The Meticulously Precise and Non-Magical Way to make Whiskey

I’m nearly finished writing another book.

This one won’t be published for the public though. It’s a technical manual.

I’d never done a technical manual before; therefore, this genre has been entirely new to me.

I was at one point reminded, Technically speaking, technical manuals do not fall into a “genre,” Shelley.

Disappointing news.

I was also at one point informed that my other skills of fiction writing were, although appreciated, inapplicable with this work.

“What do you mean?” I’d asked, halfway through the job.

Please do not allow the machinery to have any “dialogue.”

Hugely disappointing news.

In my mind, everything is conversing with anything beside it. Refrigerators hum, clocks tic, boats roar, trees creek, tea kettles whistle, grills hiss, frying pans spit, drains gurgle—I could go on.

There is conversation with their purpose, with their function, and it is our choice to tune in to hear it if we choose to do so—or maybe it’s just a special type of non-worrisome derangement those of us who practice anthropomorphizing inanimate objects experience every day.

So, okay, the mash tuns, the fermenters, the stills, and bottling equipment will not be engaged with any discourse. Fine.

Also, no need to “set the scene.”

Wait. What? No “Once upon a time”? No “In a galaxy far, far away”?

No.

No “Imagine if you can, a farm field in Virginia filled with rows of waving grain. Corn so tall, so yellow, so sweet. Wheat so soft, so feathery, so—”

No. Also, just list the manufacturer of each piece of equipment. No need to give colorful backstory that creates a uh … biography for them.

Damn.

But the still is an old copper Armagnac pot which surely, if you’d allow me to research, has the most fascinating history, connecting it to a village in Gascony, and likely to some illicit brandy making where people’s lives were at risk for defying the king’s orders and skirting around the excise men, right?

No. Louis XVI died in 1793. The still was made in 2006. Write that down.

No excise men?

*insert cold stare here

Fine. Hard facts only. It has been an arduous road to travel. It has been serial numbers, maintenance schedules, standard operating procedures, operator responsibilities, quality controls, ingredient specification sheets, safety protocol, system malfunction detection. It has been measurements, sampling data, testing methods, recording methodology, and out of the realm of tolerance identification.

No language describing the invention of any equipment, the trials and tribulations of the inventor, the recognition, the accolades, the race between rivals to patent first, to reach the market, to make a name and reap rewards.

No timeline of history, the tales of great machinery malfunction and mishaps that caused strife, or injury, or daresay … death.

Nope. Just operator files.

It’s ‘if blank, do blank.’ Or ‘when this, then this.’ It’s ‘measure now, record here.’

There’s no beginning, middle, or end.

It is not a story, not a narrative, no plot.

None of the machinery barely scrapes by, screeches to a halt, or belches out for attention.

The manual is meant to be informative. Concise. Crystal clear. It is meant to provide a “just in case” scenario for an event like a catastrophic pandemic wiping out all previous operators’ ability to fight through throngs of apocalyptic zombies to appear at the facility, allowing any stranger to eventually walk in off the street, discover the book and easily, effectively, and effortlessly pick up where we left off.

No, Shelley. It is meant to use as a teaching guide for new employees.

Yeah, that too, but my take could be plausible (I mumble quietly).

So, I study each piece of equipment. I learn its function. I define its specifications. I describe its purpose. It is thirsty work as I crawl around, beneath, above, and inside many of them. I watch them perform. I study their mechanisms. I research their optimal modes.

And I learn … they are still magical.

I learn it from listening to the operators as they describe their years of experience working with each station.

The grain will stubbornly clump and ball if you don’t chase it with the paddle in the cooker. It likes to hide right in that corner.

If you don’t clamp down the hose securely, the impellor pump turns into a raging snake that’ll spit hot mash on every square inch of the production room floor.

You see that steam rising from the strip still’s parrot spout? We call that the dragon’s breath.

I did find a story. The story of waking up the yeast before releasing it into its comforting, warm bath, of performing the tightly timed choreography between pieces of machinery as they demanded immediate attention to avoid calamity, of discovering that the general consensus for many of the processes was that you just had to feel it, smell it, taste it, gauge it. The machinery had its tells, and a good operator was sensitive to them and could anticipate results because of the accumulated years of a bonding relationship.

Making whiskey requires procedural care, yes. It’s a recipe. It’s a step by step adventure that when timed perfectly churns out a salable product.

But to me, and to others, the machinery is responsible for the alchemy, the head-spinning potions, the conjuration that leads grains to glass, this honeyed, headying elixir.

But the manual will not reveal that magic. The manual will not even hint at it. The manual conceals the story.

Except it’s there. We just don’t capture it within the pages that keep the secret safe. It is for others to read between the lines, to unearth the buried story within it.

If they find it after the zombie apocalypse.

~Shelley

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

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

 

An Address to a Girl in a Dress (and a Cap and Gown)

Dear Reader,

With permission from my daughter, I’m sharing my “personal commencement speech” given to her following her college graduation. I imagine it is kindred to a million other parental letters. But she is my kin and my one in a million. 

Plus, I really needed an essay for my monthly blog post.

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

Dear Chloe,

I’m sure by now a million people have said, Congratulations.

So I won’t.

Because I don’t like being like a million other people. And neither do you. Which is why I like you so much.

I’m lucky that way because I could have birthed a child who wanted to be on American Idol, or who wished to run a gelato shop, or who believed working as an accountant for the IRS could be a safe and super fun job.

But I did not birth that child. Instead, I landed a girl who rolled her eyes so often with impatience in her formative years, one of those times she was looking skyward actually revealed something that held her gaze. A star? An airplane? A celestial thought?

We may never know. The point is, is that everyone has vision. Whether through working eyeballs or simply one’s focused imagination, we all have some sort of direction. Yours just happened to be up.

Which must have been really frustrating for you for over sixteen years of schooling, as in order to achieve a position in that field where everyone else is looking skyward, you spent most of it looking down. At textbooks and exams.

But you’re finished with all that right now.

For about a minute.

I know. That was an awful thing to say. Especially to someone who still carries around the blood shot eyes of a student who just days ago was pulling her umpteenth all-nighter.

But it’s the truth. Because …

Life is school.

It is a giant campus with a million different teachers and a gazillion annoying classmates who are repeatedly flunking and succeeding right alongside you. It is countless classes where the only scores given are pass and fail, and you get to determine what your GPA represents.

Money in the bank?

Title at work?

Rovers landed?

You decide.

Yes, there are still exams. Yearly, you have a giant pain-in-the-ass one which the government insists you show up for, but it’s not as bad as it seems because you’re granted a cheat sheet—they’re called accountants.

The medical ones are some you start attending with greater frequency—and again, thankfully this is “group effort” problem solving, so rest easier in that department too.

There are the courses you enroll in that instruct you on home ownership, insurance policies, contract negotiation, and credit card debt. These are all core classes you’d best take a few notes in, but there are others—the humanities electives—where you can sit back and relax, maybe doodle in the margins.

There is, and never will be, a syllabus for yoga.

Likely there will be some mind-blowing field trips—maybe Mount Olympus, maybe Olympus Mons. Who knows? But it’s likely with your itch to run, your feet will tread across paths old and new, and you’ll Snapchat your way across every one of them.

When we, as a society, look out across the world at the sliver of individuals, the percentage of our population, who end up having truly amazing jobs, we usually first think about how lucky they are.

In truth, or after a moment of Googling just what amount of effort goes into getting that job, we realize that no, they’re not lucky—they’ve worked their backsides off to get to that place.

Okay, and yes, they’re lucky.

But more important, we’re lucky.

We get to benefit by tucking up close and drafting off your efforts, positioning ourselves within your slipstream as you push aside the rough winds in front of you. If you do it well enough and deftly, you may be awarded a few plaques or trophies with your name etched across a plate of gold. But those recognitions usually only happen at work. No one is going to erect a statue in your honor for cleaning out the cat litter, but it’s equally important work, and occasionally lives or marriages depend upon it.

I will miss this last past phase of your life, the video chats where you don’t want to chat, but instead simply want some actual parent to be your parental controls on all things technologically distracting. So we both work in silence companionably. Or where you text photos of your meals, or your dress, or your clean laundry, or proof the cat is still alive so that someone can give you a faraway hug of approval for those independent efforts. Those reach-outs will lessen, and I will mourn them. But I’ve cherished them.

Every single one.

So as I’m not prepared to offer you congratulations, maybe the better thing, the more fitting thing, is to say, “Welcome.”

Welcome to the new hallways, the bigger classrooms, the special buses, and to the many lounges that hold some kick-ass club meetings. It’s going to be great. And hard. But mostly great.

Maybe I’m wrong. About the start of it all. Maybe as a little kid the first thing that left an impressionable mark on you was the red clay of Virginia beneath your tiny bare feet, and when you finally glanced up, you recognized the kinship of a sister planet’s soil.

The call was strong, and so are you.

Welcome here, honey.

Make yourself at home.

Love, Mom

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.

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.

 

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.

 

Don’t Rock the Boat (or Car or Truck)

When asked to make a list of my least favorite things to do, I’d likely answer in this order:

— Walk barefoot across burning coals to prove my physical courage as a warrior and gain the approval of any ancient Native American spirits that still linger on my land, as they occasionally show their displeasure with how I’m running my summer vegetable patch by simply shutting down the water well I depend upon.

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— Go through the ritual of my yearly facial tattoo—again, to please these demanding land spirits, but also because this has proven a very effective way of remembering my New Year’s Eve resolutions and ensuring my efforts toward completion.

— Keep up with the scarification task I’ve placed upon myself, as long ago, I realized this was the most effective way to keep an accurate score for how many crocs I have wrestled into submission while trekking through the tropics of Africa and Asia. People ask for my tally all the time. I don’t know. It’s a Virginian thing I guess.

I would not admit this list out loud to anyone, simply because their jaws would slacken in disbelief that I did not answer as they surely would have.

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Their least favorite thing to do?

GO TO THE DMV.

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That’s right. The Department of Motor Vehicles – or Transit Authority – or Licensing Agency. We all have our country’s version of it.

It doesn’t matter what time of day you come in, there is always a line. A line that rivals a Disney queue back in the pre-measles break out days. Yep. You can now ride the thrills of Space Mountain twice before you can make it to the head of the line that brings you to the information desk clerk—whose job is simply to hand you all your forms and a ticket that now states, “You’re in line.”

But I don’t fear the DMV—I welcome any notice in the mail that states I have to pop back in to title, register, test or renew. But it’s not because I’m a glutton for punishment—as I believe I’ve made abundantly clear with my “least favorite things to do” list—it’s simply because I have an advantage:

My dad used to work there.

Back in Wisconsin growing up, I could cross the threshold of many a DMV location and simply state who I was, and then get stellar service. They recognized the last name.

Now in Virginia, I have to surreptitiously slip it into conversation. It’s challenging, because you can’t just blurt something like that out—the state employees will see you as an entitled gasbag and ignore you. One must use stealth and cunning conversation to bring it around to the big reveal.

I start off with all forms filled in correctly, and clearly—because I think we’ve all had an experience or two where we’ve gone to some government staffed window only to be handed a fresh stack of forms to redo because we did not write in BLOCK CAPITALS, or because we used blue ink instead of black. Or we discovered we had spinach in our teeth from lunch and were deemed unfit for service by whatever Ministry of Mightiness we happened to have offended.

If the individual sitting behind the window I am assigned does not immediately shower me with a, “Good afternoon! And how may I help you on this fine day we’ve been blessed with in the great universe we happily share? And here … have a cookie I baked last night,” I jump in with something to soften their day.

Ooh, gorgeous earrings.

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Or, My goodness, your perfume is heavenly. Or, That is a truly striking tie.

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Something, anything to get some eye contact. If I can manage eye contact, then I can unleash the smile I had melded into my person from years of media training. The kind of training that made you impervious to pinches, the ‘wayward hand,’ snarky put downs, and the surprise ice bucket challenge.

