Baby, Is It Cold Outside?

Midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox up here in the Northern hemisphere, folks start to get squirrelly.

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We’ve made it through the big eating festivals of Thanksgiving and Christmas, gushed forth an armload of inebriated promises to ourselves at New Year’s—swearing ‘change was on its way,’—and then we slogged through the gloomy gray of January, bedamning those drunken oaths.

When February hits, we are tired, we are bloated, and we are desperate.

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So we flip the calendar to a new page and employ the soothsaying prowess of a rodent. We gather round the critter’s hovel and cast out our urgent pleas.

Make these dreary days brighter for us, oh woodchuck!

Release us from winter’s wretched hold, little land-beaver!

Heal our melancholy spirits from these lugubriously long days, tiny whistle pig!

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And then we hold our pudgy warlocks high into the air and ask them to divine the future for us as all sane people of advanced cultures are doing.

I love Groundhog Day.

According to most of my reliable internet search engine sources and Frau Heidlehaufen on the north side of the large hill I live atop, both have stated that all groundhogs rise from their winter slumber on February 2nd at daybreak. Frau Heidlehaufen might have actually said prune cake or headache, but as she is a 92 year-old woman with only three teeth, most of what she says is easily mistaken for a long buried form of Greenlandic Norse.

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Still, the World Wide Web never lies.

What happens then is thus:

If our precious badger-like beast spots his shadow casting a long form from the front doorstep of his burrow, he yawns, waves drowsily at the gathered crowd and heads back below to hunker down for another six weeks of snoozing until spring will finally arrive.

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But if our meteorological marmot does not see his shadow, he quickly checks his stocks on the NASDAQ, scampers into his bunker to put on a pot of coffee, and starts sifting through seed packets for the early arrival of spring—which should show up in about six weeks.

How did we wonky Americans come up with this little piece of mid-winter amusement? Clearly, it came about at a time when the Internet had yet to enter stage left, Instagram wasn’t even in the stages of Let me show you the pictures from my family’s trip to Disney World, and George R.R. Martin was likely giving himself permission to go to the bathroom in between writing his enthralling epic novels for a demanding and impatient readership.

We obviously needed SOMETHING to keep our spirits up.

And I think most of us have realized that if we can’t find a ferret to shove down our trousers in a round of raucous pub games, then any animal from the group of large ground squirrels will do.

Of course, there’s also the historical footnote stating that this custom was brought to our country via the Germanic tradition of Candlemas Day where folks would bring their year’s supply of candles into church to get blessed from whomever was behind the altar that day.

Yeah, I’m not really seeing the connection either, but this fact was brought to you via some old school traditionally published encyclopedia that I was thumbing through and not my more reliable source of some dude’s blog post advertising his small West Virginian farm and the heart healthy benefits of varmint meat. You decide.

There are plenty of American cities that have claimed their prickly pet as the real deal, but read any poll administered by the good people of a small town in Pennsylvania and you will soon see that Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary is the groundhog upon which all other groundhogs measure their self worth.

If there is one thing we must collectively agree upon though, despite the protestations from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stating that the groundhog possesses “no predictive skills,” it is the fact that these guys are amorous little rascals.

According to modern ethologists, who believe the study of animal behavior is more reliable using the scientific method vs. folklore, these chubby chucks are not actually stirring from slumber to check on the weather, but whether Shirley, or Sheila, or even Shondelle—a few burrows over—is up for a quick cuddle.

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That’s it.

Nothing more profound.

It turns out that our furry friends pretty much feel the same way we do come the beginning of February: they are tired, they are bloated, and they are desperate. So they gather round another critter’s hovel and cast out their urgent pleas.

“I’m cold. Can I come in?”

The answer is usually yes, as thawing somebody else’s icicle toes turns out to be a pretty heartwarming gesture. Apparently we’ve been wrong about these creatures from the beginning. They are not oracles with a forecast from a Doppler radar wormhole, they are simply starry-eyed romantics. They are motivated by nothing more than answering the quest for comfort. Just like you and me.

In the grand scheme of things, we’re pretty much all groundhogs at heart.

~Shelley

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

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Ode to a Pot Roast

Ode to a Pot Roast

If ever there was a form of food
So humble in its name
It’d have to be this hunk of meat
A winter insurance claim.

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To hear it mentioned as for sup
Elicits moans and sighs
To see it brought upon a plate
Will bring on widened eyes.

Choosing a pan is half the task
As it must sit just so
With herbs and veg embracing it
Afloat in rich Bordeaux.

