stroll in whichever direction the wind is blowing. Coincidentally, the wind seems to push me right to the nearest bakery, which I take as a sign from the universe that I need a lot more gluten in my diet.

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And I’m all about tuning into cosmic conversations. I’m like a fully carbed out Jodi Foster, only instead of sitting on the hood of my car surrounded by giant, rotating satellite receivers, I am standing in the city center, inhaling in all directions seeking the tiny refrains of active yeast strains.

I can smell otherworldly puff pastry creations from sectors of space that have yet to be mapped by astrological spectrographs.

There are countless things to learn on one’s habitual daily walk, like how much the winter snow contributed to the health of the burbling brooks, or how fast maple trees leaf out in spring, or how much porcupines do not appreciate being taken by surprise.

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Where folks are closer together I’ve discovered that neighbors like to communicate their personalities through mailbox and yard art. Perhaps as a way of scaring off any real forest critters from feasting on hedges, flowers and veggies, fake ones are strewn about the lawn. Most complete with bullet holes. Some driveways are so crisply outlined in nighttime headlight reflectors, one could safely guide a Boeing 757 into the garage at the end of it. And if one house has decided to grandly name their abode, you can bet your bottom dollar that ‘Ben & Jen’s Lake House’ will soon find it’s sharing the same street as ‘The Earl of Norfolk Hall,’ ‘Chateau Belvoir,’ and ‘Killkerny Castle.’

In closing, it doesn’t matter if I’m in the forest, with my folks or following the fragrance of fine French bread, I really love to walk.

My hope is that I will remain healthy enough to do it for years and years to come.

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Another hope is that I will continue to recover from all the ditch diving I have had to practice in order to avoid speeding vehicles driven by amateur multi-taskers.

And my last hope is that I will finish this post before the clock strikes midnight so that I can squeeze in my daily walk and not be forced to calculate how long the dog’s last nap was.

I love to walk.

But I love to breathe more.

~Shelley

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We Need to Talk

I talk to my dog a lot.

Occasionally, I’ll exchange a few lyrical syllables with my cat.

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When my teenagers are around—and if you’ve ever owned a couple, you’ll know that the frequency of those events diminish exponentially in relation to the number of Facebook friends they acquire—I remind myself to listen instead of lecture. Well, that’s the plan anyway.

But ‘talking’ is something I’m going to have to get good at—and fast. Because if you publish a book, history tells us that the success of that book reaching the hands of interested readers only happens if you actually announce it exists.

And you have to announce this A LOT.

But this is a problem. For me anyway.

Public speaking is something I used to do and got paid for it. But three things were categorically different back then. One – I was pretty young. Two – this was the music industry. And three – I knew that most of the individuals in the audience were three sheets to the wind and wouldn’t remember what I’d said in the morning if they found themselves presented with a pop quiz at breakfast.

This time, it’s a whole new kettle of fish. Or ballgame. Or can of worms if you really love clichés—which I don’t, and avoid like the plague.

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As a young mother, I got used to the idea that repetition was key to remembering. I lived by the book of layering life skills—which is just a fancy way of saying that I came to realize what all newbie parents realize: gurgling, wobbling infants have precious little recollection of you spending an inordinate about of time warning them that they should never do drugs, discover what inspires them, and always check the expiration date on a quart of milk before drinking from it.

Therefore, I got really good at repeating myself. Ad nauseum. And this is pretty much what my children have decided is my name translated into Latin.

And speaking about my upcoming book would be a helluva lot easier if that was the only book I have written and was still steeped within its plot, characters, and setting. But I’m not. I am two and a half books ahead of it, and writing a blog, and critiquing other writers’ manuscripts,

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and continually in the process of creating new untraceable identities for myself in order to keep one step ahead of the British legal system that is in pursuit of an unpaid parking ticket. Yes, the sign said ‘Diplomatic cars only.’ But after a quick conversation with my rental car, I immediately surmised it was extraordinarily tactful. It qualified.

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My point is, I can’t keep everything straight, and some things I’ve allowed to leak out of my head in order to make room for others. And not having a well-organized memory palace, I’ve forgotten in which rooms I’ve placed important people and data.