Thereafter, I am usually able to find some object placed around the staffer with which to bring on my shock of delight:

Well! Will you look at that? You folks are still using pens for writing—just like my dad did when he worked at the DMV for thirty years.

Again, subtlety and canniness is crucial for success.

After I gracefully lob a comment like this across the counter that reveals I am not one of the countless, faceless masses they must service today, and it expertly lands in the lap of our staffer, he or she brightens with a smile worthy of a successful laxative commercial. I am golden. I am in.

You say your dad worked at the DMV? For thirty years? Lord Almighty! Hey, Shirley! This here young woman’s dad managed to make it through thirty years at the department. I bet you’ve got the scars to show for it, doncha, honey?

This is where I cleverly turn to speak to the audience behind the camera that follows me everywhere, and that is imperceptible to all living, breathing beings around me, and reveal that I have no idea how many years my dad worked with the department, but with each visit, the number goes up substantially.

Yes, I do, ma’am. Then we laugh and I continue. He certainly saw his fair share of folks who drove him right up the wall. Some of them so demanding, so ungrateful, and certainly the majority ill-prepared. But it was his greatest pleasure to help and serve. I think the DMV must attract that kind of staff.

It’s at this point where she is supposed to turn to me and reach over the counter to motheringly caress my cheek.

But she doesn’t. Instead she peers at me through squinted eyes. I must have taken it a hair too far today.

She smiles tightly, bends over to open a seventy-five pound drawer, and scoops up eight pounds of it. She hands me a stack of forms.

Fill these out CORRECTLY.

I head back to my chair, but then make a quick detour to the lady’s room. I’m going to be here a while. I gaze at my reflection in the mirror. What went wrong? I ask myself. It’s then that I notice two things:

I’ve got spinach in my teeth.

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And I forgot to put my latest facial tattoo of “I love the DMV” all in block capitals.

~Shelley

*BONUS CARTOON FOR THIS WEEK’S 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.

Related articles

 

 

Rockets and a lot of Red Glares (part 5)

This is it. The concluding chapter. The final phase of this fantastic tale Hopefully Not a Waste in Space. This is where our hero’s outcome and the outcome of her heroic journey are finally unveiled.

And in my attempt to liken this to a finely structured story, it’s broken down into bite-sized bits for ease of mastication.

We have had the Big Goal: This is where our protagonist—sweet child ‘o mine—launches her balloon—SkyHAB (sky high altitude balloon, carrying what I swear is nothing more than a giant cloud urinal) 100,000 feet upward, with fingers crossed, to capture space data – Episode One.

Next we came upon The Crisis: SkyHAB launched, but the GPS landlubbered. The balloon was untethered and unaccounted for. We petitioned the US Government for a reimbursement of paid taxes that went toward defective global spyware and are awaiting our refund which should arrive any day after the twelfth of Dream On – Episode Two.

Following that was the Recommitment to the Goal: WE LOCATED SKYHAB!  … sort of – Episode Three.

At last we came to The Climax: The hunt for SkyHAB was filled with deadly peril. It ended with a heart-palpitating car chase and potential capture by Lizzie Borden’s grandson. Was this the end for the balloon and our young scientist with behemothic book smarts but space cadet street smarts? – Episode Four.

And finally, The Dénouement or The Reveal: I’d spill the beans, but then you may never read further then the end of this sentence.

So much tension you could practically string this story between two toothpicks and walk across it.

Ah, the makings of a tale that falls a few levels below Dreamworks, but a notch above your average 9th grade history newsreel. And one we can wrap up tout de suite. Because I’m sure many of you are wondering whether or not my child is still alive.

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I was too.

For twenty minutes I sat staring at the phone willing it to ring, wondering and panicking at the thought that my daughter had been nabbed by a child snatcher who was following her as she attempted to recover her balloon, parachute and THE PAYLOAD in the middle of no-cell-hell. And every three minutes I phoned her with nothing but her snarky voicemail message to taunt me.

Hi, you’ve reached Chloe. Leave me your details and I’ll call you back … if I like you.

I paced. Did deep breathing exercises. Stared at Google Earth and its wretchedly slow updates. I made an award winning sculpture of the Hubble telescope with nothing more than plastic spoons and recycled tin foil.

Twenty-two minutes after loss of contact the phone rang.

“Hey,” Chloe said.

“HEY???” I echoed. “Hey? I was about to phone 911! What happened?”

“Oh, him? Yeah, he was weird. We may need a sizeable back up team. No worries. I’m on my way. What’s for dinner? I’m starvin’ Marvin.”

*face palm*

Two days later was the big senior project seminar. My daughter had to give a couple of presentations to explain her adventures and unveil her results. Well … no balloon equals no data, as all the data was in THE PAYLOAD. And THE PAYLOAD was somewhere in the Sandy River Reservoir. Camera footage, statistical calculations, motherboard bits and pieces that tell you the secrets of the universe were all gone. There go your hopes and dreams. Science shakes its head at you, tsking.

Still, the presentations were stellar. A lot of telling, but no showing–yet somehow still stellar.

THEN …

The next day I received a phone call from some wild woman screaming. I finally recognized the dulcet tones of my child and asked her to pull it down a few decibels.

Someone found the balloon!

And not just someone. She said his name was Papa Smurf.

My mind immediately envisioned a small pack of blue forest creatures that lived near the reservoir where SkyHAB went down, and somehow, purely in the interest of furthering science, they managed to break their cardinal rule of no contact with humans and phoned the Department of Natural Resources to report a spacecraft landing.

Not really.

Actually, Papa Smurf, aka, “Big Mike” is a Virginia fisherman who, in the middle of doing a little afternoon big mouth bass hunting, landed himself something a little less delicious but definitely fishy.

100814bigmike (800x517)

The writing on the side of THE PAYLOAD was smeared, but our last name was visible. Enter Facebook.

The rest of the story goes a little like this: My daughter ignores friend request – stranger danger – and Papa Smurf/Big Mike must get creative.

Facebook says my daughter interns at the university’s aerospace research lab.

Papa/Mike hunts down a professor.

100814professor (800x782)

 

Describes to professor the reeled in riches. Our professor texts his industrious intern. His intern explodes with exultation.

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His intern calls her mother and begs for bakery goods to reward the fisherman with multiple monikers in exchange for THE PRECIOUS PAYLOAD. The trade is made. Strawberry pie is swapped for a lunch box full of cryptic clues to the cosmos and a few bits of water weed.

We are thrilled.

It is finished.

I am exhausted.

She is planning her next mission: Definitely Not a Waste in Space! Where one young scientist attempts to discover if Silly Putty can be used as insulation on homemade sub-orbital spacecraft.

Me? I might just back out of this next one quietly. I think it’s pretty clear that I ain’t no rocket surgeon.

~Shelley Big Mike (450x800)

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

Related articles

Rockets and a lot of Red Glares (part 4)

My patient Peakers, I promise the end is in sight. Episode Four is bringing us nearly to the end of Hopefully Not a Waste in Space. For those of you who are joining us for the first time, I beg you—nay I beseech you–to unite with your fellow readers in space exploration anxiety and find out what the hell I’m talking about, as only by reading Episode One, Episode Two, and Episode Three will you bask in the full-fledged experience of this tale.

Or … I can summarize:

Daughter has massive senior project (Project SkyHAB – sky high altitude balloon).

Daughter chooses to launch a balloon the size of Rhode Island into space to see if she can make science happen in something called a Cloud Chamber. Cloud Chamber actually looks like a piece of stolen Tupperware from my pantry.

Costly cameras and GPS units are accompanying THE PAYLOAD. No one at Mission Control is clear on what THE PAYLOAD contains, but it must be retrieved or the world will end as we know it.

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A well-crafted, highly skilled team is assembled on launch day for lift off on site in central Virginia and a half-assed team (including two very sane, last minute volunteers) is cobbled together at HQ.

Launch team is in charge of … launch.

Half-assed team is in charge of GPS tracking the balloon and THE PAYLOAD via the computer, the occasional bit of laundry, and creating a giant ice sculpture on the front lawn that spells out WELCOME NASA.

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Launch is a success. Balloon becomes itty bitty dot in the firmament. Tracking team is befuddled with screens across Virginia that report nothing to track.

All teams feel failure as they have never felt before. Lead scientist is catatonic with grief.

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Four hours later the balloon comes crashing down to Earth and rises from the dead on radar.

The lead scientist and HQ are unhinged with happiness.

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The lead scientist and HQ then realize that the balloon has landed in a body of water made by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries specifically to obliterate the advancement of space knowledge directed by hopeful teenage researchers.

 

And now … the rest of the story.

Recovery of any launch is probably just as harrowing as the launch itself, as we came to realize. And constructing a recovery team after having exhausted the list of folks we knew who could help in the building phase, the launch phase, and the expensive therapy phase, we were left with three and one half units of aid:

The chief scientist (daughter)

Mission Control team specialist (me)

Technical support (Google Earth)

And some scary redneck dude who might be a serial killer.

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Not as impressive as we’d hoped, but it was better than a sharp stick in the eye—although a sharp stick in the eye may be a pleasurable alternative to that serial killer fella. We did not tarry.

On the road in her tiny VW bug, my daughter drove and I navigated—again from my chair at HQ while consulting with technical support. SkyHAB had purportedly gone down somewhere in the middle of 740 acres of the Sandy River Reservoir. We were going to get her as close to it as possible, but it looked like that might require a team of lumberjacks and a VW that could transmogrify itself into a pontoon.

Once I had remotely piloted her vehicle to the end of all paved roadage, the rest of the journey was to be traversed on foot. We were connected via smart phones, but the transmissions were not unlike those of the United States’ first mission to the moon. We lost contact repeatedly and found binoculars to be insufficient paraphernalia for reading hand gestures from that distance.

“Alrighty, Google Earth says you need to move southwest with a heading of 238°. Don’t forget to lock your car. And take a bottle of water. And find a stick.” This was as high tech as we could get.

“Hold on, Mom. Some guy is coming toward me.” (Insert muffled voice and …) “Nope, I’m not lost … uh … (muffled voice) okay, sure.”  (Sound of tiny rover engine coming to life.) “Apparently, I can’t park here.”

“What?” I say, looking at the earth map. “It’s a dead end dirt road. What are you blocking?”

“Whatever.” (Rover rumbles to new spot. Car door slams. Sounds of footfalls through underbrush and forest.)

“Chloe?”

“He’s still watching me.”

“He’s what?”

“Oh brother—hold on.” (Sounds of cracking sticks, muffled forestry, and running footfalls. Silence.)

A minute ticks by. Two. (HQ’s clock ticks grow louder and morbid.) Is he speaking to her? Has he captured her and thrown her in the back of his pickup truck? Will I never see the chief scientist again? “Hey, kiddo? Chloe? CHLOE!!”

(Strangled, obscure sounds.) “Chill, Mom. I had to pee. How much farther do I have to go to get to the edge of the reservoir?”

(HQ breathes sigh of relief.) “About a mile and a half, and tech support reports it’s all uphill. Is the guy still around? Maybe you ought to come back with a team of friends. And all my kitchen knives.”

“Yeah, there is no way I can get through this underbrush. We may have to find someone with a boat.” The chief scientist muscles through the forest back to her car. “Crap! There he is.”

“What? Chloe, get in your car!”

“F**K! He’s running over here!”

“Hurry up! Get in your car! And watch your damn language!”

“I’m in it—I’m in it!”

(Sound of little rover rumbling to life and gravel spray.)

“Chloe??”

(click)

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Oh my godfathers. I panic and look on Google Earth to see if I can spot my daughter and this potential child abductor. And remember that Google Earth images are not in real time. Great. In about three hours I will know what tragedy befell my child.

And in about one week, so will you.

