Planes, trains and Oh my god, I left the stove on.

The holidays of November and December usually bring an overwhelming amount of excitement with their fast-paced, fun-filled, family-crammed events.

Mural in Brown Palace Hotel

Mural in Brown Palace Hotel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They also bring an eventual headache that accompanies the ample opportunities for overeating, over drinking and over my dead body arguments.

The least fun out of all the “I’ve Had My Fill” holiday experiences is one that creates such tension in the neck and shoulders, it alone keeps massage therapists flush with cash through somewhere around mid-March. (That’s usually when the last lingering relatives decide to head home and check on the cat.)

Coming in at the number one spot would have to be:

TRAVEL

Do I hear an amen?

Most of us would prefer to apparate a la Harry Potter or be zapped by Willy Wonka’s Wonkavision rather than spend hours, if not days, in our cars, at the train station, or in the airport, where it seems the deck is always stacked against us.

–        Got to the airport on time for once? Doesn’t matter. Your flight will be delayed because the pilot is required to take a 15 minute nap in between two 24 hour shifts. Pansy.

–        Got the kids out of school three days early, packed up the car for the nine hour drive to Granny’s and pulled out of the driveway in the middle of the night to beat the traffic? Tough luck. So did everyone else. You’ll still get there in time, but now you’ll have a few extra days to make new friends on some jam-packed, horn-crazed highway where you’ll continue to bump into one another at the same rest stops and petrol stations.

English: Leavitt's Farmer's Alamanac, 1875, by...

–        Read the farmer’s almanac and decided this was the big drought year with no snow in sight that would finally make it possible for you to make that trip to the Big Apple to see Cats like you’ve been promising your wife for the last two decades? Uh oh. Don’t you remember when the economy tanked and you decided to pare down to the bare essentials, so you canceled all magazine subscriptions? Yep. You read last year’s, which no one bothered to throw away. This year’s almanac had a major spread telling us all how we should have listened to Al Gore. You’re headed toward Superstorm I Told You So.

If there’s one thing I’ve found harder than travel, I’d have to admit it’s the step that comes before it. That would be the one where you’re forced to decide what to bring with you.

Apparently, I cannot travel via Global Van Lines. I’ve been told the furniture must stay put.

Footwear is a nightmare for women. Sure, you may only be planning a casual sightseeing trip or family get together, but it’s likely you’ll need your sprinting shoes for the airport when you transfer from one plane at gate 3A to your connection in the next zip code.

Don’t forget evening shoes. Maître d’s have perfected the up/down glance, followed by a withering glare, if you walk in wearing a party frock and Nike Air Jordans.

I look at my closet and shrink at the task of finding three articles of clothing that can be combined to make thirteen different outfits. I’d be hard-pressed to come up with thirteen different outfits if I were standing in the middle of the Mall of America.

Barn

The real problem is that I only have two sets of wearable options: barn clothes and yoga clothes. And although the sheep could give a flying fig about what I come in wearing–as long as they can suck on it or rub up against it–the folks in my hatha class are looking for some Zen in their day. That requires some deep breathing. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this one. Eau de livestock makes it tricky.

Jewelry is foreign territory as well. I’ve got lots of it, but I never wear it at home. I guilt myself into thinking these special away days are precisely for ‘gettin’ gussied up,’ take it all with me and promptly forget what that heavy velvet miniature treasure chest at the bottom of my suitcase is holding.

It could be the three gallons of perfume I bubble wrapped and boxed. When one is used to getting sideways glances with the telltale sign of an accompanying twitchy nose, one begins to get paranoid. Especially when one usually smells like the remnants of a mucked out sheep stall or the inside of a gym bag. Therefore, I overcompensate.

Sans enfants and before I was married, I would be flabbergasted to discover an aspirin at the bottom of my purse. Now, of course, I must play the role of walking pharmacy. Sir Sackier will likely develop signs for the Ebola virus on an airplane, my daughter will get bitten by a new species of mosquito and blow up like a Macy’s Day Parade balloon float, my son will come down with Alien hand syndrome and I will be the only person in Mexico to become constipated.

Mexican pharmacies do not carry Ex-Lax. 

Keep 'regular'

Keep ‘regular’ (Photo credit: Christian Yates)

Mexican pharmacists advised me, “beber un poco de agua.” I now carry a vial of it slung around my neck like holy water.

Traveling is tricky. Deciding where to go, choosing what to take and forgiving fellow travelers for bringing more bags than brains with them on their journeys requires some devotion and pliability.

Deciding that next year you’ll host … requires only an effective dose of Prozac.

~Shelley

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

The bus is here.

School Bus_HDR2

School Bus_HDR2 (Photo credit: tncountryfan)

Could there be a more depressing week than the one before school resumes in August?