How many folks will be willing to sit in front of me at the podium and patiently wait while I attempt to recall if this was the book where I wrote about my passion for all things related to the US Postal Service, or if it was the one where I canonized the inner workings of college dormitory laundry facilities and the secrets withheld by the Dean of Sanitation? I think we can safely assume I’ll be offered a short grace period of substance summoning.

That said, my desk is becoming littered with sticky notes, wall pasted pages, and 3D models made from deli plastic spoons all meant to keep fresh in my mind the topics I will soon be rattling on about. And these desperate attempts to solidify needed data in my head are bleeding over into more areas than just my workspace.

I’ve got a chart of bullet points in the bathroom.

Opening up the fridge reveals a list of statistics that illustrates the bullet points.

Turning back the duvet on my bed uncovers the twelve most helpful and amazing memory tricks—three of which I am capable of remembering—and it also uncovers cat hair. Apparently someone else in my household is determined to ward of dementia.

Or maybe she’s got a lecture coming up and our calendars have not yet synced.

I’ve also forced myself to listen to a lot of podcasts about public speaking and body language, because apparently even if you have the most dynamic ability to recall your sparkling speech, it can be wholly disconcerting if the only things barely moving are your upper and lower lips and you’re in a death lock gripping stare with the coffee pot on the refreshment table.

I get it.

Move about. Engage in eye contact with the entire room. Make sweeping arm gestures, but not ones that will leave folks wondering if you’re signaling for help or attempting to land a Boeing 757.

And change the pitch of your voice but don’t display any vocal fry. Not too high, nor too low, don’t swallow your words, nor over pronounce them. Use the mic, try to project, speak from the diaphragm, make sure you’ve got all your teeth in—the list goes on.

Preparing to speak in front of a crowd is about as nerve-wracking as being an intern who is allowed into your first surgical experience and handed the job of holding onto the life-preserving clamped aorta just before being warned by the nurse opposite you that you should be careful because Nigel, the anesthesiologist, is quite the practical joker and loves to sneak up on first year residents and catch them off guard by tickling them under the armpits.

So I’m trying to get prepared. For all the upcoming talking.

At the rate things are going, with all the hazards, pitfalls, and potential snags, I may just talk myself right out of talking altogether.

~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

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

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Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate

When hearing the term “spring break” many of us easily conjure up the images of families taking off for that one last round of late winter skiing, or finding a child-friendly cruise, with wallet-friendly options. We see ourselves organizing the garage, and sifting through closets, a cathartic cleanse that gifts us new space. And it’s especially easy to picture a throng of college students making their way en masse toward sandy white beaches far removed from the cramped, windowless lecture halls they’ve occupied through dark winter months.

But this year spring break was anything but the above depictions. For me, that is. And I think for my daughter too.

This year I spent the time uneasy and restless, tense and observant. I spent it hoping to hear the words in someone else’s thoughts. I needed to measure the struggle, my daughter’s level of distress.

Her campus was in crisis mode, all parents on high alert. The same lamentable word refused to be muted, would not release its steadfast grip.

Suicide.

It is a word that strikes through the strength of a family and weakens the backbone of a community. It is an action that brings us to our knees with the senseless loss from an unheard cry.

Chronic stress is a familiar disease most every college student is acquainted with. Its unforgiving malady inflicts academic anxiety, depletes crucial sleep, and unleashes widespread social struggles, challenging our children to fit in somewhere new in someplace foreign.

A known and nerve-wracking fact among parents and educators, the leading cause of death among university students is suicide. The statistics are varied, and we brace ourselves to hear of the wretched news. One is horrifically tragic. A second is a spreading concern.

But five?

Five within one year? And all on one campus.

It left me desperate to talk to my child … and to hear my child talk.

I wanted her home, with me where I could see her. But I forced a stillness within myself, remembering that she was attempting to build herself a new home. To stretch and redefine who she was. To discover where she will next belong.

We’d speak on the phone. I’d offer her words. But words are paltry and may only provide an anemic effect. It’s nearly impossible to feel you are getting an accurate reading in a situation such as this. It is a terrible tug of war. The wanting. The wanting to rush someplace and fix something. But that is not always the answer.

Your answer is not always their answer.