~Shelley

July Gotta Have a Gott winner

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Jump on over to see the cartoon winner for July!

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

Related articles

 

Math; the cacophonous noise of numbers.

Archways

Archways (Photo credit: The Massie Boy)

The architect who designed our house was a fairly rotund fellow: sturdy, stout and elliptical. Perhaps because he was forced to face his oblong softness in the mirror each morning, he may have developed an aversion to curves. And this may be the reasoning behind his blueprint full of geometrical angles so sharp and precise it would be possible to surgically slice yourself if you weren’t careful rounding a corner from the kitchen to the laundry room.

We fought tooth and nail, my husband and I as a team, attempting to insert an arch here or there, or a hollow that suggested pliability. In the end, we were successful in sandpapering a lot of the inside edges away, and felt it would be safe enough for folks to walk through the house without wearing Teflon clothing.

But the roof … stayed as was first drawn.

I should rephrase that. The roofs stayed.

Gable roof

Most houses I’ve lived in have had two slopes for cover: front and back. A little like topping off four walls with a Hallmark card tipped on its side. Nothing fancy, just functional. Usually, it kept the rain from sliding inside and down to the basement. Sometimes the rooftop capped a little extra space where field mice were grateful and Christmas ornaments slept patiently. It was traditional and comforting—nothing too out of the ordinary that would cause folks to drive by and shake their heads in wonder–because where I grew up, if you weren’t regular, you were likely prayed for in church.

But the house I live in right now would be worthy of an entire diocese on their knees 24/7 for a month’s worth of assistance. Every time I go outside to look at it, I wonder if the house’s crowning design is even structurally possible. There’s a very good chance much of it was done with the aid of mirrors.

crazy calculationsRolling out the blueprints to familiarize ourselves with the architect’s vision, we’d find mathematical angles from algebraic equations that surely made Einstein pace. There were unfamiliar words like cross hip, trusses, soffits and underlayment sweat sheets. Some terms might have been written backward, just to keep us from asking about them.

Several of the planes would be done in copper, others would be shingled. Apparently, all of them would be connected. Regardless, the long tube containing the rolled two-dimensional version of our home’s pinnacle puzzle oftentimes remained in its safe scroll form.

Remarkable as the finished product is, and the mathematically improbable achievement aside, I tend not to think too much about the rooftops unless one of two things occurs.

1. My son traps a wayward radio controlled aircraft somewhere in the maze of cedar and ductile metal.

or

2. We have an ice storm.

English: A buildup of ice on a branch after an...

Living where we do, this is not an uncommon thing. The weather is fickle here in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where precipitation is capricious and Mother Nature is determined to throw as many weathermen under the bus as possible with the intent to increase their incoming mounds of hate mail and angry tweets.

If it’s a matter of unruly dirigibles, we wait for a good, solid Nor’easter to blow through and bring the airship back to earth. There’s nothing anyone can do without a crane, a tightrope and a harness. If the roof is brought to my attention via the weather, then it’s usually due to the fact that I can’t get to sleep.

Pellets of sleet or the pinging of hail resonate with precise metallic tonality—a common occurrence for those with tinny plates above their heads. Soft spring rains can lull you to sleep, but winter’s transformative temperatures makes the sound akin to that of a full onslaught of air attack with BB guns.

Crash part 3

Crash part 3 (Photo credit: andysternberg)

The true test determining one’s degree of torpor is the ability to snooze through the assault of sliding snow and ice. Because of the many pitched roofs, all built at a dizzying array of levels, pancake sheets of solidified snow slide down a steeply pitched plane, before crashing to the next grade. Here, knowing its jarring noise roused you from your fragile slumber, the arctic blanket waits until you’ve resettled yourself and then it melds with the newly met wedge of snow. It now carries on its domino-effect late night charades—ever increasing the clamorous intensity until the miniature iceberg finds its last slide and thunders down to crash upon a groaning, snow-filled deck below. The clatter can catapult you from a dead sleep and have you diving for cover, firmly believing there’s an air raid above you.

Yes, I now know the difference between a ridge and a gable, the flashing and fascia, the dormers and drip edge, but it’s the rioting in the rafters that leaves me bleary-eyed and bushed.

Next house, I shall live in a cave.

~Shelley

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

An epiphany on Epiphany

I have at last allowed myself a semi-week off from blogging.

1_G

1_G (Photo credit: Andrew Teman)

This week, instead of writing, I shall be busy with:

1. Twelve months of laundry.

2. Eleven pipes a’ leaking.

3. Ten floors worth sweeping.

4. Nine socks for darning.

5. Eight weeks of grouting.

6. Seven coons for skinning.

7. Six stalls worth mucking.

8. Five … chain-sawed trees.

9. Four shotguns cleaned.

10. Three squirrel stews.

11. Two brawling rams.

Sheep shows, sheep and wool industry / by Sam Hood

Sheep shows, sheep and wool industry / by Sam Hood (Photo credit: State Library of New South Wales collection)

12. And a snooze next to the Christmas tree.

After that, if there’s time, I may tune into the Presidential debates. But no worries, because I’ve taped them all. And don’t tell me how it turned out. I know I’m a little behind, but I love hearing Walter Cronkite announce the newly incumbent.

And that’s the way it is

~Shelley

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

The Party; prodigious promise, dismal delivery.

Car Fire

Car Fire (Photo credit: jasonbolonski)

I knew what I was going for last week when I started preparing my mother’s birthday dinner. Something warm, something autumnal, something that screamed, “Thanks for everything and I’m really sorry about setting the family car on fire that one Christmas when I was sixteen.” You know … a complete package message.

I go for the same theme each year, and each year I fall spectacularly short.

It usually starts with the number of attendees. When throwing a birthday dinner, it’s proven to be most readily appreciated if the individual whose birth you are celebrating is present (unless it’s something like Presidents’ Day or Christmas, in which one finds it unreasonable to expect the dead to appear).

This year, the number of invitees dwindled. It was only going to be my mom, my kids and myself: small, intimate, deflating.

I was going to have to cancel the big band swing orchestra and the caterer. I drew the line at calling off the inflatable moon bounce, because that has proven to be the highlight of the evening for my mom the last five years running.

Cab Calloway and His Orchestra, from the openi...

Cab Calloway and His Orchestra, from the opening credits of Max Fleischer’s Minnie the Moocher, which included a recording of the titular Calloway song. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I spent the entire previous day making this beautiful Gingery Spiced Cake with Sour Cherries and a Sour Cherry Glaze. And by the entire day, I mean the whole time between 3:30 and 4:45, but I shoved twenty-four hours worth of love into that labor.

The following day, I worked feverishly at creating a Smoked Turkey and Black Lentil Stew, filled with smoked turkey and black lentils.

There were a billion other things in there too, and it was supposed to be recorded and preserved for everyone to see under the Scullery section, but I forgot to take pictures until everything was already in the crockpot. It proved near impossible to separate the teeny tiny black lentils from the onions, Kuri squash and thyme leaves in order to set up individual photo shots of each ingredient–and I did try for a while–but there was a lot left to be done, so I gave up.

Champagne Fountain

Champagne Fountain (Photo credit: whatadqr)

I needed time to set up the champagne fountain and direct the newly arrived Grand Marshall as to the best route for the military parade later that day.

Once I finally unloaded the three vans full of white orchids, set up the fireworks and laser show outside, and emptied a room large enough to fit the shark tank in, I woke to the sound of the ringing telephone. (It turns out all those bits in between making the stew and filling up Shamu’s new digs were part of a lavish afternoon kip on the couch, but it didn’t make it any less real to me.)

The phone call was Chloe, announcing she and her brother were on their way home from his brutal soccer practice and her mind-numbing after-school job. They were hungry. Make food.

By the time they got home everything was ready: the stew, the cake, the set table , the small string quartet I’d settled for (okay, the CD player providing us with a little mood music). The problem was … we had no guest of honor.

I told the kids to have a light snack, which to them usually involves a bagel, a smoothie, a bowl of popcorn, some soup and an entire pantry shelf full of cookies. They were set for the next thirty minutes.

BomB   clip art by G.P. du Berger

BomB clip art by G.P. du Berger (Photo credit: HTML’S MAGIC)

After an hour and a half, I phoned my mother, who always answers her iPhone the same way: like it’s a small explosive device that could detonate at any moment, and therefore, she must handle it like plutonium.

“Hello?” came the tentative, faraway voice on the other end of the line. She usually holds it at arm’s length.

“Mom? What time are you coming for dinner?”

“My last student is late. I’m waiting for him.”

Note: my mother is a violin teacher who would rather be drawn and quartered, watching her intestines being roasted on an open flame in front of her, than miss instructing a small child of three or four how to properly take a bow.

“How late?”

“About an hour and a half, but he hasn’t phoned to cancel, so I’m assuming he’s still coming.”

“Mom. His lesson is a total of fifteen minutes. He’s missed it six times over. He’s not coming. Dinner is ready.”

“You go ahead and start without me. I’m just finishing up.”

I put the phone down and cradled my head. I am again in the situation where I must celebrate a birthday without the birthed celebrant.

“DINNER!” I called.

Stop eating animals

Stop eating animals (Photo credit: xornalcerto)

The dog and cat came running.

Ladling out the stew, the first question I get when handing it to my daughter is, “Is there meat in it?”

I answer yes, but remind her that the turkey was a vegetarian, so it should be okay in the end.

The next question is, “Are there guts in it?”

This is a question everyone asks if they know we’ll be dining with either one or both of my Polish parents.

“Not today, sweets. It’s guts-free gruel.”

We finish dinner, clean up and the kids leave to do homework. My mom’s car pulls up the driveway. She comes in looking exhausted. I place a bowl of stew in front of her, but then have to return half of it to the crockpot, because she insists it’s too much. I convince her to have a glass of wine from a very special bottle, pushing it into her hands. I sit across from her, watching as she nudges my stew around on the plate.

Finally, I call the kids down and we light the cake and bring it in. It looks beautiful. My daughter snaps photos, we pass out the pieces. My son takes a bite and announces in Spanish to his sibling that my chocolate cake tastes like mierda. I retort to my surprised fourteen-year old that firstly, it does not taste like poo and secondly, it is not chocolate and thirdly, I worked for hours on making that cake (75 minutes), and that I do not appreciate either his language or his lack of appreciation.

I turn to my mother. “What do you think? Do you like it?”

She shrugs her shoulders, “Truthfully, I can’t taste a thing. I’ve got a cold. I’m heading to bed.”

Moon bouncing!

Moon bouncing! (Photo credit: Zombies and Dinner)

I look at the dog and cat.

“You guys wanna go for a moon bounce?”

~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)!

A root awakening in the garden of evil (I mean Eden).

I love the color green. I love wearing it, seeing it and eating it. I even strive to be it. It’s a lot to live up to, and more often than not, I end up falling back into my default color … brown.

I am basically a method of transportation for DIRT.

Living where we do, and how we do, I find life is a constant struggle between these two hues. Since there are animal chores to be done twice daily inside and out, you are likely to find yourself, come bedtime, with clods of clay, fragments of feed and patches of poop annoyingly clinging to clothes, skin and hair.

In anticipation of this, six years ago when we began building this barmy abode, I repeatedly requested that everything be earth-toned: floors, walls, furniture and fixtures. We currently sport every shade of muck and mud known to Benjamin Moore & Sherwin-Williams.

Seeing the wall calendar currently show the month of August, I know it truthfully to always be two months ahead. Signing checks and school permission forms with October in the date department throws a constant reminder under my nose that the chore list is changing.

romancing the garden glove

romancing the garden glove (Photo credit: curlsdiva)

Seeing the multiplying emails from our homestead’s chief strategist and tactician, Roger, arrive in our inbox, or guiltily acknowledging the growing stack of precisely laid out hacienda homework he has purposefully proposed, leaves no doubt with the message: get your gloves on, it’s time to tame the terrain.