I can’t even use the phrase “school begins” as is traditional, because for the last few years, it feels as if we never quite got into the “school’s out” phase. Graduation happened and then BAM!, we were off and running.

I look at this last week the same way I view the last brownie in the pan. Why did it have to come to this? I seriously need an Everlasting Gobstopper Summer. Just one, where I can join the loads of other parents who I eavesdrop on in the grocery store saying, “I cannot wait until I get these kids outta the house and back in the classroom.”

When I hear this, I mostly feel a great sense of shame. They obviously have been spending a bucketload of time with their kids—taking them to parks, swimming, friends, picnics, sports games and Disneyland. I, on the other hand, made mine weed.

I’m pretty sure that’s all they’ll remember.

That, and the fun family road trip. And I’m quite certain our definition of fun is far from similar.

Funny enough, I came across a list—a Summer Bucket List—thrown together by some breezy live life to its fullestmagazine, and figured, just for giggles, I’d see how many of these “suggestions” I was able to cross off between Memorial and Labor Day.

English: Bathing dress from 1858

English: Bathing dress from 1858 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.  Skinny Dip (Yes, but the sheep are incredibly pious and won’t hesitate to sling their pastoral opinions around as they complete their stations of the meadow.)

2. Take in a music festival. (As lovely as this idea seems, it’s never a restful one, as we’re usually on the stage. We are the music festival.)

3. Run through a meadow. (Live in one. Think of me as Julie Andrews only with a husband who no one wants to sing. And I would never think of making clothing from curtains. At least not before they served as bed spreads for a few years and then wrapping paper.)

4. Be the first one at the farmer’s market. (This requires stepping outside and into the garden. Viola. I’m first. And last.)

5. Take more pictures. (click here for proof)

6. Reread your favorite novel. (I’ve kicked it up a notch. I’m trying to write my favorite novel. Sadly, a few other people have already written my favorite novel, so now I’m just trying to use a thesaurus to substitute in a few words to make it truly mine. Seriously, there are only so many archetypal stories. The rest are variations on those themes. I bet no one will notice.)

7. Get caught in the rain. (An all-American favorite, until you have to do farm chores in a torrential downpour. Kinda sucks the romance right out of it.)

8. Wear your swimsuit all day. (This happens regularly when we run out of underwear.)

2 kittens taking a nap

2 kittens taking a nap (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9. Nap so long and hard that you can’t remember where you are when you wake up. (The last part happens frequently, but the first part is never long enough because the sound of a shrill and blaring horn from an oncoming car means the other driver is really picky about that crucial last half second before impact.)

10. Smell like saltwater all day. (Check. Except it’s not from the sea, but rather from the sea of sweat one accumulates from a sweltering Virginia summer. That layer usually peels off just after the first hard frost.)

11. Grow something green. (And red and orange and yellow and purple … done it. And, admittedly, brown and moldy green.)

12. Make a great picnic basket. (No basket needed. We just perch on the garden wall with a hose and a pocket knife.)

13. Hike to the summit of a mountain. (I hike to the bottom just to get the mail.)

14. Stargaze. (This is performed on a regular basis. I’m trying to memorize where it is I’ll need to look when having conversations with my daughter, who plans to live out the rest of her natural life in some space module on Mars.)

English: Artist's rendering of a Mars Explorat...

Artist’s rendering of a Mars Exploration Rover.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

15. Make lemonade. (click here for proof)

16. Catch fireflies. (After a full day of catching and squashing squash bugs, the whole bug catching craze deflates.)

17. Have a water fight. (This usually happens when one of us draws the short straw waiting in line for a shower.)

18. Watch the fireworks. (It’s all on the front lawn and coordinated by Sir Sackier, which is fine, apart from the bit where we have to sit through another rendition of his waving a fistful of sparklers and singing God Save the Queen.)

19. Sleep in a tent. (Does a Motel 6 count? The walls are paper thin and you’ve got just as many “bed bugs.”)

20. Go to the donut shop for breakfast. (Now on the agenda for tomorrow morning!)

Woman's one-piece bathing suit, c.1920

Woman’s one-piece bathing suit, c.1920 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously, the list is endless. I still must squeeze in building a campfire, making s’mores and buying a summer bathing suit. Hence the reasoning behind activity numero uno.

Still, there are seven days left. And I can assure you, not one of them is going to be spent stooped over and pulling up weeds.

~Shelley

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

 

Eataly!

Here’s something I learned in Italy:

There is NO such thing as Spaghetti Bolognaise.

Okay, maybe I should amend that a tiny bit:

Only tourists order Spaghetti Bolognaise. Italians would rather cut off their tongues with a rusty pen knife and pull out their own vocal chords with poison-dipped pliers than utter the name of this made up dish.

I uttered it a lot while in Tuscany this summer. Sometimes because it was on the menu and I wanted to eat it, and sometimes for the sheer joy of watching my waiter squirm with the discomfort of a man having a prostate exam. Capital eff-you-enn. FUN.