In the last 19 ½ years I have known this child, a few things have bubbled to the surface to claim the top box if she were filling out an application profile, describing who she is. It’s likely she’d say:

A scientist

A musician

An activist

But there is a tiny little baker buried deep inside her that materializes when in desperate need to combat ironfisted stress.

When spring break arrived, I met her at the airport. Encased in a hug that I hoped echoed a million words of warmth, I breathed her in. I’d missed the spice of her hair, the honeyed notes of her perfume.

I took her home—and not to a beach, the garage or the slopes. To no great surprise her personal Pillsbury Doughboy punched in daily on his flour-dusted time clock. Within minutes of arriving, he had transformed my kitchen into a satellite city patisserie.

Dorms consider a communal kitchen to be a closet with a microwave from 1957. College cafeterias are considered fresh and contemporary if they could advertise they’ve been cooking ‘nose to tail’ recipes long before it was considered hip, and were nearly certain there was a fork somewhere in the utensil bin that was dedicated as “peanut free.”

Winters can be bleak and mournful if the closest you can come to home cooking are dorm room banned candles crafted to smell like meatloaf and chocolate chip cookies.

My kitchen became an invisible big-bosomed therapist, warm from the heat of the oven, smelling of Madagascar vanilla, and costing a considerable amount of money which insurance companies would never reimburse under the umbrella of preventative healthcare.

It didn’t matter.

I savored the fact that she was home. And day by day the smudgy, dark circles beneath her eyes—the circles I at first took for a potential dabble into a late teen Goth phase, but knew were the result of a schedule where sleep was rarely granted before 3am—slowly faded. I would not have been surprised to see her drop her bag at the end of her childhood bed, fall prone and not rise until I told her it was time to head back.

But there was that urge to bake. To turn the bitter into sweet.

Every day the pantry was scoured, the fridge was raided, and recipe books were consulted. Every day something fragrant appeared in finished form, its come hither whispers accompanied by an invisible finger, crooked and beckoning.

There were mounds of muffins and breads, cookies and tarts. Chocolate covered confections and lime zested pies. Graham crackers married sticks of butter and served as a crumbly hug for whatever they embraced. Coconuts and pecans toasted themselves beneath the fiery, wiry heat of a broiler set to suntan. Apples, dates, bananas and carrots had every gram of sugar coaxed out of them with the deep calm of an individual lazily spinning through the quiet hours of an unnoticed afternoon.

Day by day, ample perfumes mingled with each other to signify a steadily budding state of grace.

Taste this.

Eat that.

Try those.

Little words, big flavors, potential aid promising relief.

Every day I told myself, Okay, either she’s going to run out of steam, or I’m going to run out of ingredients. The end is near.

The “End” did not arrive until I returned her and her tiny duffle bag to the airport where she was soon whisked back to seven more weeks of muddling through those stressors she’d left; the disquieting uneasiness locked behind a dorm room door and strewn about a grief-stricken campus.

The list of things I have to offer this child may be rapidly diminishing in terms of parental care, but there is still comfort. I will hold what she cannot contain, I will hear what she cannot say, and I will eat what she cannot finish.

She may not have had a traditional respite from school this year, less spring break more spring bake. But I hope it was what she needed.

When I walk into a space that is filled with the heady aroma of caramelizing sugar, I am immediately reminded of my daughter. Transported to a nearly tangible encounter, it is at once comforting and then painful. It is something I wish I could return to those heartbroken parents—the unmistakable scent of their child.

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~Shelley

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Phoning It In

As a writer, it is a mortal wound to have your words identified as cliché.

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To have nothing new to say, and nothing novel to offer, is to look down and see spurting lifeblood flowing from the femoral artery of your quill. You might as well place your hands upon your chest and lie flat with the waiting of the inevitable.

As a human being, to live a clichéd life is to miss out on the depth and breadth offered when handed the menu of all that is available whilst you still draw breath.

Would Madam prefer beef or chicken tonight? Or perhaps the fish? The chef has a lovely bit of Dover sole.

“No, tonight I shall have cricket as my protein.”

As you wish.

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But sometimes, no matter how hard you try to order ‘off menu,’ you are snapped back to form as if your life were fired in the kiln of shape memory alloy.

Turning the page will reveal a predictable, cringe-worthy, mulish experience. Sometimes there is nothing left to do, but soldier on.

And then blog it.