Everyone in my family will attest that when it comes to gardening, my thumb is khaki-colored at best. I can successfully grow the fruit and veg needed to supply more than enough for my family’s culinary needs, with the extras pushed into the hands of our visiting Fed-Ex drivers, propane deliverymen and lawnmowers, as well as anyone who happens to accidentally come upon the house by taking a wrong turn. This particular garden is rich with offerings, and I’m beginning to believe, capable of enormous resilience after sessions of either my absence or mismanagement.

What is truly frustrating is that I’m surrounded by people who are incredibly capable landscapers, horticulturists and master gardeners. Give any one of them a sliver of someone’s fingernail and they can propagate the rootstock for a new human being. They have immeasurable talent, energy and knowledge.

Gardening equipment and tools, and grafting di...

Gardening equipment and tools, and grafting diagrams. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I, on the other hand, merely look at the garden and sigh with exhaustion. I immediately come to the conclusion that I need a nap.

When my mother arrives at the house, armed with a flotilla of tools, soil and a gleam in her eye, I detect the blood draining from my head and begin to feel woozy, realizing I’ve left things too late and will now have to pay for my negligence by sucking up forty-eight hours worth of nettled knees and a barking back. It’s my own fault. Somehow I’d hoped no one would notice the overabundance of choking weeds, smothering vines and disfiguring deadwood.

Not many people can appreciate the prairie look, but it does grow on you after a while … if not around you after laxity.

There is a massive difference between her glistening, well-oiled and surgically-sharpened gardening implements and my rust-covered, jagged-edged Ginsu knife picked up at a local county fair from a slick kitchen demonstration by a Brylcreem carnie.

My mother prods me through the gardens, requiring I take notes as she instructs what will need doing once she leaves me on my own. There are precise methods of pruning—“One can’t just hack!”

I like the satisfying sound of a good hack.

Believe it or not, not everything is a weed, which makes my efforts to weed whack tedious and tricky. Long tall green things look so much the same to me. The only reason I don’t rip most crops out of the potager is because I give them two months to get going and usually by that time there’s a berry or a bean hanging from it. Anything outside of the kitchen garden looks suspicious to me and if it does not sport a flower or has not been painstakingly labeled by Roger, my instinct is to cleave and yank.

There were multiple times this weekend when I heard sharp intakes of breath that did not come from my lungs. What followed were my mother’s masked attempts to cover an overwhelming urge to tsk. I don’t blame her. If I were her, I’d probably take a shovel to the back of my head. Trailing these negative assessments of my lack of familiarity was my insistence that duct tape is man’s best friend. Apparently, Mother Nature does not share this opinion.

Rip Van Winkle Illustration by NC Wyeth

Rip Van Winkle Illustration by NC Wyeth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still, we carried on, my mother pruning, snipping, coaxing and trimming, me … carving, lancing, docking, gashing, lopping, sawing, severing and slashing. Some of us did better than others.

Regardless, there is a small chunk of the garden that is now, thanks to the know-how and hard work of other people, ready for a winter snooze of around forty winks. Sadly, the rest of the garden will have to face certain insomnia until I can review all my notes. Seeing as though it’s only August, I’ve got plenty of time.

~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)!

Nothing to fear but fear itself. (And the mic, the stage and the 800 people.)

Port-42

Port-42 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

October is full of things meant to scare you: ghoulish sites and hair-raising sounds, grisly stories and spine-chilling escapades. But if you have never had a case of stage fright, it means you still have a few degrees to finish up before rounding out the circle of fear.

For those of you who haven’t, chances are it’s simply because you have never been through a ceremony like marriage, a graduation or have been asked to carry the final torch to light the Olympic flames.

Have you never been the center of attention for a recital, a birthday or burial? (Hey, that last one could occur. People have been buried alive. And I would imagine it’s got to be somewhat stressful.)

Maybe you haven’t even given a toast or led a fascist movement.

For people who have experienced something akin to the above, they usually announce one of two things:

  1. I like having people watch me.
  2. Allowing people to watch me is creepy and should be illegal.

If you fall under the first category, you can choose to stop reading this essay, pat yourself on the back, and head back to your chair on the judges’ panel for American Idol. Of course, you’re welcome to continue reading and catch a rare glimpse at the other side of normal.

English: LED lighting instruments used on Radi...

English: LED lighting instruments used on Radiohead’s recent tour. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you find yourself assigned to group two … walk with me a minute. Let’s remember why it’s best to leave the spotlight for the big boys.

The first thing that happens is the invitation to walk on stage–an enticing summons that fills your head with mind-altering thoughts of flattery. Ah, this person sees in me that which I knew deep down was there: GREATNESS.

Apparently, the word is out. You need to be shared with an audience of more than just your bathroom mirror.

You accept the call. Wave it off as if it’s something you routinely do and hope to remember to jot it down in your calendar. Of course, details will come later. No worries. Loads of time to prepare. Yes, it’ll be fun.

The second thing that occurs is nothing.

That is, you do nothing for three months except occasionally see the penciled notice in your calendar and dismiss it from your mind with the same gesture one uses to swipe a mosquito from your vision.

Next, you’re sent reminders. They pile up on your phone and email account. A note is left on your car. Somebody hunts you down at the gym. Remember you said you’d perform? This suddenly translates to: You promised to give me your kidney.

Things begin to crystallize. Like the fact that you were a dolt for agreeing to do something like this in the first place.

You begin to practice at home.

You realize your material is best suited as an ingredient in the manufacturing of pellet packaging matter.

You make another choice. Anything will be better than doing what you originally thought would be acceptable. It’s awful.

It’s all you have.

English: The illustration shows the major sign...

English: The illustration shows the major signs and symptoms of heart failure. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You go back to the original. It’s not as bad as you thought.

The night before, you stay up until 2:30 debating whether or not you can pull off a sudden case of laryngitis, scurvy or congestive heart failure.

You wake in the morning to realize that sadly, you’re healthy, apart from a slight tremor you developed in the middle of the night.

You show up at dress rehearsal hoping for a large sign indicating the show has been canceled and participants will still be generously acknowledged in the local newspaper.

Instead, there’s a woman with a clipboard, a dour expression and a habit of glancing at her watch as you approach.

Your tremor increases, making your car keys jingle like tiny sleigh bells in your hand.

The stage manager tells you where to sit, where to wait, where to walk and finally where to point your mouth when the time comes. Smile up there. Don’t look down. Please don’t trip. This is reinterpreted as Wait a second. I can’t breathe. What’d you say?

 It doesn’t matter. You’re dismissed. You must come back in two hours.

Must you?

How much gas is in your car? How far can you drive if you start now?

You return out of guilt. And the fact that you have only a quarter of a tank and you’re fairly certain someone was tailing you the entire time. You hate accountability.

You sit. People filter in. The muddled noise of the crowd is a swooshy sound not unlike the fuzzy garbled reverberation of the one word echoing in your head: idiot, idiot, idiot.

An Austrian curtain.

An Austrian curtain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The curtain opens and the first act plays spectacularly.

The crowd applauds and your tremor is now sizeable enough to register on the Richter scale. The applause dies down apart from one person who continues on. Why won’t they stop clapping?

Wait a sec. That’s your heartbeat.

 You cannot feel your feet.

Person after person and group after group performs with eloquence, style and ease. These people belong here. Look at them. They don’t even wave to their parents in the crowd–that’s how practiced they are.

It’s your turn. You’re tapped on the shoulder and sure you would have felt it had your whole body not gone numb. Your vision grows tiny, two infinitesimal pinholes of light at the end of long dark tunnels.

English: Gemini V Prime Crew, Astronauts L. Go...

Are you onstage?

You wave to your parents.

Something happens and you wake up to applause.

Finally, you are in your seat, smiling ear to ear. You are given more pats on the arms and shoulders than a gazelle in a petting zoo.

“You were fabulous!”

You shake off the compliment with a nonchalant shrug. Aw shucks, it was nothing. I could do this in my sleep.

Apparently, you did.

~Shelley

PS. Watch two people who truly thrive under hot lights. (Chloe Sackier & Humberto Sales )

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)!

A hairy situation.

The “Académie de Coiffure”

The “Académie de Coiffure”

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

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

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

Maybe it’s incredibly effective marketing campaigns.

Maybe all men have cataracts.

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

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

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

Porcupine at Mer Bleue

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mistress and Maid / Lady with Her Maidservant ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old farmer with pitch fork full of hay

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

Sleepblogging.

Sleeping

Sleeping (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

I cannot write if I cannot sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

alarm clock, bought from IKEA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jiminy Cricket

Jiminy Cricket (Photo credit: .Cromo.)

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

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

(Yawn) Shelley

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

 

NASA finally asks for my help.

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

“Uh huh?” (wordsmith, me, at desk)

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

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

“You bet.”

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

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

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

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

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

Chocolate

Chocolate (Photo credit: EuroMagic)

I’d have to get rid of it.

Out of sight, out of mouth, right?

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

It didn’t matter. I loved challenge.

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

“How’d today go?”

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

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

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

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

Day Three: “Mom?”

“Stop shouting at me!”

English: A small pad of Post-It notes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text from me: CONSPIRACY!!!

Text from Chloe: U need rest.

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

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

Semi-sweet chocolate chips

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

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

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

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

And you’re welcome.

~Shelley

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

 

Men in plaid. Aka Highland Games

For some people, a work of nature can make their hearts sing: a sunrise or sunset, a full moon, a double rainbow, a field of poppies. For others, it might be the music of Debussy, an African children’s choir, or the ocean as it rolls with breaking waves across the sand.

English: The Bagpiper

For me, as glorious as these things are, nothing comes quite as close to filling me with awe as seeing a man dressed in a kilt. If he’s blowing a set of pipes, all the better.

Alright, so my “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” viewpoint might be a little different than most.

I’ve been to Scotland many times. Not as many times as I’m hoping to go, but more times than my children wish to recall. When the strains of a bagpipe seep past me, I spot a flash of plaid, or I walk into my pantry–overrun with single malt scotch–I am transported back, if only for just a moment.

To remain there longer, I need do one of a few things: get on an airplane and head to the Highlands, strap some whopping big horns on to my dog and beg him to release his inner Highland cow, or go to one of Virginia’s many Highland Games.

Highland Cow

Highland Cow (Photo credit: Vanessa (EY))

Are you with me on the theme here?

Last week I went with door number three.

A few thousand others did too.

Thankfully, when the second George of England requested that the Scots kindly exit the United Kingdom for a permanent vacation, they (at gunpoint) willingly agreed and took one of the original cruise ships over the pond to set up a few tents in Canada and America. I say thankfully simply because one of their camper sites turned out to be Virginia. Apparently, the welcome was warm enough to encourage putting down a tap root. They stuck around.

And since the crabby English didn’t like seeing the Scots in their party clothes, or hearing their party music, or following their party leaders, the Scots took all of that with them and dumped it on the front lawn of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Celtic riffraff, but really lyrical riffraff.

But even having spent the last couple of centuries sliding away from a Scottish burr and into a southern drawl, these folks have held tight to their customs if not their castles.

Virginia Highland games, while not as raucous and cutthroat as those I’ve become acquainted with in Scotland, still retain the one thing that binds them no matter which land you’re visiting.

PRIDE.

The clan system is strong.

And they keep reminding each other of just how strong their clan system is. The Camerons are stronger than the McDonalds. The McDonalds are mightier than the Fraziers. The Fraziers kick the butts of the Buchanans. And the Buchanans think the only thing the Camerons show superior strength in is body odor. So there you have it. Clan competition.

Pipers piping.

Caber throwers cabering.

Archers arching.

Leaping lassies leaping.

Stone putters putting.

Sheep herders picking out the prettiest sheep.

Cattle smugglers pointing up at an eagle to throw you off the fact that you’ve just lost half your herd.