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The time it roasts, the temperature
These things must serve it well
And yet this dish forgives mistakes
Content till the dinner bell.

Aromas floating in the wind
Send out come hither scents
Warmth and love and plentitude
It’s these it represents.

We taste this beef extraordinaire
With garlic cloves and shallots
Carrots, peas and taters too
It’s heaven on our palettes.

Some say the post roast has no class
Its nature bourgeoisie
But ask the greatest chefs today
Most all would disagree.

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Oh how I love a pot roast so
It fills my heart with joy
Nothing louder shouts, “It’s Fall!”
It is the Real McCoy.

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Ode to A Vegetarian

I love my vegetarian
She’s bright and camp and brave
But I am always asking her
Why won’t you eat my pot roast?

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~Shelley

October 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 October!

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

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The Din of December

There is something magical about the word December.

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And I think it’s more than the tingles I get from simply saying the word—a word that envelops me with a warmth containing decades of memories, all twinkling and glittered. I think it’s the hearing of all things December related.

December has a sound all its own.

For me, and where I live on this world, it’s the sound of swirling snowflakes, cotton soft and cushioning. It’s a muffling of the natural world, a bright white quilt under a blue-white moon.

It’s the sound of wind chimes chinkling, nudged by invisible fingers of a frost-laden wind.

It’s the whistle of winter’s breath as it races down the chimney shafts and rushes through the empty halls, a purring, fluid melody, so measured and hypnotic. Suddenly, it inhales and pulls all open doorways shut with slaps of sound that startle, breaking soothing silence.

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I hear the somber trees, brooding and contemplative. Rhythmic and slow, their drinking of the earth and drawing in the air allow them time for mindful reflection, and their meticulous planning of a spring that slowly creeps closer day by day.

And when that cycle is no more, I listen for the pop of seasoned wood, ensconced in flames and smoke. The tiny hiss from flickering tongues is the language of heat, a faint articulation of a promise against the bleak and bitter chill.

I warm at the thrum of mellifluous song, the trilling of carols, the honeyed blend of bright, buoyant voices. Whether it be the refrains of jubilant noise thrust toward the heavens of a brilliant starry night, or one single, hallowed melody, hummed quietly and kept in check, music seeps out into the air, whimsical, innocent and heady.

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This month is filled with the sounds of gratitude: the contented sighs slipping from souls who witness December’s darkness replaced with tiny, twinkling lights, the bright-eyed, gleeful shrieks from innocent mouths who point at storied characters come to implausible and colorful life, and the cheerful hail of reception that fills front halls, front porches and the faces of those behind front desks.

It is abundant with the thanks for a warm cup of tea, a filling cup of soup, a coat, some shoes, a toy, a bed.

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It is filled with a million wishes on the same bright stars, overflowing with countless dreams whispered deep beneath the covers, scratched in a letter to Santa, chanted in prayer over candlelight.

I hear the sound of sharp blades on ice, waxed sleds on snow, snowballs on parkas.

There is the noise of muffled feet on carpeted risers, the hum of a pitch pipe, a sharp intake of breath, and the strains of melody and harmony and dissonance braided throughout the next many minutes that make the hair across your arms quiver above goose flesh even though you are in an overheated room, squished into an undersized chair.

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Throughout the month there is the crunch of dry leaves, the cracking of gunshots and the grunt of effort when dragging home that which will fill the freezer. I hear the soothsaying of snow, the delightful patter of euphoric feet, and the collective groan from a city full of scraping shovels.

The sounds of December are those of rustling coats and the stomping of boots, the rubbing of hands against the numbing, wintery sting. They are the hushed prayers of voices in holy vigil, the retelling of sacred stories to fresh ears and hungry souls.

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The sounds I hear are those of glasses, clinking all in toasts. They are the wishes of warmth and the hope of fellowship, the thirst for triumph and the promise of change.

But most of all, I hear the plaintive yearning of my heart, voicing the wish that December won’t end, that January won’t come and that time will stand still.

December is a month of sounds that sounds so good to me.

~Shelley

Lastly, I leave you with a small gift from me to you. I sing Norah Jones’ song ‘December.’ A tune I feel is my holiday hug to the world.

(And a huge hug of thanks to my wonderfully gifted son for mixing and production.)

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

Untying the bow that holds December bound.

Rows of Candles

Rows of Candles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

English: Cistercian monks at work

English: Cistercian monks at work

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

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

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

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

Hot Chocolate

Hot Chocolate (Photo credit: mike and meg)

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

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

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

~Shelley

Winter-Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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