I didn’t start out this mean. I love Italy. I love Italians. What is there not to love about people who would bleed themselves dry and trade their blood for a taste of true balsamic vinegar drizzled on their sweet and juicy melon wrapped with thin sheets of salty Parma ham (instead of the alleged garbage the rest of us use to drown lettuce in)?

They’re devoted.

DOCG seal on a bottle of Chianti Classico Rise...

And obsessed with control.

Everything good has to be checked out by food police and given a stamp of approval before it can stake claim to any share of the thunderous applause coming from hands that have just put down a napkin. The DOCG label, the collection of letters guaranteeing quality, strikes fear into the hearts of those hoping to tattoo them onto their products and has them waking in a cold sweat with the great possibility they may not reach the gold standard.

But victorious or not, the Italians have a boatload to be proud of. I say, with hand on my heart, that I’ve had some of the best meals of my life in Italian gas stations.

On this particular trip … it was a truck stop.

It was the first meal of my summer journey after landing in Pisa and driving toward Siena, and sadly, every dish was judged against it from then on. Nothing could quite compare. Guess what I had?

Spaghetti Bolognaise.

The seven-table cookshack off the side of the road showed nothing more than a mass of semis clustering around its dirt parking lot and front door; beasts crowding a fresh kill. The group of grubby drivers corking the flow of movement at the door waited patiently while their hands were busy talking to other guys in the same line of work.

The tablecloths were pieces of fresh yellow paper, the wine … your pick—a jug of red or a jug of white–the food mostly family style. Whatever the cook’s making in the back we’ll bring out. You’ll like it.

Have you got Spaghetti Bolognaise?

Of course we do.

Stupid question, right?

The folks at the truck stop could have stopped me right there, could have told me, “Hey kid, here’s a tip; unless you plan to give the whole of Italy a giant cardiac arrest, don’t ask for that dish.”

Apparently, one never has Bolognaise, one has ragu. And one does not put spag with one’s ragu. Only tagliatelle. It’s Tagliatelle al Ragu. Capiche?

tagliatelle

But this fellow was just as nice as pie, or whatever the equivalent of pie is in Italy, and served me and all the truck drivers whatever we wanted without batting an eyelash. Everyone else, on the other hand, clutched hearts, clucked tongues and shook long, prodigious digits at me when I requested the combo.

Even if it was listed as such ON THEIR MENU.

Wouldn’t it be easier if they all agreed to not offer up a recipe that doesn’t exist and feign ignorance if it was asked for?

“Yes, but we put it on the menu for the tourists,” I would hear.

“That’s me,” I’d beam.

Usually, a sign of the cross was made, a few Hail Mary’s were uttered and once, even a couple of knuckles were cracked. These guys are serious.

I begged for an explanation.

“Spaghetti is from Naples. It’s made from semolina. It’s too slippery for ragu. Tagliatelle is egg pasta. This is what we serve with ragu in Bologna.”

“So you’re saying your pasta is like duct tape?”

Do not joke with Italians about food. They’re quite at ease with hanging meat for months at a time in cold dank storage facilities. It’s unnerving to see four thousand pig legs dangling from a ceiling and be told that you had to be a very special animal to find yourself in here.

So I guess I’ve learned a very important lesson. One I won’t ever forget. One that struck me to the core and left a deep impression upon me:

I want to be an Italian truck driver.

~Shelley

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

 

Who’s minding the store?

Yes. The rumors are true. My mother the blogger has run off to be a full-time trapeze artist.

PAR-TAAAAY!!!

With the parents out of the country, we have the place to ourselves, and there are, like, forty teenagers in the pool! And my brother’s on the roof! You’re invited! Bring more beer!

Ugh. The truth is far more boring. My brother and I are hanging out with my grandparents—like the cool kids that we are—and instead of inviting my whole high school to my pool, I’m commandeering the blog. (I’m the NASA nerd/terrible teenage driver/kicks Betty Crocker’s butt daughter, by the way.) My mother is not circusing with bearded ladies and vertically challenged people—she is off traversing Europe, recruiting confused Scots to staff her personal kilted bagpipe army. And my brother is not on the … well. That depends on your definition of ‘roof.’

A Hammock on a tropical beach.

My traveling family usually curses some foreign land come summertime, after the happy, cheery funfest of school finishes. Of course, the normal mentality of a family at summertime is to take a relaxing vacation, unwind and escape from stress. Birds flying high while you relax with a tall glass of lemonade and watch someone’s cotton be harvested.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, this unit of genetic code does travel a little differently. In fact, we completely screw it up. We take the saying “to need a vacation after your vacation” to a whole new, disturbingly accurate level. It’s not a vacation. It’s not an adventure. It’s a cruise down the River Styx. What I’m about to tell you leaves no room for doubt as to why my brother and I are choosing the take-out summer vacation option and setting our dearest darling parents loose on Dulles International Airport.