Fun and games.

And whisky.

And haggis.

And then more whisky.

Gun and fames.

You’re never as thunk as you drink you are, but the drinker you sit there’s, the longer you get. Hic.

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Although seeing the men toss their cabers is an absolute thrill, the true highlight for me is always the electrifying, heart-quickening rush of the pipes. Hearing the combined sounds of one hundred pipers pouring every ounce of their spirits into music that will shred your soul is an addictive experience, and one that will likely leave a tiny tattoo on your heart.

They’re lined up in formation, silent and prepared, mist swirling about them like smoke from a long ago battle. They’re given the cue and collectively send skyward the chilling notes of bloodshed, crusade and struggle mixed together with grit, guts and glory. It leaves you shattered and breathless.

The gathering audience is silent, struck dumb with the power of the ghostly cries of voices silenced by graves. You can feel the crowd shiver. A big blowzy woman next to me breaks the sacred moment with, “Oh aye, I’d like to squeeze one of them there pipes myself.”

A few tender-conscious women make a swift sign of the cross and one man chokes on the pint of Guinness he’s swilling. The games have truly begun.

After a full day of watching the descendants of my favorite country duke it out Hazard/Highland style, we leave and drive home. I am left satiated for the moment, but know the feeling won’t last. As we wait at a stoplight, I see in the car beside me the swaying hips of the sweet figurine–the Hawaiian Hula girl.

11-22-09

11-22-09 (Photo credit: idovermani)

My only wish is that somebody, somewhere will create the Scottish equivalent of the kilted man. I think back to the pious women and what they’d make of my new dashboard saint.

I bet if they had one, they’d take the long, curvy road home from church. And then have to go back for the second service.

~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)!

 

Ears wide open

English: A square open cardboard box. Based on...

I live in a box.

Literally and metaphorically.

Within that box are many other boxes. One holds my thoughts—well, truthfully, that one is always spilling over, so I’ve had to invest in a few more.

Some attempt to contain my emotions (again, the previous statement applies, although those cartons explode occasionally with the heavy artillery they apparently house).

Some cradle my dreams—the ones where I somehow become a master distiller living off the grid with nothing more than the fuel created by sheep poo, and a certificate from Joe Salatin congratulating me for filling up more than half the food banks of Virginia with the excess of my prolific garden. (I said they were dreams.)

tiny uggs

tiny uggs (Photo credit: phil denton)

Other boxes support my curiosities. Much of those spill out into word form and show up on my blog, but there are others I’ve been advised not to share. Because how can you really explain the desire to seek out the price and possibility of making little boots for your sheep so their feet stay dry and don’t develop hoof rot without appearing to have lost your marbles? You don’t. That’s why this stays between us.

There are stacks of other boxes, but the container I’m cracking the lid on today is one that recently had its top pried off and its sides expanded. It’s the box I hold music in.

My early life was threaded with strains of virtuosic violinists, tobacco-spitting gitbox strummers, and tight horn sections swinging notes with the ease of trapeze artists.

As a young teen, I clung to sappy lyrics and vocalists who’d grown used to audiences full of swooning females, allowing myself an occasional attachment to a collection of notes that could double as a big wad of pink bubble gum.

Eventually, when I hauled two extra lumps of squiggling arms and legs around with me, toing and froing from crib to car to couch, I threw in side-splitting comedy, although I think I discovered there’s a limit to the amount of humor one can musically squeeze out of a banana.

Cowboy

Cowboy (Photo credit: AngryGlock)

At present, my summers are filled with slick Aussie cowboys and gun-slinging, sharp-tongued women who are fed up with the men that have wronged them. My autumn days slither by with filaments of tunes all penned in places thick with thistles, the pain dulled with whisky. Winter months are warmed with somnolent crooners, antiquated motets and the soft, round notes of lap-held harps. Come springtime, I’m surrounded by singing bowls and Native American flutes mirroring my hopeful spiritual growth with the new green shoots in the garden.

I’ve been quite content with my steady routine—a life immersed in a melodic soup of simple ingredients that make for a merry musical meal.

But it’s not just me in this house. Or car.

There are other beats that bleed into this shared space.

Our musical preferences are vastly different. And by different I sometimes mean whatever Ive been forced to listen to cannot in anyway shape or form be mistaken for music.

Except, it appears I am the mistaken one.

Music is defined not by a set of words, prosaic and pleasing, but rather by a set of ears. Just one person’s.

Pink Floyd Experience

Pink Floyd Experience (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My husband is so deeply entrenched in songs from his impressionable youth that he cannot shake himself awake from the 70’s. We’ve tried. He ain’t budging. We can’t even get him to set a toe into the next decade. But who’s to say the answers to all of life’s problems are not buried beneath the lyrical lines of Pink Floyd?

My daughter has an appetite that spans the taste buds of thousands of tongues. She continually stuffs her earbuds into my head to share astonishing compositions from cultures that have nothing to make musical instruments from other than a goat hide and a handful of sand. It is heartbreaking, inventive and worthy of a plastic spy ring for the sleuthing she must do to uncover such gems.

English: Black & White photograph of Lil Wayne...

English: Black & White photograph of Lil Wayne taken by RJ Shaughnessy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My fourteen year old son has joined a tribe consisting of many of his white middle class peers. Somehow, a slice from this generation of children has responded to a constant tug toward the music of their “true” people. I’m guessing they feel they were torn away from the hood before concrete memory was possible. But genetics are hard to fight and we have a mass of angry rapping white kids thankfully speaking on behalf of those with no voice.

Truthfully, he has forced me to listen in order to connect with him. Ignore the lyrics. Listen to the rhythm. Find the themes. Search for the story. Feel the pain.

I do.

Occasionally the pain is located in my eardrums.

But I am surprised at how much (if I work at it—and I do because it’s important to me) I can find to absorb and sympathize with, if not actually enjoy. I have to admit, when we’re jamming to somebody with a first name like Lil, Killah, Busta or 2, I wish I was driving one of the souped-up bagged vehicles that bounce because of added hydraulics. It could be fun. For about five minutes.

poppies on a breezy day

poppies on a breezy day (Photo credit: jon smith.)

Of course, there are still the other occupants of this mountaintop that provide me with a type of music not typically recorded or heard in places other than a meditation retreat at Yogaville. Birdsong, rustling leaves and blades of grass, the morning rooster a mile down the road, the slow grunts of pleasure from sheep scratching against the fence, the sigh of my dog in the middle of the night and the purr of a waking cat who rouses minutes before the blare of the alarm clock.

This too, is worthy.

Harmonic and grand, melodic and winsome.

It’s all music to my ears.

~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)!

 

I see dead people.

There is something so tantalizing about going into someone else’s home, especially if they’re not present. Even more so if the folks are dead.

Monterey Wax Museum -US Govt. in Monterey

Monterey Wax Museum -US Govt. in Monterey (Photo credit: Ed Bierman)

Not newly dead and outlined in chalk, but rather long ago buried and part of a history book and some schoolmarm’s lesson plan.

It has to be said, history remained stone cold if I simply read about it in Mr. Schook’s classroom. It did, however, find new life during visits to historical wax museums or abandoned ghost towns.

I can even stand in the waving tall grasses of a carefully preserved battlefield and strain to catch the cries of men slipping through some crack in time. My imagination runs rife with other people’s supposed memories, their hardships and suffering, the easy to imagine tweets they’d post on Twitter.

Okay, you’re right. I took it too far. There’s no way I could imagine their hardships.

81/365: Reflections of Jefferson

81/365: Reflections of Jefferson (Photo credit: Adam Franco)

But I count myself fortunate to live smack dab in the center of a triangle of three residences belonging to past American presidents. And by past, I mean expired to the point folks paste their likeness on our paper currency and coins.

Many Americans (a large chunk of them being schoolchildren) hate to be reminded of the past, but for some reason, they love to reenact it. Because I am married to Sir Sackier, Brit extraordinaire, I find myself in the not so enviable position of hearing just how much we colonists have made a muck of things as often as I’d care to tune in. I figure I’d tune in a lot more if he’d dress in period costume, but that certainly won’t happen unless I agree to play the wayward wench opposite his feudally monocratic role.

Again, that ain’t gonna happen.

civil_war_actors

civil_war_actors (Photo credit: Tom Gill (lapstrake))

Yet you can’t turn around in this state without accidentally elbowing somebody next to you who happens to be dressed like the Revolution is still taking place just yonder down the street. I have perfected the double take when caught off guard seeing a few regimental Civil War soldiers, bloody and bandaged from battle, purchasing a ticket to see Spiderman at the town cinema.

I think it would be easier if our local time travelers could remain in character.

A few days ago, I made my annual trip with some out of town friends to one of my favorite historic eateries. It has a name like Ye Olde Durty Bird or Red Coat Tavern; House of the Village Baker and Physic. We specialize in both baking and bloodletting.

I feel compelled to return year after year, because the food is unbeatable. You sit in a smoky, dark dining room brimming with tourists and the only sounds you hear are those of people weeping with pure culinary pleasure and groaning at the amount they’ve stuffed into their gobs.

The tricky bit is trying to maintain the feeling of having passed through the portal of time. Yes, the food is authentic, the crockery and cutlery realistic, the costumes genuine copies, but it’s the occasional slippage back to our current Twilight Zone that catches me.

When passing by the kitchens, it’s not uncommon to hear, “Shirley! Stop all that damn texting and get that cabbage in the kettle!” Or when someone at a nearby table mentions their black-eyed peas are stone cold, the scullery maid grabs the bowl and chirps, “No worries, I’ll just nuke it in the kitchen.” I wouldn’t be surprised to find the staff doing the Macarena out back while taking a ciggy break.

George Washington

George Washington (Photo credit: Joye~)

In fact, I’m certain, when auditioning for the role of one of these fine dead people, the one caveat they accept, and then promptly ignore before receiving employment, is to read George Washington’s classic best seller—the one he wrote before his sweet sixteen—Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation: a Book of Etiquette.

The book is a fascinating read, and I implore you to take a quick peek at just a few of his rules, but you’ll find that we—as a society in general—would discover the white-wigged man choking on his Cheerios to see how it is that we have “adapted” his suggestions to better fit our present lifestyles.

For instance:

His 3rd rule states: Shew Nothing to your Friend that may affright him. Umm … what are we going to do without YouTube?

12th  … lift not one eyebrow higher than the other, wry not the mouth … He’s just eliminated all the qualifications for a successful James Bond audition.

18th Read no Letters, Books, or Papers in Company but when there is a Necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave. Blackberries, iPhones, Androids … you guys are sol.

44th When a man does all he can though it Succeeds not well blame not him that did it. Obviously, Washington was portending rush hour traffic.

52d In your Apparel be Modest and endeavour to accomodate Nature, rather than to procure Admiration keep to the Fashion of your equals Such as are Civil and orderly with respect to Times and Places. Ahem, Lady Gaga.

64th Break not a Jest where none take pleasure in mirth Laugh not aloud, nor at all without Occasion, deride no mans Misfortune, tho’ there Seem to be Some cause. Looks like we’ll have to nix all reality TV.

72d Speak not in an unknown Tongue in Company but in your own Language and that as those of Quality do and not as the Vulgar; Sublime matters treat Seriously. This one will wreak havoc with our pubescent saplings.

81st Be not Curious to Know the Affairs of Others neither approach those that Speak in Private. There goes Facebook.

107th If others talk at Table be attentive but talk not with Meat in your Mouth. Never gonna happen in my house and at our table.

110th Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience. Someone needs to do a little housekeeping in the Capitol.

Old books

Old books (Photo credit: Maguis & David)

Now I’m not suggesting we catapult ourselves back to slave trade, revolutionists, and no underarm deodorant, but yearning for yesteryear’s grace and civility is a small spark that keeps my own celestial fire burning.