Words are everything to me. They are the more than one million flavors of communication available at my beck and call. They reside on my shelves, bound between covers in several ‘parts of speech pantries’ I never need to restock. But I have a preference as to how I like to use them. I rarely dish them up straight from the pan, hot and bubbling, but rather allow them to cool, their flavors to meld, taste-tested a dozen times before serving.

I like to write. Not so much to speak.

Which is why I detest … THE CONFERENCE CALL.

And if you have ever spoken to an individual in business that is part of an organization consisting of more than two people, and those ‘more than two people’ must communicate a lot of information that needs addressing soon and fast, you’ll likely have heard about just how bad conference calls can be. Or annoying. Or snooze-worthy.

Or disastrous.

I’m getting used to them. But I hate them more than I hate the thought of eating a slice of stinkbug pie—

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with a side of cowpie patty ice cream.

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Really.

I like to be prepared. Over-prepared. I don’t like surprises. I like to know what’s going to be discussed, and will have given it all a great deal of thought with most of those thoughts written down for handy reference. Spontaneity is not my friend. It is as if spontaneity and I met one day at a snow cone shop and spontaneity grabbed my cone and threw it down on the side walk. And all I can do is look at my cone melting in front of me with no idea what to say or do because I didn’t rehearse this part of life.

Yeah, meta.

But if I’m going to have one of those spontaneous, disastrous moments occur, I want it to be MY moment. And not a repeat of the cosmic collection of moments everyone else has already had and tweeted about.

But I didn’t. It was so … predictably, boringly normal.

Was I prepared with all my notes that I’d been gathering, writing and crafting for the last three weeks? Check.

Was I sufficiently caffeinated for focus, and now holding a brimming cup of chamomile tea to counter the effects of the previous jittery drink? Check.

Had I used the bathroom? Was my phone plugged into the socket so that soon it would be fully charged? Did I have a timer set to make sure I’d not call in late? Check, check and check.

I was ready.

Did my alarm not go off, and being fully immersed in work, I would not recognize it until ten minutes passed the call time? Check.

Once integrated into the call, did the house phone on my desk begin to ring with shrill hysteria, and did I suddenly discover that this phone had no ‘off’ ringer switch? Check.

Did the answering machine on the other side of the room kick in at full volume making it sound like someone else joined the call? Check.

Did the above scenario repeat itself verbatim sixty seconds later? Check.

Did the doorbell ring and set the dog into an absolute frenzy because someone unexpectedly showed up at a place that requires a travel agent and a spirit guide to gain access to? Check.

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Did I embarrassingly have to excuse myself to answer the door and calm the dog and yank the answering machine from the drywall? Check.

Did I return to find my phone had died because it hadn’t been properly secured into the outlet and therefore I’d dropped off the call from battery failure? Check.

While plugging it back in beneath my desk, did I bump the desk so hard that it knocked over my cup of tea onto all my well-prepared notes rendering them unreadable? Check.

Did I phone back in to join a group of people who were now seriously doubting whether I was firing on all cylinders? Check.

After sixty seconds of rejoining the call did my phone alarm finally go off reminding me and everyone else that it was time to phone into the conference call? Check.

Had I mistakenly allowed one of my girlfriend’s children to play with my phone the day before only to realize that the smarty pants had changed all my sound notifications to that of Pac Man dying? Check.

Did everyone on the phone call gasp in horror and accuse me of playing video games whilst on the call? Check.

Yes. It was disastrous. I failed miserably. And I have nothing new to offer the scenario of disastrous, failed, humiliating conference calls.

I am cliché. I am watching the lifeblood bleed out of what could have been an interesting story. I am resigned.

I am silent.

I am thoughtful.

I am determined.

Tomorrow, I eat crickets.

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~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

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

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Memory Lane; How Science is Planning to Make a Few More

I love learning about the brain.

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I’m continually unearthing new research revealing fresh discoveries that must make the neuroscientists who discovered them leap up and down like seven-year-olds when you tell them you’re taking them to the local ice cream parlor for a double scoop.

Some of the studies are astonishing.

Most of the studies are encouraging.

All of the studies are in a version that is appropriate for a twelve-year-old to interpret. That’s pretty much the only way I will be able to absorb all of the astonishing and encouraging data. A neuroscientist I am not. But I do have a brain. And that’s about as much as we share in common—apart from the fact that I will leap up and down for a double scoop when offered as well.