Here’s a snapshot of us on Day One, Hour One: We are standing outside our house, copious luggage in hand, ridiculous smiles plastered on our faces. We haven’t even left the house yet, and we still manage to reek of the hyper-infectious Eau de Tourist.

He’s a snapshot of us on Day One, Hour Two: We are riding in the car to Dulles. Look! Look at the two teenagers outside of their natural environment! They’re sharing iPods … This is not right. Something is about to go terribly wrong.

English: Main Terminal of at dusk in Virginia,...

Here’s a snapshot of us on Day One, Hour Three:We have just set foot inside the bustling airport. Mom’s hair is all over the place. Dad looks like he hasn’t slept in weeks. One teenager just twisted an ankle. The other is about to trip the fire alarm. Several pieces of luggage just spontaneously disappeared. All of the electronic devices brought along suddenly lose all battery power. Oh no! We completely forgot to turn off the water and stop the post and shut off the lights and lock the door and find someone to feed the sheep. And for some reason, there’s no cell service in here. All of a sudden, Mom realizes she accidentally packed half of Bath and Body Works, and they are definitely not in 3-ounce containers. My brother is checking the sign about which weapons are not ideal for airplanes, and counting on his fingers the number of items he’ll have confiscated. Dad comes back from an argument with the woman behind the counter—good news! We actually have four tickets on an airplane this time! But only Mom is booked in first class … Dad is seventeen rows back, in a fire escape seat in economy. I’m checked in as an animal traveling in the hold … and my brother is taking the red-eye to Zimbabwe.

Interior of a China Southern Airlines airplane.

Magical, isn’t it?

And we haven’t even left the state.

After doing some shady last minute dealing with an old couple that always wanted to sit in an animal hold/go to Zimbabwe, we’re all in possession of tickets representative of seats that are at least on the same plane. You’d think that maybe, if we were all strapped down for eight hours, no trouble could possibly ensue. Dad obviously thought the same, manifested in the telltale look of bewilderment that occupies his face when a flight attendant brings him the SkyMall lawn care maintenance system ordered from Zimbabwe by his credit card. Mom is getting ready to recline her seat to ease her aching back, but soon learns that she has “special” seat C2, the one that spontaneously lurches forward and then drops back if the plane experiences any turbulence. I want to watch a mindless movie, but my seat’s video screen will only alternate between a test pattern and an “adult” channel. The gentleman across from my brother is still being talked out of suing the airline/us for the dent in his head made by my brother’s improperly stowed duffel bag. The airplane quivers momentarily, and my mother is catapulted forward.

‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: Mange hadde sterke reaksjo...

A few hours into the night, my brother lies buried beneath a mountain of candy wrappers brought to him by affectionate flight attendants. Dad sits quietly working, his face lit by the laptop screen, and every few minutes, he expels a sneeze so boisterous it awakens the omnipresent devil-baby a few rows back. My mother has abandoned her amusement park seat and fallen asleep leaning against the lavatory door. Having exhausted the two good movies in the system, I’m learning about the importance of friendship from Barney.

Things don’t improve much once we touchdown in jolly old England. Overcome with an exacerbated sense of “home-again,” Dad becomes the most English Englishman you can imagine, to the point where he’s confusing actual Englishmen. Furthermore, he walks through airports like he’s trying to inconspicuously escape a stalker. Weaving throughout crowds at a seemingly hypersonic speed, he never hears our aggravated calls of “DAD! We shook him off, promise! And we’ve lost Mom!” My brother does a remarkable job of impersonating a salt-caked slug that has the ability to softly moan “foooooood…” earning many pitying looks from passersby. Halfway through airport trekking, we’ll notice that we have each gradually offloaded all of our cumulative luggage onto Mom. And what she’s not carrying, we left on the plane.

This brings us to somewhere in the middle of Day Two. Even the formal act of traveling itself has not yet come to an end.

If I’ve done a descriptive enough job of relating the story, you’ll never want to leave the country again. And you thought I was exaggerating.

English: RAAF recruits leaving from Brisbane, ...

So this summer, the salted slug and I are living the easy, airport-free life. There is a pool out back, and a fridge within reach. For once, my father isn’t running around simultaneously holding arguments and trying to convince people of his nationality. My mother isn’t going mad trying to provide her offspring with “edutainment.” (She’s very proud of her sneaky hybrid educational system … because my brother and I definitely won’t know it’s a museum if it’s in another country.)

Right now, they’re off together, leaving a wake of destruction and destroyed luggage.

They could be in an animal hold.

🙂

Don’t forget to check out the new scullery recipe (here) and what I wrote about Whisky-wise (here).