To sum up, it appears we’ve got some work in our future if we hope to live up to the past.

~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)!

 

Birthdays; a cacophony of cake, calamity and cadavers.

A pile of inflatable balloons.

Birthdays.

People often fall into one of two camps when theirs come around: the kind that want balloons, and the kind that pop them.

I tend to tell my family to save their breath–not because I don’t like balloons, but because Sir Sackier is a god-awful singer, and without doubt, everybody wants to sing the duet part. It’s a train wreck of a song, but that’s not it. It’s not even half over after the first rousing chorus because then it has to be sung in Polish, then Spanish, and finally, just to impress, someone might start a verse in Hebrew. That one usually peters out quickly as no one is ever quite sure they remember the words, and it feels almost sacrilegious to continue muttering and mumbling something that could be mistaken for clearing your throat of phlegm.

Ducks in macao

Also, I was raised in a household that eventually fostered a lackadaisical attitude toward birthday celebrations. Being Polish, all festivities required the slaughtering of some unlucky animal, and seriously, one can only stomach so much duck blood soup. Therefore, I’m left trying to explain to my own kids why I’m not fussed when no one from my family calls or shows up to wish me happy returns on the day.

“Aren’t you offended? Doesn’t it hurt your feelings?” they’d ask.

“Nope. We were raised not to have feelings. We couldn’t afford them. Plus, we’re not big on guilt. We’ve still got a mighty big bag of it left over from catechism classes, so I think we’re all pretty much set for life in that department.”

Happy Birthday!

Now it’s not that my family doesn’t ever recognize one another’s birthdays, it just happens a little later in the calendar year–like over the phone when someone has called to let you know that another ninety-year old relative has finally shuffled off this mortal coil.

“Hey, you just turned thirty, didn’t you?”

“Yep. ‘Bout seven years ago.”

“Cool. And Ciocia Grazyna kicked the bucket.”

“Who?”

“Dad’s Great Auntie Gracie.”

“Good heavens, I had no idea she was still alive.”

“Apparently it came as quite a shock to the rest of the family, too. Three people swore they attended her funeral two years ago.”

Nowadays, birthdays for me are much more about taking stock. I start the morning off in bed and go through a small, yet growing, checklist. Toes still working? Check. Breath coming in and out? Slow, but steady. Check. Right arm still capable of hurling wretched alarm clock across the bedroom? Let’s see …

Check.

I take stock of what hurts, and more importantly, what doesn’t, but normally does. I say a small prayer of thanks and then throw a few curses at the bits that are louder than usual.

I try to get up early enough to drag a lopsided lounge chair outside, or find an accommodatingly soft rock to perch on, in order to watch the sunrise. It’s sort of a gift I give myself. That and the two shots of tequila I bring out as a pre-breakfast tipple.

I’m only kidding. I don’t actually get up to see the sunrise.

Petra's Yoga Poses around the world

Let’s all pretend this is me, okay?

Ok, seriously, I usually pick some yoga pose and try to hold it for as many seconds as years I’ve lived all while watching the sun creep above the horizon. By the time I’ve finished, the squirrels are having a good laugh, and birds are pointing out to their young just what not to do.

It doesn’t matter, I’ll get them all back later. We used to eat a lot of squirrel while growing up. We called it tiny chicken.

Usually, I then come into the kitchen, where Sir Sackier has cooked up something that one would normally see on a twelve-course tasting menu, but all on one plate, and the kids are bustling about snatching things like my iPad out of my hands, telling me I shouldn’t be doing any heavy lifting today.

The day continues with me basically eating too much, laughing too hard, and worrying that my kitchen will never look as it once did a few hours earlier.

I spend time really focusing on things. The direction of my writing, the height of my children, the sagging of my–well, never mind that–the point is I look with fresh eyes. Okay, maybe the eyes themselves aren’t so fresh, but the perspective is.

The phone rings and one of the kids peeks at the caller ID and says, “Hey, Mom, it’s your second cousin Celia.”

“Don’t answer it,” I shout.

“Geez, Mom, they’re only going to wish you a happy birthday.”

“No, they’re not. They’re calling to tell me about somebody’s deathday.”

“Whatever,” they respond. “And just so you know, G-ma and G-pa’s car just pulled into the driveway.”

Herding ducks in the New Forest

“Quick! Somebody hide the ducks. Or we’re going to have two funerals to attend this week.”

“No worries. Dad’s already made dinner. He said you’d love it.”

“Great,” I sigh. “What did he make?”

“I’m not really sure … I think he said it was some kind of soup.”

~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 Distiller’s Handbook; the mirth of mixology.

Donuts.

People are crazy.

And inventive.

And did I mention crazy?

Traditionally, the drinks industry, namely the ever-expanding hip crowd of mixologists, follows close on the tails of bored—sorry, ingenious chefs who are always inventing new ways to get food down our gullets and hopefully a 3-page story in a gourmet magazine as a side bonus. I’m beginning to find chicken-flavored doughnuts infused with a pocket of vodka-spiked BBQ sauce laying on a bed of gently trampled reindeer moss a little cliché. You too? I’m not surprised.

Squash bug eggs on the underside of yellow cro...

Personally, most of my meals are consumed crouched over the raised beds of my vegetable patch and berry bushes. I don’t even hose anything off anymore before I eat it. If there’s dirt on it, I tell myself it’s Earth pepper. Speckled with microscopic bugs? Extra protein. Find out I’ve just bitten into a squirty cluster of copper-colored squash bug eggs? A two-fold bonus. 1- I’ve gotten to them before they’ve hatched and eaten all my zucchini and 2- I may have discovered the newest form of caviar. Bully for me.

foam

I love food. Will try most everything. Find I like a lot of it. And because of this obsession, I easily discover myself surrounded by paper walls of stacked magazines and cookbooks, staring at too many open tabs on my browser, each waiting patiently for my eyes to return to them.

I like learning about the industry trends and oftentimes I give them a whirl in my own kitchen. There were four entire seasons where no one ate anything solid because it was the year of foam food. I don’t think a body should hold that much nitrous oxide. I’m still witnessing the side effects.

Smoke

Following along with the cocktail crowd can be a full-time job for many. Lately, the brews are smoldering. You can order something on the drinks menu that sounds appealing and find it presented to you in a goblet worthy of a Harry Potter scene, white tendrils of smoke floating up and rolling over the brim due to a quick discharge of liquid nitrogen. Folks are smoking everything from their ice chips to Shirley Temples—cherries included.

One bar will even serve you water steeped in tobacco. Um … yuck.

Since I tend to take my liquor straight, the pioneering procedures in the cocktail world have not been catching my eye. That is, until I came across a book that was so simple and winsome, I had to work my way through it. (Not all at once, mind you.)

The Home Distiller's Handbook: Make Your Own Whiskey & Bourbon Blends, Infused Spirits and CordialsThe Home Distiller’s Handbook by Matthew Teacher is a guide revealing recipes and pictures of old jugs and mason jars filled with uncomplicated ingredients and straightforward infusions.

I like the word infusion. It’s a little hip without being pretentious. It suggests you might know what you’re doing and will raise a few eyebrows without turning any stomachs. Funky blends like Cucumber Gin, Raspberry Cognac, Sour Cherry Whiskey and Horseradish Vodka are just a few that I’ve dog-eared, but maybe you’re more the sort who’d gravitate toward Habanero and Mango Tequila, or Lavender Liqueur, or even Smoked Bacon Bourbon.

My first run was an effortless achievement. I made Blueberry Bourbon and Sour Apple Blueberry Rum. (Click here for the scullery recipes.) We’ve got such a surplus of blueberries in the garden that we’re all starting to look a little like Violet Beauregarde from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, so I’m thinking of chucking anything else that turns blue from outside into the freezer. We’ll thaw it all out come November’s pancake season.

I’ve also decided that everyone is getting hard liquor for Christmas—even the kids. By the time they turn 21, the flavors should have matured to perfection.

English: Exterior of the Maximus Minimus food ...

Once I’ve made my way through all the alcoholic infusion recipes that tickle my fancy, I’m going to need a new culinary project.

Maybe I’ll buy my own food truck and sell freshly grilled roadkill kebabs.

I might try to create a scratch and sniff app.

It very well might be the year of eating only foraged food.

I’m looking for ideas. So send me your thoughts!

The rest of the family is really excited too. Because inventive is my middle name … right after crazy.

~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)!

 

Instant Grassification

English: Orlando, FL, September 12, 2004-- Oxy...

We have decided we need more oxygen.

And we’ve decided we’re going to become Gramineae farmers.

It’s not such a big deal. Millions of folks all around the world already are, so we won’t be the first. In fact, billions of dollars are invested in this farming. Every single year. And that’s just in America. The international price tag belongs in a number category I didn’t even know existed.

At the moment we’re dirt farming. But this is what you have to do before you can go green. Our in-house chief engineer of all things that grow, Roger, has attempted to explain to me (mostly in Latin) that Earth’s soil is almost as full of supernatural magic as a David Copperfield stage show. Almost.

English: The Northwestern High School Gospel Choir

Roger can wax lyrical on the health of our “growing medium” with as much enthusiasm as a southern Baptist revival preacher in a houseful of sinners. I’m trying to keep up, but with terms like fabricating terrain and paleo farming—and it’s mind boggling how much there is to know about them—my eyes start to glaze over involuntarily. When I attempt to learn about microbial life and the immune system of grains, everyone might as well be speaking in tongues.

Soldiers of the United States Army Criminal In...

I’m totally lost.

Roger tried to have us become grass farmers from seed—the old fashioned way–but it was a year of pure embarrassment on our part. The small patch we classified as “test ground” shortly became an agricultural disaster. I’m surprised the whole area wasn’t quartered off with yellow crime scene tape because death was littered all over that lawn.

I was ready to throw in the towel. Plus, I happen to think weeds are pretty. But Sir Sackier refused to admit defeat. How typically British.

For weeks I saw him out there, marching back and forth on the dead battlefield with Roger, pointing fingers, kicking earth and crunching numbers. He’s given himself a fierce unibrow from the entire endeavor.

Roger finally put two and two together and came to the conclusion that unless he was planning to relocate for the spring, set up a tent on the porch and coax every little blade out of the earth himself, he’d best bring out plan B.

Plan B was pay to have someone else grow it, install it in the middle of the night, and then have us smile broadly and feign ignorance if anyone subsequently complimented us on our tremendous grass growing skills.  

Hey, if I’d been put in charge of lawn control, and the only requirement was that it had to be green, it would be filled with arugula. This is a plant I cannot manage to kill. In fact, nearly every morning and every evening I come out to the garden and cut back the greens that within mere hours rocket skyward in search of a better view than the vegetables beside it. The weird thing is I’m beginning to suspect that the plant has taken on new battle tactics. For each consecutive salad I’ve made these last few weeks, the arugula has been getting spicier. It’s so fire-laden, I’d compare it to a mouthful of wasabi. It literally burns your tongue. The plant insists I leave it alone. And I’m actually growing a little frightened of it.

But as a lawn, it would be abundant.

No one else wanted this. Except the dog, who apparently gives no second thought to swallowing fire. He prefers his arugula kick-ass.

So men with trucks and wheelbarrows came and installed our Instalawn, and I’m pretty sure I saw them look up at the windows of the house a few times and shake their heads.

“How hard IS it?” is what I read off the foreman’s lips. But this is what people who already have the knack for doing something always say.

I opened up the window and shouted back, “IT’S HARDER THAN YOU THINK! DON’T JUDGE ME!

And then when they all looked at one another out the corners of their eyes and the foreman pointed out a crooked section to one worker and repeated his question, I realized my error and shouted down to the sheepish fledgling with poor directional sense, “Yeah, what he said.”

That made me feel a lot better about myself.