The latest brain study I stumbled upon was all about memory creation. I can’t remember who authored the paper, or which university the research took place at—but that likely points toward exactly why I was out hunting for memory studies in the first place.

The study discussed two particular regions of the brain that need to speak with one another in order to create successful learning:

the hippocampus,

and the prefrontal cortex.

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Apparently, if we are working on a task of learning to connect two objects to one anotherlike shoe and foot, or chair and tableour brain’s neurons are busily firing off. And, as a result, generate brain waves.

And also apparently, these two chunks of gray matter—the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex—use two different frequencies to communicate whether or not we guessed correctly, in which case we’ll get a blue ribbon to sport, or whether we guessed wrongly, and are then seated in the corner of the room with a pointy shaped hat on our heads.

It all comes down to the oscillation of the waves.

Answering correctly—a thumbs up—makes the waves oscillate at a high rate referred to as the beta frequency (9-16 hertz), and a thumbs down results in a lower oscillation called theta frequency (2-6 hertz).

I’m pretty sure we should add a two thumbs down result in here for the general faction of teenage boys which typically operate at the lowest frequency setting of thunka (-3-0 hertz) just to be on the safe side of science.

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If I can remember where I placed the study, I will petition the authors to include my data into their research.

The scientists documented brainwave frequencies while studying test subject animals. These critters were tasked to learn which two images should be connected to one another and which two images should not be coupled. This was done through trial and error. A reward was given to indicate a correct choice. It’s like when you try to teach your cat how to drive. The only way they will receive the reward of finally making it to their favorite acupuncturist on time is if they learn that they must insert a key into the car’s ignition and not a spatula.

Simple, right?

Choosing the “right” answers showed that the pathways between neurons were strengthening. And choosing the “wrong” answers weakened pathways. It was as if the brain was trying to communicate through the oscillation of waves which neural pathway should have a giant WELCOME sign at its entrance, and which should be choking with weeds, overrun with poison ivy and displaying a placard with a skull and crossbones.

And the hope is that now scientists will be able to utilize low voltage electrical stimulation to the brain to “speed up” the process of learning. And who wouldn’t go for that, right?

Soon we’ll all be able to put on a special hat, attach ourselves to the nearest electrical outlet, and begin the once arduous process of learning a language, conquering physics, or watching something like Seth MacFarlane’s film, A Million Ways to Die in the West. With a few tweaks of current control, you’ll be conversing in Chinese, building the next Mars rover, and hacking into production facilities with the intent to destroy wretched films in the nick of time just before they’re widely released for public consumption.

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If nothing more, I’m incredibly encouraged by the research taking place and wholly support any studies that will not only retain the vital neurological pathways I’ve worked so hard to establish already, but potentially make it possible for me to go on learning new information that can only enrich and deepen my intellectual experience.

As a reward to myself for having made it through reading this particularly challenging study on cognitive function and its future, I’m heading out to the nearest, local ice cream parlor for a double scoop.

Now if I could only find where I put my spatula …

~Shelley

 

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

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

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The Road to Hell is Paved With Snowplows

I’m having one of those days.

Everybody has them. Everyone is familiar with them. Nobody likes them. And we all nearly collapse with gratitude at the end of them.

I call them: Good For Nothin’ Days.

Or: Why Me Why Now? Days.

And even: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DOES ANYONE STILL MAKE CALGON?! Days.

I am having one of the last category days today. And I would like to get off the bus at the next stop and call an end to the day in general. Go no further on this ride.

I am a big list maker.

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I believe in the effectiveness of lists like most folks believe in the effectiveness of vitamins, or prayer, or eggs. The jury is still out on whether or not many of these things actually contribute benefit to our lives, but loads of us are diehard fans who will shoot down any negative data and cling to that which we know and are comfortable with. Because it’s safe.

And … change sucks.

The problem with today, and my list, is that nothing is getting crossed off. And the anxiety of having a day without the satisfaction of putting a line through tasks is much like having a warm heart to heart with an innocent, furry little lab mouse and telling him that today he will not be receiving his ever-available, always-flowing drip tube of liquid cocaine, and that he should just try to shake off the upset he’ll likely begin to feel at some point.