Now that everyone’s packed up and I can leave the house again, I’m taking advantage of the extra oxygen we’ve created. I’m guessing if I do enough deep inhalations, my brain will benefit enormously—maybe even to the point that I will begin to understand some of what Roger is trying to teach me.

English: A foal wakes up after a nap in the gr...

If I inadvertently slip from wakefulness because of one too many soporific Latin terms and find myself face down in the newly planted grass, I will admit I’d had a sudden overwhelming urge to study the microbial life of our fabricated terrain.

~Shelley

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

 

Bubba, Bass & BBQ

Each year, when I’ve found myself counting the days until school lets out, it’s been in anticipation of the muscle-clenching release I’ve been dreaming about for the last two months, fast approaching amid the flurry of finals, recitals, parties and projects.

Usually, there’s a list of purely mind-numbing activities to look forward to, and they all have to do with a place my family is both proud of and deeply embarrassed by.

The Lake House.

The lake house is where my folks live.

The lake house is where the rest of us want to live.

The lake house is where the summer unfolds itself like a giant picnic blanket, still holding all of last year’s ants and sandwich crusts. It’s beautiful. And horrible. And we love it.File:North Anna NPP retouched.jpg

Swimming is a big part of the summer escapades. The lake we swim in is manmade. Not for people, but for a rather large and unbecoming power plant. Apparently, nuclear power plants are big babies when it comes to getting just a little uncomfortable with the sticky Virginia heat.

The plus side to swimming in a lake that’s used to cool down a power plant is that you can basically pop on your swimming togs come mid-May and keep them sopping wet until just before Thanksgiving.

The downside is that in August, when the term sweltering takes on new meaning—and you swear you’ll never use it out of context again—the lake is actually warmer than your January bath temperature preference. The fish go deep.

But according to folks who’ve only heard about the lake and like to poke fun at it, it’s not much of an issue to find the fish in the first place, as all things residing in the water glow in the dark and are two headed. If you can’t see where to cast, at least you’ve improved your chances of catching something by 50% simply because if one head isn’t hungry, the next one might be.

The "Confederate Flag", a rectangula...

The “Confederate Flag”, a rectangular variant of the Battle Flag. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The fact that there are still plenty of folks who fly the Confederate flag is always a touchy subject. It’s difficult to admire someone’s ‘artful’ decision to do so from the perspective that they might truly believe it still is the national standard, and if you attempt correction, you’ll soon see an impressive array of shotguns that will have you dancing a quick two-step off their property.

Boats are judged not based on length, expense, or manufacturer, but rather decibel level. If you’ve the capability to make the experience of passing by your boat a duplicate to thirty seconds at a monster truck rally, you have finally tweaked your engine to its cherry spot.

The Fourth of July celebrations (most often starting the first of June) are always difficult to pinpoint. No one is ever certain if the neighbor a few docks down has a lawnmower that they’ve set to backfire just to spice up the weekly routine, is testing out a few homemade cherry bombs before the big event, or lost a hand of Mississippi Stud and is taking it out on the nearest beer cans in quick succession with whatever happened to be closest and loaded.

English: Two Pot-bellied pigs (Sus domesticus)...

Finding yourself inundated with BBQ shacks, smoke-filled and grease-splattered, will leave you with an experience that is both calorically impossible to work off until next spring and addictive enough to become habitual. I show absolutely no judgment on my face when waltzing the isles of the local Wal-Mart, as I know if I lived next to Bubba’s Pig Patio all year round, my photo would doubtless be included in one of the mass emails of the monthly Wallyworld Wonders.

Sunset white lake 2006

Watching the sun sink below the silky warm ripples of a quieting lake with a sweating glass of  highly-herbed gin, bitter quinine-spiked tonic water, and a puckeringly tart wedge of lime will leave you breathless and filled with childlike wonder as the fireflies flicker in the blades of freshly mown grass and beneath the eves of sharp, sappy pine boughs.

The end of the summer comes at the same frightening speed as one of the occasional stray bullets that whiz past the side of the house, leaving a fresh graze on an old paint job. But the open wound soon becomes just another tale to reminisce during Christmas break when you’re outside lacing bushes with a netting of twinkling lights and setting up a crèche that puts you in a forgiving mood.

Okay, I’m kidding about the crèche. We don’t actually have one, but most folks around the lake are so excited for the Christmas season to start, there’s barely a day between taking down the red, white and blue bunting before the nailing of rain gutter icicles begin.

Leaving the lake house is usually fraught with my kids’ somber faces and grumpy dispositions. My folks, on the other hand, have a slight spring in their step and find it difficult to hold back their gleeful anticipation, knowing that within days, frat boys will disappear, no longer leaping from the rooftops of neighboring boathouses into the water, rap music will cease being the echoing film score to each meal eaten outside, and shortly the lake will be filled with nothing more than old bass boats drifting quietly along the shorelines. Ah, bliss.

We love it.

We hate it.

The lake house.

~Shelley

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

 

Pitchforks to fancy forks

Farm to table. It sounds so easy, so simple, so … no brainer, right? You farm your food, pick it, eat it.

Tah dah!

Except anyone who farms realizes there might be a few whoopsy-poos that can happen somewhere between dirt and dinner.

Yet surprisingly, you can’t turn around these days without bumping into somebody who is  ripe with success, making headlines in the food world.  Either they have a forthcoming book all about the way they turned a small third-world village into a new sustainable enterprise with nothing more than a tractor made from Legos, or they’ve opened five new restaurants which are run on recycled potato skins and leftover lemon rinds. I’ve even stayed in a hotel that stocked toilet paper made from sheep poo pellets.

I would love to be one of these people.

I am not.

James Shikwati, Kenyan economist, at the TEDGl...

So, until I come up with an ingenious way to run a dairy farm on methane gas, or discover an unknown symbiotic relationship between worms and non-recyclable plastic, I can only support the people who do find jaw-dropping ways to make the news and soon show up on stage at a TED talk.

One of those ways is to attend a farm dinner.

Farm dinners, also known as meals in the meadow, pitchfork to plate, farm to fork, or cowpie to peach pie (only kidding), are a growing trend inspired by the healthy locavore movement. Usually a local chef lends his name and talents to the community’s neighboring food producers and creates a memorable multicourse meal in a farmer’s barn, a field among the livestock, on the beach beside the roaring surf, or in the vineyards between the chardonnay and the pinot noir.

Oftentimes, diners get a farm tour and listen to the chef and farmers chatter about what Bessie had for dinner last night in the barn just before slaughtering time. They might even throw in her final words, surely a message of thanks to the farmers for a true quality of life experience. It was probably something like, “Moo,” but it might have been, “Mooove that knife. It’s too close to my throat.”

We’ll never know.

I actually went to my first farm dinner last night. It was held at the historic Virginia estate called Morven: a property with a pedigree that likely links back to biblical times when Moses was trying to rent a summer home to get out from under the skin-shriveling heat of the dessert. Okay, I totally made that last bit up, but click on the property link and make yourself a large pot of tea. There’s a bucketload to learn about the estate.

The dinner was held in support of the Charlottesville City Schoolyard Garden program that uses a garden-based curriculum to help promote health awareness, scholastic success, and neighborhood involvement. Math? Measure and chart plant growth. Science? Understand and view firsthand what chlorophyll is all about. Music? Tomatoes are said to be partial to Handel and The Rolling Stones. (I’m joking. They hate Handel.)

Chef Gay Beery of A Pimento put out a luscious spread for 90 + diners under the setting sun on an old Virginia farm, using food from at least five surrounding farms and one school garden.

Thomas Jefferson was no doubt smiling in his grave as folks sipped wines from the soil he’d first planted vines in shortly before the Revolutionary War.

The food, the farm and the fruit of the vines created a spectacular evening—one I think everyone should be able to take part in.

Go ahead. Look it up. Google farm to table and see what pops up in your neighborhood. Then make a reservation and see what happens. Shortly afterward you may find yourself:

-eating more vegetables

-buying local food

-starting your own garden

-heading up a community veggie patch

-solving world hunger

-writing a book about it

-giving a TED talk

Even if you only make it halfway down that list of exceptional accomplishments, you have done yourself and many others a great deed.

Now go forth. Grow. Eat green. Be green.

Get a farmer’s tan.

~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.

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

 

Driving me mad

I have a cranky back. I also have a daughter who is just learning how to drive. Can anyone else see how this is a combination that should generally be avoided? Yet, if I allow my husband to teach her to drive, there will be two people in the family whom I deem uninsurable.

As we sit in the boxy aluminum can hurdling down the local highway to and from town, I hear myself repeating the same phrase, only in varying degrees of pitch: “Stay in your lane.” Place an exclamation point after it, emphasize any of the four words, or put the whole thing in caps, and I’m sure the picture will become increasingly clear.

“I am in my lane,” is the usual response.

“Yes, you are, but you’re also in three others, and I can’t begin to understand the physics of how that can be, but let’s just stick with the lesson on courtesy for right now.”

The International Space Station is featured in...

This budding driver is a girl who understands all the functioning components of the International Space Station and squirrels away ideas on how to improve them, but somehow believes that if she says, “Whoa,” to the car, it will do her bidding.

“Hear the kathunk, kathunk, kathunk sounds beneath us?” I point out to her. “That’s called driving by Braille. We highly discourage people from doing that.”

“But isn’t that discriminating against the visually impaired?”

“Yep, in favor of supporting the continuance of life. Blind folks are not allowed to drive. And you are not allowed to use this vehicle like it’s a bumper car. Now pay attention and stay in your lane.”

I'm okay, you're... well, maybe not

I’m okay, you’re… well, maybe not (Photo credit: pdxjmorris)

Yes, it’s important for teens to learn how to drive. It fits nicely into the ‘teach them independence’ category. Yet I did not appreciate the length of time it takes to teach this skill. And I’ve come to realize that not all people make good teachers. In fact, I’m positive there will be no gift certificate to Barnes & Noble or the local teacher supply store as a thank you token at the end of this 45 hour teaching term. Chances are, if my daughter springs for anything, it would be a book with a message from the 99ȼ bin in Target, like Top 10 Ways to Avoid Your Intervention, or a tissue wrapped once-used unicorn soap from a fourth grade princess party. I’m not expecting much, because I really don’t deserve it.

I’m mostly grateful that my husband is not around when I’m in the passenger seat,

Justin Bieber at the Sentul International Conv...

Justin Bieber at the Sentul International Convention Center in West Java, Indonesia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

rolling my eyes and sighing with more emphasis than a thirteen-year old girl gazing at a Justin Bieber poster when I have to repeatedly bark out the phrase, “Watch your speed!”  This is because I’m forever chastising him for losing his temper with the kids at finding shoes on the stairs or sweatshirts strewn about. I wouldn’t blame him one bit for locking me out of the house the next time I utter the words, “Learning is layering, honey.”

Shamefully, I’ve become more than adept at creating believable excuses for why we can’t switch seats on any particular day. The better ones are:

  • We have to be there in twenty minutes and I don’t want you pressured by time. It’s an unnecessary stress. In fact, if we get there with time to spare, I’ll buy you a smoothie.
  • I can see that school has totally wiped you out this afternoon. Why don’t you put the seat back, close your eyes and I’ll play some Zen pan flute music from Pandora?

The worst ones are:

  • I took your driver’s permit inside to the kitchen to help scrape the frost off the freezer door and forgot to bring it back into the car with me. Sorry, it’s the law.
  • There’s something funky going on with the car’s alignment, so I’m going to run a few steering wheel tests on the way. Next time, okay?
Virginia's Capitol

Virginia’s Capitol (Photo credit: Thruhike98)

  • The Department of Transportation has just issued a Federal mandate announcing that no one under the age of 21 should drive today. They’re collecting safety data for some new research. Ah, the government. My hands are tied.

Maybe you’re shaking your head at my unforgivable deception. Maybe you’re jotting down notes for when it’s your turn. It doesn’t matter. I’m not terribly proud.