LIKELY??

I am in total sync with the bewhiskered wretch. His tears are my tears. We pace the same cage. We are tormented by the same misery.

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It’s not like I am making no effort to accomplish things today, but rather I am dependent upon other people, and although I have what feels like a bottomless pit of enthusiasm to spur on the lackluster drive of others, I cannot throw two or three or a half a dozen folks onto a sled and drag them up to the top of the hill to plant our collective flags.

One reason is because a snowplow is blocking the way.

Yes, I know it’s the end of March for you, but for me it’s smack dab in the middle of February. See? Time travel does work. Or rather, that’s how an editorial calendar works.

Part of the beauty of living where I do is that it’s remote.

Part of the bane of my existence, living where I do, is that it’s remote.

I prefer NOT to have interaction with most human beings because they interfere with my ability to work. But on the flipside, when I do need assistance, I can hear folks on the other end of the line all drawing straws to see who’s the unfortunate sod who will be assigned my work request order.

Usually I hear something like, “Uhhh … yeah, you should expect to see Jimmy—”

NO!

“I mean Buck—”

NUH UH!

“Hold on a sec …” (insert muffled growls) “Vernon’s comin’ by tomorrow sometime after lunch, God willin’.”

*sigh*

I’m not surprised. Or offended. I get it. It takes forever to get here, and the getting here part is usually rife with treacherous debacles waiting ‘round every bend—and by every bend I’m talking about the driveway. The first thing out of everyone’s mouth is always, “Seriously?” followed closely by a “ooohWEE!”, or a deleted expletive, depending upon what part of the county they were coming from.

My answer to the seriously? question was to have a 55 mph sign installed at the most dangerous and impossible part of the drive. I figured this was a surefire way of eliminating any person with an IQ that fell below that of leaf mulch from making it to the top and thus to my doorbell.

The ditches on either side of my driveway have housed more automobiles than many car dealerships around here. Tow trucks almost always call for backup tow trucks, which result in calls back to the shop for specialized winches, axles, and ratchet straps, and when they realize they’re both in a bind, someone usually phones David Copperfield to get a quote on levitation.

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If there’s even a whisper of frozen precipitation in the forecast for my local area, it’s generally guaranteed that all packaged mail delivery folks will leave a note on the gate at the bottom of the hill saying they dropped by, three days running, and go figure, no one was ever home. Anyone scheduled to head up here for maintenance suddenly has a “family emergency” and will have to reschedule. For some time in June.

For some time in June.

Snowplow drivers, on the other hand, are a fearless breed. Those that do not get hired by the county are the ones that generally have been weeded out because although they may lack fear, they usually also lack sound judgment. Most drivers will recognize the difference between pushing a load of snow, and say, taking down a small grove of fruit trees, or clearing the road of pesky fire hydrants and mailboxes.  The ones who feel it’s pretty much samey samey, hang up a shingle come wintertime and are up for private hire.

Lucky us.

And luckier me, I’m going to head down the mountain’s deadly driveway for the third time today to find out if this fearless fellow would finally like for me to call for backup to get him back on the road and out of the grove of solid trees he mistakenly took for the route we normally use with our cars.

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“Yeah,” he says, kicking a tire that just can’t seem to get a purchase on the air it’s spinning in. “I’ve tried and tried,” he waves his cell phone at me, “but I can’t get no service up here on this mountain.”

Tell me about it.

~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

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

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Living in a Crack House

“It is NOT possessed!” I shout into the phone to one of my friends, who—because she allows me to shout at her when necessary—is exceptionally dear to me.

And that is a number one rule of friendship in my book. To truly be friends, you must be able to display your well-developed lung power and not be judged as super shouty and hysterical. You are merely passionate.

And I am passionately explaining to her that my house is not ruled by demonic forces.

“My house is just making a few unusual noises,” I explain. “Popping and cracking not moaning and groaning. What you’re describing is a dwelling that gets a movie deal and starts showing two weeks before Halloween.”

I put the phone down on her. Not in a huffy, I-hate-you-and-this-girl-gang-thing-we’ve-got-going-on-is-so-over kind of a way, but rather in the I’ve-work-to-do-plus-you-make-no-sense kind of a way. There’s a difference. And we both know it.