My only excuse is that it’s increasingly difficult to think clearly and rationally when so much of you is clenched and remains that way for a duration longer than the length of a sneeze. Our bodies are not meant for that kind of continuous trauma. Surely this is all a result of blood circulation failure to the brain.

1955 Virginia License Plate 1 of 2 Original an...

(Photo credit: bsabarnowl)

In the end, she’ll get her license, I’m fairly certain. And in the meantime, I have been reconnected with many of my dead relatives, who keep making pop-up appearances, smiling and open-armed, usually at busy intersections. Maybe it’s me, announcing my imminent arrival, as I’ve come to make a habit of shouting, “OH MY GOD, WE’RE GOING TO DIE!”

whoa

(Photo credit: Kimli)

Or maybe they’re just there as a gentle reminder, telling everyone else to Stay In Your Lane, so that won’t happen.

~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)

A Most Willing Bird

Pencils

Any wordsmith will wax lyrical on the importance of capturing the perfect text to convey meaning. When creating a story, penning poetry or adding snarky opinions online, we’re usually advised to read aloud that which we have written before it goes into print—a cardinal rule from any editor who critiques your manuscript.

It makes a big difference.

Rare is the time you pull away from your pages and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Usually, you re-sharpen your pencil and pour another glass of whatever is at your elbow.

Reading things aloud allows you another dimension of sensory input and opinion. Words have specific meaning in our heads when we rush over them with our eyes, but they have another element of breadth and measurement when pronounced.

Take for instance, the whippoorwill. This bird, I am convinced, was a writer in another lifetime. And one who needs a good long acupuncture session to get its qi flowing because it is stuck in a relentless repetition of clarification and examination.

CAA07880a

(Photo credit: jerryoldenettel)

Is this how I should sound?

Wait, I’ll try again.

Was that one clear?

Hold on, I’ll give it another go.

Practice makes perfect?

I’m so up for the challenge.

Writing is rewriting. And whippoorwilling is being willing.

Headstone A very old and unusual headstone in ...

Most of us would applaud the ‘try hard’ attitude, the ‘won’t give up’ mental muscle. Sadly, one member of my household is plotting against the breed, no longer shouting for an encore. In fact, he is planning …

a eulogy.

The Eastern Whippoorwill comes to visit us in early spring, takes off for cooler climates come mid-summer and returns with renewed vigor when it no longer fears the possibility of cooking to death while slumbering.

The call of the whippoorwill begins around dusk, after the bird snoozes all day. His ‘first out of bed’ routine varies slightly from ours. We do a few sun salutations, squats or jumping jacks to get the blood flowing, and he does scales and arpeggios.

The first time we heard him, I remember leaping out of my patio rocking chair, nearly spilling the first tangy gin and tonic of the season.

“Did you hear that?” I’d asked my husband.

He was looking at his Blackberry. “Yep. Bird.”

“No, not just a bird. I think that was a whippoorwill.”

“A whipper-what?”

“A whippoorwill. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a live one.”

One of his eyebrows rose. “As opposed to hearing a dead one?”

I tsked at him, sat down on the edge of the porch and sipped my drink, willing the sweet sunset concert to continue. And continue it did.

rooster Magyar: kakas

Every night.

And every morning.

For the next five years.

He was there for the setting of the sun, reminding us the day was coming to an end and to take note of it, and he was there well before the sun rose again, reminding us to prepare for it. It’s very romantic at 8 pm while you’re reminiscing over the day’s events that knocked the stuffing out of you, but goes a bit beyond the call of duty when showing up at 4 am while you’re still recovering from those same events.

The bird was auditioning for the role of an eager beaver rooster.

We experienced two weeks of this charming songbird’s pre-sunrise serenade. And for fourteen mornings my husband popped up in bed alarmed, confused and quickly transitioning to irate, as each night the bird found a perch closer to where we slept. I wasn’t surprised when our sleep roused conversations took a turn for the worse. In the beginning, it was something like:

Bugel player line art drawing

My husband: “Wha? What was that?”

Me: “Just the whippoorwill. No worries.”

My husband: “Grrrr …” Zzzz …

Shortly thereafter it was:

My husband: “Huh? What was that?”

Me: “The whippoorwill. Go to sleep.”

My husband: “Fat chance …” Zzzz …

And finally:

My husband: “What the bloody hell was that?!”

Me: “It’s the whippoorwill.”

My husband: “Oh no it whippoor-won’t!”

At this point, covers were thrown back, concrete shoes were donned (I swear he has a pair,) and the hunt for the happy alarm clock ensued.

I sat in bed with the lights out, eyes open, ears open even wider, listening for one of two sounds: a gunshot, or a lecture on civility and social convention. He’s an Englishman; it could go either way.

Five minutes later, the concrete shoes made their way back toward the bedroom with a flashlight guiding the way.

Macro shot of a box of clementines, Citrus ret...

My husband: “Did you know that a clementine fits into the mouth of an Eastern Whippoorwill? It acts as a very nice cork.”

Me: “You didn’t!”

My husband: “Wish I could say I did, but the son of a gun got away—not before I told him about the Al Capone Walk I’ve got planned for him next time he visits though, so I think we’re good to go.”

Me: “You tell ‘em, honey.”

Well, each year we go through this routine. We’ve got it so well rehearsed it’s beginning to feel like an old episode of I Love Lucy, only I get to play Ricky. And each year my husband thinks he gets closer to adjusting the manners of this bird or throttling his golden pipes.

So I hardly took notice when yesterday, as we sat outside to watch our first spring sunset, our willing warbler greeted us enthusiastically. The only difference was this time … he wasn’t alone.

My husband leapt from his chair. “Good God, he’s brought reinforcements!” He stormed off, probably in search of more clementines.

Personally, I think the whippoorwill is just teaching the next batch of trainees. Or maybe he truly is a writer and is simply getting his manuscript critiqued.

~Shelley

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

Know your Cupid, Stupid!

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

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

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

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

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

Cupid and Psyche

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

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

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

See if you can follow along.

Lupa capitolina al Campidoglio. Ne esiste una ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flagellants practiced self-flogging at the tim...

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

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

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

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

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

A 2 month old goat kid in a field of capeweed

So no kidding, Happy Lupercalia.

~Shelley

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

 

The waterworks. Except it doesn’t.

Sherpas in Nepal

Just about everybody who’s visited our house remembers at least three things:

#1. Book a Sherpa if they plan to return. Yes, it’s a little pricey, but GPS will land you at Huckabee Goober’s Moonshine Mill and Pit Bull Factory. Plus the Sherpas really need the work out here in the Blue Ridge. Most hikers are way too self-reliant these days.

#2. If you mention anyone in the public domain, alive or recently deceased, you will discover Sir Sackier (aka English hubby) has either gone to school with them, or shared a meal in a pub. It is amazing how many people in the world have gone to the City of London. Seriously. Google everyone.

#3. A plumber was buried beneath our house. Dead first, of course, or certainly soon thereafter. No one can last … what … six years since we moved in? Yeah, surely he’s dead now.

Phil the Plumber

Phil the Plumber (Photo credit: Badly Drawn Dad)

All right, we don’t exactly have proof.

Yet.

But if it is true, then chances are the guy came to an early demise and is now taking his wrath out on the lowly inhabitants of his prior workplace. Not one month passes without the excitement of some type of waterworks calamity. Pipes burst, the well runs dry, the water turns to sludge and comes out of the faucets reeking of the sulphuric gasses of hell. It’s quite possible we’ve built our home on top of a volcano. Or the house of Beelzebub. And he wants his front door back. Since neither fully explains our problems, we’re back to square one with the dead plumber.

It used to be, in times of yore, that a human was sacrificed in the construction phase of a building. They were meant to be the future guardians, the spiritual sentinels of the structure. Criminals placed in every posthole, drunkards dumped in boundary ditches, unlucky short straws clutched between phallangeal bones boxed in beneath door frames. Sadly, more often than not, this human was a child.

Knowing this, Sir Sackier and I have developed two theories. He thinks somewhere between framing and dry walling, some unlucky bloke, up to his chin in the miles of pipe length laid for this house, lost his balance, thunked his head and passed out. Noted as missing from his bar stool that night, he was sadly plastered up and around without discovery the next day.

I don’t buy it. Understanding Sir Sackier’s fondness for his history in Albion,  and desiring to bring some of the more purposeful of ancient rites here to the Old Dominion—in particular one that will protect his fortress, my theory makes much more sense.

I believe as the framing was in its final stages, Sir Sackier was having a congenial chat with some of the fellas during a lunch break and maybe passed on the old tales of foundation sacrifices. Of course they were threaded lyrically between lectures of how America doesn’t know how to build houses, “because only when you can see houses that are considered young at 400 years are you going to find solid craftsmanship!”

English: A crumbling farm building in Watlington.

This aside, maybe one of the workman took him seriously—as if interpreting some sort of “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” message. The only other problem was the other interpreting necessary when speaking with him. Sir Sackier doesn’t speak English. He speaks proper English. And not too many people are still familiar with that kind of lingo any longer.

Quite possibly, he might have thrown out a, “So if we’re going to do this thing by the book, we’ll need to find someone who still rides a toy motor scooter,” NOT someone who works for Rotor Rooter.

Not too difficult if you’re reading it, but full of potential trip ups if you’re hearing it and you’ve not taken any community college course credits for Proper English as a Second Language. It’s a bit like the old verse, “You say tomato, I say tomato …” It doesn’t make much sense when you’re reading it. His dilemma was the reverse.

And there you have it. I think it was accidentallydone on purpose. And now we’re cursed.

The Wicked Witch of the East as pictured in Th...

The only other small factor refusing to be overlooked is that it’s not just this house that has been plagued by plumbing potholes. It’s been all of them. Which means somewhere during the last twenty years of moving houses, a plumber died in the basement and was packed up by a moving company and we’ve been carrying around dead plumber bones for the last two decades.

Bones

I wouldn’t be surprised. And I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he’d gone to the City of London.

~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).

Safehouse, or Madhouse?

Cows in the Mist

Image via Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

Image via Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Shelley

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

 

A countdown of sorts

Mayan Exhibit

Mayan Exhibit (Photo credit: Chasqui (Luis Tamayo))

According to my daughter, and several dead Mayas, this may be my last chance to get a year’s worth of blogging in before it all ends. Apparently, 2012 is either going to finish with a spiritual transformation or the apocalypse. This makes it a teensy bit difficult to plan as I am steadfastly against most forms of change to begin with. Both require an element of preparation, and truth be told, I cannot fit one more thing into my schedule as it is. If some sort of sacred conversion is about to take place, it’ll probably have to manage without my knowing or assistance. And if it ends up that our planet has been slated for destruction because of some hyperspatial express route, then who cares if I’m wearing clean underwear or not, or any underwear for that matter.

What does matter are the number of single malt scotches I have within reach on my pantry shelves when the end is nigh. As the sickle of Death makes a clean slice through my veins, the only prayer in my head is one that beseeches all deities to grant my last request: the one that appeals for a full dram or two to be coursing through said veins at the moment He cleaves. I’ll leave in peace—or in pieces as it may be, but content nonetheless.

One year, I agreed. I’ll blog for a year. How painful can it be to conjure up words to describe weekly life a thousand feet up in a verdant Virginia? Except that it is. The excruciating parts are the ones where you reread about your life and the many asinine adventures you throw yourself into. Therapeutic, you say? Hogwash, I answer. I’m private. I’m truculent. And defiantly deaf. Except … I’ll do anything for a bottle not already present in my pantry. A good old fashioned bribe. Okay, and maybe the children. For the good of the children. And don’t forget world peace. I suppose I’d feel obligated.

Yes, to accept that for the small price of one measly year I’ll see an increase in my stock, adolescent utopia and a little world peace, I say … welcome to a piece of my world.

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).