And I also know that my house is NOT haunted.

I’m going to guess that everybody’s abode makes noise in some fashion or another, but most of us are either surrounded by so much superfluous noise we don’t hear it, or we blame it all on our teenage sons—whether we have one or not. Let’s face it. They are responsible for many of the world’s ‘unresponsive to medication’ headaches.

It all started a couple of weeks ago as I was working at my desk, in a house I believed to be devoid of noise. I nearly jumped out of my skin at the massive crack that filled the air.

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Because I was so submerged in writing, the only thing that pulled me to the surface was the loud sound. Not the direction the sound came from, nor an inkling as to what caused it. I shrugged and went back to work. But just like a toddler tugging at your shirt as you are trying to hold a conversation with the pediatrician, and the pediatrician is rattling off the ‘follow these directions for medication treatment or death is imminent’ jargon, that toddler will be heard. Two more tugs—er, cracks soon followed.

And these I hunted down. Somewhere on the second floor, I surmised. There was nothing obvious to explain the sounds. No great chunk of ceiling had fallen. No wall had caved in. There was no disarray on the floor to suggest the handiwork of feline tomfoolery. It was as I’d last left it. Which, quite honestly, I could not accurately pin down on the calendar. When had I last been up here?

I returned to my usual post and passed the rest of the day enjoying the sounds of nothing but the gear shifts deeply embedded within my brain.

Hours later, while preparing a lavish meal of tinned food and kibbles for the critters, I was struck dumb at the encore of cracks identical from earlier in the day. I rushed to where I was positive the sounds had sprung from and looked up. I was standing right below my daughter’s closet. I laughed and then explained to the dog. “It makes perfect sense. Remember those two car-sized suitcases we lugged into the trunk just before taking her back to university? Yep. That’s this part of the house springing back into its original shape from no longer having to hold the weight of her clothing.”

But I remained curious. And then noticed these pops and cracks coming from other places in the house. In particular, the windows at sunset.

I decided I was in dire need of an expert so I hunted down a friend of mine who happens to be an architect.

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“So what the heck is happening? I’m beginning to feel like I’m living in a house that sounds like a bowl of Rice Krispies.”

He laughed, rolled up his sleeves, and took a big breath.

“There’s an inordinate amount of chatter taking place in the average home that covers up what your non-demonic, unhaunted, not-specter-infested house is trying to say. Turn off the TV. Unplug the radio. Slap a strip of duct tape over the pie hole of anyone that steps across your threshold and listen. Really listen.”

I did.

To him—for the next thirty minutes.

“Your house is a living, breathing, organic structure. The cold, the heat, the rain, a drought—it all has an effect—and a gloriously audible one on your home.”

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I leaned back a little in my chair. He was starting to spray spit with his enthusiasm.

“Your wood expands and contracts, the nails twist and pop with the friction of those movements. Your foundation responds to the shifting ground. The glass in your windows reacts to the sudden loss of heat at sunset. It’s marvelous. The physics of it all is absolutely marvelous!” He slapped the table with a great big WHACK for emphasis.

I nodded and glanced around to see a mother gather up her toddler and his toys, and move him to a table that would clearly give her a head start if things went further south.

“And have you ever listened to your house breathe? The air ducts are like esophagi. And the pipes that run through the floors and ceilings carrying water are like blood vessels. The wiring and circuitry are equivalent to the electrical impulses of the brain. Your house is alive—”

“Oops—hold that thought.” I leaped from the table and waved my phone at him. “Gotta take this.”

There was no incoming, but I dashed off the numbers for an outgoing lickety split. I called the friend who doesn’t mind my non-hysterical shouty conversations.

“Just to let you know, I now have confirmation that the house is not possessed. Everything I’m hearing is normal. It’s all engineering and physics behind the noises.”

“Bully for you,” she said in the snarky dulcet tones I have grown to love.

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“Thanks. But do you happen to have the number of a priest who does exorcisms?”

There was a slight pause on her end of the phone. “I thought you said the house wasn’t possessed.”

“It isn’t,” I said. “But the architect I’m sitting across from is.”

~Shelley

*PHOTOS OF ROBIN GOTT IN HIS NEW PLAY!* (click)

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

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